Sunday, August 10, 2008

Emergency Room Purgatory

This cartoon is not an exaggeration. Over the years, every single time I have been to the ER, it's been an eternity to be seen by anyone. Once you are on that very uncomfortable narrow gurney, and wearing that open-backed hospital gown, they have you. And they are not in any hurry unless you are bleeding profusely or if they think you are having a heart attack. Everything else...well, they take their sweet time. I can understand it if the ER is busy and full of people worse off that I am. By all means, help those who are in critical need first. I will not complain about that. But I have been to the ER at a local hospital when not much was going on and they still took forever.

Then there were a few times when having to wait caused more dangerous complications. My husband went into the ER in 2000 for severe abdominal pain. First I took him to the clinic and his doctor called an ambulance to transfer him to the ER. They plopped him on a gurney, put in IVs, gave him morphene (which didn't help a whole lot) and we were there for hours. I kept going to the desk to find out what was going on, what was wrong, what the plan of action was. Eventually, they did a CT scan and found he had some kind of blockage in the intestine, they didn't know what. They decided to admit him and were getting a room ready...for several more hours. He laid there on that gurney against a wall in the ER waiting for someone to come get him. No nurses came to take his vitals, and eventually he just lost consciousness from the pain. Turned out later that he had a blood clot in this intestine, and it killed 18 inches of the small intestine and that had to be removed.

My last visit to the ER last summer was not a good one either. I had the same waiting experience while going through a gout attack, a Lupus flare and fluid on the lungs (which they took a couple days to find after I was admitted.) They gave me pain meds and let me lay there for several hours, doing blood tests, and finally they took me for CT scan and showed I had a barely functioning and blocked gallbladder. They said they were going to admit me. I was put against a wall like my husband was and seemed like they forgot about me. I wanted more pain medicine and the nurses walked past me like I was invisible. And this is one of the better hospitals in the Chicagoland area.

Then my son was recently in the ER of UIC Medical Center in Chicago. Being a top university medical school, I thought he was in good hands. Well, it was horrible. Making our local hospital seem great in comparison. The first day he started with severe abdominal pain he went to UIC's ER, they did an old-fashioned x-ray and sent him home with laxatives, saying he was constipated. People do not get in this severe of pain from constipation. AND it says on every laxative label DO NOT TAKE IF EXPERIENCING SEVERE ABDOMINAL PAIN. They didn't just give him one laxatives, they gave him TWO kinds of laxatives! The next morning he was worse, and so he went back to the ER. They were being slow as usual, and they gave him pain meds. When I arrived he was burning up with fever and I told the nurse he felt very hot to me. She said "oh,let me take his temperature"...and did and it was 102! They finally sent him for a CT scan and they saw his appendix was inflamed and about to rupture...then they got him to the operating room fast, and removed the appendix. Idiots.

One time I went to the ER at another hospital for chest pain and sat in the waiting room so long that the pains went away, then I determined it must not be anything serious so told them I was leaving and they said "OK".


Greg said...

I would think being in the medical field would be a great career and a rewarding experience because you are helping others. But I guess even they get job burn-out and its a damn shame.

Of course its ridiculous and even criminal that anyone would have to wait that long when they are experiencing severe pain! I'm saddened that your son had to experience that as well, but glad that he came out of that ok.

Stardust said...

greg, I know the main cause of the problem is that they are extremely understaffed. Many hospitals have cut back and not enough people to do the job. Then there is the burn-out problem to consider. One of my son's doctors he saw early in the morning was still there 14 hours later. It's a grueling profession.

There is a problem, though and I fear that a national health care program will just make it much worse in the waiting rooms. If it's this bad already with people and some with green cards, Medicaid, etc. Imagine if health care is free for all that is started when the other problems are not fixed. It's going to be a freakin nightmare.