Internal Medicine – Wooden Wheelchairs

Updated: Nov 29, 2020

I have so many moments during the day when I swear to myself I read about this in some lightly humorous fiction book about modern day medicine. The crazy lady that screams every morning, the fat nurse that refuses to put orders in the computer, the head of Radiology that sits in a dark room that students line up to talk to about their patients. Modern day medicine in a state run charity based hospital is more of a side show than it is a functioning medical machine. When a patient comes in for seizure evaluation and it takes 3 days to get a simple bedside EEG because the order gets lost three times and the EEG tech is always mysteriously out to lunch, you know something is just not right.


The ultimate embodiment to me of this quirkiness is the wooden wheelchairs. To me the wooden wheel chairs of University hospital represent many things about this hospital which has essentially become the haven for medical care for the poor in the wake of the downfall of charity hospital, whose one million square foot tomb rests only blocks away. The wheel chairs represent the spirit of charity hospital (as they are charity’s wheel chairs). The spirit of charity as I have come to appreciate it is almost the same spirit as setting up a medical mission in the jungles of a third world country. Take what little you have and make the most good of it for the greatest amount of people. The wheel chairs represent the backwardness, disorganization, and general corruption of infrastructure that sickles the health care system not only in New Orleans, but probably the country as a whole. Lack of funding, poor communication, and a dangerously inefficient system that toys with people lives on a minute by minute basis can all be appreciated by examining the broken nuts and bolts rusting out of a wheel chair the frequently rushes gunshot wound victims into an emergency room.


The wooden wheel chair also represents something more kind, something more pure, something basic, and at its core a reason why we do what we do. I’m talking about the ever happy and jolly old man with no teeth and uncontrolled diabetes. Or the prisoner shackled to his bed dying of AIDS covered in feces that speaks with only sorrow and pain in his voice, but is just as human and real as the next person.  There is no excuse for the atrocities in the medical infrastructure that I run into on a daily basis in this hospital, but at the same ironic time, there is no immediate solution. 


Underpaid nurses will remain under efficient, over worked interns will remain overly tired, and all of these things are the reality of this system. The most any of us can do, just like the rusting wooden wheel chair is keep wheeling along, our bolts get rusted, our nerves get tested, but at the end of the day, week, or month there is a patient that goes home hopefully better off that when they came in, and like the chair we have done the job we were meant to do.

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