Kindness is the golden chain by which society is bound together
Comfort (photo: Rosie O'Beime, flickr creative commons)
Last Saturday was a beautiful day. The cherry trees were blooming, the air was soft and warm, and the sun was shining. My husband and I had a pleasant, relaxing day and, around 5, I went upstairs to lie down. Around 6:30, the doorbell rang and I could hear my husband letting someone in and then the sound of a woman's voice. By the time I came downstairs whoever it was, was gone and my husband was standing in the kitchen cutting beets. "Who was at the door?" I asked. "I don't know," he answered. At first, I thought he was joking. Then I realized he meant it; he really didn't know who had been at the door. Only after I told him that I thought I heard a woman's voice, did he remember that the visitor was one of our best friends and her son: not a reassuring fact.
It had been about three minutes since whoever it was had left and even though he looked perfectly normal standing there in the kitchen preparing dinner, something was very wrong: he had blanked out on the name of two people who had once been our next door neighbors and who we had known intimately for 8 years. I looked at him as he stood there chopping the beets and my heart lurched. At the end of an otherwise delightful day, we had a frightening surprise to deal with. We managed to eat dinner and then I searched Google. What I found, alarmed me. I picked up the phone and dialed 8-1-1 HealthLinkBC and talked to a nurse, who also talked to my husband. Based on what we told the nurse, she said it sounded as though it could be a TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack). A TIA can be a precursor to a "real" stroke and, at my husband's age (57) it is important to have it checked out. And that's why we spent the rest of the evening at Urgent Care. (Beets, photo: Kevin Wood, flicker creative commons)
Thankfully, it wasn't busy. A nurse, a 4th year medical student, then a more senior doctor checked my husband over, looking for neurological irregularities. They didn't find anything alarming, but after conferring with the vascular team at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), the doctor told my husband to report to the ER at VGH the next morning at 11 for a CT scan. I wasn't happy because I had choir practice scheduled at the same time. My husband said he'd be fine, but I've had enough hospital experience to realize that even though he was probably right, I was unlikely to learn what the doctor told him, unless I was with him.
At VGH, all the examining rooms were full and my husband ended up on a bed in the hall. At first it was a bit annoying, but the human drama going on around us made up for it. An old woman, who appeared to be in her 80s, was lying on a bed, looking frightened. A doctor arrived minutes after we did and told her, and her caregiver, that she had three broken ribs. After some confusion on the old woman's part, the doctor gave her a Tylenol 3 and promised to check back. After the doctor left, her caregiver helped her drink juice from a straw and sat close to her, talking softly.
Meanwhile, an old couple, who we later learned were 93 (the man) and 96 (the woman), had been wheeled into the ER. They had been at church and when he stood up, he couldn't maintain his balance. Someone helped to get him into a chair and then called 9-1-1. A bit later, the man was taken into the examination room and the woman went to sit down by the Filipino caregiver, who comforted her. I asked if she'd like a cup of tea and volunteered to go get one from the vending machine. There wasn't any tea, so I bought her a cup of hot chocolate, which she sipped thankfully, as tears welled up in her eyes. When her husband came back, the nurse got the woman a chair and placed it so she could see her husband's face and whenever he asked a question, she would gently answer him. Periodically, we could hear him asking, "Why am I in a bed? Am I in the hospital?" and each time, his wife answered patiently, as if it were the first time he had asked the question.
And so the afternoon went. There was someone with a gunshot wound down the hall, someone said, and a Chinese family passed through wheeling an old man in a bright red wheelchair, one of the women carrying a tray of coffee and donuts from Tim Horton's. Eventually, the doctor came to examine my husband and then he went for a CT scan. Meanwhile, I had made use of the waiting room's limited facilities, calling our son to let him know how things were going, buying myself some coffee, then chips. I got my husband a pillow and a granola bar. Much later, the doctor returned. "Your brain looks fine," he told my husband. However, he ordered another test that could be done at UBC hospital in the next week or 2. When we left, the old man and the elderly woman were waiting to be admitted. We hadn't found much out about what was wrong with my husband, but I left with the insight that, at least here in Canada, when nurses and doctors are overextended, everyone becomes a caregiver.