Lately I've been hanging out in hospitals, walking past hospitals and thinking about hospitals. I'm fine, by the way. I've been working as a simulated patient, managing a mental health simulation project and often grabbing a coffee and sandwich in the cafeteria.
Walking through the ground floor of the busy Alfred Hospital in Melbourne I'm struck by being amongst the walking wounded. There are people on crutches, arms are in slings, people have tubes in their nostrils, they trail drip stands. Walking outside, there is usually an array of people assembled out on the footpath smoking. Today I saw a woman sitting at the tram stop wearing a pink dressing gown. She had a tube going into her nose and she had to move the tube out of the way so she could put her cigarette in her mouth! With the weather becoming cooler as we approach winter, I was surprised to see a man standing in bare feet, wearing nothing but a hospital gown out on the footpath getting his fix.
The other thing that is noticeable is the incredibly detailed conversations people have on their mobile phones in lifts and hallways. Today I travelled six floors with a woman who was describing her potential liver failure and the fact that the doctor is recommending extreme changes to her diet to avoid the need for diabetes medication and that all of this needs to happen before surgery could be considered. Her tone suggested that she could have been booking a carpet cleaner or organising her car for a service. I looked at her again - she did seem to be a funny colour.
Having spent the day working with paramedics (being a simulated patient and giving feedback on their communication) I then visited the Medicare office to lodge my claim for some recent medical expenses. The place was packed! I had to squeeze into a space between two people who looked like they had been there for a while. After five minutes the voice of the automated queue lulled us into calm - "A123 go to counter 4". I had A 138 so it would be a while. Twenty minutes to be exact. There were ten counter bays and there were staff at three of them to begin with. After a while, closed signs went up at two of the bays and the voice of the automated queue fell silent for ten minutes. Then two people came back and things started moving again.
An older man expressed a lack of patience for waiting. Two people with exotic accents asked when is a quiet time to come back and how long would they have to wait. Someone was told it would be four weeks before they would receive their Medicare card. A good looking man wearing a jumper with the logo for King Kong the musical came in - one of the dancers claiming for a work related injury? Largely people sat in silence and played with their phones.
A138 was called to counter number 4 and within 90 seconds my claim had been lodged and I was being advised that the money would be in my bank account tomorrow. Surely there's a way that could be lodged online?
This week is a week of health care education: today was the paramedics, tomorrow is mental health, Thursday I'll be trained in the role I'll be playing i upcoming medical exams and on Friday I'll be at the College of Surgeons working with healthcare educators who are learning about working with simulation as a teaching tool.
In the meantime, if you want to watch people and contemplate the frailty of human existence, the hospital cafeteria or hospital footpath are rich with examples.
How's your week looking?