The Nosebleed

On a day when the government decides to bolster the prejudicial treatment of anyone who offends anyone's "religion," and a day when the House of Representatives votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, I am reminded of the time when, as a poor college student, I needed emergency care at St. Vincent Hospital in Erie, PA.





1968

Dizzy and bloodless I am wheeled
into the emergency room. Nosebleed
for hour on hour has left me senseless.

This is a very Catholic hospital.
A nurse with clipboard demands my name.
She looks with scorn at my hair and beads.
“Bet you don’t have no job?” she sneers.

“I’m a student. At Edinboro.”
“Drugs!” she says. “They’re in here
alla time.”

“Nosebleed,” I say.

“I don’t use drugs.”

Nosebleed, she writes,
as I choke on clotted upheave.

“What’s your religion?”

“None.”

“I gotta put something here.”

“Say atheist.”

“Well, that’s a first.
I don’t know how to spell that.”

“A—T—H—E—I—S—T.”

“You could be dyin’ here
an’ you wanna say atheist?”

“You want me to lie on my deathbed?”

She snorts. “I’ll put down Protestant.”


They wheel me in. I’m in and out
of consciousness. Later I wake
in a deserted wardroom. I want to know
how long I’ve been here, how much I lost.

I find the cord and buzzer
that says it will summon a nurse.
I hear a distant bell ringing,
hear voices at the nurses’ station.

Words fly to me like startled birds
“Appendicitis”
“Babies”
“Pneumonia”
then “The hippie in 15-B”

A male voice laughs. “We’ll make up
something special for that one.”

I ring the bell again. No one responds.


I wake again at mid-day.

They wheel in food on a cart.
A plate is put before me—
amorphous meat, a glistening heap
of mashed potatoes, some soggy greens.

I take a spoon of potatoes
wondering real or instant,
bite down on razor shards of glass,
put hand to mouth and see blood streaming.


Rip tube from face spitting rush
for the bathroom
rinse rinse spit rinse
swabbing the blood with a towel
tongue bleeding gums bleeding

dressed myself hastily
left there no one stopped me
walking walking hitch-hiking southward

glad I never swallowed
my special hippie atheist breakfast.

Comments

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    1. Every word is true. This happened, and no one would believe me.

      Delete

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