Though I never did develop a taste for the show ER back in the day, I do recall nearly a dozen years ago seeing ten minutes of an episode and being astonished at how dramatically frenetic everything was. Generally, based on an utterly vague recollection–or perhaps it is simply an understanding of the essential tenets of TV medical dramas, the doctors, nurses and staff all did their jobs efficiently, smoothly, and, although there were occasional missteps made, like dropping a ball point pen into a gaping abdominal hole, most everything transpired successfully–even in the face of seemingly incessant, stress-inducing, near ultra-human demands. With that knowledge, or at least a naïve misconception of what a realistic big city ER must be like, my wife and I hesitantly and groggily entered the emergency room of a local hospital here in Kaohsiung, a city of 1.5 million residents in southern Taiwan, at three o’clock in the morning on a particularly worrisome night this mid-March. Having bled heavily for the previous thirty minutes, for reasons unknown, but most likely connected to her having given birth to our son two weeks prior, she was distraught, concerned, and just a bit exhausted, naturally. I, not wanting to induce more stress, looked at things in a different light, thankfully getting my wife to laugh a few times as a result. However, it could have been rather easy to focus on something to stress about, for there were a few matters that could have caused such nerve-racking emotions.
Within seconds of entering the hospital, I realized that ER, the show, was simply Hollywood’s portrayal of what an emergency room should be like, not in reality, but in order to capture the attention of audiences around the world (with 42 years of experience under my belt, that knowledge was already there, but just go with this, please). This ER was surely not the same, for no viewer’s attention would have been grabbed if it had, indeed, been an episode in the series. In fact, at one point, I quietly quipped, “Imagine this was an ER episode, Baby. The audience would be going for a pee break or to the kitchen for snacks right now… If they were able to continue tuning in at all.”
Having parked our car in a Leslie Nielson-esque fashion out front, when we entered through the sliding glass doors, a sleepy staff barely looked up, the man manning the registration desk didn’t seem to notice our arrival—even though, if I were him, I would have jumped for joy at something to do, and a group of gals in hospital greens and garb were too focused on their conversations and iPhone applications to care. When my wife pleaded in Mandarin, what I took to be, based on rudimentary knowledge of the language, “I am bleeding, can’t you see? Get the doctor ASAP! I think there is an alien life form sprouting from my privates!” only two of the four women stood up, albeit ever so slowly, while one moved her elbow at least to gesture that she was thinking about standing, and the other raised her chin, perhaps by a margin of three millimeters, which simply could have been a deep-in-sleep head jerk caused by the shifting of the mood of the room from wholly catatonic to one filled with semi-action.
One of the ladies, the one who smacked herself in the cheek to wake herself up upon realizing we’d said something, asked my wife if she wanted to sit down in a hard plastic chair at her desk; however, my ever-so-understanding partner in life, knowing that her dark sweat pants were saturated with blood, responded that she shouldn’t because she would undoubtedly stain the chair, perhaps feeling sorry for the night crew that they might actually have work to do afterwards. Astonishingly, the staff immediately queried, “Did you bring a pad to sit on?” Internally, my mind was a’whirl with all potential responses, such as “Sure, we just happen to carry those with us at all times,” or “What the hell do we look like… a medical supply sales team?” Of course, there were other comeback options, as you can imagine, but because I didn’t want to stress my wife any more, I bit my lip and instead opted to whisper a joke to my wife about how absurd that notion was. Getting her to laugh was key. I figured if she were to hemorrhage to death, she should at least do so while laughing. In retrospect, though, I shouldn’t have mentioned to her that I expected them to at least bring out a sphygmomanometer (hey, I thought it was better to use that term instead of “blood pressure checking thingy”). It probably didn’t help her to know I was thinking she was about to drop.
After ten minutes or so of standing there, watching one woman dust off a magazine and another attend to her overgrown cuticles, ready to yell out, “What the $%#@ are you people doing?” we finally got them to at least bring us to a waiting room, one that looked more like a Victorian-era tea parlor than a place for a spewing-blood, groggy, without-much-patience patient to be examined (its appearance was nothing like a tea parlor, but it had the potential to be one more than an examination room in an ER). There, she was seated, with a pad placed underneath, of course, which we were probably paying for, and a few minutes later, an ultra sound machine was wheeled in (Aren’t you relieved I didn’t have to use a word like sphygmomanometer again?). Looking as if it hadn’t seen the light of day from its hiding place in a dusty closet in eons, this contraption may have been the first model of its kind at some point in time, and I could have sworn I saw a hand crank on it, like the ones used to start a Ford Model T, but it just turned out to be some obscure attachment for unknown purposes.
Startled awake from our catnaps, we finally met the doctor when we heard him shuffle into the room at some point. Actually, the shuffling in is no lie. Dressed in standard scrubs, he was wearing a pair of open-toe house sandals that scraped the floor when he walked, barely lifting the soles of said slippers off the floor—as if sleepwalking. I was surprised he didn’t have his arms outstretched as zombies do in the movies or Michael Jackson videos. For a few moments, I wanted to actually pinch his arm while he was sitting at the computer nearby to see if the bloke was actually… awake. Without his knowledge, I nicknamed him Dr. Droopy after that incessantly tired Basset Hound cartoon character from the 1940’s.
Here, it is important to remember that I had joked to my wife that this would be the point in an ER episode where people may just stroll to the john or channel surf, simply in search of more action.
Being that we were sequestered in this confining consultation room, when the doctor sat down at a desk to jump on the computer, he was within arm’s reach with his back to us, so we could readily see everything he did on the outmoded desktop PC he was attempting to use, in addition to noticing his sitting down on the strap of Ling’s Furla bag on the chair next to me. At that point I whispered to her that I would have loved to ask him, “Excuse me, but do you know the handbag you are sitting on is a Furla?” (You must be informed that I truly believe it absurd for anyone to spend more than twenty bucks on a purse, let alone $1,000. It was a gift, though.) Getting my wife to laugh was my goal, and it worked, however pale and despondent she was starting to look.
For the next ten minutes, literally, we watched both in horror and amusement as this guy failed miserably to log on properly, and once logged on, bewilder himself as to why the same exact icon on which he clicked more than a dozen times didn’t open. Incredulous that this guy was a trained physician, or was he (?), I glanced repeatedly at my wife to verify that she, too, was observing this oaf stumble around the desktop. Literally, he kept on clicking the same icon over and over, emitting little “eeks,” “ayes,” and “hmphs” as he did. Whatever program he was looking to open should have been made much more accessible, one would think, or at least anyone with semi-sane expectations of expediency would think. Remember, this is the ER we are talking about.
Eventually, sometime around 4am, he attended to my wife, having done his slothful data entry, entering esoteric codes for things like postpartum hemorrhaging geysers, uterine cleansing and suction procedures, and, I think, an Amazon.com order for a step-by-step guide for attending to a hemorrhaging patient’s uterus. Much of the medicalese and other elusive terminology that he entered was above our heads; however, based on what we’d experienced so far, I was wondering if it was above his, too. Regardless, he seemed ready to commence. With fingers crossed, we couldn’t help but slightly cower when he finally approached her, with feet, unsurprisingly, shuffling in said slippers.
To get the ultra sound to work, the doc lazily kicked the cart on which it was transported, bumped the side of the machine with his hip like the Fonz habitually did to the jukebox on the show Happy Days, and then wiped a cobweb from the transducer probe (yes, that had to be Googled) before taking a gander at what was going on internally, whatever was causing the bleeding by the bucketful. Once again, I had to use my rudimentary Chinese skills, for my wife, increasingly miserable and traumatized, simply wasn’t up to interpreting for me at the moment, to understand what was happening. Easily, though, I did recognize “hunduo dongxi”, which means “a lot of things,” but without knowing “kitchen sink” in Chinese, I think I missed the full point he was trying to make. To assume anything from this statement would have been foolhardy and risky, but I knew from the look on her face that they needed to clean out the closet, so to say.
Though I would like to detail more of the subsequent procedures, accompanying emotions and physiological reactions that transpired over the next ten minutes, I have to remain politely vague at this point. Suffice it to say that when I saw outlandishly large, burnished metal instruments being washed up before they initiated the procedure, all behind a semi-private curtain at the back corner of the room, my stomach turned. All sorts of shapes and sizes, the assortment of tools could have been used to build a house, I thought, or even to tear one down. Moments later, anxiously, from my seat at the front of the room, a mere six or seven feet away, I found myself gripping my sides to help control the figurative turning in my tummy, wondering if the literal turning in my wife’s tummy was any worse (which, of course, it was). Hearing the sounds of metal on metal scraping, I, consequently, couldn’t help but think, “Be strong, Baby.” However, when I finally summoned the courage to speak out to tell her the same, I believe my voice cracked in fear, which I hope she didn’t notice. To augment the overall atmosphere in the room, Dr. Droopy steadily broadcast his surprise findings while doing his, shall we say… excavating, exclaiming by varyingly using “Whoa!” “Yikes!” and “Egad!” to express himself, making me wonder if he had ever applied more than a Band-Aid to a scraped knee before. Furthermore, and this is no offense to doctors around the world who work the graveyard shift, I was forced to ponder the notion of hospitals saving money on hiring nightshift interns who are still wet behind the ears. You have to start somewhere, I suppose.
To spare you from further imagery distress, I’ll leave this paragraph short, but the last thing I recall before going mentally numb was the auditory resemblance of what balls of wet paper towels being thrown by a twelve-year-old boy at a concrete wall for fun would sound like, and the peripheral view of seeing such sound-producing “objects” was about all I could handle (I’m the kind of guy who turns his head when watching boil-draining surgeries or ingrown hair removal procedures on the Discovery Channel). At that point, weak in the knees, I almost left the room, but I stuck it out until they finished a few minutes later, thinking that my wife would have needed my physical presence somehow—although my mental state was somewhere on a beach in Tahiti by that point, which permitted me to stave off the need to retch. I don’t do well with blood and such.
Of course, when my spouse was wheeled out, after having gone through the wash, spin, and air-dry cycles of an industrial-size laundry machine (okay, she probably wasn’t that unhygienic and messy, but I am sure they needed a hand-held power wand like those used at a car wash, at least, to clean her up), I wasn’t even there! Instead, they had me drive home to get her a change of clothes. What? Could they not have issued some sort of paper-mâché disposable gown to wear? No, of course not. Even if they’d charged us for it, I would have preferred paying for a blanket to wrap around her than driving home at that hour, in such a tragic state of languorous queasiness, leaving her behind to defend for herself against the night crew from zombie hell.
Upon my progressively more lethargic and worn-out return at somewhere around 4:30am (wait, I wasn’t the one who went through all she did)! How dare I take away sympathetic focus from her!
Upon my bright-eyed and bushy-tailed return at somewhere around 4:30am, I found my better half with an IV in her arm, in a semi-comatose state, lying on a rigid bed (of course with padding underneath) in one of those overwhelmingly depressing open-bay recovery rooms, where downtrodden souls with various ailments awaited whatever (hopefully promising and positive) fate was in store. (Please, I mean no insult to anyone who has ever experienced trauma in such a place.) There, we slipped in and out of consciousness for the next few hours, with me taking a ten-minute breather at 6am to crawl to the nearby 7-11 to scoff down a steamed pork bun and to chug a 7-11 brand coffee—all in a veiled attempt to simply escape the confines of the hard plastic chair I was trying to sleep in, where I was covering myself with my wife’s sweater because ice cubes could have stayed in a perpetually frozen state out in the open air of this room. For the rest of the “night” (I wished it had still been night because that would connote having had more time to sleep), we were intermittently awoken by arriving patients, two of whom were screaming, sobbing children, a worrying experience and nothing near worthy of entertainment value, here. Finally, at 7:30am, having had her fill of IV fluids, she was discharged, and we somnolently returned to home sweet home, with the irrepressible desire to have had an ER, the show not the reality, experience on our minds, for that would have helped us pass the time and perhaps expedited the initial process some. As our house slippers drowsily shuffled along the floor upon entering our house and heading into the bedroom, such sounds prompted horrific images of Dr. Droopy dreamily entering the examination room nearly five hours before. Needless to say, they weren’t impressive recollections; in spite of this, in retrospect, my wife’s fears of bleeding to death had been allayed by said events, however shockingly slow they unfolded in real time, and she can now look back with a smile and a few giggles about our now-cast-in-a-humorous light ER memories, Dr. Droopy, the zombie staff, wet-paper towel audible stimulation, and the like.