On the advice of my specialist, I had to go to the emergency department of a Calgary hospital last week for treatment. The hospital’s waiting room was full as expected when I arrived at 11 a.m.
Within half an hour, I’m pleased to report, I was processed and was awaiting treatment. So far so good. But what I saw inside the actual ER department was nothing but chaos.
There were crowds of patients waiting to see a doctor or a specialist. Most of us had our blood pressure and temperatures taken and we were told we’d be called later on . . . and then we waited with many other sick and suffering people for what seemed an eternity.
I was in a great deal of pain. I went and told the receptionist that I couldn’t bear the pain any more and if she could push me ahead of others waiting for treatment.
“On a scale of one to 10, how much is the pain?” I was asked.
“Nine,” was my reply.
“We’ll see what we can do.”
Nothing was done and the wait continued. Others who outwardly appeared to have no need for immediate treatment continued to be seen by the doctor. I acknowledge that they came before me and had the first chance to receive treatment, but common sense should have dictated that the ones who are really suffering should be seen first. I know that patients coming into ER are triaged — or assessed by need, but it didn’t seem like that was going on. Even the walk-in clinic in my neighbourhood where I have gone a few times has a notice indicating that urgent cases will receive treatment first.
In the waiting room, there was a young patient, who we learned had diarrhea and severe nausea. He was vomiting and was rushing to the bathroom every 15 minutes. He couldn’t bear it and just lay on the floor, groaning and moaning. A concerned patient went to the receptionist to inform her about this patient’s deteriorating condition.
“Oh, we know about him,” was the answer. The priority rule wasn’t going to be broken even if you were to die there.
A very sympathetic physician finally saw me around 3 p.m. The doctor gave instructions to one of the male nurses for my treatment. The nurse tried the treatment, but failed in his attempts. “You will have to be seen by a specialist,” he said. “We’ll have to notify him.”
Another long wait for the specialist (a urologist), who finally showed up at 7 p.m.
I understand that a urologist is on duty at that hospital 24 hours a day. When the urologist came, I immediately recognized him as someone who was in the ER section several times and I told him so. He said it was true that he had been in and out of that section several times that day, but he was not told of my condition until 5 p.m. Between 5 and 7 p.m., he was tied up somewhere else.
Fair enough, he is a busy man, but my question is why was the urologist not told about my case earlier while I was in extreme pain?
The urologist finally found a bed so he could examine me. There were only three beds in the examining section and other patients were still coming in. The demand for beds just to examine patients was so acute that staff had to hastily turn a section of the waiting room into an examining room so doctors could examine patients.
After finding a room for me, the urologist had to look for nurses to assist him. There were no nurses available, so a male nurse who had already finished his shift offered to help. By the time I received treatment and was discharged, it was 9 p.m. I had been in the ER for 101/2 hours — without eating or even having a drink of water. All this for a patient who the intake nurse knew had diabetes and high blood pressure.
While Albertans await the implementation of the provincial government’s health-care blueprint, there is an urgent need for hospital administrators to examine their procedures. Doctors and nurses cannot do very much if it is not supplemented by efficient procedures that would allow faster emergency care. We should not have to wait for five years to bring changes to the system.
Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary-based freelance journalist and author.
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