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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Waiting Game

“So much for the toast I had planned to eat for breakfast,” I muttered when I saw that I sliced my finger with the bread knife.

It was 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday. I knew immediately it was not going to stop bleeding. I wrapped the finger with gauze and taped it as tightly as I could without cutting off the circulation, then I called the hematologist.

“Don’t worry,” she said, “I’m on call this weekend, so have them page me when you get to the hospital.”

It was 9:00 a.m. The waiting room outside the ER looked deserted. It took the receptionist a few seconds to notice me standing in front of him. I said, “Dr. Jefferson wants to be paged and told that I have arrived.”

Without responding, he handed me a clip board and pen, “Just write your name and insurance information on the form, then bring it back to me.”

Holding my left hand up above my head, I struggled to keep the blood from leaking through my bandaged finger and onto the paper. I watched the parade of people enter the waiting room. Soon there was a woman with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She looked as if she had slept in an alley last night and she was babbling to no one in particular. An ambulance driver rolled in a young woman on a stretcher. I overheard the young woman explaining to someone on her cell phone that she believed her leg was broken. A car had hit her while she was riding her bicycle. Her voice was shaky and she glanced around the room at the rest of us. “They don’t have a room for me yet,” she told the person on the phone, “can you come get me and take me to another hospital?”

It was 10:00 a.m. when the triage nurse called me into a cubical behind the reception desk. She took my blood pressure, and documented my injury. “I know it looks like just a small cut to you, but my blood does not clot.” She looked doubtful. Once again, I said, “Dr. Jefferson wants to be paged and told that I have arrived.”

“We can’t do that until you are in a room,” the nurse said tersely.

Several people drifted into the waiting room while I had been in triage. A woman holding an infant occupied the chair I had been sitting in. I found another chair near a person who appeared to be coughing up phlegm into a tissue.

It was 11:00 a.m. before my name was called. The room I was assigned was directly in front of the nurses’ station. I could overhear the nurses discussing the upcoming football games that weekend.

When the nurse came in to take my vital signs, I glanced at the clock and noticed that it was now 11:30 a.m. I attempted to contain my irritation as I said, “Dr. Jefferson wants to be paged and told that I have arrived.”

“We will do that as soon as the ER doctor has seen you.”

The resident doctor meandered into my cubical just after noon. He looked as if he hadn’t slept the night before. “It says you have afibrinogenemia, what’s that?”

“Just call my hematologist,” I snapped.

It was after 3:00 p.m. before the bleeding finger was treated and I was released. By that time, the waiting room had filled to standing room only. I thought of all the people who have asked me if I could bleed to death from a small cut. “No it wouldn’t kill me,” I always reply, “but it could take a long time to heal.”