ER: Not Just Any Old Room
Posted on June 23, 2011
I’ve been in two emergency rooms within five days. Oh, not as a patient, just as a “member
of the family.” We sampled Vanderbilt on Thursday and St. Thomas on Tuesday,
Jerry Wong and me the first time, and Dad and me the second. Jerry and Dad were the patients.
I’m sure the “emergency room” began as just that, a room that was set aside where
the unexpected injury or illness could be treated more efficiently. I couldn’t
find the history on Wikipedia and I didn’t look any farther than that, but the
folks that founded the first emergency room would be astounded by the space,
equipment, and staff devoted to people who faint, fall, or crash; get shot, cut,
or hammered; stop breathing or pumping blood. And there are those with body-part
problems who just don’t have a personal physician. Some speak English, and many do not. The emergency room is not just any old room.
I couldn’t help but compare the two ER’s. I thought of rating their services:
parking, registration, intake (I guess that might be “triage”), efficiency, and
patient friendliness. But Jerry Wong’s trauma was more exciting than Dad’s to begin with, so Vanderbilt had more to work with in the way of emergency. In fact, Vanderbilt gets most of the trauma cases so St. Thomas is generally treating a different kind of emergency patient.
Everyone knows that the traffic around Vanderbilt, as well as the parking, is wretched,
so they’d lose that one. In fact, the parking was definitely the most stressful
part of my Vanderbilt ER drop-in.
Jerry was helping his landlord, Dean, with a cover for a deck when he took a fall
serious enough that Macon County emergency services called the LifeFlight
helicopter to cross two counties to get him to Vanderbilt. Dean made a call to our house, acting on Jerry’s request, to let us know.
Jerry is going to be okay. He’s home, in sort of a clamshell made of something like
fiberglass, and a fat stabilizing collar around his neck. It won’t be easy, but
he’ll recover without surgery, we’re hoping. I’m sure Jerry is hoping harder
than the family here on the ravine. I’m also certain that he’s thinking already
that this six-weeks-in-a-brace thing is going slower than the six weeks before
Christmas when he was a kid.
Dave came upstairs Tuesday not long after the phone rang. I was about to eat some lunch.
I knew he answered the phone downstairs but I figured it was a political call.
That annoying woman on our Caller ID says, “Po-lit-i-cull call.” Sometimes we
pick up the receiver and set it back down just to make her hush. Not this time.
“You might need to get over to Vanderbilt,” Dave said as he closed the stairwell
door, and then told me as much as he knew. He finished with, “Dean says they’re
taking him to Vanderbilt on Life Flight.” The words “life flight” are
synonymous with “really, really serious.”
I grabbed some homemade pimiento cheese from the refrigerator and spread it on
some crusty bread that we just brought home. “Okay.” I slurred the words as I
swallowed. “I’ll just brush my teeth and go.”
I discovered that the Vanderbilt ER has valet parking, so I pulled in under the
canopy. All of the valet parkers were wearing bright red shirts and khaki
bottoms and they were all running here and there; it was a busy place. A
middle-aged female parking attendant came to the vehicle.
“Are you a patient, are you bringing someone in, or are you visiting?” she asked as
she leaned to face me through the window.
“Uhhhh,” I said, “I’m actually trying to make sure that my brother is here. They said he
was being life flighted.”
“Okay, you’re not sure,” she said. “What’s his name? I’ll go in and see if they have
“Well, now, it’s possible that I might have beat the LifeFlight here. Jerry Wong.”
“Wong?” she asked, “Like W-O-N-G?”
“Yes. But if he’s not here, I need to find out if he’s on the way.” The lady in the red shirt was looking at me funny. Ohhhhh, it’s the “Wong” thing, I thought. Me–blonde and fair, him–half Chinese-half Native American, very dark with almost black hair—except for the silver sprinkles.
In the split-second pause, I considered using Jerry’s standard answer to that kind of
pondering. He always says, when someone expresses surprise that we might be
siblings, “Yeah. She’s my sister. Don’t you think we look alike?” And then he grins at them with a big, wide, goofy smile. They always smile back.
Red-shirt Lady waylaid my brief decision-making. “And what’s your name and where is he
“Diana Revell. I’m his sister. Macon County.”
“Right. Okay, honey, you just pull up close to that black SUV right there and stay put
and I’ll come back out and let you know.”
She walked through an entrance marked “No Entrance.” I took a drink from my water
bottle and started trying again to call Jerry’s brother Johnny. No luck, all the numbers I had were wrong, changed, disconnected. I was thinking about how I was going to find Johnny when my cell phone rang. It was Dave.
Before he could answer, I spit out, maybe without a breath, “I’m trying to park. I’m
sitting in front of the ER and they won’t let me valet park. I was trying to park. They didn’t have Jerry on any paperwork in the emergency room and the lady told me to park across the street.”
“Well, that’s why I called,” he said. “Dean just called and said that Jerry went in an
ambulance to the life flight. I’m not sure they’ve had time to get there.”
“Can the ambulance go directly to the helicopter?” I asked. “You think he might have
gone to the hospital first? Wouldn’t they have to do that?”
“Honey, I don’t know,” Dave said. “I suppose that’s what they do. I don’t even know the
name of the hospital up there.”
“I think it’s Macon County General. I’ll try to call them,” I said.
“I guess you didn’t get Johnny?” he asked.
“Nope, all my numbers were bad. I’m going to call Mary when I can get parked.” Mary is
Johnny’s ex-wife, the mother of Nick and Nikita. She would know how to get in touch with Johnny.
I jumped when the parking lady tapped on my window. “I’ve got to go. She’s back,” I said to Dave.
“They don’t have him, Miz Re-bell,” she said, just as I got the window down.
“If he was on a life flight, would they know?” I asked.
“If they’ve called it in, yes,” she answered.
“You mean, if the LifeFlight pilot has called and said they’re bringing him in from Macon County or something?”
“Yes, but I already asked that. They don’t have his name anywhere.” This woman had covered it all.
“Okay, I think I’m just going to park and wait and see if I can find out anything,” I
said. “Should I park here?”
“No, you need to park across the street. See that sign that says “East Garage? Then you
can just come back across to the ER.”
I turned my head to the right to look, even though I already knew that the East Garage was right across the street. I nodded at Mrs. Casey, the valet. By this time, I’d mentally introduced myself to her. After all, her name was right there on her red shirt, and she was calling me by a variation of mine.
She pointed across the street. “Pull in there and the attendant up front will tell
you where to park,” she said.
When I pulled into the garage, the attendant, one of two dressed in brown pants and
tan shirts, informed me, “There’s no parking left in here. Would you be
interested in using our free valet parking?” I could tell she had performed
this scene many, many times.
“Sure.” I was interested in using the free valet parking at the ER and they sent me here, I thought.
“Just go to the end of this lane, turn right, turn left, then turn right, go to the end of that lane and turn right and you’ll see the valet parking.”
I kept telling myself “right, left, right, right,” and then I wasn’t sure that she said two rights next to each other. Maybe that was two lefts. I wound around, here and there, and came upon a short lane with a sign at the entrance that said, “Valet Parking – No Entrance.”
Is this where she wants me to park? And it looks like it’s full—at least this lane is.
In the rear view mirror, a man in a dark blue uniform was striding up from behind my van. I recognized a backwards “VUMC” above the pocket on his shirt. I rolled down my window in a hurry.
“Excuse me, is this where I valet park? I am trying to valet park,” I said.
He stopped beside the van. “Funny, you aren’t wearing a red valet shirt,” he said, looking in the window. Bless his heart, he was just trying to be friendly.
I didn’t laugh, so he said, “You know, the valets wear…”
I interrupted him. “This is where she told me to go but it doesn’t look like I’m supposed to park there.”
He was good-natured. “I suppose you could park your own car there if you could find an empty space.”
“But do they let anybody just drive in there and park?” I asked, and quickly followed with, “But this just seems like they don’t want me to drive in there. I mean, it says ‘No Entrance.’ That’s where the valets park the cars.”
Before the blue guy could answer, I confessed, “I don’t know where to park.”
“Well, Ma’am,” he said, “There’s a whole other garage just on the other side of that
alley up there. You just go up there to the alley and go all the way to the end and you’ll be in another garage with a whole lot of parking spaces. I know because I’ve just been up there.”
“I don’t see an alley,” I said.
“It’s right up there at the end of this valet lane, see it? Just go up this lane and
turn left. You’ll see it.”
“Okay. Thanks,” I managed to say.
There was a wall at the end of the short valet lane, no way to turn but left. I immediately
saw the alley to the right. “At least I think this is an alley,” I said to myself. I drove into daylight and, sure enough, I was in the South Garage—There was a sign on the side wall that said so. But how to get to the entrance…
I had two choices. I could turn right and exit the South Garage into the horrendous globbed-up traffic around the hospital, or I could turn left, going the wrong way on the garage’s exit, and scoot across to the right lane with the arrow that led to parking—Not much of a decision. I tackled the exit lane going the wrong way and after two complete spirals upward in the South Garage, I found a parking place directly across from the elevator. Down one level to the skywalk into the hospital. Yes!
I headed for the elevator and pressed the 2. “V-3, V-3. I parked on V-3,” I said aloud. “V for Vicky, and 3 for John, Jameson, and Carly.” I related the parking level to my younger son’s family. Surely I can remember that. Maybe I should write it down.
I left the elevator and followed two young women and a man through the doors into
the skywalk. Wait, there are two skywalks. That one over there is closer to the East Garage. Maybe she meant that one. Or did she say “crosswalk”? That would be on the street. I wonder if you can even get to the ER from here.
“Excuse me, excuse me,” I said to a man wearing a lab coat and a woman in light blue
scrubs, obviously escorting a patient from the hospital. They seemed to be keeping her company until her ride arrived from somewhere.
“Can I get to the ER from here?” I asked.
She said “No,” and he said “Yes.”
“So I have to go back to the elevators and go down and across the street,” I said.
She said, “Yes,” and he said “No” and turned around. His lab coat said Dr. Somebody.
“Well, you must know a way that I don’t,” she said to him, and looked at me. “I guess the doctors know some shortcut.”
“See where all those people are at the end of this hall?” he asked me and paused. “Where it T’s off?” Pause. “Wayyyyy down there.” He pointed.
I nodded. “Oh, yeah.”
“Go all the way down there and go down the elevator, it’s on the right. Go to the first floor and you’ll be in the big lobby. Go on out the door and the ER’s going to be on your left. Easy,” he said. “Oh. You will have to go outside now. You can’t get there without going outside. But you can’t get there from anywhere in the garage without going outside.”
And Vanderbilt was just the first ER for the week, and this was just the parking.
Be watching for Volume 2 of “ER: Not Just Any Old Room.”