Tale of Two Hospital Visits

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Six weeks ago we had a miserable experience at the Virginia Mason (VM) Emergency Department (ED) in Seattle, WA. Today, was much different – fortunately.

My wife was experiencing abdominal pain. She went to the Bainbridge Island same day clinic and they referred her to the VM ED in Seattle to get a CT Scan. They thought she might be having an appendicitis.

We registered at the front desk at noon and described the symptoms. Somehow a series of misunderstandings started as they recorded that she was constipated. The misunderstanding led to a long unnecessary wait.

The ED waiting area at VM is a miserably small room that is poorly ventilated. Even though we were masked I was quite worried that Covid was alive and well and that we would be exposed.

After waiting mostly patiently for seven hours, I’d had enough and started complaining. The response from the ED personnel was obnoxious to say the least. “Don’t you know that the health care system is in crisis. Welcome to Health Care 2022. We are short staffed. Deal with it.”

It took a lot of restraint to keep from letting loose a torrent of foul language. But my better angel, calmed me down and I just stared.

The complaint was enough to get the ball rolling and within thirty minutes we were admitted to the ED. She was fine with just having a bed in the hallway instead of a private room. She was clear with the staff that anything to be seen sooner was better than waiting. Twenty minutes later my wife had her CT Scan.

The good news is that the CT Scan showed a problem that could be solved with antibiotics. Within another thirty minutes we were on our way back home. We were exhausted, hungry and angry at “Health Care 2022.”

We followed up the next day at our local VM Clinic. The good news was my wife’s abdominal pains were already subsiding with the antibiotics. The bad news was that the CT Scan showed that there was a growth on an internal organ. Even though there was bad news, modern medical technology discovered a problem before it became a health crisis.

An appointment was arranged with a general surgeon at VM. From this moment on, we had a completely different experience of VM in Seattle. With an appointment and a formal referral, rather than an “emergency”, the health care providers acted with efficiency, effectiveness and caring.

Surgery was scheduled for mid-December and then rescheduled for early December. Each employee that we interacted with was polite and caring. The surgeon was terrific and sat with us for a full thirty minutes answering all of our questions.

Today was the surgery date. While we had an offer to take the earliest appointment, getting to Seattle on a ferry is difficult to manage at 6:00AM. So we took the noon pre op check in time.

At the appointed time my wife was taken to preop and I was given a patient number to track her progress through the surgery stages.

The surgeon called after the surgery and let me know that things had gone well and what would happen next. An hour later the recovery nurse called me and gave me an update on what they were doing. In the meantime, they had moved my wife to a consolidated recovery area in a different building for all the late in the day cases. I wandered over to the new waiting area and waited for discharge to occur.

I am deeply grateful to all of the health care professionals who took care of my wife and made sure that I was kept up to date on what was happening. Even with the Covid restrictions and not being able to be with my wife during recovery, I still felt a part of the process. This long day was how I would expect the health care system to work.

We were at the same hospital in Seattle, but had vastly different experiences. I sure prefer our experience with a scheduled visit rather than the ED emergency experience six weeks ago.

I hope that all of our future interactions with Health Care 2022/2023 will be scheduled.

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