Saturday, September 22, 2007


Notes from an emergency room journal

At least that is how I think of myself, and I believe those who know me would agree with this humble assessment. I abhor violence of any kind and would never think of striking someone, well, OK, maybe I would think of it, but would never do so! (When I was 9 years old I did punch Eddie Siciliano and his cousin in their noses, but that was only because they provoked me.) Except in very rare circumstances I do not yell and scream at others. In fact, my life in general has been focused on making other people feel better about themselves, both physically and emotionally. So the incident I am about to describe is totally out of character for me, in fact looking back I cannot believe it really happened, but it did.

Emergency medicine in a busy city hospital can be challenging and stressful, especially late on Friday and Saturday nights when there is no telling who and what will walk through the door. The experience can drive an otherwise sane and gentle person to uncharacteristic behavior. THAT is my excuse, and I’m sticking to it!

Shortly after the ”last call” in the local pubs we could count on several patients scattered about the ER on gurneys in various states of acute intoxication. Most of the time they were understandably subdued and quiet, but there was always the occasional obnoxious drunk who could not resist articulating his (they were almost always men.) alcohol-tainted feelings about his current life’s circumstances.

It had been an especially busy night and I was near the end of my shift in the acute care unit. I was tired and depleted, struggling to cope with all that was required of me, and this one very noisy and obscene drunk was beginning to get on my nerves. A constant stream of obscenities flowed from his mouth, loud enough to be heard by the other patients in the area. I politely asked him to be quiet, repeatedly, to no avail. I tried pleading, coxing, and even bribing, but nothing worked. Finally in desperation I threatened him! I told him that if he did not cease his yelling I would remove his filthy socks from his equally filthy feet and stuff them in his mouth!! Actually I believe I yelled something like, “if you don’t shout your goddam filthy mouth I’ll’....well, you get the idea. He told me to F___ off, and continued to yell and swear. So I did it! To the shock of the nurses and staff, and to the patient, I pulled off one of his socks, balled it up, and shoved it into his mouth.

I don’t know how many of you readers have had the occasion to remove socks from the feet of some one who hasn’t bathed in who knows how long; the skin of the lower legs and feet is dry, flaky, and dirty, and when a sock is pulled of the foot it is invariably accompanied by dry flakes of dirty skin.

I really don’t know how long it remained in his mouth, far less than a minute. But it was effective. He knew I was not some one to be antagonized; in his alcohol-saturated mind I was mean and evil, and certainly not a compassionate healer. I suspected that even the ER staff looked at me a little differently after that.

There is no telling what a Friday night shift in the ER will do to a person

1 comment:

amy_renzulli said...

I am reading your blog and I should be over at the high school field at my morning "boot camp." This is much more fun! I love the entries about life in the ER. Love, Your Loyal Fan and Favorite Daughter