01 January 2006

Groundhog Day

It's New Year's Day, 2 AM, and I am hunched over the fact of young male, inhaling the pungent aroma of dried blood, saliva, and alcohol, trying not to listen to his foul-mouthed drunken ranting as I try to piece together the tattered remnants of his face with a needle and thread. He claims to have "no idea" why some "two dudes" would have done this to him, but the longer I am having to spend in intimate proximity with this charming gentleman, the more I am kind of wishing I had had a chance to grind his face into the asphalt, too.

Finished, I step back and admire my work. Not too bad -- it will scar, of course, but not disfiguringly so. He calls me a 'bitch' and demands his shoes back. They are in the nursing station as a ploy to keep him here till he sobers up. Shortly after I leave the room, another patient's family member informs us that he is gone, last seen heading out the emergency exit and south on Nassau street. Security gamely goes after him but fails to find him.

An ambulance has just brought in my next customer now: he has been drinking and "fell down." He has a large laceration on his chin which the nurse says will need stitches. I can hear the medic phone ringing off the hook. Deep breath, straighten the shoulders, and once more into the breach.

And they say doctors get paid too much.


  1. I don't know how you do it. The incident I wrote about in And the Ass Saw the Angel kept me up at night.

    There are legitimate complaints about lots of doctors, but to complain that doctors in general are overpaid is stupid. What's your health worth?

  2. And this sort of incident is only a minor annoyance on the great scale of "ER things which are frustrating and stressful." It was only worth a post, to me, because it was the whole night, over and over again (hence 'Groundhog day"). I have spent many hours of my life (too many) hovering over the fetid face of a drunk with a laceration.

    OTOH, your experience would have left me very disquieted. It's really awkward -- you have no responsibility to help this guy and he doesn't appear to be asking for help, but there's obviously something wrong with him. So you feel like maybe you should do something, but (if you are like me) you are hesitant to engage this fellow, because you know it's going to be a huge hassle and probably very unpleasant. And then the opportunity passes, and you are left to wonder whether you should have done something. And of course, there's something viscerally upsetting in seeing someone with their face smashed up staggering down the street.

    So yeah, I can deal with that sort of thing in a controlled clinical setting, but in your case I probably would have done the same thing and probably would have felt similarly about it afterwards


  3. Having been in a very similar but worse situation as your patient in this post, all I can say is

    Thank eris for people like you.

    Though apparently I was the politest drunk they'd had all night :P


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