My E.R. Hangout by
(33 Stories)

Prompted By The ER

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Doctors and patients: the body politic.

Recently I have been hustled to the E.R. so often, that if I could earn frequent travel miles, I could fly my family round trip from Minnesota to Los Angeles or Boston.

My trips to the E.R. have involved serious medical problems such as a possible amputation, paralysis, impaired movement, etc. etc.  Obviously, I initially focused on my pain, my path to rehabilitation.

But I was more preoccupied in observing my environment.  During my teaching career, I often taught family history.  I applied this pedagogy by interviewing the nurses and doctors a la mode d’

“What is the origin of your surname and given name?”

What is your national and ethnic heritage?

What is the oldest information you know about your family.

What were your family’s occupations and achievements?

What is your educational background?

Why did you enter the medical field?”

The answers often led to a full discussion.  For instance, one of my female doctors looked Korean but had a German surname.  Gradually, I learned that she was adopted. But I knew she was hesitant to tell me until I explained that I had taken several adoptees back to Korea to search for their biological mothers.

The medical staff had a variety of foreign backgrounds. There was a steady flow of African-American nurses that would come into my room. I learned from the Liberian nurses that Fargo-Moorhead had the largest community of Liberians in Minnesota. The Taste of Africa restaurant was the center of this community. From these encounters I heard many stories of immigrant experiences regarding housing, jobs, education and relationships.

Liberian Restaurant in Fargo-Moorhead

My emergency room neurologist, a Cairene trained M.D. followed up on my hospital care. We exchanged stories about Egypt, Arab Literature, family, and medical school. He smiled broadly when he learned I was familiar with his mother’s favorite female Arab writer.

I asked him for advice on what edition of the Quran to buy.  I was upset with the hospital meditation family room only having a Bible. Minnesota’s Muslim population is impressively large.  I wanted to buy a Quran to provide comfort to Muslim patients and family. A few weeks later, after I returned home to recuperate, I received his gift of a formally bound modern Quran. The hospital librarian was hesitant to accept on grounds that it might be unacceptable to some of the patients.  She had no documentation for this.  (The hospital did provide access to FOX news in patient’s rooms.)

During the Covid’s recommended vaccinations, I did ask my nurses if they had been vaccinated.  Most replied with just one word “yes.”  Others said they would not discuss it.  A few said “no.”  When I asked why, they explained it was for religious reasons.  One physical therapist assured me that children do not become infected.

For me, the E.R. and hospital stays were a research opportunity which often resulted in friendships and even repeated visits from nurses during their breaks. Between medications, examinations, x-rays, and discussions of insurance issues, I looked forward to my E.R stays.

Profile photo of Richard C. Kagan Richard C. Kagan

Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Thanx Richard for your very different take on the ER! You indeed made your ER visits into positive and educational experiences.

    I think you’d enjoy a story I wrote for another prompt about my experience as an outpatient.

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    It must have been nice for many of your interviewees to take a true interest in them as people and the experiences that brought them to be working in the ER. Medical personnel are often very diverse and misunderstood. It probably made your ordeals better too. Nothing like a human connection to help everyone heal. Was that your arm? Ouch! Hope you are doing better.

    • Khati:
      technically I had a compartment syndrome. My bone was almost visible. The forearm was split


      I had a compartment syndrome with a loss of blood flowing from a split forearm. At the ER, with a minion of Drs. and nurses, one Dr. argued that my use of zeralto, a blood thinner, threatened me with an excessive loss of blood.
      He advise amputation. The Dr. who won the argument, kept my arm in tact.
      The photograph is about a month old. In the original you could barely see the bone.

      one Dr.

  3. I admire how you brought your inquisitive spirit and pedagogical experience into the ER with you. I am sorry you have had so many challenges that bring you there, but you have clearly re-framed the experience to make it one of productivity and meaningful social/scholarly interaction (instead of simply feeling as a dependent person with some kind of pathology.) I believe this way of re-framing the experience is not only interesting; I think it leads to better healing.
    P.S. I also appreciate that I have learned a new adjective, “Cairene.”

    I can’t resist telling a hospital story–not about the ER but for a planned surgery due to a fracture in my hand after a bike accident in 1992. I was new in town, completely unknown, and a grad student without any social capital or important connections in central Illinois. How, I wondered, would I give these people the impression that I was the kind of patient whose treatment they’d better not mess up? When they asked me my occupation, I was all ready with my prefabricated lie: “I’m an investigative reporter.”

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    We have shared some information about your need for ER visits, Richard, but what you’ve done once at the hospital was most instructive. I’m sure people benefitted by having a Quran in the chapel. I always find disinformation among nurses (children can’t get COVID) to be appalling, but there it is. Very sad. Thank you for this informative narrative.

  5. pattyv says:

    Rich, you amaze me. In spite of all your many infirmities, you stay so positive and inquisitive. Your perpetual thirst for knowledge is evident in every story. You seem to have a deep connection to everyone and everything around you. No wonder you’re a favorite patient. Also love how you purchased the Quran, and gave that librarian something to think about. You’re a gem.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    So sorry for having to have so many visits to the ER and hospital recently. That said, you have an amazing ability to connect with people and discover their stories. I’m sure these overworked, overlooked people greatly appreciated your interest.

  7. Dave Ventre says:

    Buying the Quran for the library was a boss move! I like how they tried to heckler’s veto the gift.

    FOX in the hospital? They must enjoy treating dementia.

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