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Emergency Room Blues

The Doctor thinks these reports of poor treatment are just a load of Bull

I've been sick.

No, really. I have been sick.

My strange adventures with the medical community started on a Monday when I began experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath and nausea. Uh oh, I thought. This is not good. I called my doctor's office. Go to the emergency room, his staff told me. You'll get instant care there.

Yeah, right.

I arrived at the emergency room of INOVA Alexandria Hospital at 2 p.m. I put my name down and gave the nurse my medical card. She instructed me to go sit in the waiting room. Easier said than done. I mean, who would've thought that the emergency room would be jam-packed on a Monday afternoon? Why weren't all these sniffling, sneezing, wheezing, coughing, regurgitating people at their doctors' offices?

My husband, a gregarious soul, chatted with a few people sitting around us. Each and everyone told him that their doctors' offices sent them to the emergency room instead of giving them office appointments. Doctors were sending patients to the emergency room for colds? How bizarre, I thought, trying to breathe as another wave of chest pains hit.

Finally, the nurse called my name. As luck would have it, my chest pains had eased. The nurse took my blood pressure and listened to my heart. "Your heart doesn't sound bad," she said, almost accusingly. "But your blood pressure is too high. Go back to the waiting room, and your name will be called when a doctor is available to see you."

"I really feel pretty bad," I told the nurse. "Aren't heart cases supposed to be seen first?"

The nurse raised an eyebrow and sniffed. "There are a hundred thousand people in this county that we care for. You'll be seen when it is your turn." Then she turned to a nearby nurse and started discussing the merits of ordering moo goo gai pan over Mongolian beef for dinner.

So I trudged back into the waiting room. More sneezers and wheezers appeared. A baby with a small bump on its forehead arrived. It was immediately whisked to a doctor. The doctor followed the parents and baby out about twenty minutes later. "Next time call your pediatrician first," he told them.

"We did," they assured him. "Our pediatrician said to come here." The doctor shrugged. On his way back in he asked the nurse if his moo goo gai pan had arrived.

"I wish I had some moo goo gai pan," my husband whispered to me. "I'm starving." Because I love my husband I merely rolled my eyes instead of obliterating him with a few well-chosen words.

Six p.m. came and went. Chest pains kept coming and going. I took another shot at the counter. The nurse took my blood pressure again. The readings registered even higher. She admitted that my heartbeat seemed elevated but: "We're still very busy. You're just going to have to wait your turn."

By 8 p.m., I was not only exhausted and in considerable pain, but I was angry. The doctors saw and treated a person running a 99-degree temperature. They treated someone with a torn toenail. Meanwhile, I waited my turn for six hours. What was with this place? Chest pains didn't rate as high as a torn toenail?

I finally stood up, walked to the counter and bellowed, "Do I have to have a heart attack and die in the waiting room to get medical attention?"

Nurses bustled to and fro. "You have to register first," they sternly told me.

"I did," I snapped. "Six hours ago."

"Oh. Well, the nurse needs to take your vitals."

"She did. Twice."

"Oh. Um, well, I guess we could find a bed for you…"

Yes! Finally, finally, I was going to see a doctor. And naturally, the first thing the doctor growled was, "Why did you take so long to get back here?" In the interest of my health and doing jail time, I restrained myself from strangling him.

I won't bore you with the rest of my adventures: shuttling to and from four different rooms; suffering from an elevated temperature and bronchitis that the hospital staff refused to treat because "the doctor didn't leave orders;" waiting three hours for nurses to answer my call light and so forth and so on, ad nauseum. ('Nauseum' being the operative term here.)

Four days later, still running temperature and trying to cough up my lungs, I received a visit from my doctor's partner. She came to spring me from the joint. She patted me on the shoulder and told me to go home and go to bed. "People just don't get well at hospitals." She sighed. "You'll do much better at home."

Gee, really, doc? I thought. Then I ran like hell for the door.

As March roars in like a lion, I send all our Crescent Blues readers my sincerest wishes for their continued health, wealth and happiness. May the winds of fate blow nothing but good fortune your way. And may any unexpected trips you take to the emergency room happen on a day when everyone else is at work or on a trip to the Caribbean.

Or you arrive with a note from your pediatrician.

Teri Smith

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