On Friday, November 16, 2012 I experienced a sudden and rather debilitating headache. I was in a hotel room (as I so often am) in anticipation of a flight the next morning. My first response was to take some over the counter pain medication (I, like so many, tend to think that I am capable of self-medicating almost anything that I self-diagnose) and then to lie down. I soon became quite nervous about the pain because the intensity was beyond nearly anything I’ve ever experienced. In a nutshell…I got scared. I called the front desk and asked for assistance. After that my room filled up pretty quickly as I decided that I should go to the hospital.

As a former EMT (from about a hundred years ago) I have a certain standard that I hold ambulance personnel to and these folks certainly met and exceeded my criteria. They were prompt and professional; they were reassuring and attentive; and, the information they passed to the emergency room workers was done in an efficient manner all the while treating me with dignity and respect. Also as a former EMT I had an idea of what I was heading towards – an emergency department on a Friday night – yuck. People tend to come out of the woodwork and into the emergency rooms as soon as the doctors’ offices and urgent care clinics are closed. I was prepared for a long wait, but I was still optimistic that I would be gone in time to make my early morning flight home. The next week was Thanksgiving and I had plans to be home on Saturday in preparation for leaving again on Sunday to go see my family in Phoenix, AZ. I was working through the logistics in my head – “as long as I am back at the hotel by 5:00 a.m. I can still make my flight home.” It seemed perfectly reasonable.

Now, I did have a long wait in the ER. There’s just no getting around that. Emergency department personnel are a prime example of what we refer to as RADAR. Recognize Assess Decide Act Review the Results. Their job is to constantly determine who the most critical patients are in their care and to juggle their resources to meet the needs of everyone. To their credit, all of the emergency department staff was very professional and responsive in their care. They kept me updated as to the length of time it might be before I could see a physician, although the doctor was being kept apprised of my condition. Pain medications were dispensed, and then stronger ones were given when satisfactory results were not obtained. I was promptly informed of tests that were ordered as well as when the results were expected. Each and every person that walked through the door introduced themselves in a pleasant tone of voice and informed me of their purpose for being there. One of the nurses even took a phone number that I gave to her and made a phone call to a family member. I know for certain that she left my room and went directly to the phone because about 30 seconds later my cell phone rang. In my altered state I had mistakenly given her my own telephone number!

When I did see the ER doc, he brought unfortunate news. I was most definitely going to miss my flight home. He had ordered a CT scan that showed a bleed in my brain and he was having me admitted to neurosurgery. He said words that were very empathetic and compassionate (and easy to understand). He acknowledged that I was away from home and asked if there was anyone he could call. I was honestly made to feel that I was the most important patient in the emergency room at that very moment. I’ll be honest…I appreciated that.
My move upstairs was facilitated quickly and executed as painlessly as could be expected. The thing that stuck out to me was how the people transporting me told me everything that was happening. “Here’s a little bump” or “we’re making a turn right here” or “okay, big bump as we get on the elevator.” I very much appreciated those small gestures.

I spent a week in the hospital and was diagnosed with something fancy. The emergency room doctors and nurses had done an excellent job and that excellence was carried on to the unit as well. Every person that came into my room introduced themselves. I was given printed information about my diagnosis, about my medications. There was a white board on the wall in my room that actually got updated at each and every shift change. The two neurosurgeons that were on my care team spent time with me each day and never once made me feel as though they didn’t have time to answer my questions or to address my concerns. The nurses and all the staff was accommodating and supportive throughout my stay – and even for several hours after my discharge (I had difficulty getting a prescription filled once I left the hospital so I enlisted their help – and help they did)!
I know all too well that not every hospital operates in the same manner. Two years ago my mother was hospitalized for three weeks before she died of complications from her lung cancer. The care she received was the polar opposite of the experience I described above. As a family we were fearful and uninformed. To realize that hospitals can, and routinely do, provide compassionate and excellent care to patients made me extremely sad for my mom. But it makes me hopeful for the future of health care.

If the editor will allow, I’d love to give a shout out to the awesome staff at SSM DePaul Health Center in St. Louis, MO. A million thanks would not do you justice (you got it Nikki, ED)

Nikki Wince – Mandt System Faculty