I’ll begin this post with the ending. My husband and I are home after a full day of medical events which concluded with a prescription for $1.76 and dinner at Boomer’s, a favorite, 50’s classic drive in. This is not so much about my husband’s condition as what I observed about our medical system and the many people seeking care during the day.
My husband woke up at 3am, tried to stand up, and lost his balance. He went back to sleep. When I woke him at 6:30am to get up and begin getting ready to leave the house by 8am for a cardiologist appointment for a routine check-up, he told me he felt off. He tried to stand up and couldn’t maintain his balance. He was dizzy. No fever. I went through symptoms. Realized there was no way we would get to an appointment by 8:30 and so called and cancelled it. Continued my assessment. Called at 9 to make a 10:15 appointment with our family doctor.
Our doctor wasn’t in, but we saw another doctor in the practice. He was so kind and thorough. I could tell he liked the challenge of figuring out what was going on. He did a number of tests and some lab work (we are fortunate to have a lab in the clinic, so test results were almost immediately available). There was also some possibility that it was pneumonia. Let’s get an x-ray to rule that out. Diagnoses are a series of ruling out causes and possible problems as much as they are discovery of causes and solutions.
We went to the imaging clinic for an x-ray. Wait time was about 20 minutes. I’ll note here that neither the family clinic or the imaging clinic required any form of payment. Both confirmed we had insurance. Our information was already in both their systems. The x-ray was taken and we were sent home.
We had been home about half an hour when we got a call from our doctor who said the x-ray was clear, good news, and the lab work showed the possibility of a blood clot, bad news. Go to the ER and get a cat scan of head and chest to look for blood clot. If the test is negative, there is no clot. If the test is positive, there might be a clot. Or there might not be. If one doesn’t show in the cat scan, it could be in the leg, but the leg would swell and we would know there is a clot. Having a bruise could also make the test read positive meaning there had been an injury, but no clot.
I called our daughter at some point. She knows the drill. She’ll go to the hospital ahead of us and wait at the ER entrance with a wheel chair. I’ll drop him off and go park. She’ll begin the admit. It’s a smooth, practiced plan that we’ve done before. I love that she lives nearby and is ready at the drop of a hat to support us.
So, now you know everything turned out okay. We were there for about 8 hours. And that is what led to me beginning this post. A filled ER room with a variety of people and circumstances. We give thanks for insurance and Medicare and never once questioning could we afford this. Not once. That is our privilege and we do not take it for granted.
A tall man with bushy hair, pushing a walker, passes us on his way to the admit desk. He is upset. He’s been there 5 hours and is angry with the receptionist. He’s seen people taken back who arrived after he did. He just wants to see a social worker. What does he goddamn have to do? Go to Everett?! There are three intake persons at the Admit desk. They are polite, reminding him he first has to be seen by a doctor. Yes, of course he will see a social worker. He swears and is so agitated. They are polite and calm in their responses. He mutters, swears, paces. He passes our daughter and shouts, “Move your ass!” We see him go back and forth and question the staff two more times.
My husband is taken back to a room after about 45 minutes. The ‘rooms’ are divided by cloth curtains. Every word spoken on either side of us is audible. In the bed next to us, we hear a foreign language being spoken. Then a loud announcement, “You are the first person to sign in for this conference call.” In a few minutes, there is a conversation about the availability of an interpreter. Which language does the patient speak? They might not have someone for that language. Does he speak another closely related language? Half an hour later, they have someone who speaks his native language. We hear the conversation. The man has been diagnosed with rectal cancer. The interpreter tells the man that he has cancer. Does he know what that is? Not really. It is dangerous. It needs to be treated. Without treatment, he will die. All this from an interpreter over a speaker. The man says he is ready to die. He is told he doesn’t have to die. He is asked if he is ready to die, is he also ready to live? Back and forth. The man is afraid of surgery and doesn’t want to be in the hospital. He can go home and visit his physician and make arrangements with his own physician for the surgery. Finally, he is given a prescription and he and his wife leave. All of this spoken gently, matter of factly.
In the bed on the other side of us, an elderly woman is brought in. There is a discussion about what may or may not have happened. She has dementia and they aren’t sure if this is a new injury or she remembers a fall from the past. She cannot walk. The care center called the ambulance, but no one saw her fall. Her daughter arrives and makes a phone call telling someone she won’t be able to make it. Work? A party? She speaks to her mom who continues to not be able to say what happened or when. She just fell. She is taken for an x-ray. The doctor comes back sometime later and tells the woman and her daughter that she has broken her hip so she will be admitted for surgery. They move her out of ER and to a room.
We watch a helicopter land on the pad in front of the window. My daughter sees that the woman brought into the next room is the woman who was taken off the helicopter. She was flown in from a hospital on one of the islands. She is tiny, but loud and in a great deal of pain. She is panting loudly through the pain as they transfer her. She is freezing cold. She tells her story. She was out hunting for her missing cat. She fell and dislocated her prosthetic hip. She says you can tell it’s dislocated because look at how that leg is longer than the other leg. She says it has been dislocated 11 other times! As they take her medical history, her list of medications is long. Does she smoke? Only a little, about 3 cigarettes a day. They finish the intake and leave her for a bit. She shouts, “Nurse! Nurse! I’m cold! Can I get a warm blanket? And where’s my jacket? It’s my favorite! I hope it isn’t lost!” A nurse returns with a blanket and finds all her clothing in a bag. She is reassured, nothing was lost.
Across the hall, we notice that everyone going into that room puts on a complete paper coverall and wears masks. We see a body bag taken out. Someone goes into clean.
There must have been 50 people in the waiting room. All with a story. Surely some of them wondering how they will pay for this. Parents with babies. A man with a bandaged head telling the receptionist he was injured at work. She talks about beginning the Labor and Industries claim. If you ever watched the TV series, ER, you know why they never ran out of stories.
It’s the day after. My husband is still dizzy. There’s a little pill he can take 3 times a day until it passes. We are back to our normal routine. Morning coffee. Breakfast.