I have gone to the York Hospital Emergency Room more than a few times over the years. Not recently -- it's been 18 months since I took my mother there on a Sunday because she was suffering from an out-of-control infection -- but certainly often enough.
And whenever I've had to go, there's always been a certain amount of dread associated with the trip.
That was the case 30 years ago, when I went to the ER after being hit in the head with a baseball during a Central League game, and it was the case more recently when I went there with my mom.
For one thing you could almost bet the farm you were going to be in the ER for three or four hours, at least, before you were treated and discharged. It was God-awful torment if you were sitting there in pain. And it was even worse if someone decided you weren't in any danger of dying in the next half hour or so and put your case on the back burner.
And if you had to have X-rays or an MRI or blood tests, add another two hours to the trip.
But that was only part of it.
I'm sure there are exceptions -- Wednesdays at 3 or 4 a.m., perhaps -- but I swear every time I've been to the ER it's been crowded to the point of overflow.
You had to be afraid to leave your seat for three minutes to make a telephone call or go to the bathroom because the chances were pretty good someone was going to steal your seat before you could get back to it.
It didn't take too long to figure out, either, that three out of four people taking up space and seating in the ER weren't even sick or injured. They weren't having a medical emergency. They were family members, including children -- nieces, nephews, cousins, second-cousins. Friends. Neighbors. Hangers-on. Gawkers.
And when the only sick or injured person in the bunch -- the actual patient -- was taken to an exam room to be seen by medical professionals, the entourage went along.
Maybe two or three people. Maybe five. Maybe more. I've seen it with my own eyes.
The rules said no, only two people at a time with the patient, preferably next of kin, but try saying "no" to someone in the heat of an emergency room moment. "Oh, this is Dorothy. She is Mom's best friend. Surely she can go back with her."
And back Dorothy went. The reality of the situation, most of the time, is the whole gaggle of humanity went back with the patient.
What you had, then, was high-paid doctors and nurses or aides walking around trying to send the posers packing, so the professionals had enough room to do their jobs.
It was aggravating to me. It was probably 10 times more aggravating for the health care professionals.
So when I read last week that York Hospital was going to batten down the hatches in its emergency room by requiring visitors to present a form of identification to obtain a badge -- it went into effect a week ago -- I was overjoyed.
It is an obvious step in the right direction, considering the ER treats 77,000 patients a year in an environment that is hectic and chaotic in the best of times.
It's a change in the visitors' policy that went into effect when the renovated emergency department triage and seating area was opened.
Naturally the focus is on the treatment areas. That's as it should be. Friends, neighbors and gawkers should not be bumping elbows with doctors and nurses while they are trying to treat the sick, injured and dying.
Hey, I'd love it if the new policy extended to the waiting room, as well. I don't know how easy it would be to enforce -- probably a nightmare -- but it occurs to me that everything would go a lot more smoothly if each patient were allowed two people with them and no more.
Once the word spread, it also might help ease the parking issues at York Hospital, as well.
And the place to control that human traffic is at the emergency room door.
I know, good luck with that.
So if the hospital can just limit access to the treatment areas, that will be a huge blessing. No proper badge -- hit the pike. No children under the age of 12. Wonderful. Two visitors per patient. Fantastic.
It's a policy correction that's long overdue.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: email@example.com.