Last night I had to call 911 when my heart went into atrial fibrillation for two hours. It had happened four years ago and I was taken to the same ER, so it gave me the basis for comparison between then and now.
The first difference began with the arrival of the paramedics. The last time they assessed me in my home; this time it was in the ambulance parked outside my home. I was freezing by the time they got me into the ambulance on the stretcher so it was difficult to get the catheter in the vein in my hand for the IV line, as my hand was so cold. The assessment also seemed to take a lot longer. They were having trouble getting my blood pressure and I was concerned that it seemed more important than getting me to the hospital.
However, it was at the hospital that I noticed the biggest change. Four years ago I was taken immediately into the ER with three people waiting to get me into my stretcher/bed on the count. This time I was taken to triage where I waited and waited. When I commented on the change, the paramedics, with obvious frustration, said, “Don’t ask.”
The paramedics were concerned about this delay as my rapid heart rate (150-180) and atrial fibrillation were putting a strain on my heart. The paramedics had to wait with me in the ER hallway while I waited for a space to become available in the ER ward. I very much appreciated their help and company. It beat waiting by yourself on a stretcher in the hallway of an emergency room, which I have experienced. At least I knew I wasn’t forgotten. This time I had two people to keep me company, reassure and advocate for me and find me a bedpan and privacy when needed.
These paramedics were dedicated professionals, concerned for my well being while working within the constraints of a health system that has had so much money drained from it that it isn’t functioning as it should or even as well as it once did.
After waiting an hour I finally got into a bed in the ER and my paramedic companions were free to leave, ready for the next call. I was quickly hooked up to a monitor, a second line of fluid added, an ECG run and blood work taken. Fortunately, soon after the transfer, the atrial fibrillation reverted.
I had two visits with a doctor. He sat down in the chair beside me. It may have been a chance for him to get off his feet, but combined with his kind, attentive manner, it communicated to me, “I have time for you, am concerned for you and am here to help you.” I can’t remember an emergency room doctor doing that before. On the second visit, he brought my file and had familiarized himself with it, confirming the history and dates I had relayed.
He reassured me that I had done exactly the right thing to come to emergency and to do the same should the need arise. He told me what he was writing down and as he handed me my report, he said I wouldn’t be able to understand it, but my doctor would. I informed him that I had worked with a doctor and had deciphered many illegible ER reports. He smiled.
Once I was out of the hall, the rest of my time there was pretty much the same as four years ago, except that my stay was much longer then, as the A-fib reverted only after seven hours and three different meds.
Some things in the ER never change. You observe a multigrain slice of life: a man spewing out expletives and threats at the staff trying to help him was hastily wheeled by me on a stretcher while I was waiting in the hallway; the elderly with DNR orders lying in beds alongside those in the prime of life, suddenly taken seriously ill. An ashen young woman who had been hemorrhaging fainted as she passed my bed, trying to walk supported to the washroom.
When I was set free to go, on my own, of course, a little shaky and worse for wear, I passed through a packed waiting room, filled with people facing the prospect of a wait much longer than mine. I note with regret the erosion of our health care system, but am thankful I didn’t even have to consider how I was going to pay for an expensive but necessary trip to the ER. I didn’t have to worry if my carrier would cover the expenses and if I would be able to afford the deductible, if it was covered. I didn’t have to sign any invoices on the way out. I simply walked out. All I have to do is look to the south and realize how fortunate I, and all those waiting for care in Emergency last night were.
March 1, 2011: Why I waited 1 hour for treatment: http://www.atv.ca/london/news_75432.aspx