I remained in the waiting room after Daniel left, waiting for him to return from getting his x-ray, desiring to hear the end of the story of what happened after his pants got caught in the fence at the zoo and he hung upside down over the lion’s cage. I had a picture in my mind of an image that I hadn’t seen since late night bull sessions in the dorm at college: the tarot card of the Hanged Man.
In this image, a man dangles upside down by one foot. He is said to be Odin, the Norse god who hung from the world tree for nine days to earn wisdom. His face is glowing, indicative, perhaps of the understanding that he has gained by this stunt.
How could hanging upside down give anyone wisdom? Well, when you’re in an unusual position, or out of your usual element, you cannot help but look at things differently, in this case through new, upside-down eyes and can see more clearly the very things that commonly fade into the background. Secondly, you are relinquishing control. When you’re hanging, you’re suspended and cannot act in any way.
The psych emergency department (Psych ED) works in the same way. When people come to the Psych ED, they are in crisis and often suicidal or homicidal. We take away their clothes, give them hospital gowns, lock them up, and make them wait. They wait and wait and wait. Yes, someone like me eventually talks with them, but mostly they wait. Sometimes, if we are not getting anywhere with them by talking or if they are making unceasing, unreasonable demands, we purposefully make them cool their heels longer than they need to. We’re not really punishing them, although it looks that way; we call it waiting room therapy.
Waiting room therapy works. I never scientifically studied it, but I believe it works better than medications and talk therapy if you have to know. The vast majority of people who come to the Psych ED, suicidal and homicidal and out of their minds when they come in, are released safely a few hours later, feeling more confident and purposeful. Most of them got little else but waiting room therapy.
I went out on a date once with a woman I found in a personal ad, back in the days when I cared to do such things. When she found out what I did for a living, she told me about all her visits to another hospital’s Psych ED. “All I did was wait for hours in those silly hospital gowns that don’t even cover you all the way. I got to thinking, `is this what I want to do with my time?’ I never went back.”
She never went out me a second time, either, having experienced enough of my kind already.
I was occupied with these musings, sitting in the waiting room of the Medical ED, waiting for Daniel to return, when a nurse, having noticed that I was still there, said to me, “Are you waiting for someone to look at the burn on your neck? You’ll have to check in first.”
I startled, said I was fine and remembered that just a little while ago I was also hanging, briefly, before the ceiling gave way and foiled my suicide attempt. I booked, thinking they would eventually put two and two together and admit me to my own hospital.
- Waiting versus Idleness (ribbonfarm.com)
- Emergency room wait-time problem continues to fester (nationalpost.com)
- Daniel, Part I: Testing (thenarrativeimperative.com)
- Daniel, part II: Jah’s Stories (thenarrativeimperative.com)