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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.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Hospital Diaries VI: The Overflow

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. 

I had been in the gurney hall for two days. Every move I made was painful and I still did not know what I was suffering from. It had all started with a gout attack but then I was told I had twisted my knee and had torn some ligaments. After being admitted to the hospital, doctors talked about arthrosis, spinal stenosis and a neurologist I nicknamed “the Seagull” insisted I needed back surgery.

Lying on my gurney I was pondering about how difficult it is to establish an accurate diagnosis. In all fairness I could not blame doctors for failing so far to identify the cause of my handicap. In a way, I felt it was like an evil genius, some kind of Keyzer Söze from the movie The Usual Suspects, was living inside my body, wreaking havoc at the expense of doctors/detectives who were completely baffled.

Only in literature and movies the issue is finding the “true” culprits. In real life, detectives and doctors are content to find a convenient suspect – all the best if it’s the real guilty party – to lay charges on, close the case and move on.

Those were my thoughts as I watched the hospital chaplain offer his sympathies to the family of a dying patient to whom he had just administered the last rites in one of the private rooms of the gurney hall.

At that moment an attendant showed up and began to place my personal belongings under my gurney. I was terrified she was going to take me against my will to the operating room for spinal surgery. I nervously asked her where we were going.

“I am taking you to your room sir.”

I could not believe my ears! Finally I was leaving the noisy gurney hall with its blaring bells and alarms! As I was profusely babbling my thanks to the attendant, she curtly said:

“I’m just doing my job sir.”

After I was wheeled into my new room, an orderly slid my body to a wider gurney with a thicker mattress. From the conversation the orderly and the gurney attendant were having, I understood that I was now in a place called the Emergency Overflow, a somewhat “underground” department set up for patients who had been residing in the emergency ward for at least 48 hours. This was the way the hospital had found to avoid the heavy fines that were imposed if the ministry of health’s performance goals were not met.

Mankind is obsessed with order, yet lusts for chaos. Maybe that’s why bureaucracy was invented. Bureaucracy is a form of labour organization purposedly designed to effectively achieve a cost-efficient use of resources in a rational way. However tremendous effort and considerable ingenuity are needed to get around bureaucracy’s cumbersome rules.

I owed my escape from the gurney hall to this paradox.

I was now in a no man’s land of a sort, some temporary quarters run by a minimal staff. From time to time a nurse would come by to take my vital signs and ask me to rate my pain on a scale from zero to ten and an orderly brought me my meals.

soup, salad, coffee, hamburger steak, gravy, squash, rice, pudding, health, nutrition, salad dressing
In Canada, hospital menus are designed by dieticians. Low-salt, low-fat and low-sugar meals usually taste like cardboard. If the food is not particularly tasty, it is however very healthy.
Everyday I had a visit from “the seagull,” the neurologist who was convinced I was faking my illness since I would not agree to have back surgery.

“Come on! Show me what you can do! Get up on your feet and walk!” the seagull would mock me.

I was nearing rock bottom. Having been confined to a stretcher for almost a week, I still did not know what I was sick from, my doctor was treating me as if I was imagining my ailment and I was taking painkillers that had no effect on my pain.

When my friend Lucide came to see me, she brought a bottle of Ibuprofen. I quickly took two tablets and hid the bottle in my bedside table hoping no overly conscious nurse would steal it away from me again.

While I was waiting for the medication to take effect, I told Lucide about my frustration and despair.

“Hmm… I saw three empty wheelchairs in the hall as I was coming to your room” said Lucide. “Maybe if we could borrow one and go to the cafeteria it would lift your spirits a bit.”

wheelchair, handicap, disability, hospital, health care
US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life after being struck with paralysis during a vacation at Campobello Island in New Brunswick. Still today doctors disagree about whether FDR suffered from poliomyelitis or Guillain–Barré syndrome.
My friend is a genius. I rang the nurse right away. After about 15 minutes of waiting, an orderly arrived and I asked her if I could have a wheelchair to go for a stroll with my friend.

“I’ll ask your nurse,” she replied.

Lucide and I continued our conversation for about 20 minutes and having no news from my nurse, I rang again. When the orderly returned, I asked her if the wheelchair I requested was coming.

“I’m sorry sir, your nurse is taking a break and I haven’t been authorized to give you a wheelchair yet.”

That was too much. The frustration that had been building up in me for the last week overflowed.

“Listen miss: are you telling me there is only one person in this ward who can allow me to go down to the cafeteria in a wheelchair to have coffee with my friend? This is a simple request! I’m not asking for a liver transplant! All I want is a wheelchair! This is not the third world, is it?”

My outburst took the orderly by surprise. She began to cry. Her sobs alerted her supervisor who rushed into my room.

“What have you done to my employee?” he enquired uneasily.

Ashamed, I told him what happened while a nurse was taking the orderly to the hallway to comfort her. Five minutes later, the supervisor came back with a wheelchair in which he helped me sit. Lucide wheeled me to the elevator to go to the cafeteria.

Still astounded by the drama that just happened I was nevertheless ecstatic to be sitting, moving away from the confines of my room.

Lucide and I got some coffee and I asked her to take me outside to smoke. It was a cold January night and at minus 20 degrees I was shivering. It was the first cigarette I had had in six days. It felt like I finally had found relief for my pain.

To be continued in Hospital Diaries VII: The Sweet-Smelling Ward

1 comment:

  1. So interesting and true. This brings back too many memories! Thank you my friend xoxo

    N. P. via FB