Sunday, October 25, 2009


Since joining this "blended family" almost exactly four years ago, I've seen the inside of a hospital way too many times. Each trip typically involves an emergency room, one of our spawns and a long wait.

In just the last ten days, I've paid two more visits to local hospitals. I'd already put health-care facilities high on my list of the last places I want to be during the present flu outbreak, but actually being there was more disconcerting than I'd imagined.

A week ago Thursday. we brought our younger spawn to the metro children's hospital for a scheduled surgical procedure -- nothing major, just something that needed to be taken care of. After the procedure, he was to be admitted and monitored for several hours, then discharged.

The surgery went quickly and well, but when the time came to move him to a room with a bed, none were available. Even though arrangements had been made well in advance, suddenly there was no room at the medical inn.

Blame H1N1. Apparently, attending to "flu-like symptoms" trumps post-op babysitting. The spawn spent two hours on a gurney in a makeshift recovery room -- with excellent care from hospital staff, I might add -- before being moved to a bed for another five.

He's fine now, by the way, none the worse for the shuffle.

Seven days later, his older brother cut himself at school -- again not serious, but the wound would require a couple of stitches -- so it was off to an east-side hospital. I dropped him and his mother at the emergency-room entrance and went in search of a place to park.

Easier said than done -- the large, ER-only lot was packed like a mall on Black Friday. Vehicles were parked up on grassy dividers and in cross-hatched areas. I circled several times before a spot opened up.

Inside, the ER staging area resembled a scene out of a B-movie. Of the dozens of patients-in-waiting, few displayed obvious injuries but many were coughing or sneezing or clutching emesis bags. Several wore masks. Nearby, I was told, a separate waiting area held people exhibiting more severe symptoms.

Judging by conversations we overheard, some of these patients had been waiting five hours and still hadn't been seen by a doctor.

I'm no mysophobe, but simply walking through the door felt like volunteering to get sick. I didn't want to touch anything -- not a magazine, not the arms of the chair that I occupied, not even the hand-sanitizer dispensers on tables throughout the room.

We were in and out in a few hours, and I'm glad to say that we're still feeling ok.

Several of my friends and acquaintances have come down with the H1N1 "swine flu." A number of schools in the Columbus area have been shut down temporarily, and recently our local district sent warning letters to parents. I've seen media accounts of people lining up for vaccinations.

So yes, this whole flu thing already had my attention. Honestly, and for better or worse, I'm more concerned about public paranoia (read, "panic") than about the virus itself.

Those two hospital visits, however, raised my awareness of both.