ER Sanity Tactics


(i wrote this back in 2009 after a very boring, yet very introspective trip to the emergency room. i was reading a lot of chuck palahniuk at the time…”survivor” i think? looking back, i feel his style was rubbing off on me a bit.)

the room was barely full, considering that it was the ER waiting area. folks spread around so as not to get closer to one another than necessary. who knows who has what cold, disease, or mental disorder (or STD).

i made my way to the far left of the room and took a seat by the window, next to a little end table with a lamp, a couple of lame magazines and a pamphlet left by some local religious zealot hoping to shore up his time in heaven by converting the emotionally bereft in the hospital emergency room.

i glanced at the overgrown holly bush on the other side of the greasy windowpane and noticed a little bird looking at me (not so much looking back as probably staring at his own birdy reflection, wondering whether or not he was a female bird that he could mate with or a rival male with which he must do his little birdy duty and challenge to a fight). at least this way the upcoming hours of my internment could be timed on nature’s terms. sometimes the best form of entertainment is found in nature. and on nature shows on television (especially the ones where the knowledgeable-but-douchebaggy-host-adventure-guy tries to accomplish something relatively dangerous and winds up getting hurt…and eventually takes his own journey to the ER. Off camera, of course).

i have been around long enough to know that the term “trip to the ER” isn’t just a trip. it’s not a walk to the corner store for an ice cream, it’s not a drive to the country on a sunday, and it sure as hell isn’t disney world. it isn’t even a shitty county fair with stale popcorn and some toothless carney who is running the scrambler and waiting on his next smoke break where he’ll meet Dale from over at the swinging pirate ship where they’ll share the ass-end of a roach that someone dropped by the port-a-johns.

it is, to be sure, a journey into the abyss of eternal, unceasing, relentless time.

sometimes, the ER waiting game includes emotional dramas brought on by the other “visitors” in this lysol-infested stink hole, or an ambulance rushing to the sliding glass doors and unloading some poor soul in the final throes of cardiac arrest (or the lucky recipient of a stroke, or a dude with a shattered leg from a car accident, or a lady who was shopping for groceries and had her water break on aisle 10, or, if you’re lucky enough, a drug overdose with vomit, and sweat and piss and everything).

this time, however, it was a rather uneventful occurrence. i sat down with my book, fully prepared to while away the hours in literary silence. that is, until i was confronted with two televisions, large and flat in their plasmic glory, their talking heads spewing information at us all, practically screaming the day’s top headlines and breaking stories because the volume was so loud. i never knew Al Roker could deliver the weather so freakin’ loudly. but then again, he is catering to a lot of cotton-headed-five-am-coffee-drinkers who probably have hearing aids already. maybe he has to be extra loud to hear himself think over the collective buzz of their wavering little hearing aid batteries.


i sat for a moment, trying to block out the screaming newscaster above my head, his presentation of general doom and gloom heightened by flashy moving graphics and the constant soundtrack of swooshes and pings to add further emphasis to his story of more bad news.

looking around the room, i notice that not a single soul has his attention focused on my tv and they’re all facing the opposite direction. the one person i have to contend with for a little peace and quiet is a motherly looking woman with a canvas bag of preoccupations. she has the ER waiting game down for sure. i stand up and move toward the television, waiting for a sign from her that she was watching.


i pressed the volume button on the side and the screen displayed a series of little green horizontal lines, with the words “volume” beneath. “78” the screen read. holy christ. if this tv is blaring at 78 i can only imagine how high the volume is on the the other one. no wonder everyone goes bat shit crazy while waiting in the ER.

when the volume on my tv had decreased to a less noticeable decibel, the blonde motherly-lady across from me looked up from her book (or her crochet, or her magazine, or her hospital brochure on lymphoma) and she smiled a weary, hour-long smile. “thank you,” she said, “that was loud.”

i gave the universal “your welcome” hand gesture of lifting my hand in the air and twirling it toward her with two fingers extended as if i were a european monarch (or a self obsessed homecoming queen waving to her adoring-slash-jeering public).

after sitting in relative silence for a few moments, i wondered why on earth she hadn’t bothered to ease her own auditory pain and turn the television down herself. maybe she’s a glutton for punishment: “i sat in that ER for eight hours saturday with the tv blaring,” she would tell her ladies church group the following sunday, “it was just unbearable. i could barely get my bible verse read, and i never even started on the crotched booties for Joanie’s baby.”

maybe she visits the ER so often with a sick grandchild or elderly parent (brochure for lymphoma?) that she doesn’t even notice the tedious annoyances anymore. maybe the staff know her by name but she sits in the corner of the room by herself, keeping away from all of the contagious diseases and broken limbs and snotty kids (and STDs).

maybe she’s just one of those people who is afraid. afraid to do something. afraid to make a ripple in a artificially-calm pond. afraid that one of those ER demon receptionists would take her hand off with a ninja star if she tried something (anything) out of the ordinary.

so she sat quietly reading-slash-crocheting-slash-stewing away, waiting for some sort of relief but unable to do anything to alleviate her annoyance. that is, until someone like me comes along. i’m certainly not a revolutionary. not a reformist, not a pacifist, not a communist or a socialist. no “-ist” here. i don’t even own a Che Guevara t-shirt.

i’m just someone who came along and said, “this is fucking ridiculous,” and pushed the button. that tiny, round, silver-coated plastic little button. a miniscule gesture with my index finger that barely even falls under the definition of “movement,” or “action,” or “solution”.

besides the other tv on the other side of the room, it’s nice and calm on my side now. i look out the window and see the same little bird, pecking at a leaf on the bush, unaware of the ridiculous amount of noise in a room full of sick or soon to be sick people. picking up my book, i scrunch back in my seat and pull the sleeve of my comfy fleece jacket over my watch so i can’t see the time. then i turn my back to the clock and take a long chug of my coffee.

apparently i too know the secrets of emergency room waiting tactics just as well as my new friend, whose name I later learned when they called her to walk through those heavy metal doors and into still another room, to wait yet again.

ER Sanity Tactics, 1 through 5, dedicated to Mrs. Martin:

1.) don’t watch the clock
2.) ingest copious amounts of coffee
3.) engage your mind, preferably in a long but interesting book (but not about infectious diseases)
4.) take control of your environment
5.) don’t watch the clock

you’re welcome.


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