As a result of a mindless accident on my part last Saturday while working in the yard, I found it necessary to go to the emergency room of one of our city's magnificent health care institutions to get a cut finger attended to. The idea was that I would go, check in, get it stitched up and be back to my chores in fifteen, maybe thirty minutes at most, to continue enjoying being outside on one of the most glorious days of the year. As you will see that turned out to be wishful thinking on my part.
After being greeted by a lovely and accommodating lady at the receptionist's desk to whom I give the requisite insurance information, I am wrist banded and informed that there was only one person ahead of me. Great, I thought, just as planned, so I take my place in the waiting room, begin watching Georgia beat up on some lesser team and patiently wait to be called. Ten minutes pass that then turn into twenty when I hear my name called by a man dressed in scrub bottoms and a T-shirt. OK, things are on schedule, as he's no doubt the doctor who is going to take me back to his fix-up room, do his thing and I'll be gone in the anticipated maximum thirty minutes. Wrong! His function was to just take my vitals (temperature, blood pressure, heart beat), confirm the information previously provided by the lovely lady, wrap my cut finger, which by then had stopped bleeding, with an entire roll of gauze that looked like a chicken drumstick when he had finished and then usher me back out to the receptionist area. Time continues to tick away, Georgia's lead increases by leaps and bounds and the once virtually empty waiting room is now beginning to fill up.
Thirty minutes becomes an hour which then becomes two hours when I am finally called back behind two closed doors by nurse #1 who escorts me past several rooms filled with patients to a room that is empty. It is complete with bed, television, sink, cabinets and all of those medical gizmos on the wall behind the headboard you see in conventional hospital rooms. She tells me to lie on the bed and wait for one of the doctors on call. Minutes later the door opens and another kind lady from administration comes in to re-confirm my basic information including insurance coverage, and gets me to sign the ever present forms granting the facility the right to treat me, as well as my commitment to pay for any service not covered by Medicare and my supplemental insurance. She leaves and I then start watching the Texas-Rice game, as Georgia had already devoured its opponent. Later nurse #2 comes in to see what my problem is, removes my drumstick bandage, looks at my finger and agrees with me that all that needs to be done is stitch up my finger up, give me a tetanus shot and get me out of there. It is then that I first learn that there is way more than "one person ahead of me", but given the routine and minor procedure required she offers to try and get one of the doctors to handle my case with dispatch.
Over three and a half hours have now passed when the young doctor comes in, agrees with nurse #2 and my assessment of the situation and says he will be right back. Texas and Rice are tied 3 - 3 in the second quarter. When he does return several minutes later, Texas leads Rice 17 - 3. How quickly things change. It's now over four hours by the time he finishes repairing my finger with not quite enough deadening from my perspective, but by then I just want it all to be over. We exchange pleasantries, he leaves and then nurse #3 comes in, finishes the bandaging process, and gives me a handful of band aids, packets of gauze and tape. Then, surprisingly, he offers me the set of instruments just used to perform the stitching procedure, as their policy requires that they otherwise throw everything away when finished. So, four and a half hours after this experience began I am back home with a beautiful afternoon totally ruined, albeit due to my own carelessness.
What's the point of this tale? Well, first, I will tell you what it is not. It is not to ridicule our medical system in the U.S., as no one will argue with the fact that it is the finest in the world. Rather, it is simply to give one small example of how our medical system is seemingly out of whack when it comes to administering medical services commensurate with the actual need. What should have been a very minor procedure that any walk-in medical clinic could have performed in fifteen or twenty minutes turned into something that resembled performing major surgery. Is there no way to balance the two by initially assessing the injury, determine if it is major or minor and treat accordingly? No telling what this half-day ordeal cost, but I've got my suspicions that it isn't going to be cheap, and that's the rub facing any overhaul of our health care system. In that regard one of the real encouraging aspects of this experience was to learn that the nice young doctor who treated me Saturday was, in fact, a primary care specialist, a very rare breed in today's medical world where exotic high-earning specialties seem to be the order of the day. Primary care in my view is going to be one of the essential components of a comprehensive health care system from everything I read and hear on the subject.
Another reason to relate this story on this Labor Day 2010 is to acknowledge and thank the wonderful health care team who treated me, and ask you to please think of the many workers across this land like them with whom we all come in contact every day who tend to our every needs and wants to make our life so much more convenient and pleasant. Please let them all know how much you appreciate what they do for you, and have a safe and happy Labor Day holiday.
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