The American Health Care System Doesn’t Care

Right, so, something happened recently, and it’s taken me a bit to get my head together concerning it. Mostly, it’s taken me a little while to calm down enough to talk about it without flying into a rage. Obviously, from the title, this concerns Storm, and her health issues.

First off, I want to say that a year ago, while she was recovering from her blood sugar spiking to 900, and having the abscess on her liver drained, inflammation of her gall bladder was detected. It was enough for some concern that it may need to be removed. However, because the drain for the abscess was so close to where they would need to go in, they decided to put in a drain until the abscess was dealt with, then remove it.

A year later, that drain was still in place. There was nothing wrong with her gall bladder. It was inflamed because of the abscess on her liver. Once that was dealt with, it returned to normal, except for a drain being stuck in it.

Second point. Those drains are only suppose to be in a few weeks, not a year. No body would remove it because we couldn’t find the name of the surgeon who had overseen it being put in. Which, as it turned out, was because there was no surgeon to find. A radiologist had done it using an imaging system. Everyone insisted that there had to be a surgeon who had at least signed off, but hey, there wasn’t. Thus began the causality loop of the gall bladder drain.

Which lasted until last Sunday, when the damn thing finally broke.

Naturally, the nursing center staff where Storm is staying sent her to the emergency room. Which is what they are suppose to do. They, and myself, assumed it would be a brief visit, as all they were to do was remove it, and send her back. After a bit of thought, I decided to stay at work, as we were in the middle of one of our best Sunday business days all year. Storm was in good hands, I thought. There’s no reason for me to make the 45 mile trip to the Muskogee hospital, just to watch them remove a drain. Odds were, by the time I got there, they’d be done, and already have her on the way back.

I am occasionally amazed at my own ability to be wrong.

Couple of details. The nursing facility called for an ambulance at 10:00 AM, and Storm left soon after, arriving at the E.R. about 10:30 or so. I got off work at 3:30 PM, and called the nursing facility, where I learned she was not back. I called the hospital, and they showed she was still in the E.R. Afraid there was some complication, I headed up there, arriving around 4:30, give or take.

Turns out, not only had they not removed the drain, they had discharged her, and left her to lay there, at that point, for four hours. Without any pain medication.

Storm is a terminal cancer patient, who receives morphine every three hours. Which they knew, because the nursing staff had sent all of her prescriptions to them, written by her attending physician with her hospice provider. The nursing staff had also sent instructions to call me on my cell, with the number, so I could relay important information to the E.R. doctor about the drain. Information the doctor would need in order to remove it safely.

I got no phone call, Storm got no medication for her pain, and worse, the doctor had tried to yank the drain out. Had the doctor bothered to call, I could have told them that there was a corkscrew on the end, what a gastroenterologist referred to as a pigs tail, that held the drain in. Just yanking it out could have ripped a hole in her gall bladder.

On top of that, when Storm asked for some local anesthetic, so it wouldn’t hurt, the doctor replied by saying, “I’m not going to put you over the moon for this.”

Yeah. She gets morphine every three hours and your not gonna give her some local anesthetic for that reason? Really?

With that, the doctor discharged Storm, and left her to lay there, in pain, until she could be picked up. Four hours by the time I arrived, and got into an argument with the doctor over the old was there a surgeon or was there not a surgeon who signed off on the drain argument, which I’d had enough times in the last year to be severely irritated with.

The damn thing was broken. Who cares who put it in, a year ago? Just take it out, already. Christ.

Anyway, I end up arguing with this doctor for a while. A security guard wandered up behind me for a good bit. Pain medication was still denied, save for an offer of a Tramadal. Which when you are accustomed to, and need, morphine, is kind of like treated an open head wound with an aspirin.

I watched her suffer for two and half hours, when I got sick of the excuses, and contacted the Medicare center that transports patients myself. They had an ambulance there in 10 minutes. Helps that I am considered the consumer, and that I have medial power of attorney, should Storm become unable to make decisions for herself.

The EMT’s were amazing, by the way. Absolutely amazing. I explained the situation to them, and they did everything in their power to make the 45 mile trip back to the nursing facility as comfortable as possible. Regardless, by the time we arrived, Storm had no idea where she was, and was in so much pain, she could only cry and scream.

The nursing staff was on it the moment she hit the bed, and after about twenty minutes, she was calmer, and in less pain.

One thing the E.R. doctor did do, was make arrangements with a gastroenterologist to have the drain removed, but that was only after I asked to speak to a member of administration. Thank you to the nursing facility staffer who told me how to make that happen.

A couple of clarifications. The E.R. was not responsible for the lag time in Storm being transported back. The Medicare transport doesn’t always talk to them efficiently. Me having the authority I do made it happen quickly. That’s not on them. Storm’s nine hours without her pain medication absolutely was. They had a list of her prescriptions, and could have administered them at any point. The doctor simply chose not to.

So, we role around to last Thursday, and I get a call that Storm is being taken to her gastroenterologist appointment to have the drain removed. I hurry over to wait with her for the ambulance, and at one point, while I’m outside smoking a cigarette, I notice I can see the steel belting poking out of one of my tires. Can’t drive 45 miles on that.

The ambulance arrives, and I run over to the tire shop, which has always had the tires that fit my trick. Until that day, when they didn’t. I have them throw the spare on, even though I know it has a slow air leak. This takes a good fifteen minutes, because there’s only one guy on duty, the rest of the crew gone to lunch.

I decide, fuck it, and run up to work, borrow my boss’s car, and haul ass to Muskogee. I don’t know how long this is going to take, how long she’s going to be waiting, or anything, and after Sunday, like hell am I no gonna be by her side.

I’m waiting for traffic to clear so I can turn into the parking lot of the clinic the gastroenterologist has, when my phone rings. it’s the nursing facility, saying the EMT’s called, and they are heading back with Storm. They left about five minutes ago.

Because of course they did.

Oh, and I’m suppose to work that night. Always be thankful when your boss is also your friend, kids.

So, back I go. The EMT’s still beat me there, and tell me they were in the elevator longer than she was in the doctor’s office. Storm laughs, and tells me yeah, that’s true. She asked him for some local anesthetic, same as she did the E.R. doctor, for the same reasons. The gastroenterologist tells her she won’t need it. She assures him she just doesn’t want to feel it come out. He asked her if she felt it, and waves it to her, having already removed it. She felt nothing.

As grateful as I was, it also pissed me off, as the E.R. doctor had her screaming in pain.

The difference a phone call could have made.

Now, the good news is that, after a year, this pointless drain is finally gone, and Storm is very happy about that. The bad news is that she had to suffer an absurd amount of pain for it to happen.

Come Friday, my next day off work, I call the Muskogee hospital administration, feeling much calmer, and speak to the emergency division manager. I explain everything that happened, and to put it bluntly, the lady was horrified. I pointedly said that there was no reason Storm shouldn’t have gotten her prescribed medication, when it was due, and the E.D. director agreed.

Actually, she was very apologetic, and assured me that this was not how they did things. I believe her, and feel certain that she meant it. She promised to speak with the manager of the E.R., and wanted to have him call me, but that call never came, so either the E.R. manager didn’t feel it necessary, or blew it all off. Which is impossible for me to say.

Important point here, though. I do believe the E.D. manager was truly upset by what happened. It would have been a simple matter for me to sue the hospital, but that would have involved Storm having to give her account, and frankly, she’s under enough stress from the whole dying of cancer thing. I don’t see it as worth the extra stress on her body, and mind, to have to deal with a lawsuit she isn’t likely to live long enough to see finished.

My only goal in calling the hospital administration was to make them aware that this sort of thing was going on. Watching Storm suffer like that, and thinking it could happen to someone else is more than my conscious can bear. I took the steps I believed were needed to make the hospital aware. What they do with that information is out of my hands, but suing them would only drag out, and likely, get me nowhere, while making Storm even more stressed out.

The drain is gone, and she is resting as comfortably as is possible. That’s what really matters.

However, I am left with this feeling of anxiety. The E.R. doctor we dealt with obviously didn’t care, until the fear of having a member of administration called down there was created. Even then, only minimal steps were taken to treat Storm’s pain and discomfort. The complete lack of concern, and frankly, insulting tone, dismissive attitude, and callousness towards the patient were unacceptable.

All I am left with is the unshakable certainty that we have finally reached the tipping point. American medicine, specifically doctors, no longer care at all. Their oaths mean nothing. They can, quite comfortably, stand back and watch a patient in incredible pain, be capable of doing something about it, and do nothing, with a clear conscious.

I am uncertain what that says about the future of medicine in this country, but it certainly can’t be anything good.


3 thoughts on “The American Health Care System Doesn’t Care

  1. On one hand I’m horrified at that ER Doctor’s conduct and real lack of consideration for Storm’s condition. On the other hand, I’m not really surprised. It’s not just Health Care system that doesn’t care anymore, but it’s especially galling in their case because if they don’t care about helping you, who will?

    ERs in particular have become a nightmare. On top of a huge bill (depending on your insurance coverage) you often get just enough care to get you out the door, but it looks like in Storm’s case she didn’t even get that. It’s a good thing you had the means to get her medicated and back to the nursing facility. A lot of other people would have been left helpless and confused after what that doctor pulled.

    Just be glad it wasn’t the VA. My father in law went to them to be treated for bladder cancer. Before that they needed to splint his kidneys because of complications with kidney stones. Like your doctor who apparently can’t read a chart, they gave him medication that his chart said he cannot have which caused kidney failure. He died within a week under their “care.”

    My deepest sympathies for what she went through. I’m relieved to know that you both have some measure of comfort now.


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