Yesterday evening I spent a few hours in A&E at the local hospital with my daughter. (It turned out to be nothing, but we wanted to check.)
We walked in to find a pale woman wearing pyjamas collapsed on the floor at reception. She was in the company of two police officers and an equally pale boyfriend. A queue of people waited to register. I encouraged my daughter not to stare at the pale woman. Tried to keep out of the police officers’ way.
A while later, with the woman wheeled away somewhere and the police officers in a nearby room, we registered at reception and were told to wait.
About half an hour later my daughter’s name was called. Well, that didn’t take long, did it? Good job, too, because we had no books or games or iPod or anything. Not even a drink. We followed the nurse into a room. Were given seats. She spoke to my daughter, asking careful questions. Is this your dad? What have you done? Where does it hurt? Was this at school? What were you doing? I didn’t mind. I just kept quiet until I was pretty certain the nurse was confident I hadn’t attempted to murder my own child. It just demonstrated the kind of things they have to deal with and probably face day after day. She made some notes, took my daughter’s heart rate, then said we should go back into the waiting room. Estimated time from when we arrived at 6:30pm: two and a half hours.
It was a classic A&E scene. I can certainly see why an emergency room makes such an ideal setting for a soap or drama series. It’s a convergence point for people from all walks of life in a variety of states.
A girl of about 20 wrapped in a blanket crouched in a corner, white-faced, red-faced and teary. She seemed to have got a mobile phone stuck to her ear. When she was called she glanced around as if expecting someone to attack her. Maybe that’s what had happened. Struggled to get stuff into her bag with one hand. Shuffled towards the waiting nurse. The staff didn’t seem to be able to do anything, because the phone was still stuck in place when she emerged hours later, looking pretty much the same as when she went in.
There was a teenage girl who’d been in a fight, accompanied by her parents. They veered between discussing the rights and wrongs of hitting someone to make a point. The girl couldn’t see what else she was supposed to do. Besides, didn’t dad hit her brother? Only when he won’t do as he’s asked. Then they’d sit and thumb their mobile phones, as if seeking advice from others regarding the morality of their argument.
There was a guy with a pot belly stretching a green checked shirt. A local celebrity historian. At least that’s what a nearby woman informed me: “That’s Jackie Chan,” she said. (Or was is Charlie Chin? Mickie Chin? – can’t remember; I’d never heard of him anyway.) She seemed rather excited. “He writes regularly for the Evening Mail.” She nodded enthusiastically, eyebrows raised. When I looked blankly at her and shook my head she seemed quite put out. “I thought everyone knew Jackie Chan,” she said. Sorry, love. Not me.
Half way through the evening a tall and very inebriated man walked in. Just about. He had a gash on his head and possibly the deepest voice I’ve ever heard; it sounded as though it came from just below his balls and was expelled from somewhere between his eyes. He spent some of his time slumped in a wheelchair, then wrestled with his jacket before the occasional totter around the waiting room to mumble unintelligible words to various females. He did a lot of vowels, not too many hard consonants. Sometimes he knelt and held on to their bag or chair. Refused advice from Charlie Chin to “take a seat, mate”. Everyone eyed him discretely. Those he approached tended to ignore him until he went away, or they moved. I wasn’t in the mood for him at all. Don’t think I would’ve been quite so patient. Thankfully we didn’t seem to interest him.
Opposite us a lesbian couple waited and waited and waited and talked quietly and looked concerned. Then during the two minutes that one of them left the room her partner got called in and was gone when the other returned. “Has she been called in?” she said. Yes, said the woman with the stick. “Typical.”
All age groups and backgrounds and ethnicities of Birmingham were present. White, white trash, mixed-race, Hindu, Rasta. All age groups, all income levels.
The time seemed to pass relatively quickly for the first couple of hours, but the last 30 minutes dragged.
My daughter commented on the ambulance man standing outside smoking. “Not a very good example,” she said.
We played Eye Spy for a while. Talked about this and that.
The Indian guy’s Bhangra ring tone raised a few smiles.
There was a brief rain storm.
The drinks machine didn’t work. But then I only had one pound in my pocket and spent the evening hoping the car park machine took cards. (It didn’t, which meant I had to phone my wife to bring me some change when we eventually got out.)
The air ambulance came and went.
In the end, after about three hours, we saw a military guy (Selly Oak Hospital has a military presence). He quickly assessed my daughter and established that nothing was the matter. It was just some kind of muscle spasm, he said. It’d wear off over a couple of days. Just do everything as normal.
So, a long wait in a crowded room with a bored child, nothing to do and no cash doesn’t sound too great, does it? But I glimpsed some lives. Appreciated the diversity of this country. The fact that people who work in such places do a great job despite some of the people they meet.
And most of all we got piece of mind, were seen as quickly as was possible, treated well, and it was free.
It’s not like that everywhere.