I’ve had a couple of questions about my other “unplanned trip to the hospital.” I was due last Monday for my post-op clearance visit. I had seen patients the day before and had been having some leg pain and swelling that was bad enough that I had to sleep with my leg elevated.
As a physician and knowing all the bad things that can happen to a post-operative patient, I didn’t want to just assume it was from being on my feet all day. There’s a small but real risk of deep venous thrombosis after surgery, and that risk can go on for a couple of months. Anecdotally speaking, physicians have bad luck with complications, so I wasn’t taking any chances and wanted to get it checked out.
By mid-morning, most of the swelling was gone, although I still had some weird leg pain. Other signs of DTV were absent, so I decided to not head to the urgent care since I had a post-op visit in a couple of hours and would see what the surgeon thought since I’m fairly low risk.
I headed to the office a little early since it was snowing and I knew I was the first patient of the afternoon and didn’t want to make my surgeon start his office hours late. What I didn’t know was that his last operating case of the morning had taken a turn for the lengthy. Of course, the office staff didn’t mention this when I checked in, so I was treated to 15 minutes of bad infomercials in the waiting room while they answered lots of phone calls but acknowledged no one in the waiting room. I finally learned that the surgeon was still in the OR when I overheard someone mention it to a phone caller.
Just about the time the makeup infomercial was driving me crazy, another patient arrived and signed the clipboard. He was hand-carrying his records and he and his wife sat and read physician notes aloud and generally second-guessed all the care he had received thus far. He was clearly there for a second opinion and I couldn’t help but pity my physician for what he was about to endure. They were loud and opinionated, even when they admitted they didn’t know what they were taking about. It was entertaining to watch them pull out the copies of the scans and try to interpret them against the waiting room lighting.
Finally when I was called to the window, the receptionist argued with me about not having signed a records release. She said I needed to send my records to my PCP. I told her I didn’t have a PCP and she continued to insist that I put someone down to receive the notes. I finally wrote “no PCP” on the release and just handed it back. She finally got the message.
At the bottom of the hour, the TV programming changed to some daytime interview program and the topic of the day was post-traumatic effects of sexual assault. Although I have utmost respect for the topic, it’s not what you expect to have playing in the waiting room and doesn’t set the stage for a calming, healing environment.
The receptionist called me up again to fill out a post-op form, which included questions about my pain, how much pain medication I was taking, etc. Some of it was pretty standard, although the pain scale ran from 1-10 instead of the normal 0-10. As the questions progressed, some of the scales were inverted, with 10 being the least and 1 being the most, which I’m sure might be confusing for many patients. I was confused enough that I missed the back of the form, resulting in me being called to the window a third time.
The surgeon finally arrived and I was called back. He was apologetic. He mentioned a little about his previous case and I understood why he was late. I felt bad that I was about to make him more late after I threw out the leg pain and swelling complaint. Although he agreed I was low risk, I was scheduled to fly in less than 48 hours, so he wanted to proceed with the ultrasound.
His staff called down to the vascular lab, where apparently only one technician showed up due to the snow. He asked for a favor to work me in, which I appreciated, although they said it would likely be a two-plus hour wait. You can’t complain when you’re a work-in, so I took my form and headed downstairs. I guess if your physician doesn’t call in a favor, you would have to wait until the next day, which isn’t an ideal situation for patients with potential blood clots.
When I finally made it to the imaging department, I realized it was nearly 2 p.m. and I hadn’t eaten lunch. The receptionist confirmed that I was an add-on and asked if I knew it would be a couple of hours’ wait, and I said yes, and could I pop out to the cafeteria and come back? She said that was fine.
When I returned from the café (where only the salad bar remained), I was shamed by the registration clerk, who had apparently been looking for me while I was gone. Despite all my time in healthcare, it didn’t occur to me that this was going to be a quasi-inpatient experience until I was sitting in the registration booth and they had asked the fall risk questions and were getting ready to slap the hospital band on my wrist. Although I had only been discharged two weeks prior and my information should have been up to date, I discovered that my emergency contact had been changed to a peripheral relative who in no way would I want to be my emergency contact. It was baffling until I realized (days later) that he had been in the hospital in the interim and had put me as HIS contact. Still, that should not have changed MY contact information.
It’s unreal that you have to go through the hospital admission process for a straightforward outpatient test. It’s also unreal that there is no accommodation for people’s potential illnesses in the waiting room. How about a footstool for the patient with the swollen leg to prop it on? I got the evil eye from the receptionist for using an empty chair to elevate my leg. While I was waiting, though, I did receive my surgeon’s email message welcoming me to his patient portal (yay, another one!) and inviting me to peruse my records. I now have a total of five portals that I can log into and view my fragmented charts.
After a couple of hours, the tech appeared to take me for my test. I apologized in advance since I knew I was an add-on and said I appreciated that she was having to stay late for me. She was pretty cool about it, although she mentioned she hadn’t had a lunch break and hoped to be able to make it out of the hospital by dinnertime.
I felt bad as a former member of the medical staff that this is how the hospital runs, that two people can fail to show up for work and the third remaining staffer gets crushed with no help in sight. One would think that in a hospital system with nearly 30,000 employees there would be systems in place to prevent these kinds of events from happening. Of note, by 1 p.m., the snow was melting, so bad roads were no longer an excuse.
I didn’t end up having a blood clot. Not surprisingly, once I started treating my leg like a musculoskeletal problem, it got better. Heat and NSAIDs work wonders, but they don’t keep deep clots from breaking off and killing you, so I’m glad I had the test for my own piece of mind.
It will be interesting to see what the hospital charges for an ultrasound vs. what we charge at my urgent care. Rumor has it our prices are about 80 percent less than the hospital, so we shall see. Hopefully this will be the end of my medical adventures for a while, at least until the bills start arriving in a few months.
Email Dr. Jayne.