Cafe 227

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The George Washington University Hospital Emergency Room: A Running Diary

Two nights ago, after injuring my wrist playing basketball, I made the conscious decision to visit the Emergency Room. Normally, I avoid the ER (and doctors in general) as much as possible, but I became concerned when my hand turned blue and I lost feeling in my fingers. I've been to the ER before; I know what a long, frustrating shit-show it can be. So I decided to keep a running diary of my ER experience to pass the time and document the fun. (And yes, I stole this gimmick from the Sports Guy. But only because I wanted to extend him the highest form of flattery, not because I was being creatively lazy. Those are two completely different things.)

11:57pm - I pull up to the Emergency Room at the George Washington University Hospital at 900 23rd Street NW. (Sorry Georgetown. GW treats high-ranking government officials. You guys inject saline solution into patients using contaminated needles. I had to put my loyalties aside here.) Unlike most of the time, I was able to navigate Washington Circle without nearly causing a 4-car pileup, and I found a parking space within minutes. The West End is quite pleasant on Mondays at midnight.

11:59pm - I walk through the front door. There is a woman at the receptionist's desk who is irate. She is violently waving a clipboard. Eventually, she shouts an obscenity and tries to leave the building, but a security guard stops her and informs her that she can't vacate the premises with the hospital's clipboard. So she decides to stay.

12:03am - I decide that it is now safe to approach the receptionist. I smile at her; she smiles back. I've developed a rapport! Time to apply the charm - maybe it'll get me out of here faster.

12:04am - She asks for my insurance card. I feign surprise. "Insurance? I need insurance?" She does not see any humor in this. Apparently, my assessment of the situation was premature.

12:12am - I return the paperwork to the receptionist. Before returning to my seat, I ask her how long it's going to take. "One hour, two hours?" I naively ask. "Much longer than that," she replies. She throws in a sinister laugh at the end for dramatic effect.

12:25am - Sitting down. Watching Jimmy Kimmel. Getting hungry. Need... food...

12:27am - Jackpot! I find the vending machine. I purchase a bottled water, a bag of Ranch Doritos, and two Strawberry Pop Tarts, and quickly scarf everything down. Apparently, sitting in the waiting room of the ER is kind of like getting high.

12:40am - The receptionist is walking towards me. It must be my turn, after only 40 minutes! See, I knew that I had developed a special rapport... oh wait, she's just coming to give me a hospital bracelet. Nevermind.

12:44am - The triage nurse calls me to his cubicle for some preliminary information. He looks just like Dolph Lundgren, if Dolph were a 5' 6", 145-pound male figure skater.

12:45am - Bizarro-Dolph asks me to describe the pain. "Painful," I reply.

12:46am - Bizarro-Dolph gives me a second bracelet - a bright orange one to reward me for being allergic to aspirin.

12:54am - Back in the waiting room. Two security guards are stealthily approaching a sleeping woman. Then, like pumas on the hunt, they pounce. "Who did you check in with, ma'am? Where's your bracelet? What do you mean YOU DON'T HAVE A BRACELET?!?" Oh snap, they just busted a homeless person! That's probably the first time that has ever happened here.

12:57am - My turn, at last! They lead me to a second waiting room behind a curtain.

1:07am - Waiting...

1:15am - Waiting...

1:22am - Hey, there's a supply drawer in here. "Q-Tips," "Xmas Trees," "Airways"... Xmas Trees? This seems like an odd place to store holiday decorations.

1:27am - I'm staring at one of those doohickeys that they hang IV bags and other fluids on. It kind of resembles those toys for babies that you hang above their cribs so they can stare at the pretty planets or flying unicorns as they lay there drooling, barely sentient. Isn't it poetic symmetry that many of us enter and depart the world laying on our backs, drooling and barely sentient, staring up at a hanging doohickey? Oh my god, I am high.

1:30am - Gosh this is taking long. Maybe I'll read that New Yorker on the table.

1:32am - Well I'll be damned. Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go Go, is playing at Joe's Pub in New York's East Village on April 19! I just saw Chuck play (he opened for the Roots at Constitution Hall last week), and my friend and I were discussing whether or not Chuck tours outside of DC. We decided that he doesn't, since Go-Go doesn't carry much appeal beyond the DC metro area. I guess we were wrong.

1:40am - I'm reading a fascinating book review about the history of dueling. Did you know that the Queen of England he Queen still retains an official dueling champion who stands ready to challenge anyone who disputes her sovereignty?

1:43am - Finally, the doctor-in-residence arrives. She's about 22 years old and looks like she's been up for 4 straight days. She says she has to listen to my lungs first. Whatever. She asks if I smoke. "Of course not," I reply. Then, for no apparent reason, I start coughing uncontrollably. The doctor looks at me disdainfully.

1:55am - Time for my x-ray. They take me to a different waiting room.

2:02am - Waiting...

2:06am - Waiting...

2:08am - Dammit, I wish that incessant "beeping" sound would stop. It's giving me a headache.

2:10am - I complain about the "beeping" noise to a nurse I see in the hall. "So, what you're saying is you want that patient in there to flatline?" she asks, pointing to a room from whence the sound is coming. I decide that the beeping sound is ok.

2:18am - Well, at least they're keeping up the pretense that they intend to x-ray me tonight. I mean, I see the x-ray machine through a window in the room right next to me. There's just no one around to operate it.

2:20am - I decide that I'm not angry about waiting here for this long, because at least I'm going to get some quality care tonight. Had I gone to the ER at the Georgetown University Hospital, they would have given me a swift kick in the shin, injected me with saline to numb the pain, and sent me on my merry way.

2:22am - Finally, the x-ray technician! He looks like a Rastafarian. Maybe he can tell me how I mysteriously got high.

2:27am - Buju Banton leads me back to the room but doesn't close the curtains. He must be worried that I'm going to steal the Xmas trees.

2:35am - I overhear two doctors talking about some patient whom they refer to as "bronchitis girl." It seems that "bronchitis girl" is getting cranky, so they're going to release her. Even in my exhausted state, this strikes me as an exceedingly bad idea.

2:44am - Still no x-ray results. I guess they just don't pop out of the machine like Polaroids.

2:48am - The doctor-in-residence is approaching me. She has the x-rays in her hand. Oh god, please don't be broken, please, please...

2:49am - "It's broken dude." Hey, thanks dude.

2:49am - "But the good news is it's a clean break." Yes, that makes me feel much better.

Postscript - So there you have it. I actually didn't leave the ER until around 4am, but because they were putting me in a splint, I wasn't able to jot down any notes. Also, I was completely catatonic by that point, so I'm not sure I could've written anything coherent. I'll be in this cast for 4-6 weeks, but worse things have happened to better people, so who am I to complain?


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