I spend over 6 hours in UCLA's ER today, waiting to see someone who could put my leg in a splint and to get a pair of crutches. Too much TV may leave you thinking ER's are thrilling places, with severely injured patients being rushed in on stretchers, oxygen mask pressed to their faces, clothing drenched in blood. Or, when they aren't embroiled in life-and-death situations, TV depicts them as a collection of odd and colorful patients mingling with attractive and earnest interns who are hooking up in closets when they aren't learning lessons about life from their cases.
The truth, as anyone who's had to go the the ER knows, is far far less glamorous. After checking in, I waited about a half hour before they sent me into a see a nurse who took my blood pressure and asked me why I was there. I explained that I was pretty sure I'd ruptured my Achilles tendon.
She tapped away at her keyboard, then paused, wrinkling her brow.
"How do you spell Achilles?" she asked.
Another nurse took my paperwork and then dropped it into a file bin attached to the wall. The bin was labeled Tier 4/5 and was packed with what appeared to be the paperwork for 15 or 16 other patients, mine slotting at the end.
"Intimidated?" asked the nurse, with a laugh.
"What do you mean?" I said.
"By all the papers ahead of you," he said. "Don't worry, you're fast track."
I never thought to ask what that meant, though I hoped it was something like the Fast Pass service at Disneyland, where you get a ticket that tells you what time to come back for a ride in the park, helping you to avoid waiting in line for hours. But no, my fast track status didn't seem to confer any special advantages.
I spent about three hours siting in a wheelchair in a waiting room that smelled of, well, the dozen or so other patients snoring away (a few appeared not to have showered anytime recent, so the scent I'm referring to wasn't exactly like "lavender breeze" or some Williams-Sonoma liquid soap scent). I couldn't get a single bar of cell phone reception the whole time I was in ER, so I spent a lot of time reading the magazines I'd brought with me.
To their credit, quite a few of the people who did help me out in the ER were friendly, even cheerful. They moved me from one spot in the hallway to the next, parking me (in the wheelchair) at random spots. I felt like Keri Strug being passed around in that ESPN commercial.
When a doctor finally saw me, he quickly confirmed my suspicions, using the same test I'd done on myself the previous night (I believe it's called The Thompson test). They put my leg in a splint, handed me some crutches, and finally, I staggered out of that ER, starving and stir-crazy, and struggling to shut out the nagging thought that the one thing I'd need over the next year was a quality that seems to have slipped away from me bit by bit over the years, and that is patience.
The one positive thought I held onto tonight, as they confirmed my diagnosis, was that at least I wasn't a horse, like Eight Belles. I don't know if horses have Achilles tendons, but I suspect if I was a horse, I'd have been put out to that great pasture in the sky.