ADVENTURES IN A HOUSTON EMERGENCY ROOM

Don’t worry, I’m fine. I merely accompanied the injured this time.

My friend E has a 14 year old daughter, C (names changed to protect the clumsy). C tripped on her way to greet the pizza delivery man… unaided, in her living room. The ripping sound she heard, I’m sure, was scary enough, but when the pain hit her, E knew the injury was pretty serious by C’s reaction. E called the pediatrician and she told E to take C to get X-rays.

If you live in a small town and have made multiple trips to the emergency room that turned out to be short, easy visits that you complained about nonetheless, you must come hang out in the ER in Houston. You’ll never complain again. Fortunately, E did not take C to BT Hosp. where, I’m told, if you’re not bleeding, carrying the plague or have bones sticking out where they shouldn’t, you wait…and wait… because most severe accident victims go to BTH. The same can be said for the well known children’s hospital. E instead chose the southwest branch of one of the hospital networks in town.

Here is where our adventure begins. At 7:45 PM the pizza delivery guy shows up and knocks on E & C’s door. E is lying down, as she had THREE TEETH pulled earlier that afternoon and that can take the wind out of a person’s sails for sure, so C jumps up off the couch and charges toward the door. Unfortunately for C, the instructions carried along her nervous system were interrupted by her teenage awkward stage, and she came down hard on her ankle at a skewed angle. I, too, have done this, but I cannot blame my teenage awkward stage. I did something similar 18 months ago…but I digress.

The ripping noise of the awkwardly skewed angled ankle was followed by pain and a flood of tears and a call to the pediatrician. My phone rang at 8:15. E was calm, but asked if I could come help out since a) she had THREE TEETH pulled earlier that afternoon, and b) she’d yet to take any pain killers and was sure the pain would hit her eventually, and c) she’d visited an ER in Houston before and company always helps.

I was halfway through Pirates of the Caribbean when the phone rang. I was in my jammies, curled up with a glass of milk, an Oreo, Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom, and I was totally vegged. E calmly tells me what happened and asks for my help. “Of course I’ll help,” I tell her and I went from vegetable to super hero with one twirl in the telephone booth… okay, not really, but in spirit, I do wear the super hero cape. Truthfully, it took me longer than 30 seconds to get dressed, finish my milk, find my cell phone and say goodbye to Johnny and Orlando.

8:40 PM (yes, it took me 13 minutes to go from vegetable to super hero — but this is really good for me during a non life threatening emergency — and 7 minutes to get to E & C’s) I walk into the apartment and C has carefully put her shoes on and is ready to go. I observe her injury (the cape gives me great medical wisdom — I wish) and let C know that if she was a cow, I’d have to shoot her, but since she is not bovine in any way shape, or form, I assure her she’ll live. She grabs Tig and Bub (a stuffed tiger and penguin) for moral support. She decides that rather than lean on me, she’d rather hop on the good foot and take her chances. I did not take offence because well, I’m a recovering clumsaholic and if she was leaning on me and my knee or ankle gave out… well, E would be transporting two people one, a victim of her teenage awkward phase, and the other, a woman stuck in her teenage awkward phase.

9:05 PM I follow behind C as she hops to the sign in desk at the ER while E parks the van. C leans against the wall while I grab the sign in sheet on the receptionist’s desk and look around for a place for C to sit down. Of course, this is the ER in Houston. Not a seat or wheelchair to be found. A very impatient security guard tells me C cannot lean against the receptionist’s station. I told him that there was no place to sit down and he didn’t seem impressed. After a long, deep breath I told him that C needed a wheelchair and told him she’d badly sprained her ankle. Fortunately for Mr. Impatient Security Guard, his attitude changed and he returned with the necessary equipment, and I moved C out of the way. I wasn’t sure what the cape would make me do if he’d been less than nice.

As we waited for E, I started to fill out the sign in form while C took in what was going on around her. Not only was the waiting room full, the hallway included about 10 people, including us. I filled out what I could on the form, then handed it to C, who continued with her SSN, address, etc. I reminded her she was single, she didn’t have a maiden name and helped her spell ankle. For some reason, I found that difficult, but we came to an agreement on kle. Then E found us and took over the rest of the form.

Having been warned by the roommate (a nurse, she knows these things) that we were all in for a long night, we went to look for a place to sit down. A few minutes later, two seats cleared out in the ER waiting room, so E and I wheeled C in and took them. Note here that I did not run C into anything that would cause her pain while I was driving the chair. No wheelies were popped, no corners taken on one wheel. Remember, I am wearing my super hero cape and am suddenly responsible.

The waiting room at the ER is full of people who are too sick or injured not to be there, but not sick or injured enough to be whisked away quickly. Several children were in the room, along with a parent or two each, but sadly, I noticed at least two people who were by themselves, trying to stay awake and alert until their names were called. Most people in the ER were somber and serious, and I could feel the tension in the room, so what do I do? I try to make the injured teenager and her mother (did I mention she had THREE TEETH pulled just hours earlier?) laugh. I love E’s laugh.

9:55 PM C’s name is called, and she and E disappear into the ER.

10:05 PM E comes out to tell me C is on her way to what the hospital refers to as “Fast Track.” We follow C and a nurse (whose legs are programmed for the hospital autobahn) down the hallway to another waiting room… where we see others who were liberated from the ER waiting room… and we… wait.

10:40 PM Still waiting in “Fast Track” … E mentions she’s thirsty and C says she is as well. After a minute or two, E mentions her thirst again. Eventually, her words reach the earphone attatched to my super hero cape and then the words reach my brain and I realize that I should go find a vending machine. Another ER employee (whose legs were also programmed for the hospital autobahn) pointed out the machine and I got us 3 Sprites and a bag of Doritos for me (if I don’t eat I turn even more “blonde” than I already am, and since I am wearing the cape and am responsible, I decide eating now and staying lucid would be a good thing).

I return and a lady sporting blonde dred like tendrils steps out and calls out a name for the consultation and payment portion of the evening. She asks for a lady named, “Albino.” Albino is not present. We wait some more.

10:50 PM A bathroom break for E & C while I wait to make sure C’s name isn’t called while they’re gone.

10:55 PM The lady wishing to know the whereabouts of Albino appears again and totally butchers C’s name, but we recognize that C is the one she wants. E & C go to a room marked, Patient Access Services (PAS) and C appears about 10 minutes later, obviously bored with the whole PAS consultation and payment portion of the process.

11:22 PM E returns from PAS. They have everything settled and told her that C’s chart has been pulled and she’ll be with a doctor soon. Soon in “Fast Track” is like a caution lap at Daytona. Time should be fast, but it’s in slow motion instead.

11:33 PM C is whisked off to another room, followed by E. I stick around in “Fast Track” (only one visitor per patient allowed behind the big doors) and watch as supposedly ill children tear apart the “Fast Track” waiting room with more energy and vigor than most sick children. (Before I pass judgment, I hope that whatever was wrong with these kids is minor…and I also realize at this point that these kids probably didn’t have a primary care physician and this was probably a rare time when they actually saw a doctor).

Kids of various ages buzzed about the room, but one little one, a boy about 18 months old I’ll call EJ, had eaten several lollipops, a bag of Doritos, a Dr. Pepper and other assorted candy while he waited to see the doctor. No wonder he stood on the couch and screamed, “MORE CHIPS!” at the top of his little lungs.

Enter Sassy Mama, and her two children Diva and Cutie Pie. Diva is about 10, CP looks to be about 6. A nice man with cookies with the word, “VOTE” on them came into the room (behind Sassy Mama and CP) and gave a cookie to Diva who had walked around the couch to throw away something. Diva then made fun of CP for not getting a cookie. Diva licked her cookie all over to ensure that sharing will not be forced upon her (SM said that they both had sick germs but shouldn’t share them) and continues to taunt CP. Sassy Mama tells Diva that if she doesn’t shut up, she’ll have to throw her cookie in the trash. I walk around the corner to go to the bathroom and found the cookie man and asked him if he’d go give CP a cookie and save his sister’s life. He smiles and goes back to “Fast Track.”

When I return to “Fast Track,” several more people had been taken into see a doctor, but nobody has been able to locate Ms. Albino. Sassy Mama, Diva and CP, however are still there. Diva is at one end of the couch crying while CP eats his cookie. Apparently, Diva just couldn’t let things go and her cookie was now in the trash. CP then decided to pull out a Buzz Lightyear doll (the talking one with lasers that shoot), and he ceased to be CP and turned into Annoying Brat. Soon, Sassy Mama decided he was annoying too and Buzz Lightyear disappeared just as I was about to rip the only magazine I had found in half in frustration.

12:14 AM E returns and lets me know that a half hour ago, C saw a doctor and X-rays were ordered. A light appears at the end of the tunnel.

12:20 AM C goes to X-ray. EJ gets to go see the doctor.

12:40 AM Doctor gives diagnosis to E & C. Sassy Mama and her children get to see the doctor. I’m one of three people left in “Fast Track.” Ms. Albino has never appeared. One man in particular has been in there as long as I have. He’s in a wheelchair, and he’s pulled his sweatshirt up over his head and gone to sleep. A few minutes later, another group of grownups has brought in another boisterous child and I’m no longer inclined to take a nap.

1:12 AM E comes out, followed by C, who is on crutches and is sporting a temporary cast and a “really cool ice bag,” and a prescription for some kickin’ painkillers. Lovely parting gifts for those who endured the ER.

1:30 AM E needs to stop and get gas on the way home. No problem. I take the time and interview C about her experience. Her one quote: “I’m really tired.” Me, too, C… me, too…

I arrived at home about 1:50 AM and let E & C know I made it home. I took off my cape and at 2:06 AM my head hit the pillow and it was the last thing I remember until my alarm went off at 6:30 AM… I hope to catch more zzzz’s tonight.

Oh, and the moral of the story: when the pizza man rings the doorbell… rise slowly and take deliberate steps across the room.

THE END

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