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    Been There, Done That: Eight Decades And Counting By Alice Herb: Falling on the Street

    Falling On The Street By Alice Herb


    I was recently rushing to the subway to meet a very good friend for lunch. I had no sooner reached the curb across the street from my home when BOOM- I went down hitting the sidewalk with a resounding bang on my head. The blood started pouring out of my forehead. I was belly down and stunned! A lovely young man helped me sit up and a concerned woman stopped, declared that she was a nurse, and took over. This is not the first time I have fallen but this time I knew I should get to the emergency room (ER.) The bleeding wouldn’t stop and I had taken a sharp blow to my head. The Good Samaritan nurse accompanied me to the ER a block away and did not leave until I was taken in for care. I called my luncheon date, a medical ethics colleague, who, after asking a few questions, said she was coming to stay with me at the ER.

    Think about how lucky I was with the help that surrounded me. I was never unconscious or dizzy. I can’t say enough about how clean the ER facility was and how courteous and professional the staff was. The ER physician was friendly but businesslike, took a complete history, gave me and my friend the initial findings that he made, and then provided his recommendations. I agreed to an x-ray of my shoulder and a CT scan of my head and face. This was done expeditiously. Then the physician came back to sew up my head wound. Once again, a very reasonable outcome.

    An administrative nurse then came in to ask a long list of questions. And that’s where my complaints begin. It wasn’t until she was ready to leave that the physician came back to give me the results of the tests (which were all normal, thank goodness). The nurse had me sign a bunch of papers and then handed me discharge instructions. The doctor quickly informed me that there were no fractures and no negative results I need to worry about and then gave me instructions and answered my questions. Then he too gave me a duplicate set of the same discharge papers. I was sent home with the papers and told to be in touch if I had any questions or concerns.

    In case you’re wondering, it’s the discharge papers that made me question what they thought they were doing. I was given 15 pages – yes, 15 pages – upon discharge, to read, of which two and a half pages had to do with my accident and diagnosis. Those comments, incredibly, were on pages 7, 8, and 9. Moreover, the test results were all written in medical jargon that would be difficult for anyone- much less a senior citizen- to read and understand unless they had some background in science or medicine.

    The rest of the paperwork had to do with everything problematic in the world, such as drug abuse, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, insurance issues, even end-of-life decisions and instructions about access to anything you might need at any time in the future. A patient- especially a senior patient- would understandably be upset and worried at getting 15 pages to read. Just from the volume of paperwork, it appeared that the emergency was more serious than the doctor described. One also has to consider that anyone who has had this type of a fall would be shaken and shaky, as indeed I was, and would have trouble absorbing even the basic facts, such as I am OK. Consider that I worked as a medical ethicist in medical facilities for thirty years. The friend who came to visit is also an ethicist and both of us are attorneys and even we were surprised at what was handed out.

    So what did I learn from this experience? Please make certain that you always have someone calm and somewhat familiar with hospital procedures to be there for you should you wind up in an ER. Also, question why all of this information is necessary at such a vulnerable time. I can only speculate that this volume of paperwork was probably demanded by hospital attorneys to ward off lawsuits and to claim the patient had been “informed.” Hospital personnel, especially administrators, are prone to forget that all interactions with medical caregivers should be patient-oriented. Being handed reams of paper as you are escorted out the door is not exactly patient-centered care.

    Please let me know if on any occasion you have experienced something similar- A frightening or unexpected trauma that ended with a difficult to understand paper dump at the conclusion!


    Alice Herb is a retired attorney, journalist, and bioethics consultant. Having reached the age of 85+, she’s more than ready to share her experiences and opinions with agebuzz readers. Want to comment on something she’s said? She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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