Visiting the Trauma Center Was More Frightening Than Sticking My Hand In a Blender
When I received a handheld immersion blender as a gift, it was given to me with recipes and a warning. The recipes were for soup. The warning was about how dangerous the blender was. When I mentioned it to a good friend of mine, she emailed me a link to a New York Times article about how many people were mangling themselves with immersion blenders. Being squeamish, I only skimmed the article.
That was my first mistake. My second mistake was doing exactly what the author of the piece had done: holding the blender with one hand, I used the finger on the opposite hand to scoop some mashed beans off the blades. Very soon after, barefoot and with blood-soaked clothing, I was bundled into an ambulance by friendly paramedics. During the ride, they administered morphine and discussed where to take me. They went back and forth.
“Kings County?" one of them asked, "Are you sure?”
“It says here for trauma, and the blender is impaled …”
I listened in a morphine haze, noting their hesitation but not sure what to make of it. I would later find out that Brooklyn’s Kings County Hospital Center is infamous. It was the first Level 1 trauma center in the country. Because of its daunting statistics — 600 gunshot and stab wounds cases a year — the U.S. Army chose Kings County to initiate a training program in combat medicine a decade ago. The hospital was nicknamed “Killer County” in 2008 when a woman keeled over and died in the waiting room after sitting there for 24 hours. Her lifeless body remained on the floor for nearly an hour before anything was done.
As it turned out, the blender was attached to my finger for six hours. Shortly after I was wheeled into the Kings County trauma unit, another more serious case came in. I never saw the patient, but heard the doctor talking in urgent tones: “I understand you’re very frightened. You are losing a lot of blood. We have to do a transfusion, and we cannot wait for your family to arrive. Can you hear me?”
I was eventually wheeled back into surgery, where the blender blades were extracted by a very young, very clean-cut hand surgeon. I assure you, there’s nothing that’ll make you feel every single day of your advanced age like a surgeon who was still in diapers while you were rocking out to "Nevermind." He presented me with an iodine bath and instructions to put my finger in and “go washy-washy.” Some X-rays, a broken finger and expert stitches later, I was wheeled into the emergency room, where I would spend the next 36 hours.
An elderly woman lying in the bed next to mine was crying and praying. “Lawd, please … please take me home ….” A man lying on a stretcher, cursing and writhing, “Fuck you! I’m a vet!” A nurse leaned over to give him water, and he quickly and neatly smacked her across the face, knocking her glasses off. I heard her weeping. Someone else’s angry shout: “I’ve been throwing up for 24 hours!” Then, retching, and a nurse running past me with a pan. The elderly woman looming up suddenly at my bedside, trying to snatch at my phone. “I need to call home,” she cried, while I held my injured finger up and away from the fracas as if I were trying to keep it dry while being submerged in water.
Back in my 20s, when I was nihilistic and obnoxious, with a shaved head and perpetually smeared black eyeliner, I might have taken the whole experience more in stride. After all, it would have been a lot easier to believe in nothing than to really absorb the sights, sounds and smells of Kings County. Instead, I practically jumped out of my own skin as I watched the various miseries unfold around me. I’m a wife and mother, I kept thinking to myself. I need to be home. I don’t have time for this shit!
The weeping elderly woman was removed, and a teenaged girl with very long hair was wheeled into my little curtained area, flat on her back, staring at me. I started to say hello and then changed my mind. A few minutes later, she began ranting to no one in particular. She had just consumed a bottle of perfume. She had thought she was in love, but her boyfriend gave her HIV. She dropped out of school and was very concerned about the Feds.
When the doctor showed up to examine her, she wouldn’t answer his questions; she had questions of her own. “Just tell me, are you with the Feds?” she asked incoherently. A police officer appeared. So did a nurse, ominously pulling on a pair of surgical gloves and preparing a syringe. Lying just a few feet away, with my purse and a copy of "The Transit of Venus" clutched in my lap, I was keenly aware of my proximity to a potentially violent scene, as well as my obvious vulnerabilities.
Another police officer appeared and the young woman rose to a seated position and began screaming, “No! I will not be night-napped to the psych ward!” I tucked my purse under one arm, grabbed onto the IV pole and slid down off my bed, then knelt down and half-walked, half-crawled past one of the police officers, dragging the pole behind me.
A gracious doctor let me sit in an adjacent waiting room, where a mother, sitting beside her bored-looking son, detailed a rash that had appeared after eating curry. The rash was gone now, but she felt she should go to the ER just in case. Are you serious? I remember thinking. If my plate of curry jumped up and bit my ear off, I wouldn’t voluntarily come here. Behind me, the young woman was screaming bloody murder as the police pinned her to the bed and the nurse injected her with a sedative, so that she could indeed be night-napped to the psych ward.
“I have to get out of here,” I told the doctor when he was finished with the alleged curry victim.
And, in fact, early that morning, I was discharged. The nurses stood around me in a circle as I thanked them profusely for their care. I had no problem with the staff. They were doing their best with the hand they were dealt (so to speak), hour after hour, day after day. The fact that they never moved me out of the ER and upstairs to a bed struck me as extremely sensible and protective. I later found out that a common joke at Killer County was that patients get saved in the ER, then killed upstairs. One of the nurses held my arm and walked me out himself to find a car service to take me home, where my partner gave my mangled digit the name "Frankenfinger."
The good news is that Frankenfinger has completely healed, although it's still a curious sight. I can’t put nail polish on it and it still tingles, but it will always serve as a reminder of my monstrous 36 hours in the Kings County Hospital Center.
Originally published on Purple Clover