Just let me sleep. That’s my half-aware thought. An ambulance brought me to the emergency department of Victoria General for my second hospital sojourn of the year, because I couldn’t stand up or walk. I felt feverish.
My son and I decided to call 911 and give me one more inside view of healthcare.
Oxygen blows into my nose through a plastic widget. Fluid runs from an IV bag into a left-arm vein. Technicians, nurses, med students and doctors parade past the bed.
Nurses needle out blood, measure temperature, blood-pressure. A porter wheels me to X-ray and back to my curtained cell. It commands a view of nurses hustling around.
They pull out the oxygen widget. Don’t need enriched breath. I’m admitted to a regular bed in 5 North which has a view of closely-trimmed fir trees and a corner of the parking lot, high hospital towers in the middle distance, and a windsock flapping for the benefit of any air-ambulance helicopter pilot who may touch down on the pad at the far side of the adjoining building. The helicopter slants in to a landing one day.
I can see the nursing station through the doorway. I am now in a different hospital realm. Down there in emergency, the nurses pause to look left and right, and often change direction, responding to what they see or hear among the patients.
In this department where a space opened for me alongside people who are mostly trying to recover from an ailment I hope I will never get – disabling stroke in the brain – the nurses do not hustle around on fast, watchful errands.
They disperse to the beds of patients, tending them and jollying them along into walkabout or rest that may help build new nerve pathways in the brain (‘Slide your butt higher up in the bed; that’s it, good job’) and the nurses move with deliberate assurance, showing up in twos and threes at the nursing station. While I reflect on the range of departmental subcultures, it dawns on me that I don’t feel sick any more.
“You have pneumonia,” the duty doctor says. “We’re giving you antibiotics.” Some of the antibiotic mixture flowed in through the intravenous tube, now disconnected. More antibiotics arrive in pills, to heal my mild lung trouble.
A young woman writes down my food orders. Prefab meals flown in from Calgary are a thing of the past. Now each floor has a kitchen.
A physiotherapist gets me walking and checks my balance against a window that faces south to roads, green fields and flat hospital rooftops.
I daydream about the fourth-floor garden at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, and the garden on the roof of a New Orleans supermarket, where they grow herbs and vegetables and sell them in the store. Could Vic General insulate its roof with soil and grow flowers and vegetables?
I absent-mindedly lean over too far and the physio has to remind me of the balancing job.
“I’m hardly coughing at all, and I’ve even got back some of my sense of smell,” I tell the doctor on his next visit. “I thought my nose had shut down years ago.”
The doc nods approval. I thank him and move into pesky-patient mode. Would he consider increasing the dose, to make certain? No, but he is sending me home after six days, with a prescription for 18 pills at the drug store. He’s a life-saver and a diplomat.
– G.E. Mortimore is a Langford-based writer and regular columnist with