A lousy day at The Villages Regional Hospital

Don Hess

I decided to write my experience there last weekend after reading an article in the POA Bulletin about “What’s going on at The Villages Hospital?” To me it’s a mix of some good and caring people combined with an incompetent management that hasn’t figured out where the “loopholes” are in its system and how to plug them.

Friday morning I awoke at about 6 a.m. to a quick stabbing pain in my chest above my heart, followed by another about 5 seconds later, and a feeling of “pressure” for about half an hour after that. I immediately got up, took two aspirins, followed by another two an hour later. All the sensations calmed down after that until early Friday evening when the feeling of “pressure” returned.

I decided I needed to rule out a heart attack and called a friend to take me to an emergency room. I felt like the nearest would be the best option and asked her to take me to The Villages Regional Hospital. We arrived about 8 p.m. and I checked in immediately; noting that the the waiting room was about two-thirds full.

Two hours went by with many people who had been treated walking out. I went to the receptionist asking how long it would be until I would be treated. She didn’t know; I sat back down. Two more hours went by, it was now midnight and the receptionist was gone; I went to the insurance person who had interviewed me earlier and asked how long it would be. He said he would ask a nurse and came back to tell me she would come talk to me “soon.”

Two more hours went by; it’s now 2 a.m. Finally the receptionist called me to come to the treatment area. I was shown to a bed and a tech hooked me up to an EKG machine and inserted an IV needle. About half an hour went by and an EMT came in with the news that the tests had ruled out a heart attack. He was obviously personable, smart, competent and a good communicator. But, he said, I would need two more of the same tests – at least an hour apart – to confirm the findings of the first. The next one would be at 3 a.m.

A bit later, an MD came in to convey the same news and an apology for my having waited so long. I asked him if his opinion was that the hospital was understaffed. He looked at me with suspicion and said “no opinion” (very politically correct). He also said that they would have to keep me overnight because a stress test was “highly recommended.”

At 4 a.m. I was transferred to an in-patient bed on the cardiac floor of the hospital, and the last of the three “confirming” EKG and blood tests was taken. All three tests agreed: NO heart attack. I fell asleep. Two and a half hours later, at 7:30 a.m. a nurse woke me up to have me take four baby aspirin; no water offered. I asked and was told to chew them, not swallow them. I did and went back to sleep.

One hour later, at 8:30 a.m. someone came in to feed me breakfast. It was terrible – soggy French toast, slimy, gooey oatmeal, orange juice, packaged peach slices and coffee. I asked for scrambled eggs, put some sugar on the gooey oatmeal, gagged down some of that and some weak coffee waiting for the scrambled eggs. They came cold and without any salt or pepper. I found a little packet labeled “seasoning” that was so congealed that I couldn’t get half of it onto the eggs. So far, so good? Ya think?

The McCain funeral was on TV, so I began to watch that, and about 10:30 a.m. realized that no one was going to come to release me. I got up to get the nurse who had wakened me for the aspirin. Why hadn’t I been attended to by now? She was very kindly and understanding and said she would call and find out. An hour later a male nurse practitioner appeared and said that they would have to do a stress test.

“Why?” I asked

Three tests had confirmed no heart attack.

“Well, we just have to make sure that there was no heart ‘damage’ that hadn’t been detected by the EKG and blood tests.”

Then he spied the coffee on my tray and told me that they would ‘have’ to keep me over for another night because the coffee would spoil the results of any stress test.

Why, if they intended to give me a stress test, had they included coffee on my breakfast tray?

At that point I came unglued and basically said I wanted out, I didn’t give a damn WHAT additional tests were needed.

Not so fast, bro, the nurse practitioner said.

You will need to see an MD. to grant you a release. Otherwise, if you want to check yourself out, you may not get your insurance coverage for this visit. Ahhh, I get it. Catch 22, Yossarian. OK. Then, I said, “ASK for an MD ASAP”.

Let’s see, it’s now about 11:45 a.m. McCain’s funeral is still droning on. I get lost in that drama for awhile. Suddenly I realize it’s 1:30 p.m. No MD yet. I hit the button to get the nurse. She comes in. Why has nearly two hours gone by with no MD?  She is (truly) fully compassionate and understanding; she will find out.

She comes back with the news that the MD has noticed that my temperature is one tenth of a degree above the normal range and that I will have to have my temperature and blood pressure why this might have occurred? I have been covered with heavy blankets while my temp has been taken. But, no, we have to do this “long distance” – by phone – involving another tech and two more tests.

All of that gets done and still no appearance by the “doctor” who can release me. It’s now 3:30 p.m. and my whole Labor Day Saturday weekend has been wastedFinally I am angry enough to go to the nurses’ station and confront whoever is there. What is holding this up? The answer is that my MD is not available because she is in another building. Why, for God’s sake, can’t we find a replacement for a MD who has not been available by design or by incompetence?

My nurse, who I have total empathy for because she is caught between my frustration and a ridiculously rule-bound MD and system, and has to suffer my wrath, calls and “demands” the appearance of my MD. The MD finally appears about 4 p.m., looking more like a bureaucrat than a doctor with horn-rimmed glasses and pad and pencil in hand.

I unload on her about the ridiculous “care” I’ve been exposed to; especially her unavailability for the last four hours.

“We have to be very careful about small details,” she said.

ONE-TENTH of a degree – why weren’t you here to ask about the circumstances when that measurement was taken? She succumbs to my brow-beating, and half an hour later, at 4:30 p.m., I am released – my whole day having been wasted for no reason I can possibly understand.

I write a complimentary survey form for my nurse, which I’m not sure will ever see the light of day because I also include my criticism of the stupidity of a system that includes coffee with my breakfast when that will spoil the results of a required stress test and require (not without my permission) an extra night’s expensive stay to Medicare and my expensive supplementary Blue Cross insurance.

I am determined that I will never, under any circumstances, submit myself to such an incompetent system staffed by some very competent and caring people, but also by some very rigid MDs seemingly completely lacking in common sense and humanity.

Next time, I will drive the half-hour required to go to Waterman or Marion County Regional or what used to be Munroe in Ocala. No way will I waste my time with The Villages Regional Hospital to try to save driving time. I have had enough experience to avoid that place at any cost.

Don Hess is a resident of The Villages.