And waited. And waited.
As I stared out through the window, hoping for someone to block my view by entering the room, I unavoidably thought back to the two previous times that I had encountered this particular scene. Always before, it had been Bonnie who was being evaluated, and I was there to supply the information that she could not or would not. Never before had I been a potential patient, and I did suffer some trepidation, wondering if I was badly enough off to be admitted to the regular ward, and belatedly wondering how our mice would fare if such an occurrence eventuated. I had left them enough extra provisions for a week or so, but I knew from past experience that a stay on the ward was likely to be of a much more extensive duration.
At length a woman appeared, introduced herself, and sat down in the chair. She must have wondered, as we shook hands, why I neglected to arise to an erect position as any normal person would. I imagined that she possibly considered me to be either remarkably lazy or so ill that I had forgotten politeness altogether. By this point in the proceedings, roughly about 9 pm or thereabouts, the medication’s effects had completely worn off, and everything that occurred was filtered through a lens of constant pain, so my memory of this portion of the evening is necessarily incomplete in spots. I was asked a number of questions presumably calibrated to zero in on my present state of mind. A recitation of recent events was required of me, which I supplied, and I did not neglect to include the information for which I had originally committed myself to this rigmarole, namely information related to Bonnie’s previous episodes, including the dates, the name of her doctor, and the treatments that were most efficacious.
The interview eventually concluded, and before the woman could exit the room, I asked if it would be possible for me to see Bonnie. She told me that Bonnie had been taken to the regular ward, and my heart sank, knowing it to be located at the other end of the building. I was, however, comforted by the ignorant presumption that Bonnie was shortly to begin receiving treatment and that I could rest easier (you all know how that turned out.) As an afterthought, although quite appreciated by me, the woman asked if I had yet been offered food. I said no, forbearing to mention that as yet, I had not even been offered medication. She assumed a horrified expression and hurried off to remedy my deplorable situation.
She returned bearing two clamshell containers with an expression that practically shouted "Eat, you poor man!" I inspected the contents and unwrapped what proclaimed itself to be "Tuna Salad." It turned out to be an incredibly bulky Kaiser roll with a razor-thin spread of some tasteless, unidentifiable substance. I managed to choke down most of the underdressed roll and the fruit salad, cookies, juice and milk that accompanied the disconsolate (but presumably nutritious) starch product. I set the remainder of the second clamshell aside and, for a goodly while, contemplated my own mortality. After an indeterminate time, I heard a perfunctory knock at the door and a gentleman with the inevitable clipboard in hand appeared. We wended our way through the by now familiar set of questions and responses, ending with the query as to whether I felt myself to be a danger to myself or others, and whether I had ever considered suicide to be an acceptable alternative to my present situation. The gentleman must have been satisfied, because he stood up, smiled, and departed.
I waited for a further length of time, amusing myself by watching "Tina’s" countenance periodically passing by the window as she endlessly paced the circuit of the ward, and attempting to time her reappearances before they occurred. She had passed by about five times before a new lady appeared. After introducing herself as a social worker, she sat down and began to once again question the circumstances that had led to my present predicament. I explained about the onset of Bonnie’s illness, my own health problems and my inability to secure food for us, the persistent toilet leak, the lack of close relatives and my worries about our mice. She wrote on her clipboard, inspected what she had written, looked up at me with an expression that clearly defined her uncertainty, and spoke:
"What we have is a quandary!" To which I could only offer an ironic upward quirk of the lips and the firm statement "Yes."
She stood and bustled out despite the lateness of the evening, and I was left to wonder what might happen next. At length the first evaluator reappeared, explained that under the circumstances my feelings of latent depression were justified, and that in the morning I would be returned to Emergency, it being too late to move me presently. Also, she mentioned that I was to expect to receive one more visit from the social worker with a solution to my problems. When the social worker finally reentered the room, she told me that it had been deemed desirable to place me under the auspices of Adult Protective Services for the duration of our difficulties. This news was not received by me with the unalloyed relief that you might think, given that some help would be necessary until I could do for us again. We are, after all, private people ("Yeah, right!", I hear you saying) and we had read stories in AARP magazine about how the bureaucracy can sometimes abuse the power entrusted to the practitioners thereof. I was forced to agree to the terms, however, and the satisfied social worker departed with a smile, having successfully performed her job and ameliorated the "quandary."
"Jose" appeared not long after, apologizing and explaining that it was necessary that I vacate the room for another’s use and be placed momentarily in the waiting area until suitable accommodation could be arranged for me. I moved back to the ‘chair and was wheeled out. It quickly became apparent that my ankle was in no mood to treat me gently, although bending the leg back, clutching the ankle and resting it upon the ‘chair’s seat lessened the feeling of pressure somewhat. I saw by the clock that it was now 10:45, and I tried but failed to interest myself in whatever was being televised (Surface? Invasion? Lost? One of those.) Of more interest was a family seated in the waiting area, consisting of two parents and two young men. The young man closest to me had an extensive area of scarification on his right arm, appearing to have been executed with a razor blade. There was no scabbing; the reddened skin of the intricate design seemed to have been healed for awhile. The rendering appeared almost to be totemic - the right-hand side of the design consisted of a series of twenty or so dashes parallel to the wrist, ascending from midarm to about 2 inches below the wrist, and to the left of the column a single line rose from the base of the column up to about the third dash from the top. Above the vertical line was a curlicue. Drawn on paper, this would have represented a design of some elegance. Seen on a human arm, it was quite disturbing.
The young man, I noticed, was agitated and fidgeting, but not overly so. I was diverted from my covert inspection by the sight of "Tina" standing on the other side of the partition, staring fixedly at me. Before I could determine what this apparition might portend, she pushed through the door and sat in the chair to my left, obscuring my view of the young man. She began a lengthy peroration on the completeness of her soul, opining that its development had somehow been arrested and was not fully formed. Not knowing what to say to this, I offered her nods and quiet affirmations. When she began explaining that she believed her theory had relevance to the Age of Reason, I mumbled some nothing about the Age of Superstition and wondered how in hell I was going to carry off an appearance of knowledge, given the subject matter. Luckily, we were both distracted by a flurry of sudden activity - the young man had been busy in the interim, and when I looked at him, he was sprawled on one of the chairs opposite his parents, scrubbing vigorously and contritely at his right arm with a paper towel, from which a goodly quantity of blood was now issuing. I was quite relieved at the appearance of "Jose" at my right shoulder, informing me that a bed was ready for me.
I was wheeled down the corridor which harbored the interview room that I had previously occupied, down to the end where a bed was positioned against the wall. "Jose" helped me out of the chair into the bed, then pushed me into the small nook that held overhead supply cabinets. He pushed the bed beneath the cabinets in order to access the supplies, and gave me an extra sheet and blanket. I realized that if I woke up suddenly during the night, it would not be in my best interests to suddenly sit bolt upright, as I might conceivably incur serious damage.
After profusely thanking "Jose" for his untiring solicitude, I asked him if he would kindly do me one more favor.
"Is there anyone on the ward who could prescribe me some pain medication?"
Smiling and answering in the affirmative, "Jose" disappeared after parking my ‘chair at the base of the bed, and shortly thereafter (finally!) I was given a Motrin and a Vicodin by a male nurse, and I stretched out on my right side, heavily favoring my left leg and ankle, and descended into a troubled sleep.
Thus ended my first night, deep in the intestines of the health care system.
To be continued.