A Reminder from the Other Side of the Counter


Stepping into a patient's shoes can serve as an excellent reminder of what it is like to be in dire need of care and medications.

Sometimes it’s a good thing for health care providers to become patients just to get a reminder of what it is like to be the person treated instead of the one providing care. Last weekend I had an unexpected personal reminder of what it is like to be a patient instead of a pharmacist.

My weekend started innocently enough. I attended a family gathering at a bowling alley followed by an attempt to put up my Christmas tree and get it decorated for the holiday season. The key word there is attempt! Plans quickly changed.

I was hanging Christmas lights and trying to finish the job of decorating my tree. But I must have turned or twisted the wrong way because suddenly I felt a sharp and severe pain in my back that immediately dropped me to the floor. I don’t know if it was the Christmas tree decorating or the bowling that caused the damage, but something was seriously wrong. Before I knew it, I was in an ambulance on my way to the hospital in severe pain from back spasms and stiffness.

Saturday night meant the local emergency department was my only option for care, even though I tried to find an urgent care still opened to avoid going to the ED. But my pain was really severe (I couldn’t walk) and in the end I was glad I went to the ED and very thankful for the IV Dilaudid and oral Valium they gave me. And for a guy that hates to take medications of any kind, it took a lot of pain for me to want something that strong.

Waiting in pain for hours is an experience in itself. I knew it would be a long wait on a Saturday. The triage nurse told me that another local facility was diverting patients to that location because they were over capacity. That meant I was waiting in pain in the lobby for hours. It wasn’t a pleasant experience but it was unavoidable.

I finally did get treatment by the ED staff and the medications I received helped a lot with the pain. Then I was off to a 24-hour pharmacy to fill a couple of prescriptions. Ironically enough, I didn’t have my prescription insurance card with me (I know, I know). This pharmacy (Walgreens) wasn’t part of the chain were I worked, so my insurance probably wouldn’t have covered my prescriptions anyway.

The process of being treated in an emergency department—which included waiting for the triage nurse, waiting to get a room and be seen, waiting for the ED physician to evaluate me, and then waiting for the medications and the x-rays—took about 5-6 hours. And it’s like that for everyone unless you catch the ED at the right day and time when they aren’t busy. But on a Saturday night odds are the wait would be a long one, and that is what I experienced.

I finally was treated, released, and sent home with some prescriptions for my back pain and spasms. It was early Sunday morning before my head hit my pillow, which was a relief like you wouldn’t believe after the night I had experienced. Even now I can barely walk but there has been a little improvement in how I feel.

It was quite a learning experience going through this ordeal. I learned I probably shouldn’t bowl again in my life. I learned that I inherited the bad back condition that runs in my father’s side of the family. And I learned that while treatment can be slow at times in your local emergency department, once you get seen you will likely receive excellent care by health care workers who are good at what they do.

I’m thankful for the top notch care I received last weekend, even if there was a wait involved. I’m also thankful for my insurance that will no doubt save me lots of money out of pocket from all the expenses related to this ordeal. I’m thankful for the professionals that all did their individual jobs well to make my experience as comfortable as the situation allowed. And I’m thankful for seeing things from the eyes of a patient in need instead of an overworked provider.

So as much as I tend to complain about my job and all of its challenges, I wish I was there right now instead of home barely able to walk. I know I will recover and feel better in due time. It’s just frustrating to miss multiple shifts at work. When I do go back to work I will be thankful to be there, even if I jump back into one of those crazy days at the pharmacy.

There’s lots of talk about how troubled and broken the United States health care system is these days. But despite waiting for hours for care last weekend, I can tell you I’m thankful for the care I received. We still have some of the best care in the world and it all starts and ends with caring people doing health care jobs of all types.

Can things be done to improve the quality and efficiency of our health care system? Sure! But we’re lucky to have a health care system filled with trained professionals that get the job done and treat patients with top notch care. And because of that, I’m thankful for everyone who helped me last weekend. They showed me just how important good care can be to a patient in need.

Being a patient myself really helped me understand the importance of providing good care to my pharmacy patients. I will remember this experience when I get back to work and revert back to my role as a provider. And I hope that my experience will help me provide top notch care that someone else will be thankful for in the future. As I sit here in pain, that is my immediate goal for the near future.

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