Medical Care in a Covid World
She is 67 years old, and lives alone with her dog. On Nov. 29, she hadn’t been feeling well for several days. No serious thing that she could put her finger on, just a combination of slight nausea, minor chest discomfort, and elevated blood pressure. When it didn’t go away, she began to be concerned, particularly considering her history of hereditary heart problems.
She first thought of Covid, although she was fully vaccinated. Several gatherings during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend had exposed her to people, so her concern led her to take a Covid test. The result was negative.
Her primary care provider also does walk-in care, so she drove there. They refused to see her, telling her she would have to call. So, she left, and called them, and was connected with a nurse practitioner, who informed her that they don’t see “sick people,” and she would have to go to the hospital emergency room.
At this point she was upset and confused, particularly because she could not understand why a medical provider would refuse to see a person who was sick, particularly one that had just tested negative for Covid. But she did as she was told, arriving at the hospital a few minutes after 4 pm.
After waiting in line briefly, she was registered and told to sit in the waiting area. After a while, she was called into a room where they checked her vital signs, and gave her a chest X-ray and an EKG. She was then sent back to the waiting room, where she continued to sit for hours.
Finally, at around 10 p.m., after being in the emergency room for nearly six hours, she was informed that she was going to be admitted to the hospital to be given a stress test and a CAT scan the next day. However, they had no regular hospital rooms available, so she was placed in one of the emergency exam rooms for the night. She had eaten nothing since about 10 a.m. so she asked for some food, and was given an already prepared sandwich box.
The following morning, things went better. She was promptly given the necessary tests, told that the CAT scan was negative, and that she would have to wait for a doctor to read the results of the cardiac stress test. This was when things started to go sour — they had no idea when a doctor would get around to that.
Later on, she was informed that a regular room was now available, and that the emergency room she was occupying was needed, so she was transferred. She asked to be released, since she felt better, that she didn’t need to be there, and was tired of waiting. She was told that she could not be released until the doctor saw her.
She had been given a menu, but when she called to order food, she was informed that no food could be provided without the doctor’s OK. She called for a nurse, who was able to get the doctor’s approval for food, but still had no idea if or when he might check her test results and make a decision about release.
The doctor showed up at about 6 p.m., after she had been in the hospital for about 26 hours, a third of it waiting for him. After some arguing, the doctor agreed to release her, and wrote a prescription for her heart. She was now ready to go, or so she thought. But a hospital pharmacist questioned the doctor’s choice of prescriptions, so there was another delay.
She was finally released after nearly 29 hours in the hospital.
She complained little throughout, trying to understand that this all happened because of a heavy load and short staffing, but she still can’t believe that it took all day for a doctor to find a few minutes to check her test result.
Recent news articles tell of hospitals complaining of too many patients, so why is there such a delay in releasing the ones they have, and why are their own primary care offices sending people to the emergency room instead of treating them?
Are the hospitals contributing their own patient overload?
Don Stratton is a retired inspector for the Lima Police Department. He writes a guest column for The Lima News, often focusing on police matters.