By John Thomas Tuft

The lights go lower but never all the way out. Never plunging the space into pitch blackness. A night in the emergency department of a hospital does not need any more distress, fear, anxiety, or uncertainty added to the slowly crawling hours. When no doctors, nurses, aides or techs are in the room, one is left to face racing thoughts alone in the darkness. The tingling suspicion like an itch that cannot be scratched that ultimately there is no grand plan, no peering master pulling strings and manipulating events for or against our favor. What deity in their right mind would want such a responsibility in the first place? The light of dawn is a hoped-for promise lost in the miasma of broken bodies, antiseptic solutions, and the sweatiness of fear. The ethereal creatures of the ER night come and go on soft-soled shoes, murmuring their greetings while siphoning off blood and urine, more and more information, checking dials and meters, before slipping away to feed the beast more tidbits of its unique nourishment.

Police officers is tight fitting uniforms practice looking official, menacing and community friendly all at once, beneath a slipping mask of guardianship. A victim of a traffic accident in the next room has a broken back but his main distress comes from the powdered chemicals coating the airbag that exploded from its cradle. It is in his eyes and the caustic combination burns in agony, his frantic pleadings and appeals begging for urgent relief. Somewhere beyond a toddler cries out in agitated distress and for a moment the soothing voices dial it down. Then the insertion of a needle brings sharp shrieks of betrayal from the child, an unforgiving keening in the bleakness of the night. All of the treatment rooms are filled while others await their turn on this train ride through the shadows. And all of the passengers are aware that the ticket they hold was handed to them at birth and at some point their ride is over. Please not tonight, is the pungent incense swirling round those gathered here this evening.

A young intern and a nurse flirt unselfconsciously just beyond the curtain, turning the night to their own purposes. Then a nurse comes in to announce “Be of good cheer. There is room at the inn after all for you.” She singlehandedly maneuvers the clumsy stretcher in and out of the elevator, down quiet and empty hallways, a practice journey on the river Styx, my ferryman a cheerfully stoic guide. One of the whispered about miracle weapons of modern medical wizardry drips into one arm and glued on sensors probe for the slightest hint of more interruption to healthy function. Thirty-six sleepless hours pass on the road to some unseen goal as blood is analyzed and mysterious pictures form on opaque screens to be interpreted by masters of the inelegant diagnostic languages. At one point a saint in a nearby room awakens with morning praises: “Hey somebody, hey somebody, I’m going to pee the bed. I don’t want to, but I’m going to pee the bed.” And shortly thereafter, the response is offered, “Hey somebody, hey somebody, I peed the bed. I didn’t want to, but I peed the bed.” Selah and amen.

And on the third day, much to my surprise, a carpenter came to pay his respects and ply his wares. Tall, thinning hair, approaching six decades of walking the earth, pushing a machine on a cart before him. “Hi, I’m Scott and I’m here to get an image of your heart.” We should all be so lucky, someone to tell us the condition in which they find our hearts before any more time passes. Scott raises a finger and disappears for a moment, reappearing pushing a comfortable desk chair. “No reason not to get comfortable,” he says with a smile. As he bounces echoes off of my heart he explains. “I used to be a carpenter.” I can’t resist. “You don’t say.” A nod. “Thirty years. Started as an apprentice, doing all the scut work. Being bossed around by everybody on the job. Finally got into the union….can you roll onto your left side? Made good money, supported my wife and kids.”

Being of the curious type, I point out, “But now you do this. Which do you like better?” He laughs. “Much to my surprise, I like this better. When I started school for this, I left my wife. I can set my hours and I’m not outside in all kinds of weather.” He leans back in the chair. “And I’m much more comfortable.” A moment of quiet before I say, “From carpenter to echocardiogram tech.” He shrugs, “Both are good honest work. I like to know how things work.” Scott looks out the window a long while. “Of course, there’s always stuff you can’t fix.” His carpenter’s hands wave in the air then drop into his lap. “I’d like to get to know my grandkids…”  

He finishes up and wipes me clean. As he heads for the door he says, “I hope for the best for you.” Same, Scott. And the doctors, nurses, healers and all of the hopeless waiting yet to be seen. Same.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.