It was a diverse crowd in the Emergency waiting room at our county hospital.The county hospital is where the low-income, indigent and those without insurance go for emergency or urgent medical care.I wondered how their financial situations compare to mine. Most of the people looked to be a bit lower-income than the ones I have seen in regular hospital waiting rooms.And I have been in many hospital waiting rooms. For several years I was a friend and semi-caretaker of a gentleman who had several serious illnesses. I had been to the county hospital with him before he became eligible for Medicare.He was then able to go to the local hospital, many times. We were frequent flyers.
Some of the people waiting were obviously in great pain or discomfort.But a person is still to behave and be quiet even in the Emergency waiting room. No moaning, crying loudly, etc. However some of the occupants of the nearly capacity crowd were not in pain and had brought relatives and plates of home cooked food.They knew what was coming. A long, long wait.
I was there with my daughter. She had apparently broken her ankle and was in great pain. But the wait is long at the county hospital. It was two hours before she was taken to x-ray and another three hours before she was taken back to be seen by a doctor. By then her back hurt nearly as much as her leg. She had to sit so that nothing touched her ankle for the slightest bump, was excruciating for her. We both ached form sitting for five hours. And were both very hungry which did not help her deal with the pain. She could barely walk with the crutches we happened to have. She had wrapped her ankle with an ace bandage, but she could still feel every bit of air that brushed her ankle as she hobbled to the triage room to be evaluated. She tersely told the nurse to be careful when she came too near her ankle and the nurse became brusque with her. Even in great pain, in our culture a grown woman is expected to be polite. The nurse went to get a wheelchair for my daughter and I hurriedly followed her to say, “I am sorry if my daughter was a bit surly but she is autistic and in great pain.” The nurse said “Oh” and after that became very sweet to Piper. I knew that just having to sit in such a crowded room was an assault on my daughter’s autistic hyper-senses.And I knew she might therefore have a little less filter on what she said to the medical personnel.
My stomach was growling and I was getting sleepy. At least the room was cool.It was 99 degrees outside so I appreciated that. A new wing and Emergency room was built on this hospital about six years ago, but already it is not adequate. There are only two triage rooms where a patient is quickly evaluated and entered into the system,but only one is being used. serious conditions such as my friend used to have will get you moved to the front of the line but not just pain. While a few patients seemed to be using their waiting time as a family reunion, most just looked tired. Life is very tiring for those of low income. Poor food or even not enough food may be part of the reason. The physical labor of most lower paid jobs surely contributes to the fatigue. However I believe the constant stress and worry of how to pay bills and buy food on totally insufficient salaries is the most basic cause of the constant tiredness. I know because since being laid off from my professional position I have been working retail, being paid less than a quarter of what I made four years ago. That is why we were at the county hospital.
Across the waiting room an apparently homeless older man with sun and dirt-darkened skin, long unkempt hair and a long uneven beard sat looking to be not sleeping but in a stupor. He was eventually placed into a wheelchair. As I went to find my daughter some tissues, I walked past him just as he slid out of the chair on to the floor and began to twitch and quiver. Those closest to him, seeing what was happening wanted to alert the staff but didn’t know what to say. Someone called out”Urgent, urgent!” But that wasn’t quite getting the staff’s attention. But since I had a bit of medical training, I yelled loudly “Seizure!” The staff then came running. It felt good to be in the right place at the right time to do something that needed to be done that others weren’t prepared to do.
After only five and half hours we were called back to be seen by a doctor. The ER was so full that my daughter’s bed was in the hall. On the way to it we passed the homeless man who seemed to be sleeping peacefully in his bed in the hall. As Piper laid in her bed, we watched as police officers escorted chained prisoners to their beds. The man next to us had been in a bar fight and needed his eye looked at. A dainty Asian lady was being sent home without the hospital being able to determine the cause of her nausea, but she was given medication and told to follow up with her doctor.
We only had to wait about 20 minutes before the doctor came to talk to us. He said yes her leg was broken. Her fibula had a dog-leg shaped fracture about two inches above the ankle. He said the bone had almost no displacement so she wouldn’t need surgery. “Surgery,” said my daughter, “I hadn’t considered that. So she was sent home with a prescription for pain medication and a boot instead of a cast, with orders to follow up with a podiatrist. I dropped her prescription off at the hospital pharmacy that was open 24 hours a day. The pharmacy tech said it would be at least an hour before it would be ready. I could not expect Piper to sit and wait any longer so I took her home and made the 30-mile round trip back later to get her meds. I wasn’t happy about having to come back, but no matter how old your child is they are still your baby and you do what they need no matter the inconvenience.