I have faced numerous personal challenges in recent years. Between 2021 and 2022, my mother experienced a series of mental health difficulties that resulted in more than a dozen hospital admissions. Additionally, my father-in-law passed away unexpectedly in March of this year. Since then, my husband Nathan and I have been dealing with the complexities of moving forward after loss, including the immediate care needs of my mother-in-law.
Now, my Dad is in the hospital because he has an infection requiring intravenous antibiotics. Earlier in the day of his hospital admission, he had been turned away from an overflowing Urgent Care facility. Once in the hospital emergency department, he endured a 24-hour wait before a patient room became available. While he was waiting, my husband and I promptly visited him in the ER — and the experience left us feeling disheartened.
Individuals kept entering the unit, passing through one of the four triage rooms, and returning to the waiting area without seeing a doctor. As time passed, the room became overcrowded, and people overflowed into the hallways and near the restrooms. Tightly packed like a sardine among many unfamiliar faces, I had ample time to grasp the situation unfolding around me.
Observations of the Human Condition
While in the ER, I observed several incidents that left an impression on me.
- Towards the rear of the room, a man voiced his frustration over a mother and daughter who were also present in the ER. In a loud voice, he exclaimed, "Yesterday, the little girl had a temperature of 102 degrees. Today, she still has a temperature of 102 degrees. Why did they wait until 8 p.m. to bring her to the ER?! Call the pediatrician yesterday.”
- Across from us sat a couple who seemed distant from each other. The woman worked on a puzzle while the man remained engrossed by his phone. They rarely exchanged words except for moments when the man - behind us - made periodic remarks, prompting them to trade eye-rolls.
- In a corner, a girl had her cell phone connected to the communal charger on the wall. Whenever a new notification appeared, she promptly rose from her seat and checked her phone.
- A touching moment occurred when an elderly couple entered and settled into the only available seats at the center of the room. The man wore a cap that proudly proclaimed him as a "WWII Veteran." They maintained a quiet demeanor, and it was evident the woman was unwell. My husband approached the man, shook his hand, expressed gratitude for his service, and inquired about his military experience. The veteran's face lit up with pride as he eagerly shared stories from his time in the service.
As I mentally noted these observations, my father remained seated in a wheelchair, visibly uncomfortable. He diligently wrote down a list of medications to administer to my mother, as my Dad and I have co-guardianship over her. Nathan and I knew our next responsibility would be to visit her to ensure she received the necessary medicine for the night.
The Unsettling State of Healthcare
Reflecting on what I observed in the ER, I more fully grasp the severity of our healthcare system's dire state.
The scarcity of competent staff members is a widespread issue affecting many organizations in many industries. Unfortunately, the healthcare sector is not exempt. Our columnist, Lauren, recently highlighted this concern in her Galli Gripes column. The shortage of hospital personnel has resulted in the closure of units, exacerbating the problem of overcrowding within healthcare facilities.
This growing problem instills a sense of unease in me, especially when contemplating the future as we grow older. Sadly, there appears to be no foreseeable resolution in sight. I fervently hope the situation will improve so that everyone can access the healthcare they need when they need it.
In the midst of dealing with my personal challenges and observing the happenings in the hospital, I have seen the profound impact the stark realities of the healthcare system are having on human lives. As my father waited for treatment in the crowded ER, I witnessed the frustrations and resilience of those in similar situations. Our shared experiences highlight the need for a healthcare system that prioritizes timely access and compassionate treatment. It is a reminder of the importance of cultivating a future where human dignity prevails in healthcare.
Have you or someone you love struggled to get the healthcare you need? You’re not alone! I welcome you to share your story to encourage others and offer support.