Last Friday evening I had to take Sandra into the emergency room. The way she likes to drink and fight it was bound to happen sooner or later ... OK, I made that last part up. I did take her to the ER but it wasn’t for injuries sustained in a drunken brawl; she always wins her drunken brawls ... alright, I made that up too.
The point is I took her to the local ER around 6:30 p.m. on a Friday night. For the record, 6:30 p.m. on a Friday night is the official beginning of the “Weekend Freak Show” in emergency rooms across the country. I tell you this because nobody told us and we walked innocently into it expecting professional medical care in a timely manner. I feel so silly even writing that now.
It was a dark and stormy night (I always wanted to say that) so I dropped her off under the awning at the ER entrance. My plan was to waste some time parking the truck so she would be well on her way to being treated by the time I showed up. That worked about as well as Custer’s plan to surprise Sitting Bull at Little Bighorn.
Sandra denies seeing it, but when I walked into the ER that night, I would have sworn that I saw a guy juggling flaming bowling pins in my peripheral vision, and I’m sure there were clowns. What I know I saw was a huge room full of people; so many people.
There were old people in wheel chairs and babies in strollers, sick people and injured people, people who were throwing up and people who had fallen down (forgive me Dr. Seuss). There were people moaning, groaning, wheezing and complaining; people were sitting, standing or laying down in every square inch of the place.
There were guards ... armed guards ... in a hospital! Why were there armed guards in a hospital?
What I didn’t see was my very uncomfortable wife receiving any medical attention. I found her near the receiving desk sitting calmly playing on her iPad. She showed me a piece of paper with the number 55 written on it, and told me that she was waiting to be “triaged.”
Until then I’d always associated “triage” with doctors and helicopter, too much M*A*S*H as a teenager, I guess. As I contemplated a helicopter coming in to lift us out of the ER circus, someone yelled out “Number 55!” I was so relieved that she was going to be seen and we were going to escape this madness.
Sandra disappeared behind a wall only to reappear a few minutes later. She told me that they had just taken her vitals, her insurance information and assessed her medical condition. The nurse had told her that there were only a few people ahead of her and it wouldn’t be long.
It wasn’t until about three hours later that I discovered that “triage” was French for “a steaming load of crap.”
We took a seat in the waiting area where Sandra went back to her iPad as I sat on my hands so I wouldn’t inadvertently touch my eyes or mouth, certain that every surface in that room was alive with a flesh eating virus mutating with that new bird flu.
I’m no germaphobe, but within 10 feet of us there were people hacking, wheezing all kinds of nastiness and I was pretty sure I had already developed a sore throat. I’m no germaphobe but I might be a hypochondriac.
When a screen mounted on the wall flashed the number 27, everyone in the room looked at the number in their hand and many of us began to weep. An elderly gentleman who was pushing his wife around in a wheelchair asked, “What did it say? Was that number 43?”
Suddenly it occurred to me that maybe he had been my age when they came in and we might never escape this nightmare! As they flashed number after number, with the old guy yelling, “Was that 43? When are you going to call 43?” I realized why they kept armed guards in the ER; they must be holding people against their will! Why else would anybody ever stay there?
As we tried to sneak out after three hours of being ignored, a nurse called Sandra’s number and, thankfully, she was finally treated for her problem. We made good our escape after six long painful hours of the Weekend Freak Show, and that’s no “triage.”
Rick Seley is an award-winning humor columnist.