I love the Bay Area, don’t get me wrong, but it just doesn’t have thunderstorms like the Midwest. Damn, even, it tried hard this evening. I and my housemates sat on the new porch couch and smoked cigarettes as the lightning struck in the distance. After cigarettes, the rain came and we moved inside to the living room. The storm moved so as to accommodate our limited vantage, and the place lit up with each next flash.
Then I realize that it’s my dishnight. There are few dirty dishes piled up, and someone else has already put away many of the things on the draining board. So I run sudsy hot water and begin with the pint glasses. It seemed that one of them, a blue one, must have been cracked, because before I realize, I have a broken glass, and half a square inch of flesh dangling from the base of my thumb. It seems like too much to just bandage and walk off, and it bleeds profusely. Two of the housemates just stare from the dining room table. Another one of the housemates declares, "you will need stitches". So begins my adventure into health care for the uninsured.
It’s a quiet Monday night at the emergency waiting room of the Highland Hospital in Oakland. The triage nurse calls my name in about 10 minutes and replaces my red paper towels with fresh cotton gauze. I return to the waiting room to find my housemate sitting in front of a ball-sliding toy, playing with it merrily. About 40 minutes later I get called to fill out paperwork. This time I return to the waiting room to find my housemate perusing a copy of The Watchtower. How’s the adrenaline feeling? he asks. I’m feeling like custard now I answered. Another 40 minutes pass before they call my name, and show me and an older man, who has chest pain, to a room.
The older man is told to lie down on the bed. I get an apology and a (comfortable) chair. An intern steps in, looks at both charts and begins to work with the chest pained man, trying to diagnose whether he has a heart attack or gastric reflux. Almost 10 minutes later, I get two interns, How’s your hand? . . . Can we see it? I oblige, but think that their response (which does not involve anesthetic or stitching) is less than helpful. Thanks, they say, and leave.
The older man is eventually diagnosed with gastric reflux and sent away. I must have read the in hospital advertisement for Dermabond about five times. A doctor comes in and says, Mult-Lass, let’s have a look. Okay. This will probably hurt, but try and touch each of your fingers to your palm. Good. We will have to check for nerve damage. He obtains a cotton swab and teases out the end. Tell me if this tickles he says as uses the swab to lightly lick each of my fingertips. I seem to pass these simple tests for tendon and nerve damage, so the doctor gets out the sewing kit rather than call in a specialist.
He starts with a few injections of anesthetic to the postage stamp sized chunk of flesh hanging from my knuckle and the better attached area around it. I’ll just tack this down, should be about a dozen stitches or so..
It’s a strange feeling sitting there while someone sews you up. I could see the doctor’s arm movements, and I could sense the difference between the needle and the thread as it pulled through me. Around the sixth stitch I decided that I wanted to watch. The shard of metal with the attached nylon thread went into my hand. I am fascinated unto not breathing. You felt that one – oh, you’re watching. You sure you want to do that?
. . .
The surgeon did not take the opportunity of my outage to finish sewing me up. He kept me upright in the chair, massaged my neck and shoulder with one hand. And then helped me up into a gurney, we don't want you to come in with a laceration and leave with a concussion. He set the gurney to half-recline and rolled up a tray for his tools. You don't have to feel it, I've got a whole drawer full of anesthetic.
When he finished his sewing, and taped some gauze over the wound, I was sent out to the waiting area until called to discuss financial services. My housemate had discovered a year-old copy of National Geographic. In about 10 minutes my name is called again, and I step into the middle of three small offices. Inside is a man wearing a tie and a small desk with a standard office computer. We run through a number of questions concerning my address, my employment status, whether I was injured while working, my income. At the end of it I sign a couple papers and pay $50. It leaves me feeling a little amazed.
My ex-girlfriend visited some months later, and upon seeing me reach across the table for a pepper grinder, exclaimed what happened to your hand?
I told you I cut it washing dishes.
But I thought you were being dramatic.