Dondrie Burnham

Writer. Creator. Shapeshifter.

Volume One: Interfaith

No one likes to go to the Emergency Room.  I don’t even think the doctors and nurses enjoy being there and they invested time, money and education to be there.   However, my recent experiences have given me a greater appreciation for zip codes.  We all know race and class are the gatekeepers of society, but it’s easy to forget that they are also the keepers of death.  You don’t forget, but you tuck it into the highest, dustiest file cabinet in your mind palace and you put a succulent on it and you save it for deep clean days.

I sit in the blue upholstered chair and I wonder who buys the furniture in these places.  Blood, fluids and thousands of asses come to mind.  Why do they EVER have upholstery?  I’ve had more than two experiences of being stained with someone else’s blood in my New York hospital career. And by career I mean, just trying to get some shit taken care of.  I digress. 

I sit in the chair of a thousand asses and I stare at the large oval desk.  It’s what Ikea calls ‘eco teak’ and Lowe’s calls ‘hickory’.  I can see the tops of nurses’ heads and backs of computer monitors.  I wait for my name to be called.  I look around and I’m horrified by the lack of privacy.  There are the obligatory privacy curtains, but they serve to simply delineate the spaces.  Each bed faces the center of the room, so everyone can see everyone.  It’s immediate entrance into a room of pain, moaning and screwed up faces.

There is one room with walls and no door, which directly faces me and houses a large snoring man.  To my right, more pain slivers, to my left the ambulance entrance and more occupied ass upholstered chairs.  There are no white people in this room.  Within five minutes, I hear my name.  I stand and a stern nurse looks at me, holds up her hand and says, I was just checking. …………………………  I sit. 

The slumbering man begins to stir and calls for the nurse in a small, weak voice. ‘Nurse’?  I should point out that eco teak station is approximately three feet in front of this room.  There are no less than twelve nurses present.  No one moves, no one answers, no one acknowledges.  He repeats himself.  ‘Nurse’?  ‘Nurse’?  His hoarse voices gets louder and more desperate.  Nothing.  It’s reminds me of when you call your friend's asshole cat and their ear turns in your direction but they make no indication that you’re alive or present in the room.  The man persists.  He starts to panic a bit as reaches his 9th ‘Nurse’?

A woman’s voice emerges from the ambulance den.

Woman: ‘Y’all answer him.  You hear that man calling you’.  

Infirmed Man: ‘Bitch, Fuck you’

Now Angry black woman:  ‘Motherfucker, fuck you.  I was trying to help your stupid ass.  I’ll beat the shit out of you’

The woman emerges, limping with a cane, she brandishes the cane like a bat and begins limping toward the infirmed man’s room.  NO ONE INTERVENES.  A hospital orderly walks by and slides a blue privacy screen in front of the door and keeps walking.  The woman is standing directly in front of the screen, screaming at the man.

Angry Black Woman: “I’ll beat the fuck out of you.  You don’t know who you’re dealing with.  I’m gonna kill you”

The woman continues to stand in front of the door menacing – as menacing as you can be when you’re limping on a cane – and finally limps back to her seat.   I wonder what she’s in for and as she screams ‘I just need my damn insulin shot’, I get my answer. 

My name is called.  I stand up and am immediately confronted with a hand. 

‘I was just checking’ says Nurse Sternface. 

EMTS bring in a man on a gurney.  I can’t see him but I feel very sorry for him.

EMT: Turn over.

Broken Man:  I can’t.

EMT:  Why not?

Broken Man:  I don’t know!

EMT: Turn over!

Broken Man:  I CAN’T!

EMT:  Why can’t you turn over?

This goes around and around like who’s on first.  I can’t help but wonder why they think the man should be able to turn over and how hard it would be for them to just turn him over.

Two hours later, I’m escorted to a gurney, told to change into a gown and strapped to a heart monitor.  The woman to my left, a Puerto Rican girl in her late twenties, has been vomiting and clutching her stomach.  I know she’s Puerto Rican because she’s also on the phone talking to a friend of hers about how in Texas everyone thought she was white.  No one knew what a Puerto Rican was and they had the nerve to think it was Mexican.  Her young son, approximately 10, is sitting quietly by her side.  He gets her water, checks in with the doctor, and rubs her head.  He’s a good boy.  An hour later, a doctor approaches her side and asks the boy to go get her water.  He then tells her she’s pregnant.

PW Girl:   ‘Can y’all take care of that?’ 

Doctor:  No.  You’ll have to make an appointment with a doctor or clinic

PW Girl: Damn

She calls her friend.

PW Girl:  Girl, I’m pregnant.  I’m trying to be fine this summer.  I ain’t trying to be pregnant.  He must got some damn super sperm.  You heard about T.I and Tiny?  If they can’t make it work, I don’t even know.

At this point her son has come back and picked up the context clues.  He asks if he can tell his dad. 

PW Girl:  He ain’t your father.  Fuck him.  Until he give us some money he’s dead.  Fuck him and his white bitch.

To my right is a man who’s come in for intense pain in his legs and feet.  Even with his cane he can barely walk.  About 45 min after PW Girl finds out she’s preggo, I hear a doctor at the nurse’s station asking where his last patient for the night is.  He screws up his face and walks toward the man.  He asks him what’s the trouble.  The man starts to tell him how much pain he’s in when he walks. 

Cane Man:  It hurts so much. I can barely make it three steps. It’s so painful

No Bedside Manner:  You have diabetes.  Have you heard of Neuropathy?

Cane Man:  I know I have diabetes. I know about the neuropathy, but it’s so bad. It’s never been this bad.  How am I supposed to walk?

No BM:  I don’t know.  It’s a cause of this disease. You have to try and keep your sugar down.

Cane Man:  I’m keeping my sugar down.  I’m doing all the things.  It hurts.

No BM:  This is what happens.  I’ll have them give you something for the pain.

Then he just walks away.  They bring him a pill for the pain.  No prescription for the future.  No plan.  They discharge him.

Enter a man wheeling himself down the aisles in a wheelchair screaming ‘I want drugs’.  No one seems surprised to see him or bothered that he’s there.

Enter a man singing and dancing shaking a cup of change.  No one seems surprised to see him or bothered that he’s there.

Enter Broken Man face down on the gurney, legs hanging off, shoes half on.   The orderly pushing the gurney manages to knock into every single corner.  Each time Broken Man groans.  It’s horrific.

I finally see a doctor.  She has a sweet face and gentle bedside manner. 

I give her a summary of my medical history and tell her why I’m there.  I’m taken for an x-ray and asked for a urine sample.  The urine sample sits on the back of my gurney for several hours.  No one retrieves it.  I don’t know who my nurse is.  I don’t know if I have a nurse.  I don’t know if they know I’m still here.

A woman sits across from me on a gurney wearing a hospital gown and Timberlands.   She says she doesn’t trust these folks.  She has to go to the restroom so she gives me her purse and T her phone.  She’s been admitted for chest pain.  She was visiting for Christmas and didn’t want to ruin the holiday by complaining.  She always does all the cooking and she always plays Santa.  Ain’t that just the way with black women? You’ll literally kill yourself not to disappoint and you’re lucky if anyone notices.  She’s eventually moved to the bed next to mine and told that she’ll be admitted.  Her x-ray showed some abnormalities. 

It’s now 1am.   The doctor comes to tell me that my tests look ok and that I have protein in my urine.  I know that, because I’ve told HER that.  She then tells me what happens to the body when your kidneys leak protein.  I know that, because I’ve told HER that.  She tells me that my condition is complex and that I should go to a ‘good’ hospital- one with a name.  She suggests I get compression stockings and tells me to stop taking my diuretic because it is dehydrating. 

I fight back tears –not because I want to be admitted to the seventh circle of hell- but I’m frustrated. Hella frustrated. Salty. Big mad. Irked.   I’ve been here for seven hours and this is my day off.  I have to close the restaurant tomorrow. I’m still carrying 40lbs of fluid on my body.  I still can not walk a city block.  I still have to sleep sitting up.  I can not bend my legs.    I remove the pads from the EKG. I remove the gown and change into my human clothes.  As always, I struggle getting the snow boots on.  It's not snowing but these are the only shoes that fit.  I stare at the IV and I want to rip it out.  I just want to go home.  I wait. I wait so long that I actually start removing the tape and I ask T to find me a bandaid and a cotton swab.  On her knight's quest she spots the doctor reading about Carrie Fisher on Facebook.  This visit will cost me $350.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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