Good Evening Mister Torrance

I haven’t been able to sleep for a week. I can’t stop dwelling about my failed relationship and losing Autumn.

Every night as I tried to sleep a sharp pain in my chest kept me wide awake. Didn’t matter if I turned on my side, lay flat on my back, or rolled over on my stomach. I could not get comfortable. It felt like a corroded railroad spike had pierced me below my heart and was sticking out behind my left shoulder blade. Dwelling on it seemed to make it hurt more. I flopped around like a fish out of water trying to sleep. As days began to pass without any solid rest things at work became more and more difficult. I was unable to focus on what I was doing at any given moment. That’s one of the things that adversely affects me faster than anything else. Lack of sleep. Really fucks me up. On the job my chest discomfort nagged at me but it wasn’t as fierce during the day.

Around two in the morning last night the stabbing pain seemed to worsen significantly and I started to worry something was up, like I was heading for a heart attack. Since I couldn’t crash out and I felt insomniac crazy I decided to fire up the computer and research medical websites for symptoms I was experiencing. Sitting in my office I read page after page of online self-help medical advice. Everything seemed to indicate something was really wrong- which of course made me much more anxious. Thinking about my options I decided to call my insurance company to find out how much a hospital emergency room visit might cost me. It surely would be better to go to the hospital and have them tell me I got a life-threatening condition brewing and catch it before it’s too late. Or they could inform me I’m fine. Either way I’d be better off knowing for sure instead of lying around the house still wondering and worrying about what the hell is going on with my insides.

Last November my HMO went bankrupt. I’d been with them for over a decade. That particular HMO was a good deal. I had premium medical coverage anywhere I went for a reasonable monthly deduction. Eventually I took the HMO for granted. When they financially spun out of control and shut down I wasn’t paying too much attention at the time. So I didn’t make another insurance election choice before a few months passed with a deadline. Bill and Dave’s company chose for me. They put me on a system I’d never heard of before with an unknown medical insurance provider. This was my first time dealing with them as a new customer of their service. When I called I burned twenty minutes navigating my way through a rat maze of useless phone menu choices and canned pre-recorded messages. By the time I finally got to speak with a living person I was fairly irritated. Explaining my situation to a complete stranger over the phone made me feel kind of stupid, but what I really wanted to know was how much loot a hospital visit would set me back.

The insurance company employee did not give me a straight answer. My co-pay is fifty bucks. I wanted to go to a good hospital that is less than a couple miles away from where I live. The insurance minion wanted me to go to a clinic I never heard of located one town away, miles further because it was “in network.” I opted against the late night clinic adventure. It sounded bad. I put on some clothes and drove to the local hospital.

When I got to the emergency room lobby not a soul was there. Behind a stylish counter you’d expect to see at your bank a fat blond haired woman wearing a light green jumpsuit and white coat handed me a stack of paperwork to fill out. I scribbled personal information across each page and then was whisked away down a long corridor leading to wide open rooms with dark green curtains. The curtains were on rails in the middle of each room splitting them in two. I was told to take off all my clothes and put on a ridiculous robe made of thin cloth. No sooner had I put on the robe when a small army of hospital staff placed me in a reclining chair, hooked me up to an I.V., pasted white discs all over my chest, and clipped a plastic spring-loaded sensor on my finger. A machine directly behind me and above my head beeped with each beat of my heart. I had little clear plastic hoses under my nose feeding me cool air. If I was feeling stupid before, now I really felt dumb. Nurses fled away from my side of the room. Nurses failed to return. I sat alone for a long time wondering what may happen next.

Chest pain stabbed through me towards my back.

Across from me an old man with a crater-marked bright red nose as big as a golf ball and a head covered in silver white hair lay in a similar reclining chair. The curtains blocking off each side of the hospital room were drawn back so I could see him. He was passed out cold breathing steadily, fully dressed in his street clothes. Beyond him through an open doorway on the far wall, high pitched female voices chit-chatted away. Their conversation was inane. I could clearly hear one woman rambling on and on about her household interior redecoration project, her living room curtains and kitchen redesign. Pages were being flipped in a magazine. Those nurses were completely absorbed in their mundane banter as if it was more important than their own lives.

The old man lying on the other side of my hospital room twitched. I watched him from the corner of my eye. Unconscious, he manged to flick a sensor off his left hand with two fingers. Medical gear began to sound an alarm which shortly thereafter produced an annoyed nurse. Walking next to old guy she picked up the sensor and shoved it with rough force onto a fingertip, then left quickly in a huff. This was interrupting her all-important kitchen cabinet discussion after all. A minute later my geriatric room mate repeated his crime. Without opening his eyes once he ditched the sensor. It dangled from a cord a few inches off the floor, swinging gently next to his chair’s metal frame. Again the nurse came into my emergency room but this time she was visibly angry. She shoved that sensor assembly back into place and with a chiding tone to her voice she told the passed-out man not to remove his heart rate sensor again. He didn’t hear a word she said.

A tall man wearing a bone white coat came out of nowhere and stood next to the red-nosed old guy. He raised his voice enough to practically shout in his ear saying, “Hi Mister Torrance! What seems to be the trouble tonight!”

Fidgety, the old man squirmed a little. His eyes opened and he cocked his head towards the doctor. Mister Torrance appeared to be trying to say something but it wasn’t coming out. His face turned red as he mustered up enough strength to control his body. He yelled, “mmmmmMMMMMmmM uuuuuuUUUNNNNNKKKK!”

Without missing a beat the doctor yelled back at him. “What was that mister Torrance? I didn’t quite hear what you said!”

“MMMMMMMMHHHHhhhh UUUUUUunnnnk!” As mister Torrance shouted unrecognizable words from his lips he allowed himself to slouch further into his chair’s cushions. Whatever it was he wanted the doctor to know he sure put some effort into it. Then he had to lie back and rest like he had just forced a coke bottle out of his ass. I was entirely fascinated by the scene. I propped myself up a little to my right so I could see better.

The old man’s last name made me think of Jack Nicholson’s character, Mr. Torrance in “The Shining.” I remembered a scene in the film. Mr. Torrance sat at the saloon of a vacant mountain resort having a conversation with an imaginary barkeep who poured him round after round of stiff drinks. As Mr. Torrance got up to pay his bill, the barman calmly said to him “Your money is no good here, Mr. Torrance.” With a smile he puts a few crumpled bills back in his pocket and leaves…

Neither the doctor or I could figure out what mister Torrance was saying. Again and again he shouted out the same two mangled words as if his mouth was filled with marbles and somebody had punched him in the face so hard that he had a fat lip. But, as I listened I thought it was starting to make a sliver of sense. The first part, he was maybe trying to say “I’m” or “I am.” The second word still wasn’t coherent enough yet to make any translation.


I got it before the doctor did. Mister Torrance was trying to tell the whole hospital he was drunk. “I’m Drunk” is what he wanted us to know. Man, to be that far gone he really must be a booze hound. I imagined he must have been hammered on rotgut liquor walking around loose in the middle of the night downtown and passed out cold in a busy street. Somebody must have found him and called an ambulance. That’s how he showed up here tonight I bet.

Hours passed. A technician wheeled in a mobile contraption and zapped my chest while I wore a heavy vinyl shield across my stomach and legs. Must have been an x-ray machine. I didn’t know how long ago I checked myself in to the emergency room because there weren’t any clocks. Guessing that dawn was upon me I told myself I would not be going in to work today if I was lucky enough to get out of here without any surgery or terminal illness.

While I waited for something to happen mister Torrance passed out again. The bum. Eventually a doctor wearing one of those green jumpsuits came in and pulled up a chair next to me. He had a big gray handlebar mustache that made him look like a wild west cowboy. The doctor flipped through pages stuck on a clipboard and asked me how I was feeling. I told him about the chest pains and that I had lost sleep for a week. Curious, he asked me if anything in particular was bothering me, or if there was something that recently changed at home. I told him about my breakup with Autumn and that I was very unhappy about it.

He asked, “Do you smoke?”

“Nah, I got bad lungs. Asthma. So I don’t smoke anything” I said.

The doctor seemed pleased. “That’s good you don’t smoke. Did you take any medication earlier this evening?”

“Yeah. I took some Ibuprofen.”

“You couldn’t have done anything better for yourself. Ibuprofen will really help out. Okay, so we took x-rays of your lungs and they are clear of blockages. Everything around your heart looks good. Blood tests came up clean, no problems there. Your heart rate is a little higher than normal, but it’s nothing serious. What I think you’re experiencing is extreme anxiety. Go home, and take it easy. Go ahead and use some more Ibuprofen every few hours and if the chest pains become worse all of a sudden by all means come back.”

“So there’s nothing serious like a clogged artery or a tumor or something?”

The doctor said, “Nope. Everything seems fine.”

I got dressed and split.


~ by factorypeasant on May 21, 2008.

3 Responses to “Good Evening Mister Torrance”

  1. most times i have been in a ER i was stuck between a drunk old man and a sick baby. Wonder if its the same old man in every hospital?


  2. This was an excellent read. Really enjoyed going to the emergency room with you. Funny how different yours looked from the ones on tv.

  3. Wad that was a strange night to say the least.

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