God (and actually I do mean You), I don't know where to begin on today's afternoon activities. It's sunny in Los Angeles, school is out and everyone is celebrating summer. Hell, July 4th is on a Saturday this year - nothing could be more perfect.
The doctor's office told me at 3:30pm after I'd logged a call at 7am, at 11am, at 1:30pm and then again at 3:30pm that I had to take my son to the UCLA emergency room ("because they can test for swine flu there") and that I couldn't come in to the office. Son, 19 has been at 101-102 fever, aching head, neck, bones, since Sunday and has been going to a Spanish class every morning aided by industrial amounts of ibuprofen & acetaminophen. By the time we arrive at the glorious, white, Kubrick-esque emergency room his skin is sallow, there are yellow bags under his eyes and he hasn't taken any fever-reducing drugs for three hours. He's aching and listless. I'm wearing blue shorts with skulls and crossbones on them, for God's sake, not the usual attire I'd choose for an emergency room visit. "We're going to UCLA" I yell, keys in hand, and hustle him into the dirty Prius.
If you haven't visited an emergency room (A&E for the Brits) let me enlighten you: there are crazy people there and there are very very sick people there. There are schizophrenics and drug-addicts and old people who are very ill. There are people in wheel chairs and very pregnant women with five children. No broken fingers or arms or toes because those patients are wheeled straight into the fixing room like Charlie & the Chocolate factory. I sat with my large-sized son (in California, if you're 19 you are supposed to sign for yourself, support yourself, get married, even though you may not drink) and stroked his head and back, all feverish and sweaty and awful. I leafed through Alice Munro and wondered about the shed at the bottom of the garden, and bought watermelon candies, Odwalla chocolate peanut bars and apple juice for N.
Triage is an extremely slow process. "We are saturated" said the greeting nurse, an incredibly together man wearing blue/green scrubs. "Sign here." There were no beds and he couldn't answer my incredibly simple question, posed as only an English person could "I'm so sorry but would you happen to know how long it will be?" "Saturated," he said, "No beds," "Um, so, um" said I, "is that two hours or four or..." "At least four" he said and turned to someone (rightfully) more needy, a very fat girl in a wheelchair wearing a pale pink bike helmet. She'd very obviously had a nasty crash.
So we sat and watched the crazy girl speak with an American and an English dialect and ask for help and pout and flirt with the security guard. All security guards, bless them, are forced to wear incredibly tight Dickies shorts, which don't always enhance their God-given figures. "Watch your mouth" the security guard said to her in the most threatening voice he could muster. We sat and waited and watched: The Russian woman with her troubled son ("if there's a problem we have security guards" the Triage nurse said to her. "Oh no, my honey's fine when I'm here with him" she said. Her son was red-faced and slack jawed and munching on a non-ending supply of candies and chips. At first I found this repugnant. As I sat and watched him (much to my son's disgust "Stop Watching People Mamma!") I developed an incredible empathy for him. He wore capri-length pants, like European men, and he was trying so very hard to keep himself happy and occupied despite the multiple hour stay. Later in the car N said "I wish his mother would have put her arm around him." He walked and stood and wrung his hands and stared at the cute girl next to me and ate more chips.
A Japanese man with his mother, a frail-looking Octogenarian with loose fitting pants, freckles and pink blotches on her face, forced back his tears as his mother was taken into Triage. She was taken into the ward in a wheelchair and thanked the people she was sitting next to in broken English.
In another wheelchair a woman sat, decked out in a pink t-shirt reversed the wrong way, pink leather shoes slung over the side, a pink pashmina in her lap, and yet I believe she may have been homeless. She folded her dirty socks neatly over the chair, organised her myriad of coffe cups as if the chair were her home. She spread soft cheese on a cracker with the end of a fork, licked the foil, muttered to herself and continued. She was beautiful. No really. In a model kind of way. But with the burns under her eyes which sugggest a life on the street.
We were called in earlier than some. The doctor tested for influenza (which he suspected) and ruled out swine flue. It could be diabetes, strep or mono, he said. They ruled out diabetes from a simple finger-prick taste, noted his high blood pressure and his dark yellow pee. Influenza wasn't the thing. Mono is hard to diagnose at the start. And so mono (glandular fever) is left on the table and I'm trying not to think about it. He's home with a fistful of antibiotics and pear juice and my nice white bed. I think we're luckier than most.