Too Sick to Park
During the earliest weeks of the new year, while people on the East Coast faced a “bomb cyclone,” I was experiencing my own kind of disruption. The temperature was a lovely 65 degrees, but I had the misfortune of visiting the emergency room on Jan. 2
My family has a knack for getting seriously ill on weekends and major holidays – times when we have no chance of seeing our regular physicians. I’ve had a baby on Easter, my gall bladder removed on the Fourth of July, and not too many years ago, my now 10-year-old had double pneumonia on New Year’s Day.
Everyone is still alive, and the weather holds at 65 degrees and sunny, so I’m not whining. Just delivering the facts.
We all think of an emergency room as a place to be avoided – nobody wants to be that sick or injured. Nobody wants to spend hours in a waiting room with 100 other people who are that sick or injured. But it happens to everyone eventually.
This year, my intentionally undisclosed and only somewhat life-threatening ailment led me to a late-night visit at an unfamiliar urgent care. There a hairy and harried doctor told me my status was too severe for urgent care. He also told me not to drive myself, but that day, a confluence of events meant I was on my own. I had hoped for a different outcome, but headed to the ER.
Sick as I was, the hospital valet was closed for the night and all parking near the emergency room was full. I found a spot that felt like it might as well have been in Alaska and made the long walk toward a large, painfully-lit room full of flu bugs, blood and vomit. Also, crying children and worried parents, an enormous swath of cultures, colors and languages, and a staff of overwhelmed and somewhat defensive nurses, technicians and aides. (I didn’t end up seeing a doctor.) Did I mention the two armed guards?
Despite the dreadful setting, I was treated well and have no complaints about the service. My tests were all done within two hours, and that’s when I decided it would be better to collect the results and take them to my primary care physician. The nurse agreed that, based on readings of my test results so far, if I was actually about to drop dead, I would have already been admitted, and I found that reassuring.
I saw my own doctor the next day and have recuperated enough to write this column. Not completely out of the woods, but seeing a happy amount of daylight.
The hospital I went to that night is a familiar one. It’s only 2 miles from my home. I had my first daughter there (on Dec. 11), and because I had complications, and she was two months early, we spent about eight weeks there – me, then both of us, and then just her.
My husband and I got to be pros at navigating the available parking options. We knew about a few hidden spots that were occasionally empty; we used the valet whenever we could, and scoured the lots when we had to.
This is also the hospital where my second daughter recovered from pneumonia. Thankfully, it was only a four-day stay, but I was too stressed to remember anything about parking.
The entrance to the ER is at the end of a narrow driveway. You pass a single row of about a dozen parking spots before you enter a cramped circle. I had hoped for one of those dozen spots, but then found myself nearly stuck in the circular drive. Sicker and less ambulatory people than I had abandoned their cars in that tiny space (cue the guards) and I just barely squeezed through.
The rest of the parking is probably two blocks away – not a real distance when you have a chauffeur or are feeling healthy and chipper, but a feat of endurance when you are alone and unwell.
This is not a hospital with plentiful parking. I’m sure the administration is aware, and that’s why they have valet service, which is available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
But I was there at 10:30 p.m. And so were a billion other extra sick people, plus their companions. There were two “easy-ups” in front of the entrance for overflow. I had a seat in the foyer between two sets of automatic doors for about half my visit, but stood the rest of the time.
This is a highly rated hospital in a very busy city. I think I saw it on one of its worst days.
The person in the ER who had been waiting longest had been there for 12 hours. People who arrived in ambulances were waiting for hours. I heard four separate individuals berate the front desk staff for the delay.
I counted my blessings that this was not the only medical care available to me.
My experience showed me that the system at the emergency room worked except for two important components that could not accommodate the heightened need of a winter holiday: the number of physicians and the number of accessible parking spaces.
I didn’t know I was going to be unwell on New Year’s Day — and I would have avoided that if I could. But most severe weather comes with a warning. Holidays are fixed dates. Winter is typically flu season.
I think if you asked the hospital’s ER staff they would say they always get slammed the first week of a new year. And I think their plan is just to get through it with their everyday protocols. It’s clear they need a better plan.