When I was a resident on ICU, the staff physician mentioned that his mother needed an ultrasound. He asked the radiologist what the waiting list was like. This was in Montreal, so the answer was something along the lines of "Bad. Who's it for?"
"Oh, your mother! I'll squeeze her in."
"No, that's all right. We can wait our turn like everyone else."
I felt ambivalent, hearing this story. On one hand, I support a one-tier, publicly funded medical system, which is not the majority view among my more verbal friends. On the other hand, I think that if I can assist one of my colleagues in any way, I will do it. Our health care system is so tight and this is one of the last ways we can make it more pleasant for someone ill.
This comes up in the emergency room all the time, of course. I will see a nurse's relative, for example, ahead of the waiting throng, and usually, at my hospitals, this is not such a big deal. We don't have the 14 hour waits. But one day I saw several people ahead of time and I felt uncomfortable about it.
Meanwhile, I kept trucking along until, at 19 weeks of pregnancy, I passed some blood clots.
I woke my husband up and said, "I think I'll go use the bedside ultrasound in emerg. If the baby's okay, I can still make my appointment Montreal." Bedside ultrasound takes approximately zero skill after ten weeks of pregnancy, just to check on the baby.
I felt the baby roll—or was that the beginning of a cramp? After a minute, I felt a kick. And then two more. But then I remembered more about second trimester bleeding.
I woke Matt up again. "I have to get a real ultrasound. In first trimester bleeding, you want to know if the baby is alive. But in second trimester, you have to start looking at the placenta. If it's a placenta previa or an abruptio placenta..." My bleeding was painless. Therefore more likely a previa. Ultrasound was not always diagnostic, but it would definitely help. Me sticking an ultrasound wand on top of my belly was not going to help. I couldn't tell you whether there was a bleed or not.
"You may end up on six months of bedrest," said Matt.
I waited the marginally civilized hour of 6 a.m. to call one of my hospitals. The emergency doctor, who is also my friend, said she could arrange the scan.
I walked in just over an hour later and the nurse looked at my belly and asked, "Are you still bleeding?" So the word had gotten out.
That made it easier for me. I didn't have to explain, just let her take my vitals and breathe in relief when another nurse successfully found the baby's heartbeat with the Doppler. I ended up writing my own ultrasound requisition and paging the tech, who was already with the first patient, but the next slot was free.
The emergency doctor talked to the radiologist, who agreed to call me on my cell phone with the results. And pretty much immediately afterward, the ultrasound tech was ready for me.
And the baby looked good! The placenta was less than 2 cm from the cervical os, so that probably explained the bleeding.
Before lunch, the radiologist called me and said, "The baby looks fine." He wasn't convinced that the placenta was marginal, based on the views he'd seen, but he concluded, "Good news."
This is Very Important Medical Person treatment. Scanned two hours after I called, results another two hours after that.
Is this right? Should I just meekly line up at the ER and wait my turn with the doctor? By then, it would be too late for the 7:45 a.m. open ultrasound slot, so I'd have to wait and see if a spot opened up later that day. Then I'd wait for the radiologist to read the films in order. Then I'd wait for the ER doc to get the results. I'd wait for him to tell me said results, either before or after he called the ob for an interpretation.
I know that's the "right" thing to do, in some people's books. But I don't see the medical system like that. I see it as a resource that I understand and need to maximize. So yes, I could have hung around. But then I'd be one more patient clogging up the system. In and out and we're all happier.
I'm not a star. I don't get the red carpet rolled out for me. Paparazzi don't follow me around and sell my photo for thousands of dollars. But when I need medical treatment, I have doctors and nurses who will help me get it as quickly and pleasantly as possible.
Is that wrong?
-From an e-book by Melissa Yuan-Innes "The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World and Other True Tales From the Emergency Room."