Tag Archives: hospital

Putting a price tag on health

After twelve straight hours in the ER last Friday, my friend was finally admitted to the hospital. I manfully stifled my laughter as he was put in a wheelchair and slowly wheeled around the medical corridors like an 85 year old war veteran by a man in maroon overalls. I wouldn’t normally have controlled myself so well, but the look on the face of my friend suggested that he wouldn’t have been averse to getting out of the wheelchair and putting me in my own ER cubicle if I didn’t keep quiet.

Wheeling through the hallways of the ER, and into the main hospital itself, I looked puzzledly at the porter. Had he possibly made a wrong turn, and accidentally taken us through an adjoining door into the Brooklyn Hilton? After all, the floors seemed to be vaguely marbled, and the walls had dark wood panels that wouldn’t have looked out of place at some gentleman’s club in Pall Mall.

To be fair, the presence of a number of wheezing old ladies suggested that we’d either wandered into the host venue for the “Lucky Strike for Seniors” convention, or else the guy knew what he was doing. Before we knew it, he’d put the brakes on the wheelchair and left us infront of the door to one of the rooms.

Now, I’ve stayed in a few hotels. This time last year I was kicking back in a two floorduplex affair in the Greek islands, with an infinity pool just outside the French doors and the sea only a few short yards further away. I know the things that hotels can include just to make you feel like you’re in the greatest place on Earth.

Last time I checked though, that list of perks did not include ‘a bed containing an old bloke with a hacking cough’. Admittedly you could only rarely hear the cough, but that was largely because his television was loud enough to be audible in Georgia.

Given that it was almost midnight by now, I had to make my way back home. But before I pushed off, my friend asked if I could make my way down to the foyer to pick up some bottles of water for him. After all, we’d already watched in horror as the old man had drunk directly from the water jug provided for the room, and neither of us fancied supping on ‘eau de pensioner’.

With a security guard having given me the dubious stares reserved for somebody who seemed to be visiting four hours or so after visiting hours had finished, I wandered the corridors looking for some Poland Spring. It was only then that I truly realised that I was in America.

Firstly, the vending machines contained every manner of crisppotato chip known to man. From TGI Friday’s cheese and bacon flavour potato skins to onion and garlic snacks, it was a veritable high fat, high cholesterol temple. Don’t get me wrong, I grabbed myself a bag of something salty and sickeningly unhealthy for the trip home, but that doesn’t mean I condone it.

But even the snack factory couldn’t prepare me for the sight of the gift shop. Yes, you read it right. The gift shop. Stand aside Disneyland, back off Alton TowersSix Flags. You’ve got nothing on the American medical system and its desire to shift souvenirs on the ill and infirm. And what better for the friends and family of the sick to take their mind off their troubles than a little bit of retail therapy?

Given the late hour, the gift shop was sadly closed and as a result I can’t comment on the range of products available for purchase. I might go back this weekend though, and if they don’t have “Welcome To Brooklyn” colostomy bags and clothing with the slogan “My Grandma Had A Heart Attack And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt”, I’m going to be very disappointed.

General Hospital: a lesson in the difference between fact and fiction

Luckily enough, I’ve never had to spend much time in hospital. There was the time I fainted and fell back off my stool in a physics class at school, although walking in with a suspected fractured skull and walking out with a fractured thumb was frankly embarrassing. And when I was a toddler, I naively put my hand on the side of a hot oven and had to be raced off to casualty. It wasn’t a lesson I learned particular well either – a couple of years ago I cooked Christmas dinner for fifteen friends, badly burnt my hand as I served up the food, and spent the rest of the evening watching other people eat while I sat in excruciating agony with a bag of frozen Thai green curry in my rapidly blistering hand.

Given that those were my only two visits to an A&E department, I’ve generally had to look elsewhere for my understanding of medical emergencies. And by ‘elsewhere’, I’m clearly referring to hospital dramas on TV.

In the UK, hospital drama means ‘Casualty’, the gritty weekly show based in the fictional city of Holby. Famous largely for the presence of the world’s worst actor (Derek Thompson, who plays Charlie Fairhead, somehow manages to make David Caruso look like a Shakepearean veteran), Casualty is apparently the longest running emergency medical drama in the world. I appreciate that this might not be the most expansive category in the world, but bless ‘em for coming up with the stat anyway.

In the US, Casualty’s equivalent is ER, the George Clooney-launching monolith that has just lumbered into its fifteenth and final seriesseason. For a while back in the 90s, ER seemed to be the biggest show in the world, although if you ask me it was just Casualty with more money and less wooden acting.

Anyway, the point is that as far as American emergency rooms go, my experience was limited to the times when I happened to watch ER. With flying trolleys carrying half-mutilated traffic victims, and surgeons bearing high voltage defibrillators asking passers by to stand back, the US emergency room always seemed to be the pinnacle of unbelievable tension. Especially compared to the early years of Casualty, when the most exciting injury of the evening was generally a pretty nasty paper cut.

However, having spent much of Friday night sitting with a friend in a Brooklyn ER, I can’t begin to sum up my disappointment at the grim reality. That the biggest piece of excitement seemed to be the moment one woman breathed in on an asthma inhaler would probably best sum it up. No dashing trolleys, no electric paddles, and not an Alex Kingston or Anthony Edwards in sight. Hell, I’ve been in more exciting shoe shops.

In fact, it’s difficult to imagine a situation in which there could have been less of a sense of urgency. It’s almost as if hospital staff were trying to bore patients into curing their own illnesses. Although given that most patients appeared to be founder members of Brooklyn’s ‘Why Take Up One Chair When You Can Put On Enough Weight To Take Up Two’ society, it would have taken more than casual nonchalance to shift some of these folk.

At least I wasn’t in a British A&E on a Friday night, I guess, watching a succession of dishevelled and dirty individuals, almost certainly over the legal driving limit, and ready for a fight at any moment. And that’s just the staff.

Still, with Charlie Fairhead and Doug Ross as examples, what can you expect?