A few weeks ago at work, I found myself really psyched as football season had begun with a season opener of the NY Giants and Dallas Cow Pies. I was looking forward to a busy night, a busy week and a busy Autumn. I LOVE Autumn and during the months of June, July and August I bombard any and every one within earshot how much I hate Summer, can’t stand baseball and how Fall and Football can’t come soon enough. I should have known something was cosmically afoot. Next time I wont be psyched for an impending work week. I’ll act miserable as usual and maybe the Great Spirit will leave me alone.

So I am at work and I am going up the short stairs into the dining room when I felt a sickening pop in my left foot. It wasn’t excruciatingly painful…it felt…gross if that makes sense. Like watching a gruesome injury and hearing a sound that makes you cringe and grimace. I fell to the ground making a loud nonsensical sound which freaked out the diners at the tables I was waiting on right next to where I fell. I got back up and was able to walk around some, but when I put any kind of pressure on my left foot I felt queasy and a yucky painful sensation, coupled with some pain that I didn’t want to test the limits of. I have an extraordinarily low pain threshold. I cry over paper cuts and have been known to pass out before crawling to the bathroom in dramatic fashion like all the private dicks do after they’ve been shot in the film noir movies I am addicted to…the difference is Bogart, Mike Hammer and Phillip Marlowe don’t have and make use of Toy Story band aids in their medicine cabinets.

I tried to keep working but after 5 minutes I realized that was impossible, so I asked the manager to call in someone else, and decided that I should go to the ER. My boss, as is his general custom in times of difficulty and pain, went to get me a car without holding the front door open for me, opening the car door, or asking if I was OK. I don’t think people mean to be cold, but there is a serious lack of empathy, compassion and manners out there. Sadly there would be many examples of this over the next 48 hours. It made me wonder how helpful I really am. After 24 hours of horrifying apathy from the general public I came to the conclusion that I am decidedly one of the good guys. I give my seat up to the elderly on the subway, I offer to and help mothers carry their strollers up subway steps. I’d certainly assist anyone who was struggling with crutches trying to get through a door. It’s really not that tough people. In fact, it’s kinda easy.

The first cab driver couldn’t speak English well enough to understand “Mount Sinai Hospital”, which is the medieval hospital in my neighborhood. I hobbled out of his cab and into another. This guy spoke English at a third grade level and must have studied economics as he overcharged the desperate, limping man. He too, didn’t help me out of the cab. He just said “goodnight” and went to go look for more injured or desperate suckers.

I have some small experience with Mt Sinai Emergency. Once I went when I was…to put it in the most genteel way…shitting blood for two days with a 104 temperature, I had my first IV,which seemed to kill whatever nasty bug that someone had seasoned my tacos with. Another time was when my former Japanese girlfriend was visiting and slipped on ice shattering her elbow in 8 places. They were pretty useless that time and I felt so bad for the poor girl. In a strange country, a very poor command of the English language and me going back and forth from work to the hospital doing a bang up translating job.

Doctor: “Are you in much pain?”
Tomoko: 私は理解していない “Watashi wa rikai shite inai.” ( Translation: “I don’t understand”)
Doctor: (looking at me) “Ask her if she is in much pain.”
Me: “Uh, are you in much pain?”
Tomoko: “Watashi wa rikai shite inai.”
Doctor: “What did she say?”
Me: “Watashi wa rikai shite inai”
Doctor: “OK, what does that mean?”
Me: “I don’t know, I don’t speak Japanese.”

The doctor and I then looked at Tomoko and smiled, confident that we had reached an accurate diagnosis that an elbow violently smashed in 8 places was probably painful. She was in good hands with Dr Mengele and her boyfriend and translator; Harpo.

I limped into the ER which was full, gave the intake person my info, and limped back into the waiting room. There was a poor girl next to me who was crying and looked like she was in serious pain. A guy across the room from me looked like he’d been beaten up or mugged. I found out later that he was having fainting spells and had fallen on his face. (He was treated next to me when I finally saw a doctor.) That must be pretty damn scary too. Next to me was a woman who looked like a crack head with her morbidly obese daughter and two small, infant children. The children were having a screaming contest..or perhaps “screeching” is a better term. It was an impressive battle with no decisive winner. Big Mama was eating piles of shrimp from a to go container.
Eventually I was called into see the admitting nurse. I still wasn’t in tremendous pain, I was just scared…really scared. Am I going to need surgery? Will I lose my job? I’m inclined to worry under the best of circumstances.

Call Gow-No answer
Call Pam-No answer
Baby number 1 screeches… I gave it an 8.7
Baby number 2 screeches…meh 7.9
Big Mama yells at them to “Shut up” between mouthfuls of shrimp
Call Gow again-No answer.
Notice the sign in the ER waiting room. “No cell phones” Yeah….that ain’t gonna happen. Luckily I am not the only person breaking this rule.
Call Pam-she answers. Pam is an RN. She works in a psych ward, which is surprisingly where I’d rather be at the moment…they have puzzles. Pam is reassuring. It occurs to me that this year I have been calling Pam when I am having a rough time. (Mom sick, mom diagnosed with cancer, mom dying, clearing out mom’s apartment ) She’s been there each and every time. I hope she knows that I love her so much and that I’m here for her too. It’s safe to say my horrible year has been made tolerable with some great friends.

Finally I am called to see a doctor. I say “finally” but really it’s about an hour to an hour and a half, which is an amazingly short wait for NYC ER’s. This was a Wednesday and people usually wait until the weekends to overdose on drugs or to shoot or stab each other. I notice that despite my hobbling around, no one has offered me a wheel chair or even advised that I “stay off that foot”. Tough love? Idiocy? Perhaps a bit of both. Nurses say “This way” and start walking away briskly.

I am seen by what I guess is a physicians assistant while the doctor yells at another patient next to me. I call him “Dr Fudd” as his Asian accent makes him pronounce L’s and R’s as W’s

Doctor Fudd: “You weawie need to take both of the medicines”
Patient: “Why?”
Doctor Fudd: “Because you have two vewy diffwent bactewieaw infections.”

The PA offers me 800 mgs of ibuprofen. I raise her a shot of morphine. She calls my bluff and I lose that hand. I ask questions and I am patient and polite as Pam told me to be. The PA gets on my nerves a little as she keeps referring to my “Primary Care Physician” after I keep repeating I am not insured. I am tempted to suggest ” Take one of those throat culture swabs and jam it deep in your ear…I don’t think you’re in any danger of hitting anything in there, but maybe your hearing will improve.” But, I keep my mouth shut. Threats or sarcasm don’t seem like such a slick idea given the state I am in. She squeezes my calf muscles and asks where it hurts. Luckily I am not in extreme pain…I’m still just very scared. Dr. Fudd eventually comes over and squeezes some more explaining that it is my Achilles tendon. My foot is not responding involuntarily to the squeezes. I am told I have to go to an orthopedist. I keep explaining that I am uninsured, I need to be able to work. PA Ratchet puts a soft bandage on my foot and tells me Elmhurst Hospital should be able to take me and sort me out with an ortho. I am discharged with a small prescription for percocet and some crutches. I hobble out of the ER. Again, no wheelchair. I thought ALL hospitals wheeled you out. Thats how they do it on TV. They even say to the patient…”Oh it’s hospital policy”. The doors at the ER are also not automatic. Two people just outside the door of the ER watch me as I struggle with the door. As I finally get out the doors I say to the couple “Don’t worry, I’ve got it” Assholes. I crutch it home and I really stink at using the crutches. I stop at the Dominican bodega on the corner of my street which has two doors. I can enter on one side and exit on the other side of the street where I live. I give the guy at the deli $3 and told him I’d be grabbing 2 diet cokes and exiting on the other side.

“What happened to you my friend?” he yells at me when he notices me crutching over to the diet coke cooler.
“I hurt myself at work.” I shout back.
He doesn’t notice me struggling with the door.
Later that night, on the phone, Gow says “If you’d have been a hot chick, he’d have lept over the counter and opened the door.”
“If I’d have been a hot chick, he’d have carried me home” I reply.

Get home and up the stairs. I open my door and Cheech and Chong are there to greet me. They seem concerned with my injury but feel better when I assure them I will still be able to open cans of food. My little fluffy pragmatists. I finally reach the Gow on the phone. She is, as always sympathetic and does her very best to calm me down. She’s a little upset that my calls didn’t go through as she was home the entire time I was in the ER calling. I whine for a bit and turn in. Lately I play Mystery Science Theater 3000 movies on youtube to fall asleep. I go through phases in what I have on in the background for sleeping. I think I once went an entire month putting in a videotape of Woody Allen’s A Mid-Summer Night’s Sex Comedy or Annie Hall. Other favorites include the British comedy Coupling, The Ricky Gervais Podcasts, AOL Radio Comedy Attack. A couple weeks ago I went 2 or 3 evenings snuggling up with my coveted body pillow after putting Rosemary’s Baby on the dvd player. The Gow upon hearing of this choice expressed exasperation with me. Gow is supportive and sympathetic and I am whiny and exasperating…yet somehow it works.

I slept deeply but not for long and woke up at 5am. I called the Gow again and whined some more. This whole experience is terrifying and upsetting. I quickly realize how disabled I am as I try to do simple little morning routine things…making coffee, shaving, dropping kids off at the pool. I can’t even kick Cheech anymore. I email work to keep them abreast of things. One of my biggest fears is of losing my job, or keeping my job and having my employers resent me for being injured, getting workman’s compensation etc. I’m scared of lots of things, truth be told. Gow is great, as usual and tells me to deal with everything the best I can and as they come along.

To further torment myself I look up the injury online and then reviews of Elmhurst Hospital where I am supposed to take my limping, uninsured carcass to find an ortho. The reviews are terrible…not just your garden variety Yelp haters. Tales of filthy operating rooms, rusty scalpels, incompetent, Nazi war criminal doctors, day long waits in ER waiting rooms only to be turned away, misdiagnosed or having another patient die next to them. I freak out some more and look for other hospitals that have ortho services for the uninsured. Call Gow back as I haven’t whined and whimpered to her for at least 20 minutes and I can’t allow her to actually get on with her workday. I hobble and crutch myself to the drugstore to fill the prescriptions I got at the ER last night, then to the deli to check my lottery tickets. I once won $150 at this deli. It was the only time I won anything bigger than a free ticket on the mega-millions or powerball. Being a player of the New York State Idiot Tax in the form of scratch and lottery tickets I have become superstitious. I am convinced some stores sell better ones than others. As I limp and crutch over to the deli while my scripts are being filled I look up and have a word with Heavy G regarding a big win. I explain that I could REALLY use a jackpot today God. That would eliminate every ounce of my current stress. No worries about work, doctors, third world quality emergency rooms, money… Then it dawned on me that the money and lottery prayer was probably one of the more common prayers. In all likelihood God’s lottery voice mail was clogged and no one was even answering or erasing the messages. Plus, as difficult as this situation was for me, as scared and stressed as I was…there were more deserving people out there who should hit the lucky numbers. I don’t play the lottery expecting to win. I play it to allow me to fantasize about winning the lottery. Middle finger shaped swimming pool, a doctor in a brownstone with great magazines in their waiting room for me to steal. I didn’t win. Such is life.

I take a car service to Elmhurst Hospital dreading the day ahead. I had packed books, cell phone (calling friends and whining helps pass the time) magazines, nicotine gum, sodas, halls cough drops (also for nicotine fits) I had no doubt that the very second I stepped out for half a smoke, my name would be called, and I’d sit back down in the waiting room after my name had been removed from the list. I got in line behind a handful of other patients and waited. There were signs all over the waiting room in the ER. One stated that patients would be seen in order of medical priority and not based on how long they had been waiting. Made sense, but I was positive I’d be placed directly behind ingrown toenails and hemorrhoids. I was going to grow old in this waiting room. Maybe long enough to heal.

Maybe if I start screaming after 4 or 5 hours…then I can go to a nice psych ward…they have puzzles. Finally it was my turn with the intake lady. As I gave her my info I tried to converse with her, being the friendly curmudgeon that I am. I do try to start things off on a pleasant note before I start griping and hating…honest. “Busy today?” I asked. I guess she wasn’t one for small talk because her reply was “I need a photo ID.” OK…nice talking to you.

I took a seat and surveyed the other patients. As is required by law there was at least one screaming baby. All doctors offices, the DMV, courthouses and anywhere else that one is required to spend too much time awaiting an unpleasant experience. I have come to think of it as a misery appetizer. This baby was perhaps one or one and a half years old “MAAAAAAAA-MAAAAAA” she wailed over and over again. I behave rather poorly in the presence of screaming children. I heave loud, obnoxious sighs and mutter “shut that child up.” aloud. Later when the little girl stopped crying I noticed how cute she actually was…angelic almost. After a bit her older brother, perhaps 4 years old had decided that the waiting room had just about enough peace and quiet, and reached over and yanked his little sisters hair starting a new chorus of loud, shrill “MAAAAAAA-MAAAAAA’s” I could have killed the little shit. If I wasn’t crippled I’d have run over and yanked the little bastard by the hair and yelled “What’s wrong with you…don’t you hear that?? That’s annoying!!!” Since I couldn’t get to him I just mouthed the words “I’ll KILL You” when he glanced in my direction. he saw my foot in a splint and decided the threat lacked credibility. When the little girl’s MAAAAA-MAAAAA was finally seen by the triage nurse, an adult woman who was with them, possibly an aunt or friend was left to watch the brother and sister. This started the loudest chorus of “MAAAAAA-MAAAAH’s for the day. It seemed the triage nurse didn’t care for screeching in her little booth of misdiagnosis.

I can have a tendency to be snotty and snobby in places like this, like I am some how above all of these people who are here for help. But looking around the room I actually felt a connection with these people. Most of them were working people who didn’t have the proverbial pot to piss in, the window to throw it out of OR the two nickles to rub together. They, like me, were all in pain or sick, were scared and were probably sweating the loss of some crappy job. One Hispanic woman was reading a Spanish/English dictionary. Good for her. Recently I have been resentful toward Hispanic aliens (legal or illegal) who have no interest or place any effort in learning the lingua franca of this country. Next to me in the waiting room was a pretty young college girl reading a book. Have I become less snotty and more understanding ? Has my sense of empathy gotten stronger, or have I accepted the current “station” of my life? I have no beef with poor people who work for a living. My gripes and grievances are with stupid poor people who do nothing to improve their lives.

I settled in for the inevitable wait that I had been expecting. I rummaged through my backpack and came out with The Orwell Reader. I had brought two Orwell books with me as he is one of my favorite authors, who experienced poverty first hand and reported on it. Foolishly I decided that “How the Poor Die” was a good essay to read. It is a report on Orwell going to a Parisian charity ward when he was severely ill with pneumonia. The piece, though beautifully written, was hitting a little too close to home at the moment, so I stuck Georgie O back in my backpack and pulled out MAD magazine. The waiting room was kept very cold. Make no mistake I’d have been much more furious if the AC wasn’t cranked. It was just a little too cool for me, which is a rarity for a man who runs his AC set on “Antarctica” from April to October. My guess was it was kept cold to discourage bacteria and to make patients reconsider the urgency of their emergency. One fellow was sitting with his arms pulled into his t-shirt. The temperature was just another annoyance to be endured.

3 hours later my name was finally called and I went through the coveted doors to where people were actually being treated. I had a Filipino “head nurse” tell me that “We called your name and no one came so I am seeing this patient now. Go back in the waiting room and we’ll call you when I am done with this woman”. I thanked her and explained that between the heavy accents, the garbled intercom system and the noise of the waiting room it was difficult to determine whos name was being called. She assured me that she’d come and get me personally. I limped and crutched back to the waiting room, once again no one helped me with the door. This was fast becoming a disappointing and discouraging routine. My name was called among several others to go to one of the windows in the ER. I hobbled over. A man was chatting with his girlfriend in front of the windows and no one could get by. “Excuse me.” I said. No response. “Ex-cuse me.” I repeated. Nothing. “EX-CUSE MEEE!” I said. Finally his girlfriend glanced at him and tugged on his arm gently. He gave me half a glance and moved an inch. I shoved by him muttering. This may be one of my top five all time pet peeves. Needless to say it happens in the industry I work in frequently. It’s a tougher situation working in a bar or restaurant, because regardless if a customer or customers are in your way…the rule from up high is “they are never in your way”. One of the things I love most about my current boss is he is quite the traffic warden at the pub. He gets almost as upset as I do with oblivious customers standing in service areas. The bonus is he is allowed to be slightly more confrontational. He also has a great Irish accent which is kind sounding and inoffensive. “Folks, could ye please keep this section clear…tanks a bunch.

I sit down in front of the windows until someone calls my name. These windows are the workers who fill out paper work with how we will or will not be paying for our medical care. They were reasonably nice people and efficient too. They gave me some paperwork to give to my bosses. After a bit the Filipino nurse came and called my name and walked briskly back through the doors to where people were being treated. As I reached for the door a hospital security guard came up and put his hand on the door. “Did they call your name?” he asked. “Yesss” I hissed at him angrily, thinking desperately for something sarcastic and obnoxious to say…for the first time in my life, I was at a loss. Later I met this man in front of the ER as I was leaving, and he was really quite nice. He helped me get a cab.

I sat down at the “Head Nurses” station and gave her the skinny. After hearing that I had been to another emergency room, been diagnosed with a ruptured Achilles tendon, given percocet and told I need to see an ortho, the nurse wanted to send me home. I explained again that I was uninsured and that this was why I was at this hospital. She kept repeating everything I said with annoying high pitched emphasis on certain words.

“They sent me here to see an ortho because I am uninsured”
“They sent you here to see an ortho because you’re uninsured?”
“Yes, I have said this three times.”
“Three times?”

I started to get angry. I said calmly but sternly. “I am injured and was told to come here because I am uninsured, I am not going to go from hospital to hospital, which may very well exacerbate my injury. I need treatment.” She reached for her cell phone to call someone to report that Mt Sinai was shipping grumpy patients to them. Eventually a nice doctor came over and told Nurse Useless to cool it. “This kind of thing happens all the time.” he told her. I liked him. I was sent back to the waiting room and was told I’d be called to see a doctor in a bit.

I have to say, the doctors were pretty damn great. They were young doctors paying their dues in a crap hospital (my guess) They took a look at my foot, re bandaged it and made an appointment to see an ortho the next week. They wrote me a note excusing me from work and…more drugs.

And?

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