The Comedy of ER-rors

After spending the better part of Sunday soaking up the last bit of summer sunshine, I returned to my apartment to do some homework and to honor my pledge to author content for The Honestly Blog once a week.  I was going to write about my first week as a student, stepping back into the world of academia after six years; but frankly, I wasn’t convinced that would make for enjoyable reading.  Since brainstorming, like most human functions, is always improved by eating, I decided to make some dinner and hope that inspiration might leap up from the stove top.

Among the ingredients for Margie’s Mexican chicken (recipe available upon request) are black beans.  I always buy the tiniest can I can find, because even the tiniest can seems to hold a whole harvest’s worth of beans.  Because these cans are so tiny, they come equipped with a little pop-top pull-back ring, since your average can opener would mangle them.  Last night, however, the roles were reversed, and I was the one who was mangled.

The cut across my finger didn’t seem particularly deep, and it wasn’t even that painful; but this thing bled like you wouldn’t believe.  It was almost comical the amount of hemoglobin I was spraying into the sink.  Trying to stanch the flow with some paper towels was like taking an old janitor’s mop to the Ninth Ward after Katrina.  Since the wound showed no sign of clotting on its own, I called out to my roommate, Vignesh.  This was not a scene he was expecting to stumble upon during a leisurely evening spent watching tennis.  His eyes widened to softball size as I, still bleeding like a comparatively lucky member of the Crazy 88, asked him to see if our downstairs neighbor, Greg, was home to drive me to the emergency room.

I think the poor kid took the stairs three at a time.

Fortunately, Greg was home.  Jersey City Medical Center isn’t far from our building, and I was able to avoid staining the leather interior of Greg’s car during our brief drive.  Considering that I had no way of gauging the true severity of my wound, I was in a comparatively jovial mood.  The only real frustration I felt, beyond making the initial bone-headed injury, came when I hopped out of Greg’s car and my left flip-flop broke apart.

Now imagine you’re the receptionist at the ER.  In walks a young man, a wad of blood-soaked Brawny paper towels held tightly over his left hand, with no shoes on.  You’d be forgiven for giving him a strange look, or even laughing.  Maybe you’d want to ask some questions.  But the receptionist at the ER on Sunday evening was too sweet to do any of that.  She took down my basic info and had me take a seat in the waiting room.  Seated directly across from me was a guy with his ring finger similarly bandaged, though without the blood stains.

“What happened to you?” I asked after we had acknowledged our similar predicaments.

“Got caught in a ladder,” he replied.  “You?”

“Cut myself cooking,” I said.  I was still a touch embarrassed that I had been felled by packaged legumes.  He didn’t need every last detail.

Throughout our brief bonding, which in my warped perspective recalled an early scene in something like Stalag 17 or The Dirty Dozen, this man’s wife was staring at me and my hands in absolute horror.  She’d occasionally fix me with a disapproving gaze, as if I was flaunting my injury, trying to show up her husband.  This isn’t a contest, ma’am, I was thinking.  Your husband’s finger probably looks like Alpo underneath his bandages.  How about a little less judgment and a little more sympathy?

A nurse took me inside to get some more vital statistics and to properly dress my wound.  While his handiwork may have been prettier, it was no more successful in stopping the bleeding.  I was sent back out to the waiting room until another receptionist called my name and directed me to a small office where I would be formally processed as a patient.  This involved giving the hospital employee my emergency contact information, my insurance information, and so on.

Now, this piece of writing wasn’t intended to be an expose on the American health care system, and I’m sure that on a scale from zero to shark attack, my injury was far from the worst thing that this emergency room has seen.  But it did seem slightly disjointed to me that I was being asked to fill out paperwork regarding treatment before actually receiving treatment.  When the woman asked me to sign, I said, “Do you have a pen you aren’t particularly attached to?”, and held up my splayed red hands, looking for all the world like a zombie Bob Fosse.  “I’ll just find you before you leave,” she said, pulling her papers away from the splash zone.

About fifteen minutes later, I was taken back to a proper examination room.  While I waited for a doctor, my phone buzzed.  It was neighborhood hero Greg, texting to check in on me.  His kind-hearted message was immediately followed by another which read, “I just realized that texting might be difficult for you right now.”

Greg wasn’t the only one to rib me about my predicament.  When I explained to the next nurse I saw that I had lost a fight with a can of beans, she sighed and said, “Now why would you go and do a thing like that?”  And when the doctor arrived and heard my tale of woe, she smirked and said, “Well, now, that was a silly thing to do.”  Thankfully, neither of them inquired about my missing footwear.  Perhaps it was just too easy a mark.

Much to my surprise (and theirs), removal of my bandages revealed that the bleeding had finally stopped.  This was a relief, since it seemed as if I had already lost about four Capri-Suns worth of blood.  It also meant they could get to work repairing me.  They told me I wouldn’t need stitches, which was good news.  But then I wondered how exactly they planned to fix me, since this was more than a band-aid and some neosporin could heal.

The solution?  Tissue glue.  From a tiny, liquid chapstick-looking packet, the doctor began painting my fingertip with what she described as “crazy glue for the skin”.  Holy fuck, science!  Skin glue?  This kind of thing exists?  What other treasures from the future are hidden in emergency rooms across the land?

While the glue began to dry, the nurse began aggressively bandaging my finger.  As a result of her thorough handiwork, my left hand now looks like it has four fingers and a marshmallow.  She also put a splint on it to keep it immobilized, since the cut was close to a knuckle, and because she wanted me to get maximum sympathy from friends and co-workers.  I told you these people were funny.  The only downside to this is that I have to keep my hand perfectly dry for at least 24 hours, and caged inside the splint for the better part of the week, which means no exercising.  I thought maybe I could get away with doing some running, but then I remembered that the only bodily expulsion I experience more profusely than bleeding, apparently, is sweating.

Fully treated, and no longer looking like an Act V Lady Macbeth, I went back to the waiting room to finish my paperwork.  Greg was kind enough to come pick me up when I was finished.  The whole ordeal took about two and a half hours.  After I let my mother know what had happened (because I’m a good son that way), I went back into the kitchen and finished making Margie’s Mexican chicken, because otherwise the terrorists win.  I also made sure that Vignesh wasn’t suffering from any post-traumatic symptoms.  He’ll be fine.

There are quite a few lessons to take away from my first visit to the emergency room.  For one thing, I’m not nearly as big a wuss as I thought I was.  Good neighbors are a blessing.  The staff at the Jersey City Medical Center is friendly, helpful and humorous.  And given the incredible circulation of blood through my hand, it seems the crude old adage is true: beans really are good for your heart.

~ T

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