I am sitting in a straight-backed wooden chair, slumped over a side-table with my eyes closed. I can hear, down the hall behind curtain 6, a drunk yelling that he came to Vegas to gamble, not to sit in an emergency room and bleed to death. I also hear a mother crying at the bedside of a child whose small body is encircled by tubes and wires. My eyes are closed because across from me is a man, face down on a gurney. There is a large shard of glass protruding from the flesh of his right buttock. He is crying.
After about two hours, someone grabs my hand. Cool fingers circle my wrist. I open my eyes to a white jacket and stethoscope. I focus on a kind face with a pleasant smile. “I’m Dr. Gonzalez,” the man says. “What seems to be the problem?”
I frown at him, puzzled, then shake my head and point at my friend crumpled beside me in a reclining wheel chair, her left arm bound in a make-shift sling. She moans. The Doctor immediately turns his attention to her.
I watch as he carefully checks her over, assures her she will soon be on her way to xray, and tells her what we all already knew: her shoulder is dislocated.
The man with the glass shard is suddenly gone — whisked off to surgery? In his place sits a shriveled old man wearing trousers, bathroom slippers and a blood soaked t-shirt. He clutches a crimson rag to his face and asks repeatedly, “Is Janie coming? Is Janie coming?”
Twenty minutes pass. The xray techs appear and take my friend away. In another twenty minutes they return her. We talk for awhile, saying nothing important, but distracting her from the pain. Finally a nurse arrives. He spends almost a half an hour looking for a vein in her arm. He gathers up his toys and slumps away muttering. Another nurse arrives. She spends 3 minutes looking for a vein in my friend’s hand, inserts the IV, and is finished inside of 10 minutes.
Ten minutes pass. My friend is transfered to a gurney and wheeled into a cloth walled cubical. I follow. A tech appears and soon my friend is circled in tubes and wires. They give me her glasses. I hook them over my jacket pocket.
Five more people crowd into the little space. I step out even though they don’t ask me to. My friend calls, “Where are you going?”
“Just here,” I answer, and lean against the cold, white wall. The doctor explains to my friend how they will do the “reduction” and put her shoulder back in place. As he talks of force and leverage, he ties a white sheet around his waist. The nurse jokes about midnight ER toga parties. The doctor does a saucy little dance and my friend laughs.
I pull my cell phone from my pocket and look at the time. 1 a.m. I flip the phone open and call Sub Services — twice. Once for me. Once for my friend. Neither of us will be in our classrooms the next day.
As I call, the curtain around the cubical closes. I can no longer see my friend. She can no longer see me. “Are you there?” she calls.
“Of course,” I answer.
Again I listen. I listen as the doctor explains the anesthesia. I listen as he asks her, repeatedly, her name. After the third query, she doesn’t know. I listen as he directs the techs, and explains to an Intern what he is doing and why. I listen as he orders the nurse to call xray back for another picture. He adds, “Although I’m sure we’ve got it.”
The curtain opens. Everyone files out until only my friend, out cold and snoring at the cealing, and one nurse remain. I step back into the cubical, sit down in a straight-backed hardwood chair and rest my head against the wall. I try to doze. I hear the steady beep, beep, beep of my friend’s heart monitor, the nurse’s pen scratching across paper, and some man down the hall say, “I don’t think Momma’s gonna make it.”
Another hour passes as they monitor my friend’s vital signs and make certain she isn’t going to have an adverse reaction to the anesthetic. Finally they say she can go.
I take her home. Once in her own home she happily dismisses me and toddles off to bed. I stagger out into the darkness to make the drive home.