Hoping for humanity in Waiting Room 16

I have just returned from the Mission St. Joseph’s emergency room. I fell at the gym and injured my foot. While my foot is black and blue and hurting, I am red, hot and mad.

This is my third visit to an emergency room in 10 years. Each visit was more painful than the last.

At no time have I felt more fragile than when visiting an emergency room. Yet at no time have I received less attention than when limping through those double doors.

Arriving at the Mission St. Joseph’s emergency-room entrance, a security guard met me with a wheelchair. Little did I know then that her kindness would be the most humane act I would experience during my four-and-a-half-hour emergency-room stay.

As I signed in, I read a sign saying patients would be seen according to the severity of their injuries. Since the room was almost empty, I shouldn’t have to wait long, I thought.

Fifteen minutes later, a nurse asked me to roll myself into his cubicle. As I struggled, he offered no help. He began to ask me questions about the accident, my doctor and any medications I was on. He also asked what I did for a living. He wanted to know how I could be at the gym in the middle of the day.

When I reminded him I was in pain, he promised to get me an ice pack. Five minutes later, he left me waiting in the lobby again.

I was soon called to meet with a woman about insurance and billing. As she took down my information, I reminded her of his promise of an ice pack.

After waiting a while longer in the lobby, I was wheeled through smoked-glass doors to waiting room number 16. As I waited and waited, the nurses and staff came and went, without acknowledging me. I felt invisible, as if I didn’t matter at all. Hearing the staff laughing and visiting in the hall made me feel lonely. Still in pain, I felt sorry for myself.

The doctor breezed in for a minute and reviewed what was already on my chart. As he walked out the door, I asked him what would happen next. He said he would return once I was X-rayed. He would get to me as soon as he could.

As I waited, I tried to read a magazine I had brought with me. In pain, I looked at the pictures instead.

Finally, I was taken into X-ray. After 10 minutes in there, I was rolled back into waiting room 16, alone except for the wall clock. Minute after minute, I waited. Finally, my doctor appeared at the door. My face lit up as if I had seen Santa Claus. He coldly explained I had dislocated my big toe.

I shivered as he explained the procedure, then asked him how long it would take. He said they would get to me as soon as possible, then vanished again down the long hall.

By now, I had a roommate. Through the thin curtain that separated us, he complained about the long wait.

Soon after, the nurse returned to give me a shot of antibiotics. A while later, the doctor came to numb my foot.

The feeling in my foot was fading. When the doctor returned, he began adjusting my toe. He commented that when adjustments don’t work, surgery is required. That was a possibility I didn’t need to hear.

Yanking on my toe, he complained that nothing was happening. Finally, he gave up, saying he would call an orthopedic doctor to look at my foot.

Once again, I was left waiting. Now I was alone in waiting room 16.

The orthopedic doctor arrived much sooner than expected. He restored my waning confidence, saying I would be all right.

When he was finished, he sent me to X-ray and promised to see me in 15 or 20 minutes. Fifteen minutes turned into 30, and I was still waiting in waiting room 16. By the time the orthopedic doctor returned, I was hungry, tired and in pain.

He told me to wait while he reviewed the X-rays; then he would know if I could go home. A half-hour later, he released me. I was rolled again through the smoky glass doors.

Sprung from my prison, I searched for a vending machine to get something to eat. I was famished. It was 3:30 p.m., and I hadn’t had lunch. I had been in the emergency room for four-and-a-half hours, most of that time in waiting room 16.

My time would have gone so much faster if someone had shown some compassion, if someone had checked on me from time to time. If just one professional had shown the slightest sympathy, I would have better withstood the pain.

Most friends who are in medicine tell me that they entered their profession to heal their fellow man. While most began their careers with good intentions, they forgot those intentions over time, eventually becoming jaded. They became numb to their patients’ pain. They forgot their pledge to serve people. Instead of a calling, their profession turned into a job.

The medical profession is a hard one. I find it sad that so many medical professionals have turned hard, too.

[Randy Siegel moved to Asheville from Atlanta a year ago.]

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