Waiting at the hospital... My perspective
Tuesday, January 15, 200812 Comments
First, I should get out of the way the things that pissed me off but were not the fault of the hospital. When you go to the ER at Guelph General, or any ER for that matter, you have to be triaged. My partner and I were waiting in the seats assigned for incoming cases to be triaged waiting our turn with my finger wrapped in bloody toilet paper. ( Bloody as in I bled all over it, not the British slang) A woman asked if we were in line for triage, we answered yes and then she slyly made her way towards the triage desk and when the desk became free, she stepped up and cut in front of us and had the triage worker look at her son. We didn't want to make a scene so we just moved up closer to the desk and gave her dirty looks until it was our turn.
Then when I was being triaged the nurse rattled off the questions that everyone is asked. When he saw I didn't have an Ontario health card because I'm an international student he said "we don't handle international people here." At which point my heart started beating so fast that I'm surprised the blood didn't obliterate the toilet paper around my finger and squirt all over the guy's face. After revealing that he was joking, he asked to see my wound and I took off the toilet paper. He then asked if I was trying to kill myself when it happened. I'm not sure where he learned his bed-side manner, but he is truly a master of comedy and care. (Does sarcasm translate over the internet?)
Those item aside, the experience was exactly what I expected. I got to the ER at 8:30pm and didn't get out of the waiting room until midnight and wasn't treated until 12:30am. Now this may seem ridiculous and outlandish enough to make Sean Hannity scoff and exclaim "See! That's what happens when you socialize medicine! GAAHHHH! I like yelling things!" But it's not a shock to me. I went in on Sunday night, when there is virtually no other option of where to go when something goes wrong. Admittedly, I wouldn't have sat there if I didn't have to but I needed stitches and where else was I going to go? I was low priority, I wasn't bleeding out, I wasn't passing out, I wasn't writhing in pain, I should have been low on the list and I was.
It seems to me that these American pundits, talking heads and Republican presidential candidates overall have never likely been to a real hospital and if they were their name power and/or available cash swept away any line for them. If you have enough money, you don't have to go to the ER, you can have the ER come to you. With all the talk from the 'States about how movies like Sicko and similar criticism improperly show the state of medicine in Canada, the 'States and elsewhere. However, the ER here seems to be largely the same as those I've seen in the 'States.
While I waited 3 and a half hours to get past those glorious metal doors, I waited with a child from my camp at the ER in the 'States once. One of my campers split his head open at the pool about 5 years ago when I was a counselor at the park district. He had t0 be taken to the hospital via ambulance, he was put in a neck brace, and had to remain still lying down because he might have done spinal injury, they didn't know. So we got to the hospital and he was immediately put on a gurney and wheeled down to the hallway and left in a soaking wet bathing suit, in an overly air conditioned hospital for 5 hours. I waited 3.5 hours for stitches on my hand in the relative comfort of the waiting room while this child with possible spinal and head injuries was left to shiver in a hallway for 5 hours.
Now, that might not be the best example. The hospital had a trauma centre so any major calamities were routed to their ER and who knows, maybe there was an 87 car pile up after two planes hit each other in midair and fell onto the highway at the same time that I missed hearing about... BUT that wouldn't explain all the stories.
According to Producer Tracey Lyons, writing for MSNBC Nightly News, the average wait in an American ER is, you guessed it, over 3 hours like my wait at Guelph General. Despite claims otherwise, the instances of waiting in the 'States are obviously serious according to an article attached to the above linked post. In Joliet, Illinois, (famous for it's prison that housed Joliet Jake Blues in the Blues Brothers) the hospital has pagers that you would usually find in a cheap-ish chain restaurant. In 2005 a Waukegan, Illinois, woman died from the heart attack she was having after waiting 2 hours and 10 minutes at the ER.
The blame for wait seems to be similar to the reasons in Canada. Since moving to Guelph about 8 months ago, my partner has yet to find a GP that is even taking new wait-list patients. Since there are too few GPs clinics and ER rooms get the spill over of non-emergency cases that have nowhere else to turn. In the 'States, there may be enough GPs for those that can afford them or have sufficient insurance but those that don't fit that mold are left to the ERs. And while there are more non-emergncy cases going to US ERs there are also real emergency cases and they are all going to fewer ERs. Between '93 and '03 425 of the 4000 or so US ERs closed their doors. Meaning wait times in the 'States are also the rule, not the exception.
There are two major differences I see between here and home. First, the woman that stitched my finger closed told me she was a nurse-practitioner. I have never heard that told to anyone in the 'States. I think it's because self-involved Americans would buck against the thought of waiting three hours to see a nurse and would start yelling until they saw a doctor even if it meant waiting another 2 hours of screaming.
Second, I was never referred to a billing department!
To sum up, there is nothing wrong with the Canadian Emergency care system that isn't wrong with the American version. True, everyone has their horror story but that is the tale of the tape on both sides of the border. I have had enough of my fellow Americans criticizing a system they have not actually compared to the US system. Yes, if you live 7 hours north of the arctic circle, you're gonna have trouble getting medical care but in Guelph it's apples and apples with the 'States except here the apple doesn't cost $7,000.