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Insult to Injury


The thing is, I was treated in two different settings, an urban hospital and a suburban one. And what I saw illustrates a major problem in health care today: the disparity in care between inner-city hospitals and suburban hospitals.

After I was in the chemical explosion, I was taken to VCU's Medical College of Virginia in downtown Richmond. My experience in the waiting room and emergency room was more traumatic than the accident itself. The hospital was understaffed and did not have a large enough facility to treat everyone. I was terrified because of the other patients who were admitted.

When I arrived, I was put into a small examination room, where I waited to see a nurse or doctor. As I waited, I looked around the emergency room to see what was going on. Looking back on that evening, I wish I hadn't. All around me were injured people who seemed drunk or on drugs. Most of these people had been arrested, handcuffed and escorted to the emergency room by the police.

I looked across the hall from my examination room to the nurses' station. There were more than 10 nurses and doctors standing around, seemingly doing nothing. A doctor eventually saw me about two hours after I arrived. I asked to have X-rays taken of my arms and to see an ophthalmologist. I was positive that I had glass in my arms and eye by the amount of pain I was still in. I remember being taken to the ophthalmologist, but I never received an X-ray. Later that night, the doctor stitched up my wounds.

I was finally released at nine o'clock the next morning, and by then I was a little better. After I left the hospital, I decided that to make sure everything was OK, I should go see my orthopedic surgeon, who'd operated on my wrist in February. An X-ray revealed three pieces of glass in my wrist and one near my elbow. They would have been found earlier at MCV if they'd X-rayed my arms as I'd requested.

In April, I was rear-ended by someone who was driving too fast. After the police arrived and we'd exchanged insurance information, the police suggested that I go to the hospital. This time I decided to go to Henrico Doctors' Hospital in the suburbs of Richmond. It was clean and did not smell of alcohol, and the staff was very attentive and helpful. It took less than one hour to be seen, treated and released.

I'm still amazed at the difference 10 miles can make. Richmond is a small city compared with others, yet my experience at MCV makes me wonder what hospitals in larger cities are like. It is a fact that urban hospitals are losing money, but the same number of people still need emergency treatment. The financial issue is a large problem. One factor that makes it worse is that more patients without health insurance are being admitted into inner-city hospitals. Without the extra money that suburban hospitals have, urban hospitals are not able to pay enough staff to work, they are often unable to purchase necessary diagnostic tests, and they are unable to expand and enlarge the hospital to fit the growing needs of the community.

It's a scary enough experience to go to the hospital. It's even more difficult to go to a place where you fear for your life when you see an alcoholic who was just in a horrible car accident fleeing from the police in the middle of the emergency room and tackled right in front of you. It's hard to be in a place where you wait for hours to be seen, and in the end you are not helped. We need hospitals where we can be properly treated, be seen in a timely fashion and not be frightened of our experience. Everyone deserves equal health care, whether they live in the city, the suburbs, or a rural area. S

Lizzy Spero is a junior chemistry major at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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