Dondrie Burnham

Writer. Creator. Shapeshifter.

Volume Two: Mount Sinai *Take One*

I ended my job on January 8.  It seemed like a pointless shift.  Slow, uneventful, fully staffed.  My final hours were anticlimactic.  My shift ended, we did the obligatory family meal…that’s a shot, preferably tequila or bourbon, if you didn’t know.  I waddled my way to the sunset.  Fin. 

My great hope was that the sun would hit my face and I would feel free.  That last day of school freedom when the bell rings and you smell possibility and newness. This was not that.  I mostly felt tired and pained, like usual.  I went home and grafted into my couch, like usual.  I put my feet up and squeezed down the fluid to try and relieve some of the pressure.  There is no relief; there is only pressure.  

I wake up the next day excited.  This is the first day of the rest of my life.  There’s a party tonight, complete with delicious Korean BBQ and karaoke.  I like to eat and sang.  I’m one of the guests of honor.  This will be a proper goodbye.  The crew will cut loose, I’ll get to polish the pipes, we will imbibe and hopefully there will be hijinks!  I love hijinks…and a good heist.  I digress.   The best part?  All I have to do is show up.  I don’t have to plan anything, buy anything, cook anything.  I just have to hop in a car. 

As 5pm approaches I start to have feelings of dread.  My body feels tethered to the center of the earth.  Like I’m floating underwater with my ankles wrapped in seaweed.  You’ve seen this scene in every movie.  The beautiful missing white girl lies dead in the bottom of the river, lake, ocean etc.  Or the beautiful, tortured white girl has visions of herself lying at the bottom of the river, lake, and ocean while she writes her poetry or stares Margo/Madison/Sara-ly out the window. Her pallid skin glows slightly green.  She looks light.  She feels heavy.  It’s like that.

I get up to get dressed and my feet are cemented to the floor.  I’m up another 15 lbs of water since Interfaith and I feel every ounce.  I contemplate an outfit.  I visualize myself in the front of the room. I’m a performer. The stage is my operation suite and a microphone is my motherfucking scalpel. It’s my instrument.  I murder that shit.  Not today though.  Today when I see myself in mind’s eye, I am staring in a fun house mirror and I’m slightly swaying from side to side.  My boobs are pushed up high and my knees are sore from rocking snow boots everyday.  My outfit is truly a costume.  It’s a getup.

The vision seizes my throat and I’m gripped by panic.  How can I give of myself when I can’t even find me?  I shall not be moved.  I cannot go.   I send the same obligatory (I’m a giant flake and you probably didn’t even expect to come) text. I’m surprised my RSVP’s don’t just autocorrect.  Once the text is out I feel a bit of relief.  I sink back into the couch and I enjoy my last night of ‘freedom’.  That night I dream of karaoke, karaoke and me. 

The next day I procrastinate.  I’m still digesting Interfaith.  I really don’t want to go but I can’t live another day under water.  T gives me a gentle nudge and I request an Uber pool.  It’s 6pm.  It costs $42.89, four added passengers and it takes an hour an fifteen minutes to make it to E. 101 St. I waddle out of the cab, approach the sliding doors and take my place in line.  There are two security guards and a lonely eco teak desk built for two.  First, I  give my ID and my name to an admin guy.  He wants to make it immediately clear that he does not care what my ailment is.  He’s just the ID guy.  He does not care that I'm  in pain, or someone’s child or that I'm in front of him.  He’s going to confirm the details on my ID and type them into the computer.   He does not look up or make any eye contact. He’s just the ID guy.

Once I'm passed the ID guy, I shuffle a foot and a half over and I confirm what the ID guy has just typed with a nurse. She prints a temporary hospital bracelet.  This bracelet has a name and a barcode.  I am now a barcode.  This barcode will be how drugs are dispensed.  I know this because at one point later in this story someone will give me a bracelet with someone else’s barcode on it.  I will be a 56-year-old male named Stanley. One of my nurses will catch her co-workers mistake before I am murdered.  But that comes later. 

The nurse asks what my ailment is.  She types it into the computer. She does not make eye contact.  She listens to my lungs and she tells me to go through the doors and wait to be called.  T and I walk through and there are long white hallways.  We have no idea where we are supposed to go.  We walk through a set of sliding doors and take a seat.  This is three times the size of Interfaith’s ER and packed.  There are two patients for every partition one in front and one in back.  I can’t even see that yet because there is also a labyrinth of hallways lined with chairs. 

T goes to ask one of the people behind the desk where we are supposed to be.  He says they’ll call my name.  He’s very nice.  We wait.  About 20 minutes later the two nurses come in saying my name.  Apparently, I was supposed to go to triage down the hall.  One of them takes my vitals and confirms that I’m there for leg swelling.  I tell her its full body swelling and that I’m up over 40 lbs.  I tell her that I can’t walk a city block without becoming short of breath or sleep lying down.  I tell her that my body is so tight and full of water that I am in a constant state of discomfort.  She types ‘leg swelling’ and ‘shortness of breath’.  She then sends me back into the previous waiting room.  I’m not sure how much time passes before they call my name again. 

I’m taken to my partition and given a gown.  Already we’re ahead of the Interfaith curve because everyone seems to know who I am and that I’m there.  I look around and this ER is stuffed to the hilt.  There are over 100 people in here.  The doctors and nurses that come to attend to me all look me in the eye.  They all ask intelligent questions.  They all listen.  Although I’m in this ER for over 17 hours, I feel taken care of.   Eventually I send T home because the sun is coming up and we’re in a faraway land.  She’s trying to wait until I’m admitted but judging by the amount of people in here, there’s no ETA for that. 

I’m taken upstairs a little after 7am.  I don’t yet have a bed so I’m deemed a ‘hallway patient’.  I’m wheeled between two rooms, across from the nursing station and I’m given a ‘privacy’ screen.   This screen covers half of the top of the gurney.  It’s got a wonky wheel and it stands firm in its frivolity. 

Intake Nurse:  I have to ask you a few questions as part of the intake process.

Me: Shoot

IN:  Does anyone you live with hit you?

Me:  Whoa, bud.  No.

The privacy screen is smug as fuck.

IN: Are you ever afraid at home? 

Me: No

IN: Have you ever been assaulted?

Me: Yes

IN:  Have you ever had suicidal thoughts?

Me:  I’m having them right now.  J/K.  Yes.  Not currently.

IN:  Have you been the victim of sexual assault? 

Me: **wonders what this has to do with my kidneys** Yes

The privacy screen clutches its pearls.

IN: Have you been more forgetful than usual?

Me:  Not really.

IN:  Have you been behaving erratically?

Me:  Not that I know of.

The privacy screen looks for Mariska Hargitay.

IN: Thank you.  We’re going to try to make you as comfortable as possible.  After the electrician is done doing some construction, we can take you to a more private area.  I’m sorry for all the people.

The privacy screen covers her shoulders.

I should mention that as she’s doing the intake, no less than 73 people either walk by or congregate in the area.   About an hour later, they wheel me further down the hall, between two other rooms.  This is much better.  It’s towards the end of a hallway and it has a giant window with a view of the park.  Even the privacy screen is bucked.  A couple of hours after that, two candy stripers (I didn’t know this was still a thing) bring me a gift for my inconvenience.  It’s a Mount Sinai bag of toiletries and a blanket wrapped in a ribbon.  Cute.

I’m in this hallway for three of my eight days.  In this time, I become familiar with the people inside the rooms.  I never see them so I only have voices in my head.  The woman in front of me sounds like an elderly Faith Prince.  For y’all that don’t have the patience to Google, that’s the redhead from The Last Dragon.  For those of you that don’t know The Last Dragon, what are you doing with your life?  You should stop reading, reassess your priorities and watch The Last Dragon.  Vanity is SO fine. I digress.  Each of these rooms houses two folks.  The other woman in Elderly Faith Prince’s room is quiet and discharged the next day.  Elderly Faith Prince will henceforth be referred to as The Complainer, for reasons, which will become abundantly clear. 

TC:  Nurse!  Nurse!

She’s pressed the nurse station button.  I know this because each time she presses it, a little green light taunts me from above

Patient ass Nurse:  Yes, dear.

TC:  They moved my bed.  I can’t see the TV.  I deserve respect.  People need to listen to me.

PN:  Ok. 

I assume she adjusts the bed.

An hour later...

TC:  Nurse!  Nurse!  I have to go to the bathroom

PN: Ok, dear.  Just wait, let me adjust you so it’s comfortable.

TC:  Stop!  I know how to do this. I know what I’m doing.  You better show me some respect.  Ooh!  Ooh!  Uh oh!

PN:  That’s ok. Let me get you changed and change your bed.  Hold on one minute it’s ok.

TC:  Oh god! Oh god!

The nurse goes to get backup and they change her bed.

 About an hour later…

TC:  (On the phone) No one in here has any fucking respect.  No one.  They don’t listen.  NO!  NO!  They don’t listen.  Fuck you Raphael.  I’m not gonna be nice.  They need to listen to me!  I deserve respect!  Fuck you!  (She hangs up)  Nurse!  Nurse!  These pillows are not comfortable and I need to eat.

PN:  Ok.  Lunch should be here soon.  Let me adjust your pillows.

TC:  Ouch!  Ouch!  What the hell are you doing? No! No! Not like that.

This goes on every 30 – 60 minutes. Ring. Whine. Complain. Repeat.  I wonder what kind of jail time is involved when a nurse slaps the dog shit out of a patient.  I also wonder how many black women were caring for sacks of contempt at that very moment.  If we could all take that ‘just breathe’ pit out of our stomachs how much mass would it consume?  Could it fill a state or a continent? 

I have to pee and I’m afraid to wake the beast in front of me.  I opt for the room behind me.  I open the bathroom door and am confronted with an elderly white woman surrounded by sacks of fluid looking utterly confused.  I apologize, back out of the room and enter the belly of the beast.  This bathroom is filled with bloody urine.  I clean it cause I have to pee and I can’t look at it.  I toss another pit in the air and return to my bed.  I’m visited by beaucoup doctors, who all apologize for the conditions and check on my status.  Though I’ll never sleep with all this overhead lighting, its ok because they check your vitals every three hours anyway. 

The next day they move in a new patient behind me.  This poor lady screams each time she wakes.  She doesn’t know where she is but she thinks she’s at her sister’s house.  When the nurses try to help her she fights them because she thinks they are trying to kill her.  We should take up a collection and gift nurses with spa days.  Seriously.  My back is actually starting to curve from the tightness of this tremor and I would actually sacrifice a massage for some of these women. 

Poor Confused Lady:  Get the fuck away from me!  I’ll fucking kill you!

Super Sweet Nurse:  It’s ok sweetie. It’s ok.  You’re in the hospital.  You’ve sweat through your sheets.   We just want to make you comfortable.

PCL:  If you touch me I’ll fucking kill you.  Where’s my sister?  This is her house. Where is she?

SSN:  Sweetie, you’re in the hospital.  This is Mount Sinai Hospital.  Do you know your name?  What year is it?

PCL:  I know my motherfucking name.  I know this ain’t no fucking hospital.  Where’s my sister?

SSN:  Your sister is not here. Is there someone you would like me to call?  I’ll be happy to call, but first lets get you out of these wet clothes and sheets.  Let’s get you more comfortable.

I hear wrestling and a struggle.

PCL:  Help! Help!  They trying to kill me.  Bitch, I’ll break your face.

TC:  Nurse!  Nurse!  It’s hot in here.  Where the hell is everyone?  Nurse!

Sleep:  (laughs and points) AAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH

I’m in the hallway for three days.   It’s much of the same.  I spend those days praying they don’t make me TC’s roommate.    Instead, I’m moved to a room on the other end of the hall.  My roommate is a sweetpea that’s been married for 47 years.  I know this because her two beautiful, brown doting sons are there and they tell everyone who will listen.   They feed her and fuss over her.  They brush her hair and watch TV with her.  She fades in and out of consciousness and they try and keep her awake because her sleeping brings fear to their eyes.  I should mention that these men look like all the boys of Bed-Stuy and Harlem.  They look like purse clutches and would be hashtags.  They look like they might not comply. They look like they might say some slick shit to me in the streets.  But in this moment, in this space, it’s all quite sweet.  Eventually, her husband arrives and the boys take leave.  He talks and talks to her and I’m so filled with love and sweetness my pit gets a little smaller.

To Be Continued…