Opinion: Thirty-three hours to bed rest

By JOHN BUTTRICK

Published: 08-20-2023 7:00 AM

With the exception this week, John Buttrick writes from his Vermont Rocker in his Concord home: Minds Crossing. He can be reached at johndbuttrick@gmail.com

I was having relentless pain. I paced the house all night long, only pausing for an occasional restless five-minute snooze on the couch, in a chair, or on the edge of the bed. In the morning I was reaching my pain tolerance threshold. I desperately rushed my spouse to get the car and take me to urgent care.

After a good half-hour continuing to struggle with the pain, my name was finally called — at least that’s what I heard. Turns out there were two other ‘Johns’ in the waiting room ahead of me. We’d all jump up only to have two of us return disappointed to our waiting chairs.

After forty-five minutes, it finally became my turn. “At last I would get some relief.” However, I was directed to a chair where I had to confirm my name, my birth date, my insurance and list the medications I was taking. Then I was asked to tell my story — what happened, when, where was the pain, and how strong was it (1-10). Then with a cheerful “thank you” I was told to go back to my seat and wait to be called. That was the low point in my day. I protested that the pain was making me nauseous. “Please get me to a doctor!” I was given a plastic bucket to take with me to the waiting room.

When I sat down, bucket in hand, others close by slowly moved to seats further away. It was another half-hour sitting, with my elbows on my knees and hyperventilating from the pain before my name was called again. By the time I was seen by the doctor, I was beginning to feel somewhat better. So, I felt a little sheepish telling the doctor my pain had subsided. Grasping for my dignity, I joked that my long campout in the waiting room seems to have become a cure. The doctor was not impressed. After another round of taking name, date of birth, pulse, temperature, and blood pressure, it was prescribed that I have more tests. However, urgent care was not prepared to administer them, so off to the emergency room of Concord Hospital.

The emergency room was chairs lined up along the side of a hallway, all but one occupied by waiting people. I sat down in that empty chair, bringing with me a cloud of despair. However, during the passage of one and then two hours, the line of waiting people became like a family seated in a passenger train. We joked and lamented about the long waits and empathized with each other over the stress of the emergency room. We calculated when a hospital room would come available and who would be admitted first.

We traded anecdotes about the subtleties of health insurance and gave advice about the cafeteria and where to find the restroom. Accompanying the banter were the technicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, and occasional doctors passing along the corridor to check ID’s, vital signs, and send people off to various specialty units for tests, after which they were returned to their place along the corridor’s edge.

The staff was like multiple train conductors checking tickets and directing people to the right train car. When boredom infected us, we would joke with passing personnel about the long duration of their shift being shorter than our wait to be discharged or admitted to a room, ideally a hospital room, but even a cubical in the ER would be better. We jovially challenged them to find us a spot before they left.

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Slowly people disappeared from the line along the wall. One 85-year-old man, who will remain unnamed, ended up with a young roommate on the pediatric ward and later was transferred to the maternity ward. The plight of this old man reminded me of that couple that found another birthing place when “there was no room at the inn.”

There is not much more to this story other than to say thanks to my family who modified their schedules to visit me, give support, and talk with my nurses and doctors. Also to say, one source of the chaos was a shortage of hospital staff. Therefore, some of the hospital beds remained empty while the waiting areas remained crowded.

However, through all of the stress, the hospital staff was knowledgeable, cheerful, helpful, caring, empathetic, and professional, most of them with a comforting sense of humor. Ask them to tell their stories and thank them for their good work. As for me, I anticipate a soon-to-be-completed procedure and a quick recovery at home.

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