Hell: Closer than You Think


Hell exists. Buried deep within the bowels of a local hospital, demons wearing nurses’ uniforms frolic with grandiose EMTs,  while sour-face attendants monitor the doors. The rules are simple: Do as you’re told and don’t ask questions. It is their circus and their monkeys. Humanity ceases to exist as patients are subject to the whims of those who lost the ability to care eons ago.

My friend suffered a medical emergency, and thankfully was completely unaware of the chaos surrounding us as I spent the day at her bedside. We were in the emergency room of our local hospital, having spent the previous night at a nearby walk-in clinic. Although I expected it to be rough, I never anticipated the most dangerous component to being in the emergency room of a city hospital would be the medical staff. The experience opened my eyes to the ugly side of humanity.

My friend was transported to this facility via ambulance. I arrived shortly after and as I approached her room, was immediately accosted by the attendant who demanded to know what I was doing there. I explained I was there to stay with a friend. She grunted at me and jerked her beefy thumb toward a counter,

“You can’t bring that in there,” she said, gesturing at my purse. “Put it there.”

“Ummm…ok,” I responded. “I just want to see my friend.”

I put my purse down and went into the room. I stood against the wall in chairless room and watched my friend sleep. After a while, a nurse brought me a chair, and I continued my vigil. At first, I thought the unfriendly atmosphere was fairly innocuous. With nothing else to do, I listened as the hospital personnel flirted with one another and complained about co-workers.

“I like your phone,” said a young EMT to a nurse, “You should give me your number.”

She ignored him as another group sat talking about another nurse. “I don’t care what she says. She can shove it up her ***.”

Hmmmm. Not exactly appropriate workplace talk, but I’m sure this is a stressful environment.

The persistent EMT continued badgering the nurse. “Do you have a Facebook? We’re all going out to lunch. You should come.”

We were only an hour into a very long day when things fell apart. All of a sudden, the cramped space erupted in chaos. An extremely intoxicated man was being escorted down the hall, screaming.

“”I want to go home. I want to go home. I want to go home.”

Poor man. I know he’s drunk, but he is completely distraught.

One nurse shouted, “Stop it. You’re making a racket.”

He responded, “Let me lay down. I want to go home.”

The same nurse responded, “Stay in that chair, David. The doctor is trying to get you out of here.”

“Will they?” he asked.

My heart broke for him as an EMT answered him. “I pray to God they do. Sit down.”

David quieted for a moment and asked, “Why don’t you like me?”

The EMT laughed and said, “Just doing my job.”

David resumed his caterwauling, filling the drab rooms with piteous cries. At this point, I was standing in the doorway watching the scene unfold. Suddenly an angry nurse named Maggie came stomping down the hallway. It was like a movie clip as people scrambled out of her way. She stood in David’s doorway, hands on her hips. “You are not listening. Your blood pressure and heart rate are too high because you are screaming like a fool.”

The attendant piped up. “Just relax, David. We’re watching you.”

David answered her. “I want to go home.”

Maggie and the attendant said in unison, “No.”

He responded, “I just want to go home, man.”

Maggie rolled her eyes and said, “We’re aware.”

The yelling stopped for a little while and people resumed gossiping in the hall. I think David just needed a moment to catch his breath, because he started screaming again with a vengeance. “I want to go home now.. Let me go. Let me go. Take me to a different hospital.”

A very large EMT stood in his doorway. “You need to stay in that chair.” He turned back to the attendant and said, “Have fun. All I want is a shot and a beer.”

David began asking for some food. The EMT yelled, “No. Lunch is over. You’ll get food in a couple of hours.”

David groaned. “Where’s the Doc? I want to go home.”

Maggie answered, “He’s busy. You’re not at a hotel. Do what you’re told. This behavior is not going to get you to see the doctor.”

The EMT told Maggie that she was making David angry. Her response was, “Good.”

The EMT turned to David and began asking him why he was in such a hurry to go home. A few other emergency workers came over and joined the conversation. They began talking to him about work, noting that it sometimes calmed him down. Apparently, David  is a frequent visitor to the hospital and they are all familiar with him. Some of them were almost gentle, but when David began acting up again, Nurse Maggie came stomping back to his room.

“I am in no mood to deal with you today. Be quiet.”

At this point, I stopped pretending I wasn’t listening. I stood in the doorway, taking notes and asking names.

Maggie continued her rant, unfazed by the paper and pen in my hand. “You need to be quiet and stop being so loud. We’re actually busy here.”

David asked if it was almost his turn. She told him, “He’s here, but your chances of seeing him aren’t very good.”

This continued for several hours until her was finally released. Unfortunately,it was not even two hours later before he was back, drunk again. The medical personnel was even more brutal this time. When he screamed about going home, one of them actually responded, “You don’t have a home.”

Maggie said. “You want to go home? Good. Let me toss you out of here along with all your stuff. No one wants you here.”

An EMT asked him what was so important at home and David told them he wanted to see his girlfriend.

“You have a girlfriend? How much do you pay her an hour?

David became very agitated at that point and the police came. He was arrested and removed from the emergency room.  I watched from the doorway, shaking my head. The man was out of control, but I couldn’t help but feel he was baited into reacting. The staff was unhappy I witnessed this and was taking notes. I was told to stay in the room and the door was slammed in my face. The only good thing that came of it was that what was supposed to be several more hours of waiting became minutes as my friend was moved to a room in the main hospital.

While I could never do that thankless job that I’m sure has a high rate of burn-out, I can’t help but wonder how many times this scene is repeated each day. To treat anyone like they are less than human turns my stomach. To hold a position of power over someone needing help and using that power to soothe your own frustrations and inadequacies is disgusting and wrong. If the job is too much, leave. I’m sure there are qualified people who can step up and take the place until they become just as ineffective.

This hospital’s core values include “pursue Excellence,” and “Deliver Compassionate Care.” I’d hate to see what their idea of less than compassionate care looks like. I visited Hell that day. I’m not in any hurry to return, but I shiver at the thought of the “compassionate care” people like David are receiving at this very moment.


  1. It seems that this type of patient care survives unnoticed and uncorrected unless the patient has to endure it.

    A number of years ago (30 to be exact) I suffered a minor work related injury. It happened in the early part of the afternoon near the end of day shift. I left work early , took a taxi to a nearby hospital emergency ward and registered at the receprion desk. I noted that the time was 2:45 p.m.

    At 2:50 pm I was escorted to a room that I thought was a treatment cubicle. The attendant asked me the nature of my injury ( I think it was a vision problem) and she then told me to relax and that someone would be there shortly to help me. It was 2:55 p.m. I took a sigh of relief knowing that medical assistance was nearby.

    Three hours later after waiting all that time I opened the door to this room, looked out in the hallway and noticed there was no one patrolling the aisles. The chart holder on the outside frame of the door was empty and I stood there wondering as to what had happened to my medical assistance.

    I left the room and approached the main nurse’s station. I explained to her the nature of my problem, the room where I was sent and the time I had initially logged in at the reception desk. SHe politely checked her patient sign in logs and discovered that my name had been crossed of the list of patients seeking medical treatment.

    She discovered much to my chagrin that my initial entrance time to the hospital occurred during shift change and that this room “normally” designated a patient examination room changed its status after shift change and merely became an empty room until the start of morning nursing duties. SHe asked me to sign in again, take a seat in the waiting area and be patient. No apology was offered. It was now 8:15 p.m.

    The waiting area was filled with potential patients seeking medical attention.

    At 9:55 that evening I was finally escorted to an open examination room and after a 20 minute wait was offered help by an on site resident. This person examined my eyes and told me that whatever trauma had occurred had now passed and there was no evidence of any problem. It was now 10:30.p.m.

    Sometimes the medical profession does not seem to realize how truly afflicted it really is when situations like one occur on a daily basis . It should take two aspirins and call for help in the morning.

    Thank you for sharing your story. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so sorry hat happened to you! It’s a bit disheartening to know not much has changed in 30 years. It seems to be a very broken system. Thank you for sharing your story.


  2. It concerns me as well when I hear about the lack of humanity and dignity that people encounter while accessing in healthcare. Seems the word care is getting lost in the shuffle. You wrote about a very difficult day very elegantly. Peace, Harlon


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