This hospital apparently once had a really good reputation.
So when I got the call at 4:30 am on Friday that my father’s memory care residence was sending him to the hospital, I thought he was going to the right place. And I forced myself into consciousness and made my way to the hospital.
Now, my father is incompetent. There is no question about this, and I have all the necessary paperwork. I have his health care proxy, his power of attorney, I am the trustee of the trust that holds all of his assets, and I have been appointed his guardian. None of this is contested, it’s all been gone over by a whole bunch of lawyers, and I always have all the documentation with me. I keep it, along with his Medicare and insurance information and a list of his medications, on my phone.
Also, the memory care facility, as is their practice, send an aide in the ambulance with him to the hospital with all the necessary documentation.
So I get to the hospital at around 5:15 am. I’m told by a receptionist that nobody can go in to the ER to see a patient until 9:00 am. Fine, nothing I can do about that, but I tell the receptionist that I’ll need to speak to someone on the care team, preferably a physician, because of the health care proxy and all that. He says he’ll send them a message.
9:00 am rolls around, nobody in sight from the care team. But I go in and find my father, who’s on a stretcher in the hallway. He’s very confused, doesn’t understand where he is or why he’s there.
10:00 am comes and goes. Then 11:00 am. I mention to the nurse at the ER desk that I’m still waiting to see someone. I’m quite polite about it. I mean, really – I just identify myself and say I’m hoping to speak to his care team. She says if I’m going to be “aggressive,” she’ll have me removed from the ER.
Noon comes I’m told that visiting hours are over, and I’ll have to leave the ER. So back outside. And I do mean outside. According to the new receptionist/security guard, because of COVID, nobody is allowed to wait in the waiting rooms.
So still waiting to talk to someone. I remind the receptionist that I’m still waiting.
Another hour. And a miracle happens. Someone calls me to talk to me. He agrees to come to the front of the hospital to talk in person. I’m happy.
He shows up. I introduce myself. He does not reciprocate. I ask him who he is. He says “John.” Hmm. “Are you a doctor,” I ask? No, he says, I’m a medical student.
Holy shit. We talk. Turns out he’s been sent to get my father’s medical history. Which I give to him, as best I can. But that’s all. I still don’t know why my father is here, or when or if he’ll be admitted.
He also, by the way, leans on me hard to sign a blanket DNR. He shows me the form. It gives all discretion to the hospital. Yeah, fuck that. I’m not signing it.
More hours. No more communication. More hours. I go home to get some sleep. I come back in the morning. My father is still in the same bed in the same hallway.
I request to see a doctor. I ask what treatment, if any, he’s receiving, and if he’s being given any meds. Nobody in the ER can or will answer my questions. I request to speak to the physician in charge of his care. Again.
More hours. Noon passes. I can’t wait in the ER anymore, so I’m back outside.
More hours. And then finally a doctor agrees to speak to me. I’ve been keeping track of the time. It is now thirty-two hours since my father was brought to the hospital.
Anyway, he explains why my father is there. Sounds like the care facility made the right call in sending him to the hospital. He says they’ve done a number of tests, and he explains them to me. And okay, they’re just tests, I don’t get upset that consent was not sought (even though the hospital knew there was a guardian with the health care proxy), because tests are fine, that’s why he’s here, etc.
I ask when he can get a bed. He says, it’s tough, we don’t have any. I say this isn’t good for my father, he’s confused, he’s scared, he doesn’t understand what’s going on. He says, well, we do have a lot of open beds on the 14th floor. We have plenty of beds there. Great, I say, can we get him in there? Sure, absolutely, he says. That’s the private pay floor. I actually call to find out how much it would cost. Okay, that won’t be happening.
I’m a bit shocked to find out that a hospital has a large number of empty beds (apparently that floor has a capacity of a hundred beds), but is holding them back in case a rich person, even a rich person with a fairly trivial illness, wants them. Seems to me that’s kind of like a food bank having plenty of food, but holding it back from poor hungry people in case someone comes along who will pay full retail price for it.
I mean, it’s one thing for a hotel to hold out for the highest bidder, but a hospital? This seems like a shakedown.
Oh, well, nothing I can do.
I hang around. Nobody else talks to me. I go home to sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat. A different doc talks to me (it’s now Monday). He says they’ve been keeping my father around for one more test, that’s all – he’s stable. I’m angry. One test? They can’t do that? He says, well, we’re busy, the endoscopy team is only here certain hours, on and on, endless bullshit.
I ask for a list of any medications he’s been given. I want to be sure that he’s getting his regular prescribed meds.
He is. And they’ve added two fairly significant meds. One for the condition that brought him here. The other is a zombifying drug. I ask why would you give him this? He says, well, often old people with dementia get confused and agitated in the ER (no shit – you had to go to medical school to figure this out?), so we just dope them up as a matter of routine.
I’m angry. No issues of consent? Or even ethics? You routinely dope old people to make them easier to manage? Can that even be legal?
More time. More sleep. Back at the hospital. Tuesday morning. I go to the ER to see him. They tell me he’s not here anymore. WTF? Where is he? Hemming, hawing, nobody knows, nobody cares. About thirty minutes later they come up with the fact that he’s been admitted. He has a room.
This is Tuesday. Remember, he came here at 4:30 am on Friday and has been on a stretcher in a hallway since then. But at least he’s in a room now.
So, I wait around. About 2:00 in the afternoon, another doc agrees to talk to me. Still waiting for the same test. Wait, wait, wait. At least I can stay with my father until 9:00 pm now that he has a room. So I do. And then I go home.
I’m on my way back on Wednesday morning when my phone rings. It’s, well, let’s call her Makena, because she has one of those stupid last-name-as-first-names with a made-up spelling. And she won’t tell me her last name (which, parenthetically, I hate . You’re a grown-up in a responsible position, don’t try to hide your identity. It’s chickenshit evasive bullshit.). She identifies herself as the hospital social worker. WTF, I think, but okay, whatever.
She tells me they’re discharging him. I say great, so what was the outcome of the test we’ve all been waiting for? She says she doesn’t know, but she’ll ask the doc to speak to me when I get there.
Okay, great, we’re getting somewhere and he’s going home. Or “home,” I should say.
So I get there. I hang around. Finally a doc comes. Actually, a doc with a whole team of medical students and a PA and a couple of people who don’t have any ID badges. And I’m sure each and every one of them will send a bill, but I’ll deal with that later.
So the doc talks to me. He hasn’t had the test. They haven’t been able to get it together enough to do it. So they’re sending him home. And I’ll have to get him back as an outpatient for the test. Which is a fairly big deal. He’s wheelchair-bound, and will need transportation. Which, in NYC, is a few hundred bucks a pop for those rides.
Including, apparently, the ride home to his care facility. Now we see what Makena is all about. She may have some kind of degree that allows her to call herself a social worker, but really she’s the collection agent for the hospital. We have to go over a bunch of stuff to make sure they get paid. Oh, and by the way? The ride back home? Not covered by insurance, and they’ll need a credit card up front. Or I can just take the fucking subway back with my father.
So I pay. And get him back home.
Six days in the hospital. Four of them on a stretcher in a hallway. All spent waiting for a test he never got. Everything still up in the air. And I’ll have to take another day off, get him in for the test. And back. And moving my father around the city is no small task, believe me. And not cheap.
And I’m really, really angry that they medicated him into oblivion just for convenience, without even bothering to talk to me or get any kind of consent.
Fuck New York-Presbyterian / Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Oh, also? I have to say, the medical staff of that hospital has a really, really relaxed attitude about wearing masks. I mean, really relaxed. In that a lot of the staff just don’t bother. Even around elderly patients.
If the staff of a reputable hospital is sending the message that masks don’t matter, there’s nothing to worry about, how can we expect anyone to care?