Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Tis the Season

Yesterday we had occasion to visit the local emergency room. It's not our first time, we are unfortunately quite familiar. I'll spare you the gory details, but in our case it involved a recent heart attack patient experiencing chest pains.

When we walk into the beautifully appointed lobby we notice the place is packed but I'm thinking, whew... chest pains and bleeding usually rate priority. Unfortunately, several others waiting have the same symptoms.

The ER was an absolute joke... people filled every seat and wheelchair in the lobby plus every bed in the back with even more lining the hallways.  The triage nurse took him in quickly and they found him a bed in the hall... where we camped out for over four hours! 

He's having chest pain that is escalating I plead. 
But, they can't do anything until he's seen by an ER doctor and he can't see a doctor until he's processed and because of the large number of patients waiting they don't know when they will be able to process.
What about testing the blood they drew hours ago?
Sorry, not until he's processed.
A song starts playing in my head,
"Will the cir-cle, be unbrok-en? Bye and bye Lord, by and byeeeee?" AARGH! 
I ask a nurse about the delay in processing. Her reply, "Tis the season."
Now I understand.

Getting no where fast, I called my mother and asked her to call his doctors and let them know he's in the ER. I know the hospital hasn't let the doctors know because he hasn't been processed.... etc, etc. 
She claims to have said something like, "You'd better not let him die waiting in the hall!"

VERY SOON an admitting nurse was seeking us out to start his processing.  At that point they took those tubes of blood that had been taped to the sheet (now 4 hours old) for testing to see if he was having a heart attack! (Thanks, Mom!) Then the chest xray fellow showed up  and not long after that the triage nurse was overheard saying he had two calls from "this guy's" cardiologist wanting to know why he has been laying in the hall all afternoon.  The squeaky wheel and all that. Bottom line, six hours later he was admitted and things are now progressing nicely thank you very much.

Health care in Florida has it's own unique peculiarities.
Snowbirds ~ mostly elderly retired folks who spend their winter in Florida and their summer "up north" ~ get here and have occasion to need a doctor. Their regular doctor is "up north" and they haven't bothered to seek out a local practitioner "just in case." So, when a Snowbird needs a doctor, they just go to the emergency room clogging up the whole health care system just like they do the highways this time of year. Need a prescription for cough syrup, go to the ER. Have a sty in your eye? Go to the ER.

I was told that this week a Snowbird who had been in Florida for about three months came to the ER complaining of a chronic pain in his side. When asked how long he'd had the pain his reply was, "about six months."
:: pausing here so you can make a face::
So, the nurse asked what made the pain an emergency today? His reply was that he was just tired of it.
::in case you want to make another face::

Apparently another problem is that everyone knows that if you SAY you're having chest pains, you get priority. I'm told MANY now lie about their condition to get "ups in line." Can you imagine FAKING the seriousness of your illness, most likely putting someone else at great risk, so you can get "processed" more quickly?
It's disgraceful, immoral and inhuman.

I don't begrudge the Snowbirds. We pay no state income tax because they're here. Tourism is our state's livelihood. But, for crying out loud, PLAN AHEAD! Would it be too much to ask that before next year's visit they go to their doctor "up north" or call their insurance company and get a referral for a local doctor? Then turn loose of the co-payment and visit him/her when they arrive to touch base so they have someone to call on if they need care. Don't take up space in the ER when it's not an emergency.

We'll talk about the driving another time.


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