Face, Meet Sidewalk

Violet has a problem

Posted on: August 20, 2011

It was just a little gas, that was all. Violet couldn’t figure out why the folks at bridge were making such a bit thing about it. So she was a little sweaty. It was eighty-six degrees in the gym. Everyone was sweaty. It certainly didn’t help that everyone crowded around her as soon as Bert mentioned how pale she was; it made her even more anxious and shaky.

Violet was a private woman, so she found the attention quite embarrassing, and even started to get a little short with Bert (whom she had always suspected of having a crush on her), as he bustled about with cups of water and a chair to put her feet on, demanding she allow him to take her to the hospital. As adamantly as she could from under the clammy cloths he placed on her forehead, she refused.

Still, in the back of her mind, a vague sense of unease floated around. This wasn’t the usual kind of stomach ache, and besides, she hadn’t really eaten much other than tea and toast today, certainly nothing that would give her indigestion. What if this was something that deserved some medical attention?

Violet dreaded doctors, since every time she went she seemed to come home with a new prescription. The last one was to fix the problems caused by the prescription before that. It seemed silly – perhaps, if, as she had suggested to the impossibly young doctor, she simply stopped taking the drug that was causing the problems (all of which were worse than the original condition it was meant to treat), she would have less trouble. But he’d insisted on yet another pill and Violet, reverting to some long-buried instinct to defer to an authority (such as he was) complied.

Worse than doctors though were hospitals. People died in hospitals. Violet hated them with a passion. When Frank passed on after a mercifully short stay in one, Violet vowed that it would take a serious condition indeed to get her back there for any reason. And a little gas certainly was not serious enough to warrant a trip to the gallows, despite Bert’s persistent wheedling.

Violet tried hard to ignore the burning in her chest as she finished the rubber match. Unfortunately, Bert was her partner for that game, and Elsie, a retired nurse, was also at the table. After the third discreet burp, she saw a worried glance exchanged between Bert and Elsie, which made her heart thump just a little faster. What if they were right? What if it wasn’t just gas?

“Violet,” Elsie said, touching her arm. “Maybe we should just take you in, just for a little check up. They’ll listen to your heart, check your blood pressure, and probably send you right home.”

When another quiet belch failed to quell the burning under her sternum, Violet felt her defenses crumbling.

“Fine,” she said crossly. “I’ll go on the way home.” If I get out of here and feel better, I’ll skip it altogether, she thought to herself.

Of course Elsie and Bert would hear nothing of it, and insisted on driving Violet to the hospital themselves. Within ten minutes, Violet found herself in front of the Emergency Department, being helped out of the car by Elsie while Bert ran to find a wheelchair. The really were making too much of a fuss. She was already feeling better.

Until Bert pushed the wheelchair through the sliding glass doors and Violet saw the waiting room. It was packed to capacity with what to Violet looked like a sample from every walk of life: tired, irritated parents and their hyperactive children, exhausted and ill-looking old people, young ones holding bloodied rags over various limbs, homeless people sleeping in chairs. The noise and the smell were horrible. If Bert hadn’t been hurtling her chair toward the triage desk at the speed of light, Violet would have turned around and walked straight out.

“Excuse me,” Bert said loudly to the back of a nurse in a hot pink smock. “My friend needs to see a doctor.”

The woman turned around in her chair and shot a skeptical glare over the desk at Violet. As if it pained her, she pulled out a computer keyboard and snapped the huge wad of gum in her mouth. One pierced eyebrow rose lazily.

“Health card?” she demanded. The shrieking of a bored child had obscured the woman’s request.

Violet cupped her ear with her hand.  “Pardon?”

“Do you have your health card?” the woman asked, this time with exaggerated emphasis.

Feeling it was pointless to respond verbally, Violet rooted around in her purse and fished out her wallet. The smells wafting over from the waiting room were beginning to make her feel ill enough to actually be there. Finally, she freed the health card from its plastic sleeve and slid it over to the woman, who took it and wordlessly began typing on her computer.

Violet turned to Bert and Elsie, who were both hovering nervously behind her. “Why don’t you two take off? I’m sure I won’t be long, and I can take a taxi home from here,” she suggested. The last thing she wanted was for Bert and Elsie to hear her conversation with the nurse.

Bert opened his mouth, looking like he was about to pitch a fit. Elsie silenced him with a hand on his arm. I’m sure you will be out soon, too, Violet,” she said. “We’ll just sit over there until you know how long it will be.” She indicated the waiting room.

Somewhat mollified (and secretly pleased that the two busybodies would be subjected to the zoo in the waiting room), Violet nodded and turned back to the woman at the desk, just as she spoke through her gum.

“What seems to be the problem?” she asked briskly.

“I have gas,” Violet replied. And pushy friends, she added silently.

“Oh…kay?” the triage nurse asked skeptically, as if to suggest Violet might be insane for bringing such a trivial issue to an overcrowded emergency room.

“It’s indigestion. Worse than usual. Right here.” Violet indicated the spot in the centre of her chest where the burning was worst.

The nurse leaned forward slightly, as if she was suddenly slightly more interested than she had been the minute before.

“Any chest pain?” she asked.

Reluctantly, Violet shrugged a little. “Maybe some.”

There followed a rapid series of questions from the nurse. Any nausea? Vomiting? Sweats or chills? Cough? Tingling anywhere? Headaches? Diarrhea? Constipation? Violet got the distinct impression she was being tested – a wrong answer would sentence her to hours in the crowded waiting room. The correct responses, however, meant a trip into the back, where those who were actually ill thrashed and wailed on stretchers (Or maybe it was the other way around – the correct answers meant she was free to go, the wrong ones meant an immediate future filled with needles and drugs and who-knew-what-else. Glancing back at Bert and Elsie who were watching her nervously, Violet wasn’t sure which prospect she relished less).

When the nurse had finally asked every possible question, and then some (When was your last menstrual period? 1968, Violet replied. The nurse did not crack a smile), she said, “Hold on.”

Violet was not sure what, exactly to hold on to, but waited as patiently as she could while the nurse typed on the computer, pressed a button, and pulled a page from a printer nearby. She pushed her chair back from the desk, snapped her gum again, and walked through a set of swinging doors behind. As they snapped shut behind her, Violet heard the nurse holler, “Hey Ed! I got one for ya!”

The next thing Violet knew, a huge man wearing baggy scrubs in an ungodly pale blue colour was beside her. He pushed her wheelchair through the swinging doors.

“Wait!” Violet yelled. He stopped. Suddenly, she felt scared and quite alone. Something about those swinging doors felt awfully one-way.

“Can I at least say goodbye to my friends?” she asked.

He came around in front of Violet and squatted down so they were face to face. His nametag said “Eduardo”.

“Well,” he said in a thick accent. “The nurse is worried you have heart attack. Can you be quick?”

A heart attack? Now, Violet was quite terrified. She shook her head. “C-can you just please tell them to go home?” she asked. As a silent and grudging thanks for bringing her here, she added, “Tell them I will call when I need a ride home.”

Eduardo nodded and pushed her into a larger room with about eight stretchers separated by curtains. Most were occupied by old people who already looked half dead. People in scrubs and lab coats bustled about. Monitor screens flickered and strange beeps and dings came from every direction. It was chaos.

Eduardo, the first kind, caring person Violet had encountered in this place, pushed her chair to the edge of an empty stretcher. He pulled the curtains closed around it and helped Violet from the wheelchair to the bed. She sat on the edge and Eduardo handed her a hospital gown. Violet looked at the limp blue rag in disbelief. This was really happening.

“You can take all your clothes off and put this on. Opens at the back. They see you soon.” Alarms and shouts sounded from the next stretcher. Eduardo backed out of Violet’s cubicle with an apologetic shrug. “I go tell your friends you say to go,” he said. Violet nodded, more preoccupied by the distressing sounds of gurgling and suction coming from the other side of the curtain. Her heart pounded a little against her ribs and her chest ached more than it had a few minutes ago. Eduardo left, pulling the curtain almost closed behind him.

She wrestled her shirt and pants off but decided she wouldn’t remove her underwear. Surely that could stay on. She pulled the gown over her arms, and reached behind her neck for the ties. She couldn’t reach them, and it occurred to Violet that it had been decades since she had been able to do up a bra in the back. Frustrated and scared, now feeling every on of her eighty-nine years, Violet lay back on the thin, hard stretcher and let a few tears escape as she arranged the gown to cover as much as she could. She closed her eyes. It felt as if the weight of a boulder had settled on her chest and she took a few deep breaths, just to be sure she still could.

Never had she felt so helpless and out of control. It wasn’t just gas. Violet was a patient.




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