I've been at the hospital all day today. Our 13-year-old son had to undergo surgery on his right arm. You see, his arm was broken back in April during a spring break visit to Texas; when the cast was removed last Wednesday here in Alabama, doctors determined that it had healed improperly and would have to be re-broken to correct the problem. Additionally, the procedure would require a titanium plate, to become a permanent part of his anatomy.
Mistakes happen. I understand this. Corporations and individual professionals no longer want to accept responsibility for anything; I understand this as well. (From the foregoing statements, you should conclude that I feel the doctors should have picked up the tab for this surgery. The child is not the one who caused his arm to heal at a thirty-degree angle. He was ready for summertime!)
No, what I have never been able to understand is what I think of as the hospital drill. For example, why were we required to be at the hospital a full ninety minutes before the scheduled surgery when only ten minutes of preparation time were needed? It's not fun to wait for someone to cut you open. I also don't understand why the appointed time for the actual surgery came and went with no one explaining to us that the doctor was delayed. Oh, we figured it out – we overheard it in hushed whispers from one party to the next. Still, not one soul took it upon themselves to explain why others who had entered with us were leaving for the operating room on time and we were left trying to calm an already overwrought 13-year-old for an additional hour.
I have been so fortunate over my lifetime to have had doctors who were kind and understanding. Recently, however, I have found that getting medical attention is all about the waiting game. It has started to remind me of being at the airport. Hurry, hurry, hurry – get to this checkpoint!!! Now, wait. Now, wait some more. Oh, and for good measure, wait quite a bit longer.
The big difference is that I can choose not to fly, and I have. I cannot choose to yank my child out of a hospital bed because I am tired of waiting. Oh, I wanted to, believe me. But I couldn't, and they know this. They didn't even bother to hide the big arrival of lunch for the day – all hands on the floor disappeared with the wafts of Chinese takeout. By this time, we hadn't eaten for over eighteen hours.
Here's something else I don't get. Our son's chart followed him from the doctor's office to the hospital. Yet, four more times we had to offer his age, height and weight. Three more times we had to report when he had last eaten. Twice more our insurance card had to be copied. Are they just making conversation? Can no one read? Or do they each make their own little chart and don't want to share with their playmates?
I have the utmost respect for doctors, nurses, physical therapists – all those associated with the medical field in general, in fact. It is something I could have never done myself, and thus I am quite grateful for them. I am well aware of the dedication it must have taken to have finished the requirements for a medical degree. There is probably very little time for any other coursework.
Still, I wish that somewhere squeezed into that huge body of knowledge was a course designed to remind them of what it feels like to be on the receiving end of medical care. During classes in this course, medical students could fill out paperwork with blanks too small and lines too close together; they could argue with insurance companies over the phone and via U.S. mail; and they could sit in twelve different waiting rooms in succession, each peppered with three-year-old magazines, crying babies, and a teeny television with no remote mounted high in a far corner and stuck on CNN (or any other perpetually repeating channel). Each waiting room is outfitted with straight-back chairs, three in a row with shared armrests. They can eat nothing except peanut butter crackers from the vending machine in the sixth waiting room. If they successfully pass through all twelve waiting rooms, they are allowed a 15-second consultation with their professor, who briefs them on how to care for their patient with a memorized paragraph, spoken in a monotone voice and in rapid-fire fashion. Oh, and they will have to do all of this while missing other important classes, much as we take off from our regular jobs to handle all of these things.
We're home now and I'll calm down eventually. I guess it's too much to hope for to find a doctor who makes house calls, eh?