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Is there?

July 14, 2008

The private room was nice, and I was really starting to like the student nurse that had been assigned to me, but something wasn’t right. I had been admitted a few weeks before to the respiratory rehab program. My condition was such that I wasn’t breathing properly at night anymore, and the doctors at this hospital in Toronto were experts in this field and were figuring the best way to resolve my situation.

I was expected to be there for at least 5 weeks. Since my coverage at the time allowed for a private room, I got one of only two on that floor. Also, as I was considered a high maintenance patient, they brought on a student nurse for the whole time I was there as an almost exclusive care-giver. This pleased me greatly. I also had my own TV, I arranged for a phone, I had my radio, and I even had a friend in Windsor record hours of local radio stations, as the Toronto stations play mostly garbage. (At least they did in the early 90’s)

Then it started to happen. My ability to sleep got worse and worse. Over the span of a few days, I could barely sleep at all anymore. Even worse, my breathing during the day was becoming more laboured. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought that I was looking a bit puffy. I knew it wasn’t good, but I felt I was in good hands, and even though my doctor was away for the next week, we’d get this figured out. That was on a Saturday. By Monday, things had not improved; in fact they had gotten worse.

My doctor’s associate, having been briefed on my downward turn over the weekend, came into my room and sat down across from me. She looked at me, and with a very serious and cold look on her face, declared “You may be dying”.

My disbelief must have been quite evident. She decided I’d like an explanation, so she went on to tell me my heart was weakening and that they couldn’t help me at this hospital as it was not an acute care facility. They had arranged for an ambulance to take me to the best emergency/trauma hospital in the area, SunnyBrook hospital. All I could think to ask was if I could keep the private room. She looked at me puzzled. “For when I come back” I said. Again, she looked at me surprised as though she thought I had not understood that I was about to die. She stood up, looked around, and said, “three days. We will hold your room for three days. After that we have to give it to someone else.” She patted me on the head and she was gone.

The ambulance ride was scary, and a hoot, all at the same time. The guys had been warned by the well meaning doctor that my heart could fail at any moment, and I suppose they wanted no part of that. No sir, not on their bus. So with full lights and sirens we dashed through the streets, weaving in and out of traffic and even jumping boulevards a few times. It was somewhere along the way that I started to get scared. What the hell? I don’t feel that bad, but hey, this seems pretty serious here. I was puzzled.

Once at SunnyBrook, I was wheeled directly into what is likely one of the most frightening places I have ever been.

It was very large bright white and green room. Loud. Stretchers lined the walls and on each was a human, or what was left of one, fighting for life. Teams of doctors and nurses moved from one patient to another in a frantic semi-organized chaos. Instructions and requests were being hollered back and forth from one team to another, and machines squealed demanding attention. By then I was terrified. My sister who rode in the ambulance with me, had been separated from me in rush. I knew my mother was out there too, somewhere down the hall. But I was alone. I tried to get someone’s attention. I just wanted some human contact. Someone to tell me what was going to happen next maybe. But they were all too busy caring for those that needed it immediately. I knew this room was all about life and death situations, and at the moment, from the looks of those around me, death was in the lead.

After some time, a nurse came to within arms length of me, and I took the opportunity.

I reached out and tugged on her uniform. She wheeled around and looked at me startled; surprised that I was conscious. I was trying to talk, but I was weak and scared. She leaned in close so she could hear me over all the noise.

The words that came out of my mouth have always stuck with me.

With fear in my voice, I blurted out “Is there somewhere else I could be?”

She looked at me with understanding and compassion. I could feel the energy of her understanding. She held my hand for a second and assured me she would take care of it.

Within 15 minutes or so, I was in a dimly lit part of the ICU, down the hall from all the commotion. Quiet, calm, and surrounded by stable patients.

A team of doctors came to see me hours later. The head doctor was handed the chart and looked at it briefly. All the young interns around him eager to prove themselves.

He dropped the chart down on foot of the bed. “So whats going on?”

I started to regurgitate what I had been told about my heart, and he stopped me.

“No, I want you to tell me what YOU think is wrong.”

Oh. Ok

So I told him. They had been messing with my meds at the other hospital. Made some adjustments on the Thursday, and that’s when all the trouble started. Also I don’t breathe well when I sleep.

“Ok, that we can fix”

So in the interest of making this long story shorter, they adjust my meds, I peed like a horse, and they started me on a machine to help me breathe at night.

I was back at the other hospital within two days and got my room back to continue with their treatments. Oh and my heart if fine too.

All of this came to mind as I was out for my walk last night. I had gone past the local marina where there was much commotion. I was certain it was a drowning. (confirmed in the news this morning)

It brought to mind the fragility of life. This always makes me wonder if I am doing everything I can with mine.

Am I doing enough?

Am I following the right path?

Is there somewhere else I could be?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2008 11:32 pm

    Whew…What an experience you had…one of many, I know.
    I love that the doctor asked you what you thought was wrong…happening.
    and that your information led to recovery…I think I might have been more frightened being sent back to the first hospital where they messed things up.

    Yes, life is fragile. I came home from work tonight excited to tell DH about an email from my daughter asking us to babysit on several occasions in the next couple of months…setting dates for a first sleep over here at our house for our twin grandchildren. My excitement high. I did not have time to convey this message as DH had news for me of the sudden unexpected death of a 29 yr old cousin. My excitement had to be put aside for his grief.

    Life is fragile.

    You said: “This always makes me wonder if I am doing everything I can with mine.
    Am doing enough?
    Am following the right path?
    Is there somewhere else I could be?”

    I think we must all think this from time to time…wondering, asking, questioning…It’s good I think to ask the questions, and even to effect changes when it seems right to do so…I’m pretty happy with all my choices, and few regrets for the ones that weren’t always the most right. At my age it’s nice to realize that. I’m pretty sure I’ve done the best I could, can, and continue to do.

  2. July 15, 2008 6:16 am

    Syl–Reading your tale is both encouraging and disheartening, at the same time, as one considers the state of medicine. I know this was some years ago, but the same kinds of mistakes and failure to connect the dots goes on all the time. Yet, there continue to be the shining lights in the inky darkness: those with enough sense to first take a step back and intuit a connection which leads to a solution.

    While life is fragile, it is also remarkably stubborn–you, yourself, showed that! The lady says you are dying, and you say, “Can I keep my private room for when I come back?”

    The lesson for me is that you showed what was important in that moment: coming back to the comfortable little nest you had made for yourself with recordings of decent radio programs, your TV, and your phone. Dying? Not so much. You knew better in a way that left you making plans for your return.

    The contrast is startling, isn’t it? That day in the emergency room, the best you could muster was to ask someone to move you anywhere which wasn’t where you were amidst the shouting and chaos. Today? You live in a house you designed yourself, with a wonderfully caring and sensitive girlfriend and your family.

    You are doing well more than enough: you are doing exactly what you are here to do.

    You are on the only path which would work for you, and you always have been.

    There are lots of elsewheres, and should you decide one of them is right for you, I’m betting you will soon be there!

  3. July 15, 2008 12:20 pm

    Life is indeed very fragile. And it is the human encounters in the warped medical system we have that can make all of the difference. People.

    The questions:
    Am I doing everything I can with my life?
    Am I doing enough?
    Am I following the right path?
    Is there somewhere else I could be?

    I think we need to ask ourselves this regularly; I know I personally need to. The older I get, the less time I have, the more important it is to me to use my time well and wisely. Life is indeed so fragile and short.

    Peace, O

  4. July 15, 2008 12:39 pm

    I am stunned at the lack of compassion here: ” She looked at me, and with a very serious and cold look on her face, declared “You may be dying”.”

    and applaud the amount of compassion here: “No, I want you to tell me what YOU think is wrong.”

    two sides of the same coin, I guess. All wrapped up in these skins we carry around as humans. Are we doing enough? I dunno, but if most of your actions are kind, if you care, if you love and if you dream, I think that’s a heckuva start.

  5. July 23, 2008 9:29 pm

    This post is so beautiful and moving, so sad and uplifting at the same time. I think we all wonder if we’re in the right place, doing enough, enjoying our lives enough. I am on the path to discover what makes me “tick” and to do more that brings me joy, work somewhere that fulfills me and sustains me and I know I’ll get there. I think the biggest key is to be surrounded by people who love and support you (emotionally) and I think you’ve done very well with that.

  6. August 4, 2008 12:38 pm

    And where are you these days?????

    Lynn here, wondering what you are up to?


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