We spent some quality time in the emergency department waiting room last night at Calvary Hospital in Canberra. Five and a half hours to be exact and I'm pretty fucking cranky about it.
My five year old had the classic childhood accident, slipping and falling on her chin, splitting it to the bone. I was out getting some groceries at the time and came back to Apocalypse Now. The French (bless him) has a different approach to me in these situations and was administering first aid in shouty, theatrical gesticulations guaranteed to make any small person think she is dying. Before I could get her out the door I had to guarantee that we would see the resident plastic surgeon# (wtf?) and report back every ten minutes on progress. By the time this little girl-child was in the car she was shaking with shock and had deerintheheadlight eyes, certain of imminent death. So all the way to the hospital I sang every nursery rhyme that came to my head, one hand on the wheel, the other hand hold a wad of bandage to her chin.
When we arrived at emergency, the staff were everything that you would expect of them. Professional, highly trained, calm, assertive but also from the number of people in the waiting room, outrageously understaffed. We chose a strategic seat close to the front desk, not knowing that this would be our home for the next five and half hours. We read books and played eye spy and had drugs adminstered to numb the pain until E fell asleep on my lap. I spent the next three hours motionless watching the fascinating human condition as it presented itself in that small hot waiting room and slowly but surely became very bloody pissed off. NOT with the staff, they were to a man (and woman) wonderful. It was the fucked up nature of the system that allows very small children and elderly people to sit in pain for hours and hours waiting to be attended to that incensed me. For myself I can understand the wait, I've lived in a number of countries where waiting is like a national pastime. Healthy young adults can get in line, I'm good with that. Very young children and elderly people have the right and I would say our society has the moral obligation to ensure that their needs are attended to promptly and effectively.
As it stands E's needs were met if not promptly, certainly effectively by a young registrar who was profuse in his apologies. She will have the classic rites of passage chin scar to remember the occasion. My question now is when will we as a society get our collective shit together and effectively fund our public health system? Afterall what can be more important than meeting the needs of some of the most vulnerable members of our community?
# Sidenote: The French's demand re a plastic surgeon sounded ludicrous to me at the time but I realise that it demostrates a clear difference in the investment in health services between Australia and France. In most public hospitals in France children are triaged and attended to very quickly and it would not be considered laughable to expect a plastic surgeon to be on hand to suture a split chin.