’Twas brillig, and the slithy tovesDid gyre and gimble in the wabe:All mimsy were the borogoves,And the mome raths outgrabe.– “The Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll
What a trope is an emergency room! Television depictions which remain in the ER maybe for the entire length of the show, short cameos in films, and in our minds, emergency rooms loom large. They mean tragedy, possible death. All we need is one image of a those blues and whites, a few beeps, a little bit of rushing around, and our brains know it’s bad.
For many, though, the emergency room serves as primary healthcare. Without health insurance, seeing a PCP can be difficult or impossible. I, however, am blessed to have health insurance and I have almost no understanding of the health insurance or the healthcare industry. I did find this to be an interesting perspective from a doctor and contributor. I am lucky to be able to be ignorant on these fronts, I suppose.
Earlier this week, Chas and I spent the day in an emergency room in San Jose, California. Chas had/has an infection on the inside of his nose and increasingly resembled Nicole Kidman’s depiction of Virginia Wolf in The Hours. We left Oakland and on the way to points south, I called and was able to book an appointment with an ENT in San Jose, obviously, a benefit of being insured. We had four hours to kill before the appointment so Nicole and I headed to Stanford and gave ourselves a tour while I looked to buy postage stamps. At 12:30, we arrived for the 1 o’clock appointment at the San Jose Regional Medical Center. The ENT saw Chas, gave some tips, asked some questions, and sent him across the parking lot to the ER so that he could “as quickly as possible” get a CT scan. Because of the short notice, the fastest way to get a CT scan and see if the infection was spreading (possibly to his brain) and would require surgery, would be to wait in the ER for a CT scanning room.
Immediately upon entering the ER waiting room, I had two realizations. 1. I am so fortunate (knock on wood) to have really never entered an ER waiting room before and 2. This is what it looks like to use the ER for primary care.
Chas was instantly swooped up by a male nurse checker-inner-man who somehow maintained positivity throughout the day. I watched him swish in and out of doors, speak to non-English speakers, incur rudeness, collect the angry friends of a man who’d been hit by a car, attempt alternative pronunciations of several names, and just continue smiling. I settled into a plastic seat to finish my book, reminding myself over and over again: do not touch anything.
It’s a little bit like a low energy, high anxiety video game. Breathe to the left because the woman to my right frightens me. Dodge the trajectory of that sneeze. And those coughs. Change positions in the plastic seat as a foot falls asleep. Eavesdrop on the man breathing into a plastic bag without getting too close. Listen to each name intently, waiting to hear “Chas Ebb-ee.” Oogle at the baby with the pink cheeks, guess what language I hear, look out the window, and repeat, repeat and repeat.
It was pretty apparent to me that for most of the people in the ER waiting room, this meant going to the doctor. This meant, I’m sick and I’d like antibiotics and so I’ll wait here for five miserable hours to see a professional. From the elderly in wheelchairs, to the infants being clutched by doe-eyed young moms, this was the only option. If I were legitimately sick and had to wait in that room, I think I’d lose it, maybe storm to the back, fake someone else’s name, anything to get out of that perilous purgatory. Because I’ve been lucky and I have the choice.
When a shirtless 20-something man with blood covering the lower half of his face rolled in in a wheelchair holding his side, I had to try hard to not stare. Easier thought, than done. His friends did not want security to call the police.
When we finally left with the news that Chas did not need surgery and we could leave San Jose and San Jose Regional Medical Center forever, it was after 5 p.m. We’d put in a day’s work, knew we’d be covered, and only had to sacrifice a copay the cost of a Wow Air flight. And we got to drive away, knowing that when we need medical care, we can pretty easily get it.
…and the mome raths outgrabe.