Wednesday, March 11, 2009

15 hours at Stroger Hospital

Stroger HospitalAfter a week of toughing it out, I couldn't stand the pain. If Stroger Hospital was my only choice, I was going there.

So we set out early that December morning. It took over an hour to get there, but we pulled up at the emergency room before 8:30 a.m. The ER waiting room was already full.

I waited in line, holding on to the admissions desk for dear life — by that point I could barely stand, and there was nowhere to sit — and was ignored until my turn came around. I told the intake nurse I was in intense pain. She gave me a plastic bracelet and told where to wait. And wait. And wait.

Over 11 hours went by before I saw a doctor. Meanwhile, the room got fuller and fuller and fuller.

The pain intensified until I just sat there, weeping, curled as best I could in my hard chair. No one from the hospital ever checked on those waiting, other than occasionally calling out names from the front. After two hours, I was called to have vital signs taken and later to discuss what I could pay for treatment. (A sign in the waiting room warns that the hospital is not free.) After another five or six hours, they took my temp and blood pressure again.

After several hours, my companion went to ask if I could get something for pain. No. Told, about seven hours in, that I was near to rolling on the floor shrieking, a nurse advised that if I got escalated to the next triage level, I could expect to wait even longer.

Several other patients, seeing me suffer, asked if they could do anything to help; a young woman offered me some Tylenol. It was easy to tell the experienced hands. They'd brought their own nostrums, reading materials, games, cushions and packed lunches.

I hadn't known what to expect of the patient base — I suppose I'd pictured bag ladies and CHA residents. There were some who might have fit that description, but mostly the patients seemed much like those at other urban hospitals I have visited, diversely ethnic and largely working class. They all waited very, very patiently, no matter what was wrong with them.

In some cases, it wasn't an urgent problem. I was shocked when a pretty blonde who looked like a college student told me she'd come because she thought she had strep throat. I wondered whether she'd considered getting treatment somewhere else. "I came here because it's where I've always come," she said. "I didn't know where else to go."

Patients wait in long rows of uncomfortable chairs with arms to keep you from lying down — like an airport, but filthier. The room was the dirtiest place I've ever seen in a medical setting, chairs and tables grimed in the ground-in, stuck-on sticky grunge that denotes long periods of no serious cleaning. During that whole long day, I never saw anyone cleaning.

Once I finally got back to the medical areas, they were cleaner, but not as pristine as at other hospitals. The treatment seemed much like that at other emergency rooms, perhaps a little slower, but they did all the expected things. Once the tests came back, they gave me morphine — at last! — and things get hazy after that.

The upshot was that my problem was even worse than I'd thought. It wasn't, however, yet life threatening, so they were going to send me home to wait for an appointment with a specialist. "It takes a couple of weeks," the ER doctor said.

Then she gave me a prescription for five days' worth of painkillers.

It took two return trips to the hospital pharmacy to get them. And, more than two months later, I'm still waiting to see the specialist.

1 comment:

  1. 15 hours for five lousy days of painkiller is ridiculous. You could get street drugs back in the neighborhood with less trouble.


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