“Do they have lollipops here?” my son asks when we arrive at the ER. It’s our second night in Las Vegas, and he has taken a tumble from the stairs. Not what we had in mind for vacation at his grandparents’ – but in the Saint Rose emergency room you get to see another side of life in Sin City.
Not everyone is here for sinful reasons. Babies fuss as their mothers coo at them, softening the tension of a waiting room packed with people on a Wednesday night. “What’s it like on a Friday night?” I ask when we’re seated before the reception desk.
The intake clerk shakes her head. “You don’t want to know.”
There’s a layer of the Wild West that can’t be scrubbed out by the suburban, squeaky clean feeling of residential Vegas. The men sitting across from us take stock of another fellow’s injuries, as if they’re placing bets on who’s been the naughtiest of all. Or unluckiest. It’s not until the man in question gets up that I see a pulpy red mass around his eyes. Which of these guys own pitbulls, I wonder, recalling the snarling dogs that leapt on top of the walled compound in my parents’ neighborhood. I look away, turn my attention back to entertaining my three-year-old through the wait.
A father leads his toddler toward a seat nearby. “Do they give out lollipops?” That’s the other boy, who’s asking a valid question about the payoff for enduring hours of tedium, followed by invasive actions by people in white coats, the kind you can’t ward off with an army of toy soldiers or a BB gun.
When we’re called to the desk again, a burst of activity through the automatic doors interrupts the normal hum. The staff spring into action, putting out alerts and clearing a path. “Level 3 trauma” – somebody on a motorcycle, going forty miles an hour. Behind the small posse is a man walking in unassisted, except his arm is wrapped in an ace bandage and pain contorts his features. Going 40 mph is slow for Las Vegas roads, but the huskiest guy in the world can’t take that kind of impact from a bike. The man’s back is laced throughout with muscle, solid as a horse’s haunches. I notice that the medical assistant checking my son’s vitals has the same stocky build; he’s got the tough guy look but a squeaky clean demeanor.
Two hours later, the pediatrician comes out. He’s a modern day Tom Sawyer who can make an ER visit sound like fun. It’s fun to mend lacerated foreheads. The doctor assures us that the new procedure uses this stuff called Dermabond instead of stitches. “Like superglue?” I ask, thinking that even I could take care of the cut – well, with the precision of a preschooler. By now the gaping third eye on my son’s forehead doesn’t seem so bad after all.
While waiting in the ward, a nurse stopped in for a quick chat. Her son had once flipped over a banister and scraped his arm on the television. “He had these black and blue marks, and at school I was worried that they’d think we did that to him.” Every parent must feel that twinge of guilt about something they didn’t do – or couldn’t have stopped from happening. An hour and a half later, my son is patched up and he has forgotten why we’re here in the first place.
“Can we see the doctor tomorrow?” my son asks. Not if we can help it, but I’m grateful to the good folks at St. Rose.
A trip to the ER feels a bit like showing up for jury duty. You encounter people from all walks of life, which you normally wouldn’t in the course of a day, or even a trip out of town. I wouldn’t want to hang out with the fellow my mother talked to, who declared that Obama is a Communist. (Does he think ER’s should be privatized?) But I did get a taste of life through the looking glass of Las Vegas. That’s as good as any lollipop, which, along with the bandage on his head, my son has promptly forgotten about.
~~ IN THE LAP OF THE GODS ~~
a novel by Li Miao Lovett
A massive dam rises, a million lives are thrown into turmoil...and a widower saves an abandoned baby girl from the Yangtze.