I’m sitting in a familiar, dark parking lot when I suddenly come-to.
The cold hits me in the face abruptly.
Sucker-punched in the jaw by reality.
I’m snapped out of whatever reverie I’ve been lost in for the past 30 minutes.
The contrast is stark, foreign… uncomfortable… prickly.
My ears are ringing. Like a bomb has gone off.
How did I get here? Did I drive myself here? What the fuck just happened…
Where have I been all this time?
I haven’t been sleeping. I haven’t been unconscious. I just… haven’t.
My hands are resting on the steering wheel. The engine is dead. Cold. It’s nighttime. Past midnight. I’m shivering. Is it time to go in? Go to bed? But how can you go to sleep if you’re not even truly awake?
I yank the keys out of the ignition and walk across the lot towards the lit entrance sign. Mutter an incomprehensible reply to the cheery desk agent. Board the elevator to my floor.
As the doors close I look up towards to the top right-hand corner of the tiny moving chamber. 9 hours ago, I’d been looking at the very same spot while the elevator moved in the opposite direction. I’d noticed the tiny green sticker up there, with a brand name printed on it. “Schindler” – it had read.
It’s Schindler’s LIFT. Ha… get it?! I’d chuckled softly under my breath at the pure brilliance of my own little pun.
But now, 9 hours later… I no longer see the humor in it. I can’t see the humor in anything. I feel… numb. Out-of-it. Dazed.
The doors open with a loud Ding! I quickly exit. Cross the carpeted hallway. Wave the little plastic key-card in front of the doorknob. Ram my shoulder against the heavy, door like a bony battering ram.
I peel my scrubs off and discard them on the carpet – a snake wriggling out of it’s exoskeleton. I crawl into bed.
Close my eyes.
The ringing in my ears continues. It will not cease for the next 12 days.
September 6, 2019
An Undisclosed Hospital
YOU FUCKERS ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!! I’M GOING TO SHOOT YOU ALL IN THE FUCKING FACE!!
‘If you do that, you’ll go to jail!’ my coworker screams back at the man he’s got pinned by the chest to our CT Table.
Another coworker is attempting, rather unsuccessfully to gain control of the patient’s legs.
‘Call Security!’ My coworker screams in my direction.
I rip the phone off the wall, my hand pausing over the buttons, ‘What’s the extension?!’
As she struggles to uncover it from the recesses of her memory, the man suddenly… stops struggling. His lanky arms fall to either side of his body like flaccid tube-socks.
His breathing slows. The room is eerily silent.
‘You guys… do you want me to call or not?’ I timidly ask, keeping my volume low so as not to reawaken the dormant beast, lying spread-eagle in his sloppily-tied hospital gown.
My coworker, paralyzed by indecision, finally sputters out, ‘I… well… he seems alright now. I don’t… just, give me the phone…’I hold it out for her.
‘Okay, listen… I’ve got a situation going on in MY room,’ I explain, ‘ This patient… she’s in distress.”
She nods absently as she grabs the phone, and as soon as I feel it’s weight transfer to her, I do a quick 180 and sprint back into CT ROOM B.
The young girl is, for the most part, exactly as I’d left her 2 minutes ago. Seated on the CT Table, legs outstretched in front of her, hunched at the waist.
Except that now, she’s crying. Hard. Body quaking dangerously with each uncontrollable sob. Breath hitching. Hyperventilating.
I finally make the executive decision to reach out to her provider. Using the universal paging system that operates under voice recognition, I forcefully speak into the phone:
‘ ED — Triage — Nurse ‘
I accentuate every syllable clearly, so there’s no confusion. Wait impatiently as the phone rings, fingers drumming a nervous beat on the counter.
‘ Emergency Room Triage… _______ Speaking!’
I identify myself and quickly describe the situation.
Young girl, early twenties. Panic Attack. Hyperventilating. Can we medicate? She won’t tolerate the exam, as is. Panic Attack.
‘Yeah it says something about “PTSD” here in her chart. Look, we don’t have anywhere to put her, or the staff to monitor her if we give her meds. Just try to get her to relax. It’s just PTSD. Nothing serious.’
I can practically see the eye-roll from where I’m standing. Can hear the mocking tone with the word, ‘PTSD‘.
A sudden surge of anger swells in my belly as the phone disconnects. It crawls up my throat and trickles into my veins as I walk calmly back into the exam room. It boils, menacingly, in my bloodstream as I explain to my patient that she has to get through the exam unmedicated. That no help is coming. We just don’t have the resources.
She agrees to try. If it’s quick.
Miraculously, she somehow is able to complete the exam, with moderate coaching.
And just as I’m struggling to keep my anger from boiling beyond the tenuous boundaries of my calm exterior, and helping her back into the wheelchair, I hear the distant screams of the combative patient from next door, reawakened.
I speed-walk the wheelchair around the intricate twists and turns of the hospital corridors, navigating towards the waiting area. I bundle several warm blankets around her shoulders.
‘Do you have any family with you tonight, honey?’ I ask.
The panic, is immediate.
Her eyes grow wide as dinner plates. ‘NO,’ she responds quickly, head shaking wildly.
Oh. I see. I get it now.
I have no choice but to leave her there, looking frail and tiny, buried beneath a mountain of white blankets, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt… the source of her PTSD. And unable to do a single fucking thing about it.
As I sprint through the hallway and back my department, I pass by the ED Triage nurse that I’d phoned earlier. She nods her head in the young girl’s direction…
... and rolls her eyes.
Suddenly, the sounds around me begin to dampen. An invisible, all-consuming, outstretched hand reaches forward. Clamps it’s ghostly fingers on my internal volume knob. Slowly twists it counter-clockwise. Until it begins to melt away. All of it.
The essence of sound is still there, yet muffled, as though I’m floating underwater, aimlessly.
People’s lips are moving in my direction. But the meaning of their words escape me.
I am afloat, drifting. I close my eyes.
The world fades away.
The Same night
I lie in the dark and stare at the tree branch silhouettes outside, dancing jovially in the summer air.
Sleep, is so close, and yet I’m unable to grasp it.
The memories of the night are returning to me, one at a time.
Little silent movies, unexpected.
Returning from the ER waiting room, to find security personnel with my coworkers. Ahh, yes. That’s right. Their faces look angry. The officers, they are chastising my coworkers for calling them about the combative guy. I watch their lips as they mouth out the words, ‘Overreacted’.
I blink. The memory fades.
Another one, this time it’s our supervisor. ‘Why did you not call a code green?’ She’s asking us, ‘That’s what you are supposed to do when there’s a disruptive person…’ Something about breaking protocol. I’m feeling angry. Don’t understand. Why does no one seem to care that we’ve been physically abused? All of us?
I wave the memory away angrily.
Another one, I’ve just realized I’ve done a scan, but forgotten to switch the accession numbers in the computer.
No biggie. Everyone does it. It’s a quick fix.
Blink. Memory gone.
Another one. A traveler, who’s been here for months, makes a mistake on a scan. the ER is calling, I listen, aghast as he blames the mistake on me. ‘We’re training someone new…’ he says. BLINK.
Another one, I’m trying to complete a different exam in the computer, but I’m getting an error message. Someone else has locked the person’s chart out.
The radiologist calls. Wants me to end the exam. I can’t, I say. I’m trying. I ask the other traveler for help, he tells me to let ‘someone else deal with it’ and just do the other scans. I continue asking around, trying to find the answer.
Finally I locate the person who has the chart locked out. Ask them to unlock it. I end the exam. Then the supervisor walks in. Wants to know why I waited so long to end the exam. The radiologist is complaining. Thinks I blew him off.
But wait… this isn’t my fault. I didn’t do anything wrong. She doesn’t believe me….
The supervisor is looking at me and whispering with a coworker while I prepare for the next scan.
I walk into the control room and they’re all whispering. They stop, suddenly, at the sight of me.
Blink. Another one.
I open my eyes. It’s light out. morning.
What? Wait. Did I sleep. What time is it? Don’t feel like I slept.
Peer at the clock. Time to go to work again.
Okay. Get up. Feet on carpet. Ears still ringing. Oh well.
Cross room to bathroom. Turn on shower. Step into Spray.
To be continued…