In civilized society, it doesn’t get much more real than an emergency room.
Fisher screams…and not a “hey, Cory, stop that!” scream. Daddy jumps up as Fisher runs over, blood clearly visible through the fingers of one hand covering the other. He’s really screaming. Daddy pulls the top hand off the other, identifies the bloody mess of a spot and clamps down. Papa comes running. The scene moves to the bathroom, Fisher screaming, Papa collecting potential supplies, Daddy applying pressure, and Cory picking her lip, looking scared. Through continued pressure, Daddy gets him to stop screaming and then to stop crying.
F: It really hurts.
D: I know it does, Fisher. I know it does.
F: I don’t want to go to the hospital because then it will hurt worse.
D: We’ll see, Fisher. We need to just calm down and see.
The story comes out that while Daddy wasn’t paying attention, they each grabbed a butter knife from the kitchen to slice open unripened limes from the tree in the backyard. They wanted to get the seeds out to plant more lime trees. Fisher must have been pressing very, very hard when the relatively blunt knife slipped, slicing into the base of his left pointer finger, possibly removing a small chunk in the process.
In the bathroom, the bleeding stops in light of all that pressure. Daddy eases up on the pinching to get a look. Blood immediately wells from an ugly looking gash at the base of his finger. It’s big, and it doesn’t look good. Daddy reengages the pinch.
D: Nope, we aren’t going to be able to handle that here. We’re going to the emergency room.
P (handing Daddy a towel for the blood, Papa definitely doesn’t like blood): Here, put this on it.
F: I don’t want to go to the emergency room!
D: Fisher, it’s okay, I’ll be right there with you. We need a doctor.
Papa arranges Cory and the car while Daddy keeps pinching through the towel. Daddy and Fisher walk in to an emergency room with about ten patients in it. Everyone is wearing a mask, including the staff. The triage guy immediately descends, relieving Daddy of the need to pinch by unwrapping and rewrapping the wound. Daddy picks up a clipboard and starts filling it out. Fisher verbalizes his constant worry that he might need stitches. Smiling eyes stare over masks. Fisher’s commentary is cute, perhaps more so delivered in bloody pajamas. Besides, the spectators don’t really have anything else to do.
Daddy hands over the clipboard and sits back down with Fisher on a two-seater bench. Fisher moves into Daddy’s lap. A woman wearing a tank top and what look like pajama bottoms and slippers, carrying a big bag and phone with an attached cord dangling down to the floor, but conspicuously not wearing a mask, sits down on the same two seater next to Daddy. She’s awkwardly close.
W (sounding frustrated): Every time I do this, they tell me to go to urgent care.
Daddy rocks a snuggling Fisher, not responding.
W: I don’t even know where urgent care is. Do you know where urgent care is?
D (hesitating before engaging at all): No, actually, I don’t.
W (leaning even more awkwardly toward us): Hey, little guy, how did you cut your hand?
F (after a pause): I was cutting a lemon.
W: Oh, you shouldn’t be cutting a lemon. Knives can… (She rambles on, sitting about as close as Papa might sit if he were here.) I am sick, but they keep telling me to go to urgent care.
D (holding up a hand with dried blood): Look, Fisher, I need to wash this hand. Will you come with me while I do that?
Daddy and Fisher escape. In the bathroom, Fisher is fascinated by the string that someone can pull if they are on the toilet and need the staff’s assistance. Upon return, Daddy seats Fisher elsewhere. Over the next half hour, the woman’s agitation rises, as does her voice, talking sometimes to the hospital staff, sometimes to someone (maybe an imaginary friend?) on the other end of her phone, and sometimes to no one in particular, complaining loudly that she has an extremely contagious disease, that she needs to be placed in a room by herself, that she’s infecting everyone in the waiting room, that the hospital staff just doesn’t care. An Indian man whose wife has clearly also cut her hand, quickly moves her away from a seat close to the raging contagious flower child. The triage guy walks over and hands Daddy and Fisher masks, apologizing that he let us go so long in this petri dish without them.
W: I AM INFECTING EVERYONE HERE, AND YOU JUST DON’T CARE!
Triage Guy: Ma’am that’s not how it works. You…
W: THAT’S NOT HOW YOU THINK IT WORKS, BUT I KNOW FOR A FACT THAT I AM INFECTING EVERYONE JUST BY TOUCHING THIS CHAIR.
She wipes her hand dramatically all over the bench that Daddy and Fisher had been sitting on. Fisher and the Indian woman might not be there for the flu, but everyone is nonetheless unified by their gratitude not to have the kind of crazy that this woman has. A few minutes later, she’s pissed when it’s clear that Fisher’s hand has taken precedence over her deadly, highly contagious condition. Fisher and Daddy head back into the back.
Daddy works hard to convince Fisher that stitches (which Daddy knows will be necessary) won’t be that bad.
F: But, it will hurt.
D: They’ll numb the hand. You won’t feel a thing.
F: What does “numb” mean?
F: But, do they use a needle? I don’t want a needle.
F: How do they fix my bone?
The doctor comes in and examines the wound. Bad, blunt cut. Narrowly missed the artery. A chunk might be gone forever. Stitches definitely required.
F (after doctor’s departure): Stitches!? Daddy, I don’t want stitches. It’s going to hurt!
F: Do they have to make holes in there?
F: How does that boy know how to stitch something? Is he a good sewer?
F: How could someone not be able to get up from the toilet?
F: Is the thread like the wire that stops dogs and cats from scratching up the grass in the backyard?
Daddy answers it all, working through the anxiety. Eventually, he calms down again, staring at Daddy while waiting for the nurse to come clean the hand. A kid in a room one or two down lets out a very loud awful scream. It continues into very loud, awful, continuous screaming.
F (eyes staring at Daddy’s): I think that’s a baby screaming, Daddy.
The screaming turns into, “OW! STOP! PLEASE STOP! THAT REALLY HURTS! OWWWWWW! MOMMY, MAKE HIM STOP.”
F (eyes never leading Daddy’s): Daddy, I don’t think that’s a baby screaming. (Pause.) Because babies don’t know words.
The child apparently undergoing slow-motion mutilation keeps it up: “OWWWWW! NO! STOP IT! STOP! STOP!”
F (eyes welling up, still on Daddy, right hand reaching out to grab Daddy’s hand): Daddy, is that boy screaming from stitches?
D: No, Fisher, that can’t be stitches because…
Daddy gets back to work, calming Fisher back down about stitches. “You won’t feel much at all. I’m right here, Fisher. If something hurts, you just squeeze my hand, okay?”
The PA preps his hand a half hour later, when a wheeled stretcher from an ambulance stops right outside of the room. The PA gets up, apologizing. The man lying on it has a bloody tangle of gauze on his face. The other EMT is rolling a bicycle. The overheard conversation reveals that the man flew over his handlebars, hitting his head on something sharp enough to open up a two or three inch gash on his forehead. Too much time passes before this man is wheeled into another room.
F (eyes turning back from the stretcher to Daddy, hand clamping Daddy’s hand): Is that boy going to have stitches on his head? They are going to sew his skin back on? (On and on.)
He stares intensely at Daddy during the stitches. He tells the PA and his tech all about Jake and the Neverland Pirates. Discharge takes an hour because another bloody mess is rolled in a stretcher, preventing the doctor from filling out the necessary paperwork. As Daddy tries to provide insurance information in the lobby, an elderly Asian man walks in through the doors carrying an unconscious elderly Asian woman, nearly twice his size and only partially dressed, on his back. He asks through heavy breathing, “Can someone please help me?” Daddy glances around at all the new masked faces in the waiting room. The woman who thinks she has ebola is not there. The triage guy forgets Daddy’s request about insurance and…triages. Daddy and Fisher walk out, unable to bear one more minute of that kind of reality.
D (later, after Fisher has declared that the stitches were his “favorite part”): That’s because you didn’t feel a thing, Fisher, just like I told you.”
F: You’re right, Daddy. But, it was still my favorite part.
Given everything else going on, it might have been Daddy’s favorite part, too.