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The Game and the ER

The Spring Game was certainly pleasant. Thirty-five thousand or so Hokies gathering for football, or at least as reasonable a facsimile one is going to find in the middle of April, generally promises good times. This one delivered. The quarterback situation remains unresolved. Of the four that alternated series, about all that was decided was that one has the look of a terrific tight end.

About the only thing the fans could take from it, along with, it would seem, the coaches, is that we can be reasonably assured that when the season opens in four and a half months, there will be a quarterback on the field wearing maroon. The rules frown on putting three quarterbacks on the field at a time and beating Northeastern, whoever they are, will likely be at least a little tougher if Tech is going ten on eleven with the ball snapped to nobody. Chances are Tech will have a starting QB.

The Tech Spring Game is rarely about determining much of anything on the field. It is a social event, designed to give Tech fans a legitimate reason to show up at Lane. Tech sees no need in stooping to begging people to come through some ludicrous Festivus as do the Hoos and more recently that other ‘U of’ in the neighborhood down in Chapel Hill. Tech doesn’t have to. Tech also seems to have no problem figuring out a day on which to hold the Spring Game and sticking to it. One of these days the other schools around will figure out this whole football thing, but it ain’t happened yet.

The Spring Game at Tech is not about some contrived dog-and-pony show replete with ‘numerous activities promising great family fun.’ It is about tailgating, a concept our friends in Hooville and Blue Heaven also seem to have great difficulty grasping. Chicken Hill looked very much like it does in September, October and November. The place was full. A game that only lasts about an hour offers opportunity for extended tailgating, which is exactly what went on. It was a pleasant weekend diversion, at least for me.

The preceding days and weeks had been spent hauling a couple of young ladies to the offices of various doctors. I have become quite familiar with the ambience of the waiting areas of an internist and two different orthopedic guys. I have spent so much time hanging around a local diagnostic and imaging facility the staff takes my order when they are sending out for lunch.

One does notice a few things when one is spending hours and hours hanging around waiting rooms. One is that the quality of magazine is really poor. I have not read so much National Geographic since my youth and at the time I was interested in something other that could be found in its pages than descriptions of far-away exotic lands. I did notice that the pictures in that magazine that made it so popular among adolescent males in the Sixties were no longer to be found. The Internet has changed a lot of things.

Much time spent in the offices of doctors gives a fairly good perspective of how the medical system operates [I am about to get an even more intimate view, which hopefully will provide a treasure trove of future columns]. Its primary mission, it would seem, is to provide as the major distribution point for the pharmaceutical industry. There is a steady stream of sales representatives coming and going from the domains of all medical practitioners. The amount of time doctors must spend talking with these people could explain why it is so tough to obtain an appointment.

Danville and its surrounding counties number in its population quite a few retired people. That has geared the local medical operation to geriatrics. Right beside each and every reception window at each and every office were printed instructions pertaining to the filing of Medicare forms. All doctors seem to have a cheerful staff well-versed in Medicare law.

The curiosities of federal law as it pertains to the health of our eldest citizens have created many doctors who desire to ensure that the golden years are enjoyed to the fullest. The whole operation seems to be geared to maintaining healthy seniors through the prescribing of various drugs sold by the salespeople trooping in and out of the offices.

Everything is designed to maintain optimum health. This was illuminated quite nicely last Wednesday when my mother’s primary physician instructed me to take her to the emergency room of the local hospital. It would seem a doctor’s office was no place for a sick person.

Being told to take a loved one to an emergency room is not what one cares to hear. Being told to take that loved one to this one is even less positive news. The Danville Regional Medical Center has not had an excellent reputation for many years. Most everybody around town knows of some horror story stemming from treatment there. A few of them are actually true.

Danville is a place where large numbers of people, when faced with medical problems, take off at a dead run for the medical centers attached to the nearby universities of Duke and Wake Forest . However, there are times when circumstances require the supposed immediacy of service that can be obtained from the local hospital. This was one of those times.

‘Immediacy of service’ seems to mean different things to different people. There is quite a disconnect between the definitions held by the staff of the DRMC and those desiring emergency medical services. Arriving for ‘emergency care’ at 8:45 am meant being wheeled into the actual portion of the place where service was rendered a little past noon.

Glancing around the waiting area gave the impression that the long lag time was due to the large numbers of people waiting to be served. The DRMC is the only hospital in the area. In addition to great numbers of senior citizens, Danville is also home to large numbers of people living below what is known as the poverty line. These are people lacking the health insurance or Medicare access the local doctors are so quick to determine proof of. The ER of the DRMC has become where they head at the slightest twinge. After all, federal law requires that they be treated at no charge.

A seat near the Triage section of the ER enabled me to listen to many of the complaints uttered by people as they came in. These ranged from a catch in the back to an aching shoulder to complaints of stomach upset. These were not exactly what one normally would describe as an ‘emergency.’ At least I wouldn’t. It is not hard to assume that if this country ever adopts a socialized form of distributing medical care, all medical offices will look at that.

There also seemed to be an inordinate amount of people on hand complaining of migraine headaches. They could barely make it through the door, holding their head in their hands and gasping for a shot for the pain, followed by a ‘scription.’ After their blood pressure and temperature was taken by the friendly Triage girls, they were sent to the waiting room. The excruciating pain seemed to come and go. They would spend much time chatting on cell phones until anyone that remotely resembled a hospital employee would walk by, at which time they would drop to their knees, grasp their heads and begin moaning so loudly that the more tender-hearted could only assume they were in their death throes. They were cheerfully ignored by all hospital employees, unless their demands for drugs became too much of an annoyance. The two burly security guards would then spring into action, pitching the head cases out the revolving doors and into the street. None seemed to die there.

Once admittance is gained into the inner sanctum where medical treatment is actually administered, what is encountered is a real eye-opener. The local hospital, for well over a century a non-profit community one with local ownership, found that the necessity of providing so much care to those unable to pay, around 40% of all service, created a precarious financial situation. It ended up being sold to a large company that operates many around the southeast. It was also a large company that gave every indication of not knowing what they were doing.

A heavy-handed administrator hit town and immediately set about destroying morale among the staff. There were mass firings, not exactly how one goes about endearing oneself to one’s new home. Physicians were abruptly informed that their way of doing things was to be no longer. This tended to create animosity among the doctors, perhaps not the best situation for a hospital. The resulting griping and complaining, manifested in many letters to the editor, created an outcry that has only been slightly abated by the firing of the clown who was sent here to ostensibly run things somewhere other than straight into the ground. Despite all of this swirling around the local hospital, necessity required that my mother be wheeled into the emergency area.

To my somewhat surprise, what I discovered were a group of doctors and nurses who seemed to be very adept. They were cheerful and courteous and went about their jobs in what looked to be a very efficient manner. It was also patently obvious that the emergency ward was horribly understaffed.

The nurse assigned to my mother was also responsible for five other patients. The doctor was attempting to treat eleven other patients, all with family members or friends around who felt their’s should be treated at once and were not shy in expressing that opinion. The staff was harried and harassed at every turn, yet managed to discharge their duties in what looked to be an efficient manner.

I had the opportunity to talk with several of them. The nurse assigned to my mother informed me that she was concluding her sixth straight day of working twelve-hour shifts. Another that came in to assist on a procedure was supposed to be enjoying a day off after working eight straight, but instead had been called in when another had informed hospital administration that she was quitting minutes before she was due at work. The doctor told me he was working his twenty-first consecutive hour. Both of the nurses told me that they would be leaving this hospital just as soon as new employment was available.

Although it never once bled over into the medical care they were providing, their contempt for the people for whom they were working was strong. Eleven hours spent at the place gave me nothing but admiration for the way they conducted themselves and an equal contempt for their corporate masters. This is no way to run a railroad, or a hospital. While I tip my hat to the stressed nurses and doctor and express nothing but admiration, I certainly do not recommend the purchase of any stock in Lifepoint Hospitals, Inc. I also join that growing chorus encouraging Lifepoint to sell the Danville Regional Medical Center to someone who is a bit more competent in the ways of running and staffing a modern hospital.

Despite the very tough conditions under which they were working, the DRMC ER staff managed to stabilize my mother’s condition, at least until the next time and the time after that until, as will inevitably happen, there are no more times. It is the nature of things.

As stated, the care and treatment given enabled things to improve to the point where I felt comfortable getting away last Saturday for the Tech Spring Game. I will leave to others the discussion of which quarterback candidate will end up starting. I don’t really care. After what was went through last week, just being able to spend a Saturday with friends in Lane Stadium and the surrounding tailgating fields was enough.

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