Thursday, May 31, 2012

George Clooney, We Hardly Knew Ye...

Recently, I had the dubious opportunity to check out our local hospital emergency room. According to statistics from a 2010 New York Times article, one in five Americans visits the ER every year. For people over 75, it's one in four. I can certainly attest to that, as I've spent a few long days in the ER with my 86-year-old motheronce when she broke her toe and another time when she was feeling fatigued. As fate would have it, this time the ER bell tolled for me. Why? Because my doctor couldn't see me and strongly suggested that we make use of the ER rather than waiting a day.

“The advantage that hospitals have over other institutions is that hospitals are community-based. You can't outsource your work; you can't move your emergency department to Pakistan.Mark Shields

Steve drove me there. We arrived at the ER at 8:15 in the morning, figuring we would be there for three or four hours and then return home with the problem solved. (Just like George Clooney used to do on television.) How naively optimistic. We waited more than an hour to get registered. That's because there were two cardiac-arrest patients already in the ER struggling for their lives. Everyone gladly deferred to those poor individuals.

Eventually, we were admitted, but because the ER was so overflowing with patients, I lay on a gurney between two nursing stations. It did not allow for much privacy but did offer a ringside seat for everything going on.

A panicked mother arrived in bare feet and pajamas, clutching a five-day-old infant who wasn't breathing properly. A man in a gurney next to me had taken a medication and had a potentially llife-threatening reaction involving rashes and a swollen face and neck. A 95-year-old woman demonstrated surprising lung capacity by screaming loudly for hours, primarily because she appeared to be senile. Another man, who I coincidentally knew from my freelance work, came in with a bad reaction to a new blood-pressure medication. (Small world.) And one man who had been rushed in by an ambulance crew, we overheard, would require a priest.

My husband, Steve, watched an electronic board that listed us all by room number (I had none), age, doctor, and elapsed time since we were admitted. Our total time in the ER clocked out at about six hours, 45 minutes because the doctor was too busy with serious cases to review my tests. Several other not-all-that-serious patients were held hostage to the same low-priority paperwork dilemma. But the staff was good-humored and did their best. My nurse, Susan, cheerfully explained to me that the air bubbles in my IV tube would not kill me because they were too small. Very reassuring.

Every once in a while, we would hear the opening chords of Brahm's lullaby. We later found out that they play those chords on the intercom whenever a baby is born in their maternity ward. About four babies came into the world during our stay.

“There is something so settled and stodgy about turning a great romance into next of kin on an emergency room form, and something so soothing and special, too.Anna Quindlen

Alas, George was not there.
Before I left, I saw the young mother wheeled out with her properly breathing baby in her arms and a relieved husband following. My hallway gurney mate with the allergic reaction was better and awaiting discharge. The screaming old woman was given oxygen, which seemed to immediately calm her down and restore her sanity. On the way out the door, I stopped in and wished my friend a speedy recovery.

Sadly, George Clooney was off that day. My husband amused one of the nurses by remarking sarcastically that I was a great date.

As for me, fortunately, it was nothing seriousjust dehydration from the unseasonably warm weather in May. The remedy was to drink more water and turn up the air conditioner when we sleep. And so ended our eventful and excruciatingly long episode of ER.

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