Monday, July 03, 2017

Life in the ER

One of my favorite TV shows is Chicago Med. In the past I never was a fan of ER or Marcus Welby MD, or any of the other hospital shows, but on Chicago Med the numerous doctors and nurses are able to diagnose and treat and release patients all in one hour, less commercials.

Real life is not like Chicago Med. In real life things go much slower. Hospitals take longer for test results to come back. It takes longer to diagnose. There aren't as many doctors or nurses. There is a lot of sitting around doing nothing. There is a lot of uncertainty in real life. Like most restaurants and other places of business, it has never been my experience at a hospital that when I've asked for something, everyone dropped everything they were doing to respond to my every need. Nurses are busy and doctors even busier. There's more work and too few staff, especially on weekends. Most of the time they just don't know. As an adult I understand this, and don't get my feelings hurt.

When I went to bed on Saturday night I plugged in my cell phone to charge up. I got some good sleep. When I was ready to go the phone battery was already down to 96%. That was good enough for what I had planned. I drove downtown to pick up my Peachtree Road race number. When I arrived at the World Congress Center 25 minutes early the parking lot was already mostly full. The was no surprise to me, as runners like to get places early. I had wanted to make sure my phone was charged so if I had to stand in stand in line I could make good use of the time, deleting emails and checking my phone.

As it turned out I used the time looking up the information I needed to get my race number. While I was there I snapped a couple of pictures. When I left thirty minutes after opening there was a long line of cars trying to get into the parking lot. I drove past the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium and snapped some pictures. Checked to see where M and A were on my phone. Swapped some texts with Anna. Headed back north.

That's when I got the text from mom. Dad wasn't feeling well, but just wanted to rest. I didn't think much of it at the time, but later realized he probably needed to go to the hospital. By then I was up in downtown Marietta. Mom seemed out of sorts. I realized she might need some help. Nobody told me what to do. I turned my car around, got on the interstate, and headed to Macon.

At some point on the drive down I realized I didn't have my phone charger. Or watch charger. Or laptop. I tried to use my watch whenever possible to save my phone battery, taking calls and sending texts. No social media or checking email on my phone. Told by brother and sister I would update them as soon as I learned something.

As I predicted, things went slowly at the hospital. Since it was the weekend and the place was crowded, things moved even slower. Patients lay on beds in the hallways, since all the rooms were full. I had to stand in line to ask the lady to look up where my parents were. Got to the room and the paramedic came in before he left. He reviewed with us what he thought (not a stroke, nothing serious, but something). As soon as I would learn something, after the doctor left the room I would relay the information to my brother and sister. At one point I realized I could be relaying erroneous information, since the doctors made it clear they weren't sure. If nothing was happening, I sent no updates. I had little concept of time passing by, because I wasn't sure what time I got there and I wasn't looking at my phone or watch. I wasn't in a hurry.

When a nurse or doctor was in the room I tried to give them my full attention. I did my best to listen and encouraged my parents to do the same. I wasn't there to distract the doctor or waste his time. I wasn't there to ask the doctor irrelevant questions, or ask them where they were from or if they knew so and so, and tell them what happened years ago with someone's relative who had something that might've been similar. This wasn't about me. I was there to learn.

Tests were taken. Blood was drawn. Other samples. A CT scan. Nurses coming and going. Finally after several hours a doctor came in. What he said was different than what the paramedic had said. The doctor stressed they wouldn't know anything until more tests were run, and they would be admitting him to the hospital. For previous experience I knew this would not be quick. It could take an hour or two. As I had done before, as soon as the doctor left I texted the info to my siblings. I figured texts would be more clear. There would be less of a chance for my words to be misunderstood. I was wrong.

Later another doctor representing Dr. Young came in to check on dad. He performed a few quick tests of his own. What he said was slightly different from the paramedic and earlier doctor. But he did say that time and further tests would be needed. Anyone wanting precise, quick answers would be disappointed - which shouldn't surprise anyone who's ever hung around a hospital.

Once we were settled in the room I texted the room number to my siblings. Not long after that the phone in the room rang. I picked it up and heard nothing. I looked for a button to push, and checked the nobs. I unplugged and replugged every connection. I hung up the phone and tried dialing nine. No dial tone. Eventually I hit the call button and told the nurse about the broken phone. She said she would report it, and that since it was Sunday evening that department wouldn't be in until tomorrow. As a reasonable person, I knew that any demand I might make for the phone to be fixed immediately would not be able to be fulfilled. Both mom and I had cell phones. Sucked that both were almost out of battery - but that wasn't the hospital's fault. I could've demanded a change in rooms, but that would've inconvenienced my ailing father and feeble mother. The damn room phone was not at all important. We had other things to worry about.

My sister called and had a long conversation with my mom, asking questions we'd both already said we wouldn't know until the next day. When I got back my phone the battery was almost dead. I sent out one last text with what I knew. Even if things weren't too bad, with the holiday on Tuesday my guess was dad would be in the hospital until Wednesday. I shouldn't have postulated, as some people interpreted my guess as fact - and told others as much.

Both mom and dad needed stuff from home, so at 5:30 I left to retrieve my car. I pulled around to pick up mom at the front. An older couple was walking in. They weren't looking so I stayed back. Finally the wife looked back as they crossed the drive. When I passed them and got out of the car to help mom, the man called "Marion!" It was pastor Steve Johnson and his wife. I told Steve I wondered who it was I almost ran over. We had a short chat before they went inside. On the way home mom missed a couple of calls. She tried to call Nita back but didn't get her.

At home I knew it would take mom awhile to gather what she needed. I didn't want to rush her, but I wanted her to remain focused on the task at hand. She could talk on the phone on the drive back to the hospital. Margaret called and we had a nice chat. I told her everything I knew. She said she'd text my mom later on in the evening. But the next caller demanded they speak to mom immediately, and would wait until mom could come to the phone. I'd been hoping to drive back to Atlanta before it got too late, while I still had a working phone since my car had been running hot. Finally got mom back to the hospital at 8:45, over three hours after we'd left.

The nurses had given dad a couple more tests. It was after nine before I left the hospital, and after eleven when I got home. I could have stayed in Macon, but there was no real need. Monday morning the doctor said dad could go home on Tuesday and rehab as an outpatient, according to a text I received.

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