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ER Haiku, Anyone?

By Harriet Staff

Jason Hautala , an emergency room nurse who copes with the many ghastly struggles of his line of work through haiku, is the subject of this article in The Daily News.

In a quiet voice, with an offhand manner, no facial hijinks, Jason Hautala tells stories that are scary, sad, disgusting.

Given the nature of his job as an emergency department nurse, Hautala has learned that friends are not eager to hear about his work.

“They don’t want to talk about scrotal maggots over a rice dinner,” said the Longview native, who now lives and works in the Puget Sound region.

Even Hautala’s wife, a former critical care nurse who left nursing to start a photography business, has curtailed his after-work tales. But Hautala has found an audience.

When his hospital solicited poems for an employee newsletter, he dashed off 10 haiku that captured unvarnished ER moments. Friends found them funny, but they were turned down for the publication.

Challenged, Hautala wrote “a couple hundred more” of the spare Japanese verses that pack meaning into three lines and published them in “Haiku STAT!,” a book of snippets that can feel like a punch in the stomach.

Only one patient,

Brought by two ambulances.

Bad day for someone.

How did this happen?

Cigarette burns to son’s back.

Lucky I am not armed.

Hautala wasn’t always an ER nurse. But, then, he would’ve never found his muse otherwise.

He was a critical care nurse until he realized he was getting bored. In the emergency room, he said, no day is routine.

“If someone is really sick or injured, you work really hard. That’s the satisfying part — doing a good job,” Hautala said. “I happen to be good at starting IVs on newborn babies. They call me to start heart IVs, because I’m good at (locating a vein) the first time.

“I can find veins in people who don’t have any veins left because of heroin abuse.”

ER folks know all about patients who show up high as kites and addicts who shop around for narcotic painkillers. In a profession that involves drugs in all their guises, Hautala singles out methamphetamine as the most dangerous.

“Meth is the worst thing that has ever happened to our society,” he said quietly. “It makes people crazy and mean and does permanent damage.”

He added that nurses in emergency rooms deal more frequently with routine ailments — sore throats, earaches, phantom chest pains and needy malingerers.

Hautala said there are people who fake ailments simply to get a free ride into town. And others who lie about what they’ve ingested, leading to rounds of unnecessary tests that cost thousands of dollars.

A true story: A shopping mall Santa Claus has a heart attack and dies in the ER. Then there was the person with hepatitis C once who bit Hautala. As with any patient, he said, he responded with compassion.

In a haiku, however, fear and frustration can find a safe outlet.

No food for five days?

Asparagus-scented pee.

I don’t believe you.

Don’t hit, kick, spit, bite.

These are simple rules for you.

Break rules, get restrained.

It burns! Make it stop!

WD-40 straw

Not for rectal use.

These are available in book form, too.


Posted in Poetry News on Monday, November 28th, 2011 by Harriet Staff.