Friday, October 7, 2011

Diving into the Medical Bureaucracy

I have to say that over the years I’ve had too many experiences with ERs, and not all of them have been good. One of the most memorable was being left alone in a curtained room for over twelve hours while I repeatedly threw up from a migraine that I really thought might make my eyeballs explode. However, in their defense, ERs are much better at dealing with, “hi my bones might be broken,” than “hi, I’m in horrible pain that is difficult to test for and can indeed be faked by someone coming in off the street just looking for drugs.” In my defense the hours and hours of vomiting points to some serious method acting that I’m just not that committed to pulling off.

Anyway, I’m used to entering an ER waiting room full of a variety of interesting patients. Usually you’ll run into people with everything from a cold to those who got a little too close to their lawn tools. And then there are the truly special who injured themselves seriously a week or more ago, convinced themselves it was nothing and now their damaged appendage is about to fall off. So, the waiting room is nothing if not entertaining because you get to play guess the injury. This time around I was completely surprised when I rolled into a completely empty waiting room. It felt like I had made a wrong turn and ended up in a twilight zone version of an ER waiting room. I have never seen an empty waiting room. I felt a bit like the rest of the patients were hiding around the corner somewhere like those tricky lines at Disneyland where you think you’re through the line and then you turn the corner only to discover hundreds of people yet in front of you. So it appeared as if I was on the ER fast track. Or for those old enough to remember, I had an E ticket at Disneyland.

I wasn’t even waiting long enough to determine what 1980’s rerun was showing on the waiting rooms wavy TVs before I was rolled into triage. It was quickly determined that I was indeed broken, I was given a wrist ID and rolled back into the waiting area and before I could even wriggle out of my coat, I had a nurse navigating me back through the maze behind the passcoded doors of the ER. Even if they magically healed me up so that I could walk, there was no way I was getting out without a map as every hallway looked identical. Well, there was the hallway with the patient screaming profanities. That one stood out a bit.

I was wheeled into the ironically named Ambulatory Care unit. But I was hopeful. Perhaps I might actually be ambulatory again. My best hope was that I just messed up the tendons & ligaments in my ankles and we could just wrap them up tightly. It could be an excuse to get some brand new lace up boots. However first they pulled the old bait and switch. They’re now doing registration in the rooms. Instead of a doctor or a nurse I got a very nice office guy who wanted to fill in all of the insurance information that I didn’t have. And he tried everything,
“Did this happen in a car accident?”
“Did this happen at work?”
“No, as I said, I’m unemployed so that would be very difficult.”
“Is there anyone you could sue?”
Oh yes, sue. I should sue the person who is graciously letting me live with them while I get back on my feet. What’s that called? Shooting yourself in the foot. I think that would also require surgery and then I would have no place to live.

But after signing paper after paper that agreed that I was 100% responsible for what happened to me and all of the financial implications, the nice registration man left and the horde of nurses rolled in like the cavalry. It was quickly decided that I needed x-rays on both ankles.

I have to say that radiologists are some of the nicest people I’ve ever dealt with in a hospital. Who else can convince you to contort painfully broken bits of your body into artful poses for pictures? Either that or they’re really subtle sadists. But they’re also fairly quick about it and my x-rays were in the hands of the doctor by the time I made it back to my room. But the results weren’t quite as positive as I had hoped for. They stated that I had broken a metatarsal in my left foot, and that was the good news. That wouldn’t need a cast, it would just be uncomfortable. My right foot was much more problematic. I had broken the bottom part of the fibula, or the ankle bone, into three pieces. Not only could I not walk or place any weight on it at all, it would require surgery. I think the part of my brain that deals with money just overloaded at that point. It was then that I started wishing that Dr. Nick Riviera didn’t die during The Simpson’s Movie. “Any operation, just $129.95!”

The rest of my visit went just as quick and as efficient as the first half. They wrapped up my left foot, and splinted my right. I got a prescription for pain pills and an appointment with an orthopedist who apparently was going to pin a plate in my ankle. I’m not sure what I was looking forward to more, a lifetime of setting off metal detectors at the airport, or trying to talk the doctor into just manipulating the puzzle pieces of my ankle back into place manually. But I know I was looking forward to those pills numbing my ankle into oblivion.

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