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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Non-Emergency Room

My sister's boyfriend was in a bad car accident this weekend; bad enough that the entire side of his head was swollen and one eye was bleeding non-stop and was also glued shut with congealed blood. For things such as this, people go to the emergency room - only to be reminded that what we consider an "emergency" is apparently only a "minor inconvenience" to the ER staff.

In reality, all that needed to be done for Lance, according to the BR General ER staff, was a little eye clean-up and to be sent home with some eyeball ointment and pain pills. He needed a cat scan and some x-rays, also, to make sure he didn't have a serious head injury. Sounds pretty straight-forward, doesn't it? Apparently not; all that I just described took almost eight hours to accomplish.

We knew we were in for a long wait when we heard there was only one doctor on staff. Though there were only four people in the waiting room, a DOA cardiac arrest seemed to take hours of this one doctor's time. Apparently being dead is an emergency. Extreme dehydration, a staff infection with blood-filled boils, a broken hand, and a possible head injury and eye laceration are not.

We got to know just about everyone in that waiting room, along with their injuries. Perhaps we should've just walked out when the young boy with the supposed staff infection was led in an "interview room" where they sliced open his boils to drain them and then left him leaking blood and pus for nearly thirty minutes - all over the cot and the floor. Yes, the boy with the staff infection - the room was adjacent to the waiting room.

The woman who was so weak she couldn't sit up, who hadn't eaten or drank in three days, got called back a long time after they first looked at Lance, even though her husband raved and ranted that she was dehydrated and needed a bed and IV, at least. The girl with the broken hand was there before we even arrived and was initially looked at 5-6 hours after we'd been sitting there.

Finally the doctor ordered his cat scans and x-rays; we'd been there for going on 6 hours. It took nearly an hour before they called him back for the tests and it was over an hour before the doctor came and discussed the findings with him.

The worst part of all is that during the waiting and with a waiting room full of very angry people, beyond the window looking into the nurses station you could see them all standing around idly chit-chatting and reading the newspaper. They were so busy they couldn't bring anyone back or treat them, yet they had time to stand there and prattle on about the weather and to look up the latest sale at Macy's.

The entire time between when the dead guy came in and his family finally left (about 3 hours), the entire ER seemed to be on hold. No one got called back. No one came out. Nothing was being done - not a thing. Apparently dead people are a lot of work. Being dead is an emergency. Being alive and wounded is, apparently, not.

The nurses in this particular ER appeared to have the education of grade-schoolers, and little else. When we asked them for a wet, warm washcloth so Lance could try to wipe the dried, crusty blood from his eye you think we had asked them for an eggplant.

"A washcloth?" the girl asked my sister, looking genuinely confused. She looked at the nurse next to her. "Washcloth. Warm."

The other nurse nodded, "Um....okay." She went to get one, and returned holding it in her hand. Instead of handing it to my sister she said, "Okay, I'll bring this out to you in the waiting room."

I understand that ER's are busy places and there's lots going on in the background that we don't see or realize. But the nurses standing around gossiping and reading the paper didn't seem to be terribly busy. The disappearing doctor didn't seem to be either.

Even when they did get around to helping Lance - in spurts - the care was dubious, at best. When he was thrown around the car the windows were rolled down and part of his head appeared to have made contact with the road - it was scraped straight through to the scalp. It was given a cursory glance when they first looked at him and never acknowledged again. When they were going to clean out his eye, my sister asked, "What about his head?" and the doctor said, "Oh, he just has a contusion." They didn't clean it, even though it likely had gravel and any number of nasty things in it.

Even his eye wasn't thoroughly cleaned, even though his eyelid was sliced almost completely through and it was still bleeding freely nearly 24 hours after the accident. There was no rinse, no flushing the eye out. The doctor only wiped the dried blood off, roughly, with a damp cloth.

Today, when my sister went to clean his "contusion" - the one the hospital neglected to clean or even properly look at - she was horrified to realize it stank like rotted meat and had ample nasty pus oozing out of it. It's very infected and obviously needs attention; attention it did not get in the ER originally, as it should have.

They did, at some point, ask him if he'd had a tetanus shot in the last five years - to which he responded, "I'm not sure, I think so".

"That's good enough," the nurse responded.

I'm currently writing a very detailed and very angry letter to the hospital's administration. There was no excuse for the ineptitude we experienced. The mother of the boy with the staff infection said she had once worked in that very ER, for over five years, and it had never, to her memory, been that incompetent; meaning it wasn't just our ER-inexperience making it seem worse than it really was.

If I'm ever in a serious accident or grievously wounded, I have to wonder if going to the emergency room will even help me. When my sister was in a car accident where she broke her cheek bone a few years ago we waited in an otherwise empty waiting room for nine hours. Even when they finally took her back, she was never given any pain medication though she was, understandably, in considerable pain. This was a completely different ER in a completely different hospital. Are ER's all over the country this inept? Or is it just this bad in Baton Rouge?

Now excuse me while I go write my letters of complaint to everyone I can think of.


- shanna bared her soul & griped a bit @ 7:14 AM
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