I’ve been to the hospital Emergency Room (ER) twice lately, which is why I was drawn to a blog on the NPR web page called, “Heart of the Matter: Treating the Disease Instead of the Person,” by Dr. Leana Wen. Wen describes a situation in which a wife drives her husband to the ER for chest pains. He finds himself naked from the waist up in a hospital hallway, surrounded by strangers and sounds of beeping and ringing pagers. He signs paperwork, gets moved into an elevator, and later awakens hooked up to machines.
Two days later the couple learns that the man has had a heart attack and they file a complaint against the hospital. The hospital’s story is very different. Within three minutes after the man’s arrival he is given an electrocardiogram and twenty-two minutes later doctors have cleared the blockage. Within two weeks he’s able to return to work. A success story if ever there was one. So why was anyone complaining?
The blog received tons of comments, usually representing one of two points of view: Who cares if doctors talk to you as long as they do their jobs well? Why didn’t they tell the couple what was happening?
Dr. Wen concluded that better communication might have the hospital experience. What if the doctors had introduced themselves, told the patient and his wife what they were doing? What if the patient had asked questions?
My own visits to the ER after being thrown from a horse were less eventful. I received x-rays to determine if I’d broken any bones, and pain medication. Doctors and nurses and technicians seemed competent. So how was their communication?
In both cases I spent three to four hours at the hospital but never knew why so much time. The hours moved slowly and so did the staff. If only someone had come in and said, “Things are hopping tonight. We’ll be with you as soon as we can.” But in fact, things never seemed hopping. I just wanted to someone to tell me about how long I’d have to wait…for the x-rays to be taken… for the doctor to interpret the x-rays.. for the doctor to talk to me after he or she interpreted the x-rays…for medicine…for my discharge. Staff meted out one bit of information at a time when I wanted to hear the big picture.
This takes me to the experience of a friend undergoing chemo therapy and radiation. She, too, has become accustomed to long waits. Very long waits.
My ER experience was fine. I received good care even if it was wrapped in mystery. Perhaps my small complaint stems from my impatience. If only someone had warned me to bring a copy of “Gone With the Wind” or “War and Peace,” everything would have been fine.
When my husband was waiting in the ER on one occasion, an orderly asked him quite seriously how he was doing. My husband’s frustrated answer was “that’s what I came here to find out.” But it works both ways. My daughter in law works in the pediatric ER and has some rather astonishing tales from the other side of the coin as well.
I’m sorry that your experience was less than perfect. Mine, quite a few years ago, was quite the opposite. While in emergency before surgery the next day, an individual (not always a medical professional) popped in every 15-20 minutes to tell me what was happening. Tho the ER stay was lengthy, my anxiety level was diminished.
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