Monday, July 10, 2017

5 Hours in the Emergency Room

Sitting in the ER on the day before a holiday can be frustrating. Truth is, it can be frustrating anytime, any day. A visitor tends to notice the small, bothersome things, like debris on the floor or black scuff marks on the wheels of the gurney. The patient, on the other hand, notices only the delay in getting the proper care or pain medication that they are screaming for at the moment.

The constant bleeping noise of the blood pressure monitor, left running while the patient is taken to some mysterious location for CT Scans and Sonograms becomes the heartbeat of the room.

The wail of other emergency transport vehicles sounds loud as they echo down the deserted hallways, first a siren, later only flashing red and blue lights before the transport team makes their way past us to one of eighty rooms in the ER.

A lonely housekeeper pushes the hospital equivalent of a Swiffer down the linoleum tile. I almost asked when our room will be swabbed as well, but I didn't. Instead, I concentrated on the blaring volume of the TV where the soap opera plays its own version of drama. My companion, the patient's mother, stares without blinking at the screen catching up on her stories so she can relay updates to her daughter when she returns.

Minutes tick by on the clock in the room, the hands moving ever so slowly as we wait for some sort of results or decisions. After an hour, I go out in search of my missing friend.

"They said she'd only be gone a few minutes," I tell someone kind enough to stop.

"Oh, the techs have no idea how long it takes," the radiologist informs me as I'm pacing the halls under the x-ray sign. "I'll find out what happened to her." He asks her name again. I tell him.

At that moment, a door opens and they roll her back to the same location on the dirty floor of the ER room where it rested before. Someone else comes in the room with the same questions that have been answered a number of times. I wonder what is the point of entering data into the computer when no one can find it again.

The doctor on staff, who's substituting for the regular doctor who's on holiday, who is filling in for the patient's primary care physician, asks if my friend has an Advanced Directive and a Living Will. Although expected, this brings to light the severity of the situation and the possibilities of the outcome.

Five hours of staring at the photo on the wall opposite the ER room, the nurse finally tells us that a room assignment has been made. They roll the patient down the hall, with a brief stop in front of the nurses' station to add Dilaudid to the IV drip We follow the gurney through two buildings and up an elevator to the south wing on the fourth floor where we settle into an ice cold room, thankfully, a private room with a window, where the questions resume with a familiarity that is unnerving and redundant.

"What is your name and date of birth?"
"Do you have an Advanced Directive? A Living will?"
"What is your level of pain on a scale of one to ten. A ten?"
"What prescription pain medications do you take at home?"

An hour later, the shift changes and the night nurse comes in with the same list of questions. By now, we're preparing flash cards with the answers to save energy.

My friend is in Stage IV of Pancreatic cancer, unable to eat, barely able to walk, and each question answered requires serious effort at speaking. We turn the air conditioner setting warmer from 65 to a more pleasant 75 degrees, take our positions on the hard folding chairs provided and wait.


  1. Oh Peg, how frustrating for your friend and for you. I know what it's like waiting and waiting. I've been so fortunate with the great care I've rec'd but I know if I had to change hospitals or care givers that it would more than likely become a nightmare. My heart goes out to your friend. I'm so sorry that she is going through this.

    1. Hello Susan, Thanks for your kind sympathy and message of concern. Yes, it's frustrating for her and yet, so necessary at this point. She fell a couple of times at home over the weekend and is growing weaker due to lack of food. I know you understand.

    2. Dear Peg, I know exactly how you feel. A friend of mine was also diagnosed with pancreas cancer and the inevitable will happen any day now. This is so sad, actually almost unbearable, to witness. Please stay strong and don't forget to take good care of yourself. Hugs!

    3. My latest information is not good. I've returned to Dallas and only have email and cell phone messages from our mutual friends who are like sisters to Paula. I'm so sorry about your friend and I know you're right about the inevitable. She's losing ground and has finally agreed to Hospice so she can go home to her dogs. Very sad.

  2. Hello Peg - OH, I am so sorry that there is so much sorrow for you to share. Your shear strength of character will see you through. Waiting is a process that none of us are well suited for.Sending you energy as you go through this trying time.

    1. Hello Mike, Me, too. Totally unexpected when she told me of the diagnosis in late May. I still find it hard to believe, although, I've seen it for myself. Thanks for the kind words and for the energy. Yesterday's news from our mutual friend was not good. Paula's losing ground and is totally incoherent at this point. I can be thankful that we spent a few days together and had that time to talk while she still could. Hugs.

  3. Dear Peg,
    My love and prayers continue for both Paula, her mother and you.
    I'm also thankful you could spend those days together with her and hope she is comfortable and surrounded by her dogs.
    This post will be etched in my mind as I prepare tomorrow's nurses. I'm so sorry for this ER experience. I'm sure those five hours seemed an eternity.
    Love you and hugs, Maria

    1. Hello Maria, For the most part, the staff of nurses and techs were admirably kind, efficient and understanding. It's hard to watch someone in that much pain who is begging for relief to be told to wait fifteen minutes to an hour for medication. I do understand the reasons and the schedules when administering an anti-nausea every four hours and a narcotic every three, the attempt to coordinate the meds can be challenging.
      Thank you for your diligence in preparing tomorrow's caregivers for the challenges they will undoubtedly face.
      Sadly, Paula was moved to ICU for a while and has now been moved to a Hospice center. Her wishes to pass away at home will not be met.
      Love and thank you for your compassion and prayers. Peg

    2. I woke up thinking of you and Paula - praying for her continued comfort and your peace of mind during this difficult time. Love you, Maria

    3. My dear friend Maria, It is with a broken heart that I tell you my friend passed away this morning at 1:48 am. May she rest in the comfort of God's loving arms. She was a believer and a genuinely good person. I'm imagining her reunion with her herd of animals who long since have made the trip to Heaven.
      Thank you so much for your prayers and words of comfort here and on the phone. Love you.

    4. Oh, Peg, I am so sorry! Somehow we always hope for a miracle until Death stops us. May Paula rest in peace - of course, she will - and may all who have known and loved her find peace and comfort.

    5. Dear Martie, She was a wonderful person and strong in her faith. We enjoyed many fun times together over the years. She helped me through some dark and dismal times and shared so much with me. I will never forget her and the kind, generous person she was. Thank you for your sweet and touching note. Love.

  4. My prayers and blessings to you all.