The Medical Circus, Part I

By yesterday morning, the bed of my thumbnail had morphed into a hideously bulbous thing, and in its nearly infectious state, caused me much consternation. An embedded thorn that I’d removed had apparently traumatized the nailbed. So my dilemma was this: do I stay home, suck it up and hope that, with time and care, the healing will happen on its own; or do I brave the inevitable crowds and head to the nearest walk-in clinic or (lord help us all) emergency room?

I chose the latter. Big mistake.

By ten o’clock in the morning, I’d paid a visit to a clinic with which I was familiar. Mindful that school being in session and people not yet on lunch break, I hoped the wait would be short. HA. As I walked in, a quick glance around not only hinted at the impending waiting time, brought on added dread: every single seat was taken. “About three hours,” said the receptionist.

Ok, so H1N1 madness has swept the nation and swine flu vaccinations are in full swing. On my way out I see kids coughing, babies crying and others suffering from varying levels of pain, despair or boredom.

Next stop: A clinic run out of a physician’s home basement. I call first, asking about the wait, because I am recovering from an accident, I have alot of pain and I can’t sit for long. “No problem,” she bellows over the phone in a Russian or Bulgarian accent, “no long wait today. Doctor will see you soon when you come over. You come now.”  So there I am in the car again, whizzing off through an enclave of homes, into which is tucked this nondescript home and hidden office.

I knock on the door, and hearing silence, I walk in, half-expecting to see an empty room, smiling secretary and doctor waiting for me. HA. Meeting my shocked gaze as  I entered the darkened room were no less than a dozen weary-looking people of all ages, stuffed into heavy couches, among them a smart-ass who, noticing the pillow I carry around as a ‘sitting assistive device’ exclaimed all too jovially, “so you brought your bed with you too?”

Quickly informed by the chorus that I had to add my name onto the list, I took a look around and asked who had been waiting the longest. A timid, wigged-out, mousey-looking woman eventually piped up: “Almost three hours.” Another one dead in the water. Off I went.

Then, off to a government-subsidized (oh-oh!) clinic housed in an office tower. Much recommended. On the phone, I was convinced to come in right away because there was no wait. Not possible, thought I. Sure enough, when I arrived, only one other person was in the reception area. Once I got to see the nurse I understood why: the doctor is not in today. Excuse me?? Which basically meant that the nurse could do absolutely nothing but ship me off to yet another clinic. Ah, the wonders of our healthcare system.

That was it. My body couldn’t take it any more. Three strikes, Hippocrates, and you’re out.

Or so I thought.

I momentarily forgot that I had an evening appointment with my newest addition to the practitioner-bunch, Claudia (more on her later). Arriving earlier than my scheduled time, I entered a ground-floor walk-in clinic in her building, a large sign outside advertising that  emergency cases without appointment were accepted. Great, I thought, this is it.

Not a chance. The minute I walked into an empty waiting room, my heart sank. Immediately I knew it was a bad sign. Sure enough, the receptionist, at the end of her rope at the end of a long day, quickly brushed me off, assuring me that walk-ins were no longer welcome.

As if 8:30 PM, post-treatment, wasn’t late enough to call it a day, a decision was made to drop in at an ER to check on the situation. I promised that if told the wait would be longer than 1/2 an hour, I’d return the next day. Almost verbatim, here is the conversation that transpired:

AJ: Hi, can you please give me an idea of how long the wait will be?

Nurse: Not too long, take a seat.

AJ: Well, that’s just the problem, I can’t sit for long because it’s painful. You see, I’m recovering from an accident, and if you tell me that it will be longer tonight than, perhaps, tomorrow morning, then I’d rather not have to wait.

Nurse (looking out at the filled-to-near-capacity waiting room): No, the line is moving along pretty well. A triage nurse will see you very soon and then a doctor a short while after.

AJ: OK.

Famous last words. A triage nurse did indeed see me within minutes. As for a doctor… I finally heard my name called three and a half hours later.

In retrospect, I should have known better. As a trained lawyer, I ought to have insisted that the nurse sign a contract stipulating that, due to my pre-existing condition,  I would be seen within the half-hour (or hour, let’s be lenient here); otherwise, the responsibility would be with the triage staff to find me and suggest that I return another time. Or, they might have offered me a stretcher to lie on…

Voila, welcome to the Medical Circus, aka our medical system and its phalanx of acrobats. Overtaxed.  Magic tricks. Sleights of hand. Juggling too many balls. Throwing us to the lions. Forcing patients to walk sky-high tightropes or wait interminably in the wings. When or how will this madness stop?

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