Thursday, January 13, 2011

All Night in the ER Waiting Room

“Tell the triage nurse if you are having chest pain,” says a red sign. There are grimy green chairs, a row of check-in windows and framed pictures of a park in autumn and a meadow in winter. Lights are bright coiled tubes, yellow vomit is splattered in the corner. I’m in Bellevue Hospital’s ER waiting room. Last year, I spent several hours here as doctors ran tests on a friend who had mysteriously lost vision in one eye. We are equal, I realized, in the face of waiting. And what is waiting?

5:57 p.m. “This is my brother, my mother!” hollers a wiry man with long wet hair plastered to his forehead. A woman in a cocktail dress is led into the ER. “Mom!” cries a kid penciling in a Mead journal. “Let me check your vitals,” a man in scrubs tells an old woman who has walked in alone. “Are you weak?” he asks. “How’d you get here?”

“That little kid is full of energy,” a guard says into a wall phone planted beneath a bug lamp. “That kid is like three kids in one.” He hangs up and approaches me. “You can’t ride the wave. I’ll let you do what you gotta do and I’ll do what I gotta do but you can’t stay here all night, that’s loitering.”

“Why you talking to me like that!?” the wiry man yells at a check-in woman with bright yellow hair and extraordinary nails. She wears a sassy striped suit and has a giant gold purse.

“Why you have more than one name!?” she shouts back.

“I can’t say,” he says.

“What’s your birthday?” she asks.

“8 5 19.”

“Why do you use this guy Tony Montana,” she says, “Who dat?”

“Why nooot..”

Attention all visitors, visiting hour is now over