From reading news reports, one would think that going to the Emergency Room is an action of desperation and last resort, only taken when you are completely sure that you’re willing to suffer in a dingy chair in front of possibly virulently ill strangers for hours. And hours.
So when I missed the greens I was chopping and instead sliced my eight inch chef’s knife through my index finger (and part of my nail) on Saturday night, it was the last place I planned on going. Granted, the finger tip was still there, despite all the blood. But the knife wasn’t clean, and Tetanus and/or bacterial infection made me reconsider, especially since my finger was still bleeding 12 hours later.
I have to insert that my recent doctor-aversion made me intensely skeptical that this would be anything besides a useless money spending expedition. Had I not known or cared about losing control of my bodily functions, I would have stayed home. In the end, it renewed my faith that there are things that work about our medical system. Albeit slowly.
As I waited my 40 minutes to be admitted, I was surprised that the gray-white chairs were cleaner than those on B.A.R.T., and that about every 10 minutes, someone new was taken inside. Also, the virulence level was definitely low. My one gripe was that they let two men who arrived after I signed in before me. One said he had “a severe infection” and the other had a loose crown, severe pain and a vacationing dentist. I was annoyed and hungry, but apparently my bleeding finger was low on the priority list.
This is when the fun started. And I’m not being sarcastic.
The nurses who took my vitals were male and cheerful. When I mentioned that I was blood-drawing disinclined, due to a careless phlebotomist, the nurse who took me to my exam room joked that someone would be in soon to take my blood. He chuckled at my dropped jaw and admitted that he was kidding before walking away. Eventually, I checked my immunization record and realized that my Tetanus booster was only 6 years old, my bleeding had stopped, and the pain was gone. So naturally my first instinct was to escape.
I found someone in the hall, and told them that I really didn’t need to be there. I should mention that there was a feeling of happy Zen in this place. People were cheerfully joking with the patient that had been unconscious just before, reporting baseball scores to each other, and peaceful in general. So my very tall and very calm hallway resident patiently suggested I return to my room and wait for the doctor. Oh well, I tried.
I shuffled back to my room, and a nurse came in, asking me why I wanted to leave. I explained my position, and he said I was free to leave, because according to him, they are not a jail. I made up my mind to go, but the doctor came up just then. He was a middle aged man, and the Zen was oozing out of his slightly graying hair. He informed me in a soft voice that he was in effect going to examine me, regardless of my intentions. And he did.
It turns out that I’m not a doctor. The real M.D. explained that since it had been more than 12 hours since I had cut my finger (I got a loaded stare at the mention of my failure to show up at the ER earlier), there would be no stitches administered, but that a Tetanus shot and antibiotics were called for. Apparently they now recommend a Tetanus booster every five years, instead of 10, if you have a deep enough wound. He also told me to come back in two days. I had no intention of doing so, unless it seemed necessary, but I nodded along like a little lamb.
I got my pills and my shot, and then they told me to hang out for 20 minutes in case I had an allergic reaction. While I was kicking back in my hospital bed, a younger EMT came in and started to joke around with me. Apparently I looked very relaxed for someone who had tried to escape without treatment. The banter continued, and he walked me out. As I exited, my nurses and the doctor all said goodbye, cheerful as ever.
Besides the pain in my arm from the shot, I was thrilled. I had expected some kind of horror. Instead, the people I encountered, which happened to be mostly men, were sweet, funny, calm and knowledgeable. I was in and out in an hour and a half, prescription in hand, and I realized that maybe that’s the secret: In order to work in a high-stress situation like the E.R. you have to be on top of your medical knowledge at all levels and of good temperament.
Which is exactly what I wanted. Except in a medical office, not the bowels of a hospital.
This has made me reconsider my female-only doctor rule. I’m not saying there are not good women out there, but perhaps I would benefit from a male perspective. I have avoided male doctors due to experiences of being patronized and creeped out. But the innate understanding I share with female physicians may be the problem – they understand, and so they indulge me, or make decisions based on the fact that I prefer less treatment. A man might not care how I feel, and tell me what I need regardless of what I want or don’t. I can always refuse, but I would rather hear a slightly irritated tone than, “I’m sorry.”
Before anyone accuses me of being sexist, I would like to point out that I have been sexist by only choosing female doctors. It’s a new era of inclusion in my medical personnel portfolio. All I’m looking for is a good doctor with competent staff who isn’t a jerk. How hard can that be to find?