Friday, June 22, 2007

Tales of the Damned

I've spent way too many miserable hours in the filthy, overcrowded, understaffed, confusing, and heartlessly indifferent waiting room at Our Lady of the Damned. I've been in pain, terrified, crying, unable to breathe, carrying chest x-rays and CT scans that showed a huge malignant mass pressing against my lungs and heart, squeezing my superior vena cava and cutting off my circulation, causing my face to swell and turn blue.

This is technically, in every possible sense of the word, a bona fide hair-on-fire Medical Emergency. And yet I've sat in that damn waiting room like that for eight or nine or even ten hours. More than once. I've sat there totally forgotten, my charts lost or inaccessible, waiting all night to see a new inexperienced incompetent sleep-deprived resident who barely speaks English and doesn't have a clue how to treat me and finally fucks up by sending me off into the dawn with an incorrectly written, unfillable prescription so the whole long wait was for naught. And I've watched the other people around me go through similar horrors. Let me assure you, it's the total shits. As bad as it gets.

So as a result of what I've been through myself and witnessed others going through in the brutal arena of a public hospital ER, the recent story in the news about the woman who died on the ER floor of a Los Angeles public hospital while indifferent medical staff stepped over her body and a janitor mopped the blood that was pooling around her does not shock me at all. But it does scare the living crap out of me. Because I've come much too close for comfort to being in this situation myself and may do so again, but also because every fucking time something like this happens, there are inevitably threats to shut down the entire public hospital system. And then where the hell would poor and uninsured people like me go?

From today's Chicago Tribune:

The shocking audiotape of the 911 call suggests the dispatcher had no idea what to do when she received a call last month from the boyfriend of Edith Isabel Rodriguez. As he pleaded with the dispatcher to send paramedics to her aid, Rodriguez lay on the floor, in pain, throwing up blood. The dispatcher was flummoxed, though, because the policy of "take the patient to the closest hospital" didn't apply. Rodriguez was already in the emergency room lobby of Los Angeles' inner city Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital.

Shortly after another bystander made a second futile 911 call imploring paramedics to take Rodriguez to another hospital, she died of a perforated bowel. A security videotape, still unreleased to the public, is said to show her writhing on the hospital floor unattended for 45 minutes. At one point, the tape reportedly shows a janitor going about his business mopping the floor around her.

And according to the LA Times:

Unfortunately, there are no simple solutions to tragedies such as that of Edith Isabel Rodriguez. When the facts emerge her death likely will be due to a combination of administrative incompetence, medical and nursing negligence, bureaucratic indifference and emergency room overcrowding. The last is a particularly vexing problem across the country. Emergency room overcrowding is usually a result of a dysfunctional primary care system, a problem not unique to Los Angeles. Too many people forced to visit the emergency room for primary care renders the emergency room not only inconvenient, but occasionally dangerous. It may be worse in the public sector, but patients often have to wait a long time in fancy private emergency rooms too.

Without a fundamental restructuring of primary care, emergency rooms will continue to serve as the clinic of last resort, a situation that benefits no one. As a result of the Rodriguez case, King-Harbor is in for rigorous scrutiny. Federal officials have concluded that King-Harbor's emergency room patients are in "immediate jeopardy" and threatened to withhold funds from the hospital until reforms are instituted. Because of past problems, there is even a chance the hospital may close. If so, it will be another nail in the coffin of the American public hospital system that for decades represented the best and worst of our society. The best because it took care of those the system otherwise ignored. The worst because of the incompetence and indifference that cost the lives of Edith Isabel Rodriguez and others like her.

I've looked into the eyes of indifferent bureaucrats and hostile politicians, and I've seen how little my life is worth. Stories like this one confirm it.


Blogger Lucid Dream Yogini said...

Your blog...your story...YOU... influenced me in a huge huge way to jump over to the idealistic light side and join the force to bring energy healing to the be part of the movement to end dependence on western medicine. I had always seen myself as a "healer", but had pussyfooted around as a massage therapist. You made the situation *real* for me in a way that moved me to action and I appreciate that you took the time and effort to share your experiences. may think I'm crazy...that's okay by me. The woman who I worked with yesterday who had massively painful neuropathy and is now dancing around her room doesn't really care whether I'm crazy or not :)

9:42 PM  
Blogger Bonnie said...

Liz - can't wait to see SICKO - the new Michael Moore movie. Supposed to be his best yet and a true indictment of our current "health" care system. Do you think it will come to Deep Inferno?
Don't know if it will change anything - but raising awareness can't hurt!

Bon in H-town

12:58 AM  
Blogger Hathor said...

The think tanks bloated ideologues create these policies on health care which have nothing to do with the sick and the politicians attach them selves to them, because they don't have to think.

Sometimes I don't think I want politicians to do anything. I look at the Medicare prescription plan and if I had to depend on that I would still have to beg pharmaceuticals for medication. I take 11 meds a day. It would have been better if congress would have just given a cash benefit to each family with what it spends administering that plan.

There is a effort to trash Michael Moore to influence those older people who vote. Making any kind of health care discussion, communist, pinko and socialist. Let the country make health care a vestige of the Cold War and not about the sick.

My city's hospitals were assaulted by a health care company driven by the stock price which resulted in the lost of hospitals and two valuable trauma centers. This has put more strain on those that are left. The smaller hospitals in the poorer neighborhoods were the first to go. I guess this was the free market solution.

I wish I could be more optimistic about the future. Reading this blog continually makes me angry that I can not jolt the bureaucrats, politicians and talking heads into reality. No one should have to go through your ordeal or fear their life seeking health care. Isn't life an unalienable right.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Ellie said...

Optimist: Unfortunately, the problems are just as bad in the socialized programs Moore praises (see Facing the Barbarians for an example, or the latest issue of Reason online). Stories like the one Liz mentioned plague all forms of healthcare setups. I don't know what the solution is. It makes me sad.

3:37 PM  
Blogger Professor Zero said...

Knowing about these things makes me a bad daughter, though (I am well acquainted with the hospital and system whereof you speak). My mother, aged, gets traumatized by an *hour* wait at her private hospital. I realize any hospital visit is scary and I need to be supportive but I find myself saying things like, wow, you only had to wait an hour? That's so great ... and it is not what she wants to hear.

6:30 PM  
Blogger doidle said...

I'm going to be racially insensitive here and say a lot of the overcrowding problems at ER's is due to illegal immigrants. Every time, EVERY TIME I am at the ER, I see Mexicans there, looking miserable, and they are there for, usually, a child coughing or with a fever. They go the the ER for illnesses they could see a doctor for. The ER's are just overloaded with Mexican immigrants in my town (Dallas)...every time.

Anyhoo....just one of the many, many problems in U.S. healthcare.

6:58 AM  
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11:21 AM  

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