The sucking sound of the hospital door caught Mari’s attention once again as she waited in the emergency room closest to the hospital pharmacy for her prescription the doctor had given her to dull some of the breath-stopping pain she experienced because of her accidental fall ten-feet on to concrete. She and her mother were supposed to have been enjoying a three-day break, culminating in a river paddle-boat dinner cruise, but instead she was here because some idiot cruise boat employee had decided to let guests into the dining room while the engine-room hatch was open in the dining room.One of the first guests let into the dining room, Mari hadn’t seen the hole. She had been looking, not at the floor, but at the table with the window seat she had picked out for her mom and her when she fell through the opening and onto a concrete floor. Eye-opener number one.
Eye-opener number two had been the sheer lack of attention giving to her accident by ship employees. Someone had offered her a glass of water after she was extracted from the hole, but other than that, nothing. Now she found herself here in a St. Paul hospital emergency room experiencing Eye-opener Number Three.
Like the emergency room back in the small town where she lived, this one had that clean, almost overpowering, antiseptic smell. She could tell was loaded with chemicals that shouted, “We use this stuff so this place doesn’t kill you!” Sometimes it was so bad it gave her a headache.
The room was painted that “hospital orange” she so detested. It looked like someone had smeared tartar sauce on the walls. And on those walls were pictures so trite that a person could describe them practically without looking. On one wall was a pastoral scene. Looked like any scene Minnesotans think of when they think “up North” in Minnesota—tons of pine trees surrounding a lake with a few ripples, she could almost see the fish swimming below—sunnies, walleye, bass, northern pike. On another was a picture of two ducks floating on a lake that could be the one from the other picture. On a third wall hung a picture of a bare tree in the winter out in a field. She’s seen that one many times before in medical facilities. Someone told her once that it was titled “Solitude,” and was soothing. Mari, on the other hand found it depressing and inappropriate for any healing space. It was a picture of death for crying out loud. It belonged nowhere near a hospital waiting room.
Some of the patients waiting with her looked half dead; some had complexions almost the color of the walls. Babies cried—mothers frantically but deer-eyed jostled them up and down, old men blew their noses into actual cotton handkerchiefs. One little boy who had what looked the the worst case of pink eye in the universe turned to face the wall every time someone looked at him. His dad, Mari assumed, patting his leg periodically saying, “It will be okay, Buddy.” Yes waiting rooms would be good places for conducting psychological studies, but Mari wasn’t here for that. She wanted painkilling drugs not people-watching data.
As she sat in the straight-backed slightly padded, orange and brown chair that seemed to be sold to all hospitals and airports, she reached for a magazine. Again same old thing. Some Prevention and Health magazines, Time, Newsweek, Highlights, People. She could tell People, as always, was the most read. Every issue’s cover was dog-eared or actually torn away from the text pages all together. The People on the table next to her announced that Penelope Cruze was in a “good spot” in her life right now. Well, lucky Penelope! Now Mari could sleep better tonight. Isn’t, I wonder how Penelope Cruze is doing, number one on most patient’s minds as they sit, waiting anxiously for their name to be called?
But, Mari thought, I bet Penelope Cruze doesn’t take river boat dinner cruises on second-rate boats with the engine hatch open and her eighty year old mother looking helplessly down at her on the concrete floor. Yes, Mari was so thankful to read the good news about Penelope, but Mari was not in a good place and she just wanted to grab her drugs and get out of here.