Some of us had our first ideas of what happens in emergency rooms, operating rooms and hospitals by watching television shows. You know, where three or four doctors who make six-figure incomes are pushing a gurney down the hall as if they are preparing for an Olympic luge team, people screaming at one another at hypersonic speed and no one can make out what anyone else is shouting. (Someone may be yelling, “Order tests for Bubonic Plague and Hoof and Mouth Disease!”) And on those shows, for every patient, there will be at least two physicians and four residents who are spending 24 hours of each of several subsequent days dealing with this one case. Oh, of course, there are also two other members of the staff who are having a refresher course in anatomy in a supply room.
In reality, these places are totally different. Things move quickly, but no one seems to be manic in getting the job done. Everyone is using his or her inside voice. There is no shouting, except for tending to the hard-of-hearing man in the next room as they discuss in graphic details his gastro-intestinal symptoms.
When you enter this medical facility, you are introduced to the concept of triage. Basically, this means that the most grave condition is attended to first. Another way of saying this is: “Your pain from your ingrown toenail is not as bad as you think it is. There are persons in far worse situations than you. Wait your turn. GET OVER YOURSELF!”
There is a chart with several faces from a goofy smile to a major grimace so the patient can describe the pain. (Truly, the person who comes up with a better way to describe pain deserves a Nobel Prize in medicine.) Besides, don’t you think there is something extremely odd about anyone who labels his pain with a goofy smile?
Everyone who works in these medical facilities is more than adept with their responsibilities, from the specialist to the under-appreciated house cleaners. There are personnel from every segment of our society and from every continent. (Okay, maybe not Antarctica.) Everyone is friendly. (There is always one charge nurse, who with her dogmatic resolve, had she been available at the time, FDR would have chosen her to be the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces.) Around here, many of those medical personnel came here courtesy of the military; we thank them for what they did then and what they do now. And, as a rule of thumb, if you can, pick a doctor, regardless of gender, who knows how to tie a bow tie. It shows a higher degree of expertise.
If you ever must be in the waiting room of a cancer hospital, (and hopefully you won’t), there is an educational aspect to being there. Look around you. You will see children in there with IVs dripping into their emaciated, hairless bodies. Enough said. There will be young couples with one of them wearing that paper wristband. When they recited their vows, they never expected that this would be what was meant by “In sickness and in health.” There will be people with worried looks on their faces, perhaps concerned about how they will pay for medications, what they will do without that paycheck, how to prepare family members and other things far beyond the current physical pain they feel. There will be those who are there alone, not having any family or friends to support them. There will be elderly persons, regretting all they failed to do and all those things they failed to have said to others. As you look around, this is called psychological triage. You, dear friend, are fortunate.