5 hours in the ER…or Trauma Unearthed (Part 1)

A visit to the local emergency room on a Wednesday night was not expected or wanted.

An earlier evening dental appointment where vitals were taken exposed a blood pressure and pulse reading that concerned the dentist and his assistant. Needless to say, it didn’t concern me as I started new anti-depression meds and was not exactly adherent to the ‘do not drink alcohol” label on the bottle.


I did not drink prior to the dental.  After the appointment, I went home, swallowed the pizza I bought on the way and fed the furs. That lil’ voice in the head, often ignored, nudged me to check my blood pressure.

165/110 pulse 119!!!


Got in a neighbourhood cab and $9 later sat in the emergency room at Methodist waiting for a doctor.

After two hours of sitting on a plastic grey chair that once may have been blue; playing Candy Crush while observing the homeless woman across from me sleeping, snoring, hunger rumble from her belly, I was called in. 

EKG/Blood Pressure monitoring and pulses oximeter.

My vitals were taken by a Haitian nurse who bragged about her scholarly accomplishments and frowned at my taking anti-depression meds. I was brought into the er amidst the beeping of vital machines, moaning, cursing, frazzled nurses, complacent doctors, and human congestion of the rush hour automobile kind.

Waiting and observing brought back the memory of numerous hours spent with mom, my mom in this same space. She was in hospice care at home but would frequent the er when her draining tube dislodged.

Anxiety, severe depression with the strongest need to scream.

My mom gave up her mental fight during the last visit to this er. Defeated over additional testing, she started to cry. There was no end to the treatments which brought no healing. A return to normalcy was not in her future. I sit with myself in bright fluorescent lights trying to block the memories. I felt so helpless then as I do now alone in sterile coldness, which only exacerbates the fragility of mí alma (my soul).

Nothing compares…

With high blood pressure and an elevated heart rate I was an outsider in the emergency room. 

I was an outsider inside a large room where homelessness mixed in and cememented with mental health issues. Mind you, I do have the mental health stuff but I’m also “medically managed” * for it.

Others are not. 

In the er, some were going through psychosis, strapped to their beds with heartless security guards sitting nearby. The er that night was a mental health facility over run by those seeking shelter from a cold/foodless night on the outside. 

This city, NYC, treats homelessness as the black elephant in the room whom city officials would love to sweep in the sewer. 

I applaud all the healthcare workers there that night who did their rounds and interacted to the best of their abilities with the fragile mental humans in front of them. 

*my primary care physician’s words

Women on the verge…

For the past eight months, I have been fortunate to work at a part-time job with limited benefits. I say fortunate because of the lack of job availability or options. Thanks to a church member’s recommendation, I was able to secure the job.

Unemployment was an albatross for a long time. My earnings went from a high-five figured salary to zero, to another five-figure salary but this time way down the numeric line. Bookkeeper, Administrator, Special Ed teacher, are titles of the past garnered from a Master’s from a prestigious university and a Master of Science from a not so prestigious college. My current title is, “File Clerk”.

I now work as a file clerk in a homeless women’s’ shelter.

I now work as a file clerk in a mental health homeless women’s’ shelter.

I now work as a file clerk in a mental health homeless women’s’ shelter surrounded by housing projects in a not so desirable part of town.

The search for full-time work with a different title continues, as the part-time work brings in a steady source of income. Some money is definitely better than no money.

The shelter.

The women at the shelter are a mix of ages, races and multitudes of mental health diagnosis-from depression to psychotic. Clients (the women) have endured domestic violence, sexual abuse, incarceration, abandonment, etc., compounded by untreated mental illness. This combination has left many unable to function within society.

The shelter culture, as my director states, is reminiscent of high school cliques. Jocks, nerds, beauty queens, popular, class clowns, stoners are present in the cafeteria only on an adult female level. There are those with seniority (years at the shelter) who are matrons, sought of the welcome committee who console those newly admitted to the shelter.

Yes, a client is admitted, usually from a referring agency, no walk-ins. Once admitted, a bed and room are assigned. The shelter provides three full meals, shower facilities, laundry as well as toiletries. Free medical checkups, psychiatric services and counseling are also provided and a requirement towards securing housing. Check out from the rooms is 10:00am and check in/sign in begins at 5pm. Some clients spend the entire day sitting in the cafeteria, which, also functions as a recreation room. The clients engage in card games, music, conversations, socializing, fights, verbal and some physical, takes place on a daily basis.

The goal of the shelter is to place the clients in permanent shared or single dwelling housing within special housing facilities. The shelter is a stepping-stone for the clients. A place to pause, get back on track, take personal responsibility and gain understanding of their mental illness which leads to self-care.

I spend twenty-one hours a week in this shelter working amongst the clients who visit the clinic for medical, psychiatric and counseling appointments.  I listen to their plights, offer encouragement and direct them through proper channels to obtain services. Remaining distant and aloof is not an option. It is impossible not to care no matter how difficult a client is or can be.