Long post alert… Its gonna just be free thought and forgive any spelling or grammar mistakes, I ain’t gonna be checking for em!
I started this post a couple of times, first starting with a bit of background on the Canadian medical system but I figure, there is enough info out there on how it works. I also wanted to rant and rail about how unfair the system is but I’m sure I’m one many who feel that way and I’m no more special than they are. In fact my problem isn’t as bad as many others who are waiting for relief. Let’s just leave it at socialized medicine isn’t a perfect system and I was one of many victims of it this past week.
I’ve been waiting now for quite some time for surgical intervention for my gallstones. I had lived through some rather painful attacks in the last few months some lasting for 5 or 6 hours but this past week I had a cluster of 3 within a 2 week period having eaten things like skinless chicken, baked fish and the seemingly innocuous broccoli. The last one of this lovely trifecta was a doozy. A 12 plus hour festival of brutal pain starting at 2:00 am with nausea and vomiting that drove me to desperation. I tried self medicating, moving around, giving into the nausea instead of fighting it like I normally do and NOTHING WORKED.
I started working at 6 am trying to get my mind off of the pain and in between answering emails I found myself unable to concentrate. I stared at the clock willing the hands to move to 9:00 am so I could call the surgeon’s office and find out what to do. When it was time to call y’know what I found out? That my surgeon is away for a month. A month! I was last advised to call back in September to see if maybe, just maybe I had a surgical date scheduled. I was hoping that now the summer and the various other priorities had cleared enough to at least slot me in there somewhere but I’m guessing that it won’t be any time in the next month at least. The receptionist after hearing my story told me to go to emergency. Exactly what I was hoping to avoid.
Tom jumped up and got ready to take me. I got dressed, stuffed kleenex in my pocket and carried an old plastic tub on my knees just in case I had to throw up in the car on the way to emerg. I fought nausea the whole way there, Tom took care not to jostle me too much but get me there as fast as possible. I was scared shitless. I had all kinds of awful scenarios going through my head. Both my GP and the surgeon had thought in my previous attacks I had blockages that had cleared due to the high liver counts. I was picturing a blockage and kept checking to see if I was turning yellow. I’ve read enough horror stories about what can go wrong with gallstones that I was fearing the worst. I was also not relishing the thought of suffering in a waiting room with a bazillion other people. I don’t like being weak or needy and I certainly don’t like anyone witnessing me that way, stranger or no. Stupid maybe but that’s me.
Tom drove me right to the entrance and I told him to drop me off while he went to go park. He was concerned and I told him I would be fine so he reluctantly left me hurried to the garage. I walked into the lobby and was surprised that I got to walk right up to the triage area. I thought that hey maybe it wouldn’t take that long to see someone after all! The first lady who took the basic info swiped my medical card and made me up a bracelet, she told me to have a seat and wait for the triage nurse to question me. I went to sit down and looked at my arm and noticed that they had the wrong name on my bracelet. They had my OLD married name on it (urgh!) and groaned and shuffled up there for them to fix it. She kind of looked at me blankly and then asked if my card had my correct name on it. Um yeah. She brought up my record and realized that she had just clicked on a previous record they had for my number with all my old info. She printed a new sticker and stuck it over the old. I had kind of hoped for a brand new bracelet. Petty maybe but still ew.
The triage nurse was very nice and asked all kinds of questions, clucked with sympathy and made sure I had one of those trays that you use for take out fish and chips to puke in. I hate to do that cos the thought of that really ruins fish and chips for me.
After they were done checking me in the told me to tell security that I was going to “RACE” (?) and for them to let me go in to the entrance on the right. Tom and I walked down the hallway to an area labeled “Minor Treatment Unit” and found ourselves in yet another waiting area. This one had a LOT of people in it. I groaned inwardly cos I knew it wasn’t going to be anytime soon that I would be seeing any kind of relief. I handed the paperwork I had been given to the miserable looking woman at the desk who barely acknowledged my existence and she pointed to the waiting area.
They had a flat screen TV on the wall tuned to the Home and Garden network. I tried to lose myself in House Hunters and Colin and Justin’s Home invasion but couldn’t stop shifting around from the pain. Tom looked over at me with sympathy and asked if I wanted to move around. I tried but kept getting in the way of people walking in or gurneys being pushed in. I gave up and we moved to the back wall which would give me a better view of the TV. I went back into my self preservation mode of rocking and fighting the urge to throw up. There was an elderly South Asian lady who kept coughing and then hoarking loogies into a tray. Every time she did that I groaned and grabbed my stomach trying to just shut my mind off.
One by one the people waiting were slowly called up to see the doctor. Based on what was wrong with them they were either taken into an exam room or the doctor spoke to them in the waiting area. I would say a good half of the people who were there should not have been there. It was all stuff that could be taken care of at a walk-in clinic. Small abrasions, an eye infection day who came in an ambulance (!) and the like in emergency? People have a very bizarre idea of what is worthy of an emergency visit. This is one of the major reasons there is such a long wait for people who actually NEED it.
After what seemed like hours I was called up to talk to a nurse, she asked me what was wrong, took my vitals and clucked with sympathy. She was super nice, really ALL of the nurses were that I would run across in this little adventure. She said that she believed a shot of morphine would be the ticket but I wouldn’t be able to get that until it was my turn to see the doctor. I was sent back to the waiting area. After yet more waiting I was called up and the doctor who listen to me did some more vital checking and ordered an ultrasound. I was sent back over asked to strip, put in a gown, pee in a cup and wait for the ultrasound. After all that was done I finally got my morphine shot. At that point it was close to 2:00 pm. I was so grateful I almost cried. The lovely nurse got me in a padded recliner and covered me with a warm blanket. I laid back and just let the relief flood over me. They came and took some blood and I waited in a quazi doze after I don’t know how long, by this time I had lost track of time, the doctor came back and crouched next to me.
He confirmed that I did indeed have stones (duh already knew that and I had TOLD them I was waiting for surgery at THAT hospital, seriously was there not even a RECORD of me somewhere?!?!) and that my liver enzymes were quite high. He wanted to refer my case to their on call surgeon as my surgeon was away. I let poor Tom know that it would mean more waiting, he was awesome and supportive coming to check on me and cooling his heels in the waiting room. He had taken a break to get something to eat but otherwise had been there the entire time.
The surgeon came to talk to me after looking at the test results and said that he was concerned by the test results that I may have a blockage though they couldn’t see in in the ultrasound. He said they weren’t always the greatest for showing those types of thing anyway. He was reluctant to send me home without consulting an internist and told me candidly that with all the back ups in the operating room that realistically unless I was ready to burst I wasn’t going to get my surgery any time soon, it could be MONTHS more. He said reality is you won’t know if you’re scheduled, with all the people being bumped that I would probably get a call one day saying my surgery was in a couple of days and be there on that date. I could also be bumped again. SIGH. He also told me they were admitting me and that the specialist would try to come by to see me that night or the next day. I was hooked up to an IV to get some hydration going. There would be no food or drink for me that day.
I told Tom that I was being admitted and that it was ok to leave. He didn’t want to go rather wanted to wait until I was moved to the ward but I told him not to worry about that I was going to be fine and it could be a lot of red tape and there was no point in him having to wait around. By this time Sean was home from school and worried about getting his school supplies that he was told he needed by the next day. I had given both the boys updates on what was going on. Chris had been calling home ALL day and had tried to call my cell a few times. I wasn’t sure I was allowed to have my cell on there but the nurse told me it was ok. They were both relieved that I was not in any “mortal danger” (Chris’ words not mine).
I was put on a gurney and moved out of MTU. I was thinking when I was admitted that I would be put in a room but no. I was moved to the back of the emergency dept near the pediatric and acute emergency areas. When the porter checked where I was to be placed she was told “Hallway #2”. The porter pushed me into what was sure enough a hallway with four stalls marked along the wall. Hallway # 1- #4. The Porter said to me “You know it’s bad when the hospital has to label it’s hallway slots”. These were not temporary placement spots anymore these were actual LABELED bed spaces!
This hallway had people walking by constantly bringing in new patients or people going to visit others who were there. I had NO privacy, no curtains to pull. I was laying there feeling a wee bit vulnerable in my little gown (backwards gown on as a housecoat not withstanding) as your ass is all but hanging out. People being people stared at you as they walked by. I always try to respect people in that kind of situation and not look over I would want that same courtesy yanno?
A picture from my cell phone of my IV in the hallway (I had to take pictures of my cell pictures, no internet on my cell phone)
Eventually visiting hours were over and the traffic slowed down to just the staff and the new patients. There was one other patient in the hallway with me. I will call him drunk guy. For the first few hours he was solid passed out and quiet as a mouse. The nurses were checking on him now and then while doing their rounds trying to rouse him with no luck.
The internist stopped by to see me and asked me more questions, asked when the last time I had blood tests done and if I was scheduled for surgery. He said that he had none of my past history to work from and needed as much background info as possible. He wasn’t very impressed to hear that I had only one set of blood tests prior to what they did in the hospital. I had told him the whole story, how I hadn’t ever come to the hospital before and how both my GP and the surgeon had been concerned about my high enzymes. He said he was too and that he thought I should have been sent for follow up blood tests to see if the levels were dropping between attacks or if they were remaining high. If they were staying high that would be an indication I had a stone stuck somewhere. He said if they were going down it could be that I was getting temporary blocks and backup of bile during the movement of a stone and when the block cleared the bile moved on and levels would return to normal. He called the lab for my previous results and told me that this time the levels were even higher. He said that he wanted to do an ERCP on me and that he only did them Friday’s and Tuesdays. It was Wednesday. During this procedure he would no only look for stones in the common bile duct but if necessary open the sphincter in there to allow stones to pass through more easily in the future. He said that I had a few choices, that if I stayed in the hospital until Friday he could maybe get me slated for that day and being an in-patient I would have better luck getting in sooner and could be monitored and given pain relief if necessary. If I chose to go home I would have to try to get scheduled as an out-patient. For me it was a no-brainer I would stay. He patted my hand and approved of my choice. He said he would hope to see me Friday.
After that I was dozing in and out of sleep and awoke finally to a different nurse, a very sweet French Canadian man wearing the most interesting scrubs I’ve ever seen. They looked like they were made of denim. He quietly told me that he was my nurse for the night and that he would check to see if he could get me a sleeping pill to help me sleep through all the fuss in the hallway. I smiled at him SOOO gratefully and he came back and told me that my orders said only pain and nausea treatment was allowed and said that they had ordered morphine to make me sleep. He came and gave me a shot of that into my IV along with Gravol. I flopped back to sleep.
I woke up confused and disoriented a while later and wide awake. I was amazed at how fast the night went and pulled out my cell to check the time. I saw 11:30 and I thought “wow what a long sleep!” until I realized it was 11:30 PM not AM! It was still the same damn night.
My good friend drunk guy was starting to moan. I’m sure he felt like crap because I swear I heard the nurses discussing his case and said he had a blood-alcohol level of like .5 when he was brought in and he was there way before me. He had collapsed on the train platform apparently. Drunk guy proceeded to get louder and louder as the night wore on. By the next day he was crying in between more bouts of unconciousness and yelling how his stomach was gone and he had a hole there.
The new shift of nurses were trying to rouse him as he wasn’t technically admitted and they needed the space. A few of the nurses that passed by me recognised me from the previous day and stopped by to chat. They would come by throughout the day to visit with me and chat for a bit, they were all very nice. I guess a patient who would talk to them, smiled and said thank you even when someone took their blood is a rarity? I don’t care how much pain a person is in there is no need to be rude to the people that are trying to help you.
I was allowed to eat and drink that second day. Just getting to drink ice cold water was the best news ever. I had a disgusting pasty feeling in my mouth that I was anxious to wash away. I asked Tom if when he came to see me that he could bring me a toothbrush and a few other things. I just wanted so badly to brush my teeth. I picked at the food I didn’t want to rush into overloading my stomach after having nothing for so long and I was able to keep it down. The pain was gone and the nausea was almost gone. I was left with that dull ache you get after an attack which is a piece of cake in comparison.
Awww he bought me one! It is SO cute. The nurses all loved it. They came by to see it as the word spread. I was sent down for an Xray, this time I walked dragging my IV pole. Tom came down with me and waited with me for a while but had to head back out to go to work. A guy in a prison uniform shuffled down the hallways accompanied by a correction officer. He was kind of scary looking staring at all the people sitting there. I was glad to be called in, I hugged the Xray board while they did a shot from the back and then turned to one side for another picture and was told to return to my room (!) I shuffled back to my hallway. I found drunk guy had been moved! Relief!
I tried to read but just couldn’t concentrate anymore and just decided I may as well try to sleep again. I was woken up by a very nice doctor who said she was the doctor in the pediatric unit and they had some real beds available and asked if I was interested. WAS I EVER! Yes yes yes! She smiled and said I would like it down there, it would be nice and quiet.
That is was, it was like HEAVEN. The area looked renovated or new and the rooms were outfitted for kids. Oh how I wish I had a camera with me. The bathroom was SO cute. The toilet was normal sized but the bath was TINY and so was the sink and set VERY low. I had to bend over to wash my hands. What counted though was the beds were normal sized and the area was quiet.
I settled in my bed with a sigh and enjoyed the silence. I was told I could have juice and or water up until midnight after that no food or drink. They were hoping that I would get my ERCP that next morning.
Which lasted all of half an hour. My roommate arrived. She was a youngish woman, the mother of a kid that looked about 11 or 12 so she must have had her pretty young. She arrived with her Mother and kid in tow and they talked LOUDLY. The nurses and eventually a doctor came to talk to her and of course I couldn’t help but hear the facts. Not working, in recovery (from what I have no idea) and a HEAVY smoker. What was she was complaining of? Along with back pain and some kind of kidney issue she was having trouble breathing. So what does she do? Why she finds out how to get outside to go have a smoke!
She kept me awake most of the night coughing and calling for the nurse and whining about not being able to breathe! My sympathy levels were at a low at this point and I had to hold in my urge to tell her to stop smoking then.. so much for a quiet room. Between her and the IV pump alarm going off all night every time I moved (for air bubbles) I didn’t sleep that much.
The next day they were going to discharge her and I’m convinced that she just didn’t want to go home so she cried about not being able to breath and they told her she could stay. Me? I wanted OUT!!!!!
The nurse came early to tell me that I was indeed scheduled for that day and to make sure that I had stopped drinking as I was told (of course!). She handed me some towels to go have a sink bath (yay cos I felt GROSS) and gave me a fresh gown. At this point I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to go home that day or not. It would depend on the results of my scope. If there was any danger they would want to keep me to schedule surgery and monitor me, if no blockage I most likely would go home. I asked Tom to bring me some fresh underwear and some PJ’s just in case. By this time I was starting to get text messages from my friends at work all concerned about me which was really REALLY sweet. I love them. I was texting them back ( I am SO bad at text messaging it takes me so long) and I would get another before I finished one!
He came by and visited with me before work again and was still with me when they came to get me for the tests. I was told to pack all my goods as they were going to be moving me once again to a different room in the new ward that had JUST opened. The porter wheeled me to the recovery area as she was told to by her dispatch orders and the lady there came over to me and asked if I was sedated. I shook my head and she huffed in annoyance. I had been brought to the wrong place. I was to come there AFTER the test. So they called for the porter to come back, cleared up the error and sent me down to the xray area where they perform the ERCP.
I was wheeled once more and then left in a hallway waiting for them to figure out where I was to go next. Tom stayed with me up until I was finally wheeled into the room where they would do the procedure. I made them take my purse into the room with me and Tom handed them my bag of stuff and waved goodbye. At this point I still didn’t know if I was going to stay or be discharged. I had asked MANY times however if I would be be in a condition to go home on my own in a cab after this test and I was told yes that would be fine so I figured I would be ok. Tom said to call him and he would see what he could do if he had to come get me. It would be a long trek back for him and I didn’t want him to have to do that.
Once in the room I saw the doctor and a bunch of other people. He came up and sprayed my mouth with a numbing agent which he told me would taste really bad and kind of burn for a second but it would be brief and I would feel nothing. He was right. They were asking me questions and it was getting harder to talk as the numbing agent took effect.
They told me to lay on my stomach and put my right hand up by my face palm down and my left hand down my side towards me feet like I was “swimming”. He placed a ring in my mouth with a head gear and explained this was to keep me from biting down on the camera tube and that they were kind of fond of them (at least he kept it light and breezy). He bent over me towards my IV and the next thing I know I was awake in recovery. I have NO recollection of what happened.
The recovery nurse smiled and said “well you look perky!” and came over to check on me. She watched for a while and said I looked ready to go to my room. They found my new room orders and moved me up there. It was a very nice room this time with four beds in it. I had barely gotten into the bed when another nurse came by and said they had the results of the test and there was no blockage. Good! The recommendation was to follow up with my family doctor in 2-4 weeks and to watch what I eat. I was officially discharged. Ummm ok.
She shook her head and wondered why they had even bothered to put me in a bed! No kiddin’. She asked me to call my ride and let them know I was able to go home. I explained the situation and they were really nice about it. They said that they weren’t full at that point and if I wanted to I could stay until Tom could come get me, or the night if I wanted. I just wanted to go home.
I asked if it was ok to take a cab and they were really reluctant to until I told them I had the kids at home. Tom had told Chris to tell his Dad that they were going to spend another night with us to keep an eye on me if I got discharged. They were ok after that. I called Tom back to tell him and packed up my gear and got dressed. The nurses were all fussing over me making sure I was ok and said how happy they would be for me to stay, I assured them I was more than happy to go and I would be just fine.
I got down to the lobby holding my plastic bag of worldly goods and called for my cab. He arrived in ten minutes flat, not bad, and was very personable and chatty. About halfway home I got a text from my VP. I was very touched that he did that. We texted back and forth during my ride home and he wished me a good weekend just about the time I got home. I let everyone else know that I was home safe and sound and so so so happy to be home.
As I came in the door both the boys came out with concerned looks on their faces. I assured them that I was doing ok and all I wanted was a hot shower and to change into my pajamas. I felt a lot more human after I was clean and sitting on our nice comfy couch.
So where do I sit now? Well, I was told if the pain comes back to come back to the emergency again. Truly I would rather cut off my left arm. By the time I got my shot which was 12 hours after the pain began it had started to ease a little. I think after this experience I would rather try to ride it out at home and make sure I don’t turn yellow. I learned a few things from this visit. My gallbladder isn’t “hot” meaning it isn’t infected which I guess is good. I also learned that my stones at least are moving on through even if they do tend to block for some time, enough to raise my liver enzymes to a concerning level. I also learned that doesn’t seem to matter much. I’m still somewhere in a mysterious limbo with no idea when my gallbladder will be removed or how much more pain I would have to look forward to.
In the end I have this to say. I saw a lot of very busy overworked and under resourced PROFESSIONAL medical staff who I tip my proverbial hat to. Despite shortages of supplies (like IV pumps), bed space, porters to move patients, line ups for treatments and really some major abuse from a great number of patients they were nothing but kind and courteous to and did all they could to help me. They aren’t the problem they are victims themselves of a system that just doesn’t work for them or for the patients. Everyone is frustrated, everyone is helpless.
And so I wait.