Levine: Emergency room phobia

One of the greatest phobias I have is emergency room phobia: Fear of being a patient in a local ER. That fear is not unfounded. Having volunteered, worked, and consulted in an ER since I was 16, I know how unaccommodating emergency rooms can be.

Patients sit in a waiting room for hours, in pain, with fever, possibly spreading whatever infection they have to the person sitting just a few inches away. A single cough has 40,000 droplets and the flu can easily be caught by anyone within six feet of that cough. Once in the ER, you might find yourself on an uncomfortable stretcher, the steel pressing though the paper thin mattress. Then you might be herded, like cattle, so close to other sick patients that the nurse or physician who needs to examine you has to wiggle his body between the stretchers.   

Privacy? Decency? Comfort? Not in most emergency departments! Instead you might  have a pretty good chance of catching the flu, watching someone vomit a few inches away, or remain in pain because there is no one to attend to you. Emergency rooms, especially in urban areas, are overburdened, understaffed, and as archaic as the open wards we used to see forty years ago.  

So when I recently had a bout of renal colic so severe that I escaped to the basement (not to worry the family) to lie on the ground and moan from the pain, it became apparent to me that I would have to join the battle, go to the ER, and face the consequences. My wife drove me to the Danbury Hospital ER (listening to both my groans and my complaints about her driving), where we found accessible and free parking. We walked into the ER waiting area: no screaming people, a clean and quiet waiting area, soft music. We were checked in efficiently and taken to a triage area – the area the nurses decide where you need to go and what the initial steps will be. Again, efficient and professional -  and  I still could not hear or smell the usual turmoil  I was expecting.

Once in  the ER I was escorted to a room, a real room! Where were the rows of stretchers, the people crying, coughing, yelling, vomiting , and seizing? The department was spacious, clean, and there was no foul odor. It didn’t smell! I had taken some opiate medications, and was in a lot of pain. “Am I hallucinating?” I thought. This place was too good to be true.

The nurses and doctors did not look or behave as if they had just walked off a battlefield;  they were comforting and calm. They had time to listen to me; they had time to care for me. The room I was placed in was quiet and private, and I received pain quenching Dilaudid within just a few minutes, and not a few hours. I was given a heated blanket and then wheeled for a CT scan within minutes. I was in first class I thought. There must be a coach section somewhere in this ER.

Perhaps the 4 mg of Dilaudid I received might have even made me appreciate the chaotic and crazed ER I fully expected to see. But after the effects of the medication had worn off and I was home, I thought about how lucky I was to live near  that particular Emergency Room, at Danbury Hospital, where I had been treated as a patient.  Emergency room phobia? Not while I live in Ridgefield.

Ridgefielder Dr. Evan Levine, author of What Your Doctor Won’t (or Can’t ) Tell You has a new podcast, Real Medicine, with more than 10,000 listeners in just the past few months. It’s a top 10 podcast according to Sleeping Dog Entertainment, LLC. The podcasts introduce the listener to stories of dangerous medication interactions that often physicians are not aware of, how pharmaceutical companies push drugs to physicians, when patients should “run” out of their doctor’s office, and his own  experience with the tainted media, including his Today Show interview. To listen click on https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/realmedicine or follow on iTunes at Real Medicine.