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  • Writer's pictureDearbhla

A&E: You can register but you can never leave

Frazzled and overworked nurses scurry past weary patients. You meet all kinds of characters at A&E in one of Dublin's busiest hospitals, yet after eight hours, I wonder if I will ever get out.

A sea of people. A cacophony of whimpers and groans permeate the room. I sit bleary eyed on a plastic chair masterfully engineered to simultaneously enhance human misery and maximise discomfort. Squashed between a vending machine and another “emergency” patient, I watch as patient after patient is called ahead of me, each more urgent than the next. A stream of bloodied hands, vomiting and histrionics. Opposite me, two desperate parents try unsuccessfully to distract their restless toddler. He is eating jellybeans off the floor beside a bedpan that’s been there since the early morning.

I sit patiently for three hours until my bloods are taken by a giggling nurse who reassures me “it‘s not sore” as he wiggles the needle in and out of my veins. I shift awkwardly for another two hours alternating between my right and left bum cheeks as they lose sensation. Frazzled and overworked nurses scurry past weary patients who eye them up pleadingly. I sympathise with the now familiar faces. We are all in the trenches together.

An enormous woman waddles past me, her stomach flip flopping against her knees. She sticks her face up against the Triage door and smacks it loudly with the open palm of her hand. After a few minutes, a nurse appears.

“I need some bakin’ soda,” the woman demands breathlessly.
“We don’t have anything like that here, sorry.”
“Ah here! That’s ridiculous! It’s the only thing to stop the itchin’ and chaffin’. What kind of a hospital doesn’t have bakin’ soda?”

The kind that isn’t a bakery I imagine.

Accepting defeat, she painstakingly makes her way back to her seat, scratching dramatically whilst muttering profanities under her breath. A woosh of rancid air rises and singes my nostrils as she plonks herself onto her seat. She turns to mount an assault, addressing her friend, and so it seems, the entire room.

“This is like a third world country. I have shingles and a bleedin’ haematoma in my eye. Apparently, it’s not serious enough though. Some people with sniffles going in first. Sniffles! Imagine! Am I not sick? Apparently, I’m not sick enough Mary,” she says, answering her own question.
“Five hours I’m stuck in this hellhole. Been here so long I’ve grown a beard.
“Don’t even get me started about upstairs. Have you seen it? Disgusting. Wouldn’t even put an animal up there. Rotten, so it is,” she sighs.
“Ah go get us a pack of fags Mary, will ya? I haven’t smoked as many cigarettes as today for the stress of it.
“Do you know there’s a hospital in Switzerland that prescribes cigarettes for people? Good for the stress they say.
“And sure it is, isn’t it?” she pauses, contemplating, before continuing her monologue.
“Nicotine is good for you too. Did ya know that? It’s like opium back in the day was good for you. Sure, aspirin’s made from trees. Trees are good for you ‘n all. Natural like.”

Swiss hospitals definitely do not prescribe cigarettes for beleagured patients. However, pointing this out to her would, as Billy Connolly so eloquently puts, be as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit.

My attention is drawn to a young woman who is now howling through the keyhole of the Triage door like a market seller on Mary’s street. She throws herself from her wheelchair, roaring, as she clambers around on the floor. The nurses and security rush over, seemingly to her aid but then make no attempt to help her up as the woman continues to thump the door with her fist.

“Can you stand up now please,” one of the nurses says impatiently.
“I can’t walk!”
“Yes, you can.”
“I can’t fuck’n’ move!” the woman shouts, as she does exactly that, her limbs flailing about the floor.

Losing patience with the stand-off, a frail man in his late 80s wearing a navy, pinstripe suit and a matching trilby hat shakily gets up, picks the wailing woman off the floor and walks her to a chair inside the triage room. The door ajar, the nurse addresses the woman again.

“Now Anne, you’re perfectly able to walk.”
“I’m havin’ a heart attack!”
“You’re not having a heart attack. Your vitals are fine.”
“I am too!”

At this point, the nurse closes the door shutting us off from the spectacle, which was equal parts horrifying and mildly entertaining.

I realise five hours into the twilight zone that I might not get out of here a) in the next few hours or b) with my full faculties. My brother kindly traipses across town to bring me some food. At this time, I was also largely in danger of developing a kidney infection having not been able to go to the bathroom in hours for fear of my name being called. I insist he leave after an hour since I see no point in both of us enduring the bedlam. I delve into the world of the “Great British Bake Off” on my iPad to regain some semblance of sanity.

Eight hours deep into waiting, and bored of watching contestants cry over cakes, I follow in the footsteps of baking soda lady and knock on the Triage door, this wonderous medical Narnia.

“Hi, just wondering what the timeline is to see the Neurologist?”
“They haven’t called you yet?”
“Err, no”
“It’s very late now. They should have come”
“Will I go down to the department and tell them I’m still waiting?”
“No, it’s closed. They have probably all gone home.”
“Gone home?” My voice is high-pitched, teetering above the normal decibel range for humans. I remind myself of Ross from Friends that time someone ate his sandwich.
“I’m sorry. I think they must have forgotten you”
“Forgotten me?”
“Yes, I’m afraid they’ve all left for the day.”
“They’ve all left?” I am now just repeating everything the on-call doctor is saying.
“Yes. I’m really sorry about this. I will message them to put you in as a priority for tomorrow”
“You mean I have to do this again tomorrow?”
“I’m afraid so. But on the plus side, you’ll be seen quicker if you’re here early!” he says in the same tone you would use for a child queuing for a ride at Disneyland.

I find it hard to absorb this level of enthusiasm for another early morning trip to A&E. But I have learned a lot. Perhaps, tomorrow, if I throw myself off my chair and roll around on the floor for a bit, I too may finally penetrate the Triage doors.

As published on Medium.


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