Over the years, we have experienced hundreds of trips to the Emergency Room, (ER) but none like the visit during Covid. Honestly speaking if we never have to go back during Covid again it will be too soon. Our son has a chronic illness and when he presents with certain symptoms, (fever, pain, amongst other things) he has to go in to be seen. The new protocols in place aren’t necessarily so bad, for me, it’s the way they are enforced that makes the difference. I’m sure each Healthcare system and even their respective locations have varying nuances within state mandates and local rules, so for this piece, I am speaking only about our specific experience.
Upon arrival, where there used to be short-term parking for drop-off at the ER, there is no longer parking for patients available. You now are expected to let the person out curbside. So, I pulled up in the red, got out of my car to grab a wheelchair, since he could not walk well and certainly could not stand in the line, to make sure he was secure, and then parked my car in the parking lot. I know you might be thinking I could have parked first and then got the wheelchair to bring him upfront. But let’s face it if you have that kind of time then your situation is probably not an emergency.
We stand in line (which by the way moved very quickly) and as we are waiting a nurse comes out to us to ask questions, triage before entering, I think she may have been responding to the whaling coming from his hunched over body, thankfully they were questions that would help the process move along faster.
We knew going in that it would be different from any other times I just did not realize how different. I suppose the hardest part was when I saw the big in-your-face sign that read, NO ONE ALLOWED INSIDE WITH PATIENTS. Now there are exceptions like the patient is a child- one person allowed, the patient is impaired- one person allowed, the patient has a disability- one person allowed with certain disabilities. By nature, I am the epitome of a rule follower, but that sign was the one dreaded piece of this whole Covid 19 Emergency Room visit that I did not want to adhere to. Leaving my son, barely out of Pediatrics and still under Pediatric Specialty care, in that condition, would be one of the hardest things I would ever have to do. So, I asked the intake tech, “excuse me…the sign says one person can enter with the patient if he/she has a disability, he has a disability may I go in with him?” Needless to say, I did not get in, and, by the way she responded, it appeared as though I offended her by asking the question. That is when I learned that the rule applies to certain types of disabilities.
So, I did what I always do I just shifted the way I did it. My grandmother used to say, there is more than one way to skin a cat! It is just a saying…no offense to cat lovers. I have always advocated for good care of my son. I am that up-close-and-personal parent who asks all the questions, looks up terms I am unfamiliar with, and can pull out my trusty notebook at any time to tell you the correct dosage of every medication he is currently taking and any he has had during other ER visits, and I intentionally voice my appreciation for the loving care he generally receives. My strategy this day was to create an alliance with the doctor caring for him. I reached out by telephone, he was positive and responsive. Over the next several hours we would speak numerous times and not because I called him, but because he called me. He said he has a son about the same age and understood my anxiety around this situation. He included me in the decisions that were made as though I was right there in the room. With that said, I still would not want to go back during the pandemic.
Now, I have to give enormous credit to my son who has learned through the years, what is important, and how to speak up and advocate for himself. I learned later that his patience, strength, and ability to pick and choose battles were tested several times in this stay, but I will save those stories for another time.
If I go by the assumption that people are inherently good, I will guess the rudeness encountered that day by me and my son was due to the stress and burnout that so many healthcare workers are experiencing right now. My words to them are Thank You for all that you do, but please remember when a person comes into the ER it is not because they feel good, it is because they do not! Compounded by new rules and yes, a little fear we ask for empathy in thought and benevolence in speech. And, as for my family, we will do the same.