The waiting rooms at County are vast seas of suffering humanity. Row after row of uncomfortable chairs bolted to the ground are where they sit and wait, and wait, and wait. I asked the staff who have worked in the ER for years – the average wait is almost 10 hours. Sometimes less, although rarely, and often more. Like 13, 14. Is there any other area of life where people wait so long to get something? If you are sick or in pain you don’t have a choice, you have to wait. If aren’t insured you have no choice, you have to wait.
Waiting that long is humiliating. Patients come up to the counter constantly and tell us how long they have been waiting and to find out how much longer they will have to wait. Many are in pain and ask for pain medication while they wait, but they never get it because the doctor has to see them first. I can’t even tell you how many times I have told patients I don’t know how long they will have to wait and that I’m sorry.
We get yelled at every shift by patients who are pissed off and in pain and tired of waiting.
If patients want to see a social worker there is a sign-in sheet for them to put their name on at the counter in the ER. I check the sheet regularly. I go to the waiting area and yell out the persons name. Everyone snaps to attention when I do this. They are hoping it’s their turn to see the doctor. I feel embarrassed standing in front of everyone yelling out names.
I yell out a patients last name, it’s sounds Arabic. He comes over and tells me he doesn’t need a social worker, he was able to find a phone and make a call. I just happen to be wearing a Palestinian scarf and he smiles broadly and says I like your scarf, I am Palestinian. Wonderful, I tell him I support the Palestinian struggle to return to their homeland. He’s amazed and happy and says he hasn’t met many Americans that do. Whenever I’ve met Palestinians and they find out I’m on their side they react this way. The man and I agree this is because the United States government backs the State of Israel to the hilt and the media are utterly biased against the Palestinians. Arabs are demonized, always portrayed as terrorists and as the aggressors in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The man says Israeli soldiers kill children and he has witnessed it many times. He’s from Ramallah. He told me the following story: a soldier shot a young boy, the bullet entered his mouth and exited thru the head. He carried the dying boy in his arms to a checkpoint and at first the Israeli soldiers wouldn’t let him through. He put the boy down and screamed go ahead, shoot me too, kill me. They let him through but it was too late. The boy died.
The man still had photos of his life in Palestine, of his house, before Al Nakbah. He remembers when the Zionist militia came to his village shooting and killing and his family fled for their lives. He participated in two intifadas and eventually made his way to the United States. He has relatives here. He called his wife over to meet me and introduced me as a person who supports the palestinians. She lived in Ramallah for 8 years. She said she hates the Israeli army, not jews. In fact, they had a family member who married a jew. We don’t like the Zionists they said. Me neither.