“Ordinarily he was insane, but he had lucid moments when he was merely stupid.” Heinrich Heine
Acute medical distress recently focused my appreciation of close friends and loving family. What great fortune to have adequate treatment resources available and sympathetic souls offering unconditional support when emotional and physical needs run high. About a month ago, wife Gwen, returning home after working a 12-hour night shift, found my senseless self on the floor of our master bedroom. I vaguely remember being transported to hospital and the next memory comes five days later as a nurse tended my tubes, devices and monitors and explained that I should be pleased the shoulder replacement operation had been successful.
My response, “Operation? What operation? Where is this? What am I doing here?”
Answers came slowly but not completely. Usually, broken bones and bruises are easily explained. More elusive are underlying causes that make one particularly vulnerable to physical injuries. Slips and falls are the leading cause of hospitalizations for injury and they result in thousands of premature deaths each year in Canada. I don’t know what led to my collapse but it seems to be an effect of a few treatable maladies reaching crisis point together. All this will become clear in the the weeks ahead, I hope.
In the days after surgery, dependent on a respirator, I was a less than perfect patient. Beyond medical instability, I had delirium. Amusing now but not then. In my paranoia, hospital staff – all but a few anyway – were experimenting with restraints, masks and machines while hiding me from those who cared. To facilitate concealment, my hospital room was shunted from one part of Lions Gate Hospital to another. Mostly, it was ensconced on the sixth floor but it was moved unpredictably, even spending time in a maintenance garage outside the main LGH building.
Convinced of truth others could not comprehend, I was irritated that incoherent speech prevented explanation to others. This inability to communicate was a frustrating part of the hospital experience, compounded by the sense of helplessness from attachment to machines.
As days passed, Gwen gently explained my confusion, assuring that it is common during health crises involving seniors with newly issued gold CareCards. Gradually, the fog of delirium lifted. Disorientation and paranoia are gone but physical impairment and inability to focus attention, while improving, drags on.
In future, I will write further about my patient’s view of healthcare. Today’s hospitals have gained incredible medical capabilities, in both physical and human resources. I suspect though we are failing when it comes to preventive medicine and post-hospitalization care. I received intensive treatment at Lions Gate Hospital, served by emergency personnel, internal specialists, surgeons, nurses, radiologists, pharmacists, lab techs, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, etc. However, after discharge, I’m stuck in the partial void of community resources.
Last year, our family doc of more than 35 years retired. The medical centre he had joined to facilitate continued patient service refused successor coverage to his clients. After months of searching, we found a GP at another medical centre willing to accept patients. Shortly after, he disappeared without notice. Seeking a new family physician, I have called countless medical practices without success. The situation is steadily growing worse as ageing physicians retire or join hospital staffs. Walk-in clinics may work well for minor ailments but are not the gold standard of long term healthcare.
We have magnificent medical capabilities in Canada but a hugely sophisticated structure sits atop a quietly crumbling foundation of home and community care.
By the way, there was one very considerable factor that made my quick recovery vital. Our youngest child Ryan and his marvellous fiancée Susan were to be married July 2 and I intended to don a tux and join the party. I did, lasting the ceremony, the photos, the dinner reception, speeches and toasts and was in bed asleep shortly after 9pm.