I would have rejoiced at finding the ER after that stressful little jaunt, but first I
had to get through security.
“Ma’am, put your bag up here and walk through the scanner,” he said.
He continued to talk as I walked through the arch. “Ma’am, I’m going to have to
look through your bag. Do you have any sharp objects in here?”
“No. Well, maybe some nail nippers,” I said, which didn’t faze him as he spread and
pulled at all my pockets in my beloved Jen Groover Butler Bag.
“Okay, you’re good,” he said.
I took my place in line. I could see through the glass windows that the waiting
room was packed. People were sitting, sometimes two to a chair. People were
standing, and people were kneeling, or squatting, and yet there were a few
“I’m here to see Jerry Wong,” I said to the ER’s receptionist.
“You family?” she asked, as she thumped the keyboard.
She didn’t even give me a funny look. She’s seen it all, I thought, things much stranger than me and Jerry Wong.
“I don’t have a Jerry Wong.”
“He’s on LifeFlight and I think I may have beat them here.”
“Probably. You know for sure he’s coming, right?”
“Yes. I talked to the Macon County EMS just about ten minutes ago and they said he’s
“Okay. Well, now, when they set down, it will take about fifteen minutes until they
bring him in,” she said, “so you just have a seat and then check in with me
again in fifteen minutes, okay?”
“Sure,” I said, and sat down in one of three chairs in the small space directly in
front of her desk.
I watched the sick and wounded come in. A woman with pink, coral, and purple hair
was in great distress of some kind. Her daughter had brought her in. Two men in
wife-beaters whispered to each other and to the receptionist. She whispered back. One Vanderbilt employee was escorted by a co-worker. Another Vanderbilt employee was alone, and while she checked herself in, she read her I-pad and never looked at the receptionist. She sat down beside me until the lady with the pink, coral, and purple hair asked if she could have the seat. The Vanderbilt employee and I both vacated the seats.
I looked at the time on my phone. Oops, more than fifteen minutes had passed.
“Well, yes, here he is,” the receptionist said. “And it’s been exactly nineteen
minutes since you were up here the last time.”
They keep track of that. “Can I go back?” I asked.
“You sure can. Just let me give you a badge.” She pulled a worn laminated badge from
somewhere under the desk. “Now when you get up to those doors over there, stand
back because they’re going to open toward you.”
“Okay. So he’s in, uh, Room 10?” I asked as I looked down at number on the badge.
“Yes. It’s Trauma Bay 10, so here’s the way you get there.” She stood up and leaned
over the desk in the direction of the dangerous doors. Then she gave me the “left, right, left, right, right” challenge as I nodded, but she was so kind as to end it with “And if you get lost, just ask somebody in the hall.”
“Thank you,” I said and stood back for the doors to open.
I couldn’t remember the directions so I just followed the signs with arrows that
said “Trauma.” Jerry was in the last room on the hall. I suppose it would have
been the first room if I had followed the instructions.
I started around the curtain into Room 10 just as a nurse came out. “Mr. Wong?”
“This is him. Go on in.”
The body in the bed could have belonged to anyone. It was flat on the waist-high
bed. I checked the feet. They were dark, dark tan, had to be him.
“Oh, hi, Diana,” Jerry said when I got to the side of the bed. “Diana” sounded more
like “Dinah.” (It always did.) Then he added, “You come. I tell Dean… I told Dean to call you.”
“Yeah, well, I beat you here,” I said. “How was your ride?”
“You beat the airplane? I mean, helicopter?”
“Yep. So, how are you feeling?” I asked.
He couldn’t turn his head for the huge padded collar around his neck; he did not
move. “Better,” he answered. “They give me some medicine for the pain. I think it helps. Wish I could go.”
“It’s going to be a little while before you can go,” I said. “Let’s let them figure
out what all you’ve done to yourself.”
“Well, I’m going,” he said.
“Yeah, well, you look like you’re going somewhere,” I said, teasing him.
“I can’t feel it,” he said.
“You can’t feel what, where?” I asked.
“You know, when I go,” he said.
“You mean…Oh, you mean ‘goooooo.’ Do you have a urinal in there?” I asked.
“Yeah. I feel like I have to go but I don’t feel it, you know, when it comes out.”
“Well, when you talk to the doctor, you’re going to need to tell him that,” I said.
“Are you finished? Do you want me to take that urinal?”
“Yeah. It’s kinda hard to go, you know, laying down.”
“But you went. And you didn’t know you went?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah, I knew it,” he said.
“Well, I was thinking, you need to tell them that you can’t feel it,” I
said. “So, you were on the deck? Whose deck?”
Somehow he turned his head toward me, ever-so-slightly. “It’s Dean’s,” he said. Dean is
He smiled at me and then nodded, just a little. “I was helping him.”
“I don’t remember a deck on their house,” I told him.
“Oh, it’s not on Dean’s house. It’s a trailer.”
“But not your trailer?”
“Nooooo,” he said, “I already have a roof on my deck.”
“I know,” I said. “I remember. We sat out there one day when I came to see you.”
“Well, it’s not really the deck. We’re putting on a cover. Oh, you know what? I think
a two-by-four broke where I was standing.” He was squinting his eyes as he thought.
“Why were you standing on a two-by-four?” I asked.
“To put a cover on a deck,” he answered.
I sighed, trying to be quiet about it. “Were you on a ladder?” I asked.
“No. Well, I climb up there on a ladder,” he said.
“Were you on the ladder when you fell?” I asked.
“No, I was on the ground,” he told me.
I was almost thankful to be rescued by a nurse’s interruption. She introduced
herself to Jerry and then to me.
“Mr. Wong,” she said, “can you tell me what happened?
“Well, I fell. I was helping my landlord on a deck.”
“How far did you fall?”
Jerry looked at me. “How far you think, Dinah?”
“Well, I didn’t see the deck, but Dean says twelve to fifteen feet.”
Jerry clucked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Well, no wonder I got hurt.”
The nurse got back in the game. “And you were building a deck…”
“It was already there,” Jerry said. Then he smiled and tried to nod.
“You were working on the deck,” she said.
“Not really. We were putting a roof,” he said.
The rest of the conversation went just about like the one I had with him earlier
until Jerry asked, “Can I have a drink of water?”
“No, I’m sorry,” the nurse said, “but you can’t have anything until we find out if
you’re going to have any surgery. Now, Mr. Wong, let’s check your toes. Can you
feel this?” She scratched his left leg.
“Yeah,” he said.
She worked her way around legs, feet, and toes. “So you don’t have any numbness?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“In my back.”
“Well, you said you don’t feel it when you pee. You do feel the urge to go, right?”
“I don’t feel it,” he said.
“You don’t know if you have to go?” she asked.
“Oh, yeah. I know I have to go. I have to go right now. Can I have that thing
again?” he asked.
“Sure.” The nurse reached into a glass-front cabinet and retrieved another plastic
urinal. “The doctor will be in sometime soon,” she said as she put the handle of the urinal in his hand. I think I saw her shake her head as she left the bay.
A steady stream of nurses and doctors lined up to play Jerry as each tried to advance to the next level. Each match reminded me more of Abbott and Costello’s routine, “Who’s On First.” But I didn’t laugh out loud until the Haitian resident came in to make his assessment of Jerry’s injuries.
“Now, Jerry, what exactly were you doing?” he asked.
By this time, Jerry had started to shortcut the conversation. “I was helping my landlord put on a tin roof on a deck. Dean, he’s my landlord.”
“What? What were you doing?” the doctor asked.
“My landlord, he’s putting on a tin roof on a deck,” he said. “I was helping him.”
“Wait. What is this ‘putting on tin woof’?”
“You know. Roof,” Jerry said. “Tin roof.”
The doctor tried it out. “Teeeeeeeeen. Wolf.”
“Yes!” Jerry was excited.
The young doctor looked across the bed at me. “What is…teen wolf?”
“A cover. A roof. Top. Roof,” I said. I made a pointy gabled shape with my
“Ohhhhh,” he said. “ He was building a roof. So what is this tin?”
“It’s metal,” I said. I wanted to tell him the chemical symbol for tin but I couldn’t
remember it. It was something strange. “Metal, like…people put tin roofs on…the
rain sounds good on a tin roof.”
“Oh, I see. Like zinc. He was putting a zinc roof on a deck,” he said.
“I don’t think we have much zinc roofing around here,” I said. “I guess we use tin
“So what is tin?” he asked me—again.
Jerry was saying “tin roof” really loud, over and over, only it really did sound like “tin woof.” I shushed him and said to the doctor, now beside me, “It’s like … aluminum.”
“Yes, yes. Aluminum. So, like zinc.”
When I noticed Jerry’s mouth formed to say “tin roof” again, I waved my hand behind
me, in front of his face, and said, “Yes.” We just had to get through this exam.
“So, what do you do when you’re not falling off roofs?” the doctor asked.
That took a while to explain, but we got through it.
The dialogue didn’t improve much during the next fifteen minutes but the young
doctor from Haiti established that, while Jerry felt some numbness in his back,
it was not a sign of paralysis. He told Jerry that it looked like the broken vertebrae did not get squashed into the spinal column. He didn’t think Jerry would have to have surgery but, he added, “I have to check all this out with my boss.”
It wasn’t long before the “boss” came in, a young, cute blonde who might stand five
feet three inches tall. After the customary “Hi there, Mr. Wong,” she launched into
the examination that both Jerry and I had, by this time, memorized.
She ended the exam with the discussion of why Jerry couldn’t feel himself “going.” Jerry
said “okay” when she finished. I wasn’t sure I understood what she was telling us but I didn’t ask any questions. It had been a long, long day.
“Here’s what we’re going to do,” she told Jerry. “We’re going to get a brace to go on
your back and see if that will hold your back in one place so that that break can heal. And you’re going to have to wear that collar. It’s going to take a little while, but I don’t think we’re going to have to do any surgery, and that’s good news. Your ribs will heal by themselves. We’ll send you home with some pain medication.”
“Isn’t that good news?” She leaned over the bed so that they were face to face.
“Oh, yeah. That’s real good news,” he said. He was obviously distracted by one
thought or another.
“Okay, then. You’ll go to the trauma unit for a little while and if you do okay there,
you can go home to get better. Someone will come to take you to X-ray in a few
minutes, and then they’ll take you directly to the trauma unit from X-ray. That
sound okay?” she asked.
“Oh, oh. Sure. That sounds fine,” Jerry said. “Thank you.”
She smiled and said, “No problem.”
Before she even closed the curtains to the bay, Jerry said to me, “You think she’s the
“Yep, I sure do,” I said. “I’m always surprised, myself, when these doctors are so
young, but I guess that’s because I’m old.”
He didn’t say, “No, you’re not.” He was thinking of something else.
“You know, I notice something here. Mostly everybody that’s a boss here is a woman. I wonder why is that.”
An escort, an older man, appeared to take him to X-ray about twenty minutes after
the boss left. He told us that he would take Jerry to the tenth floor after the X-ray was done. “That’s where the trauma unit is,” he added. “They tell me your bed’s ready.”
“Well, Jerry, I think I’ll go on home, and I’ll just see you tomorrow upstairs,” I said.
“Oh yeah, that’s fine,” he answered. “Thank you, Dinah, thank you for coming.”
“You are so welcome,” I said. “You knew I would come.” I patted his hand, slung my
bag over my shoulder, and followed the rolling bed out into the hall.
I was beside the bed, even with Jerry’s head, when he said to the man taking him for the films. “Wait, wait a minute if you don’t mind.”
Then, I think he was talking to me when he asked, “I know what a nunit is, but what
is this ‘tommy nunit’?”
“I’ll see y’all tomorrow,” I said. The patient escort could explain that.
Jerry spent eight hours in ER, a night and day in the trauma unit, and a night in a
regular room. I was sure he’d be there longer, even though he kept telling me he was going home.
Dave and I kept Dean, his landlord, up to date. In one conversation, Dean told me how Jerry fell. “He had his left foot on the ladder, and tried to step up on the deck handrail and just didn’t make it,” Dean said. “He landed straight down on his head, bounced, and landed on his back on a stack of lumber. He broke one of those two-by-sixes when he hit.” Dean’s voice choked.
“I know it scared you,” I said. “He’s going to be fine.”
“I want to come see him when he can have visitors,” he said.
“Dean, he keeps telling me he’s going home. I can’t imagine that they’d let him, but let me talk to the doctor, or the nurse, or somebody to find out if he’s really going home. You might want to wait and just make one trip to take him home,” I said.
Jerry called me that last morning to tell me that he had been discharged. Dean was already on the way from Macon County to pick him up, should be there soon.
“I can’t believe it,” I said. “Then I’m not going to make it down to the hospital before you leave.”
“That’s okay. That’s why I call now, so you don’t make a trip today. I might not be here.”
“So,” I said, “Did you see the doctor this morning?”
“Well, I think she’s a doctor. She tells me do I know how lucky I am I’m not hurt worse?”
“And you said ‘yes,’ didn’t you?” I asked.
“Oh yeah. I told her everybody else tells me the same thing… Shoot, I thought I was
“Well, we’re all happy you’re not,” I said. “Was this the same doctor that was down in
the ER?” I thought perhaps the young spine doctor in the ER continued her care in the
“Oh no. She’s a different one, this one. But now she looks a little like the other one. Maybe they’re sisters,” he said.
“But, anyway, it was another woman,” I said, baiting him.
“Yeah, a woman. I know she’s the boss. Actually I think she’s the owner,” he said.