No More Patient

Tim GilmerOK, maybe I got a little too involved in researching and writing our cover story on unequal health care. I swear this wasn’t in the plan, but on the day I finished writing, I got sick, woozy and wracked with pain. Off to emergency I went.

It was my leg again, this time the strong right one, Riggs. If anything went wrong, I could lose him just like I lost Lenny last August. I became a bug-eyed hawk on steroids. No doctor, nurse or hospital employee of any stripe would escape the wrath of Room 969 if they made a false move. I struck “patient” from my vocabulary.

Over the next six days, I was “seen” by one ER admitting doctor; four internal medicine physicians; two internal medicine residents; a general medicine resident, a vascular surgeon, his consulting physician; and four infectious disease consulting physicians — 14 doctors. Of these, four actually evaluated my infected leg in any meaningful way. One doctor,  No. 15, for some reason didn’t show up on my discharge papers as one of the doctors who saw me. More on him later.

As for nurses, assistants, etc., an exact calculation is daunting, but with six days of three shifts per day and very few repeats, my best estimate is between 40 and 45. Add in day and night bloodsuckers, you’ve got another 20, almost all of whom seem to excel at anything that requires exceptionally focused concentration, like blood drawing and golf.

The grand total of medical personnel who prodded, poked and peppered me with the same questions over and over — as if none had taken time to read my chart notes on any hospital computer, including the one in my room — totaled about 75.

I would have given my left testicle for just one attentive doctor who knew me, my past history, and what it means to be chronically spinal cord injured.

The good news? I actually stayed in a bona fide ADA accessible room. The bad news? No one knew how to open the double-door to the bathroom to allow a lift to set me on the accessible toilet.

Two days after I was admitted, Doctor No. 15 came in and announced I was being taken off IV antibiotics, put on oral meds, and sent home. I was woozy, feverish, leg red and swollen, blood work scary, lying in a pool of diarrhea. I railed, ranted, and recounted my entire medical history in detailed, graphic examples, explaining to him the fine points of what it meant to be 68, spinal cord injured, with peripheral artery disease — until the color left his face.

I guess that changed his mind. After three more days of IV meds, the swelling went down, redness left, fever subsided. I think Riggs may be with me for some time. But I will never forget how it felt to educate the doctor who was orchestrating the whole show — from a position of authority, lying flat on my back.

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