“Code Blue! Code Blue!” A middle-aged woman with severe chest and back pains had been rushed to St. Joseph Hospital’s Emergency Room after a quick visit to urgent care and an ambulance ride. But blood pressure, temperature, and blood tests found little to no evidence of a heart attack, so she was given a Tylenol and wheeled into the ER’s socially distanced, masked, and packed waiting room, where she waited. And waited. And waited.

A woman of similar age, with similar symptoms, eventually rose from her wheelchair and announced, “I am going home to die!” She marched out the door, her protesting husband following behind.

Two hours later, the woman was wheeled into the treatment area. Patients on gurneys lined every hallway, some attached to oxygen machines, some with temporary bandages wrapped around arms or heads. An ancient woman, wearing IVs in both arms, was crying piteously, her face to the wall, as a nurse comforted her. Ambulance crews jockeyed to deliver gurneys to the nurses’ station; more were gridlocked in adjacent hallways.

“Is the ER always like this?” asked the woman who was not having a heart attack.

“This is worse than in 2020,” a tech answered.

“Worse than during the height of Covid?”

“Oh, Covid is still here–all our beds are full,” said a nurse. “But now we’re also seeing the people who should have gone to their doctors a year ago. Instead of an early cancer diagnosis, they’re in Stage IV. Too many people waited too long.”

Over the next seven hours, the patient was hooked to heart monitors and an IV, wheeled to CT and EKG scans, and given more tests. Meanwhile, her husband watched the constant activity swirling around the nurses’ station. “Everyone works at full speed,” he murmured.

“It’s a constant adrenalin rush,” a nurse practitioner admitted. “But at the end of the day, we drag ourselves home, exhausted.”

The following day, the patient was given a tentative diagnosis–some extremely rare form of pneumonia?–and sent home to recover. “Health care workers don’t get the credit they deserve,” she said.