February 14, 2010


Hello? Operator?
Give me the number for 911!
--- Homer Simpson

I made my first 911 call last Saturday at 3AM for an ambulance. The process was underwhelming, which is good.

There's some virus going around. It's not H1N1. My son Jeevan's symptoms started Wednesday night: nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Thursday morning, my wife, Sharmila, went to get electrolyte. We knew this helped after getting hospitalized for food poisoning while we visiting the Corvette factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky years earlier. That's another tale.

The drug store was filled with cosmetics and junk food but only had one bottle of electrolyte (children's apple-flavoured pedialyte). It helped. That evening I went to a 24-hour super-mega drugstore. They were out of liquid electrolyte!?! I got powder (eight individual packets), which was probably better.

On Friday, Jeevan was recovering. On Saturday, he was fine but Sharmila was tired. She rested most of the day but got worse. Around 3AM, she asked to go to the hospital with similar --- but more extreme --- symptoms.

I woke up Jeevan so he could get ready. I then called 911 for the first time. The operator instantly answered and asked if the call was for fire, police or an ambulance (maybe not in that order). I said an ambulance. She asked for the address and reason for the call. She asked probing questions and dispatched an ambulance. She reminded me to turn on the outside lights and unlock the door. Good tips.

I helped Sharmila get ready.

The Ambulance
Within minutes, the ambulance arrived with lights blazing but no siren. The two attendants setup the stretcher outside our door before entering. By now Sharmila was sitting on a chair in the living room. One attendant asked questions while the other administered tests. They determined that a hospital visit was warranted.

During this, firefighters arrived. The ambulance attendants sent them away since they weren't needed.

There are three hospitals near us but we couldn't automatically go to the closest because the condition was not life-threatening. Due to bad mobile reception, the Tester went outside to phone and soon found a hospital.

Jeevan and I followed in our car. Like the ambulance, we zipped through traffic at highway-like speeds but obeyed traffic lights. There was very little traffic at 3:30AM, which helped.

The Hospital
The hospital admission was quick (especially compared to airport security) because the ambulance attendants supplied most of the information. This is a big advantage over arriving on your own. Sharmila was put into a wheelchair and taken to a nearly deserted waiting room. Well-named. We waited nearly three hours. Diagnosis took a few minutes and then Sharmila was discharged with a prescription. She appeared to have the Norwalk virus, which might even strike the Winter Olympics. The hospital has been getting about 15 cases a night.

The Super-Mega Drugstore
The 24-hour drug store only had six tablets of pills that cost $21.97 each (plus a $11.99 dispensing fee). We needed 10, which meant a return visit. Instead of pricey medicinal electrolyte, the hospital recommended a sports drink like Gatorade. The cash register kept ringing in the wrong price and required a manager's override. Annoying at the best of times.

We got home around 7:30 AM. I'd been up since 7:00 AM the previous morning, a personal record I'm not eager to beat.

The Lessons
Health care has been labeled the biggest financial fear in Canada and perhaps in the United States and other countries. Napoleon Hill found ill health ranks #3 on the basic fears in 1937.

Given those concerns, the whole emergency process was reassuring
  • instant connection to 911
  • ambulance and firefighters arrived within minutes
  • quick admission into the hospital
The hours waiting in the hospital were a drag but what can you do when doctors judge that others need treatment more urgently than you? The two drugstores were the big disappointment because they lacked adequate stock of medical basics.

Movies show hustle and bustle in emergencies. Real life was calm and orderly, which is better.


Podcast Episode 54 (5:32)

PS We received a $45 bill for the ambulance and paid $15 for parking.

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