Dear Source: It’s odd, I think, how one small incident becomes a chain of misfortune that recolors a vacation forever. My husband and I had just said good night to a visiting friend, and closed the door to our hotel room. He turned, tripped somehow, the palm of his hand going splatt! — flat and hard against the tile floor. Blood gushed from a wide gash running across his palm from his little finger to his index finger. I grabbed a towel, applied pressure, called out to our departing friend.
She contacted our favorite taxi-driver, who took us to your hospital at about 7 p.m. We expected a quick turn-around, but that was not to be. The emergency room was close to full, and we were fortunate to find a place to sit. We sat. And sat — in chairs offering no comfort to any of us miserable people, patiently waiting for help.
Gradually, we learned the system. People could come to the ER, sign in, and then stay or leave; their place “in line” would be saved. So there was a constant reshuffling of people, but little perceivable movement, for us, toward the head of the line. And since we were not residents, with family and transportation, it was harder for us to leave.
All around us, people coughed, sneezed, moaned. Rarely have I seen such a panoply of misery. Yet everyone was submissive, just trying to endure, hoping not to pick up new germs to exacerbate whatever problem had brought them to that ER.
My husband’s blood pressure went up. He complained. The office told him they were calling for another doctor. We went back to our hotel for my husband’s medication. On the way, our taxi driver stopped by a place with a doctor, only to learn that he no longer does stitches!
When we returned to the hospital, they assured us that his place in line had remained the same. But after a while, some people, who had arrived after us, were seen, while we still waited. “I guess we forgot you,” an attendant said. She offered no apology.
At 3 p.m. the next afternoon—twenty hours into our ordeal of waiting — a doctor finally looked at my husband’s hand. “I can’t put stitches in that,” he said, “you’re outside the 12-hours-of-injury limit.” When my husband insisted that the hospital had caused the long delay, the doctor cleaned the wound, rethought the situation, and put four stitches in my husband’s palm. We heard that he was the only doctor on duty, trying to stem that growing tide of human misery. It was an unfortunate situation, since they usually had two doctors in the ER, we were told. But it seemed clear to me that even two doctors could not have surmounted that swelling mass of islanders and tourists.
“Is it always like this?” we asked our cabbie, as he drove us back to the hotel. “Oh yes, the wait is always that long, and sometimes worse. We complain, but nothing changes.” Subsequently, we had this assessment of the situation confirmed by a wide variety of people, rich and poor, schooled and unschooled.
The irony of this, for my husband and me, is that we had come to St. Croix for a book-signing, and reconnections with old friends. We had lived and worked on St. Croix for 6 years, where I began a first rough draft of “SUGAR MILL STORIES: Lies and Truth in the Caribbean.” The novel is about events on an island much like St. Croix, about the good people on the island, people of all colors, coming together to help someone in need. The gentle wisdom of island taxi drivers had figured largely in my story, as it did this night in our real life.
I said as much to our driver. “Maybe I’ll write a Letter to the Editor,” I told him. “Maybe I can get something done for all of you.” If not, I wondered, how could I continue to extol an island where the hospital caused as much misery as it allayed?
Both my husband and I were coughing, aching by the time we took our plane home, sure that we had caught the bug that roamed the hospital. We slept, woke to change planes, slept, staggered to another plane change, and finally returned home.
And now you have my letter. I have sent it also to all the members of the Hospital Board, and to the Editors of the St. Croix Avis and the VI Daily News. I do hope that I will hear back from each person to whom I wrote. I hope that the hospital Board will respond to my letter with information on how they plan to proceed to remedy this abysmal situation, so that I can assure my followers that St. Croix is a safe place for vacationing. And I hope that you will publish my letter.
Then, in the end, our personal misery will have fulfilled a higher purpose. And one fine taxi driver will know that I have kept my promise to him.