Walk Down Misery Street

From this zone patients departed in different directions: some into the psych ED, others were reclaimed by the police, yet others were transferred into the detox or other departments of the hospital. My role was that of a so-called coordinator: with the doctors, I decided where and in what direction to send a “yellow gown.”

Not surprisingly, the “yellow gowns area” was rarely empty. Whether day or night, in summer heat or winter cold, there was always a “yellow gown” in the ED, and at any moment a volatile situation could erupt.

Actually, there were fewer “yellow gowns” admitted at the beginning of each month, when they were busy collecting welfare, SSI, SSD, veteran`s pension, and other government benefits. In these first few days of each month, the work in the ED passed by relatively calmly. However, in five days’ time, once all the money from their benefits had been blown on alcohol and drugs, and withdrawal symptoms were kicking in, the “yellow gowns” burst into the ED like a roaring stream. And on major holidays—New Year’s, Christmas, the 4th of July—“yellow gowns” flooded the ED department, trailed by cops, paramedics, and pissed off or scared relatives.

One of the superstitions of all ED employees is never to utter aloud, “Now it’s quiet here.” Even if two-thirds of the beds in the ED are empty and made with clean sheets, and it’s so quiet that you can hear a fly buzz, under no circumstances should you say, “Now it’s quiet here.” Out of ignorance, I broke this rule a few times, blurting out, “Now it’s quiet here,” and everyone hissed at me: “Be quiet! Why are you saying THAT?!”

This is because, like a tornado unexpectedly swooping in on a peaceful village, changing it beyond recognition, the “yellow gowns zone” transforms the ED. One moment it’s quiet and calm, and the next all the beds are taken; the clean white sheets are stained with blood and dirt; the air is poisoned with the stench of feces, vomit, and urine; the police and psych technicians are pacifying one agitated “yellow gown,” while doctors and nurses are administering life-saving medicine to another who has overdosed.