Waiting Your Life Away At The ER

“Providing in-home caregiving for an ailing senior with advanced stage Dementia will always be a daily challenge. When they are at an “end of life” existence, primary caregivers/family members must alway guard against random circumstances which can rob them of what little time that they may have left with their loved one.  Stay vigilant!”

EMS trucks

A terrifying race to the emergency department by EMS can be an all too familiar scenario for “end of life” dementia seniors living at home. This is why family members should always stay close to their seniors. Those who are providing primary care for them should never allow themselves to get separated after EMS roll their seniors through those metal doors outside in the back area of the ER. They will need to be there to answer questions, sign various forms and offer support–especially when these seniors cannot talk.  So, don’t permit yourselves to get so caught up in all the confusion that you end up in the ER waiting section. If you do, you could find yourself in a heartbreaking situation.

Long wait times at hospitals’ emergency waiting rooms continue to be a thorny issue in the paws of frustrated Americans. The reasons are still the same: overcrowding, confusion, beds shortages, fewer doctors. In 2011, CNN Medical producer, Sabriya Rice’s article “Don’t die waiting in the ER” pointed out real life experiences as a result of excessive wait times in emergency waiting rooms. Still, there are those who would claim that wait times have improved since the Government Accountability Office reported in 2009 that it had more than doubled. However, when you have a critically ailing seniors who has been rushed by EMS through the back doors of the emergency department, do not allow the ER’s waiting room receptionist to detain you. Your loved one could find herself alone on a blue light special fighting the fight of her life.

…It happened to us that day

Our mom began the morning not feeling well. That was nothing too unusual; it had happened at other times. Ordinarily she would clear up later on in the day. But not this time. Today, she needed something more than we could give her. So we ended up calling 9-11.

After EMS arrived, we quickly explained her symptoms. Soon they had her strapped on their yellow gurney and already loading her into the transport vehicle. We had already pre-packed her necessary items into our ER readiness bag. My sister and I were ready as well. So we briskly walked out the front door. My sister asked to sit up front with them. They refused. Strangely, that would be the first time that happened. Other EMS drivers had always allowed her to sit up front with them. So, we both stood next to our vehicle as we waited for them to leave. But, they appeared to be waiting—a bit longer than usual. Maybe they were running an IV or something. Normally, one would be sitting in the driver’s seat. The other would be in the back with our mom. Man, did they seemed to be taking an awful long time, I thought.



…Something was wrong

We then noticed that the whole truck had been slightly rocking back and forth. No one told us anything. It was eerily quiet—except for the soft squeaking of the rocking truck. We were just standing there watching in horror. I began getting this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Why are not they leaving, I kept asking myself? I began pacing about the EMS truck. I would occasionally take small peeks into their semi-tinted windows to get a closer glimpse of my mom. I began to cry. My sister had this look of disbelief. No one had to tell us that they were performing CPR. Over 15 minutes, or so, had passed. Still they were waiting.

Then, out of no where, their supervisior suddenly crept up in a red sedan. He had parked several yards behind the truck. He hopped out, raced toward the EMS vehicle and entered. I never saw who he was. He came up on us so unannounced. My sister did, however. Seconds later, with red lights flashing and sirens wailing, off they went.

Both my sister and I rushed back toward our vehicle. I followed in hot pursuit. Racing down the highway with speeds reaching up to 80 mph, the EMS vehicle seemed to outpace us. Soon they were out of sight. I assumed that they were already there. I could only hope.

Minutes later, we rolled up towards the EMS parking section at the back entrance of the ER. That’s when we saw the truck. The rear doors were wide opened. We didn’t see our mom. We had assumed that they must had just rolled her into the ER. I quickly rode in the area, parked and began to hop out to look in their truck when a female EMS driver rushed up towards us.

“Sir, you can’t park there.“

I anxiously asked her could my sister accompany my mom through those back doors. The EMS driver refused. She told us that we had to find appropriate parking. Yet, all the front parking had been taken. So, we ended up searching for parking in the hospital’s 4-5 story garage parking. It seemed like forever. “Where was valet parking when you needed it?” I quipped to my sister. I tried to lighten the mood.


We finally hurried back down to the outside back area of the ER. We had made another attempt to enter from there. Again, we were denied. Some hospital staffer–I couldn’t tell you who–told my sister and I that we had to go to the front waiting room. We pleaded with him that our mother had just been transported through those back doors. I told him that I was the primary caregiver. “She is 87 years old and can not speak“, I explained. We told him that we had always before gone through those doors to accompany her because of her degenerative condition. He still refused. I knew that at this time those who were working on my mom would probably be wondering where her family were. Why were hospital people placing more concern with rules and policy than with the human element? Instead, we were being directed toward the dreaded waiting room.

So, my sister and I scampered through the front sliding glass doors and rushed up to the receptionist. We tried explaining our unique situation. We told her that we needed two of those white sticky authorization passes to enter the ER as soon as possible. We told her that our mom had just been brought back there and that she had been in a state of extreme emergency. We told her that the doctors would need us there to give them critical information. So what do you think happened? You guessed it. We were told to wait.

Well, I couldn’t sit. So, I began pacing. We both did. We had been put on routine status. It had been no surprise. We knew that this would happen—reluctant victims of the ER’s waiting room epidemic.

More than thirty minutes had passed. It seemed longer. We continued to check with the front desk receptionist for any word on the condition of our mother.

“No. Nothing yet, sir.“

So I paced some more. My throat became dry. Finally, Some older and thin lady wearing glasses walked through the doors from the main area and told us that we could enter. We hurried, almost running, through those doors. The old lady led us at the door of the resuscitation room. We looked through the window and saw her surrounded by a team of ER techs. They were alternating between applying chest compressions and forcing air in her lungs with the air squeeze bag.

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But, it was too late.   …She had already passed.

So as they ambled out the room in single file with unemotional looks on their faces, one of them told us that we could go in to see her. The hospital Chaplain seemed to appeared from nowhere to join us in prayer. Soon he too had left. We then said our last words, just the three of us. It was over.

We never got the chance to encourage her to hang on, and that she would make it through this too. We never got a chance to look into her eyes for the last time to tell her goodbye. We never got a chance to say, “I love you, mom.”

This is my message: caregivers, family members and seniors can easily become separated by those ER waiting rooms. This happens more often when they are transported by EMS. It would have been entirely different if we had gone through the front. Either way, never allow yourselves to get separated from your seniors. Insist on entering with her through whichever doors that EMS take her through.

Remember, if your senior is wheeled into the ER through that back entrance where EMS trucks unload, the receptionist will not see your elderly person go through there. No matter how much you try pleading with her, she can only ask you to have a seat and wait. To her, your urgent concerns would only be business as usual.

So, if you are providing caregiving for an “end of life” senior and need to call 9-11 because she is in a really bad state of sickness, I would suggest you pray for your senior at home before she gets to the hospital. Tell her how much you love her then. Because if you get held up in that ER waiting room, it may be the last time you ever get to see your senior…alive.


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