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.
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.
“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.
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!”
|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