My Turn: 10 Educational Hours at the ER

Having spent a sleepless night with a bit too much pain in my abdomen, I informed my wife I was suffering from another bout with diverticulitis.  I was also forced to admit I had consumed a bag of microwave popcorn, a definite no-no for someone with no intestinal fortitude.

She called the local medical clinic for an appointment.  I protested because the last time we showed up with the same problem, they merely sent us on to the emergency room, adding an additional $65 to our bill.  We got in to the clinic at around 10 a.m.  The doctor said: "While it appears to be diverticulitis, we must be sure.  Please go straight to an ER."

We arrived at the large midtown hospital here in Kansas City.  This facility is known to be well equipped with a staff of good physicians. The ER seemed pretty busy for noon, but we signed in and waited to see the triage nurse.

After a long hour, we were called over to be triaged.  During the exam, we asked about the apparent backlog of patients.  The nurse admitted that many had been waiting for several hours, and that it would be several more hours before we could be seen.  That's when the parade of the ill and dramatically injured began:

A fellow came in who had nearly sliced his finger off and had wrapped it tightly in a now blood-soaked bandage.  When I saw him, I told myself I must let him go before me, given his much more serious condition.  I hurt just looking at him.  A while later, a woman showed up with a blood-soaked towel around her head.  She had to be assisted by several other women.  They told the admitting clerk that the woman's head had been pinned between a car and a tree when her 3-year-old let the car out of gear.  She was miserable and throwing up into a wastebasket.  The clerk told her to please take a seat in the waiting room and someone would call her name. The severity of their situations encouraged me to keep my mouth shut and wait my turn.

Five hours went by and we were appalled as case after case of serious issues appeared. We began thinking we would need to wait all night with no viable alternatives.

At about the seven-hour mark, a crusty thirtysomething fellow started raising a storm.  He demanded the admitting clerk call an ambulance to take him to another hospital to be treated.  While he was very loud and a bit rough in appearance, he never said anything improper.  When the clerk refused, he asked whether there was anyone who would loan him a cell phone to call an ambulance.  He called the local Veterans Hospital and told them that this hospital had informed him of a likely five-hour wait.  He said he had been in an accident, had a splitting headache and couldn't see straight.  He predicted he could be dead before he was even examined here. His performance was somewhat entertaining and even satisfying to many of us in the waiting room.  He left and it was quiet again. Again, my conscience told me to keep my own mouth shut; all I had was a bad tummy ache.

Eight full hours after I had signed in, my name was called.  I glanced sympathetically at the fellow with his finger barely hanging on and quickly jumped up to follow the nurse. (Really sorry, dude, hope it all worked out for you!)

No scan was ordered, just a conversation with the very competent ER doctor who concurred with my diagnosis of diverticulitis—which occurs when the lower intestine becomes inflamed or infected. Then the doctor and I discovered that we had a common interest in sushi and spent more time sharing notes on where to go for good Japanese food than we did on the medical issue.

We asked the doctor how to avoid spending a day in the ER just to get antibiotics.  She explained that had I arrived in an ambulance, I would have received immediate treatment; ambulances were handled immediately. After 10 hours at the hospital, I left with a prescription and a first-class education in the ER crisis.  Trust me, it is real.