I had occasion recently to visit a friend in hospital, a spanking-new facility in our community. I had no trouble parking, finding the elevators, or locating his room, and we enjoyed a half-hour or so of conversation before I left.
It was quite a contrast to what I had experienced a year or so earlier, when I paid an unexpected visit to the emergency department of the old hospital, a facility reminiscent of the dark ages of medicine.
My wife was away for the weekend with friends, and I was home alone. That in itself is never a good idea.
While attempting to open a can with our idiot-proof can-opener, I managed to slice my index finger rather badly. When my muddling efforts to stanch the bleeding were unsuccessful, I decided—very reluctantly, mind you—to drive myself to the hospital to have the injury stitched.
With a gauze wrapping the size of a small fist encasing my finger, I managed to make the trip without incident. Not having needed emergency care for quite some time, however, I’d forgotten how long such a simple first-aid procedure could take.
The first clue that I might be in for a long stay came when I had to wait for a spot in the emergency parking lot. The guard on duty wouldn’t let me in until a metered space opened up, despite my wagging my mangled finger at him. That word—emergency—takes on a whole new meaning when one enters upon hospital property; Hurry up and wait might best describe what I was about to endure.
Once I finally got the car parked, I had to find the parking meter (at the far end of the lot from where I was, of course!), fumble some coins into it, then trudge back to the car to place the parking pass on the dashboard. I might have been whimpering softly by this point, although I can’t be certain. I next proceeded to the emergency room entrance, following the brightly-coloured signs with their pointing arrows, and limped up to the reception desk.
I’m not sure, looking back, why I was limping; after all, it was my finger I had injured. Perhaps I was subconsciously trying to influence the admissions staff to whisk me right through. I could almost hear the PA system blaring forth:
Prep the O.R. immediately! This patient has a severe digital incision requiring prompt attention. Alert the trauma unit! We’re on our way up!
Hah! Faint hope! I leaned on the reception desk, moaning strategically, waiting for the receptionist. She was on the telephone, apparently fighting to get off, but losing. Finally, to my delight, another woman came behind the counter, set down the coffee and bun she was carrying, and approached me.
“Last name?” she inquired.
“Burt,” I responded. “I’ve cut my finger pretty badly on a tin can, and I can’t get the bleeding…”
“Take a seat,” she interjected, indicating a row of chairs to my left with a jerk of her head. I meekly joined the other eight or nine folks already sitting there—none of them, to my eye, as much in need of help as I. Every few minutes, just to emphasize that point, I groaned audibly.
During the next forty-five-or-so minutes, every one of them was called into one of two small cubicles, behind a curtain. I never saw anyone emerge. But I was impressed with the efficiency of it, even ‘though I had to wait quite a while to be included.
When I finally heard my name, I smugly entered a cubicle ahead of the people who had arrived after me, every one of them fixing me with a malevolent stare for having the nerve to think I was in greater need than they. Inside, I was told to sit down in front of a large computer screen. A different woman sat opposite me.
“Proof of health insurance?” she asked. “Been treated here before?”
“Yes,” I whined, “but it’s out in the car. In my wallet. I don’t think I’ve been in here before.”
“We’ll need it,” she said.
Slowly and somewhat resentfully, I carried my sore finger all the way back to the parking lot to fetch my wallet. Then I trudged back to the cubicle. By now I was limping even more noticeably. Of course, someone else was now inside with the woman and her computer, so I had to wait my turn once more.
At long last, I made it through the data collection process and was ushered through the rear door of the cubicle to what I hoped was the treatment room. Alas! It was another, larger, waiting-room, and the whole world, it seemed, was ahead of me. Including some of the people who had apparently resented me earlier, now happy they had passed me in line.
Three magazines, two washroom breaks, and one half-cold cup of coffee later, I was called into an honest-to-goodness treatment room. After sitting on the padded table for a quarter-hour, trying not to wrinkle the protective paper pulled over top of it, I finally decided to lie down. Precisely at that point, a doctor (I greatly hoped) bustled in, scanned my data sheet, donned her latex gloves, then removed the sodden wrapping I had been clutching around my wound.
“Do you need this finger?” she asked abruptly.
“Do….do I need it?” I croaked in horror.
“No, no, no. I mean, do you need it for your work? What sort of work do you do? We can freeze it and stitch it if you need your finger; otherwise, we’ll clean it, glue the skin, and tape it for you.”
My relief was palpable. All my anger and frustration at having waited an eternity vanished in a flash. I was so grateful she was going to save my finger, I was seized by an impulse to hug her.
But she wasn’t there long enough for me to act on it. In not much more than five minutes from the time she’d entered, I was all taped up. And the bleeding had stopped.
“Good to go,” she said, “unless that limp is a problem.”
“Uh, no, it’s not,” I quickly replied. “It’s really nothing.”
In no time at all, I was outside on the way to my car. And to the parking ticket on the windshield, reminding me that I had stayed too long!