Alone in the Emergency Room

Going through my old notes, I find this, written in the local hospital emergency room where I drove myself last spring when my eye turned red and began oozing puss so thick I was half blind.
Sitting in this little room in the ER at Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital, I feel more and more sorry for myself. Everyone else has people with them: parents, children, siblings, friends, somebody.
“Who drove you here?” the first nurse asked.
“I did.”
A look of concern passed over his face.
My husband, 15 years older than I am, has Alzheimer’s and can’t drive anymore. Nor could he help me with insurance cards or forms. In fact, if he were here, it would be like having a child along, an impatient child who kept fiddling with the medical equipment and asking when we could go home.
I had sat down to dinner but wasn’t hungry. My eye was getting worse. I got up, put the food away, brushed my teeth, grabbed my purse and drove myself to the hospital. No, wait, I called a friend who always says to call her if I needed help. She wasn’t home.
So here I am, alone, half blind, stuffed up, thirsty and wondering if I will be able to drive home. Husbands die, I think. I should have had children. They’d be adults by now and could take me to the hospital.
I sit on the table, swinging my legs, waiting. I can hear a small dog barking. He has been barking for at least an hour.
Going nuts with nothing else to do, I make notes about the room I’m in. Not much bigger than my bathroom, it has fluorescent lights, a fire sprinkler, and white linoleum with grey speckles. There’s a green plaid curtain, a gray stool, a plastic wall rack holding four boxes of blue plastic gloves marked small, medium, large and extra large. There’s a hazardous waste depository, a paper towel holder, a Corporate Service Excellence award posted for the third quarter of 2006. I see a rack with tissues, swabs, sheets, plastic covers, pillow cases, blue hospital gowns, and barf basins. There’s some sort of heart machine, a bed, an IV pole with four hooks, a rack full of flashlights to look in your eyes and nose, an oxygen machine, a blood pressure bulb, a wastebasket, brochure racks—empty except for pamphlets on HIV/AIDS. A magazine rack holds copies of Metropolitan Home, People, Western Interior, and Sunset. Swell. If I could see to read, I could do a little freelance-writing market research. There’s a code call button, a phone, a red light switch and a gray help call button. I want to push them all.
Across the hall is a bathroom with a commode and a handicap toilet. I’d use it, but I’m afraid that’s when the doctor would come. After two hours, I’m not taking any chances.
The doctor finally comes in, swabs the gunk for lab tests, looks in my nose, mouth, and eyes, listens to me breathe and disappears for another hour.
Let’s describe the doctor: wiry hair, green scrubs, white tennis shoes. Grouchy.
Nearing four hours, he comes back with a diagnosis: On top of pharyngitis–an infection in the voice box–now I have conjunctivitis, popularly known as pink eye. It’s a viral infection, very contagious. I need to use wet compresses and eye drops and keep my stuff away from everybody else’s. For the throat, he advises salt water gargles. He hurries away, his shoes squeaking on the linoleum.
For this, I waited here alone until almost midnight.
A nurse comes in with a package of pain pills. They are exactly the medication I told the first nurse I couldn’t take. Besides, it doesn’t hurt bad enough for narcotics. On a scale of one to ten, I rated my pain at one and a half.
With the gunk wiped away, I can see a bit better. I go home and prepare my own gargles and compresses. In a couple days, the first eye is clear. The infection has moved into the other eye, but I know what to do, and it soon goes away.
It’s all very minor, but I can’t help thinking: what if this was something more serious where I could not drive, could not speak, could not tell anyone my name, date of birth, medications, insurance numbers or allergies. What if they just gave the me the pills that make me sick because there was no one to say, “Hey, wait a minute.”
Damn, I should have had kids. Those ever-present buddies on TV shows are a myth. Childless, parentless, we’re on our own. What is that Tennessee Williams line about always depending on the mercy of strangers? I don’t want to.

Yes, I know everyone says you can’t count on your children to help you in your later years. But at least, if you have children, it’s a possibility.

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