The emergency room was the busiest I’ve seen. A steady stream of patients gathered in line for the triage nurse. The steady sound of hoarse coughing filled the air. Most of the seats in the waiting room were already taken. The ambulance bay door opened. Amidst the swirl of medical staff, I could see patients inside being attended to. A paramedic wheeled a small, elderly lady into the waiting room and placed her in the line for patient registration. Her slippers stuck out from her night gown which in turn was covered with a institutional white blanket. She looked scared and confused. A long, dark green winter coat hung from one of the metal poles attached to her wheelchair. It looked several sizes too big for her. She clutched a bag in her hands. It took perhaps another 30 to 40 minutes before a worker from the registration desk attended to her and then wheeled her to a spot not far from where I sat.
She looked scared and confused. Every so often she would vomit into a plastic bag. She never looked over to the entrance to see if a familiar face was coming in. She never got out a mobile phone. She gestured to a trio nearby and a man came over. He went back to and got a bottle of water from his bag and opened it for her. When her blanket slipped another man came by to readjust it for her.
8 hours later, I was inside the ER keeping my sister company. We had already told my brother to go home hours ago. He was already fighting a cold. I told him I would call if anything urgent came up.
My sister was waiting for the results from a second round of tests. The first round was clean and the doctor was very optimistic. We sat with a group of about half a dozen people. An attendant wheeled the same woman to a spot beside me and covered her with a couple of warm blankets. I thought she would fall asleep but she kept moaning. She said to no one in particular that her pain was unbearable. She asked why was she here in the waiting area instead of the room with the bed. I closed my eyes. I have enough things to worry about. After a few more minutes of taking, she started to shuffle her wheelchair to the hallway. A nurse intercepted her. With a firm voice the woman asked why she was waiting and what was going on. She was told that a doctor was waiting for the results of her CT scan before he could see her. The woman muttered aloud that no one ever tells her anything. Humbled and defeated, she let a man wheel her back to the spot beside me.
Underneath all that, I saw that she was trying to hang on to some shred of dignity. She didn’t know why she had an IV line stuck on her arm. She complained that part of her face was numb. She hoped she didn’t have to stay up all night. Someone remarked that it was already 4:30 AM. Her bottle of water and her purse fell when she tried to adjust her blanket. I picked it up for her.
Despite the frantic environment of the ER, time doesn’t pass by quickly if you’re a patient. Eventually the doctor cleared my sister to go home. Everything was fine. The woman saw that and asked about her status. He came back with her file and said her tests were negative and she can go. But she needs to come back for follow up appointments.
While my sister went to get changed, the woman looked at me and asked about the IV. I told her a nurse will take it out for her and she shouldn’t change until it’s removed. Within minutes the nurse came by with her appointments and removed her IV. She asked where the washroom was. I told her I could wheel her there. I pushed her wheelchair inside the washroom, pointed to the emergency buzzer if she needed attention and told her how to lock the door.
As my sis and I left, I told the nurse the woman was in the washroom and might need help getting out. She thanked me for the heads up. The sun wasn’t even out when we left the hospital. On the sidewalk, I saw another wheelchair abandoned by the crosswalk. The cold morning air of this new year tasted sweet.