They Give Me Cat-Scratch Fever
My mother and I stared at each other for a second and then I said flatly, “Well, off to the emergency room.”
My mother said quickly, “I’m going with y...“and I, interrupting, said “Oh no, you’re not.”
Some people like attention and company when they are unwell. Some prefer to be left alone. And some people are complete maniacs on the subject of not being around a single solitary person they know when they are hurt or sick. I don’t want sympathy. I don’t want care. I want be given medicine by complete strangers and if the medicine doesn’t work, I want to be allowed to die alone on a gurney, taken home and stuffed into the composter.
My mother, knowing my more winning qualities, tried another tack. “But I’ll go with you to my ER. You'll get in sooner.”
This might have been true, insofar as my mother has volunteered at a local emergency room for nearly twenty years. Still, just because something is true doesn’t mean I care to believe it. I shook my head no. She persisted.
“It’s Saturday afternoon. If you go in without me, you’re going to be in Fast Track until Tuesday.”
She was probably right. "Fast Track" is where anyone who isn’t experiencing a heart attack, birth or a spurting gunshot wound is taken to be treated. Fast Track is, in fact, very, very slow. I think the call it Fast Track as a sort of mean, inside joke. I shook my head, staring down at my finger which had settled into a steady throb.
“I’ll avoid the whole ER thing by going to the pharmacy down the street. They have a nurse practitioner there. She’s got to be able to give me a shot and a prescription.”
Stubbornly refusing her help and her company about eight more times, I headed off to the pharmacy where the nurse quickly and efficiently gave me my shot and my prescription. I headed home, calmly basking in a job well done.
[Quinn, having typed this, falls on the floor in hysterical laughter.]
No, of course it didn’t happen that way. I can’t wear ankle-strap shoes, I can’t pronounce the word “Lecithin” and I can’t accomplish anything important the first time around. What actually happened is that I went to the pharmacy only to find out the nurse didn’t work on the weekends. The clerk gave me the address of a clinic down the street that covered for the nurse when she wasn’t in the office. This clinic happens to share a parking lot with Whole Foods so I spent a half-hour driving around in circles as people with hemp shoes and bags of soy products didn’t actually leave but stood in the middle of the lane discussing yoga classes and high colonics. Whe I did finally park, I raced to the clinic to learn it was closed on weekends.
By now, nearly an hour had passed. The good news was that the finger wasn’t bleeding anymore. That might have had something to do with my poor bitten digit being twice its usual size, which I imagined was somehow constricting the blood vessels. Also, weirdly, it was cold. I never did get to medical school but I suspected I couldn’t just ignore this and hope it corrected itself, like when certain lights go off on my dashboard. I called my mom to give her the update. She was very firm that I should go to Fast Track. I was very firm that I wanted nothing to do with a place that would have to be declared my place of residence before they saw me. Finally, she said “Well, there’s that emergency place in mid-town which only does small injuries. I went there once. It was pretty fast.”
Fine. Done. I called Consort, gave him the update and headed east. I found free street parking, which I always take to be a good sign. I walked in and there was only one other person ahead of me. Better still. While I was being checked in, a dapper French gentleman was released, having needed two stitches in his hand from a leek-mincing incident. I asked him how long it had taken. All told, he said, an hour and a half. Oh, I was happy, happy in a way I hadn’t been since the second before I had inserted the IV line and everything had gone all pear-shaped. I opened my book and prepared for the whisking away which would happen momentarily.
An hour passed. And then another hour passed. My hand now only felt right if I kept the hand elevated and the finger elevated above the hand. Being as I was bitten on the middle finger, I arranged myself so the hand was only facing a wall. I had long since given up on being whisked in and out, and was now just mutely and meanly glaring at anyone who appeared to be management. What was weird was that it wasn’t as if other people were getting seen ahead of me. This was still a clinic dedicated to little injurie. The emergency room was next door with another staff. I wasn’t being bumped for people being dissuaded from walking towards the light. The person who had been there ahead of me was still in the waiting room with me, as were the ten or so people who were now in line after me. The nurse kept coming out and saying apologetically, “I’m so sorry, we’re trying to get you all in. It’s just the beds are all full.” The mood grew ugly. Eventually, she stopped coming into the waiting room and took to telling us this from behind the Plexiglas security shield.
Four hours after I arrived, I was ushered through the doors and placed on a chair in the hallway. Then did I learn that low-priority emergency rooms function as drunk tanks. Every room, every gurney, anything reasonably horizontal without a phone on it was sporting its very own alcoholic; there wasn’t any room to care for anyone who wasn’t flammable. Having entered the inner lair, a doctor looked at me, read my triage report, and was shocked to discover that I still had a cat bite. He asked me if it was painful and I honestly answered that it was fine as long as I didn’t lower my hand or try to make a fist. He then made me lower my hand and make a fist, which I thought was unsportsmanlike. I waited for an x-ray, to make sure some of her tooth hadn’t broken off in my finger and observed my fellow inmates.
The nurses spent a lot of time asking the drunks if they wanted to go to the bathroom; this was only slightly less productive than asking the thermometers if they wanted to go to the bathroom. It would go like this:
“Mr. Gutierrez? Do you need to go to the bathroom?”
“MR. GUTIERREZ? DO YOU NEED TO GO TO THE BATHROOM?”
“MR. GUTIERREZ? DO YOU NEED TO GO- Oh God, he did. Someone call Custodial.”
Mr. Gutierrez, unlike the rest of us, remained blissfully ignorant that he had just urinated all over the floor. Vomit, feces, untreated diabetes-related wounds; there wasn’t a single unconscious alcoholic in there who wasn’t leaking somewhere. Without noticing, I had drawn my feet up off the ground and tucked my puffy cold finger under my armpit. No sense adding to the bacteria swimming around in my body.
My chair was directly across from a room with the only conscious drunk on the floor. Luckily for me, he was chatty. He spent the better part of an hour telling me about his life in some language not entirely unlike Spanish, with a light dusting of English obscenities thrown in for texture. I smiled pleasantly, nodded occasionally, and periodically asked the nurse to put his blanket back on, because his hospital gown kept riding up.
Ideally, you get your first antibiotics for a cat bite within six hours of the bite (Actually, ideally you don’t get bitten at all, but that boat had sailed); I was finally handed my first pills at the end of the fifth hour. The doctor also gave me a prescription for Vicodin, which I initially refused because Vicodin makes me seasick. He looked at me and then looked at my finger and said briskly, “You might just want to fill it. For tonight.”
Someone dressed my wound, which meant turning my middle finger into a glowing white submarine of a digit, held rigidly upright. I was now inadvertently and endlessly telling everyone how I felt about this afternoon. One of the drunks blinked awake, saw my hand and snickered. I signed a few papers and was sprung. I went to the hospital pharmacy, got my ten days’ worth of antibiotics and my pain pills, which I was starting to suspect I’d need. I drove home, throbbing and oozing.
I pulled into the garage, and saw that our new feral foster-cat was scrunched in the back of her cage, glaring at me. I noticed that she might hate us and everything we stand for, but apparently our food wasn’t terrible. I refilled her food and water bowls and carefully cleaned her litter-box, using the non-bandaged hand. She gargled and hissed at me for disturbing her prison-cell. Without looking at her, I said in what I hoped was a calm and soothing voice, “Listen to me, little one. We’re pleased to have you, I’m happy to care for you and what I can only imagine are going to be some very cute little kittens of yours. But I’ve used up every ounce of my good nature in the last three days and I swear to God, if you attack me I’m going to leave you out in the recycling bin.”
Turns out, we all bite in our own way.