[WARNING: CONTAINS ADORABLE PET PHOTOS AND A BLOODY NOSE.]
Dogs: please don’t bite politicians in the face. Politicians: Don’t take this as an endearing campaign strategy.
I’ve had a bit of a rough few weeks, reminding me that – while everything in life is political – not everything should be guided by politics. And I wonder if a lot of the problems we face as a society could be learned through a night spent at the ER.
My wife and I have a lot of dogs. Wash is the youngest; a two-year old black lab mix with more personality than your average HBO drama. Next is Sage, a husky-german shepherd mix. And there’s Trillian, a chihuahua-whippet mix who was horribly abused as a pup. She always has been, and always will be, a work in progress.
We live in a zoo that was on high anxiety alert. A friend was staying overnight and moving out of state in the morning, with her dog in tow. Dogs don’t take to loved ones moving very well.
Sunday night, August 4, the bags were packed and the plans were set for our friends to depart down the ALCAN. We attempted to assuage the dog’s nerves with copious amounts of treats. Our little one, Trillian, horded one away underneath a couch downstairs.
Sage, our loveable husky without much of a brain (she has trouble backing up), walked into the proximity of Trill’s guarded treat. A scuffle ensued. I ran downstairs to see my wife trying to pry them apart.
Sage was closest to me. I lunged forward, throwing my arms around her and pulling her towards me. She was, understandably, alarmed at someone unexpectedly detaching her feet from the ground, mid-fight. Instinctively, she whipped her head around, emulating Bryce Harper greeting a hanging slider.
Her giant husky head-turned-adamantium-laden-Louisville-Slugger met my face. Her tooth took umbrage with my nose, cutting a line through my right nostril and continuing up and across rather violently.
When I came to, my friend was commenting about the extravagant blood spattered about. Looking around, it did look a bit Game of Thronesy. I made the connection, looked at my face in the bathroom mirror, and we were off to the hospital.
The lobby was packed. People hacked up lungs and moaned to try and up their priority on the waiting list. American Idol in hell. I sat reading a book while bleeding into a towel.
The front window called me. A clean cut man in his mid-thirties checked me in.
“I was on the wrong end of a dog fight,” I said.
“And you chose your face as the go-to weapon?”
“Totally. This was obviously the intended plan,” I gurgled sarcastically from the inside of the towel.
“You know that’s what shotguns are for, right?”
I hoped he was a cat person.
I was tagged and placed back into my seat for another hour. Eventually, I was moved to a waiting room, flanked by people having worse nights than me.
A nurse practitioner checked in on me. Does this hurt? How do you feel? A doctor will be in shortly.
The doctor ambled in hours later, set me up for surgery the next day, and sent us home.
I lounged on the couch and stared at Morning Joe while pondering the bloodied potato thing that currently sat where my nose used to be.
The distinct lack of emotional connection at the ER kept nagging at me. I work in, and write about, politics. This seemed oddly removed; more mathematical, less emotional. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was something unexpected in the treatment I had received. I couldn’t let it go.
So, I drooled until morning broke. Then, we were back at Providence in the day surgery wing.
The guy who called my name and took me to my curtain-room was a recent classmate of mine at the University of Alaska Anchorage, in the political science department. He was a neo-con who I recalled answered a question “Why are wars important” with the answer: “Because they’re entertaining.” Needless to say, we had shared passionate disagreements over a fair amount of occassions.
Now he was handing me that God-awful puke-green robe and a bag to put my underwear in.
A lot of time happened. Finally, the anesthesiologist walked in.
She was patient, soothing, and asked myriad questions about how I was feeling. Another attendant came in and asked more. They hooked me up to machines and told me to relax. I didn’t. But whatever they pumped into me took the edge off the abject terror.
I was wheeled into a room, and woke up in another. They gave me a prescription for Oxy Codone and sent me on my merry way.
I haven’t felt like a person since. For the last few weeks, I’ve felt like the last twenty minutes of an Al Pacino movie.
And I’ve never gotten over that weird feeling in the ER.
The staff was so detatched; disinterested. You’d think that would be a negative. We want people to care about us. We want them to take umbrage with our plights. But ER staff are reality-hardened and could give two shits about our cough, our bloody nose, or our lack of a nose or coughing ability whatsoever.
They’re concerned about finding out how to fix the problems that walk into their wing and make sure we walk out alive.
Imagine my ER experience through the lens of partisan politics. Pretend that the bureaucrats at Providence were replaced by the politicos of the state legislature or, God forbid, Congress. Imagine if their decisions were guided by elections, and their patients determined by voting districts.
The dude who checked me in recommended that next time I shoot my dog. But he didn’t care much about my back story, or how it related to him or his job security. He put me in queue to be reassembled. His job was to serve a function. Figure out what my problems were and adjudicate them administratively. Determine whether or not I would bleed out on the waiting room floor, or if he could send me back to my chair to read another six chapters in my book while more pressing matters were addressed by physicians.
Patients in the ER sitting around me hooted, hollered, feigned death, elaborated coughs attempting to trump up their afflictions in order to expedite their visits, even at the cost of someone who really needed immediate attention being potentially put behind them.
In the ER, they were ignored. Otherwise people could die. In politics, they’d be made examples of. “Poor Martha Smith, a middle class worker in Anchorage, Alaska, was sick and needed attention.”
Politicians are notorious armchair quarterbacks. We forget that people die because of politics. We shouldn’t. Imagine the difference if ER patients were in charge of electing hospital staff.
I finally saw a doctor well after 2am. He had just begun a shift after driving in from Wasilla. He didn’t ask many questions – because, honestly, what the hell did I have to add other than “OOOOOOOWWW”?
He’s the doctor. He went through an unimaginably grueling and expensive education to know what to do when random Alaskan walks in with half his nose bit off. Shouldn’t my job be to listen?
He did his examination, determined the outcome, and told me to come back in the morning. I wasn’t in a position to disagree. In politics, we’re all experts. Even when we’re clearly not. On the gurney, I wasn’t about to pretend I was any sort of medical expert.
When I came back in the morning, I was greeted by my aforementioned political science adversary. Outside the classroom, he made sure I was comfortable. He made sure I understood the process. He made sure he did every damn thing he could to relax me before I went under, and that I’d know where my boxers were when I came to.
The attendant who came into my room next mentioned that Providence was a Christian hospital and asked if I wanted any counseling.
I thanked him, but declined.
There was no follow up. No: “Are you sure? You do realize we’re a Christian nation, don’t you?”
Instead he nodded, smiled, and gave me drugs.
Imagine if politicians ran our ER; if our injuries were opened up to political leverage. What if the man stationed at the check-in booth was more concerned about what district I lived in, and put me in cue accordingly? If my classmate held a college grudge that impacted where my underwear ended up post-op? Or if the doctor, as a member of a Christian hospital, decided he couldn’t, in good faith, operate on someone who would decline religious counseling?
That’s how we’ve decided, of late, to run our politics. And that’s terrifying. I would never wish that our lawmakers spend a night at the ER under the same circumstances as I did, but I do wish they’d do a ride-along to see how stupid their partisan approach plays out in an emergency room, and how equally damaging it is in our living rooms.
[WARNING: CONTAINS ADORABLE PET PHOTOS AND A BLOODY NOSE.]