A and E
Friday and Saturday nights are always the worst. Jack has learned how to differentiate the time wasters from the really sick. He wanders through the waiting area, trying to do a bit of triage. A group of teenage girls sit giggling in their too-high heels. Two of them hold tissues to their bleeding foreheads. He struggles to make sense of their story, and eventually gathers that the wounded ones have fallen off a table while dancing. He smiles indulgently, like a benign grandparent. Perhaps a little less alcohol next time, he suggests. They giggle again. Head injuries are no laughing matter, he says solemnly. He moves on.
He has seen the next woman before. Barely a week goes by without her making an appearance. The department has her labelled as an over anxious mother. This time, she says her son has a headache and a sore throat. And he doesn’t seem to like bright lights. She raises her eyebrows ominously as she says it. The boy sits swinging his legs, eating a packet of crisps. Jack takes a few deep breaths before answering. He thinks she could safely go home and let him have a good night’s sleep, he tells her. She looks unconvinced.
A significant proportion of the patients arrive in handcuffs. He knows most of the police officers by sight. They nod respectfully at one another. He doesn’t interfere with these cases. Let the junior doctors earn their stripes.
He pulls back the curtain of a cubicle. Two anxious faces turn towards him, pleading for his help. He assesses the situation. An elderly couple, but not ancient. Plenty of years left in them yet, you would think. Or maybe not. The woman is smiling bravely as she lies on the trolley. She clutches her husband’s hand, doing her best to reassure him. Her stomach is swollen to beyond pregnancy size. Jack knows how this story ends. He places a hand on the husband’s shoulder, lies to him, and tells him everything will be all right.
Jack feels a bit unsteady. He sits for a while in the waiting area, gathering his thoughts. A nurse brings him a cup of tea, although she’s not supposed to. But she was the one on duty when they brought Ethel in. She has a soft spot for him. The others would probably call security.
‘Go home Jack,’ she says. But he’s not sure where home is any more.