I’ve been blessed in my life to have a somewhat limited experience with the emergency room. Even more limited as the healthy on-call adult accompanying an in-distress family member.
In fact, I can count them on one hand –
- Middle sister – allergic reaction to walnuts (took her to urgent care)
- Little sister – fell down the stairs and cut open leg (called an ambulance)
- Husband – reaction to toxin in ill-kept (at a fancy restaurant, no less!) ahi tuna (met him in the ER after a fun police escort to the hospital – this was back when he was still working with the DA’s office)
- Husband – Sunday and today.
In those moments I’ve learned there are a handful of things you can SAY that will get you to the top of the triage list – words like “chest pain” or “anaphylaxis.”
Leg pain is not one of them.
No, most of the time, doctors need to see urgency to believe it. Pallid or reddened or splotchy or green skin. Bloody kitchen towels rapped around appendages, and fainting on queue. Burns and boils and anything that sounds like it was a Biblical plague. I’ve never seen anyone throw up while being processed in the ER, but I’m pretty sure all it gets you is a new accessory for the waiting room – your own lap-size trash can.
After an ambulance ride because Aaron physically couldn’t make it to the car without falling over in pain, and five long, long long hours laying on a stretcher in the ER wing, Aaron was finally seen by a doctor who actually made some progress on managing Aaron’s pain, instead of just taking blood samples and filling out forms. The man was wincing in pain like I’ve never seen him before. In the past 30 years of his young life, he has broken bones, suffered concussions, cuts, sprains, even been hospitalized for cellulitis they thought was MRSA at one point. He’s tough as they come, and this was bringing him to his knees.
But because he’s tough and he doesn’t let on, and the hospital was busy, and Lord knows what other higher priority incidents were coming in, we waited. In his misery, in my mental anguish. We waited and waited.
At the beginning of this whole ordeal, which also included a visit to the ER on Sunday afternoon/evening/night, Aaron kept reiterating that there was no point to go in, and he just wanted to go home. My argument was that even if he wasn’t improving now (or for the next 5 hours of his visit), he certainly wasn’t going to improve at home.
While I still stand by my statement (and the proof of its intent as I sit in Aaron’s hospital room, watching him move a little more comfortably, talk a little bit more, grimace a little less) I can’t help that my faith in our health care system is shaken.
Now, doctors and nurses and everyone down to those that change the bed sheets are nothing short of heroes, and are deserving of respect and gratitude for what they do every day.
But, in my head, in my previous experience, and in every movie I’ve seen, getting this person you love to the hospital IS the goal. If you can just GET them there, the professionals will swarm over them and quickly alleviate what ails you on the course to building a full treatment plan.
What’s unnerving is the truth. The truth that we live in an imperfect world. Regardless of politics or policy or whatever country you are receiving medical care in – that care is provided in an environment where the ideal scenario rarely is.
And accepting this truth in some ways is similar to but much worse than accepting your own mortality. Because it’s accepting that help, though wished upon you, is not always available. That there are barriers and politics and lack of research and lack of knowledge and lack of hours in the day to make everything all better.
Now I feel like I am talking about a different experience. The one where my mom has been suffering from fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue for the last two years. For two years of all those same waiting rooms and tests and lack of attention or belief in the urgency of what’s happened to her.
Maybe all any of us can ever do is pray. Maybe that’s what I’m supposed to learn from these handful of experiences. That when you’re the on-call adult in the situation, you turn to someone who will always be there to swarm over you and alleviate your soul’s pain on the course to building a full treatment plan.