Some existential thoughts doing the emergency room Limbo

This week I broke my resolve to stay away from hospitals and doctors and instead home care whatever challenges to my health come my way. I found myself in the emergency section of Hospital Mexico, the closest hospital to where I happen to be, explaining my perceived problem.

A thoughtful Dr. Palmas examined and interviewed me and made a list of exams to be done. Then I went back to the main section of the emergency room to wait with the other patients. It was incredibly crowded and quiet, so I spent most of my time standing . . . between the two bathrooms. When the door guard came in and told all patients’ companions to leave, it was considerably less crowded, but still no seat for me.

An emergency room in any hospital involves 90 percent waiting and 10 percent being attended to, so one has a lot of time to observe and think. I didn’t have a book with me, so I took the opportunity to read the world around me and ponder.

I have been in emergency rooms in hospitals Biblica, Católica, Calderón Guardia, México and San Juan de Dios, one in Limón and CIMA. My worst experience was at CIMA, where they refused to treat me until I paid or found my credit card, which I did not think to bring. As a result my condition worsened considerably. The best emergency rooms were at the Católica, years ago where they treated my hand for an infection from a wound. The cost at the time was 1,200 colons. I thought they must have meant 12,000, even then. It was the only time I wanted to leave a hospital a tip. The old Biblica was also pleasant and efficient. México emergency comes in third, and is much less expensive because it is a Caja hospital.

With time to think, I began to wonder if Dante did research in an emergency room for the first circle of Hell in his “Divine Comedy.” That circle was Limbo, a waiting room for Heaven or Hell, which fittingly describes an emergency room. In Dante’s poem Limbo was for the guiltless but damned because they were born or died too soon. Many Greeks were among them, and fittingly, I chatted with a lovely man named Ulisis outside the X-ray room while we waited for our own X-rays.

All of us in emergency were not guiltless in terms of how we had lived our lives (I was a smoker for nearly 40 years). Some were on gurneys (lucky them), and I noticed the hospital had extra wide ones for the larger patients.

We all waited stoically and with something else. Present was compassion, perhaps the last refuge of humanity when it finds itself in Limbo or emergency.

Most of the hospital personnel were pleasant and helpful, although often unable to speed things up. A welcome
newcomer in mid-afternoon was the lady with coffee, tea and crackers. I had not eaten since my early morning breakfast, so I happily drank coffee that was so weak it left no trace of residue in the glass. But it was liquid.

Mike, a member of a writers group I belong to, has written his review of a book about biocentrism by two scientists, Lanza and Berman. There is no way my mind understands quantum anything, but the idea has intrigued me.

With hours to spare, I tried to imagine how biocentrism pertained to life as I knew it standing in the emergency room. If reality is only what one perceives it to be (or exists only in the consciousness of a human being), then for sure, each one of us was experiencing a different reality based on our experience, our physical condition and whether we felt we were in a waiting room to Heaven or Hell.

The hospital staff greeted new members who came on duty with smiles and kisses. Theirs was a different reality than ours. This became obvious to me at one point since I seemed to be the only patient smiling occasionally.

I was smiling because I was thinking about whether Heaven or Hell or even San José is any more real than Oakland, about which Gertrude Stein said, maybe insightfully, “There is no there, there.” My response to Gertrude is, “Once you get there, Ms Stein, it will exist.”

The one great thing about leaving an emergency room on your own two feet, looking forward to what will happen next, is that home looks like Heaven.

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