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


  1. Did this really happen, Geffroy? How bad has it got?
    Should I stay tuned?
    Tell me, tell me.
    yr pal,

    1. Now, now Bert: you wouldn't want me to spoil the story would you? LOL! And stay tuned by all means, there are several more chapters coming for this incredible saga!


      P.S. And thank you for your concerns.

  2. What vivid images you evoke.
    "Hmm. This one tastes different."

    1. Alas! Thermometers are not like fine wine<... ;-)