An emergency is put on hold


THIS IS THE story of a recent trip to the emergency room where, unfortunately, I did not have a meat cleaver buried in my skull.

I say "unfortunately" because if you arrive at the emergency room with a meat cleaver buried in your skull, you stand a fair chance of being treated immediately and sent on your way -- or at least as far as you can go with that particular injury.

Whereas, if you do NOT have a meat cleaver buried in your skull, you will languish in a stiff-backed plastic chair for hours, alternately moaning and thumbing through a 4-year-old copy of People until a nurse calls out in a bored voice: "Ackerman. OK, let's see what that grizzly did to your face . . ."

Actually, on this particular trip to the ER, I wasn't even the one who was hurt. What happened was, a friend of mine had separated his shoulder playing ball. And because the little baby kept screaming and going into shock, I agreed to drive him to the hospital in the hope that maybe then I could have a little peace and quiet.

(By the way, there is nothing more uplifting than being healthy in an emergency room. All around me were people suffering, bleeding, crying out in pain. And here my major concern was getting change for the coffee machine. Hell, it was all I could do to keep from whistling in front of these people.)

Anyway, I thought we would cause a bit of a scene upon our arrival in the ER because, as I said, my friend was sort of carrying on about his shoulder.

Not that I blamed him. By now the shoulder looked gruesome, with a bone sticking out the top and his arm bent like a sapling at a 30-degree angle. Coupled with his shrieking, I figured he'd have a team of doctors swarming over him and we'd be out of there in no time. Instead, people barely looked up when we burst in.

"Fill out this form," said the woman behind the desk, stifling a yawn. "Then fill out this and this. Then have a seat."

Now, let me say this about filling out forms. Clearly, it is no day at the beach in the best of times. But when your shoulder is unhinged and you're all but lapsing in and out of consciousness, it seems to me we could waive this particular ritual.

Once the forms were filled out, we took a seat in the obligatory stiff-backed plastic chairs and began sizing up the competition, so to speak. There was a woman with some sort of nasty eye injury and a kid with a broken arm. There was a guy who had cracked his ankle with a sledgehammer (nice move) and another guy who had apparently stepped on a nail.

"The guy with the nail has no shot of seeing a doctor in this century," I whispered. "If I were him, I'd go hurl myself in front of a train. At least then maybe you'd see a nurse."

Anyway, time dragged on. My friend sat slumped over in his chair, whimpering softly, eyes rolling back in his head, breath coming in painful shallow bursts. I occupied myself with the standard back issue of People, which was devoted to a good deal of cleavage along with an endless profile of Michael J. Fox, likening him -- as only this magazine can -- to a young Olivier.

After an hour or so, though, I began to get pretty bored. You can only read so much about Michael J. Fox before your head begins pounding and you feel the need to lie down in a dark room.

Plus my friend's whimpering was starting to drive me nuts. It was this high-pitched "Eeeii, Eeeii!" sound, sort of what you'd hear if your cocker spaniel were caught in a bear trap.

"Why couldn't you have a better injury?!" I snapped at last. "You could have fallen off a roof. You could have ridden your motorcycle off a cliff. But no-o-o-o! All you think about is yourself!"

My friend apologized for not injuring himself more severely -- at least I think it was an apology. Quite frankly, he was nearly out of his mind with pain by now, babbling incoherently about blueberry muffins, Jim Morrison and a mystic he met once at the Daytona 500.

Good God, the man was sinking fast. I pointed this out to the woman at the desk, but all she did was glare at me. (If you ever wonder where all those former Hitler Youth Corps members disappeared to, I know where at least one of them works.)

Well, it took two hours but my buddy finally saw a doctor, who filled him full of painkillers and worked the shoulder back into place. By then I was slogging through my fourth People and an absolutely numbing profile of Joan Collins.

So don't talk to me about suffering.

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