Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Cat Scratch

The hospital porter gestured through a fog of smoke to a pair of grubby-looking swinging doors and a sign that read CASUALTY. "What wrong?" he asked, waving his cigarette.

I showed him my right hand. "Kedi," I said, making a scratching motion with my left. He nodded and pointed at the doors.

The waiting room was so small it only had three chairs in it. A bored-looking 20-something woman sat in one, communing with her mobile phone. Next to her sat a middle-aged man in a shabby suit. The third was taken up by a stoop-shouldered elderly woman in a headscarf. In a corner of the room stood a very skinny old man who at first sight seemed to be clutching his crotch. I took a surreptitious look and decided he must be trying to hold up his trousers: he was so thin they were in danger of sliding right down his legs. The mobile-punching woman and I were the only ones in the room who didn't look ill.

Immediately after me, a woman came in with two young children. The kids were covered with blisters daubed with some sort of white ointment, and both of them were screaming their heads off. The woman looked the way you look when you've been taking care of sick, cranky kids for far too long. No sooner had she steered her shrieking kids into a corner than the door swung open again and a man on crutches hobbled through, followed by a woman, veiled from head to toe and carrying a tiny infant. I looked at the healthy young woman who was busy punching buttons on her mobile, but if she noticed the man on crutches or his encumbered wife, she never gave the slightest sign.

I looked at the tiny scratch on my hand. What was I doing here? Who got lockjaw nowadays anyway?

The elderly man who looked like he was clutching his crotch talked softly to the children, as though he was trying to stop them from screaming. They didn't pay him the least bit of mind.

A door whipped open and a harassed-looking doctor stuck his head out and barked something in Turkish. Two of the seated people got up and followed the doctor through the doors, their movements sluggish and pained. I expected the woman with the baby to sit down in one of the chairs, but she remained standing, scowling at everyone in the room, her baby sound asleep in her arms. She stayed there even after her husband hobbled out of the room.

Hardly a minute later, the swinging doors creaked open again and a man in a business suit came through. The doctor's door swung open again and the couple who had been sitting walked out. The doctor spotted the man in the business suit and fired a question at him. The businessman held out his hand. My eyes popped: his hand was the size of a boxing glove. It was swollen to twice the size of his other hand, his knuckles round and smooth as glass, the skin tight, dark red and shiny. The doctor poked and prodded it, all the time staring in fascination; we all did. I winced, half expecting it to burst open. The doctor said something to the man and he left, taking his fascinating hand with him.

The doctor disappeared through his door just as another man rushed through the swinging doors, holding his hand high over his head, his face drawn and white. He was dressed in a mechanic's jumpsuit, black with use, and his hand was wrapped in a dirty-looking blood-soaked bandage. The doctor poked his head out again and beckoned him through.

I now felt completely out of place. What in the world was I doing among all these people with genuine complaints? Should I even be here? With all these ill and injured people, I would be here for ages before anyone could see me! The fully cloaked and headkerchiefed woman stared at me sullenly through narrowed eyes. I fought the urge to bolt from the room.

The man with the bandaged hand came out of the treatment room, a clean white bandage on his hand. The doctor beckoned the two screaming children and their mother. After they left, the waiting room got a lot quieter. The girl with the mobile phone continued to sit, and the woman holding her baby continued to glare.

Half a minute later, the two children came back into the waiting room, still screaming, followed closely by their long-suffering mother. The doctor crooked his finger at the crotch-clutching man who disappeared into the treatment room with him.

The woman with the baby scowled a little more deeply and I stared back at her, trying to make my expression kind but firm. I have a right to be here too. I haven't had a tetanus shot since God-knows-when. And if I were the one sitting in that chair, I'd have gotten up the minute you came in!

The woman's face did not soften.

No sooner had the crotch-clutching man pushed through the swinging doors than another family came in, composed of a granny in a headscarf, a middle-aged laborer dad, comfortable-looking mother, and two sullen teenage kids. The doctor stuck his head through the treatment room door and noticed me for the first time. "And you?" he said in Turkish, frowning.

I sucked in my breath and showed him my scratch. Never mind that it had bled copiously earlier; never mind that it was deeper than it looked: my blushes were a lot deeper. I almost expected the doctor to burst out laughing, but he nodded and motioned for me to follow him.

The linoleum floor inside the treatment room was sticky and the examining table was spread with a stained sheet. I sat down on it and waited while the doctor rummaged around for a tetanus vaccine. Opposite me lay a young man on another examining table, his outstretched arm being tended by a nurse with a pair of tweezers. A mess of bloody dressings spilled out of a stainless steel basin placed nearby. I tried not to stare, but it was a compelling tableau: the man's face was turned away from the nurse, his eyes dull, utterly without expression.

"I'm so sorry," I babbled as the doctor rubbed my arm with alcohol. "The cat is usually very polite." He stared at me uncomprehendingly, and I could hardly blame him. "I didn't even want to come here," I went on, watching the doctor depress the plunger. "I mean, it's not really much of a scratch." The doctor frowned. He looked a lot like my students do when I'm not explaining things well: it was obvious he didn't understand a word.

On my way out, the family of five had been joined by a father and his teenage son. The woman with her baby was still standing; the girl was still bent over her mobile phone. They looked up at me and I felt my cat scratch shrink into a mere pinpoint.

I could hardly get out of there fast enough.



Kristopher and Crew said...

What a GREAT story! ha! I still remember hitting up the emergency room with a pile of cuts from falling into some razor wire. That Tetanus shot hurt so much more than those cuts on my arms.

Angela said...

I bet that was the longest waiting room time in your entire life!

Vijaya said...

Oh, man, I'd be deeply embarrassed too. Maybe this is why I instinctively try to minimize going to the Dr.

And in my head, I'm playing Cat Scratch Fever ... hear the riff, Mary?

adrienne said...

Better safe(or embarrassed?)than sorry. Too bad about the uncomfortable wait.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Vijaya is right, cat scratches can inflict serious infections. I have needed to get antibiotics when I have been a bit too vigorous roughhousing with the kitty. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The ER scene you described could be found in any city in the world. Bacteria and nasty bugs know no boarders. It was wise for you to get your hand treated.

Miss Footloose said...

You still had to be there! But I know how your felt, and it's a great story. I really could see it and feel it.

Once in Ghana I had broken my leg in three places and the doc in the hospital emergency room had to leave me because a kid near death was brought in. The parents had thought it was "only" malaria, but it was meningitis and the doc was so upset, yelling that everybody always thinks everything was malaria and now the kid was probably going to die and he had to leave me with my broken leg to tend to him.

I quit feeling sorry for myself instantly because well, I only had a broken leg and wasn't going to die.

I guess I should write that up as a story for a post . . . ;)

kara said...

was there at least some soothing elevator musak playing? that would've calmed everyone.

Kim Ayres said...

Ah, but if you'd left early, we'd never have had this wonderful story from you, Mary :)

Falak said...

Yeah cat scratches can get infectious.... So you did the right thing by going to the doc no matter how inconsequential your wound is compared to others..... By the way did you figure out what the girl with the mobile phone in hand had come for??????? Just curious!

Mary Witzl said...

Kristopher & Crew -- Thank you for visiting and commenting!

Falling into razor wire sounds a whole lot more painful to me than getting a tetanus shot, though I hope I never have to find out which hurts more. Maybe the guy getting his hand seen to in the treatment room fell onto some razor wire. Or maybe he had a close encounter with a cactus.

Angela -- Actually, it wasn't. I once spent three hours in a hospital waiting room in Tokyo with a kid suffering from German measles who had a 104 degree temperature and a bad case of crankiness. I swear, those three hours felt like three days.

Vijaya -- I will do ANYTHING to get out of going to the doctor. But my mother used to give graphic descriptions of an uncle who got lockjaw. That's what made me grit my teeth and go.

Cat scratch fever? I feel so ignorant: I probably know it, but not by name!

Adrienne -- That's what I kept telling myself. Over and over and over.

Robert -- The cat who scratched me is boisterous and apt to get a little too excited. It was my fault: I didn't pull my hand away fast enough and he wanted me to pet a different spot. But I have had cat scratches turn bad before, so I didn't want to take any chances. I don't want to miss a single minute of my exciting English classes!

Miss Footloose -- You HAVE to write that up! I have a feeling that if you and I met, we could keep talking for a whole day about our experiences in various countries and still be going strong. A leg fractured in three places and a little boy with meningitis trump a cat scratch and a couple of messed up hands any day!

My husband had malaria in Africa and the consensus of most people there was that it was more of a nuisance everybody expected to get than a huge health problem. Did you ever find out if the little boy survived? Poor kid!

Kara -- The only soothing music playing was the whine of some construction workers' Arabesque outside competing with the screams of the two spotty kids. Both were pretty bad and not relaxing at all.

Kim -- Not sure how wonderful it was, but I had fun writing about it! I always have fun writing about stuff, so it's nice when people tell me they like reading it, true or not.

Falak -- I never did find out what she was doing there, and I was dying to know. I'm guessing that she was with the man getting his hand treated opposite me. I was pretty curious about him too.

Charles Gramlich said...

I suppose that experience would bring a few thoughts home to one. Your hand needed tending though. And if left untended you could have had a serious problem. Perhaps the guy with the swollen hand started with something that could have been easily dealt with at first but he let it get out of hand (so to speak)

Bish Denham said...

What a story. How horrifying to "see" the conditions in that clinic, to feel your embarrassment. You were brave on several levels. I don't know if I could have done it.

Mary Witzl said...

Charles -- That is a good point (and a funny one too!). It is entirely possible that the man with the swollen hand spotted his favorite stray tomcat on his way to work and decided to stop and have a chat and play session. And I wouldn't have wanted my hand to look like that man's... though come to think of it, it would have been an interesting talking point in class.

Bish -- Now I'm really embarrassed: you absolutely could have done it! The worst part about going in there with a tiny cat scratch was seeing how much better I had it than most of the others. I was better dressed (and my favorite boutique is Goodwill); I had better dental hygiene, better nutrition, and (probably) better education (I knew to get a tetanus shot for a cat scratch). And everyone else there LOOKED more miserable. But the medical care I got was just fine.

laura said...

I'm so not a good sport about hospital stories and yours almost had me putting my head between my knees!
Deep cat scratches are not to be messed with! You could have ended up like the guy with the gross hand. My son had cat scratch disease but until they figured out what it was (there is no test, just process of elimination) he had to be tested for lymphoma. That was one of the scariest things I've ever gone through.

Helen said...

Aah Mary - you had me sniggering (I was embarassed for you) and snorting in horror. A veritable mess of animal noises - thankyou very much. I HAVE to know what was wrong with that man's hand! I can picture it puffed up like an over-ripe watermelon!! Could you please continue to have accidents (just small ones) so that you can keep visiting the emergency clinic, and keep writing about it. That would be very decent of you.....

Charlie said...

Not quite like the American hospital I've "visited." Triage is done fairly quickly upon walking (or crawling) in, and then you wait for 94 hours to see a doctor--who may or may not speak Turkish.

debra said...

The imagery of the less than immaculate emergency room is perfect, Mary. And the others are right, cat scratches can be extremely dangerous.
So glad it all worked out :-)

Mary Witzl said...

Laura -- I had a friend who had cat scratch disease once. I know it's easier to get from kittens than cats, and especially kittens with fleas. But in the long run, I'd rather take the risk of cat scratch disease to living without cats, but you are right: NOTHING could be as scary as waiting to hear whether your child has lymphoma. I'm so glad your son was okay!

Helen -- If you're good enough to come and read the bits of trivia I keep posting here, I'll be more than happy to write them.

As for that man's hand, I was desperate to know how that had happened to him. What could he have touched that might have made his hand do that? I'm guessing a spider or a wasp.

Charlie -- I've got to say that given how many truly deserving people were inn the waiting room, I got seen very quickly. I've spent whole days in Japanese and American emergency rooms, and an unpleasant hour in a Mexican emergency room once. And can you imagine an American doctor serving as his own receptionist? That was the most amazing thing.

Debra -- I'm glad so many people have reassured me about cat scratches: I felt like such an idiot getting seen for something so trifling.

The emergency room wasn't spotlessly white, but the good thing was that the needle was clean. That was VERY reassuring.

Kappa no He said...

It reminded me of that scene in Beetle Juice, when he's in the waiting room. What a hodge podge of people. Bet you were glad to get home.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

Hello Mary, just stopping by to thank your for your support at Verla Kay. It's a spotted turtle with an antennae. Doing some field work with species at risk in Ontario. I do love frogs too!

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