Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Tales from the Hospital

Air Conditioning
Yesterday security escorted a heavyset, sixtyish man out of the ER (where he had been panhandling). I suppose he preferred the air-conditioned comfort of the hospital to working the streets, as it were. He had long cargo shorts that had been cut into strips below the knees, and he had decorated each strip with several pony beads--you know, the kind you used to make necklaces at day camp when you were nine. The sleeves of his Hawaiian shirt had received the same treatment, and his belt loops and various pockets were festooned with a variety of cheap plastic keychains--the kind you win at a school fair as a consolation prize. He had on Birkenstocks that had seen better days, and long yellowish-white hair (not blonde; rather, the color that white becomes when subjected to years of cigarette smoke) with a beard to match. In short, he looked like Santa Claus's schizophrenic brother Bill.
"Hey, man," he said, as the two security guards (wearing nitrile gloves--a universal safety precaution, I wondered, or one they instituted with this gentleman specifically in mind?) walked him to the edge of the hospital's property. He turned around to face the security guard and I scurried by, anxious to avoid possible vitriol. "Hey, man," he repeated, "you showed me honesty, and I really appreciate that." Then he walked away. I tried to imagine what the security guards had said to him to earn his gratitude. He was obviously mentally ill, according to the "wearing crazy shit" test, but apparently not acute enough to be admitted anywhere. Or maybe he was uninsured and hadn't been able to get things together and apply for Medicare or Medicaid. In any case, as I watched him walk into the 100-degree day, heat rising from the street like a solid wall, I wished him well.

Her Head
I saw her from the back as I was leaving the hospital--a girl in her late teens or early twenties, in a gown, pajama pants and flip flops. She was walking to the smoking outpost at the edge of the hospital property, and I could see from the side that part of her head had been shaved. I followed her, wanting to see more of her hairstyle--was it in fact a style, or a souvenir from some medical procedure? I got my answer when she turned around. Half her hair was up in a messy bun, while the other half (the bottom half, nearest her neck) was gone. Stitches ran in a straight line across the right side of her head. Eleven stitches--I counted them, big and black, running up her skull like railroad tracks, or a ladder. Had she been in a car accident? A domestic despute? Had brain surgery? And if any of those things were true, why was she running around outside? She lit a cigarette and glanced warily at me. I quickly averted my eyes. What the hell happened to her head?

More installments as I witness more craziness at the hospital. Names will not be used except in conjecture. I bear no legal responsibility for anything, ever.

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