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I was waiting, weak but not in pain, through seven hours, with no foreseeable outcome.

My symptoms had been puzzling: feeling hot when it was cold, cold when it was hot; lack of appetite; insomnia; dizziness.

I had gone on my one block daily walk, accompanied by my 41-year-old caregiver from Fiji, with whom I exchanged pleasantries as we strolled up the street where I’ve lived since 1979.

Now I was in the Emergency Room,

Seven hours later I was still there. It was a busy night I was told. I might have to wait for some time.

“Some time” turned out to be seven hours. All around me as I waited there were people, maybe 10, who could have been in better shape but who obviously were in worst shape than I was. With me, I had my wife, my principal Caregiver, and a magazine to read, which I couldn’t focus on at all. I knew enough Zen to realize that in bad situations it helps to think about nice times. Good times with all the details you can muster. It takes your mind off where you are at the moment wherever that might be. So I thought about things.

I thought about my first wife with whom I had lived a few blocks away. I thought about my daughter with whom I had played when she was a little girl and what fun she was.

I thought about the day Lyndon Johnson visited my workplace. I don’t remember that day but there’s a picture of it in the newspaper this weekend that says he was there in 1964 and I was up on the eighth floor in my office at the New York Times Book Review.

I tried to recite in my mind the first lines of poems or what Bonnie Simmons had played on the radio this week in the Thursday night program that I try to never miss.

Every time, some sort of medical person came through a door and approached, he would take one of my fellow waiting patients. I thought to myself: Great! Progress.

But then that person came back, and I had to start waiting again.

Finally, I was taken to a room. But not to the room where examinations took place. It was another sort of waiting room where I was tested for more things.

Blankets were given to me. They warmed me for half a minute, maybe less. Meanwhile more people came in asking me to sign forms, first asking me questions which I had answered several times already. Then I was told there was a co-pay. The computer stopped. “It’s been that way tonight,” the woman running it said. “Something about the wifi…”

I wanted to scream, “The WIFI!? In this the most technologically advanced neighborhood in a city that tries to lure businesses with its WIFI?

Even homeless (whoops, “unhoused”) people manage to find places to recharge their charging blocks to use or sell to other unhoused people.

But I meekly shut up. Took a $50 receipt which had to be generated. “But you can throw it away,” she said. “And if you’re admitted you can see that “accounting” will put it on your itemized bill of deductions.”

More medical workers, but no doctors. I wanted to ask, “How much of a wait is there now?” My wife assured me a doctor would come. They must be busy.

Seven hours later, she came.

I would have welcomed a goat with a stethoscope by then.

But this was no goat. It was a large, friendly woman who sat down on a stool and started asking me what the problem was. She turned off her cell phone, and made it seem like there was nobody else in the hospital she was concerned about.

“I’ve looked at all your test results,” she said. “And there’s nothing there that I see out of the ordinary.”

“But there are a few more things,” she added. She proceeded to give me a thorough physical examination, but I couldn’t remember what was what, and who had done what to my suffering body before.

Finally she smiled, wished me well. And left, without taking a single note!

“How is she going to remember my condition if she didn’t take a single note?”

My wife assured me that it was all in a computer, and that the doctor could see the computer from anywhere in the room.

Most emergency room doctors work a night or two a month while they have other jobs in other hospitals. But this doctor worked emergency rooms only and had been in the Kaiser system for 17 years.

A printout was handed to me with details of my visit, including many indecipherable statistics of tests. I didn’t remember having taken most of them. During them, I was thinking about strange other things. Like the communal farm in southern Vermont, where I had once lived, and where I had my first dog.

That was 40 years and many, many miles ago, and many dogs ago. All that I learned about raising veggies, apples, and about growing trees, I learned there. In my home in South Berkeley, I have planted many vegetables, but all of them died during my recent medical emergencies.

I also planted many trees in front of my house, which are still there, but had to be rescued numerous times from city employees who said it was their job to cut them down.

In the backyard there was a tree that I planted so my daughter could climb it, a famous kind of tree that grows fast and kids love to climb on.

It has now been cut down and she lives hundreds of miles away and is 27 years old. She now has five children.

I get to talk to her most days, but the grandchildren don’t recognize me, except as a face that comes into their lives via Zoom.

I don’t feel close enough to other people to impose my list of ailments on them.

(Larry Bensky can be reached at: Mr. Bensky’s wife says that he has a very strong life force, and will probably be around to read your messages.)

One Comment

  1. Jonah Raskin February 26, 2024

    Dear Larry
    As you already surely know you are not alone. I have had almost identical hospital experiences. Thanks for writing and sharing yours.

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