It’s 10:35 p.m. the night of Michigan’s win against Massachusetts. The ambulance is just leaving our sidewalk and that feeling of helpless fear starts to set in. No, Mom, it’s not me in the back of that ambulance, but I am about to make my first trip to the University Hospital’s Emergency Room to support my friend. My vision of an emergency room rested somewhere between an episode of “House” and the waiting room of a DMV. Upon arrival, I realized those two stereotypes were far from the truth, and I gained a new level of respect and admiration for the professionalism and kindness that I witnessed.
Long wait times at ERs are no secret. A CNN article placed the average U.S. ER wait time at about six hours, but most other news sources report the time closer to four hours. Lucky for me (or unlucky for my friend) our emergency was so urgent that he saw a doctor immediately. After sitting down, the cause of the absurdly long waits became obvious — not all emergencies are created equal. Head, neck or back injuries and anything involving blood takes precedent. An individual who arrived before us was still waiting to see a doctor for her sprained ankle when we left six hours later. The receptionist probably should have taken the tough-love approach and told her to put some frozen broccoli on it and make an appointment at UHS. This type of emergency visit is what creates these absurd wait-time statistics. If you were to take her six-hour wait to see a doctor and our zero-hour wait and average it, you’d still report an average wait time of three hours. Anyone can tell this extremely misleading statistic gives emergency rooms an undeserved bad rap.
Another common issue many ERs run into is overcrowding. Packed waiting rooms, beds in hallways and multiple roommates are all typical hospital problems. The University Hospital has greatly benefited from a $17.7-million renovation of the ER, which was completed last April. The project added extra patient beds and a newly renovated waiting room. Jennifer Holmes, the director of operations for the emergency department, claims the goal of the improvements was to cut wait times down to between 30 and 45 minutes. That’s a considerably lower range than those projected at other hospitals. The new waiting room, where I spent the majority of my time, was as spacious and comfortable as a hospital can be. To be honest, I spent most of the wait watching the Notre Dame versus Michigan State game on one of the emergency room’s new flat screens — in other words, it could’ve been worse. Obviously, sitting in a hospital waiting room is never fun, but it wasn’t the claustrophobic, baby-crying experience I expected.
The aspect of the entire evening that made the biggest impression by far was the hospital staff. The receptionists were friendly and helpful and kept me updated on my friend’s condition. (Also, one of the front desk employees loaned me a few bucks to get a snack at the vending machine since I somehow managed to bring only $1.16 to the emergency room.) While my friend went to get a MRI, the nurse tried to keep me busy. He suggested that I have fresh clothes and maybe an iPod brought to the hospital for the rest of the wait. Anyone who’s had that feeling of helplessness you get at a hospital knows there’s no better cure than that simple task that makes you feel useful. When my friend and I did have a chance to talk with the doctor, he was informative and had us out of the hospital as fast as he could. The staff, even after possibly one of their busiest days of the year (Football Saturday), was still friendly and professional. Not only am I sure that this was comforting to my friend, but it also helped me be the calming, positive presence that he needed.
Knowing we have a resource like the University’s ER should be a comfort to every student on campus. Our parents should sleep a little easier as well. After my visit to the ER, I know in a time of need, helping hands will be there, extended by a team of professional staffers who work tirelessly to keep us safe.