Yesterday, “Weekends at Bellevue” was finally delivered to our Park Slope library branch. The book was written by the attending physician of the Bellevue Psychiatric ER, and I had been waiting for it eagerly all week. My absolute favorite genre is non-fiction set in a hospital. Even as a kid, I preferred the books about kids stricken with polio in iron lungs and series on teens with cancer. And it doesn’t get more interesting or more crazy than a psych ER in New York City, so I knew I’d be hooked on this one. When I was a volunteer in the Beth Israel ER, the psych cases were always my favorite, but they paled in comparison to the stories in this book.
Bellevue, the oldest public hospital in America, is a mecca for the mentally ill. Apparently people hop planes from Cairo, take buses from Missouri, flock from New Jersey and, in one particular instance, walk across the George Washington bridge with bags of their own feces to get help at the Bellevue Psych ER. Then, of course, there are also those brought involuntarily.
Anyways, it is sufficient to say that when Katie and I were returning home late last night on the F train, I was so completely absorbed in the book that I didn’t realize the woman across from me trying to get my attention.
After Katie jabbed me, I looked up at the woman who said, “Oh, I was just saying that the woman on the cover is married to my brother.” It took a second to sink in and then I immediately began peppering her with questions: “She is so cool!! Is she as cool in real life? … Does she still live in New York City? …What is she doing now? … So you’re Jeremy’s sister?” And then, as though to prove my reading comprehension skills, I started rattling off facts about her own brother: “They met in a party in SoHo, right? And he’s a photographer and writer and they have two kids.”
The existence of her nieces and nephews did not come as a surprise to her, but she was equally excited about our chance encounter. She confirmed that Julie is just as cool in real life, that they still live in New York, and that she is now working on the legalization of marijuana.
Just as she began to tell me about Julie’s research on using ecstasy to treat soldiers with PTSD, the train came to a stop and the shrill voice of the conductor, with not a hint of remorse, announced: “This train is no longer in service … there is a stalled train in front of us … this train will no longer be running.” With no alternative routes suggested by the MTA, we were dumped out and left to fend for ourselves. Though this was an annoying inconvenience, I was most sad about having to abandon our conversation.
As Katie and I stomped our feet and huddled over the subway vents to keep warm at the dark, windy bus stop in downtown Brooklyn, I was reminded that there’s always a price to pay for the perks of New York City. But for now, the positives are beating out the inconveniences. It’s not even a competition.