I am dancing to Nirvana with my hands full of soap suds. A deal has been brokered. I will wash the weeks worth of dishes piled up in the sink and Chelfa will cook dinner. It works for me, he’s a better cook anyway. The smell of chicken simmering in thick vegetable sauce fills up the house as I bang my head to the music, up to my elbows in the nastiness. “As an old memoriiiiiiiiia, memoriiiiiiiiiiiiiia, memoriiiiiiiiiiiiiia.” I swing my hair around in circles.
Chefla is cracking up. “Qué significa esta canción?” he asks me. “What does this song mean?”
I laugh. “It’s Nirvana. I never know what the hell they are talking about.”
I make it to the bottom of the sink. All that’s left is silverware and glasses that have been sitting under a pile of pots and plates for a week. I pick up a glass and slip my hand into it to get to the bottom. Suddenly the glass breaks with my hand inside, and the broken edge neatly slices out nice chunk of my pinky. I yelp and launch into a string of curse words and expletives in two different languages. Chefla, surprised, yelps too “¡Chucha! ¡¿Qué pasó Abril?!” I wave my bloody hand as a response. After examining it for a moment, he tells me that he needs to stop the bleeding and to wait a moment. I’m too distracted to notice what he has in his hand when he returns. Before I can stop him, he has squeezed half of a lime directly into my flap of flesh and mashed it in with his thumb. A new and more colorful string of expletives are thrown in his direction. Once the searing pain from the lime juice passes, I examine my injures and decide I should go to the hospital to see if I need stitches.
Since dinner is on the stove and I’m still pissed about the surprise lime juice attack, I tell Chelfa to finish dinner while I go to the hospital by myself. Like everything in town, it’s a five minutes away, so I wrap my hand up in toilet paper and start walking. I pass a friend along the way. “¿A dónde vas, negra?” he calls out. I show him my blood soaked mummy hand. ”The hospital again?! What did you do this time?”
It’s true, I had been in the hospital only 2 months ago with a hunk of seashell embedded in my foot, and then 3 months before that in a Guayaquil hospital, and then 4 months before that when I gave myself a 2nd degree burn from dangling my leg carelessly close to a motorcycle exhaust. In the year before I came to Ecuador, I had destroyed my wrist trying to skateboard down a hill that I was nowhere near skilled enough to skate, and fractured my foot falling off my roof while trying to crawl into a second story window on a rainy icy night. I had locked myself out of my apartment and it seemed like a good idea at the time. I seem to be a bit accident-prone.
I tell my friend about the glass in the sink under the pots and pans, Nirvana, and lime juice torture techniques. He shakes his head at me, but defends Chefla’s use of the lime juice. “That’s so dumb, there is no way that actually works,” I snap back.
“Well is your hand bleeding now?” he retorts. I peak under the wrappings, and am surprised that it isn’t.
“Hmph, well I’ve been putting pressure on it this whole time,” I say over my shoulder as I walk away.
He chuckles. “¡Chica necia!” he calls after me.
In moments, I’m at the emergency room. It is literally a room, and not a big room at that. There is a small desk by the wall when you walk in, two stretchers against the two other walls, one examining table with the foam padding falling apart against the other, and several chairs scattered about. There are no curtains, no partitions, no privacy. I’ve been here before, so I know the deal. I look around until I find someone wearing scrubs and get their attention. Depending on what you believe, either the lime juice or the pressure I put on it had done such a good job of stopping the bleeding that at first the nurse doesn’t think it needs stitches, but after peeling it open to see how deep in it goes, she changes her mind.
As I wait my turn, I sit in a chair next to the dilapidated examining table where an 11-year-old girl is screaming. I watch as her mother, aunt, and a nurse hold her down while the doctor cleans out a huge burn on covering half her stomach. Kids scream all the time and usually I just want to slap them, but there is something uniquely gut wrenching about the sound of a kid screaming in pain. Adults don’t really scream. We learn to stifle it. Maybe it’s because we have enough experience to know the pain will pass, or to know how to deal with it. Or maybe it’s not that different and our brains are just wired to be extra effected by kids. Whatever the reason, I found myself grimacing and almost tearing up listening to this little girl begging her mother to make it stop.
After a few moments the girl is still teary eyed but fine, and the doctor gestures me to the table. There is a puddle of fluid on it from when they were cleaning the girl’s burn, and a nurse wipes it off with a rag. I look at the area where the vinyl is ripped away and think of all the bacteria that has soaked into the exposed foam. I sit down anyway and am just glad that I’m wearing long pants. The doctor puts 3 stitches in my picky, gives me 2 days worth of painkillers, writes the name of an antibiotic on a scrap of paper, and sends me on my way. No co-pay, no prescription needed (unless you count the scrap of paper), and not a penny poorer. It may be a very basic hospital with no privacy and questionable hygienic control, but the doctors are professional and well-trained, I only waited 20 minutes, and wasn’t charged one cent for my care.
When I get back home, the Seco de Pollo is done, and Chelfa hands me a big plate with the sauce soaking into the rice. The slashed finger and the lime juice attack are forgotten and Nirvana is still playing on my laptop. Oh well, whatever, nevermiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiind!
Original published October 14, 2011 on tumblr as “Sala de Urgencias”.