There’s a name for this sign: it’s called an interrobang. It is the offspring of a night of binge drinking and wanton abandon on the part of an exclamation point and a question mark, and it looks like this.
It is literary shorthand for WTF, and there have been many times in the ER that this strange symbol would have appeared in the thought balloon over my head if I was a living comic strip. The first time this symbol would have shown up for me, accompanied by that bubble-popping sound, was at about 2 a.m. one long-ago summer’s eve in Portland during my residency. First, a little background: The usual progression of events in the ER, unless you are fixin’ to die, in which case you get an express trip to the back, is roughly thus:
- Reception asks you to fill out paperwork
- Technician takes patient’s temperature and heart rate, as well as reason the patient is there, dutifully records info in medical record
- Medical record on clipboard that was new when Spiro Agnew was vice president is placed in slot on door
- Doctor takes clipboard, reads the history, enters room.
- Healing happens.
This one particular night, no less than two people had been in the vicinity of the man I was about to meet. And they said nothing.
Clipboard in hand, I entered the room suspecting no more than a kitten with the sniffles. What I got was a whole lot more. More than I ever imagined or wanted. More than I could ever forget. Standing behind the aforementioned snuffly kitten was a slightly wild-eyed, 30-ish and scraggly stoner-looking dude, clad in nothing more than a purple Speedo. Said dude was looking like he just stepped off the beach at Playa del Crazyass in all his glory.
Thanks, reception. Thanks, technician. You could have given me a head’s up about the clothing (or lack thereof) situation unfolding right before my eyes here in exam room three.
The poor kitten had an upper respiratory infection (URI). Usually it’s just like a cold in people – it has similar signs of sneezing and coughing, snotty nose, goopy eyes, and the sniffles – but this guy either lost his appetite, was so congested he was open-mouth breathing, or had a fever, the things that may cause a need to see a doctor, and perhaps be hospitalized. Actually I don’t have a clue what signs the kitten had because all I can remember is the purple Speedo, but they had to have been bad enough to warrant a nearly naked trip to the ER. Everything that causes URI is seriously contagious. By far, the most common causes are herpesvirus and calicivirus, but other things can cause them.
Since most of these infections are no big deal, it may be surprising that antibiotics are often prescribed. In cats for which the virus has become a big deal, it tends to become a secondary infection, hence the use of antibiotics such as pink liquid amoxicillin.
Plus, kittens have a harder time with it than adult cats because their immune systems aren’t up to snuff yet.
At least the pink amoxicillin coordinated well with the purple Speedo.
URIs are spread through wet sneezes from an infected cat. A cat hops into your lap and sneezes all over your Prince's Purple Rain t-shirt; you then remove Sneezy, who was just adopted from the shelter, and replace him with Sleepy, and voila, Sleepy comes into contact with virulent sneeze output on your t-shirt, and bang, you have two infected cats. Of course, cats living in shelters or catteries are more likely to be having sneeze fests because viruses really flourish in crowded settings. Kind of like a Friday night dorm party, but without the smoke.
Perhaps some infected cat sneezed on the purple Speedo. I don’t want to know.
Somehow, I made it through the usual examination-discussion-prescribing-of-pink-stuff routine without missing a beat, while his buggy and bloodshot eyes followed me like a dog following a tennis ball. He barely spoke. In the numerous re-imaginings and re-tellings this story has undergone over the years, his craziness has grown epic, Charlie Sheen proportions with the addition of many false details (he drooled constantly, he muttered in Urdu, he had a picture of David Hasselhoff tattooed on his calf, etc). Like this guy needed any hyperbole to somehow add to the original image. I was really too stunned at that time to inquire about his choice of outerwear for that evening’s trip to the ER, and the fact that it was 2 a.m. only lent a little more mystery to the whole sordid event.
Who does that!? Who wears a Speedo in the first place?! More pressingly, who wears it at 2 a.m.?! Not to mention to the ER!? And, c’mon…Purple!?
So many interrobangs. All of these exclamatory questions will have to go unanswered, my tiny readers, as the critical questions of who this miscreant was and why he chose to wrap himself in clingy violet nylon lo these many years past are lost to antiquity. But please feel free to speculate below. Let’s allow this long-ago ghost of my residency to grow some legs and walk about. Please come up with a backstory for my purple-clad friend.
July 19, 2016