We arrived at 5pm.
The “waiting room” was quiet, as eyes slowly rose to see the next poor soul(s) walk through the doors. I say “waiting room” with hesitance, because it was more like a waiting hallway. Mismatched chairs and leather benches lined the glass wall of the ER entrance. Near the vending machines is a couch and a few plump chairs.
Right next to the check-in desk is the triage area. A half-wall of glass separates the two. And a wooden half-wall separates the triage from the hall of pained visitors. Two doors lie behind the triage, mostly open during the night.
Every word is loud and clear, for all to hear.
My mother checks in, her side pained, and the receptionist only takes a name and reason.
We sit, one in a chair and one on a bench, facing the triage area.
A man is wheeled in around the same time we arrive, an IV already jabbed in his arm. He’s pale and hunched over.
At hour 2 he asks if there’s a place he can lie down. He’s told to rest on the couch. At hour 3 his IV bag empties. At hour 3.5 he has the IV removed, frustrated at the wait. At hour 4.5 he’s finally called back to be fully examined.
An elderly man and woman walk in. He’s tall and she’s bent over, both their feet shuffling on the marbled floors. He explains how he had surgery recently and can’t void. They give him a cup to pee in.
At hour 1 he finally goes to the restroom, his gait jerky and unsteady.
Half an hour passes.
He’s been too long.
A visitor comes out of the restroom, stating someone has fallen.
A nurse and security officer walk calmly to the men’s room, wheeling the elderly man into one of the usually open rooms. The triage nurse asks “What happened?” The aid responds “He fell over and smacked his head.” Her eyes roll, as if the mans tumble was inconvenient.
No one notifies the wife until fifteen minutes later.
Hour 3, for us, a woman comes in with her boyfriend. She whimpers during the initial check. Two hours later, after finally finding a comfortable spot for herself, a nurse brings her a choice of an ice-pack or heat-pack. She cries out when she leans over for the nurse to place the comforting packs, and the nurse looks on sympathetically.
Hour 4 a woman comes in alone, tears in her eyes. She explains she’s had some severe cramping. She’s told to sit until triage. The same nurse from above checks in on her. The woman quietly says, “I think I’ve lost my baby.” She holds up a small bag. The nurses eyes go wide and the woman is quickly taken to the back.
Hour 4.5 a man walks in with his right lower calf bandaged. He sits at triage, trying his best to answer the nurses questions. It’s clear he doesn’t speak English well. “Are you allergic to any medications?” The nurse asks 3 times during the course of her five minute analysis. Her fingers tap against the keyboard as she adds her notes to his impromtu file.
The bandage is never taken off to see the severity of the wound.
As we’re finally called back, I note he’s curled up on a leather bench. The skin around the bandage looks almost black.
Around hour 5, the hallway starts to fill. It’s after work hours on a Monday. People finally have the time to take care of themselves. More and more people file through the ER doors, more and more people have to wait.
Hour 5 is when my mother is called back to the reception desk. She’s sat down with a man, who apologizes for the wait. He says, “I called your name a few times.” She responds, “There’s been 3 different people with the same name.” He says, “Well, you’re the lady with this and that, right?”
No. She wasn’t the lady with this and that. That lady was brought back 3 hours ago.
“Oh.” The man says.
He finally takes my mothers insurance information, officially checking her in.
5 hours after we arrived.
Babies cried. People shuffled back and forth down the hallway, trying to distract themselves of the pain they felt. Someone kept coughing and coughing. Everyone sighed at some point.
5 1/2 hours.