Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More adventures in public healthcare

Two nights ago, I was trying to fall into a more respectable nighttime sleep pattern as befits a second-year postgraduate student.

Then I heard what I thought was an assault victim gasp-screaming in surprise as he got taken out from the rear with a heavy blunt instrument, like maybe a psychological manual. Must be The Housemate winding down with some soothing late-night TV, I thought.

Then my "better safe than sorry" voice kicked in, and I went to investigate and decided that "heavy blunt instrument" should have been substituted with "food poisoning" and the only victim in question is the person who occupies the next room.

And the next few hours turned into a blur of racking my brains for a temporary home remedy for persistent vomiting; searching online for 24-hour clinics; driving around the Inner West searching for the non-existent 24-hour clinics...

... and making the mistake of thinking that A&E at the huge teaching hospital around the corner from home would be an appropriate place to go, for by that time it was beginning to look like a bona fide emergency.

It was a mistake, because:
  1. We had left the house in a hurry and didn't think to bring the patient's passport, birth certificate, insurance card (which BTW doesn't exist) and mother along as proof of ID, and the belligerent triage nurse refused to even hear what was wrong until she had been registered, and in order to register her, she had to know WHO SHE WAS!
  2. Clearly, we showed up at the wrong place looking for the wrong thing. Y'see, what we wanted was swift medical attention. We weren't expecting to jump ahead of DIY accidents and premature labour, just maybe a doctor's consultation before sunrise. Simple enough, right? Want to see doctor, go where the doctors are. Problem, solution. Done. But the solution being provided here wasn't "medical attention", the peg that fits in the hole, "repeated and violent vomiting over 90 minutes". What was on offer at this hospital was instead the answer to the question, "Where can one go to be verbally abused, repeatedly, while one's stomach continues to be attacked by very hostile microbes?"
Fortunately, we eventually got out of that bizarre parallel universe where it's acceptable to yell at a sick stranger who comes to your organisation seeking medical assistance. After one more false start (can somebody please tell me why a place called "24 Hour Medical and Dental Practice" is not open 24 hours?) we finally found a hospital staffed by human beings: lucid, warm, competent human beings who didn't penalise us for the fact that their jobs involved staying up through the night.

And they wonder why some people would literally rather die than go to public hospital. I can understand if triage nurses in busy hospitals need to be abrupt and skip the "soft skills" when there are people waiting to be assessed. But there was no queue at this hospital, and in my book there is no justification for the rudeness.

Y'know, if I want to be snapped at, I know where to go. Like maybe I'd offer to tape the tail end of a TV movie for my grandma, and then program the VCR wrongly and tape the pilot of Dogs At Work instead. (I really did do this once, she really did snap, but the rest of the time Mama Saw is to me a cuddly bundle of good grandmotherly lovin', and a killer cook to boot.) Or, I could go back in time to Latin dancing class and exit a hockey stick with sloppy turnout and no headwork. There would be the snapping, but it would be worth it because everyone knows that WL is a great instructor who refuses to let dancers perform below their potential. I might even pick the fond "Don't take three meatballs! After you can't fit into your New Year baju, you don't come and scold me!" reprimand from my friend the chap fun uncle in Taman Mayang. The point is, if I want to be yelled at, the last place I would think of to get it is an emergency room at 1am.

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