Advice from the emergency room

Emergency room doctors recommend that you wait until your Skilsaw is turned off and disconnected from its power source prior to enjoying any crystal meth that you might happen to have on hand. They recommend that you make a regular office visit, rather than going to the emergency room, should a mosquito bite you've incurred begin to itch pretty badly (they also counsel that applying calamine lotion or taking an antihistamine might be a better first line of defense), and that you wait until a doctor is touching you before responding "yes" to the question, "Does it hurt where I'm touching you?"

Emergency room doctors want you to know that anything placed around the penis while flaccid may become impossible to remove once the penis becomes erect. They strongly urge that the female anatomy not be used as a stash, emphasizing that glass pipes, in particular, should in all cases be stored elsewhere. Glass pipes also should never be eaten, even in an effort to avoid their discovery by the police. These doctors stress that the same is true of any large quantities of cocaine or crystal meth that you are carrying on your person in connection with your livelihood.

Emergency room doctors recommend that you not attempt to run from K9 police units. (I for my part recommend that the Wichita Police Department rethink some of its related terminology; when my friend Teri and I were once stuck in traffic behind a WPD van marked K9 SCAT, Teri said, "Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't that mean 'dog shit'?") They further advise that you not ride horses named Flash, Psycho, Thunder, or Reaper, nor leave your Percocet prescription in plain sight when expecting visits from "some dude," "my friend," or "that bitch," nor loudly attempt to sell an as yet unfilled prescription of same from an emergency room payphone.

Smoking or Non-smoking?

The above information, which I gleaned from a blog written by emergency room professionals, was of interest to me due to the fact that, prior to the advent of Prozac, I used to be something of an emergency room regular. Prozac interrupted a generations-long run of hypochondria in the Euker family — one that led, for example, to Christmas-day ER visits by members of my immediate family for three years in a row — and although there's plenty that I regret about my past ER behavior, it was a relief to find that my offenses did not yet include any of these. Maybe I'm fooling myself, but I'm hopeful that on even the most whimsical of my ER visits — I'm thinking here of an occasion on which I drove myself to the ER because I felt "weird," a fact that I repeated to the doctor without being able to provide anything else for him to go on; he dismissed me without being able to offer a diagnosis or any possible treatment, and my symptom, if you can call it that, cleared up shortly thereafter — I was less amazing to the attending physician than those who give birth without having realized that they were expecting.

Emergency room physicians, it seems to me, are likely to be unburdened with a sense of humor, and on a couple of occasions I've surprised a doctor simply because he's chosen to take every word I've said seriously, regardless of its context amid the words around it. Once when an ER doctor told me that he intended to give me a Thorazine IV for a headache brought on by carbon monoxide poisoning (another story), I told him that that sounded great and that I would take it in the smoking section. In all of the hospital, this doctor dryly replied, there was no smoking section. Another ER physician treated me for a suddenly painful ear infection; when I went to the follow-up appointment (does anyone really ever go to these follow-up appointments?), the infection was still present.

"Did you finish the antibiotics I gave you?" the doctor asked.

"I could only get the first two or three in," I answered, pointing into the infected ear.

This doctor then freaked out.

Maybe It's Something You Ate

I don't remember taking off, and have never since learned the whereabouts of the shoes I wore into the emergency room on the visit that culminated in the Thorazine IV described above. I do know that once, on Halloween, a man whose last name is Hitchcock drove me to the emergency room where I was diagnosed with vertigo. A Hüsker Dü concert I attended in Lawrence sent both me and a friend to the ER, but on different days, and I accompanied others to the emergency room following concerts given by Elvis Costello, Ethyl Meatplow, and Prince.

At Via Christi's St. Joseph campus, I once listened as a girl of maybe thirteen or fourteen in the next curtained cubicle described what was going to happen to her little brother when the doctor arrived to treat him. This was the craziest shit I've ever heard in my life; I would pay a lot of money for a transcript, and I've forgotten most of it, but I remember that towards the end the girl said, "You will hear Hebrew words such as 'syringe,' 'deposit'… " before her mother finally said, "Alison, shut up."

But here, where we're talking about emergency room visits, I'm most grateful, as always, to my friends. I'm grateful, for instance, to a man we'll call Bruce: one afternoon, while watching television, Bruce happened to pass his hand over a knot that seemed to have developed in the middle of his chest, towards the bottom of his ribcage. Suddenly horrified, he drove to the ER, where he was admitted after a considerable wait. When at last the examining physician came in, Bruce explained his situation breathlessly and the physician felt the knot in question. It's worth noting here, I think, that Bruce was in his thirties at the time of which I'm writing. "That's your sternum," the doctor said.

Turns out it had always been there. But what about the strange case of Cindy and Daniel's baby's head? This three- or four-month-old baby was relaxing in her parents' care one evening when, following a long day's work for Daniel, her parents enjoyed a gigantic quantity of marijuana. Turning their attention at last to their little bundle of joy, Cindy and Daniel made a startling discovery: baby's head was way too big! Wasn't it? Or was it? Cindy and Daniel were alternately sure of it and not. One thing was for sure: if baby's head was way too damn big, it had only just happened since Daniel had gotten off work and the two had gotten profoundly stoned; only an hour or two had passed, and, imagining such a rate of growth, the two erred on the side of safety and took baby to the ER. And how much would I pay for a transcript of that?


Speaking of drugs, at college I met a man who claimed to have spent his first ever acid trip in the emergency room. Probably there was a time right around when Sonny Bono was recording "Pammy's on a Bummer" when that wasn't so uncommon. The twist with this man is that he wasn't on a so-called bad trip, or at least he hadn't been; rather, he was walking near his apartment as the acid kicked in when a handful of rednecks chose to leap from their truck and arbitrarily beat the daylights out of him right then. Bummer indeed. He claims that later, in the ER waiting room, President George Bush, Sr., stepped out of a CNN broadcast long enough to point and him and say, "You're on drugs."

But nothing beats the story of the older brother of a man I know, an Oklahoma City resident named, for our purposes, Jesse. Jesse had a blind date one night; he and the young woman went to a bar and, after it closed, returned to Jesse's, where Jesse hoped to impress this young woman by showing her a rattlesnake he had recently caught. Naturally in the course of Jesse's dicking with the rattlesnake, the rattlesnake bit him; the woman drove him to the emergency room, but, seeing as he had been drinking, the attending physician attributed Jesse's slurred speech to tequila rather than snake venom.

What's the very worst thing that can happen to you on a blind date? I'm sorry to have to report that before he was able to convince this doctor, Jesse actually shit his pants in front of the young woman he'd been out with. The two of them never had a second date.

So to the urgent advice of the emergency room physicians listed above, I would add the following: Don't base your visits on quantitative decisions made while stoned. Have a little something to go on, a verifiable symptom or two that you can relate concretely to your doctor. Wear clean underwear and, above all, should you insist on sharing your home with a rattlesnake, leave the freaking thing alone.