Theatre of the Mind

Friday, April 08 2005

Ever notice how you can tell if someone is smiling on the other end of the phone? You can form a mental picture of exactly what is going on there, at the other end of the cell tower or phone lines, just by the tone of voice. From the other person’s volume, how loudly they speak, we conjure the brightness of their room. We can tell if they’ve just finished hearing a joke before turning to answer the phone, or if they’ve discovered a mess made by the dog and the ringing phone is simply One More Thing.

Our mental picture shifts constantly during the conversation, filling in gaps and changing details. We can tell if they’re happier at the end of the call, or if we’ve simply added to their daily burden.

Which is why I sometimes dread calling in to the ER when I’m on the way with a patient. Some days, the nurses act as though we’re some kind of FTD Florists from Hell who deliver only skunkweed and old cabbage.

Sorry! It’s not like it was our idea to pop out of bed at 2:30am and go get
this guy. Being human, however, the mental images form…

The Conversation The Mental Image
” Hello! This is (facility) ER, Nurse Happydance speaking, how may I
help you?”
Perky, fresh-faced Cheerleader for Healthcare, yay! No frownie-wownies
allowed!
“Hi there! This is ambulance (mine)…”
“Oh. What do you need?” A cigarette dangles listlessly from the overpainted lips, her last drag
flares, illuminating her thick makeup. The ash falls onto the beer-soaked
wood of the nurses station
“Well. We’re en route to you with a 36 year old male…”
“What’re his vitals?” It’s $20 for straight, you pay for the room. Show me the money up front
and if you wanna be called Daddy it’s an extra five.
“Um, okay, pulse is this, reps that, bp the other. His complaint…”
“Is he stable?” The DA stomps from the witness box to the bench. “Your honor, the
witness is hostile. I demand a yes or no answer only!”
“Yes, he’s stable, and…”
“Triage.” Click. Forget GOMER, don’t even come in to my ER!

Ah, well. Next time, we shall test the Healing Power of Chocolate and see if we can’t dislodge whatever it is crawled up their butt.

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