Tales from the ER

It turns out, you only know a place as well as you know its emergencies

April 18, 2022 | 12:56 pm

FROM THE MAGAZINE, The Spectator World – by Mary Kate Skehan

(Photo by Graeme Robertson/Getty Images)

I used to think I knew my hometown pretty well, after living here on and off for thirty years. And then I encountered my boyfriend, a third-year resident in the Emergency Department of the local hospital. It turns out, you only know a place as well as you know its emergencies.

We met around July 4, when his days were filled with fireworks mishaps: burns, the occasional missing finger. “If I ever have children,” he said, with the tactical reserve of an early date, “no fireworks.” Fair enough! “And no ATVs,” he added. The four-wheelers and jury-rigged motorbikes that proliferate in the streets around my apartment every summer, annoying me with their noisy revving and curiously powerful stereo systems, also keep the ER busy with head traumas.

What else is going on around here? I would ask him in the early days. Quite a lot, it turns out. There’s the usual stuff — strokes, heart attacks, car accidents. There are more gunshot wounds than I expected (“It’s 2021, cars don’t backfire,” he tells me, incredulous), more incidents involving dildos (the old excuse, “I fell on it!”), and even more drugs: a birthday party clown who overdosed mid-animal-balloon, brought in, in full costume, by paramedics. The pair who appeared in the waiting room with burns on their face and hands. “The toaster caught fire,” insisted one to a resident, while her counterpart shrugged, “Our meth lab exploded.” A Gen-Z overdose who told his concerned doctor, after a life-saving procedure, “I don’t like your vibes.”

Surely every place must be basically the same, I thought, until Dr. Boyfriend did a rural medicine rotation an hour away, where the gunshot wounds were replaced with farm-equipment accidents, and an unusually high number of patients had food or household items lodged in their noses.

“But do you like it here?” I asked after a few dates. “Oh yes,” he assured me, “There’s very high acuity.”

Like most people, I mark the passage of time with holidays, events and weather. Dr. Boyfriend sees only acuity. Soon fireworks-injury season gave way to pediatric stitches (the county fair), the Delta variant (early fall), and elderly falls (icy winter). Epiphany to Valentine’s Day was Omicron season, and now, the glorious spring sunshine heralds an increase in motorcycle crashes.

As our relationship progresses through the seasons, my curiosity about his work occasionally reaches its limits. So we created “The List”: a record of the medical events I don’t want to hear about. GI bleeds, suffering children, eyeball stuff — all on The List. On Christmas Eve, as I ate ham and drank eggnog, he manually disimpacted some poor woman’s bowels. “She must have been so grateful,” I texted him, “But: List.” Through these secondhand anecdotes, despite their carefully anonymized details, I feel I’ve gotten to know my neighbors better, in all their quirks, accidents and tragedies. It helps to know they’re in good hands — hands with all the fingers still intact.

This article was originally published in The Spectator’s May 2022 World edition

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