Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Planning your emergency room visit in ten easy steps

If you think the emergency room is the place for you, here are some handy tips to consider!

1. Health warning. Please disregard all subsequent tips if your health condition constitutes a RIGHT NOW emergency. In that case, these concerns are not your biggest concern; you are. If, however, you are going to the emergency room because your father-physician has determined it would be the most efficient way for you to acquire a battery of tests to find out what ails ya, then I hope you will benefit from these words of wisdom.

2. Getaway vehicle. How are you going to arrive in the emergency room, if your condition does not merit an ambulance? Even if you are an avid public transit adherent, you may want to check out a car service car, or perhaps the car of your parent who drives to work at, coincidentally, the hospital whose emergency room you plan to attend. Alas, public transit is not really so good when you have a fever and chills, unfortunately. Particularly if it will require 2 trains and 1 bus to get to the hospital. PS: Car service drivers may receive bonus points for being entertaining and offering you cough drops while both of you hack your way down the Long Island Expressway (aka LIE).

3. Wardrobe. How are you going to look your best? If you have only two t-shirts, one a newly purchased Yankees jersey from your mother and sister (who went to the game your viral self could not, oh the humanity, attend) and the other a Communist party t-shirt, then you may wish to go with the jersey. However! Woe betide the patient who forgets that the hospital is located, like, in the shadow of Shea Stadium. In this case, emergency room nurses may make such remarks as, "Make sure that one hits lots of bumps!" as your gurney wheels merrily around. While these people appear to be joking, one is never certain.

4. Selective vision. If the ER staff announce they will take fluids out of your body, don't look. If they are going to leave things in your body, such as wires, that do not naturally belong there, don't look. There is no way you are going to be happy about that. If you can't see that IV, it can't see you. I promise. Just make sure you don't accidentally twist up the wire behind your arm such that you sit on it a bit, causing a surprising sharp pain to your elbow, and you will be A-OK.

5. Reading material. Always an essential: How are you going to soothe your fevered mind? Perhaps you should bring a voluminous and absorbing page turner, such as the British paperback copy of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest you have borrowed from your Britmopolitan coworker. However, you may also wish to remember that it can be difficult to turn the pages of such a volume when one of your arms is hooked up to an IV and the other has some sort of finger clamp on it. Even if you maneuver the finger-clamped hand about, it can still be difficult to hold open a 746-page tome such that you can actually turn more than a few pages. On the plus side, you will kill so much time this way. On the other minus side, it may turn out that this book is so popular that it mysteriously "disappears" from your bedside. When you finally leave the ER, you may find it at the nurses' station, prompting them to reply, "Oh, that's your book? That guy was reading it..."

6. Alternate entertainment. What? A 746-page tome is not enough for you? You want still more entertainment as you languish between blood tests and sonagrams? In that case, let me suggest that you bring a copy of your trusty friend, the Sunday Times crossword. Added time-killer exxxtreme bonus if you are left-handed and the IV is affixed to your left arm! A Sunday crossword's grid never seemed so extra-large as when you filled out the whole thing with your non-dominant hand. You really get an unparalleled sense of achievement here, particularly if you have been tootling through most Sundays absentmindedly on your computer.

7. Cultivate an interest in sports. Even if this interest is as temporary as the duration of your sonogram, it is essential. In today's state of the art hospital, the room where you get a test may have a state of the art television looming you from the ceiling. If you would like the process of being examined to pass as painlessly and absorbingly as possible, I suggest really caring about whether LeBron James is going to be traded to this team, that team, or the other team. Even better if you can fix on something you do sort of know about, even if you can't make out which vociferous opinion the commentator has about Phil Hughes versus Cliff Lee. Pondering concerns such as why the commentators refer to Lebron James as "Lebron" and not "James" is also acceptable, if not as transporting.

8. Play with your food. Sometimes the emergency room staff are nice and will bring you some lunch. Contrary to what people will tell you about hospital food, your lunch will not necessarily be bad! But you can spice it up. Consider: apple juice, fruit cup, turkey sandwich, mustard packet. Oh, what a shame if you don't like mustard. What are you going to do to juice up that perfectly acceptable but slightly dry turkey? Noooo, don't actually pour the juice on it; you need to make sure you hydrate. But! A few nicely redestributed peach or grape or cherry pieces make a nice sort of turkey salad, or even a chutney accompaniment if you are feeling sufficiently imaginative.

9. More entertainment. Still? What a greedy little creature you are! But I will indulge you and suggest that if you are almost done with your test battery and feel you can't bear the counterpoint of machine beeps a moment longer, now is probably the time for your ipod. It is always fun to play soundtrack engineer. What is most redolent of the true meaning of Emergency Room for you? Perhaps it is an old comforting yet sinister standard like The National's Val Jester ("should have looked after her better," you moan to yourself plaintively). Or an atmospheric track like Laura Veirs's "July Flame" with its evocation of the outdoors (even if you are slightly off-season). Or just the sheer cussed overoptimism of Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill." Grab my things? You've come to take me home? Sweeeeet!

10. Family. Of course, you cannot choose them, but the family may be an important component of the emergency room experience. It is helpful if they can come by with ginger ale or well-wishes or just a general demonstration of the fact that they remember you several hours later. It is extra-special-helpful if they know all the doctors and nurses and staff and the doctors and nurses and staff reallyreally like them. Your mileage may vary.

This has been your host, ER Eleanor. Safe travels!


  1. Yikes! I hope you're feeling better...

    Also, our odd similarities continue: I recently ALSO paid the ER a visit, I should have warned you in advance. I wonder what parallel will strike next...

  2. Oh no! Let's get a better commonality. How do you feel about, um, Prospect Park? I can write about that!

  3. Oh, sad littlest miss. Drink lots of your apple juice and if you need anyone to bring you food or anything (like if you feel too unwell to get up), just call me.

  4. Thanks, I will let you know if I do.