Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Notes from the Emergency Room

As ER visits go, the experience on Saturday really wasn't bad; five hours is practically an in-n-out at University Medical Center these days. I should check that and say it really wasn't bad for us. Can't say the same for a lot of the other people there.

On the way in I managed to snag a wheelchair from someone being discharged so I could push my hobbling, teary son through the door in style. On the way back out to move my truck to the parking lot, I overheard a woman telling a man he has six stab wounds in his stomach and one in his back, or maybe it was six in the back and one in the stomach, either way far more than you want anywhere on your body.

Inside, an old woman with her leg in a cast sat in a wheelchair at the reception desk, trying to work out her Medicaid-funded ride home and apparently not making a lot of headway. I've been here for hours and I'm thirsty and hungry, she said, and I don't have any change for the machines. After watching her sit miserably for a few more minutes, I went over and asked if I could get her something. She refused at first, since she had no money, but eventually agreed to let me buy her a bottle of water. By the time I got back to her with the water she had dug a dollar bill out of her bag and insisted that I take it. She was still waiting to go home when we were taken back to the urgent care rooms.

A couple of hours, when I went back out to grab my jacket from the truck, the waiting room was packed and wall-to-wall misery. In order to get back in through the locked doors, I had to reach around a sobbing woman to scrawl my son's name and room number on a piece of paper for the intake nurse. The woman was on her phone, apparently leaving a message for someone that she had been walking with her mother, had stepped aside to let her mom go past, and the mother had fallen and hit her head. Now the woman was unable to find out where her mother was or get an update on her condition. She closed her phone, leaned her head against the reception desk glass, and cried. She was all alone. I wanted to pat her on the back, to tell her how my own 83-year-old grandmother had fallen two years ago and hit her head and been touch and go for a while but is fine now, anything to make her feel less alone. But then the nurse appeared with my pass and told me to meet her at the locked doors, so I went.

So much suffering in that room. And it was only 7:00. No idea what it was like later, after the serious Saturday night fireworks started, in the only trauma center left in Tucson.

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