Every Friday, we have a mandatory hour-long meeting of the entire Epidemiology department. It's conducted entirely in Mandarin, of course, so even though our Fogarty twins and officemates translate some into English, I have no idea what's going on. I've realized that our being there is a matter of putting in facetime and hope that our presence shows how much we value the hard-work that the department is doing. So basically, I spend the hour listening attentively to pick out the 150 words of Mandarin I know as a way to show respect to my Chinese colleagues.
But today, I learned something that rocked my world. They were celebrating the fact that the national government recently awarded CICAMS with a congratulatory letter for significant improvement of patient care. I've known for a while that because it's the premier cancer hospital in the country, even though it has 1200 beds on the inpatient ward (meaning the hospital is slightly bigger than Mount Sinai!) many patients end up renting apartments in the surrounding areas. (I learned that the first day because a lot of people sit outside the hospital holding cardboard signs with numbers of them and my Fogarty twin explained that they're advertising the square meters and price of the apartment...and I've seen people almost every day who have some sort of tube (iv, ng, etc) walking into the hospital with me.) But the reason that the government gave CICAMS the award was that they've recently decreased the time it takes to admit a patient to the inpatient ward...to two weeks. Meaning (assuming nothing was lost in translation) if you come to the cancer hospital for inpatient treatment, you register and are put on the waiting list and only have to wait 2 weeks to get medical care.
During my rotations last year, many times Sinai's painfully small Emergency Room became so crowded that they had to divert patients to other hospital ER's. And many times, patients would have to spend a few extra hours or even the night in the emergency room before they could be moved to an inpatient floor. I would always feel so bad for these unfortunate people because the ER is so loud and bright and impersonal that I myself get overwhelmed as soon as I get there...all I'd want was to push the patients up to the hospital myself so we can get them hooked into the system right away (and so I can leave the ER). I can't imagine how overwhelmed the doctors who work here must feel--the people who arrivate at CICAMS are each tremendously complicated patients for whom the regional medical infrastructure has failed in some way. And while those the doctors work heroically for every patient they help, there are 10 more on the list who desperately need their expertise waiting in a rented apartment nearby just to get in the door. It's Sisyphus defined, really.