Saturday, September 29, 2012

There's No Comfort in the Waiting Room

Several weeks ago my wife was taken to hospital by an ambulance. She called me in advance, and I told her that I would meet her at the ER. This has happened a few times this year, but every time seems just as stressful as the last.

When my wife is suffering, I want to be with her and see her with my own eyes and hear her with my own ears. I don’t want to be told second or third hand what is happening. I don’t trust anyone until I have confirmation for myself that she is safe.

I arrived at the waiting room and waited in line. The clerk at the admitting desk had not heard of Teresa. I was pretty sure she was there – either that, or the ambulance was the kind that had to be pedalled.

I used the courtesy phone to call the central switchboard. They confirmed that Teresa had indeed been admitted, and was in Emergency.

She was so close – somewhere behind the secure glass doors. It was frustrating.

I asked a young lady who was volunteering if she could help. She headed off to find out where Teresa was.

I sat, staring at my shoes – eerily like the Death Cab for Cutie song “What Sarah Said.” The TV was entertaining itself, and nobody was looking up except when a nurse walked in announcing a name.

I became consumed with worries and “what ifs.” Finally, the volunteer returned – no, she couldn’t find anyone named Teresa.

I looked down the hall and saw two women come out of the Social Workers offices. One wore high heels, the other sneakers. I walked up and interrupted, asking to speak to the sneakered one (see my earlier post “Getting Support from Child Protective Services” for the reasons why).

I told her my problem. She smiled, and said “I’ll talk to the nurses and we’ll find her for you.”

In five minutes she was back with a nurse. They took me through the glass doors to where Teresa was, about twenty meters from where I had been sitting the whole time. The whole process had taken about forty minutes.

I saw many other worried and frustrated people arrive – knowing that a loved one had been brought in by ambulance, but not knowing where they were. The quiet anxiety in the waiting room is palpable.

If part of a hospital’s mission is to alleviate suffering, they could do a lot of work in the waiting room. A good start would be making a social worker available to help reduce the anxiety and suffering.

Just as long as it’s one who wears comfortable shoes.

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