I watched her come in accompanied by a paramedic and ER staff, feet shuffling and incoherent. Blood, or maybe red wine, stained the back of her matted blonde hair, and her aged eyes were startled and sad looking as they tried to make sense of where she was. The two settled her into a convertible chair and left her there, in her pretty red coat. Sitting on the edge, she turned in my direction,scrunched her eyes up in an attempt to focus on me, and leaned forward… only to lose whatever semblance of balance she had left and nearly fall over. Grabbing the armrest, she sneered into the air at whatever demons haunted her last night, rolled over onto her side and covered her eyes with her jacket.
She was drunk. Drunk and clearly so sad and disturbed in the brief moment I saw her still awake that I couldn’t help wonder what led her to ending up like this in the ER. I silently hoped that she wasn’t going to start puking all over as only the drunk can do. We were only a few feet apart and there was no where else for me to go. Looking to see if a doctor was anywhere around, I tried to stretch, but the pain in my chest was still so intense that I drew my arms back down in surprise. Damn.
If you had told me yesterday morning that I was going to spend the evening dodging snot and sputum in the ER, I would have laughed at you.Shortly after I woke up yesterday morning, I developed a pain in my chest. Not severe enough to call 911, but an irritating, steady and deep pain that progressively became worse over the course of the day. It was relentless, and I began to wonder if this wasn’t a sign of something more serious, like a blood clot, but still put off calling the doctor.
By 6 pm , the pain had become so crushing that I felt short of breath and it did indeed hurt to even breathe, so it was time to head to the ER.
I was triaged immediately and found a spot in among all the other people packed into the tiny waiting area. A stressed out mother with a croupy baby sat in one corner, making very loud conversation with her friend. A young couple joked while watching UFC and an older woman wheezed in obvious respiratory distress. Another guy came in with a big blister on his foot. Yet another fellow started coughing all over everything without covering his mouth.
Me? I headed over to the alcohol hand sanitizer bottles, swiped a hefty plop all over my hands to murder any imagined germs and then stole over to the seat farthest away from everyone, to be alone with my chest pain.
The night wore on…( and on… and on…) and the room continued to fill in between my calls for bloodwork and x-rays. I counted the little hairs sticking out of a dirty man’s nose – well at least until he caught me. I tried sending a telepathic message to the croupy baby’s mom to take the poor babe home and sit in a steamy bathroom with him for a bit. I helped an old man with a walker in and out of the washroom.
Most of all though, I tried not to think about the pain in my chest.I tried not to think about the ” What if’s ?” and pretend that it was all going to be ok, which is hard when you can hear people moaning in pain somewhere behind the wall.
After a couple of hours, I was finally herded into the ER itself, to another chair, attached to another wall, in yet another hallway, where I ended up sitting for three more hours by the sad little drunk woman who slept like the dead.
Interesting place, the ER, and I say this with the deepest amount of respect for the staff who are so obviously overworked when I tell you that I think you have to be a bit crazy to work in that environment. Crazy… and special.
The trauma room portion was filled with victims of an auto crash between a bus and a car( I heard) and the sad expressions and somber faces of the staff and family told the depth of how serious it was. Words lept out in the deafening murmer around me. Critical. Unstable. My heart went out to the family as I sat there alone in my chair, an unwitting party to their public tragedy. I couldn’t stop watching everything that went on around me, taking it in as if I were but a security camera on the wall, rather than a patient. And here’s what made the night so interesting . Throughout all the sadness, the sickness and the occasional nuttiness that seems inherent to all emergency rooms, the staff were smiling and pleasant to all.
Can you imagine? Despite being treated like crap by some of the patients, they joked with each other, they laughed , they ordered take-out and when it arrived they enjoyed it as if it were a night out at a five star restaurant. And still, the utmost professionalism and dedication shone through as bright as a torch, the camaraderie between them enhancing their performance rather than detracting from it. These people loved their jobs, their hospital and truly took the word teamwork to entirely new level.
It was after midnight when I became top frog on the totem pole, and learned that more than likely, I’m suffering from costochondritis – an inflammation of the joint between the ribs and the breastbone which lends this heavy crushing pain to my right chest area. However, a blood clot had not been ruled out so more tests were ordered. Not willing to make me spend a night in the hallway, my doctor told me I was free to go. I left the room and started to walk to the exit, but stopped myself and turned back for a moment. I took one last look at the sad drunk lady in the pretty red coat. ‘I wish you well’, I thought to myself,’and I hope you find peace. Don’t kill yourself doing it. ‘ She couldn’t hear me thinking, but it made me feel better anyways.
I made it home before 1 am to a very nice warm bed,some Ibuprofen,and the knowledge that if the new tests show any indication of a clot, they’ll call me right away.
It’s still very painful , but this morning I am glad for this pain. It mean I am indeed alive and not dying..at least, I hope not! In this case, no news IS good news.
This trip to the ER really highighted both the changes we need to see made to our health system, but also the wonderful way that it still works despite all the problems.
These doctors and nurses are incredibly overworked – I heard my docter remark last night that he was already 6 hours behind when he started his shift and he hit the floor running. And yet he greeted me with a smile, listened carefully and with attention to my words, and when we were done ? He still took a moment to talk about the BC Rail scandal ,the issues aurrounding BC rivers and power projects- all while he finished my chart!
Clearly, many of our facilities are filled beyond capacity and it is not just the lack of money and staffing that is doing it.
There are far too many people that go to the ER for things that are clearly not emergencies. Things like blisters- yes there was a fellow there with a blister), and coughs and runny noses, and small pains and aches resulting in playing soccer too hard. Small medical problems like these should be handled by a clinic, or your doctor, and are taking up too much time and far too many resources from our ER staff.
Make a note if you are guilty of this. The ER is not a drive-thru, it is not a place to hang out when you are lonely, and if you can put a band-aid on your owwie yourself? You don’t need the ER. If your baby is teething , you don’t need the ER, you need a teething ring and some patience.
If people would use the BC nurse line for guidance, it could make a huge difference in the number of patients wating in ER hallways. I’ve used it several times, and find it to be an excellent resource for health concerns and questions. The website is fantastic and can provide you with everything from a symptom checker to phone numbers for local medical facilities and resources. Check it out at http://www.healthlinkbc.ca/kbaltindex.asp
A big thanks again to the staff at Peace Arch Emergency. You all deserve paid vacations.
Now, time for a coffee while I wait to hear the big development expected in court today, where the contents of a 2004 email exchange between BC Rail executives asking about payments made to Patrick Kinsella and his company The Progressive Group are expected to be revealed.
Get the background on these emails at the following links:
The Legislature Raids: http://bctrialofbasi-virk.blogspot.com/2009/03/robin-mathews-friday-morning-in.html#links
The Tyee blog, The Hook: http://thetyee.ca/Blogs/TheHook/BC-Politics/2009/03/12/KinsellaRail/