When you get a call from the woman you love saying that she’s on her way to the emergency room, you worry despite her instructions. When it happens twice in 48 hours, you check to make sure that she’s okay, then you start looking into what you have to do to have your mail forwarded there.
Last Friday, Alison looked down while on a conference call to find that her left calf was swollen to Roseanne Barr proportions, so she hopped a cab to the George Washington Medical Center and called me on the way.
Against instructions, I worried, but once I had the information it was easier to deal with. Keep in mind, this is a woman who has lived in DC for 12 years and only gone to the hospital once — she sliced her finger open while cooking, but got frustrated with the wait and went home without being seen. So when her primary care tells her that there’s a chance she has a blood clot and get to the hospital, she got a move on.
They sent me straight back when I arrived and we sat for a while, chatting alternately about her final medical directives and her day at work. Never let it be said that Alison isn’t cool in the face of disaster. Once she’d been triaged and changed into a cute ensemble of several surgical gowns, they put us in a back hallway where the general business of the emergency room swept back and forth past us. There was also a woman (whom we’ll call “Shaky”) next to us in the three-seat set of chained-together chairs.
Shaky introduced herself to our conversation by announcing loudly that she was going to go home to make herself a steak. It wasn’t that laid-back, “Know what I could go for? A steak and potatoes, when I finally get out of this boring place that makes me think of the less fortunate.” It was more like she was announcing her menu choice because that was her particular form of Tourette’s Disease. Alison and I glanced at each other, because we know Crazy when we hear it.
It was also Old, although it’s not completely clear how old she was. Definitely enough to be our grandmother and she claimed to have great grandchildren, despite her claim that she was in her early 50s. In the few minutes the three of us had together, we discovered that this woman was there because she is epilectic and was planning a lawsuit against the laudromat from which she’d come. because they called an ambulance when she went into her seizure and someone stole all of her clothes. It’s not clear how she knew what had happened to her laundry, since she was still at the ER and planning on going home to cook a steak.
Eventually, they took Alison back for an ultrasound and told me I couldn’t come with. That left me to bask in the remainder of Shaky’s wisdom, including that when a plane hit the Pentagon in 1991, there was also a disaster on the Metro that was hushed up. Shaky is in her early 50s, although she remembers life under President Eisenhower. She was on General Colin Powell’s staff, although she believes the Pentagon to be in Maryland. She is an epilectic, although she has never heard of any of the anti-epilectic drugs I asked her about. She’s also a diabetic, although she was chomping a candy bar at one point and couldn’t understand why I was concerned enough to ask about that. I didn’t try to establish any of these discrepancies — I was being nice and asking questions instead of asking them, because she insisted on talking to me the whole time.
Poor Shaky, there was one point when she was finally seen briefly. She had had blood drawn earlier and one of the orderlies came over to take one more dose from the catheter she had in her forearm. Unforunately, Shaky had tried to show me the catheter earlier and bent it, so he was unable to get blood, but told her, “I’ll go back up to neurology and see whether they can do without more samples.”
Umm … if you can do without more blood, why are you requesting that more be taken? But I kept my mouth shut until another nurse came by and Shaky asked her when she could go home.
“Did the doctor talk to you about everything?” the nurse asked her. Shaky nodded her head yes but her head bobbled unhelpfully at the nurse’s continued questions. I gently interrupted and explained the way the previous interaction had gone, and said that no, no doctors had been by to explain anything to her and the question of a blood sample remained open. The nurse waited until Shaky was looking elsewhere, then gave me a Jeeeeez look. I’m sure in an ER, you learn to deal patiently with the hypochondriacs.
After promising prompt action, the nurse walked away. Shaky beamed at me. “You’re such a nice young man.”
You don’t read my blog, I thought.
And she never will, so I’m not too worried about enjoying setting the evening to paper. What I feel bad about is when I (again) burst into the ER two days later to find my girlfriend, this time admitted for being run over by a car. The orderly working the front desk handed me a pink slip with “urgent 2” written on it, telling me where to find Alison. He started to explain where to go, and I said, “Yeah, I know the drill.”
“I thought you looked familiar,” he said.
“Indeed,” I said. “I remember you. You were the one trying to fix the catheter in that crazy lady’s arm. Remember her? She was complaining about …”
I trailed off at the horrified look on the orderly’s face. He had literally lifted his hands to his face and was looking at me between his fingers. It was like a Southwest commercial, and he wanted to get away.
“She’s right behind me, isn’t she?” I asked.
I’m not positive whether his head nodded or he moved his hands up and down slightly in front of his face, but it was enough to confirm that I should not look around. Movie scenes actually happen, my friends. I bolted straight for the door back to the ER examination areas and the presumed protection of heightened security.
PS. Alison is okay, thank goodness. Crazy Ladies of the ER Part 2 coming up soon.