Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Hospital Is No Place for Sick People

So, I ended up in the emergency room last night. I had fever and chills, and have a history of some fairly serious infections, so it was a "better safe then sorry scenario." I was there was from 6:00 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.

Jeez the hospital is terrible.

I went to a good one. I'm fortunate to live in a place with two big well-regarded hospitals. The care is excellent. But the processing and facilities leave you feeling like cattle.

Here's my night at the emergency room.

I arrived 6:00 or so.  I was really really woozy and almost fell trying to come in the door. The security guard fetched me a wheelchair, while my husband gave the desk people my cards.  With no wait at all, we went in to see the triage lady, who did all the computer stuff, took my vitals and categorized me.  The seating was reasonably comfortable, her tone was calm and polite. That's the end of the good part.

From the triage office, I was sent to a nurse to give samples. She was able to take my blood without problem, but I was sent to the bathroom to give a urine sample only to find that it the most poorly set up bathroom ever for these purposes. There is no place to put anything down. Even the top of the toilet paper dispenser is rounded. There's no garbage can in the stall.

So, I'm woozy, in danger of falling at any time, and trying to clean myself with wipes and get the lid off the specimen cup with no place to set anything. I'm completely horrified thinking about the germ level in that room. Since there was no garbage can or other flat surface, everything sat on the floor at some time. Sounds like a good way to get an infection to me!

The door to the room is so heavy that, weak and woozy,  I couldn't open it when it was time to leave. It also seems to be soundproof because no one hears me saying that I can't get out. There's no little red pull cord for emergency help like you have in the other parts of the hospital. Luckily, my husband stayed nearby and he heard me and let me out.

I had about an hour in the waiting room. The waiting room has stiff and inflexible chairs and 3 different televisions blaring 3 different terrible programs. Keep in the mind that I'm sick. I want a dark, quiet room and to lie down more than anything. We found a corner as far away from the TV as possible and I huddled against the wall, using my jacket and a blanket I brought from home to try and find some degree of comfort.

After an hour, I get a cot in the hallway. I am not particularly tall, 5'6", but the cot was shorter than me, narrow and quite hard. I couldn't stretch out on it completely.  Still, being able to lay down felt like heaven after having to sit upright in the lobby. The nurse was friendly and gave me anti-nausea meds right away, so right away I felt better.

The environment of the hallway was bad enough to make my husband, who was quite healthy, ill. The lighting is harsh and relentless. It's like sitting under the heat lamp at a cheap buffet. Even though I couldn't see a cause to keep us under this kind of lighting, it was never dimmed. Even on an airplane they dim the lights after a certain hour.

The noise is horrendous. You are surrounded by machines beeping and pinging, and because the "walls" are all just curtains, you can hear each doctor, nurse, and patient in complete detail. I could tell you all about the woes of the patients around me (so much for privacy) and which doctors are condescending to their patients and which ones act like we have brains in our heads. One of the doctors succumbed to "speak English louder" at her patient who didn't speak English. At least there was no TV.

I have a gift from my father, which is the ability to go into a defensive sleep when the world is overstimulating or awful.  So, that's what I did. I pulled my blanket over my head, put a finger in my ear and my other hand over my face and went to sleep. I woke periodically when my body protested the hardness of the bed and wanted me to shift or when someone came by to bother me.

I was on that table for five hours with only a few respites.  Twice, I needed to go to the bathroom. This is not as simple as it sounds. I needed a nurse to disconnect me from tubes so I could sway my way down the hall to the bathroom. Once it was easy to get her attention, the second time I was hurting pretty good by the time we got her attention.  (The bathroom was gross as well, with paper on the visibly dirty floor and packets from urine sample wipes all over the sink--there was no where else to set them--which grossed me out thinking about the germs again).

At some point, I was removed to another part of the hospital for another test. Actually, come to think of it, I was still on that bed. They just moved it and me.  But at least the lighting was calm and dim and the environment was quiet in that hall. I was the most relaxed I'd been the entire visit. I wish I could have spent my time up there waiting for the results, but they shuttled me right back to my cell. At some point, the nurse brought me Motrin to help with the headache that having to be in that horrible hallway had given me.

I'm lucky, I know, to have such easy access to care. I suspect that our emergency room is one of the nicer ones. But I do wonder why care doesn't include consideration of the environment. I was sick and scared. Many around me were sicker, with more cause to be scared. But the environment is not conducive to rest or privacy. If you weren't already under stress when you came in, you sure would be from the noise, light and lack of privacy.

If it wasn't where they kept the doctors, I would never go to a hospital when I was sick. It's no place for a sick person.

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