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.