Trapped. Double-crossed. I sat scrunched up on a hard bed, feeling the watchful eyes of my roommate upon me. She sat in a chair in the corner of the room. Footsteps moved outside the thin curtain that separated my cubicle from the rest of the emergency department, and from the world. Simple questions–impossible: what is your name? where do you live? what insurance do you have? Mental trouble, they said, something amiss; they had hush-hushed me into the corner cubicle, here with Irene pretending to be perplexed, and the stethescoped nurse. I just took what hit me, and everything that hit me was hitting hard. The curly-haired nurse talked at me gleefully and suddenly I was in another cubicle. Irene talked at me as well, they both chattered but I couldn’t hear, couldn’t understand the words; they bubbled and broke before I could grasp them.
An alcohol tainted breeze brushed across my face as the nurse exited the cubical, ruffling the curtain. Irene, whispered, “Julie, you have to talk. Tell them about the bingeing. Tell them about the anxiety and the insomnia and everything. And the Martians. Everything. Tell them.” She tiptoed around the room, peeking in cabinets. “Any good drugs, do you think? Syringes? Shit, there’s gotta be something. Do they let people smoke here? They have a nice unit upstairs, Julie. You’ll like it. Don’t worry–me and my boyfriend will take excellent care of your car while you’re in.” Irene stole a glance at the clock. “What the–they sure take their sweet time.”
The curtain ruffled. “Don’t worry, just me, girls,” said the nurse, as she suddenly appeared back in the room. What’s so funny, Julie–what’s the matter, anyway?” she asked. She blurred in and out of focus. “Why won’t you talk?”
“Yeah, Julie. Talk.”
“Maybe Julie will talk to me alone,” said the nurse.
“Julie needs me to interpret,” said Irene. She pronounced “interpret” as though she had just learned the word from watching Oprah. But when the doctor arrived, the nurse hurried Irene away.
I didn’t even want to look at him. He had snake’s eyes.
“Julie, we’ve called your mommy and daddy and they’re coming to get you. Do you understand? You have no insurance. You have no job. You can’t stay here.”
You bastard you called my parents you violated my confidentiality I have no insurance I have no money but I know my rights you fucking liar. My breath came in short bursts. If I could talk I knew I’d be screaming obscenities. I pulled away from the doctor.
“Not so fast. Do you know where you are? Do you know you’re in a hospital?”
“Do you know who I am?”
“I’m Dr Beck. I’m the attending physician at the Emergency Room tonight. Turn around. Let me listen to your back.” I still hadn’t removed my clothes. I hadn’t been asked to. The doctor–I immediately forgot his name–lifted my sweater gently. I gasped at the cold feel of the stethoscope. I wasn’t wearing a bra, but that didn’t matter.
“I’m going to listen to your heart now.” The doctor placed his stethoscope between my breasts briefly, more a token gesture than diagnostic. I was there for psych, not my heart. Mutual understanding.
“Let me feel your neck.” I was afraid of his touch, but his hands were gentle, though moist and cold. “Now your reflexes.”
The nurse peeked in, interrupting us. “Doctor, the Greenes want to talk to Scully again. Should I call him? It’s late–“
“They’ll have to wait.”
“Yes, doctor.” She disappeared.
He took my wrist. “Wait just a minute. What’s here?” I let my arms go limp. It was useless to put up a fight, and so far, I hadn’t done so at all. I was a puppet without strings. He tugged at my sleeve. “Hey, what’s this?” He pulled the sleeve down further. My cuts. Shit. As he brought the sleeve down, more were revealed. Now my other arm. I had cut myself perhaps thirty times on both arms from elbow to wrist with a razor blade. Several razor blades–when one had become dull, I’d switched to another. Some of the cuts were fairly deep. Many were shaped like arrows that pointed toward my hands. Blood oozed from the newer cuts while the older cuts, partially healed, were purplish-blue and ugly.
“So how long have you been doing this? How old are these cuts? A week ago? A month ago?”
Decisions were made for me, very quickly.
Dressed in merely a johnny, I felt a chill in the air as I was wheeled toward the desk in what appeared to be the main area of the “unit.” The lights were darkened and only a small light shone at the desk. I gripped the arms of the wheelchair tightly. A phone rang and the nurse at the desk popped awake–apparently she’d been dozing with a newspaper crossword puzzle, pen in hand–she murmured, “Thank you, thank you,” and then turned to me and said, “You’re in room 401, bed A.” She walked past me into a small office. Lights turned on. I shielded my eyes. She came back out with a cup of coffee. She huffed and puffed as she stepped back toward me, as if it took some effort to walk around. The person who had wheeled me up, meanwhile, had disappeared. When the nurse came close, I noticed her dark hairy moustache and slight sour smell.
Another young nurse came through the same swinging doors that I had come through, saying, “Rita, do you want to go down now?”
“No,” Rita said, “I’ve got an admit.”
“Where? I didn’t see a patient come in. This late?”
“This young lady over here, cat’s got ’er tongue and she looks filthy. I told you,” she turned to me, “room 401, bed A. I’ll be in in a minute.”
“Here’s your clothes and your bag. Wait a minute.” Rita began to giggle. “Sandy, have you ever seen anything like it?”
“Huh?” Sandy asked.
“They only gave her one johnny. Julie, get someone to bring in some nightclothes for you. You’re exposed in the back. And tomorrow, wear a bra. She came in wearing no bra, nothing, Sandy. Her.”
“Not that room; that’s Jonathan’s room. Room 401. Don’t you listen?”
“Denise can cover at 2:15, if you want to go down then.”
“Could light up one right now–well, no, 2:15 is fine, I’ll get this girl settled–Bed A!–Do you have that Word Find book?”
“Lost it. Sorry.”
Rita decided to fill out the intake form herself, because I was silent and terrified. She held the form on a clipboard as she checked off each item: “‘Patient did not bring any valuables…’ Julie, you didn’t bring any valuables, right? Just nod your head. There you go. Okay, not allergic to any drugs, right? Not allergic to latex. What about food, allergic to food? Naw. What time do you wake up? I’ll put seven in the morning. You’re all set. Go to sleep.”
If the bed had come with a headboard, I would have banged my head against it; in its absence, there was the wall, but instead, I buried my head under the pillow and tried to pray. I tried to say the Lord’s Prayer but I couldn’t remember the words. God would know I was a sinner because I was a Jew and Jews were not supposed to utter the Lord’s Prayer; we were not even supposed to know the Lord’s Prayer existed. I got stuck on “forgive us our trespasses.” The pillowcase wasn’t soft, like a pillowcase you’d find at home; it was scratchy and well bleached. Christ, I couldn’t even pray right. I wiped my snots on the pillowcase and brought my head up; the cold air overwhelmed me to tears even though I was too terrified to cry; it seemed that my tears were too large for my eyes; they dropped onto my johnny and I felt that I was spitting out my teeth, spitting out all the ugliness and horror I’d seen that day, the evil eyes of Irene, my roommate, watching over me as I sat in the Emergency room; the doctor’s hateful booming voice: We’ve called your mommy and daddy…I spat it all out, and heard my hospital roommate roll in her sleep; a breeze gently blew in the room, shifting the curtain between us a bit and she rolled again; I lay down and tried to be silent; the curtain moved again and a beam of light seized the darkness–ahh! I clenched my teeth and felt my eyes widen, my whole body on the defensive. It was Rita with a flashlight.
“Just checking on you,” said Rita. “You should be asleep by now.”