"I need a doctor, immediately . immediately," came the woman's commanding voice. She didn't wait for a reply from the emergency room nurse. "Did you hear me, immediately. My son has appendicitis." The boy started crying hysterically. "Mommy, mommy, I
“I need a doctor, immediately … immediately,” came the woman’s commanding voice. She didn’t wait for a reply from the emergency room nurse.
“Did you hear me, immediately. My son has appendicitis.”
The boy started crying hysterically. “Mommy, mommy, I don’t want to go.”
“The doctor is with another patient,” the nurse said.
“Don’t tell me that. I’ve heard that before. His appendix is ready to burst … Do you want his appendix to burst? Do you want to be responsible for that? Because that’s what’s going to happen and I’m going after you.”
The nurse attending to me backed away from the mobile computer station she was using to enter the information I provided. She apologized, saying she’d be back.
The emergency room that had been subdued and reassuring suddenly clicked into high gear. There was a high rate of beeping. I couldn’t see them, but people were arriving at the scene. The boy’s high-pitched screaming didn’t abate. There were a lot of “you’re going to be all right” and “the doctor is here.” I couldn’t make out what the mother was saying, but the tone of her voice was demanding.
I was beginning to wonder if I had made the right decision coming to the ER at Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, New York. My daughter Diana, a physical therapist, had listened carefully to my description of pain running down the left side of my back. Over the phone she directed me to move in various directions, to take deep breaths and move my head. Up until the night before, the pain was tolerable, a nuisance. When it got worse, Carol and my niece Christa gave me massages. That helped. After a sleepless night where I couldn’t find a comfortable position and tried hot compresses, walking and pushups, I was anxious to find relief. Diana’s diagnosis was muscle spasms caused by herniated discs that had been diagnosed some years go. She suggested seeing a doctor to rule out a possible organ issue.
My ER visit offered insight to pressures on those working in the medical system.
I recognized immediately, as it has been instituted at Kent Hospital, an effort to personalize care with a white board in the curtain cubicle that would serve as my temporary room. An attendant filled in the line designed for doctor with the doc’s last name and wrote the first names of those I would come in contact with.
When the attendant returned to complete the questions, I was curious to the disposition of the boy whose cries I could still occasionally hear.
Was the mother correct, was his appendix giving him such distress?
I should have known she couldn’t answer because of HIPAA regulations about divulging the conditions of patients.
“Let’s say your suspicions are correct,” she said. There was no mistaking her opinion of the mother’s outburst, which apparently was not all that unusual. A lot has been reported on unruly airline passengers and what is being done to stop them from berating and even scuffling with flight attendants and other passengers in the midst of a flight. They have been arrested, fined and barred from flights.
“People need to be kind to one another,” she said.
I asked about her experiences and learned because of staff shortages she had canceled a getaway weekend with her family to be at work. She was not alone. Others, including the woman who greeted me when I entered the ER and four hours later handled my discharge, was also putting in an extra long week because of staff shortages.
She left momentarily to wheel in an X-ray machine. That didn’t take long and was followed by a woman who wired me for an EKG. She took a reading and then realized she had mistakenly switched the wires for the arm and leg. We made light of it and she took a second reading, but having witnessed the mother’s lack of consideration for those she was seeking help from for her son, I could imagine some patients would have been outraged.
Rachael, the nurse listed on the white board, was working her regular shift. She inserted an IV to take blood samples.
Listening to a doctor in a nearby curtained cubicle, I wondered if our access to information is all that good. The patient had clearly researched what he believed to be his problem. He questioned the doctor on his diagnosis, which can be a good thing, except in this instance he was defiant. In measured tones, sounding like a parent explaining to their child why they won’t be stopping to get ice cream, the doctor went over the diagnosis. The patient barely let the doc get in a word edgewise. Indeed, what happened to kindness if not common decency?
The doc who had my case was brief and to the point. We shook hands. He looked over the information I’d provided and at first glance pretty much concluded what Diana diagnosed, but to be sure lined me up for the battery of tests. True to his word, he was back once he had the results. He didn’t see any abnormalities and prescribed a muscle relaxant and Ladocaine patches to relieve pain.
Soon the nurse was back to remove the IV. The attendant who first greeted me during the appendix episode, whose name apparently wasn’t on the white board, returned with plastic bags containing my clothes and shoes. The hospital had called ahead to the nearby CVS with my prescription. The mother with the screaming son was also preparing to leave. It looked like my encounter with the medical system was coming to a close. I was mistaken.
It being more than an hour since the hospital phoned in the prescription, I thought we would be in and out in short order. Two were staffing the store pharmacy. One was working the drive-up that included rapid COVID testing – and, from what I could tell, was dealing with some demanding customers. The woman who I assumed was the pharmacist from her white smock was talking with a pleasant enough man at the counter who wanted to get the Pfizer vaccination. CVS couldn’t help him at this location. She suggested other communities, all of them no closer than a half-hour drive. Remember, this is upstate New York, and 30 minutes isn’t all that long a drive.
The customer behind him gave her name and was expecting to pickup a prescription. The pharmacist said it wasn’t ready and it would be a half hour. The woman wasn’t happy. She grabbed the nearest chair in full view of the pharmacist.
I was next. The pharmacist looked at my prescription and gave me the same information. I’d need to wait. Then looking at the paperwork, she said the Ladocaine patches were available over the counter. She’d show me where I could find them.
I thought the stare of the waiting woman would burn through the two of us.
“It looks like you’re busy,” I ventured. For a second time I was hearing of staff woes. She didn’t dally and returned to the pharmacy to fill prescriptions.
I stood waiting next to the woman in the chair. In five minutes the pharmacist, holding up a white bag, was calling my name. She totaled the amount and I paid by credit card.
The woman was now out of her chair.
“I was here before him and you filled his order first. I’ve got kids at home. My husband is at work. Why is it that he went first? You tell me why.”
I didn’t wait to hear the pharmacist’s reply. It was time to check out of the medical system.
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