So there I was, holding up my own IV bag, sitting in an ER in a strange place, surrounded by ailing Texans and looking to kill someone. If this is how they treat someone brought in with chest pains by ambulance, then how do they treat someone with a broken toe? Might you wait a week for someone to look at that toe? There was no bed for me, no wheelchair, no IV pole, no one the least bit interested in the fact that I was there. The EMT had poked me with probes and needles and then left me to my own devices.
My mind turned to Esmin Green, the woman who’d died while waiting to be seen in the Kings County Hospital ER. It took over an hour before anyone noticed, or apparently cared, that she was dead. I fantasized about that TV show. You know, ER, where three or four doctors run out into the pouring down rain to meet the ambulance. I looked at all the full chairs in the waiting room. No one had been called since we’d arrived. I turned to my husband, Paul, and said, “I’m going to rip this f-ing IV out of my arm and get the hell out of here!” Because, I knew, even then, that allowing them to bring me to this hospital from the airport in Houston, Texas, was a mistake. At this point, Paul felt it necessary to go up to the desk and ask again how long it might be.
And thus the first leg of our journey home from Belize was interrupted. I’d had severe chest/shoulder/stomach pains in Belize a few days prior to our trip home and had survived, but when the pain hit me again as we rushed from one terminal to the next, we stupidly thought someone should check me out. And that’s how I ended up in this overcrowded Texan ER.
Paul came back and told me that all the woman at the desk could tell him was that the longest anyone had waited that day was six hours. I started pulling on the tape holding the IV onto my arm and Paul said, “Really, Karen, I don’t think you should do that . . .” Then, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, they called my name. And that’s when it happened. I was sucked into the vortex of modern medical care and barely escaped with my life!
Every test they did was normal: the blood tests, the urinalysis, the x-rays, the electrocardiograms, more blood tests . . . yet they wouldn’t let me leave. I was 24 hours into my hospital stay and I still hadn’t seen the cardiologist or been told why (when it was pretty darn obvious that I wasn’t having a heart attack) I couldn’t just go home. I told Paul that I bet if we were uninsured the door would be hitting me in the ass as they shoved me out of the hospital; but as it is, we have very good insurance.
Finally, the evening of day two, they promised me that if my echocardiogram and the radioactive cat scan of my lungs were normal that I could leave the next morning in time to make our 10:15 flight home (we’d rescheduled it twice already). So, night two: I in the hospital bed, Paul in the lazy boy chair. I am abused every few hours by nurses: more blood needed to be drawn from my poor bruised arms, heart monitor batteries replaced, temperature checked, blood pressure taken . . . Then finally the cardiologist shows up at seven a.m. and tells me that my last two tests were normal. “I’m going home!” I feel like Dorothy!
Then in walks a phlebotomist, steps right between the doctor and I, and throws three empty blood vials on the bed and stretches that rubber armband thing at me. “What are you doing?” I ask in my best pre-murderous voice. “Oh!” she chirps. “I’m drawing some blood for your blah blah levels!” “Oh no you’re not,” I say. “I’m going home!” The doctor throws in, “No. She doesn’t need that.” The phlebotomist perhaps notices the doctor for the first time; and I go in for the kill. “Besides,” I say, “if you get another needle anywhere near me, I will be forced to kill you.” She gathers up her torture equipment and hightails it out of there. I’m pretty sure I ruined her day. Really, I was kidding -- sort of.
Then, on top of everything else, Paul gets into a big fight about the rotten state of medical care in the US with the Texan taxi driver who drove us from the hospital back to the airport. The Texan, of course, is going on about what an idiot Obama is for wanting to have the government control our health care; and Paul arguing that our system is very broken; and the Texan saying that Canadians all come to the US for their health care ’cause they die waiting in Canada (I have a good friend from Canada. She assures me that Canadians do not wish to come to the US for medical care and that their system works quite well, thank you!); and Paul trying to convince this guy that something needs to change; and I just wanting them both to shut up! Did Paul really think he could change this idiot’s entire Texan mindset during a $7.00 cab ride?
So I am home, finally. And fine. It was probably that conch ceviche, which was delicious, but perhaps too much for my sensitive stomach. Was I over tested, over poked, over insured, and over treated? Absolutely! If they’d found something truly wrong with me would I feel differently? Maybe . . . But let’s face it, what’s really sick is our health care system. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this tiny first step that our government has taken towards a healthier health care system is just that -- a first step.