E.R.M. - Awkward, Strange and Unexpected Emergency Room Miracles

Submitted into Contest #152 in response to: Write a story in which a miracle happens — or everyone thinks it did.... view prompt

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Creative Nonfiction Contemporary Speculative

This story contains themes or mentions of substance abuse.

What is a “miracle?

A quick “googling” of the words  “miracle definition” on your mobile device’s web browser might elicit the following:

1- a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.

"the miracle of rising from the grave"

Similar:

supernatural phenomenon

mystery

prodigy

sign

2- a highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences.

"it was a miracle that more people hadn't been killed or injured"

3- an amazing product or achievement, or an outstanding example of something.

"a machine which was a miracle of design"

I work in the Emergency Room of a city hospital. A city-run hospital is far from the best in terms of the healthcare offered. Not a day passes without some reminder of how underfunded and, therefore, under-resourced we truly are. Dangerously scant staffing is quite common here no matter the shift. Doctors, PA’s, and nurses all seem to lose a little something of the passion they started with, the glimmer of hope in their eyes fading into the fug of the Devil’s breath. 

The patients never stop coming. EMTALA laws see to that, though it seems private hospitals always find a loophole, a fucked up legal reason to refuse the drunkies, the meth heads and the heroin addicts that we see on the daily. These are the kinds of patients who come in dancing and singing off key to the symphonic masterpieces blasting in their altered brains. Some of them mistake the people in the mirror for the unforgivable abusers in their sordid lives, and they seek bloody recompense. Others reenact love scenes from a lost past, and expose more of themselves, physically and emotionally, then they ever would in an unaltered state. 

Still others seem to come to us whenever they crave attention, and they don’t always care what kind of scrutiny they elicit. A wiry, older woman with stringy, silver hair comes to our ER simply to pick up the phone and scream at the person on the other end, accusing them of all sorts of chicanery and abuse. I’ve seen her come in and out of my damn ER for years, but a Patient Care Associate finally told me recently that there “aint anyone on the other side of that line.” 

I’m unsurprised, and I lack the mental bandwidth for more than a brief guffaw at that bit of news. There are still filthy stretchers to clean, and patients are coming in hot in the ambulance or “amb” bay as we all call it. All the patient care associates are stuck on one to one assignments, and I’ve silently been helping them with some of their other tasks while technically hovering within the bounds of my sordid job description. 

Neither union rules, nor the expectations of an unqualified and inexperienced supervisor from some dumbass private company stop me from helping out in whatever way I feel I can. I’m no superhero. Nobody who works here is. But those of us who beat the fuck out of ourselves to keep suiting up and showing up to this mess of a hospital know that we make neither money nor a name for ourselves here. Even when exhaustion and despair threaten to overwhelm us, we persist because nobody else will. 

Does that qualify as a miracle? Do we, as “salt of the earth” people get to hear anything other than the hypocritical applause of the ignorant who betrayed and sacrificed us during the first Citywide Covid surge? 

There are days, I can assure you, when I tell anyone who will listen that it’s a damn miracle I even showed up to work; that my bosses are lucky that I haven’t either quit or set fire to this puss-filled den of iniquity. 

I digress, of course. I know that’s not what people want to hear about in a story that chronicles healthcare work. But there are certain realities to a city based healthcare institution, and these truths need to be understood for the next part of this narrative to make any sense. 

Some miracles might fall within the second, aforementioned definition of such. The staff here all know the frequent flyer alcoholic patients who seem to live despite themselves.  One such patient of my acquaintance once stormed out of his room for the express unwritten purpose of screaming at his already beleaguered and exhausted medical team. If one were Marvin the Martian, they would decry the “earth-shattering kaboom” that ensued when a giant ball of excrement fell to the floor between the patient’s legs hard enough to cause rippling in cups of water set on the nearby nurse’s station.

That man lived for decades with alcohol and drug addiction. 

Another such alcoholic has become something of a local celebrity around my ER. Anyone who’s ever run into him seems to be able to do a semi-accurate impression of his famous “Ah shay, ah shay” speech, wherein he says,  “Ah shay I wanna room widda tee vee so i can sshleep heyah, ya dig?” We staff can all imitate his stumbling shuffle, his glassy, red-eyed stare, and the speeches he makes about his “poor sister” and his “lost daughter.” He is almost a living caricature of humanity’s “stubbing-your-toe while-swearing-at-the-damn-tree-you-stubbed-it-on” existence. 

But twenty something years of his addiction has finally started to take its toll. One day, this patient stumbles to a stretcher set aside just for him in a hallway just outside a patient bathroom. When he wakes and shuffles out the door hours later, we all notice the small tributary of thick blood at the head of the bed, and we can tell it came from his open, halitosis-ridden mouth. I glove up and toss his sheets in a plastic bag, shuddering when they land with a wet thud against the bag’s bottom. 

Nobody wants to see him die, though we all acknowledge it might be a miracle he’s lived this long. 

Perhaps that is the only sort of miracle one might find if they spent but a few days and nights here. Veteran healthcare workers like me, however, have learned the daily, the weekly, the seasonal patterns of this place. Such insight inures one to the most horrific tragedy. Three years on the frontline during the pandemic, for example, have shown me much of humanity’s darkness. Yet I remain here, somehow determined to sifon, through “stubborn-asshole-osmosis,” what little compassion and common sense remains among a burnt out crew. 

But the occurrences that shock even the most battle hardened veterans adhere to no conventional explanation. These events are so bizarre and improbable that they defy all sense and reason, redefining cause and consequence. Two years ago, for instance, a seasonal construction worker sans safety equipment fell, according to an EMT’s report, backwards down a nine foot pit. At the bottom of this pit stood sharp shards of twisted metal and splintered wood, lethal tips and peaks jutting toward the sky like scattered stalagmites. According to the EMT, there was “literally no room” for the unprotected victim to fall without getting impaled. 

At least, that was how the scene appeared. 

Yet this man survived the fall with barely a scratch on him, having landed at the bottom of the pit “like a human hieroglyph.” I had the pleasure of saying goodbye to this man as he walked away from our ER breathing a shaky sigh of relief.

Other tales of brushes with death seem to me to be the stuff of future legend. Another one of our patients succumbed to momentary vertigo and fell, backwards, onto the train tracks, landing on his back. An inbound train came barreling along the same tracks toward the victim. As onlookers and good samaritans attempting a daring rescue stared in horror, the train rolled straight over the barely conscious man. 

That man also survived with minimal injury, having somehow landed in just the right position for the train to pass safely over him. His extraction from the extraordinary ordeal took quite some time. Yet he was able to leave our hospital alive, relatively intact and singing his praises to the powers that be. 

These incidents may certainly be construed as miracles. However, for every one of these incredibly rare occurrences, so many other similar situations end tragically. To this day, I can think of nothing so devastating and demoralising as the keening of a mother who has just lost her child in our ER, or the wide-eyed shock on a husband’s face who loses his wife in childbirth. 

Though I feel I’m nobody to intrude upon such private agony, I’ve still held silent space for such tormented individuals. Even listening with empathy to such despair leaves psychic scars that run deeper than I can bear to describe, even to my own wife. 

I leave my job at the ER in one piece everyday desiring nothing more than to be with my family.  My family is both the love of my life whom I was lucky enough to marry three years ago, and the son she bore a year ago. I’m grounded when I’m with them, and I endeavour to strive for them even when exhaustion threatens both my body and my spirit.

Upon my return home from work, my son greets me with a smile and laugh that melts my heart and makes me giggle every single time I see it. 

I live for that moment, and despite the many challenges of raising him, I begin to comprehend just what a miracle my boy’s very existence is to me. 

How do you define a miracle?

July 02, 2022 01:59

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2 comments

Katy Borobia
16:11 Jul 07, 2022

Excellent writing! Good luck in the contest.

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Angel Vargas
21:10 Jul 08, 2022

Thank you!

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