Several years ago, around the time smoking in Canadian workplaces was banned, I was working under a contract in a gigantic office complex. Smokers had to go outside under a large, damp, concrete portico with a two story-high roof sarcastically called the “Batcave.” It was there, in the middle of winter, surrounded by the haggard faces of scores of other smokers, that I developed a nasty cough.
|The Batcave is where Batman retires to light up a Batsmoke when he needs a Batfix. The stairs, of course, lead to Wayne Manor.|
After a few days, I started having trouble breathing and my chest hurt. When a fever set in, I knew something was wrong. I took a day off hoping rest would improve my condition. It did not and I became convinced that I had pneumonia.
I went to a walk-in clinic early the next morning. After about 45 minutes of waiting coughing my lungs out, a young doctor finally saw me in his office. He asked me the reason for my visit while distractedly looking at his computer monitor.
– Doctor, I have this bad cough and a fever. I think it might be pneumonia.
– Really? Let me have a look, he said, taking out his stethoscope.
He auscultated me, looked at my eyes, my tongue, inside my ears, took my temperature, checked my pulse and my blood pressure then said the only way to be sure would be for me to go to the emergency ward at the hospital and have some x-rays taken.
– But this is a medical clinic, don’t you have an x-ray machine?
– We would need specially-trained personnel and right now we only have doctors, a nurse and some administrative staff.
– Well, I have a friend who’s a dental hygienist. She operates the x-ray machine all the time at work. If I may, let me call her and ask her to come and take the picture.
– Sir, we don’t have an x-ray machine, you have to go to the hospital.
– You don’t have an x-ray machine? Even the vet where I take my dog has an x-ray machine!
– I’m sorry sir, go to the emergency ward at the hospital, they will help you there.
I had the feeling I was annoying him and that he was politely trying to get rid of me.
|Pneumonia is an inflammation of the alveoli, where oxygen passes from the lungs into the bloodstream. According to William Osler (1849-1919), the Canadian-born physician known as the “Father of modern medicine,” pneumonia will kill you quickly and relatively painlessly. This affliction is celebrated on World Pneumonia Day, November 12 every year.|
So I left for the hospital, knowing that my case was not an emergency yet and that I probably would have to wait hours before seeing a doctor.
Emergency waiting rooms are grim, sullen places. At this one, the medical staff was limited to a receptionist and a nurse locked up in a glass-enclosed office.
I pitied this caregiver: outnumbered in a roomful of dangerously sick people, she could provide no relief until the intervention of a medical doctor.
I arrived around 10:00 AM. There were already 25 people waiting. Some were old and silent, others were restless children accompanied by their parents. The rest, like myself, were in their 40s or 50s and did not look overly sick except for some hacking coughs, ugly skin rashes and obvious lack of energy.
I gave my requisition to the receptionist and took a seat. I picked up a two year-old issue of People magazine on a nearby table and set myself for a wait that I expected to be long. I hoped I could sleep between coughing fits.
A young couple entered the room in a frenzy. The man had his hand wrapped in a bloody towel. He had taken off two of his fingers with a circular saw as he was building kitchen cupboards. The nurse put on a temporary dressing on his wound and told him to take a seat. Soon he was being attended to by a physician.
Sick people came in, others left, tired of waiting. I wished I could smoke a cigarette but I was in no condition to indulge in my favourite pastime. Finally, I dozed off and dreamt of drowning: I woke up painfully choking on my phlegm. I was feeling dizzy from the fever.
Around 3:00 PM, I was called into an examination room. A nurse gave me a hospital gown to put on and asked me to wait. When the doctor came in 15 minutes later, I explained that I thought I had pneumonia and she proceeded to examine me in the same way the walk-in clinic doctor had several hours before. Then she asked me to lie on my side and left the room.
As I was facing the wall in a daze, I heard the door of the observation room open and close followed by the characteristic snapping sound of latex gloves being put on. Then I felt somebody trying to pull down my underpants. Startled and confused, I quickly rolled onto my back to find a surprised young nurse dressed in scrubs with her hand caught between my bottom and the gurney I was lying on.
– Excuse me, but what exactly are you trying to do? I said.
– I need to take a stool sample, she replied, flustered. Please let go of my arm.
– I’m afraid you have the wrong room, I said, lifting my behind to free her hand. My bowels are just fine, It’s my lungs that are causing me grief. I will gladly give you a mucus sample instead if you want, I replied snarkily
– No, I need a stool sample, she said, missing the irony. It’s a standard procedure. We have to take one from all patients to have it checked for harmful bacteria. Now, please, turn on your side and let me do my work.
I cringed as she uncomfortably probed me with a plastic tool. Having bacteria potentially lodged deep in my rectum threatening the outside world did not make me feel any more dignified.
|John G. Bourke (1843-1896) in Scatalogical Rites of All Nations, explains that ancient Romans worshipped Cloacina, goddess of the sewers. In the above illustration, Roman priests and their acolytes prepare to take a stool sample from a woman as an offering to their deity.|
Two hours later I was called to the radiology room, three floors up and hidden in a maze of cluttered hallways.
I put on another hospital gown and a technician asked me to stand still against an upright table. He then rolled the x-ray machine close to my chest. The machine whirred, clanged and banged while it was taking pictures of my innards. After a few minutes of this, one of the attendants said I could get dressed and go back to the emergency ward’s waiting room. Despite feeling disoriented from the fever, I managed to find my way back to the anteroom of the hospital.
Dozing on and off, I waited for another 90 minutes before I was called back to the observation room. The doctor told me the x-rays were positive: I had pneumonia. She wrote a prescription for antibiotics and sent me away telling me to take a 10-day leave from work.
After having my prescription filled at the drugstore, I laid in bed at home considering the 12 hours I just spent among the sick, the injured and those commissioned to care for them. It seemed a long time to have somebody qualified telling me what I knew all along.
Ultimately I fell into a nightmare-filled sleep. I was standing half naked in front of a fingerless man who was holding an insect repellent vaporizer and asking me to spread my buttocks while a group of doctors and nurses observed the procedure smilingly nodding their approval.