Saturday, February 06, 2010

Thursday night / Friday morning I pulled an all-nighter at Beth Israel hospital. Everything is fine now, but my sister was hit by a car. More precisely, she was run over by a car. She had been walking home from the subway, and as she was crossing the street about 100 yards from her building, a car – without its lights on – began backing out of a parking space. It hit her, knocking her to her knees, and her coat got caught under a tire, so it pulled her under as the car kept backing up. Fortunately a group of people walking by managed to scream loudly enough at the driver that he stopped, with a back tire literally pressed up against my sister’s side. In fact the tire had her pinned underneath, and the driver was forced to pull the car forward in order for her to get up. Another half-second of movement and the car would’ve rolled over her back. Incredibly scary to think about.

This happened just before midnight, and an ambulance took her to the ER at Beth Israel. I met her there around 12:30am. Her right leg was pretty scraped up, and the right side of her torso hurt when she took deep breaths. Around 1am a resident gave her a brief examination, asked her a few questions, moved her to a bed, and ordered an ultrasound. A pair of doctors administered the ultrasound at 2am and discovered nothing out of the ordinary, but they ordered a CAT Scan just to be safe. At 3am an orderly came in saying that he needed to take one last vial of blood. Except that my sister hadn’t given any blood. The confused orderly excused himself to check, and quickly returned with six empty vials and a pitcher full of liquid (the contrast material) she needed to drink over the next two hours. Clearly somebody had forgotten to start the prep work, costing us an hour of our lives. At 5:30am they wheeled her away for the CAT Scan, which took about 10 minutes. The orderly said the radiologist would “hopefully” take a look at the results “in 30 minutes, or longer.” At 7am I heard the voice of the initial resident passing by, so I ran out to check with him. He saw me and said “Oh, she can leave! I got the results about 20 minutes ago. She’s fine.” I guess that was forgetfulness #2. A few minutes later a nurse took out my sister’s IV, gave her the discharge papers, and we left at 7:30am.

A few observations about my first experience in an ER:

1) ERs are nothing like they are on TV. It’s more like if you paused an episode of ER or House. In fact, pausing a show when a cast member is in the middle of a blink, with his/her mouth half open, a distorted look on his/her face, is a much more accurate depiction of the medical staff on the graveyard shift than what TV had led me to believe. There’s also much less excitement, frantic life saving, arguing over treatment, angry/anguished family members, sexual tension, witty banter, or anything else that makes those shows worth watching.

2) Residents are YOUNG. I felt surrounded by Doogie Howsers. Another reminder that I'm getting old.

3) The cleaning staff could do a better job of tidying up. When they wheeled away my sister’s bed for the CAT Scan, it revealed a paper plate, a half-eaten roll (sourdough, I assume), and a key on the ground under the bed. I know that the orderly saw it, but nobody cleaned it up, and when he returned, he simply wheeled the bed back over the mess.

4) Everyone’s got a little bit of Jewish in them. At one point paramedics brought in a middle-aged Hispanic woman, who appeared to be in considerable pain. She kept crying out “Ow! Oh, mami! Oh, ow!” Over and over. Then at one point she unexpectedly cried out (in a pseudo-Jewish accent) “Oy!!!” I feel bad that I cracked a smile despite her discomfort. But it was pretty funny.

5) Don’t let men who have been admitted because they’ve had too much to drink use the hospital bathroom unattended. After sleeping off his drunkenness for a few hours, a middle-aged man started wandering the hall and asked me where the bathroom was, so I pointed it out to him. 10 minutes later my sister needed to use the bathroom, and when she returned she complained that she had to find a different one because the floor of the one I had pointed out to the drunk was soaking wet. I don’t know if he peed all over the floor, or made a mess with the sink. It really doesn’t matter. This also relates to observation #3.

6) Even under these circumstances, it's funny watching another person drink something that is obviously disgusting. But if you start laughing at somebody in a hospital who is forced to drink something disgusting, that person will not share your sense of amusement.

Again, let me reiterate that my sister is okay. Still sore and shaken up, but all things considered, she got off lucky. And let’s hope that this is my last visit to the ER.

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