However, as our group arrived at the University Hospital Emergency Room entrance, I was instantly greeted with a frightening metal detector machine that was surrounded by a multitude of posters and signs which asked me to keep out any weapons and remove any metal objects in my possession. The woman at the machine saw us and waved us in but not without having us pass through the metal detector. I realized soon after why the precaution was necessary; the waiting room consisted of 24 very diverse looking individuals that probably belonged to the lower middle class and below. I learned from Palen’s, The Social Environment that, “Our clothing, jewelry, hairstyles, and even how we walk are all external symbols of who we are and our social positions,” (p. 168) and as I took a moment and looked around, I saw most of the people looked disheveled and distraught; none of them wore any sort of uniform or attire that would give a clue as to how they made a living, in fact, they could have come right off the streets. The stark difference between the wretched looking people waiting to be seen and the medical personnel walking purposefully to and fro drew my attention, I wondered if the patients looked so dismal because they were sick or as a result of their lower social status.
We approached the front desk and met a very friendly ER nurse who was eager to show us around and share with us some information about the hospital and it’s responsibility to the surrounding community. He shed light on the busy daily life of a hospital and also explained how the health system is based on urgency and not on wealth or time of arrival. Although, they make sure to do their best to keep everyone alive and well, certain situations like a patient without health insurance, forces the hospital to dismiss that patient once stabilized even if he or she is not truly well and may need to come back soon from a relapse in their health. This information did not come as a shock, but the reality of what someone’s situation would be like should this happen to them did hit me; I realized that of those people I had seen waiting in the lobby before, there was likely someone who did not have health insurance and would be sent home earlier than the norm.
Walking back from the medical campus that evening, I saw with new eyes the shabby, homeless looking people that had come out to roam the streets and realized there is more to a community than meets the eye.