Department of Emergency

I had a pain in my calf so I went off to an accident and emergency clinic. I figured it was probably just a pulled muscle and that I’d get a pressure bandage and be sent on my way. Instead the doctor said that it could be a blood clot. It probably wasn’t but that needed to be ruled out with blood tests and an ultrasound.

So off I went to the emergency department of Auckland Hospital. I spent about 12 out of next 24 hours at the hospital. I had the blood test and ultrasound done, but I spent most of the time waiting.

You know on medical-themed TV shows or movies, there’ll be a really busy, under-staffed emergency department that’s so busy they have to put patients out in the corridor? Yeah, that’s what happened to me. I spent over five hours in a bed next to the staff base.

I had brought a book to read, but I took a few breaks and got to know my surroundings. On the wall next to me was a Monet print, but someone had taped up on it a poster of the original Shortland Street cast with “Staff of 83” written on it, and name tags of staff members stuck next to the cast photos.

Across from my bed was a little alcove where a resuscitation trolley was kept. I could tell this because there was a sign above the trolley that said “Resus Trolly (Do not block access to trolley)”. There was a big bag of pillows that had been dumped in front of the trolley. I was a bit concerned at this, but while people came up and took pillows from the bag, no one ever used the resus trolley.

At the end of my bed was a series of boxes of disposable rubber gloves mounted in dispenser racks. I noticed that the small sized gloves were marked as being unscented, but that it was possible to get them in either mint or bubblegum flavour. I tried to think what use there would be for bubblegum scented rubber gloves. I’m still not sure, although perhaps they are used in the children’s hospital.

I also noticed that while everyone called it the Emergency Department, all official references were to the Department of Emergency. That makes it sound like a strange government department where everyone runs around freaking out.

It was a Friday night and it was getting late so it was not surprising when a drunk guy came in. He’d apparently fallen over and bumped his head, but I think his main problem was he was a drunken fool. He was a total stereotype. Here’s some of what he got up to:

  • Sang the first few lines of “Buffalo Soldier” over and over.
  • Yelled out “I need a pill. Giz a fucking pill. Got any Valiums?”
  • Asked the woman in the next bed where he was. Claimed he didn’t know where Auckland was.
  • Yelled, “where’s a doctor? I want to see a fucking doctor!” then passed out/fell asleep.
  • Said, “I wanna chunder. I’m gonna chuck a chunder,” but failed to vomit.

The nurses mostly ignored him. They’re probably totally used to drunken fools who’ve fallen over coming into the emergency department every weekend. The standard procedure is probably to give them a place to lie down, ignore them and let them sober up, then send them on their way. The one nurse who did speak to him (after one of his Valium requests) said, “you need to sober up a bit first.”

I went home that night and came back the next morning to get the ultrasound done. While I was waited for several hours for the results to be analysed, I was entertained by the woman in the bed next to me. She spent a lot of time making out with her boyfriend behind the curtain. She also didn’t want to stay the night in hospital and really didn’t like having the drip in her arm – simultaneously complaining that it wasn’t working because she was still thirsty, and that she really needed to go to the toilet.

She refused to go to the toilet with the drip and tried to take it out but couldn’t manage to do it. A nurse came along and told her to stop being so silly and soon she was off to the toilet with the drip on its wheelie stand.

But the best thing that came out of her cubical was this following conversation:

Doctor: Is this your partner?
Boyfriend: Ummm…
Doctor: I ask because there was one woman and her boyfriend visited her sometimes and her husband visited her other times.
Woman: Oh!

Eventually a doctor who didn’t seem to know why I was there came and told me that I didn’t have a blood clot, “just a sore leg”, and administered the expert medical advice that I shouldn’t read any Jeffrey Archer novels.

Finally a nurse came over, put a pressure bandage on my leg and sent me on my way.


I woke up one Friday recently and I was really bored. I thought to myself “What would spice up today? I know! A minor surgical operation!”

So I got the bus into town and went to the very happy and friendly accident and medical centre. I saw a doctor and told him that I had a thing on my leg (he described at as ‘mainly fat and fibre’ – cool) and asked if I could have it removed. He said it would be no problem and so we went into an operating room thing.

He got a trolley full of goodies and then got out a big-ass needle and proceeded to injected some anaesthetic into the surrounding area. I’m not scared of needles (which doesn’t quite explain why I haven’t had my tetanus shot which I was supposed to have when I was about 15) so I just sat back and let him squirt the stuff in.

Unfortunately the actual anaesthetic stung, like getting salt in a cut, only it was under the skin. But soon enough the anaesthetic took effect and he was able to prod my leg with a needle and I couldn’t feel anything.

The good doctor them swabbed around the area with iodine. Then he got a scalpel and started to chop. I was going to look at it, but it was too uncomfortable sitting up so I just lay back and relaxed. I could feel the skin feeling pulled around and there was the noise of chunks of flesh being cut. The doc said it was quite tough to cut through.

Eventually he got the thing cut off and he stuck it in a little jar to be sent away to a lab to get analysed. He had cut the thing off, but cut around it in an oval shape so the skin could be pushed together. It was at that stage that I felt some blood trickling down my leg. The doctor had said that it was quite vascular so there would be a lot of blood.

Next he pushed the skin together and put some stitches in. I wasn’t watching, so I don’t know how many stitches were put in, but I’d guess that it was 3 or 4. I could feel the skin being pulled over. It was a really strange sensation.

After I was stitches up I took at look at my leg. My skin was really white – possibly due to the blood loss. The stitches pulled the skin firmly together and it was sort of bulging. It looked really ugly, it slightly reminded me of something in Seven.

The doctor cleaned it and put a few sticky plastic strips across which aided in bringing the sides together. He had to put some glue type stuff on to help it stick. He then put a small pad over the area, then a bigger sticky one. Finally he put a smooth thin plastic sticky thing over to keep it water proof.

So I walked around with the dressing on my leg for a week, unable to do Kung Fu kicks. I was so paranoid about ripping that stitches that I started walking funny. A week later the stitches came off and it was fine. It had nicely bonded and was healing. The lab report said that the thing was just fibre – nothing to worry about. Cool.

And that was it. It was fun and it only cost $40 plus $5 to get the stitches out

1994. Marina Del Ray, Los Angeles, California, USA.

It was my birthday. It was supposed to be really cool. Like “Yeee! It’s my birthday and I’m in LA!!!”. Ha ha ha.

I’d been feeling pretty bad the few days before. But on my birthday it was really really sick. I was unable to digest any food. I woke up and I was feeling so bad. My parents were like “So! What do you want to do for your birthday!!!”. I told them I damn well didn’t want to do anything because I was feeling so sick. I think they thought I was just saying it because I was being anti-social. Sure.

The day went on and I wasn’t getting any better. I demanded that I be taken to a doctor. I didn’t want to move from where I was, but I didn’t want to feel like that for any longer. My father and brother and disappeared in the rental car, so my mother and I had to take the hotel courtesy van.

I distinctly remember sitting in the back of the van huddled in a little ball feeling like shit. There were two American women in the seats in front who wanted to talk to be. They complied with every stupid stereotype of loud Americans: “OH, YOU’RE SICK. I WAS SICK LAST WEEK. I SPENT THE ENTIRE DAY IN THE BATHROOM THROWING UP.” “OH, YOU’RE FROM NEW ZEALAND. I WENT THERE LAST CHRISTMAS. YOU HAVE A VERY BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY”. Blah blah blah.

We got to the hospital, and I was wished well by the women. The hospital has since been made vaguely famous as where Kurt Cobain escaped from in rehab about a week before he died. So I went in and an old woman who wasn’t a doctor or a nurse but some happy greeting person happily greeted me and took my name.

I had to go and give them my name and stuff. A problem happened when the computer had no space for my country, so they tried to put “NZ” as the state, but it wouldn’t accept it. And my 4 – digit postcode wasn’t long enough for them. I should have said “90210”.

Then they asked me if I had medical insurance. I did, but my mother had left the papers at the hotel. They wouldn’t see me without them or something like that. Mum asked me if I really needed to see a doctor and I gave her the most evil look I could muster. So mum had to go back to the hotel and get them. That took about 15 minutes. I was left sitting in the waiting room with the Time magazine “grunge” issue.

Just as I was reading about Babes in Toyland being described as “punkettes” (is that like Smurfette?) my mother got back with the insurance forms and I could finally see a doctor.

There was someone else who was walking through behind me. A nurse person went screaming at her “You can’t go through there with her!!! No one is allowed to be with the patient!!!” It turned out the woman was a patient herself, but it sounded like a law-suit prevention thing. Like if someone went in with me I could sue the hospital because I was sick and didn’t know what I was thinking and they should have stopped it or some bollocks like that.

I had to change into a paper gown thing and got given a plastic wrist band, which seemed really over the top.

All the times I’ve been to the doctor in New Zealand I’ve been seen in what ever I was wearing at the time. I even had the thing cut out my my leg with only having to take my jeans off.

So I waited around and a doctor turned up and her name was Robin. She checked my name tag and made sure that I was who it said I was. She asked me a few questions and did stuff like take my temperature and listen to my chest and all the time I was thinking why couldn’t I at least have my jeans on. Eventually she told me that I was sick (hey!) and prescribed me some penicillin.

The bill came to US$150 and the penicillin was about $15. This totally freaked me out because I am used to paying $20 for going to the doctor and about $5 for the drugs.

Fortunately the next day I was feeling better so I went to Tower Records and bought lots of good music.