Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My Near Death Experience

If you're planning on having a near death experience such as breaking your ankle or any other bone, I would suggest doing it in a country other than America, because the processes and red tape and all that makes up the healthcare system here drove me close to insane. It went something like this...

Friday, August 9, I was standing outside Trader Joe's in Long Beach when I took a little step, my ankle rolled and popped three times. Cut to me on the ground saying a few choice words at high volume that had mortified moms covering their children's ears while my ankle instantly begins to inflate. The paramedics arrive, put on ice and tell me I need to get to the hospital. They called an ambulance, and while I was enjoying the overly dramatic Grey's Anatomy feel of it all, and it was all about me. Then they told me it would be really expensive and since I have no idea how insurance works here and I was close to home, I called David and he took me to the emergency room.

In spite of the lack of dishy doctors and slutty interns that TV emergency rooms seem to be overflowing with, the process in the ER went pretty quick. I was immediately shoved into a wheelchair and within a short time they were snapping all sorts of pictures of my leg, confirming that it was indeed broken, not sprained. The doc said that this break is better than a sprain, less painful and it heals better. Yay, I thought. They put on a temporary splint, told me to see an orthopedic surgeon on Monday, August 12, and shoved me out onto the angry, wild streets of Long Beach all wobbly on my new crutches. I had very little pain over the next few days and didn't really need anything stronger than an Advil. So far, so good.

Monday arrived and I called my doctor first thing in the morning for a referral to the orthopedic surgeon. I was informed my doctor can't refer me unless he sees me and he had no opening for over a week. I finally convinced one of the nurses there to contact the ER, get my x-rays and go from there. They do and then I am told that an approval first needs to be obtained from my insurance before they can refer me. Cool. No problem at all. That was Monday. A few scattered phone calls during the week and suddenly Friday morning I am told the insurance company needs six to eight months – yes, months – to approve a referral so I can get a cast for six to eight weeks. They then told me to go to one of two ERs and start all over. Their actual advice was to take a blanket, pillow and cooler with me as it would be a long wait. I thought they were joking, so I headed to UCLA Harbor Medical Center.

On my way there, I get a phone call from the Workers Comp rep telling me they will be handling everything. By this time, I am on a bus half way to UCLA Harbor and she said that was fine, just go with it and she gave me all the information. I get to UCLA Harbor, hobble around to the ER entrance, all but disrobe before passing through the metal detectors and then stand in the line to register. To say the ER was busy doesn't come close to describing the number of people. And with the pillows, blankets and coolers, it looked more like a bunch of sick people camped out for a music festival than an ER. I finally got to the counter to register and was told it would be at least twelve to fifteen hours before I could even be seen, much less have anything really looked at or arranged. The man at the desk told me I should go to Long Beach Memorial, which is close to my house and get taken care of there. As it was already three in the afternoon and I didn't have any camping supplies with me, I took his advice and hobbled back to the bus stop with my less-than-happy face on.

On the bus, I called the ER I originally went to, which is close to LB Memorial. They don't do casting at the hospital. What? So they gave me two numbers to call. Both were no answer and so I decided to call LB Memorial before schlepping all the over there only to find out they would not do anything. The nurse on the phone said they didn't have an orthopedic surgeon on staff, but they call them in as needed and suggested I come on over. I take the metro to the hospital, go in the main entrance dripping in sweat from the hot day and the upper body workout that comes with crutches only to discover that the ER is on the opposite side of the hospital, at the end of two seemingly endless corridors.

Once I got there, I signed in and was taken in immediately and within thirty minutes of arriving, I was once again on an x-ray table ready to have more pictures done. The tech asked me if it was my right ankle. I thought the temporary splint and bandages would have made it pretty self evident, but confirmed her Nancy Drew-like suspicions. And then I waited. And waited. And waited some more. I was on the x-ray table, but nothing was going on. Turns out, the system needed to be rebooted and it was not coming back up. I really didn't care. I was so exhausted, it felt great to lie down on the cool table. Twenty minutes or so later, we head to another x-ray room, pictures were taken and I was sent to the transitional waiting room where I was almost thrown up by some big guy with obvious stomach issues. I passed the time looking around for steamy doctors and interns like on Days of our Lives or ER, but there were none. They must have all been hanging out in the cuter wing of the hospital. Even a dead body on a gurney would have made things more interesting, but that didn't happen either. I started talking to the guy next to me. I asked what he was in there for and he told me a chihuahua bit him on ankle. While his girlfriend started laughing, I looked at it, saw nothing but commented on how lucky he was to even be alive.

A few minutes later, they took me out of the hospital to a bungalow that had been set up as I guess their regular ER is now too small. The nurse comes in to inform me I will be getting a tetanus shot. I told her I was pretty up to date on those things and was pretty sure I had been given one just about two years ago. Then I heard them at the nurses station complaining that a tetanus shot had been ordered for the wrong patient. I had heard about these things happening and it didn't really put me at ease.

Tetanus shot never happened and they gave me the good news that while the bone was broke, all the tissues and muscles were perfectly fine, just sore from the break and that no surgery would be required. A nurse which was about as close to heavy breathing material as I would see that day put on a new temporary splint and sent me home with a referral for an orthopedic surgeon on Monday.

Monday morning. I call the doctor they referred me to and a rude woman answered the phone and told me that since it was workers comp, that they needed the rep to phone them and then fax over a letter. I called the rep but she didn't answer. I called her a few times during the day, but always got voicemail. Another office called me back from the calls I had made Friday and I gave her the info and she said she would try to sort it on her end and get me in later in the day. I never heard back.

This morning, I called the workers comp rep who is really very sweet and she had been out ill all day Monday. She called around and got me an appointment for Thursday. So, finally, two weeks after breaking my ankle, I finally get my cast! Yay.

If this had happened in India, Tanzania or most other places I have been in the world, it would have been sorted and taken care of with no hassle at all. My experiences with doctors, emergency rooms and hospitals abroad have always been amazing. People give me looks of shock and horror when I mention stays in hospitals in India and Tanzania, but I can honestly say the experiences were fantastic, well, as fantastic as a hospital stay can be, and MAX Healthcare Hospital in Delhi is probably one of the nicest hospitals I have ever been in. The room was more like a hotel than a hospital. And the staff in Tanzania after my stroke were beyond amazing. Even the ladies from housekeeping would bring me fresh fruit and then came to say goodbye when I left.

I wondered if maybe I was expecting too much, but I think when someone needs medical help, it is already stressful enough. Throw in the hoops, long waits, and what seems like being given the run-around when all I wanted was just to get things taken care of and it gets incredibly aggravating. Most people have been really nice, but the process itself is a mess. And there are just no eye candy distractions to make any of it worthwhile.  

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