Hospital Undercover Agent

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I decided last year to attend one of those seminars on improving your healthcare practice. HMOs, PPOs, contracting, any willing provider, and capitated pricing--my head was swimming like a fish by lunchtime. If I learned anything, it was that if a lot of folks think they're experts, they're not afraid to tell you so.

The seminar left me a little edgy, and I decided someone had to get to the bottom of it. So with reckless disregard for my own health and dignity, I decided to go undercover as a patient at a local hospital. I wanted to experience each level of care. I started off in the emergency room, followed by four days in the ICU. I then finished up with a seven-day, six-night stay on "3-North," the Hilton of healthcare.

In an attempt to implement some of those progressive ideas that are suppose to improve the quality of care, folks that run this hospital (Medical Center, as they call it) referred to me as a "guest." A guest? Really? Where I come from, a guest can leave when he wants. And not many people I know would hang around in a place where they wake you up at 5 AM to stick a needle in your arm and a plastic probe under your tongue.

The rumors about the food are true--all of them--and more. I collected a few recipes from the kitchen just in case Uncle George overstays his welcome at my place.

One truly disturbing thing about being a hospital patient is all the secrets. A nurse walks in and says, "How are you today?"

I say, "Great--feeling fine."

She looks up from my chart and peeks over her glasses as if to say, "Poor dear is delusional. He doesn't even know how sick he is."

"Well, what does the chart say?" I ask.

I get "the look" again, and she says, "Your doctor will have to discuss that with you."

My doctor knows his medicine, but I suspect he wanted to be a stand-up comedian and his mom guilted him into being a doc. So 3-North is his stage, and he reads my chart like his opening monologue. "Here's a number I haven't seen since my rotation through pathology," he tells me. "This can't be right," he says. Then he turns the chart upside down and says, "That's better." Doc Carson keeps his stethoscope in the freezer. He puts it on my back and says, "Take a deep breath." That's not a problem. Exhaling in the next ten minutes will be.

Contrary to what they might tell you, there is no such thing as a "private" room in a hospital. There's no lock on the door. How private is that? And people walk in without being invited or even knocking. Measuring your input and output, then posting it on the door--how's that for private? They top it off by giving you a gown that ties at the neck and makes it necessary to back away from everyone.

All kidding aside, I came close to checking out for good last year. But I'm still around and as edgy as ever. That's what I call quality healthcare.

I did gain a new perspective on healthcare--if you really want to improve healthcare, you only need to do one thing: put the patients first. Step into their boots and walk around a little. Try to understand their view of the situation. Then have the determination to use that understanding to do your best with every patient--and don't accept anything less from those who work with you.

What I remember best about my stay in the hospital was the flag outside my window. I could hear it flapping in the breeze as I closed my eyes. I would drift off to sleep thanking God that I live in the country that sets the standard in healthcare for the rest of the world.

Happy to still be around and still a little... EDGY

Editors note: EDGY, as you might guess, is an amputee who works in the O&P industry. You can e-mail your own EDGY comments and stories to