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Isn’t there a better way? Musings after a night in an emergency room.

August 31, 2010

Emergency rooms make me cranky.

Lack of sleep makes me even more cranky.

So… after 5 hours in the emergency room in the middle of the night with Julie, who broke the growth plate in her wrist (the part of the bone that’s busy growing in adolescents) in yet another soccer-related injury, I’m not exactly a barrel of laughs today.

Here’s the thing… why oh WHY has nobody figured out how to make an emergency room (and especially the waiting room) a reasonably pleasant (or at least comfortable and somewhat soothing) space to wait in? There are a lot of creative people in this world – why haven’t we invested some of that creative energy into better designs for emergency rooms and hospitals in general?

Basically everyone sitting in an emergency room is under some kind of stress. Nobody WANTS to sit in a crowded uncomfortable room for five hours, waiting to spend five minutes with an over-worked doctor who’s just trying to survive until the end of the shift. Nobody wants to sit in those uncomfortable, straight-backed vinyl-covered chairs, staring at non-descript white walls plastered with ugly stop-smoking posters five years past their prime, craning their necks to see the tiny TV dangling somewhere close to the ceiling in the farthest corner of the room.

And while I’m venting – what’s up with the system that treats a patient like one of the cattle, shuffled through a corral shute from one nursing station to the next, answering the very same list of questions to three different people? Is there no more efficient, people-centred system than that? Last year, I sat with my mother-in-law and father-in-law in the emergency room, after my father-in-law had made a few dozen visits to the same ER in less than a month’s time, and I wanted to scream when I saw the look of pure exhaustion on my mother-in-law’s face when she had to answer the same questions she’d answered the other countless times she’d been there. You have a frickin’  computer sitting right in front of you, people! WHY didn’t anyone record the answers the last hundred times they were asked? It’s not rocket science and it doesn’t take a Phd in human psychology to know that too many questions when you’re under stress can tip you over the edge.

Here’s my theory on the whole thing. We have let the industrial revolution shape too many of our spaces and our systems and we’re still a little lost trying to figure out how to dig ourselves out from underneath the frameworks that have turned us into consumers and producers and forms and problems-to-be-solved rather than people.

We have designed hospitals like factories, thinking more about production, efficiency, and TQM (don’t even get me started on that) than about people and families and humanity. We have developed health care systems that are less about health than they are about medicine; less about people than they are about systems; less about healing than they are about bandaids. We make decisions based on what costs less, what will pacify the most number of voters, what appears the most efficient to our funders, and what will push the highest number of people through the conveyor belt that is our public services. (I could go on a similar rant about the education system, but I’ll spare you that one.)

I think it’s time to rise up, people. I think it’s time to stop the conveyor belt. I think it’s time to stop and look around at the victims of these flawed systems and figure out what’s best for THEM rather than what’s best for the clunky machinery of our systems. I think it’s time for compassion, intuitive thinking, people-centred decision-making, and LOVE.

I think it’s time to apply a bit more of our Sophia wisdom to all of this! Do I hear an amen?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. August 31, 2010 4:01 pm

    Oh yeah. Amen! Our systems for caring for humans have become almost completely devoid of humanity. Wish I knew where to start on the fix…

  2. August 31, 2010 4:55 pm

    “Amen – aum – om – ahhhwomen”

    And I start wherever and whenever I care so deeply that I take that first courageous step or leap, into my knowing or unknowing, which often is first signalled by my outrage or inrage, that something is not right, is misaligned, needs to change and that I matter enough and am enough to make a difference with that first step.

  3. August 31, 2010 4:58 pm

    Amen from me! I avoid ERs as much as possible, having been disparaged for showing up, treated like something the nurses and doctors would scrape off of their shoe. Our health care system is broken. The only ones who won’t acknowledge it are the politicians. You speak truths that fall on deaf ears because if a politician is in need of services he/she does not go through the same experience. I don’t have a solution, but I sympathize and empathize with your venting.

  4. August 31, 2010 5:49 pm

    You know, I’ve never thought about it before, but they’re all the same. It wouldn’t take that much expense or effort to make it better.

  5. Jane Kirsch permalink
    August 31, 2010 6:01 pm

    Amen, Sister! I spent about 4 hours in an ER when I hurt my knee and although the attending Doc was a personal friend, it still was not a great experience and it took way, way too long. My poor friend really suffered waiting in the crowded waiting room that was just as you described. She finally left and I called her when I was ready to leave. On top of that, since I was out of town the hospital didn’t want to do all the necessary diagnostic procedures so when I got home I had to wait two more weeks to get an MRI to get a diagnosis and then another two weeks to have surgery. This system is broken! And yes, it will take WOMEN with a SOPHIA approach to fix it!!

  6. Anne permalink
    August 31, 2010 6:35 pm

    Amen. It is especially frustrating when you have a child born with a rare disorder that has no cure only a control of sorts – – – – and they ask – when did this start? We have been here more that a half/dozen times this year, all the answers are on the computer. It started at birth, there is no cure, she needs steroids to reduce the swelling and antibiotics for infection. Same as last time. It is all you can do.

    If only they could just do what is necessary instead of finding her case so “interesting” and something they never saw before so they want you to “tell me all about your experiences with this cystic hygroma or lymphatic malformation”. I wish they could just read a medical book and spare us when we are fighting for the child’s life and they find her “just so interesting”. No wonder they find us “difficult” to work with!!!

  7. August 31, 2010 8:59 pm

    AMEN! I agree with you 100%, Heather!

  8. Kelly permalink
    August 31, 2010 9:44 pm

    I, too, have had ER experiences along these lines but I have to say… this is much easier said than done and despite how it may seem (particularly on the front lines), the people in the system (or behind the system) have good hearts and are doing all they can. I’m quite sure that you wouldn’t find a nurse that went to school thinking they can’t wait to ignore people and piss them off as much as possible…

  9. Kelly permalink
    August 31, 2010 9:44 pm

    PS – no wonder you wanted me to share my chips!

  10. September 1, 2010 10:11 am


  11. September 1, 2010 11:03 am

    Yes! I spent the entire night in an ER waiting room when one of my kids flipped out to the point where she needed either hog-tying or medical care, and we chose the latter (teenagers are fun).

    At some time during the night, while I was trying to sleep on immovable single chairs (someone had kindly given me a blanket), a woman came in accompanied by a couple of other people, in an understandable state of near-hysteria because she’d obviously received a bad call from the ER staff. She was taken about 25 yards down a corridor and evidently told a loved one was dead. I DID NOT need to hear her screams of grief and rage.

    I still don’t know why on earth they kept me there – for the convenience, presumably, of the staff. My kid was securely in an evaluation room and they didn’t want me present for the evaluations.

    At the very least, someone should have told me to go home or offered me a couch somewhere. And that poor woman should not have been given that news in a corridor, however volatile her own behavior.

  12. September 1, 2010 5:53 pm

    when you have a spare hmmm i think it was 16mins have a look at that Ted talk. It is right in line with what you are talking about.
    I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said.
    Im glad your daughters wrist will be ok.

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