Myself and Brian Coldrick spent a night in Dublin’s busiest A&E. We thought we were like Hunter S. Thompson and Ralph Steadman but ended up more Withnail and I. Most of the article is in fact not bullshit, although we never got through the lock in the bicycle to steal it. That was a big fat lie.
A night in accident and emergency
If you ever end up in one of those party situations where you’ve taken something that you were told was just “really good” Valium but was probably an E but might also have been Ketamine and you’re sat on the bathroom floor with all types of sweat coming out of you and then someone, your friend who was a boy scout a million years ago, steps forward like he’s been waiting for this moment since he was born and says, “We have to take him to A&E,” then pick yourself the fuck up off the ground and run as fast as you can, until your legs fall off or your heart explodes, because both of those things are better than spending any amount of time in an A&E under the influence of anything other than simple pain. That’s why we thought it’d be great to go to A&E and drop acid and do a story about it. We’d been talking about it seriously, and drunk at parties, for well over half a year but nothing was cooking. Over the June bank holiday, we finally got our shit together and picked up some cycle courier acid for a Saturday night in St. James A&E.
And then we lost the acid in someone’s coat pocket and decided the only thing to do would be to go in old-school, and that’s how we ended up in Kelly’s of Kilmainham getting drunk at a lock-in. Kelly’s is not the Tram. The Tram is so rough that a pint glass might smash itself over your head of its own accord and hold you down while the ashtrays hop on you. That’s why the Garda Superintendent went in there about three weeks ago and pulled the license of the wall closing the place permanently. The Tram will more than likely be a Centra or a Spar or a meth clinic in its next life. But Kelly’s is a decent bar. Now that’s not saying that you won’t find some contract killer or a coke dealer sat beside you, but at least you can give someone a nod in the jacks without the fear of having your head smashed into the bowl.
We decided to leave; we weren’t kicked out and god knows the lock-in may still be going on, and if Francy is reading this, apologies, we meant to return your lighter but sure you probably thought we were dicks already so what harm. We had a naggon of vodka mixed with half a bottle of flat coke and a full box of Bensons. We had a spring in our step. We were going to the most macabre of after parties. The after party to end all after parties and damn, did we ever feel good.
There’s a rating system for Irish hospitals on this website Irishhealth.ie. Out of forty hospitals Bantry scored top and James’ came thirty second behind some made up places like Cavan and Kerry General Hospital. It’s the busiest A&E in the country. Nearly 46,000 patients came through the twin swing doors in 2006. Wait times are generally nine hours but there are a hundred and one stories floating around about people spending upwards of twenty-four hours in the place. So you’ll be pleased to know that refreshments are provided. There are a grand total of four machines at the back of the waiting room selling chocolate bars, crisps and mixers for your vodka. There’s toilets too, with those killjoy UV lights to hamper you finding a vein if you’re a chronic diabetic, a small TV on a stand, and as chairs go, they’re not quite as good as Cineworld but they beat the motor tax offices.
Now, the first thing you notice about St. James Accident and Emergency at night is the camaraderie. No one wants to be here. If you have any money or sense, you’ll call your local doctor or take a whole lot of solphadene and tough it out till morning, or you won’t hang out in nightclubs in Lucan. That’s why John Paul is here. He’s the first person we meet arriving at the place. John Paul is wearing a combination of Top Shop and bandages. He’s got white gauze wrapped around his head and is naked from the waist up. John Paul looks like Axl Rose.
“I was dancing on my own when this girl broke a glass across me jaw, and then her fella jumped in and started knifing me all over the shop,” he says. John Paul’s covered in blood and he’s even getting it all over our bottle of vodka. He’s walking around like he’s Tupac but looking at the shallow scratches on his chest he looks more like he fell over shaving than someone who’s been knifed. I’m about to ask again what really happened when his mother walks out, and then I’m about to ask her what happened when a taxi pulls in and starts flashing its lights and beeping its horn. And this is when the true spirit of A&E comes out. This is camaraderie. There’s an old codger in the back who’s a patient of the hospital but slipped out to go for a few drinks in whichever bar served him when he walked in with a zimmer frame and pyjamas. Remember in MASH when Hawkeye would be trying it on with some nurse and the captain would be joshing him like the good-natured hard ass he was and then Radar would throw a great big turd into the mix by saying “choppers”? That’s what it was like when the taxi pulled in. We all ran over and helped carry this guy in. he must have been about eighteen stone and couldn’t move his legs by himself. All four of us brought him in, me Brian, Tupac and his mother. They guy stank. We dropped him inside the front door on a wheelchair and there he stayed for about an hour until he got up and fell on his ass and the nurses took him into one of the triage rooms. It was a good ploy, and the homeless guys sat in the front row took note. They’d been sat there since we arrived and no one had come to see them. Then the one with the gamey leg who was reading a John Le Carre book started puking up a whole stream of vomit on the floor. Five minutes later he got taken away by the nurses. The puke starts to run towards our feet but the interesting, no truly phenomenal, thing about A&E is that they pump so much disinfectant and bleaching agents into the place that you can’t smell a thing. The toilets are blocked, there are eight homeless guys who’ve probably pissed themselves around us and I’m wearing no socks so my kicks smell like a McDonald’s bin but still you can’t smell shit. In a thirty by fifty metre room in West Central Dublin they’ve effectively managed to neutralise smell, and all you can do is wonder why they stopped there. Another homeless guy makes a run at the Perspex windows separating the staff from the sick. “My stomach’s sore,” he starts shouting pissed off that his buddies were getting in ahead of him. The nurse is a youngish girl from Northern Ireland. She points at the flashing LCD screen that says ‘wait times are currently from 6-9 hours’ and raises her eyes. The homeless dude calls her a bitch and punches the Perspex. She’s not a bitch but you can understand how pissed off you’d be if someone who can puke on queue gets to see a nurse ahead of you. Out of nowhere, a team of huge guys in high-vis vests swoop into the room and haul the guy out by his feet. It was gripping. There was no descent from the small group in the waiting room. The nurses were our friends. We didn’t want to upset them.
Sat in the back of A&E with your eyes on the door is just like watching a horror movie. You know the second you stop giving it your full attention, is the time the real scary shit hits. It’s just when we’re coming to the end of the vodka and thinking that McGruder’s is probably still open that the Egyptian sailors arrive in with their buddy who’s lost a finger. They’re all laughing apart from the guy who’s lost his finger who is balling his little Egyptian eyes out. They’re prawn fishermen, none of them more than twenty-one. All of them are illegal here in Ireland, and all of them are virgins. “No cheech-cheech,” says Ahmed, “In Ireland lots of cheech-cheech but in Egypt, Muslim, no cheech-cheech. Marry, yes but no marry, no.” The Egyptians smoke like Chinese croupiers. They’re not so worried about their buddy. They’re worried about “cheech-cheech” and the fact that the Prophet Mohammed has stipulated they can’t have none. They don’t drink any of our vodka but they do smoke the rest of our cigarettes, and with that we decide it’s time to go. We go in to say goodbye to Tupac. He’s getting off with some bird in a canary dress so we leave him be. The homeless boys give us a wave and the Nordy nurse forces a smile from behind the Perspex.
It’s dawn. McGruders isn’t open but we find a bike. It’s too small for one of us and even smaller for the two of us but we have a go anyway. Then we try and climb up to the window of some Polish party in La Rochelle apartments. We’re shimmying up a plastic gutter like having spent the night in A&E we feel like nothing can hurt us. Nothing can, even the drunk drivers can’t touch us as we cycle all over the road, but we don’t make it up the gutter anyway, and instead go back to a house to watch YouTube clips of skangers on buses till morning.
A&E is warm, there’s a TV and a bathroom and a phone, and you can see why a homeless person might hang out there all night. As for the rest of us, those who haven’t been knifed or lost fingers in fishing accidents, there are better places to go to find love, get drunk and wind the workday worries away, so go there instead.