Saturday, July 24, 2010

Lesson Learned at Chase Farm Hospital

I rarely take myself too seriously but should I ever start––I think the memory of explaining the painful burn on my butt to various employees at Chase Farm Hospital will humble me.

My sense of humor has always been one of my best qualities. Despite my tendency to worry as well as my exhaustingly cyncical nature, I'm proud to say that I rarely lose sight of whats funny, even when its at my expense. I've laughed myself and others through a lot of painful situations––including my Junior High basketball teams 0-21 record and some of Camp Haiastan's most unsuccessful canoe trips.

Despite the physical wound on my bottom and the ruthless bruises to my ego, yesterday's trip to the emergency room was no different in terms of my attitude.

I was escorted by Amy, one of the summer school wardens. She was great company and really nice about everything but I felt sorry that she was forced to come along when I knew she just wanted to spend the afternoon doing her laundry. But aside from feeling guilty and annoyed about a wasted afternoon, I was in good enough spirits when I approached the check in counter of the emergency room.

The receptionist, a woman of about 45, was straight faced and impatient. She never introduced herself but if I had to guess her name, I would probably pick something like Susan or Carol.

Really, in my opinion, she looked just like a "Carol the ER receptionist."

A poster with a picture of a paramedic and police officer hung behind her head. It read "I'ts your choice: Stop the harassment of ER employees" and it made me think there must be an explanation for her defensiveness. She asked me what the problem was.

"I have a minor burn," I explained, "its about 6 days old and it doesn't seem to be healing. I just want to make sure its not infected so if someone could take a quick look––"

Carol cut me off. "––Its not going to be 'quick.'" she assured me in a matter of fact way that showed me how unnecessary she found my optimism. I didn't appreciate it. I knew I would most likely be waiting for a long time, as I wasn't exactly an urgent case, but I was trying to have a good attitude.

I suppose Carol thought I was going to be a troublemaker. You know, I bet she thought I'd be one of those patients who keeps coming back to the desk demanding to be seen sooner and vocalizing suspicous observations about the people around who get treated before them. Carol probably deals with a lot of that nonsense so I was silently understanding. People can be really nasty sometimes.

I was thankful to have Amy with me as Carol had some issues I didn't quite know how to address. She wanted to know why I didn't have a "GP," whatever that means, and Amy kindly took the lead in explaining my situation as an international student on a short stay. I gathered that a GP was just a primary care physician and I didn't see any reason I should have one for only 6 weeks when England has free health care for everyone, but Carol disagreed.

After filling out the necessary forms, I watched as Carol entered my information into the computer. She had more comments than she did questions. "Purgatory Road," she stated predictably when noticing my home address, "well THATS a strange street to live on!"

"You think so?" I responded, "No one ever points that out to me." My sarcasm can be a little harsh sometimes. I'd like to tell you that I've been making an effort to be more polite but I won't because, well, thats just not true.

Finally, she got to the important part.

"So where is this burn?" she asked without looking up for her computer. I glanced at Amy who was smiling in a I-feel-sorry-for-you way.

I hesitated. I felt I should choose my words carefully. "On my.. bum."

Yes, I called it a "bum." In the moment, "bum" sounded like the most mild description as well as the most British word choice.

I watched Carols expression change. She looked at me with curious eyes and a small but distinct smirk. I suppose I had her attention now. "We-ell," she urged me, "what did you burn yourself with?"

I was tired of telling the story already. But of course, I had no choice. "A hair straightener, you know––a flat iron" I said.

"But how did you... why was your..." Carol couldn't seem to peice it together.

I carried on with the details as necessary. "I sat on it." My tone showed patience despite my exhaustion. "I unplugged it, threw it on a my bed and forgot a moment later when I sat down. I was wearing a dress. Thats how it happened."

There was a short pause before she responded. "Well," she said with an impossibly serious expression, "thats not a very sensible thing to do, now is it?"


She asked me if my actions were sensible. The word offended me and pleased me at the same time. I wanted to laugh and I wanted to yell but I tried to remain expressionless.

No, Carol. No.

To answer your rude and hopefully rhetorical question, I do not think sitting on a hot iron is a sensible thing to do. In fact, I myself might argue that my actions could be desribed as the opposite of sensible. More accurate terms come to mind such as foolish, unintelligent, ill-considered, and stupid. I assure you, Carol, with a fair vocabularly like mine, I could come up with some really true and authentic words to explain my mistake without ever sneaking "sensible" into the mix.

But I thank you for your attention and feedback, Carol. As not only a hospital employee but a human being, I value your opinion and your words will not be easily forgotten.

The remainder of my trip was equally if not more so humilating. I was asked to show my wound to what seemed like an unnecessary number of doctors before I was actually treated. It made me suspicous that the hospital was getting a laugh at my expense. But I'm not greedy so I let them all in on it. Afterall, I bet ER Doctors need a good laugh every now an again and I'm happy if I could help. I unbuckled my belt and removed my pants 3 times with both the obligatory level of shame and a contradicting smile.

I left Chase Farm Hospital with a few good things: reassurance that there will be no infection and my "bum" is safe, a big sticky bandage that can be seen through some of my shorts and a reminder of exactly who I am.

I am smart but absent-minded, cynical but entertaining, hard on myself but a good sport in the end. And definitely not sensible.

Lesson learned.

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