Last week I punched the air for joy in the hallway of the Holiday Inn Metrodome in Minneapolis. The problem with this was the concrete ceiling in th aforementioned hallway was significantly lower than I imagined and the result was one very sore hand.

I visited the ER of the Fairview Hospital, my first experience of US healthcare. Today I made what was essentially the same visit to Accident and Emergency at the Western Infirmary in Glasgow, Scotland. I’d like to share with you my observations and comparisons.

I was initially met with a door that didn’t automatically open at Fair View ER meaning I had to clumsily open it with my shoulder as my left hand held my bag and my right hand was in excruciating pain. Two security guards inside the doors watched but made no attempt to help me.

Despite explaining my writing hand was in pain, I was told had to fill out the form.

Once inside I was instructed to fill out a form with my details and a summary of my problem. Despite explaining my writing hand was in pain, I was told had to fill out the form.

The hospital was very quiet and I only had to wait 5 minutes to be triaged by a lady introduced herself by name, and proceeded to take my information in an incredibly efficient manner. I was then sent back to wait for 20 minutes for someone who then called me to discuss payment for my treatment. I’d contacted my travel insurance and had been instructed to put it on my credit card so this went smoothly up until they insisted that I sign a waiver form, a form acknowledging that I’d received their privacy policy, a form giving them permission to treat me, and the credit card form to authorise payment.

After another 20 minutes waiting in reception I was met by a nurse who introduced herself by name and led me to my own room where she drew a curtain to give me privacy from the corridor outside. The room itself was a beautifully designed barrage of more high tech trickery than I’ve ever seen in one place. I could only guess what half the stuff was, which helped pass the time until another nurse introduced herself and explained in detail what was going to happen during the course of my visit. Nice touch.

Shortly afterwards another person introduced themselves and led me to the X-ray department where another introduction prefaced 6 images being taken of my hand in differing positions. Now, yet another fresh faced professional offered an introduction and escorted me back to my room.

I was provided with a hospital phone so that I could take part in a conference call between New York and London

I now waited an hour before a doctor turned up and introduced himself to me, but not before I was provided with a hospital phone so that I could take part in a conference call between New York and London about a new project we are about to begin at work.

Throughout the morning I had tried to get some banter going with the hospital staff, but everyone was super professional to the point of brushing off my chat with a smile. The doctor diagnosed me as having a broken bone in my hand, which was bad news, but the good news I’d finally found someone with a bit of chat in them. A clumsy and inexperienced nurse helped the doctor apply a fiberglass splint to my hand and ten minutes later I was ready to roll.

“Is this splint really sufficient for a broken bone”

“Is this splint really sufficient for a broken bone?” I asked to be surprised with response that this was a temporary measure until a specialist could see me in what usually took about 7 days. The specialist would make a further diagnosis and apply a cast. I’m used to ER (or A&E as we call it in the UK) being more of a one stop shop, but accept different countries have different approaches.

I explained I would be returning to the UK in a few days and asked for the X-rays to pass on to my local hospital. They happily provided me with a letter sized paper copy of two of the X-rays, and insisted I sign one more form before they could discharge me, for which I had to wait 5 minutes for someone else to turn up, introduce themselves, and then escort me to the front door.

It turned out that the clumsiness of the nurse assisting the doctor meant that the splint had an exposed piece of sharp fiberglass protruding from one end that cut my arm open in my sleep that night and I had to return the next day looking for a quick fix, but had to go through the entire process entry process described above, complete with all the signatures, minus the X-rays, but the very excellent doctor from the day before single-handedly created a perfect splint this time round.

Fast forward a week to my visit to A&E in Glasgow’s Western Infirmary, where fortunately my hand is less sore than my last hospital visit, partly thanks to the Ibuprofen.

I was immediately met with a cheeky “who did you hit then?”

I arrived and was thankful for the automatic doors that led me into a waiting room that was busy in comparison to the US hospital, but quiet by UK standards. There were no security guards and I walked straight to the triage counter where I was immediately met with a cheeky “who did you hit then?”. I explained what had happened and I took a seat ready for a very long wait. I was called uncharacteristically promptly after a 5 minute wait and led through to a room by a chap who asked for my story.

When I showed him the print out of my X-ray he laughed at how ridiculous it was to have given me paper print out (apparently). He followed this with ‘bloody foreigners – if it was one of them in here we would have sent them off with proper film X-rays!”. Oh how we laughed.

While waiting for a doctor I admired the room I’d been left in. It was sparse to the point of being not far from a barren prison cell with no decoration and the only contents being a sink, a lightbox, a storage cabinet, a sharps bin, and a general waste bin. In addition there was one trolley with what looked like the medical accouterments used to treat the previous patient. Nasty.

Just as my superbug paranoia started to peak, another patient needed the room and I was moved to the next room which I shared with two other men with apparent breakages. We shared the tales of our escapades and proceeded to make fun of each other’s stupidity. Oh the banter!

Soon a doctor arrived to examine my hand and then send me off in the direction of the X-ray department, but not before poking fun at me punching the ceiling and pointing out that I’ll have to use my left hand if I get in fight this weekend.

“I bet you’re having to learn to do *all sorts of things* with your left hand”

On arrival at X-ray I handed the card I’d been given to a lady who asked me if I was right handed. When I replied in the affirmative she said “I bet you’re having to learn to do *all sorts of things* with your left hand” along with a nod and wink. Cheeky monkey!

I was taken quickly and three X-rays were shot with me now being pointed back in the direction of where I came from with the instruction to ‘find someone important looking’ and hand them my return card. I found the doctor from before and we looked at my X-ray on a computer screen in the main corridor together where she quickly diagnosed that the US doctor had been overly cautious as there were no broken bones in my hand, just a whole lot of bruising.

she quickly diagnosed that the US doctor had been overly cautious as there were no broken bones in my hand

I was given a more flexible splint that is simpler to take on and off and allows me to type and use a mouse without too much difficulty. Before I was sent on my way with instructions not to punch anything for a while the doctor asked if she could have my US X-ray print out back so she could take around her peers so they could laugh at it. Doctors are weird. ;)

There are significant cultural differences at play here. I liked everyone in the US introducing themselves by name and explaining exactly who they were and what they were here to do. I did not like having to endure the additional pain of signing so many forms prior to treatment.

I didn’t have to sign anything in the Glaswegian hospital which was great. Everyone poked fun at me, and there was smutty innuendo from one member of staff. This served to humanise the whole process and make feel extremely at ease in what is a potentially stressful environment. I had little privacy but enjoyed the banter with other patients.

Everyone poked fun at me, and there was smutty innuendo from one member of staff.

Perhaps I would feel differently if I had something seriously wrong with me though. As a technologist I would just feel more at ease in a room with the mostest, bestest high tech gadgetry available, as opposed to a stark cell that hasn’t been cleared or cleaned since the previous patient.

Fortunatley my case was not serious, but I would like to thank all the healthcare professionals that did their bit for me in both hospitals over the last week to ensure I am enjoying a swift recovery.

It’s good to be home. :)