By Roberta Russell
On Friday, October 1st, I pushed my blue metal shopping cart in front of me, carrying 250 dollars-worth of carefully boxed, fake greenery, bought to cover a prison-like chain linked fence, recently installed by my landlord to enclose my expansive penthouse terrace. The fake vine looked tacky and did not restore the privacy of the 47-year succession of wooden picket fences that I preferred. When I asked to return the fence-cover to the vendor in China, they graciously assured me of my money back in a month with only 20 dollars in return shipping costs. That cost turned out to be closer to 400 dollars at UPS. On advice from the UPS clerk, I pressed on to the nearby FDR Post Office, rising dubiously to its second floor on a very long escalator, frustrated and thoughtlessly preceded by my heavy carton-laden shopping cart.
When I reached the top, I was suddenly thrown backwards. The cart fell back on me, instead of rolling off the escalator. A woman behind me, where the cart should have been, stopped my fall and helped me up. Blood dripped from my newly-frozen, now escalator-tracked right arm and deeply cut elbow. My shoulder bulging, I thought it had been dislocated, but an x-ray revealed that my humerus was severely broken. I waited on a bench with graciously-offered paper towels from one of the few remaining postal employees, stemming the steady blood flow, dripping copiously on the floor and bench. A uniformed officer, apparently assigned to watch over me until the ambulance arrived, hovered and took my picture at my request.
He mentioned a hidden elevator, presumably for next time. For your information, in the aftermath I found that it is not to be found from the entrance floor.
An ambulance came. I confidently chose Weill Cornell’s ER, a first-class place, only blocks away. Duly delivered and decanted by wheelchair, wounds wrapped in gauze, without the benefit of an antiseptic, I was delivered promptly to the ER. Having arranged for my cart and carton to be picked up by my neighbor, Jack Walker, while waiting at the post office, I imagined that I was in control, in spite of my fool’s mission.
Then reality hit. Placed at the overflowing ER on a gurney, in a passage way, with no curtain for privacy and no stitches for my seeping elbow cut—after four hours you cannot get stitches—no food, no water, no consistently accountable attendant, and an IV installed in my left arm, in case an operation was needed, time passed. Waiting for an X-ray to be taken, then read, two professionals, perhaps a nurse, with assistant, arrived and pulled the now-stuck gauze from my wounds and poured iodine-solution directly on them. With blank burned-out expressions and the explanation that the ambulance team do not disinfect the wounds, they moved on. Blood, x-rays, seven CT scans and a COVID test were taken, but reports of the eleven tests came much later or not at all. Triage dictates that the most threatened go first. Everyone, except the night cleaner seemed overworked and stressed. The night cleaner, a ray of sunshine, waltzed through the ER, obliviously singing to herself in a dance with the floor mop, the imaginary partner she embraced.
After spending 24 hours at Weill Cornell’s ER, in a hallway, I was unceremoniously dismissed by a doctor and told to go home. He declared, without explanation, that no operation was needed, after all.
Debra Gabriel, an angelic aide, was assigned to escort me out by wheelchair and help me into a cab. She was the first to comfort me with ice for my swollen, still bleeding, now bandaged and braced wounds. She brought me ice bags for home. She even helped me get an Uber, when no cabs emerged at 5 AM on a Saturday. She cared. She paid attention.
I have spent the last twenty days railing against the deterioration of what I expected an emergency room visit to be. A young John’s Hopkin’s nurse,who also had experience in emergency care as an EMS, told me that this was the norm now for hospital care throughout the USA. Many nurses have burnt out and quit. They and other missing staff need to be courted and incentivized.
But here’s the pay-off for my medical misfortunes:
The travails of COVID, the decline in the work force and the failure of my doctor to secure a visiting nurse for me have given rise to a new search for meaning, a regrouping. I called upon those who care for me. My attorney-friend Mark, visited and recommended Marianela, a cousin of his office assistant, who worked cleaning a beauty salon two days a week, but is in essence a compassionate and gifted healer, originally from Ecuador. She came to me joyfully when I needed her. She bathed me and buffed my nails, applying arnica, aloe and healing lotion to my wounded skin. She accompanied me to the doctor, learned how to change my bandages every day and soothed me with a cup of green tea and honey.
Marianela has graciously allowed me to share her with my friend who is being released from open heart surgery at NYU Langone where crucial and compassionate after-care were apparently also in short supply.
Athough it may take me 12 weeks to completely heal, I am better every day and very happy. For me a quantum of care is the elixir of the gods.