A Quintessential Night In An American Hospital

Going to the hospital sucks. Aggressively. Hospitals know this, of course. But they have no interest in NOT sucking because if going to the hospital were pleasant and breezy, then everyone would go and the staff would be overloaded and have little or no time to fuck each other in the laundry room. Everything about hospitals is designed to keep you away. From the shitty ER fee to the shitty forms to the shitty registration to the shitty old coughing people planted in the lobby to terrify you with their ghastly senior germs, the hospital experience is designed to weed out everyone but those who need the most urgent of care.

Surely, you've been caught in a moment where you've had to decide whether or not your sickness or that of a loved one required a trip to the hospital. It's never an easy decision, is it? Unless there's a bullet in your goddamn head, you're gonna do everything in your power to make sure you don't have to step foot inside that fucking building. Sure, you may have sawed off half your thumb while cutting lumber. But is keeping the thumb really worth knowing you'll be trapped inside a hospital for four hours? Probably not.

Because you know that's what awaits you at the hospital. You know full well that no one has ever walked in and out of an ER in less than four hours. It's a modern impossibility. You show me someone who has walked into an ER and been admitted and treated in a tidy half-hour and I will show you a fucking LIAR. An ER is like a deli that steadfastly refuses to hand out numbers. You go. You sign in. You sit there with your dick in your hand until your soul has eaten itself. Because it's one thing to waste your own time. I do that every day. I look at stupid crap online. I watch cooking shows. That's wasted time. But I'm the one who chose to waste it. No one took that time and wasted it for me. That makes me angry, as it should any good American. We are a wisely impatient group of people. You know who's patient and understanding? Spineless pussies.

So that's why it took my wife and me 48-plus hours before we relented and took our kid to the ER the other night. True, the child was vomiting nonstop and was on the verge of pulling a Korey Stringer. But again, hospitals are REALLY shitty. So if you're gonna bring a kid to the hospital, that kid better be fucking DYING. Because if you take the kid there and you find out after seven hours of waiting that the kid easily could have been treated at home, you will want to fly up to the heavens and stab God right in the fucking eye. Here now are some random notes from that episode.

• My kid started barfing on Saturday, right in the middle of the car. Very little warning. She just stood up and BRAAAAGGHHHHHH. The floor mats were drenched in stomach acid. Whenever a surprise barf like this happens, I always act like a fan who's been called out from the stands and asked to play linebacker against the Bears. HOLY SHIT! IT'S REALLY HAPPENING! WHAT DO I DO?! EVERYONE FREEZE WHERE THEY ARE! I look like a complete idiot.

• When you have kids and one of the kids gets sick, your first thought is not, "Oh no! Poor child! We shall pamper him with flat ginger ale and Jello at once!" Your first thought is, "You're sick? FUCK. What a bunch of bullshit. We were supposed to go out for dinner." I know that sounds selfish and awful, but it's true. When a child gets sick, your first concern is not for the child's welfare, but for the increased workload you must assume as a parent. You know the child will need constant tending. You know the child will sleep poorly, and therefore YOU will sleep poorly. It's a whole buffet of suck. And even though my kid was fairly sick, my first thought about going to the hospital was, "Holy shit, I don't want to go to a hospital. That blows." Then after a few hours inside the hospital, I was finally like, "Gee, I hope the kid's not dying." (NOTE: The kid turned out just fine.)

• There is nothing worse when you're sick than being the ONLY one who's sick. You're laid up and miserable, but everyone else in the house is fit as a fiddle and dancing around like a bunch of assholes. I remember acutely being a kid and being sick, and my mom would be at my bedside for a while and then she'd say, "OK, I have to go downstairs and have dinner. Be right back." Now, if you're an adult who's ill, you tell your caregiver that that's just fine, that they should take all the time they need. But kids aren't gonna lie like that. Kids are like, "What? Dinner? FUCK YOU. You're not leaving me and having a good time while I suffer. You are IN THIS SHIT." Then my mom would go have dinner anyway and I'd hear everyone downstairs eating food and laughing and I'd be thinking, "Those PRICKS!"

• I have two children. One was very sick. The other was perfectly healthy. So one parent had to stay behind with the healthy child while the other went to the hospital with the sick child. Now, clearly you know which job is the more desirable one. You stay with the healthy child, sleep well, even have time to play the rebooted Mortal Kombat. In fact, you have even MORE free time because you only have to put one child to bed, and not two. It's a plum gig. But you can't SAY that. That would make you a selfish dick. So you have to be like, "No, no, no. I'll do hospital duty." Even though you totally don't want to. So I offered up the hospital duty and brought my kid. I assumed I would be at the hospital with the kid for five hours. We were there for 18.

• By the way, everyone knows that a sick child is your ticket out of any number of pointless social obligations. But saying you have a child in the hospital is even BETTER.

CO-WORKER ON EMAIL: Say, can you help with this presentation we're prepping for tomorrow?

YOU: I wish I could, but I have to take my kid to the hospital.

CO-WORKER ON EMAIL: OMG! I'm disgusted with myself that I even emailed you! Is she okay? Does she have cancer? I just sent a collection plate around the office. There's $4,000 in an envelope waiting here for you! Take your time. Take a month off if you need to. CHILDREN ARE OUR PURPOSE.

• When I took my kid to the ER, it was nighttime and there wasn't even a receptionist working the admitting counter. You had to fill out a slip with your name and your symptoms and drop it in the slot. Then someone would grab the slip and put you on the triage list. This means you can go a while without a hospital person even knowing you're present, which angered me greatly. If I'm gonna wait, there better be some asshole working behind a desk that knows I'm waiting and can tell by my constant fidgeting that I am an important person whose needs must be immediately addressed.

I also made the huge mistake of just putting VOMITING on the slip, when I could have really written anything. I should have written MASSIVE BRAIN TRAUMA, MULTIPLE BULLET WOUNDS so my kid could cut to the front of the line.

• I'm sure hospital workers despise patients, because all patients are exactly the same. They all want to see a doctor immediately to receive treatment. And then they want to leave as soon as possible afterward, regardless of how much time the treatment requires. My kid was dehydrated due to a stomach bug, so she required an IV. But an IV takes time to absorb. You can't inject half a liter of saline into a person in five seconds. It has to be dispensed over the course of an hour or so. And so I was sitting there in the room with my kid, waiting to be told we could leave, and the nurse or doc came in and ripped off these HUGE chunks of time for the treatment. "Well, we need to give her an IV for two hours. Then we'll wait to see if she levels out and take her blood after another hour. Then we'll get results back in an hour after that." Whoa hey, HOLY SHIT. You just reeled off four hours there like it was NOTHING. I was planning on beating off when I got home, man.

• We stayed at the hospital for 18 hours because every time they took my kid's blood, the results came back with the electrolyte levels too low, which is bullshit because I always force my kid to drink 50 gallons of Gatorade a day. The kid wanted desperately to leave the hospital, so both of us were geeked every time the results were about to come back. And then they'd come back low and we would be CRUSHED. Another four fucking hours. STUPID BLOOD. BE MORE SALTY.

• My kid's room had a bed and two horrible chairs. I have a bad back, so I needed a place to lie down, but it took me an hour to summon up the courage to go to the ward desk and ask for something to lie down on. This is because I'm a pussy.

• The doctor said our kid may have had rotavirus, which is really just another word for stomach flu, but I prefer saying rotavirus because it sounds so much more DRAMATIC, as if alien cyborg pustules had begun colonizing the kid's body. Don't be messin' with that rotavirus.

• The room we were assigned to had a DVD player (NICE!) and an extensive video collection that included several Max & Ruby DVD's (NOT NICE!). Watch three hours of Max & Ruby, and you really begin overanalyzing it. The repeated storyline of "Ruby is a cunt to Max, Max keeps fucking up, and it turns out Max's fuckup helped Ruby with her fruit basket competition" can really bore down into your psyche if you're subjected to the Clockwork Orange treatment with that program. Are Max and Ruby's parents dead? Is it 1930 all the time on that show? Why can Max say only one word at a time? Is Ruby a cunty nag because her mother has passed away and she must assume the burden of caregiving? How will that affect Max as an adult bunny? Will he become a violent rabbit that guards caves and murders any knight who dares approach?

• Within a day after going to the hospital, my kid was relatively back to normal, which is to say a complete pain in the ass again. Screaming. Whining. Demanding things. I was relieved to see her back to full health, but I kind of liked the child better when the virus had her relatively subdued. I think they should sell jars of flu to parents who need a break from their children's hyperactivity. I bet it would sell like crazy. Need a sick break? Get one, with the Frito-Lay Rotavirus Variety Pack!

• There was a woman desperately pacing the ER screaming into a cell phone because she was expecting a loved one to arrive in an ambulance and the ambulance hadn't shown up yet. And she was PISSED. She was stomping around and yelling, "I'm on FIRE!" And I was thinking, "Hey, take that outside, ladykins. Sure, your husband probably had a fatal heart attack, but there's no need for ALL of us to suffer." Then the ambulance arrived and she went rushing out to greet it and it occurred to me that I was witnessing what was probably one of the most dramatic moments of that poor woman's life. How much of your life would end up on the cutting room floor if it were a movie? 99.999999999 percent? You get two hours out of eighty years of existence. Your anguished moment at the hospital probably makes the cut. BARELY. And so I quickly chided myself for being so selfish and respected her moment. I was an extra in that scene, and I acted accordingly.

Because while being at a hospital blows, it's always indelible. You never forget those times you went to the hospital when you were a kid. I remember both my childhood hospital visits perfectly. One time, I was playing around on my friend Mitch's sofa and I fell and nailed the back of my head on the corner of a sharp coffee table and my scalp split open. Which was way cool. Another time, I cut myself on a bandsaw in shop class. I will NEVER forget either of those moments. So, in a way, injuring yourself and going to the hospital is just as enriching a life experience as, say, going to a wedding or climbing a mountain. Your memory doesn't distinguish the shitty from the awesome. It retains what it wants to retain, and a hospital visit is always kept. That should be the hospital slogan: "Sure, it blows in here. But you will remember this." Your stories in the comments.