This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
I ask Bronson how Rachel’s pregnancy is going. “Is she still nauseous?”
He shakes his head. “Thank God that’s over. But now she worries about the health of the baby. Being a nurse, she knows what can go wrong.”
On that note, a call comes in for a month-old infant who fell in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn, an immigrant neighborhood sandwiched between Park Slope and Bay Ridge.
We arrive at a medical facility – a “clinic” – where there are approximately 60 adults, along with about 100 children, squeezed like sardines into a small auditorium-like waiting area for a chance to see only two doctors. There are not nearly enough chairs, and sick children are lying on the floor, curled up on their parents’ laps. The patients are mostly Hispanic and Chinese, and the sounds of the children crying and their parents talking to them in their native tongues fills the room. In that instant, I am embarrassed for my country.
This medical care is in fact better than what these people would receive in developing countries: Despite the wait, they eventually will be seen by a doctor, prescribed medicine, and, if necessary, given a clean bed in a good hospital with well-trained physicians, all at no cost. But it’s not good enough. It’s not up to the standards of a country I am often – but wish I were more often – proud of.
We enter one of the examination rooms to find Chinese parents and their baby, who’s small but healthy looking, crying on the examination table. The parents speak no English. The doctor tells us the parents were getting out of a dollar van about a block away. They went to place the baby into an infant car seat, which they use as an all-purpose, carry-along bassinet, when the baby squirmed and they dropped him.
“Did the baby cry right away?” Bronson asks.
The doctor says yes. Apparently the fall was from about three feet, onto hard concrete.
I check the baby out. The only injury I see is redness on the right side of his face. But his whole face is flushed from crying. The baby’s eyes are equal and reactive to the light I shine into them – a good sign. I try to take a pulse by squeezing the main artery in his inner upper arm, but he’s squirming so much I can’t get a proper feel. Based on the sound of his crying, his respirations are good.
We quickly get the boy and his parents into our ambulance. Bronson and I place the baby on a short backboard and secure an infant cervical collar around his neck. He cries harder. I hate doing this to such a tiny patient, but it’s better to immobilize his spine in case there’s been damage. I pad his body with rolled up towels and secure him snugly to the backboard so he can’t move. Through it all, the parents remain relatively calm. They seem to have no problem putting all their trust into us. If it were my child, I would probably question everything being done. But I realize that’s the difference between most Americans and the people patiently sitting on the floor in that crammed waiting room. They are thankful for what they get.
With the baby securely strapped onto the stretcher, we speed off to Lutheran. We cut through a pediatric waiting room filled with more patients, and hand him off to the pediatric physician in the ER.
I can’t stand to see sick children. “Let’s get out of here,” I tell Bronson.
After a lunch that were we to eat it every day would put us firmly on the road to diabetes and high blood pressure, we drop off another patient at Lutheran. I stop at the pediatric ER and ask the triage nurse what happened with the little Chinese baby. Patient confidentiality aside, she whispers he had a subarachnoid hemmorhage – bleeding on the brain – and was transferred to Maimonides.
I get into the ambulance. “Bad food should be the last of your worries,” I tell Bronson.
Ms. Klopsis is an emergency medical technician on an ambulance in Brooklyn. This column details her observations and experiences. Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of patients.