La version française de ces histoires se trouve sur En direct de l'intestin grêle

Wouldn't it be great if these stories were true? Unfortunately (or fortunately) they're not; they are just the product of my overworked mind. All characters and events are fictitious and if you think you recognize yourself or somebody you know in these stories, it was not my purpose and it is purely unintentional. In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy reading this blog. Feel free to link this blog wherever else you hang out on the Internet and to post comments below. I enjoy hearing from you.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hospital Diaries III: Incubation

This is part of a series. You can begin at Part I and follow the link at the end of each installment to read the next.

Parked in a wheelchair at the hospital’s emergency ward, I soon understood why sick people are called “patients.” Patience is the ability to wait in silence while surrendering to calamity.

Unfortunately, the young lady sitting in front of me did not grasp that concept. With her cell phone glued to her ear, she was ranting over the senselessness of the health care system.

“I’ve been waiting for five hours! I’ve had a splitting headache ever since I got vaccinated last week and I’m leaving for Thailand in two days! Why is nobody taking care of me? Don’t they realize this is an emergency?”

Many people think that all emergencies require immediate action. This is not so. There are different levels. Some emergencies need to be addressed without delay, others can wait a little while. Few are a priority.

While driving me to the hospital, my friend Lucide tried to reassure me about my stay at the hospital by telling me the difference between private and public healthcare systems.

“A private healthcare system sees patients as a source of revenues whereas a public system – such as the one we have in Canada – views them as expenditures. A public system aims at getting you well enough to send you home as quickly as possible in order to minimize costs. You’ll see: in a snap you‘ll be back in your apartment, happily cleaning it up.”

I was not as optimistic as my friend. I believed that the waiting time at the emergency ward could be long. That’s why I asked Lucide to prepare some supplies for me before leaving my place.

In a shoulder bag I had a sandwich, some apples, an orange, a few biscuits, a water bottle, two packs of cigarettes and a small jar of Ibuprofen, the muscle relaxant I was using as a pain reliever.

muscle relaxant, Ibuprofen, medication, medicine, caplets, pills, Advil, Motrin, generic drugs
Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory drug used to alleviate fever, pain and swelling. One can say it is basically a “super Aspirin.” Ibuprofen is included in the core model list of essential medicines published by the World Health Organization and should be part of everyone’s medicine cabinet.
The enraged Thailand traveller was furiously pacing when I was called on the intercom.

Clumsily I wheeled my chair to an office where a nurse was waiting for me to check my “vital signs.” It took me a minute to understand she wanted to take my blood pressure and my temperature.

The nurse tightened an armband on my upper arm and stuck a thermometer in my mouth under my tongue.

Thermometer, fever, vital signs,mercury, alcool, health
Fever is measured by inserting a thermometer into the mouth, the rectum, the ear or under the armpit of a patient. It was only in the 19th century that doctors realized that fever was a symptom, not an ailment. Besides their taste, there is no difference between an oral and rectal thermometer.
While she was writing down the results I asked the nurse if she knew how soon I would see a doctor.

“Not right away. We’re very busy now. We will call you to let you know which cube you should go to.”

“A cube? What do you mean?” I asked, puzzled.

“That’s what we call our consultation rooms. Now if you could please return to the waiting room, I have other patients to see.”

I was not thrilled by the idea of being “incubated” at the hospital. I was also less than elated to wait for ten long hours until I was called to Cube 67. During this waiting time, several patients – including the traveller to Thailand – grew tired of waiting and left the ward without seeing a doctor.

I had been looking at the walls of Cube 67 for twenty minutes or so when a young doctor showed up. I told her why I had come to the hospital. I explained my gout attack, the torn ligaments in my twisted knee, the weeks spent in bed at home and my paralysis.

She wanted to examine me. To do so she had to call two orderlies to lift me up from the wheelchair and sit me down on a bed. I painfully took off my jacket and my shirt and put on an open-back smock that one of the orderlies tied at my neck with a lace.

After the doctor checked my knees, my hands, my wrists and my arms, she left the cube without a word.

I could hear her talking with a man on the other side of the door:

— “He’s well over 50, he can’t walk and he has trouble moving. I wonder if...” she said.

— “He’s got all the symptoms, said the man, it could very well be spinal stenosis.”

— “That’s exactly what I thought,” she concluded.

Those were the last word I heard from her and I was never to see her again.

After 30 minutes, a nurse came into the cube carrying a plastic basket filled with small glass bottles and stickers.

“I need to take some blood samples, she said. Please roll up your sleeve, sir.”

I obliged half-heartedly. The nurse filled 31 vials with my blood then left.

There I was, alone in my cube, sitting on a slippery leatherette and foam mattress. I was cold. My arms, my shoulders and my legs were sore. What would become of me? I did not know what “spinal stenosis” meant and I was afraid.

backbone, spinal cord, spinal canal, vertebra, vertebrae, spinal tap
One of the most widespread myths of modern times is that medical officers specializing in nerves and the spinal cord are called “spin doctors.” Because of that belief, people think that spinal stenosis means these doctors write down their observations using shorthand. However, spinal stenosis is really about an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal running through the backbone.
Shivering, I managed to stretch and pick up my jacket that the orderly had left on the wheelchair. Despite the pain, I put my coat on, lay down on the bed and dozed off.

When I woke up, a man dressed in tan scrubs was putting my clothes, my shoulder bag and my shoes under a gurney. He then proceeded to skillfully slide my body over to the stretcher.

The attendant opened the cube’s door and wheeled me out to the corridor. I asked him where he was taking me and he replied:

“Where am I taking you? Why, to the gurney hall, of course!”

gurney, stretcher, cot, hospital
A gurney is a wheeled stretcher used to take patients on a journey. It is often equipped with a hydraulic system for raising and lowering patients so the attendant does not injure his or her back and develop spinal stenosis.

To be continued in Hospital Diaries IV: The Gurney Hall

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Hospital Diaries II: The Firefly

This is part of a series. You can begin at Part I and follow the link at the end of each installment to read the next.

Every time I see a doctor, it seems he ends up making recommendations that are totally unrelated to the purpose of my visit.

I have gotten used to the persistent advice to stop smoking but I just can’t stand it when I’m told to lose weight.

That’s exactly what the good doctor who diagnosed a sprain on my knee said to me. I left his office annoyed but resolved to follow his advice if only to stop receiving unwanted suggestions.

The road to slenderness is simple: follow a balanced diet. Forget about gyms and fitness centres. Sure they will tone your body and build muscles but you will really need to exercise a lot to lose weight. And the more you exercise, the more you risk getting injured.
marathon, running, exercise, sport, police officers, fitness,muscles, six-pack
According to a Canadian study, 40.2% of people aged 20 to 64 who were injured in Canada in 2009-2010 did so practising sports, exercising or walking. Only 16.5% suffered from work-related injuries. This may mean that Canadians are either smart workers or simply lazy.
In Canada, the key to balanced eating is found in Canada’s Food Guide published by Health Canada. This system is based on four essential food groups: fruits and vegetables, grain products, dairy products and alternatives, and meat and other sources of proteins.

The Food Guide explains what constitutes a typical serving for each food group and how many servings males and females need according to their age. If you keep a record of how much you eat, you will lose weight quickly without risking your health.

That’s what I did as my knee was failing me. I lost 40 pounds in three months. Now I only needed to lose another 15 pounds to reach a healthy weight and turn my doctor speechless.

However, I was not worrying about dieting the morning I woke up paralysed in bed.

I was in a bad predicament but I found out I had an unexpected advantage: I had a full bladder.

Despite the pain and because of the urge, after about 30 minutes I managed to move my head, then my fingers, my wrists, my elbows and my legs until I laboriously sat on the edge of the bed.

I relieved myself in my homemade bedpan and then assessed my situation. My twisted knee was not the issue anymore. I could no longer move easily because I was sore all over. It would take a miracle for me to get out of my apartment by myself. My fridge was getting emptier by the day but worse, I was almost out of cigarettes.

I found myself in the middle of the proverbial tunnel looking for a light.

As I was moping about my condition, the phone rang. It was my friend Lucide who, worried, was calling to enquire about me.

I told her about my disablement and that I was running out of supplies. Right away she offered to run some errands for me and said she would stop by that night after work.

In the darkness, a firefly was shining her light to help me find the way out.
firefly, lightning bug, glow worm, insect, bug, lampyridae
The firefly or lightning bug is an insect of the lampyridæ family. There are more than 2,000 species of fireflies. Some females lightning bugs do not fly and look like their larvæ. They are called “glow worms.”
When Lucide arrived at my place carrying several bags of groceries she was struck with consternation, not because she was seeing her friend bedridden and disabled but because of the sorry condition of my apartment.

I had been confined to my bed for several weeks and household cleaning was no longer a priority. Dirty dishes were piling up on the kitchen counter. The floor was covered with objects that I could not pick up because I was unable to bend over. A heap of dirty laundry gathered in a corner of my bedroom and dust was taking over my lodgings.

“What a pigsty! exclaimed Lucide while dropping her bags on my bed. How can you live in such a mess?”

« Erm... Did you bring me cigarettes?”

“They're in the bag,” she answered distractedly while inspecting the jumble in my apartment. “Do you have any garbage bags?”

“In the cupboard, underneath the sink,” I answered while looking for cigarettes in one of the grocery bags.

Lucide disappeared in the kitchen while I tried to unwrap a cigarette pack with my numb fingers. It seemed I had lost all the manual skills I once had.

Lucide came back to the room with a garbage bag and as she saw my shaky hands fighting with the cigarette pack, she cried out:

“What’s with your hands? Look at your knuckles! They’re all red and swollen! This is much worse than a twisted knee, you must see a doctor! Come on, I’ll take you to the hospital!”

With great difficulty I began to dress. I had lost a lot of weight and my clothes did not fit me anymore. I was in a bad shape and I felt weak and distressed.

It took me almost half an hour to manage to get up with Lucide’s help. When I took a first step leaning on my walking cane, it felt as though I had no kneecaps, like my thigh bones were resting directly on my shin bones. I almost passed out from the excruciating pain.

I live on the second floor of an apartment building. As I began to climb down the 14-step stairwell, AC/DC’s Highway to Hell was playing in my head and I had to sit down on the second step to gather my wits.
Highway to Hell is a song about the gruelling conditions of constant touring. Six months after its release, Bon Scott, who sang on the original recording, was found dead at 33 in the back of a Renault 5 after a night of heavy drinking. Show business is a mother who enjoys eating its young.
Finally, I was outside. I had been locked in my apartment for a month and winter had settled in. It was cold and the snow was cracking under my steps. In a last effort, I sat down in Lucide’s car as she started the engine.

I was on my way to the hospital, a harbour for the unfortunates of the world.

To be continued in Hospital Diaries III: Incubation

Monday, March 3, 2014

Hospital Diaries I : A Gout-Ridden Wretch

Ouch! I was awoken by a shooting pain in the middle of the night.

For the fourth time in 30 years I was having a gout attack. By now I knew the story: the sharp pain in the joint at the base of my big toe would fade away after I applied ice packs and took muscle relaxants. This meant I would be lounging in bed for a few days while rereading the works of Guy de Maupassant.

After three days, the swelling had subsided but the pain in my foot remained and I was unable to walk without limping. It was not unbearable so I went back to work where a lengthy report on crystallizing the Canadian public health system through the infusion of additional government funds was waiting to be edited.

“Gout? What’s this? You think you’re Charles Dickens?” joked my friend Aaron when he saw me at the office.

I tried to explain that gout was not some outdated distemper and that its occurrence was on the rise in North America but my colleague was no longer listening: instead he was focusing on the coffee machine sputtering a reluctant espresso into his cup.
coffee, espresso, latte, vending machine, coffee beans, grinder, paper cup
The espresso machine is believed to have been invented in 1884 by Angelo Moriondo, in Torino, Italy. The drink gained in popularity worldwide in the 1980’s so much that automatic dispensing machines such as this one are now common in North American public institutions.

Weeks went by, I was still hobbling and to make matters worse, one of my knees failed. I now had an even clumsier gait. I went to a doctor who told me upon quickly examining my swollen knee that it was sprained. He recommended two weeks of rest and to avoid putting weight on my leg.

So I took the last two weeks of annual leave I had left and went back to read Guy de Maupassant’s tales.

As this forced vacation was coming to an end and the time to return to work was approaching, my knee was still hurting. With the help of a walking cane, I went back to the clinic where the doctor summarily felt my puffy knee to immediately declare:

“This is a splendid case of a sprained knee with torn ligaments! You must get to bed my friend! Didn’t I tell you before to get some rest?”

“But I’ve been at home for the last two weeks!”

“In bed? No, no, my friend, stay in bed with your leg raised and apply ice packs four times a day. I am prescribing you some muscle relaxants to ease the pain.”

With the prescription in my hand, I called a cab to take me to the drugstore while realizing to my displeasure that, having used up all my annual vacations, I had to take unpaid leave to attend to my health.

The cab driver was talkative and seeing my cane asked me what happened to me.

“Oh, it’s nothing, I just twisted my knee” I said.

“You should stop smoking!” he replied.

Not impressed by the man’s popular wisdom I was stunned by the effectiveness of the advertising campaign put together by the Government, the health system and the pharmaceutical industry to blame all worldly problems on smoking.

So I went back to bed, determined to heal my costly lame knee. I would get up once a day to use the bathroom and prepare some food. My meals were simple: sandwiches, fresh fruits and vegetables, cereal, cheese, social tea biscuits and water.­­­ I ate lying down. With a razor blade, I cut up a two-litre soda bottle to use as a bedpan to avoid standing up.
polyethylene terephtalate, PET, Dacron, Mylar, soft drink, soda, pop, refundable, recycling, ketchup, mustard
The polyethylene terephthalate bottle was invented in 1973 by Nathaniel Wyeth, an American engineer, for pressurized liquids such as soda pop. Carbonation is weak in human urine. However it is surprising how many people use such bottles to relieve themselves when nature calls.

After a week this idleness was taking its toll. My back was aching so much that it was becoming a challenge to sit up in bed or to get up.

I could pull myself out of bed with a strap I tied to my bedroom door while I pushed myself up with my elbow resting on a stool. Every day walking from my bedroom to the bathroom and the kitchen became more difficult.

One morning I woke up laying on my back with my arms extended, completely paralysed.

I was sure this was the first time in the history of modern medical science that a gout attack turned into a sprained knee spreading to the upper body and limbs of an individual.

This is when I realized I needed some serious help.

To be continued in Hospital Diaries II : The Firefly.