I’d been working in the emergency room for about three weeks, I guess. This was in 1973, before the summer ended. With nothing to do on the overnight shift but batch the insurance reports from the daytime shifts, I just started wandering around, over to the coronary-care unit, down to the cafeteria, et cetera, looking for Georgie, the orderly, a pretty good friend of mine. He often stole pills from the cabinets.

He was running over the tiled floor of the operating room with a mop. “Are you still doing that?” I said.

“Jesus, there’s a lot of blood here,” he complained.

“Where?” The floor looked clean enough to me.

“What the hell were they doing in here?” he asked me.

“They were performing surgery, Georgie,” I told him.

“There’s so much goop inside of us, man,” he said, “and it all wants to get out.” He leaned his mop against a cabinet.

“What are you crying for?” I didn’t understand.

He stood still, raised both arms slowly behind his head, and tightened his ponytail. Then he grabbed the mop and started making broad random arcs with it, trembling and weeping and moving all around the place really fast. “What am I crying for?” he said. “Jesus. Wow, oh boy, perfect.”

I was hanging out in the E.R. with fat, quivering Nurse. One of the Family Service doctors that nobody liked came in looking for Georgie to wipe up after him. “Where’s Georgie?” this guy asked.

“Georgie’s in O.R.,” Nurse said.


“No,” Nurse said. “Still.”

“Still? Doing what?”

“Cleaning the floor.”


“No,” Nurse said again. “Still.”

Back in O.R., Georgie dropped his mop and bent over in the posture of a child soiling its diapers. He stared down with his mouth open in terror.

He said, “What am I going to do about these fucking shoes, man?”

“Whatever you stole,” I said, “I guess you already ate it all, right?”

“Listen to how they squish,” he said, walking around carefully on his heels.

“Let me check your pockets, man.”

He stood still a minute, and I found his stash. I left him two of each, whatever they were. “Shift is about half over,” I told him.

“Good. Because I really, really, really need a drink,” he said. “Will you please help me get this blood mopped up?”

Around 3:30 a.m. a guy with a knife in his eye came in, led by Georgie.

“I hope you didn’t do that to him,” Nurse said.

“Me?” Georgie said. “No. He was like this.”

“My wife did it,” the man said. The blade was buried to the hilt in the outside corner of his left eye. It was a hunting knife kind of thing.

“Who brought you in?” Nurse said.

“Nobody. I just walked down. It’s only three blocks,” the man said.

Nurse peered at him. “We’d better get you lying down.”

“Okay, I’m certainly ready for something like that,” the man said.

She peered a bit longer into his face.

“Is your other eye,” she said, “a glass eye?”

“It’s plastic, or something artificial like that,” he said.

“And you can see out of this eye?” she asked, meaning the wounded one.

“I can see. But I can’t make a fist out of my left hand because this knife is doing something to my brain.”

“My God,” Nurse said.

“I guess I’d better get the doctor,” I said.

“There you go,” Nurse agreed.

They got him lying down, and Georgie says to the patient, “Name?”

“Terrence Weber.”

“Your face is dark. I can’t see what you’re saying.”

“Georgie,” I said.

“What are you saying, man? I can’t see.”

Nurse came over, and Georgie said to her, “His face is dark.”

She leaned over the patient. “How long ago did this happen, Terry?” she shouted down into his face.

“Just a while ago. My wife did it. I was asleep,” the patient said.

“Do you want the police?”

He thought about it and finally said, “Not unless I die.”

Nurse went to the wall intercom and buzzed the doctor on duty, the Family Service person. “Got a surprise for you,” she said over the intercom. He took his time getting down the hall to her, because he knew she hated Family Service and her happy tone of voice could only mean something beyond his competence and potentially humiliating.

He peeked into the trauma room and saw the situation: the clerk—that is, me—standing next to the orderly, Georgie, both of us on drugs, looking down at a patient with a knife sticking up out of his face.

“What seems to be the trouble?” he said.

People on couch
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