February 26, 2021
Over the weekend Melissa became a visitor to our local hospital. We had been frequent visitors two years ago while they struggled to determine the cause of stomach pain. For the last two months Melissa has been making periodic trips to the doctor to overcome an infection. When the fever spiked again, we went to find a solution. I mention the earlier trip because of the difference this time. We had entered a waiting room full of people and after only 20 minutes they did an initial intake. It was another 45 minutes before we were escorted back to a room to wait for a nurse to take vitals. This time, Melissa entered the vacant waiting area alone. She was seen immediately and taken directly to an exam room. This all happened while I sat outside in the car.
Although it was not freezing outside, it was cold. That meant I would turn the car on to warm up and then turn it back off to not waste gas. I had brought a book to read but could not get my mind to focus, wondering what was going on inside. We are fortunate to both have cell phones and I got texts updating me on what was happening. After a battery of texts Melissa told me they would not be read for three hours. I sat and watched a steady stream of people entering and leaving the ER. Many were on their own and if accompanied the extra person was sent back out to wait with me in the parking lot. The new reality is one of isolation. That is true for both the patient and loved ones.
Melissa texted me around midnight and said she was staying overnight and that I should go home. The worries and separation kept me up several more hours, so I was up to receive a goodnight text at 2:30 am. Melissa was still testing and not yet in a room. The new visiting hours were confined to one person for four hours in the afternoon. I was glad to have the opportunity to be a visitor as this has only been in effect for the last months. By visiting time, they were ready to release her, so I collected fresh clothes and went on up. All the doors to the hospital were locked, and it took twenty minutes to find how to enter the building. When I did, I was checked for temperature and reason of visit and had a visitor band attached to my wrist. Checkout was rapid and I wound my way through the maze of hallways to get back to the one entrance and my car. I drove to another locked door to pick Melissa up at outpatient. I was glad to know Melissa was fine and is now doing well. My visitor experience gave me a small sense of the separation families and patients of covid-19 patients are going through.
Thoughts: I was overwhelmed by the lockdown procedures that are in place throughout the hospital. The only two entrances were for outpatient procedures and the ER. Both had checking personnel and guards nearby to keep unwanted visitors from entry. Temperatures, masks, and social distancing were a requirement, not an option. The busy halls I was used to were devoid of traffic and the cafeteria was “workers only.” While this made sense amid the pandemic, Melissa told me many of the workers preferred the calm brought by quarantine. Not having to deal with the demands of visitors has eased some of the stress of caring for patients. This seems another change that will not go back to usual. Perhaps we should be more appreciative of the times when we can be together. Follow the science. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.