Thursday, August 21, 2008

Waiting at hospital emergency is an endurance sport

My every intention to post earlier and regularly this week went out the window late on Tuesday night when I had to join my partner in waiting at the Emergency department of the Austin Hospital. We were waiting for the paediatrics emergency doctor to see our younger son, Jamie.

Before you get too concerned, be reassured that he is pretty much fine, and I've taken the day off work to stay home with him. (In fact, he's just gotten into my lap as I type this, demanding to see animals on my laptop!)

But at the time my partner took him (and his big brother) to emergency at the Austin she was very worried. His tongue was swelling up, he had been complaining of pain in his mouth and had trouble eating earlier that day – a big thing for a little boy who loves his food.

She was at the hospital since around 7pm with both boys – shunted from Emergency to the after-hours GP clinic at the hospital, where she had to wait more than two hours to see the doctor. The doctor thought that our little boy's rash, fever, mouth ulcers, being unsettled, clingy and fretful, amongst other symptoms, were probably hand, foot and mouth disease, but there was uncertainty because he'd already had it, or so we thought, a few weeks ago. So he suggested getting a second opinion from the paediatrician at Emergency. So back to Emergency for more waiting.

It was at that point that she called me at home at about 10 pm to come and wait with her. I had been to yoga earlier that evening, so had no idea what was going on until I got out and checked my phone messages on the tram going home. My partner reassured me that it wasn't urgent or life threatening, and that she just needed him to be seen by the doctor, and so I should go home instead of meet her at the clinic. But when it became clear she was going to have to wait for the Emergency doctor, she thought it best I join them.

So it was then that I learned first hand to what extent that the main event at public hospital emergency departments is waiting. You hear and read that this is the case so often, but it's not until you have to experience it yourself that it really hits you. I got there at around 10.45 pm, so I didn't have to wait as long as the others in my family.

Waiting for a doctor at hospital emergency – especially with a sick child – is exhausting, worrying and very stressful, and should qualify as an Olympic endurance sport. And you should get bonus points when you do it with
your other child (or children) who was so far wonderfully patient but steadily getting tired, bored and grumpy.

So to cut a long story short, we ended up seeing the doctor long after midnight, when she confirmed it was probably hand foot and mouth after all, although there is a plethora of viral infections that haven't been identified or even named yet
for which a rash is a symptom. We got out at around 1 am, and I didn't get to sleep until 2 am – exhausted but relieved Jamie was not seriously ill.

Needless to say, my partner and I were wrecks the next morning (yesterday), and I barely made it through a half day at work. Jamie, on the other hand, was a lot chirpier.

My experience of a Victorian public hospital Emergency department was nothing like what you see in TV medical drama. It was eye-opening, but honestly, I don't want to get to know the public hospital and emergency system any better at all. Mind you, I'm not rushing out to buy private insurance. The medical and support staff were lovely, and very good, thank you very much.

Today, Jamie and I drew a picture of his brother.

It's at moments like these that I am thankful that I work for a very family-friendly organisation that lets its staff, including men, take time off to care for sick children without fuss.

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At August 22, 2008 11:08 am, Blogger unique_stephen said...

Yikes. Sorry to hear about your trip.
We had one which resulted in an emergency hernia operation on Adrian when he was only just out of hospital. Luckily they queue jumped us and we were in the Ambulance being transfered withing about 15 minuts of walking in the door.

Or kids are now getting to the age where broken arms and legs etc are probably going to make these visits more regular.

At August 23, 2008 2:33 pm, Blogger Kirsty said...

Glad everything is okay. Sort of.

At August 27, 2008 8:58 am, Blogger djfoobarmatt said...

The emergency waiting room can be a good reality check. Because disadvantaged people tend to have poorer health or are exposed to more risk or even just engage in more risky behaviour, the waiting room is often filled with some pretty destitute people. At least that is how my wife experienced it from working ED for a little while. When I partially severed my finger a few years back, she insisted we go to the private hospital even though the public was within walking distance. At the private hospital I was seen to immediately and had surgery that night. We later heard of a patient who lost their finger after giving up on the public hospital emergency waiting room after several hours. However, I still wonder if I would rather wait three hours than pay the health insurance.


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