A Night in the ER

A Night in the ER

Hopefully most people’s experience with a hospital emergency room is minimal. For me, I had been fortunate in that it had been quite some time since I had last been in one. However, I recently spent some time in the ER. Thankfully I’m okay, but my time in the ER was certainly an eye opening experience that I thought was worth blogging about. There was quite a bit of action and events to observe that evening. Here are the main observations I made during my time in the London ER.

My first observation will come as no surprise; wait times are still a huge problem. The government truly needs to step in and do something about the wait times – for the sake of the patients and the hospital staff. After being triaged, it took about five hours for me to be seen by a doctor. While my wait time certainly afforded me plenty of opportunities to be a ‘fly on the wall,’ giving rise to this blog in fact, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t anxious to be seen and (hopefully) released, so I could get on my way. And this is not to say that the hospital staff or the doctors were not moving fast enough; in fact, it is quite the opposite, which leads to my next observation.

The hospital is incredibly busy, but incredibly efficient. When extra space is needed, the hospital comes up with some pretty innovative ways to find it. When extra beds are needed, they will find a way. When extra rooms are needed, they improvise. I’m sure as a patient who is only looking at things from the outsider’s perspective, I’m only scratching the surface. But if you really take the time to look around at what is going on, you can see how efficiencies have been fully utilized.

As my time in the waiting area went on and on, my patience certainly was tested. But for me, I at least understood the dynamics of what was going, such as the volume of patients exceeding the resources available, as I alluded to above, and I was able to remain calm and patient, knowing I would be seen in appropriate order. Unfortunately, patience and composure were not the virtues maintained by many others who were waiting. This leads me to my next observation; the front desk staff are exceptional! Time and time again patients approached the desk to inquire about wait times or to complain about them. It became almost routine. Some patients were aggressive or, borderline, offensive. Other patients were difficult to understand, frantic, or simply lost. Yet despite all of these challenges and the repetition of people complaining about wait times over and over, the front desk person remained extremely professional and pleasant. Every time, I watched her in anticipation, thinking I might catch her at her wit’s end and snapping, but she never did. Her exceptional professionalism was likely lost upon most people in the room, but as the ‘fly on the wall,’ it certainly impressed me.

I will never know what other patient’s reasons are for attending the ER; patient confidentiality is strictly in place. But based upon my own observations in the ER waiting room, it is evident that our ER is handling a large volume of mental health and drug dependency related matters. Presumably a lack of resources otherwise available to these patients has left them with little other option but to attend the hospital, when they are in need. In fact, on my night at the ER, I observed a patient with significant mental health issues who was clearly a regular at the ER and who was on a first name basis with most people in the triage area. Numerous other mental health cases evidently came in over the course of every other hour that I sat and waited. And then, as I waited in a room to be seen by a doctor, I observed a number of intoxicated patients who occupied beds. I will be candid – I never appreciated the extent to which mental health was being serviced by the hospital emergency staff. It is borderline a crisis, and something needs to be done. And again, the hospital staff’s patience and professionalism in dealing with such a challenging dilemma is commendable.

My last observation is about the emergency physicians, when I finally was able to see them. I realized that with the astounding range of issues that bring patients into the ER, they clearly must know a plethora of all types of medicine – which they truly do! I was very impressed by their level of diligence, thoroughness and how hard each and every one of them was working. Their work environment, as you likely have envisioned from my descriptions through this blog, is very busy and at times chaotic.

During my time in the ER, I was reminded about my clients and their individual struggles. I reflected on how challenging it must be to wait, in pain, with questions and concerns. I thought of the families who are often waiting on the outside, anxiously, to hear the news about a loved one who is in an emergent situation. I was reminded of the first stages of many of my clients’ journey, when they learn what turn their life will take with newfound injuries. I am humbled by my time in the ER. It is never a fun experience being in hospital, but I take great comfort in the fact that we are in the hands of some of the best here in London. Our hospital and its amazing staff are there for us when we need them; hopefully our government can help them help all of us.

Christopher Dawson

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