The Waiting Game Causes Pain

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I took a half day off work so that my wife and I could take our 14 and 11 year old boys sled riding. We packed the sleds and snow boards into the SUV and headed for a wide open hill with not a tree in sight. The lack of trees lulled us into a false sense of security and the always mandatory helmets were left at home on the garage floor. The kind of parental stupidity that causes sleepless nights, as I would soon be reminded. The sled riding fun ended after forty-five minutes on the hill when my 14 year old fell victim to a classic freak accident and took a snow board to the head. I immediately applied direct pressure with snowballs but the extensive vascular system of the scalp was winning this battle. The hill soon looked like a crime scene and we needed to get to the nearest hospital. Fortunately, we were only two miles from a local branch of the regions largest health care provider. By the time we arrived, the direct pressure had stopped the bleeding.

When we entered the emergency department of this 400 bed facility, we were pleased to see that there were only two other patients in the waiting area. The blood loss evident on our clothes got us immediate attention and a nurse replaced the bloody paper towels with an elastic band that held a bandage in place. Twenty minutes later we were triaged by a very grumpy and unprofessional nurse who failed to even obtain an accurate history. Worse yet, her unfriendly demeanor caused my 14 year old’s mood to change from calm and controlled to apprehensive and nervous. After 45 minutes we were escorted to a treatment room. Thirty minutes later we saw a nurse who did nothing more than say hello. As the minutes and hours passed, my son’s head began to hurt worse and his nerves started to get the best of him. He knew he needed stitches because I told him so when he was bleeding on the hill. He never experienced stitches before so my wife and I reassured him that stitches were not too bad.

Two hours after arriving in the treatment room, parental reassurance was no longer enough. The apprehension of waiting was overwhelming our once calm son. The fear of the unknown took up residence in his mind and he was scared. Rightfully so! After yet another thirty minutes passed a nurse practitioner finally entered the room. The nurse practitioner performed a very cursory exam, injected 8 shots of lidocaine and immediately started his stitch work. My son would later inform us that the first two stitches were really painful. Hmm, I wonder why? In the end, the nearly fours hours of waiting and apprehension were far more painful to my son than the blow to the head and the stitches required to keep the laceration closed. And remember, we never even saw a doctor! A long delay is inexcusable for any patient in a large emergency department with few patients. The delay is criminal, however, when a child is its victim. Medicine requires a personal commitment and dedication not just to healing but to healing with nurturing and concern. Too many institutions and too many individuals have forgotten about nurturing and concern. We all deserve better but probably won’t get it. We must at least, however, demand that our children are treated better.

When we left the hospital, the flow of traffic required us to drive past the hospital’s $100 million expansion. My son asked what was going on, so I explained the expansion. His response was intelligent, if not downright prophetic, “I think they should spend their money on more doctors, not bigger buildings.”

In this case, my family is not filing any lawsuit against the staff or facility. No lawsuit is warranted. However, the same situation could have been much worse. Had my son’s injury been bleeding more than triage realized or if he had sustained internal cranial bleeding we would not have such a benign ending to this story. If my son was not such a strong , resilient young man, the mental pain caused by his trauma may have been something he dealt with for years. I am certain that my complaints to management will have no impact. Unfortunately, lawsuits are the only mechanism in place to truly get the attention of the medical profession and create change. As no lawsuit is warranted here, no change will occur. If an excessive wait during an attempt to get medical treatment has caused you or a family member pain and suffering, please contact our law office and we, along with our on-staff doctors, will evaluate your medical malpractice claim.

Jon R. Perry, Attorney, Father