Tales of the Damned
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.