small favors

Monday, November 25, 2013

A crisis was brewing in room 12. Instead of the Green Bay-Vikings game, there was nothing but fuzz on the local Fox channel. The patient and family mentioned it in passing but clearly they were distraught. All were wearing Aaron Rodger jerseys and there was no doubt that it took a true emergency to bring them to the hospital, instead of being at home watching their beloved Packers play on TV.

There is nothing funny about being a patient in the ER. First, there is the illness or injury that prompted the visit. Second, there is the uncertainty of what the future might bring. Third, there is the unknown wait time, realizing that your care could be delayed because you are deemed less sick or hurt than the person being wheeled in on the next ambulance. And of course you have no real say in who is providing your care. Loss of control is a frightening thing.

But circumstance do arise that remind us of the humanity of the situation and in Wisconsin, football Sunday can bring the world to a stop. The Packers were playing and nothing much else matters to the bulk of state’s population. Our ER sits on the banks of Mississippi and across the river the green and gold is replaced by the purple of Minnesota and it is an easy way to break the tension when walking into the room to mention the colors that the patient is wearing. I’m certain the same situation happens on Saturdays in Alabama and Oklahoma but in Wisconsin, the fans own the team and having an undying allegiance.

The department was busy yesterday, even though the game was on at noon. Often we sometimes joke that patients try to rush in to be seen before the game starts or wait until after the final whistle to seek care, but in truth, the number of patients who register isn’t really affected by when the game is being played. Patients tend not to plan their emergencies, but it seems a little more festive hen the game is on. Normally, the television are turned to a variety of channels from CNN to HGTV (the Property Brothers seem to be a favorite), but on football Sunday, it’s wall to wall Packers. There are occasional cheers that are not because the lab test came back normal and that groan might be from a penalty or missed tackle instead of a spasm of pain.

I saw four plays all game. I watched with a family dressed in Viking home jerseys as Scott Tolzien rushed for his first touchdown as a Packer. They were not happy. They were less happy to know that abdominal CT scan that I had just ordered would take a couple of hours to complete. Never mind that all tests on House or Grey’s Anatomy can be done within the hour including commercials, but real world technology moves a little slower. I watched two plays with an older gentleman who remembered Bud Grant and Joe Kapp from Vikings history. I told him that I remembered those two from the Canadian Football League. He smiled. Play four was a Jordy Nelson catch, or I think it was but I couldn’t be certain in the fuzz of room 12.

There are small things that make the ER tolerable for patients. We have volunteers who provide coffee to families or help watch children. Our social workers try to find ways to keep elderly patients independent in their homes. There are nurses who stay late to comfort the family of a patient who is doing poorly. The art of medicine seems to be on display at the same time the science is being tended to.

And sometimes all it takes is the Packers and Vikings on the screen in the corner of the room to make even the most frightened patient smile just a little. I guess we’re readyfor some football.

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