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Pronto Socorro: Sunday Night

The Flip Side of Paradise

By Grant PattersonPublished 5 years ago 6 min read

You can tell a lot about a place by its emergency rooms.

My wife and I were enjoying some much needed time together in paradise when I was reminded of this fact by a visit to the Pronto Socorro in Ubatuba. Ubatuba is a sleepy beach town half-way between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. We'd come up from Sao Paulo in need of a recharge, and all was going well until my wife decided on Saturday night that it was time to go for a walk in the sand, barefoot, at night.

Now, personally, I don't know why people aren't born with shoes on their feet. Walking barefoot occasionally sounds like a great idea, and may even feel good for a while, but it isn't long until Mr Rusty Nail, Madame Broken Beer Bottle, or Herr Nasty Crustacean ruin the moment. And so, my overconfident beloved had just such an unpleasant encounter at the water's edge, most likely due to stepping on a startled sand dweller, who then drove a spike into her foot.

I am no surgeon. I don't even play one on TV. But I tried my best to excise the barb, or whatever it was. The next day, we tried to forget about the horrors of the water's edge with a trip to Praia Felix, my "Kill me now, I have everything I need" place.

Forgive me if I do prattle on, but this place is really amazing. The never-too-crowded, always warm-watered, well-catered with drinks and Brazilian snacks, Eden is not my imagination. It really exists, I swear it.

But even paradise makes one sleepy after a while, so a few hours later I was ready to pack up and return to our hotel, convinced that it was now free of the country shitheads from Minas Gerais who had occupied it for the last three nights in the manner of petulant, drunken, college radicals, albeit with smaller vocabularies. Peace, quiet, dinner, wine, bed.

But it was not to be. "My foot still hurts."

Ah, shit. "Guess we'd better get that checked out, then."

But it's Sunday in small-town Brazil. And that means nothing's open. Except for the emergency room.

Gradually, a nameless dread overtakes me, but I cannot object to my life partner seeking treatment for her pain. What kind of heartless prick does that? As the GPS chimes off the directions to the only game in town, the Santa Ana Pronto Socorro, I feel the sweat on the back of my neck. Because I know emergency rooms. I know this:

Emergency rooms suck time out of space like a black hole. Whatever time you've budgeted for fixing your simple boo-boo? Multiply by four, easily. Because everybody is more serious a case than you are. Thanks to "triage," which is Latin, for "Go home, put a bandaid on it, and pour yourself a scotch, you pussy."

Emergency rooms make you sick. Seriously, listen to all that coughing. See all that blood. How could you not get sicker just by being there?

Emergency rooms attract more lunacy and violence than an Insane Clown Posse concert. Police stations are safer, trust me. In a cop shop, there's usually a half-dozen heavily-armed public servants ready to inflict agony on any freak who gets out of line. In an emergency room? You'd better hope that solid-looking orderly knows jiu-jitsu, or you're on your own.

The sweat grows as we get closer. The building is in amiable enough-looking shambles, and we first enter, the lobby is mostly empty.

"See? It's not too busy!" My wife chirps before chatting amiably with the triage nurse.

Their friendship will not survive the night.

My wife, still optimistic, sends me off to see if her favourite ice cream shop is open. I return, with news that, like everything else here, it is closed on Sundays. She has not moved, but as she appears to be next in line, she is optimistic.

Then the lobby starts to fill up. And the ambulances start arriving. I turn to her, and say with all the tenderness I can muster: "Honey, you're fucked."

Because I understand how triage works, you see. Many years ago, I worked security as a young man in a much larger version of this small-town MASH. This was in 1989, at Royal Columbian Hospital, in New Westminster.

I was an untrained, minimum-wage rent-a-cop doing a much more adult job than I should have been. I was exposed to suicides, sudden deaths, bleed outs, angel dusters, dead babies... you name it. Eventually, I looked at my pay stub, considered what I was doing to earn that measly amount, and wrote my resignation letter. But I had a lot to learn in the meantime.

One of the first things I learned was exactly how fucked people in my wife's position were when the ER gets busy. Triage means "If you can breathe, you aren't screaming, and we won't get sued if we let you sit for four hours, then relax and watch TV."

In Brazil, there's an added twist: If you are old, or a child, or a "deficiente" (disabled), you go to the head of the line, even if you have a hangnail. Also, the added fuck-you for my wife was that she didn't have the right kind of insurance card. So, relax, and watch TV.

My wife, being my wife, she went on the offensive, causing the triage nurse to secure his door and take refuge. But, as these things tend to, her action eventually produced results.

And I was on my own. Pronto Socorro, Sunday Night.

We'd already met Big Jesus Lady. Big Jesus Lady was a massive woman with unblinking crazy eyes, who introduced herself to everybody in the waiting room with an easy familiarity borne of untreated schizophrenia. Walking with a similarly glassy-eyed child on her hip, she wore a butterfly-patterned dress and challenged everyone with "Do you think he looks like me?" She did tell my wife she had Jesus in her eyes, so that was nice. Her husband was a skinny, nervous-looking man who did not mingle.

The first ambulance to show up could not fit into the narrow ambulance bay due to traffic (remember, this is Brazil), so the paramedic wheeled the woman in labour on her gurney through the growing crowds. The next two ambulances managed to fit, and I could only infer from the friends and relatives inside what cases they had brought in. One nervous young man chain-smoked incessantly, having anxious phone conversations about policia. For me to assume their Pronto Socorro visit had something to do with illegal activity would be just plain rude, so I won't do it.

A hairy bum seated to next to us when we first came in was never called up. I felt sympathy for him, figuring he must be in an even worse predicament than my wife. But then, the Vasco de Gama/Sao Paulo football match that was on TV ended, and was replaced with Brazil's version of "Dancing With The Stars." The bum got up, picked up his bag full of empty cans from the entrance, and left. Just there for the TV, I guess. And why not?

Two other bums almost came to blows. I was worried. One had a palm frond. This could get ugly.

A man hopped up to the front counter on one foot. "I bet he's hurt his other foot," I said to myself. Then a woman with a massively distended belly followed. "I bet she's pregnant," I said to myself.

Damn, I was really getting good at this stuff. Maybe I'd missed my calling.

Just as I was starting to get the hang of triage again, my wife emerged, her problem at least temporarily solved. We returned to our lovely hotel, which was, as predicted, asshole-free.

But I left the Pronto Socorro with two solid conclusions:

Paradise, that place where people with money imagine that they are a careless bum who need never check his bank account as long as the drinks keep coming, is held together by people who cannot afford such nonsense. Those are the people you see in a Pronto Socorro on a Sunday Night.

And Paradise or not, Emergency Rooms are never pleasant. But they do give writers lots of material, in any country.

south america

About the Creator

Grant Patterson

Grant is a retired law enforcement officer and native of Vancouver, BC. He has also lived in Brazil. He has written fifteen books.

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    Grant PattersonWritten by Grant Patterson

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