A few weeks ago, I had a two-day stay in the hospital. I’m OK, but my eyes were opened by the changes I saw since my last visit to the emergency room three years ago.

I want to share what I experienced on the chance that it might be helpful to others.

First, I was shocked by the sheer number of people who came to the ER for care. Maybe I had been there on a slow day in the past? The people I happened to see were at the hospital for treatment for something other than COVID. And still, this was a very large number.

I arrived at the ER before 9 a.m. At the time, I was one of four people waiting to be seen. As the day wore on, the waiting room became full and there was a line of folks just to enter the building.

Within a matter of minutes inside the waiting room, I was taken into the triage area. This was where my vitals were checked. I answered a series of questions, they put in an IV line and blood was drawn.

I was then sent back to the waiting area, where I had plenty of time to observe what was happening as I waited for an ER bed to open for me.

I watched a paramedic wheeling a woman into the waiting area. She asked why she was placed there, and the paramedic told her that arriving by ambulance does not guarantee you go directly into the ER. That was new information for me.

Recently I was talking to my mom’s sister who lives in Massachusetts, and she told me she called for an ambulance at 2 a.m. because her blood pressure was very high. She arrived at the hospital and was put into the ER waiting area.

As the paramedic wheeled her in, he remarked that the current average wait time to get an ER bed was nine to 11 hours.

My aunt told him that by that time it would be morning and she could call her doctor to seek treatment.

Wait times are generally calculated based on the time it takes to see a qualified medical professional; they’re not based on when one gets a bed in the ER.

The lesson in all this? If you’re headed to the ER, be patient. I heard a gentleman telling anyone who would listen that he was going to sue the hospital because he had to wait. This was not pleasant for the hospital staff, nor for the rest of us, who were in the same predicament.

As I mentioned earlier, when I was in the triage area they put in an IV. I was not hooked up to a bag of fluid. I think the line was placed to make it easier to draw blood and in case they needed to quickly administer drugs in an emergency.

But I was astounded by the number of people, young and old, who were provided IV fluids as part of their triage. At least a third of the room were dragging poles around with them as they went to the bathroom or were called to registration or back into the triage area.

I asked Dr. Carlo Reyes, an ER physician with Los Robles Health System, about what I saw, and he told me, “Dehydration is one of the most common causes for ER visits. Sometimes dehydration occurs in the context of a very hot day, and we sometimes don’t realize how easy it is to get dehydrated.”

I had a splitting headache by the time I got into a hospital room, most likely because I had not had anything to drink for the previous 12 hours.

It was a valuable lesson for me watching all those IV poles and realizing how important hydration is.

In hindsight, while I would have much preferred to offer readers a guide to a trip to wine country or Hawaii, for example, it is probably more valuable to learn a few things about a trip to the hospital these days.

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