Often I let readers know what my location is as a particular column is typed. I wanted to say “penned,” but I guess that is an elegant touch that is too anachronistic for the computer-keyboard age.

This column is unfolding from one of my less favorite locations on the planet, a hospital room. The upside of this is that I am personally not in the “Secure II” bed with its “isolated Foley bag hook” and assorted buttons (19 in all). The downside is that it is my wife in the bed with a case of pneumonia.

After a visit to her physician, she was directed to the emergency room for an x-ray and other tests as needed. I was in Angels Camp when I got the call that she was heading to the ER. I instantly finished up my business by leaving it unfinished and hit the road. I think in a previous life I was an ambulance driver because moving down the road at a less-than-moderate, but safe rate, seems to come naturally.

My car was parked about 22 minutes later in the Sonora Regional Medical Center lot and the automatic double doors were opening for me in about 30 seconds. Like most residents of the Mother Lode, I take family members in or near hospitals as a top priority action item.

Fortunately, the emergency room doctor was one that my wife really likes and trusts. This is one of the advantages of living in smaller communities – you can have a reasonable expectation that you will know some of the people who will be helping you.

Unfortunately, there are too many sick people. We arrived at 5:30 and were triaged and ended up in a three-bed section of the emergency room. At that time there were four people in the hallways. By 11 p.m. there were eight people laying on gurneys in the hallways. It seemed awfully busy for a Monday evening. The hospital itself has 59 beds, but each and every one had a warm body in it, or at least I hope they were warm.

Our nurse told us that she had heard that Doctor’s Hospital in Modesto was also experiencing an over-crowded situation as well. So, detecting a possible news event, I phoned Mark Twain St. Joseph’s to see if they too were having unusually high patient influx, but was told that they apparently were not. I am glad this didn’t develop into a major story.

My wife finally was taken to a room at 2 a.m. The good part of that was she got a special, private negative-pressure room, even though pneumonia is not a contagious condition. Actually, I am glad she doesn’t have any of the conditions that are listed on the sign outside the door, including SARS, tuberculosis, measles or chicken pox. This was probably the only bed that became available, but we do wonder why it suddenly was open at 2 in the morning.

A negative pressure room keeps pesky germs from leaving and traveling into the rest of the hospital floor. Of course, even though air is always being drawn into the room, it has to go somewhere, so it is exhausted out to somewhere else. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be wherever that is.

A change that has happened which impacts everyone living in the Mother Lode is the closing of Tuolumne General Hospital in 2007. After almost 160 years this hospital had to close because the cost of providing healthcare to people who did not have any insurance or could not pay for their care apparently became too great for the county. Many of those patients now must go to SRMC or Mark Twain St. Joseph’s for their care. Tuolumne General was one of about 65 hospitals that closed in the decade ending in 2007.

Thus people in handcuffs and shackles, drug addicts and alcoholics, and impoverished individuals all converge at SRMC when they used to go to Tuolumne General for services. Of course, this means that there are a lot more people to treat and this is a population that has a higher number of communicable diseases. The end result is that everyone that uses the hospital may be exposed to more challenging diseases.

This part of the story once again demonstrates a couple of areas that are still in desperate need of reform – our system of health care delivery and our penchant for incarcerating citizens. I am glad my wife has access to decent health care. I have no idea how much it will ultimately cost, but am confident it won’t be cheap.

Kevin Wychopen is a semi-retired counselor and weekly columnist for the Enterprise. Contact him at itsabigworld@live.com.

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