Dialing 9-1-1 would be a big decision, so I refrained from doing it. Ambulances are for other people, I thought. Such as victims of heart attacks, suspected strokes and car crashes. And yet, might 9-1-1 be the right idea?
My insides were in turmoil from the flu. I had a slight fever. I fell backward and bumped my butt on the floor, making a large bruise which looked in the mirror as though it might create a new trend in art if hung as a painting in a frame.
Six days passed. I ate only a few shreds of food, and I couldn’t walk; my legs folded like chunks of wet spaghetti. My son Michael consulted the help-line nurse and called 9-1-1.
“What took you so long?” a paramedic asked as he and a colleague checked vital signs and loaded me in a stretcher and carried me up the steps to the ambulance.
That was how I came to enter Victoria General Hospital, stay there for three weeks, and emerge with strengthened respect and gratitude for the public health-care system.
Respect extended to all health-care professionals, from doctors to privatized cleaning workers.
In my emergency-ward day-dreams I imagined paramedics going through medical school and hospital residence, continuing to work part-time in ambulance crews, and becoming MDs. Some nurses have already become nurse-practitioners. Will ambulance-practitioners and physiotherapist-practitioners work with doctors before year 2030?
A nurse hooked an oxygen-emitting gadget into my nose, and stuck a needle into an arm-vein to feed fluid in. Another nurse took blood for laboratory tests. A doctor asked: “If you should die, what do you want us to do? Trying to revive you is our fall-back strategy.”
I won’t disclose my answer, but the question made me think about Fluffy, my long-haired black cat friend with the tufted eartips. Fluffy was a senior cat — maybe older in cat-time than I am in human-time — dehydrated like me but never refreshed with intravenous.
He was alert and nimble, jumping up on a chair to be combed, reclining on the legs of a half-asleep or book-reading person, a typical contrarian cat — until he fell ill with cancer and died in pain.
I postponed having Fluffy “put to sleep” until it was too late, so I felt guilty about the doctor’s tough question. I visualized my remaining cat, the elderly orange coloured Persian, Simba, sharing a bed in a blended veterinary hospital and human emergency ward.
Simba would like to bask on the warm blanket which someone brought me. Pet therapy seemed to be the only healing strategy lacking in a place where all diagnostics and remedies were gathered together under one roof for same-day service: X-ray, pharmacy, laboratories, physiotherapy — the works.
I benefited from all that, as I moved from emergency to beds in wards where friendly nurses identified themselves, writing their names and each day’s activity target on whiteboards: 6 North, then 5 South, the rehabilitation place where staffers encourage patients to dress each day, take physical and mental exercise with walker gadgets and stationary bikes, preparing to return to the world.
At first I left most of my food untouched, then progressed to chowing down every crumb. Tests showed that my mainly vegetarian diet wasn’t giving me enough iron. That was one reason why I got extra-sick when the flu germ struck. We hadn’t been putting together the needed combination of vegetables.
Hence the iron in the intravenous, and iron pills after the IV came out. I hate slaughterhouses, but I’m back part time on meaty stuff, thanks to hospital food, which I found tasty.
The hospital is a good model for the preventive and healing community, but it can’t solve all our problems.
Now I’m back with cat Simba, regaining some lost muscle. Thanks, Victoria General.
—G.E. Mortimore is a Langford-based writer and a regular columnist.