I recently had the opportunity to get an inside look at the U.S. heacare system. The ER at MJ.
When I walked in, everything was going as fast as glue going uphill, “Sit down over there and fill out this form and bring it to me when you’re finished,” the nurse says. Hurry up and wait time. Whole waiting room is coughing. I’m thinking, “I’ll get the flu before I get seen.”
Five minutes later I was sitting in a chair having an EKG. Before I knew it, the place went into warp speed. A team suddenly appeared out of nowhere, pushing me into a wheelchair, rushing me into a room crowded with blinking lights. They stripped off my shirt and put on one of those gowns that puts your butt on parade, slapped gizmos on my chest, stuck in an IV, everyone looking grim like I was going to say Sayonara right there. And they had an appointed angel, a Florence Nightingale trained in crisis management, “It’s okay, sweetheart,” she cooed to me, “don’t be concerned about all this rushing around, we just want to make sure you’re okay.” I felt like saying, “Who are you kidding? You guys are outdoing E.R., they could take lessons from you.” But of course, you say nothing
First, they treat you like you’re a goner, then when they’ve got you all wired up, wheel you into a room and park you for four hours while they usher in a bunch of docs. My primary care doc, one of my cardiologist’s colleagues and finally, my cardiologist. All the while, this infernal beeping is going on from the various machines they’ve got me hooked up to. And outside in the ER corridor, EMTs from Louisa and Orange are parading back and forth pushing poor saps on gurneys.
My cardiologist tells me, “I’m glad you came in, it’s time for the pacemaker. We’re scheduled for 7:30 tomorrow morning.”
In the meantime, I discover I’m going to spend the night cooped up in this tiny room in the ER. “We’re full up with flu cases so we don’t have a bed available for you,” a nurse explains. “But I can get you some food if you like. Up until midnight you can have anything you want.”
I’m tempted to say, “A double martini straight up with two olives,” but I know I’d be wasting my breath.
“No thanks,” I say, “I don’t have much of an appetite.”
“Suit yourself, just press the red button if you change your mind.”
I check my watch, 5:30. I’ve been in ER going on five hours now. Only fourteen more to go until the “procedure”. In hospitals, they don’t call anything by their real name. An operation is a “procedure.”
One thing I’m not good at is waiting. I complain to my wife when she visits, “I can’t believe I’m going to be locked up in this hellhole for half a damn day. I tell you, this is worse than a third-world hospital. I can’t sleep with all this beeping going on and the traffic going by outside is like being parked in the pull off lane on 64.”
“Let me see if I can get you something to help you sleep.”
She comes back with holding a capsule up between her fingers. “This should do the trick, I had to pull some strings to get it,” she tells me. “It’s an Ambien, you should sleep like a baby.”
When she leaves, I take the Ambien. Big mistake—no one told me Ambien is a psychedelic. I have nightmares about sliding naked down the gray hull of a sinking battleship toward the thirty-foot high waves, but I never get to them, just keep sliding, first this way, and then that. It is horrible.
Thankfully, I wake up and the sliding stops. I check my watch, it’s 4:30. Good–only three hours to go. Unfortunately, my ass has gone to sleep and I’m so wired up, I can’t move. By squinching around, I manage to shift the weight to my left cheek. Then to the right. Some relief but the beepings still there and the EMTs keep rushing by.
Out in the ER, I notice that no one seems to pay attention to the fact that it’s 4:30 in the morning. In the ER, I realize, the sun doesn’t go up or go down. It’s like living in the Arctic Circle.
Finally, I get a reprieve. A nurse comes in and announces, “We’re going to take you up to prep.”
Jailbreak! I finally get to escape from my prison. Who ever thought I’d be looking forward to my “procedure”? But I am. I delight in the new environments as she navigates my gurney down corridors, into elevators, more corridors, finally stopping in an open area with a couple of blue-gowned nurses standing around.
As they begin scrubbing me down, my cardiologist shows up.
“How’d you sleep?”
“I never got out of ER—so not well, thanks.”
“Oh dear,” he says. “Okay, let me explain what we’re going to do.”
He takes me through the procedure then says, “I’ve got to tell you the things that can go wrong.”
He sounds like he’s memorized them in medical school, ticking through them, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. They are so grim I’m tempted to say, “Okay, you talked me out of this. I’m going home.” But I’ve gotten this far, so what the hell?
He finishes up by stating, “But that only happens in 1% of the cases.” Why didn’t he start by saying that? I’m wondering.
From there on in, it was easy going. Didn’t feel a thing during the procedure, incision stung a bit but nothing I couldn’t deal with. And the best part? I got an actual room to recuperate in—bathroom, view of the surroundings, big screen TV, room service. Only problem was, I had to stay there for another night.
They promised me I’d be discharged by 9:30. One of my primary care docs showed up, the cardiologist—everyone said I was good to go. Except it never happened. 9:30 came and went, then 10, then 10:30, then 11. I decided it was easier to get out of a state prison than a hospital.
When my wife showed up, I put her on her meanest setting and let her loose on the hospital staff.
Finally, at 11:45 I escaped. Free–free at last!
By the way, here’s a gratuitous piece of advice. Try to avoid going to MJ during flu season. Other times, the place is a four-star hotel, but when flu time rolls around, stifle your symptoms if you can and give the place a wide berth.