Friday, August 6, 2010

ER, Readers and Expectations.


Three hours of waiting. The X-ray’s we’re taken two and a half hours ago and Mom and I have waited for two ice packs and a tetanus shot ever since.

The nurses shoved us into a nearly dead hallway, one turn away from the rest of the sundry medical conditions waiting for attention in the ER. They forgot about us and our near silent and sickly smelling hallway.

When we finally get attention from a Russian (accent!) male nurse (who was probably a doctor in his home country but lacks the proper certification in Canada) who says he’ll be right with us, leaves then doesn’t return for another hour or so.

He stands before us in dark blue scrubs, smacking gum around his words, “An ice pack for your elbow and one for...somewhere else.”

Mom grabs a bag of offered ice for her frozen (at a 45 degree angle) arm. “Yeah it’s for my-”

“Foot, it’s for her foot.” I finish. Mom’s in pain and speaking too slow. (Never said I was patient)

He nods, smacking his gum with annoying consistency, bends at the waist and throws the ice pack on Moms swollen and bruised foot.

She jumps six inches in her chair, hissing in pain.

I scowl and go to open my mouth but Male Nurse flicks a cover off the needle asking, “Right or left arm?”

Mom answers, “Doesn’t matter.”

The next instant a needle is jammed into her arm. A second later Male Nurse rips the needle from her arm, flicks the protective cover over the tip and tosses the used needle.

Wide-eyed I watch as a bubble of blood gathers on Mom’s upper arm. I look between the, now dripping, red and Male Nurse who is walking down the hall, confident swagger and all.

I do the only thing that makes sense. I laugh.

Mom joins and we bond over the ridiculousness of his bedside manner, knowing exactly why he’ll probably never be certified as a doctor in Canada – we have standards.

I have expectations as a patient (or bystander, in this case) ones which, no matter who it is, I expect to be fulfilled. He broke them.  

Readers have expectations of Writers too. They don’t like being ignored. They don’t want things dropped on them or jammed into their bloodstream – be it morals, ideologies, characterization or plot details (it’s called subtlety people!).

They want care, to feel important and a gentle hand to guide them through the process. They may be in for a fatal diagnosis, for a broken bone that will take months to heal, an inability to breathe, heart problems or even a false alarm – really, whatever your story calls for. However, no matter why they are their or what’s in store, you need to do your job: to walk the thin line between being straightforward and subtle, to give some warning (foreshadowing!), and to be gentle while you deliver your worst.

To clarify, all I mean by gentle is write well, don’t just bludgeon your reader or use cheap tricks to force a reaction - it probably won’t be the one you want anyway.

Who knows, they might just laugh at you.

Word Of The Day: Abeyant - latent.

Sorry, if I've missed visiting you this week. I started bartending school Tuesday and it's really demanding! If any of you are going to the bar/pub/club/restaurant (and you order drinks) this weekend, please, for all that is good in this world, don't forget to tip! A lot of work goes into learning how to bartend properly, remembering all the recipes (HUNDREDS!) and being efficient. That being said, if they are jerks for whatever reason...then don't, obviously.

I'm just saying.


  1. Great advice! I could use more subtlety in my writing. :)

  2. This was hilarious! You almost lost me at the needle description (I do hate needles... a lot) however you had me laughing about this mans bedside manner!!!

    I love how you pertained this to writing... brilliant and insightful as always :)

  3. your ability to laugh at that situation is laudable. Your ability to take it a step further and apply it to your writing is divine!

    OK, that was terrible, but I had to. Nice post and a good reminder. :o)

  4. I adore how you put daily life into these beautifully written prose like they just came out of a book. Envy! Awesome advice and something a lot of people deal with and need to take into concideration. I think I spelled that wrong but whatever.
    I had a nurse just like that after knee surgery. Horrid!

  5. what a jerk! he's a shame to all men with accents and scrubs- they are supposed to be irresistable!

    i loved how you related it to writing! i've been hearing alot about people wanting fast writing, bare minimum description, superspeed pace, etc. it's WONDERFUL to read a post about taking the time to lead the reader. Smooth out the writing- not stab, jab, and grab them!

    thanks for the great reminder!!

  6. Hello!! Thanks so much for stopping by my blog. Your comment was really great.

    I am sorry for the way your mother was treated that was not right at all.

    Great advice by the way, love your blog.

  7. Klutzy nurses and klutzy writing! Good analogy.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog:) I love your blog title. I called a post I wrote in May about the publishing industry, Down The Rabbit Hole. Alice so fits the Mysterious World of Publishing.

    Good luck with your bartending! And hope Mom feels better.

  8. Awesome post, Melissa! I'm sorry about your poor mom, though. Yikes! That nurse should get his license revoked.

    Good luck at bartending school!

  9. That is a great analogy for writing. What an ER experience. Blech!

  10. Ah, the emergency room. I don't think anyone has any good stories from those places.

    I love the way that you twisted your experience into awesome writing advice.

    I hope your mother is feeling better! Great post!

  11. I hate needles as well.

    Great tip, thx.

  12. Um, really don't like Male Nurse. Glad he's in Canada, far from my local ER! ;-)

    My brother bartended his way through college. I could never believe all the cool drinks he could make and knew the ingredients of. He did have killer parties - always entertaining with his drinks! Have FUN with it! Although I'm sure that's a bit hard when you are trying to memorize so many drinks.

  13. wow!!! What a retarded russian haha. I can see that playing out... you just starting to laugh. But really? that guy should not be let near any patients! Anyways, I completely agree with you. Also I really miss you! That is all.

  14. That's great advice.
    Well told too :)
    Thanks for that.

    Thanks also for the advice you left on my blog today :) I really appreciate it.

    Good luck with the bar tending! I've always wanted to give that a go.

  15. I absolutely LOVE that you laughed!!!!! What was his reaction to that? What a big oaf!

  16. Yowza!!! Sorry about your mom. =D

  17. I love how writing advice can come from anywhere...even male nurses with bad bedside manner!

  18. ...found the lighter side of an awkward situation.

    You're speaking my language:)
    Well done, Melissa!

  19. First, I'm sorry to hear about our mom. I hope she is feeling much better now.

    Russian male nurse-Ratchet needs to have a needle jammed...somewhere unmentionable.

    Isn't it awesome how we can turn any situation into a writing lesson/analogy?


  20. Just stopping by to say hello!!!!!! Have fun in HP land!!

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