Jessica Peters is a reporter at the Chilliwack Progress.

COLUMN: Changes in the ER wait room may be causing more grief than good

Staff “grimaced, muttered, rolled their eyes and faked smiles as they negotiated the choke point”

I’m not one to complain about medical care, or our ER doctors, nurses and medical staff.

But I would like to comment, naively perhaps, about a new system I saw in place at Chilliwack General Hospital on a recent trip to emergency.

My visit went as such. I arrived while hemorrhaging and was able to speak to a nurse promptly. So far, so good. However, that nurse spent the bulk of her time with me on a phone call with a doctor about a different patient.

I was given padding to sit on, and a wheelchair because people who lose that much blood so quickly do tend to faint.

At least, I assumed that’s why they set me up like that. I should have twigged onto the fact that I was being set up for a long wait. But I’ve become a spoiled cancer patient, used to the efficiency of the cancer clinic. Surely, they wouldn’t leave me for hours, bleeding heavily and having an anxiety attack.

Would they?

Of course they would. And for a while, I dealt with it knowing that there must be someone worse off than me. You absolutely never know what’s going on behind the wall. That’s what I say when I see letters to the editor come into the office complaining about the emergency room: ‘Be happy you’re alive!’

But this was an emergency. There was a lot of blood, coming from a place that recently hosted a good-sized tumour. A place that had been through a nuclear onslaught of radiation. I sat in my wheelchair beside a sandwich board that announced a new procedure. Patients were to stand in line and wait for one of two intake windows. A nurse pivoted between those windows, helping one at a time.

This has two effects. The first is that patients no longer have to go window to window. You sit once, then move along to the main waiting area. The second effect is that while those patients are having their time at the window, the line up is rapidly growing – and choking the main passageway in and out of the ER.

For all of my three-hour wait that lineup was 10 patients deep, plus caregivers.

Patients on crutches. Patients in wheelchairs. Patients with babies. And finally, patients with no patience. At one point, a young man barged into the ER, ran past the 15 people in line, and proceeded to vomit at intake. This caused yelling, panic and anger.

But it wasn’t the only frustration in the room. One man threatened to start a fire in the parking lot. And the staff coming to and from their breaks, or to gather patients for the back, were forced to zigzag through the wheelchairs, the elderly, and small children. They grimaced, muttered, rolled their eyes and faked smiles as they negotiated the choke point.

It was about two hours in that I started noticing it happening. Patients coming in after me being seen and walking out while I sat there bleeding. Sore throats. X-rays. Babies that didn’t have fevers but felt “warm.”

A patient came in with the RCMP, and then a Code Blue was called that sent staff and security running into a different part of the hospital. People were leaving without being seen. I knew I was falling further down the line of importance. And I did something I’ve never done before.

I left.

I got up, wobbled a bit, and walked out, knowing I would be more comfortable at home. Knowing that the system is so far beyond workable that even when I was seen, I would not get much help. Knowing that whatever is keeping me from being seen was not changing that night. So, I left and made plans to see my oncologist another day.

I know, I know. Trust me, I can hear my own voice: “Be happy you’re alive!”

But I’d be even happier to see our hospital receive whatever support it needs to treat patients in a timely manner.


@CHWKcommunity
jpeters@theprogress.com

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