Learning to Wait

Waiting is hard. Waiting for something to happen is harder. Waiting while knowing that something has to happen, but not knowing when it will is worst. This afternoon I spent a few hours in the emergency room with someone else. This sure didn’t look like any episode of ER I’d ever seen. The pace was so slow, I saw glaciers whizzing by. Time began to move backwards.

In the face of emergency, I am unfailingly polite. I know nurses work hard. I am sure they have a lot of patients to take care of. But when the patient accidentally unplugged one of the EEG lines and the red lights began blinking and beeping, the only way it stopped was when I went into the hallway seven minutes later, and asked a technician to turn off the machine. And this was in the emergency room.Thank goodness it wasn’t a real emergency.

When I asked one of the nurses if she could give me an overview of what would happen next, she said, seriously, “Well, as soon as I finish typing in these notes, I’m going to have to catch up on my paperwork. After that, I’m going to eat lunch, and then I have a meeting.” When I rephrased my sentence to ask specifically what actions would be taken on the patient’s behalf, when a doctor would give us information she said, “I have no idea. You’ll just have to wait.”

And wait we did. I canceled appointments for the afternoon, and later, for the next day. The hospitalist (doctor who does admittings) came in four hours after we came in the emergency room. He said the patient would be admitted. They then rolled the bed into the hall, where the patient lay, without pain medication, for an additional 40 minutes, waiting for someone to move the bed upstairs. I volunteered to do it myself, but no, the official bed pusher had to arrive. Meanwhile people strolled by, sick and well, looking at the half-naked patient in a too-small hospital gown.

I’m bad at waiting. I think of all the times I was pressed to stay, to work last minute, to rush in my jobs. This afternoon, I saw a lot of people chatting about personal business, doing school homework, waiting for the coffee to be done. I read a book, I answered emails, I worked on being calm and letting life unfold on its own.

I hate being a health-care consumer. I want to be a patient. I’m so glad that the patient wasn’t there alone, and I hated being the squeaky wheel–even though I was a polite squeaky wheel. Nothing happened without my asking for it–no bedpan, no pain medication, no water, no blanket. I had to ask twice for everything. It’s hard to remain polite when you hear “Right away,” and then, 40 minutes later, have to ask again. If I ran my business this way, I’d be out of work in a week.

No one was rude, no one was short-tempered, but the general idea was that if you were in a hospital, your job was to wait. So now it’s night. The patient was admitted, but no specialist was ever called. The patient has received pain medication for almost 12 hours, but except for the ER doctor,  medical specialist has stopped by. The administrator did, though.

I think there is a better way. There must be something better in healthcare. I don’t live in some forgotten backwater, and I have insurance that costs me the same as my mortgage per month. But I’m saying right now, I’m scared of getting older in a society that turned us into healthcare consumers, but has no customer service center.

21 thoughts on “Learning to Wait

  1. There actually is something akin to customer service in hospitals. There will be a patient advocate or someone with whom you can discuss specific problems that occurred. Comments are listened to and sometimes make a difference. I am a nurse (although not working right now) and I hate when anyone has a negative experience in a hospital. Continue to be the polite, specific squeaky wheel; it may help others get more attention sooner. I don’t understand the attitudes you ran up against, either, but do know it occurs. I’m glad your friend had you there. A hospital is definitely no place for a patient be left alone.

    • Ahhh, Linda, yes. I asked for the patient advocate. They let them go in the last cut-back. The patient spend 24 hours in the hospital and never saw a specialist, just a lot of nurses who said they knew nothing and an ER doctor who told us she wasn’t a specialist. I was horrified, so I”m going to resort to my usual–writing letters. On paper. The hospital may not have fired their media liason yet, and I’m gong to find a name. But first, I have to haul my eyebrows off my hairline–where they got stuck in horror.

  2. What a shocking experience this must have been for your friend and you.
    I have lived in some third world countries and this sounds like a day in a hospital there, not in the USA.
    This experience should be in your national news or in some renowned newspapers. How can hospitals get away with such neglect and carelessness?

  3. The medical profession seems to be in shambles and ERs have always been notoriously overcrowded, with interminable waiting and few answers.

    Like you, Quinn, I’ve had some bad experiences, but just recently I had one that actually turned out good and in a small town hospital. But it seems to be the luck of the draw and we, the patient, often gets a very short end.

    I do think we must push for better services, especially as insurance costs soar, and the profits are high.

    I do hope that the patient is all right, and understand how your patience might be sore from this experience.

    Warm wishes and if you accept them on the internet, huge hugs.

  4. No one should have to suffer through the atrocities of poor health care when they are a) in pain and suffering and b) when they are paying big bucks for inadequate care.

    The system is broken and no one in control seems to know how to fix it.

    Sorry you and the patient had to put up with this travesty in health care. And you are so right–pray no one you care about requires true emergency care. Not unless they get treated on a hospital TV show…

  5. sounds to me like you were very, very patient, quinn. the situation was stressful, and you were in a position of powerlessness. i’d call it frustration, maybe some anger for your friend and worry. not really impatience tho. it was really good of you to help this other person – i’m more impressed with that. vicki 🙂

  6. this is how they ration healthcare. You should have stood up and yelled loudly! My cat was attacked by a dog in in trying to save him he scratched my hands. I waited five hours in the ER with red streaks running up my arms and little kids who were running around quite OK (unpaid babysitter) got looked after. Eventually I got to see a doctor who gave me a shot and said why were you not seen earlier…then they sent me a bill. I told the hospital that I was not paying the bill and they would see me in court. never heard a word back.

  7. I work in a hospital and I understand your frustration. The healthcare system is very scary now, so be careful who you vote for next time. I pray that I stay healthy and useful. I work where they promote telling on each other so you can imagine the tension. I remember when I became a nurse and it was so fulfilling to help a patient with their recovery process, things are different now, hospitals are businesses.
    I wish you health and happiness!

  8. Living in a country with a national health service, I have got used to hearing that situations like this, which are said to happen in our hospitals too, would’t happen if we had a privatised system. Clearly not true!

    Fortunately we have had relatively little contact with hospitals, and when we have the service has been good, but I think Caroline has hit the nail on the head – front line staff reduced to the minimum to keep costs down – and paperwork [and managers]at a maximum

    • It seems to be an odd combination of insurance requirements (the administrative staff knew where we were if the doctors didn’t) and Byzantine regulations. The hospitalist had no idea what the problem was when he came into the room to admit the patient, but he knew he was to be admitted, not discharged. That’s just odd.

  9. I think this is a failing of hospitals all around the world, regardless of whether in a first or third world country. They are run on minimum staff, and there is now so much paperwork that many nurses hardly have contact with a patient, its done via computers and electrodes. Then there is a division of labour, so no-one can just muck in and help where help is needed, and there are the agency staff who often have not been shown the ropes in a strange hospital, and the trainee doctors who work such long shifts they are always trying to catch up with themselves.
    The only way a hospital can run efficiently is if there are no patients, only staff and empty beds; no sick people to get in the way and ask awkward questions and needing care and medication and upsetting the strict routine that keeps it running efficiently.

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