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Don’t Ask If You’re Not Prepared For The Response

broken healthcare system

It’s been 16 days since a skydiving accident left me with three fractured vertebrae. I am on the mend and have finally made peace with the significant detour this event has thrust into my life. 

My experience consuming healthcare at our local hospital was singularly my worst encounter with the medical profession — ever. I spent 20 hours in the ER. Honestly, I am not sure how I made it through. They were, in no uncertain terms, the longest and hardest 20 hours thus far. In general, life is no picnic, so given the fact I’m 57 years of age, have given birth and had an emergency appendectomy, that “honor” says a lot.

I am not built to hold grudges. As a matter of fact, I all too often “forget” people’s trespasses against me — probably before they deserve to be forgotten. But to my point, a few days into my recovery at home I had put the 20-hour horror film behind me. The distance from the dingy, over-crowded, unsanitary hospital to my safe, clean home allowed me to let go of the trauma — somewhat.

Guess I Wasn’t “Over It”

I am fearful I may come across as a shrill Karen”

Enough time passed from the ER nightmare that I thought myself “over it.” Enough so that when the hospital sent me an automated email request to fill out a survey about my experience, I deleted it. “Not worth it,” I thought. Who cares, move on. 

Then the hospital insisted and sent me a follow-up request. This time, I bit. Who knows, I may have been in a bout of pain when that email hit my inbox, but I obliged. 

Part of me hesitates to share here with you all. I am fearful I may come across as a shrill Karen whining about her own harrowing experience in the ER, when for millions of Americans, that is their only experience of health care. I get our healthcare system is under undue duress and that our healthcare providers are exhausted and demoralized. But that does not alter one minute of my personal traumatic experience in our local University-based hospital. 

The Nightmare Begins:

I “bounced” on the earth around 3PM and entered our healthcare system by 4PM. My partner, an MD-PhD, met me at the hospital entrance with a wheelchair. I somehow crawled into it and proceeded to hunch all the way forward (think hands down by my feet). The pain was so severe I could not sit up — that option was simply unavailable.

The problem is that they kept me in that wheelchair for the next 11 hours. You read that correctly. I spent 11 hours with three spinal fractures bent completely forward like a horseshoe. In addition, the original 600 mgs of ibuprofen they gave me at the jump site barely took an edge off my near 10-level pain. No additional pain medications were provided. As a matter of fact, it took my partner four separate visits to the front desk to finally score some additional Tylenol. 

The ER Was Packed:

“Those nine hours were punctuated by negligence, an inaccurate diagnosis, and overall disregard for patient care.”

From what we could tell it wasn’t all directly Covid-related. One particular patient, a Black man, probably mid-thirties, dressed in baggy low-rise jeans and bright red hightops restlessly stood near us. He was clearly cold and in a great deal of pain. He asked four different health care workers, as they walked by, for a blanket. Each and every one of the hospital employees completely ignored his request. We couldn’t take it one more minute. My partner, a white man in his 50s, interceded. He asked the very next scrub-donned individual we saw. Guess who immediately got a blanket? 

At 6PM I was finally taken in for a CT scan. Then summarily returned to my wheelchair prison and left parked in a poorly lit, not so clean, hallway. I didn’t see a bed for nine more hours. Those nine hours were punctuated by negligence, an inaccurate diagnosis, and overall disregard for patient care. 

Yes, there were a few individuals that were competent and who clearly cared for the safety and well-being of patients. But in a building chock-full of individuals who literally went to school for or trained specifically for a job that “takes care of patients,” that number was abysmal.

So, when the hospital insisted on asking for my feedback, THIS is what they got:

“This was absolutely the worst healthcare consumption of my entire life (57 years on planet). From being ignored, sitting in a wheelchair, with three compression fractures in my spine for about 11 hours (Thankfully, I am NOT paralyzed — no thanks to your healthcare providers); to the original CT scan being misread; to some hotshot, renegade resident thinking he was a doctor on Grey’s Anatomy; to actually NEVER seeing an attending; to being offered oxycontin (left & right) with absolute ZERO explanation of the pitfalls of opiates or offering alternative pain management; to…. oh….. I can’t even. The LIST is SOOOOO LONG. I can’t imagine a situation where I would EVER set foot in your hospital. Here’s to no more emergencies… or, having the ability and time to get to Duke!  If you’re truly curious, you can follow my Jack’s Smack for the next few weeks as I will be sharing with my readers.”

A Bigger Question:

But bigger, more disturbing questions remain: Was this an indication of how our healthcare system is overrun and worn down from the pandemic? Or do we just not give a $h!t about the well-being of others anymore?

the crowded ER was mostly a result of the uninsured seeking healthcare they should have been getting all along but had been putting off due to Covid”

I suspect asking that second possibility stems from my still-raw nerves about my own experience, but it also raises a third, possibly more disturbing possibility: That the American health-care system is broken, and was broken even before the pandemic, which only served to exacerbate an already-present problem.

One nurse, who was receptive to my questions, informed me that the crowded ER was mostly a result of the uninsured seeking healthcare they should have been getting all along but had been putting off due to Covid. Had we a better healthcare system, those unfortunate individuals might have gotten the care they needed months ago instead of slowly slipping between the cracks for over a year — which led to a harrowing experience for me, and everyone else who was in that ER that night.

With any luck I won’t ever find out the answer about our healthcare system through personal experience — by keeping myself and my loved ones OUT of the hospital.

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11 thoughts on “Don’t Ask If You’re Not Prepared For The Response

  1. Jenn Krusinski says:

    Extraordinary story — holy hell what a mess! So glad you’re ok and recovering. I’ve not had this experience but as an entrepreneur buying marketplace health insurance and being told by Dr after Dr they don’t accept ANY marketplace insurance… it’s criminal. I’m in awe of what so many providers are doing during this pandemic but as a whole, the system is completely broken.

    • Kuel Life says:

      So true… these are extra ordinary times and our healthcare system is incredibly over burdened… but, from some of the comments and discourse it sounds like it was pretty broken before

  2. Wendy says:

    Everything you describe is what I’ve heard goes on at the ER daily. A friend said, “if you can possibly not go to an ER: don’t go to an ER.” (I get that you needed to.)

    Just awesome that there was no paralysis. Your story is amazing.

    Wendy The Inspired Eater

  3. Nancy Weiss says:

    Im very sorry to hear about the difficulties that you went through. Speaking out takes courage and hopefully it made a difference. I hope that by now your healing process is better, and you are feeling ok.

    • Kuel Life says:

      Thanks Nancy… every day I get a little better… but, it’s still a long haul. Not sure that my voice will or can make a difference but I know I have to use it.

  4. Gwen Gottlieb says:

    What an awful experience. I can’t even imagine, Jack. Thankfully you are ok. The hospitals and health care system are absolutely overburdened these days, it’s true. I wonder what your experience would have been pre-Covid. Feel better!

  5. Lisa says:

    So very sorry for your experience Jack. As a health care provider, I can tell you the health care system is very broken right now. Caring individuals who have dedicated their lives to their profession are extremely overworked and often can not care in the way they had intended when they started their career. My heart goes out to you, the other patients and the staff at this facility that definitely seems to be part of the overburdened health care system. Honestly, I can’t imagine the pain you endured in the wheelchair for 11 hours. Sending you many positive healing thoughts.

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