Sorry to have neglected posting to The Fickle Finger for a while: I’ve been overwhelmed trying to get our home ready to put on the market – Susan and I are trying to downsize. I also just got back from a great conference: the California ACEP Scientific Assembly in Monterey. At this conference I had the opportunity and privilege to present California ACEP’s highest award, the Walter T. Edwards Award, to a good friend and colleague, Dr. William Mallon. Billy is an outstanding educator, world-renowned emergency physician, past-president of the ACEP chapter, and an outlandish character.
Just prior to the awards presentations, Billy and I traded LAC-USC internship war stories over drinks. Billy has said more than once that emergency physicians have the best war stories, and his are the best of the best. Dr. Mallon has the gift of gab, and seeing as he is pure blooded Irish, this would best be described as being full of blarney. The several anecdotes we traded back and forth generally lasted about two minutes each, and started something like this: “Back in ’76, they used to bypass the ED and take you straight up to the jail ward on the 13th floor if you came through the door in handcuffs, even if you had been impaled by a telephone pole, and on the first day of my rotation…….”.
ER war stories have a certain flair. They often remind me of a performance I once saw at the Shakespeare Festival up at North Lake Tahoe: an entire play contracted into two minutes of rapid fire dialogue, whirling dervish-like prancing across the stage, flashing swords, the entire range of emotional expositions and dire consequences, with three-page soliloquies espoused in a single facial expression, and then played out again – end to beginning – with that herky-jerky pantomime and incomprehensible yet recognizable speech we have all become so used to seeing when we thumb the fast-reverse button on the DVR remote – the skewered swordsman is magically resuscitated and re-animated! – and all of this LIVE, on stage.
ER war stories are a lot like the great Bard’s best works: every human foible, every foolish gamble, every catastrophe imaginable, costumes and characters as outlandish as they come, and some of the best one-liners ever overheard, all played out on the world’s most unpredictable (and expensive) stage. Old Willie would have loved ‘ER’. If you ever have a chance to sit over drinks or dinner with an emergency physician, ask him or her to relate some of their favorite war stories. Watch their eyes light up, their forehead crinkle in amusement. Prepare to be entertained. One word of caution, however: don’t ask the question “What is the oddest thing you ever had to remove from a bodily orifice?” You will undoubtedly be grossed out, and your storyteller will lose all credibility.