Overheard at The Royal Alex

While I was kept waiting to see Rob (the wing had shut for quiet hours just before he was brought to the Cardiac ward (unit 24 room 14 – in case you should ever need the information yourself – god forbid), I witnessed a couple of medical dramas not my own by the elevator.

The first was a heated exchange between a tall dark-haired man in his late forties or early fifties, flanked by two equally gangly mop-headed late teens who looked at their boat sized feet most of the time and hid behind hair that obscured the top halves of their faces, and a nearly as tall woman who, judging from the badge, was some sort of social worker.

She was imploring the man to return and complete a test that “absolutely saves lives”, and it was then that I noticed the tell-tale wristband, marking him as an escapee.

He had a duffel that he gripped like an ax handle and sent both boys and woman into hasty retreat when in his agitation he began gesticulating with it.

“I’m hungry, ” he told her. “Don’t you understand. I haven’t eaten for a day and a half and they are telling me that a test I should have had 3 and a 1/2 hours ago is still another 3 to 4 hour wait.”

“Emergencies come up,” the woman countered. “I’m sure you understand.”

“No,” he said. “I don’t. This is ridiculous. There’s no reason why I should have to wait without eating for two days for a test that just a screening.”

“It’s a life-saving screening,” she corrected him.

“I’m done,” he said, hitting the elevator call button.

“What if you develop cancer, ” she pulls out the big gun. Cancer is a huge gun. I’ve had it pulled on me as I am adamant about the useless nature of mammograms before menopause for the majority of women. Health care professionals like to use fear even in the face of statistics.

“There’s nothing wrong with me,” he strains this through his teeth and turns to the opening elevator and barely restrains himself from clocking the broad as she hits the button causing the doors to close his face.

“You don’t know that,” she says with the smugness of someone who knows she will win an argument based on the fact that her point can’t be proven false unless her opponent submits to her will.

“I’m going to get something to eat,” he motions to the boys who shrug at the woman, whose dumbfounded look says she can’t believe that her normal browbeating tactics have failed.

He stalks to the stairs with boys slouching behind him and she follows like an avenging angel.

It’s only later, when the man and the boys re-materialize and I catch a bit more of the dialogue between them that I realize he was here to have the routine colonoscopy that’s forced on everyone when they hit fifty regardless of personal statistics.

I don’t know if the guy escaped for good, but he did look less cranky, so perhaps he’d eaten at any rate.

Not long after, another 50 something gentleman in a leather jacket emerged from Unit 24, fingers clamped to his wrist and looking a bit harried. I could make out blood and remembering Rob’s angio clamp on his wrist, I quickly guessed that this guy’d had one too but was being released stentless.

He hovered about the elevator. Agitated and peeking beneath his reddening fingers and looking about as though expecting to see hospital personnel coming to his rescue.

Mostly who you see in the unit halls of the Royal Alex are housekeeping staff though I am not sure what they clean. Rob reported that in the 18 or so hours he spent in room 14, he never saw housekeeping do more than empty the trash baskets.

“Can you bring me a clean pair of socks when you pick me up on Saturday, ” he told me on the phone Friday night. “The washroom floor is sticky with urine and my socks are gross.”

Later he told me that the nurses dumped the bedpans in the room’s only toilet.

“I think they toss the contents at the toilet from the doorway.”

Leather Jacket was definitely in a panic by the time the hapless cardiac resident emerged from the elevator. I would see this same doctor later in Rob’s room. He shuffled through a stack of files and practically ran over Leather Jacket, who clearly recognized him and thrust his self-clamped oozing wrist in the junior cardiologist’s face.

Junior’s expression? Aw, fuck.

“It won’t stop bleeding,” Leather Jacket. “What do I do?”

At the Royal Alex, they try to go into the heart through the main artery accessed at the wrist instead of going through at the groin. Part of the reason is that the incision at the wrist closes faster, requiring a 2 to 4 hour period of tight clamping and immobilization as opposes to the 4 to 6 hours of lying flat on the back with the groin. Turnover clearly being the goal.

Leather Jacket was turned-over a bit prematurely.

Junior Heartman tried to fob the guy off, but he was persistent in his fright, so the doc sat him down and patiently explained that Leather Jacket needed to keep the pressure on for a few more hours and all would be well.

And if not, he should stop by the ER.

At this Leather Jacket began peppering Junior with questions while Junior nodded and made polite vocalizations. He was busy flipping through charts and really was just waiting for Leather Jacket to calm down, catch a clue and then an elevator.

When I told the story to Rob on Monday, he remembered Leather Jacket too. He’d burst into room 14 in search of a nurse before I’d even seen him.

The nurse admonished him.

“I can’t be checking you. You’ve been discharged. Go to the emergency room.”

But after a bit of whining, she tightened his clamp a bit and sent him down the hall – where I would see him.

The incision at the wrist is not stitched closed but merely tightly clamped. I am not certain how people on blood thinners manage to clot the hole in a major artery closed, but they do – provided the clamp doesn’t come loose too soon.

I haven’t heard any tales of dead men in leather jackets being found in the Royal Alex parkade, so I will assume that all’s well that ended well for him, or that he spent 7 or 8 hours in the ER.

10 thoughts on “Overheard at The Royal Alex

    1. Makes a person consider hanging out for a day here and there with her netbook and just write about what she sees and hears. As no one ever questions who you are or why you are here – a person could go just about anywhere, I’m thinking.

      1. probably! i’ve scammed my way all over the place either by wearing a suit and carrying a clipboard or a briefcase… but i sure wouldn’t have wanted someone taking notes (or pictures) when i was losing my shit and dealing with my genetically-connected trailer park inhabitants for one reason or another…

  1. Most of my hospital experiences involve accompanying elderly relatives. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly but nothing as horrific as what you’ve described.

    I am also concerned about what I view as excessive testing. Happy birthday, report for your colonoscopy. I am oversimplifying here but I think it’s too easy to go ahead and order this or that test instead of getting to know what your patient is all about. A few weeks ago, my generally healthy 89-year-old elderly mother experienced an uncharacteristic little shortness of breath. Her doc said, “Go to the ER,” and we did. They gave her every test on earth and found nothing. Well, except for a wee little lung/bronchial infection that she believes (in hindsight) was chasing her for several months. She had seen her doc two days before. When was the last time he listened to her lungs? Oh maybe back in January. Actually, the ER folk were wonderful in this episode.

    Best wishes to you and your husband for his recovery.

    1. Office visits in Iowa included weight, bloodpressure, pulse and temp – always. Bare minimum really plus the nurse always updated my chart in terms of current life and meds.

      Here? There is no nurse. Just a receptionist who leads you to a room. Never have vitals checked. Never reviews current events or meds.

      I maintain that the quality of Alberta Healthcare ( I can’t judge the other provinces as each one is a fiefdom unto itself in terms of medical care) is just as much the fault of the providers (nurses and doctors) as it is the province.

  2. Oh, the stories that hospital halls could tell. It is a place where people are at their most vulnerable and fearful.

    Wishing Rob an uneventful recovery. I’m going to sound like a nag, but getting back to work before he’s physically ready will not bode well for feeling better faster.

    1. His boss had a heart attack a few years ago and knows the drill. He sent Rob to onsite health center to talk to the nurse and they are not clearing him until he’s seen a doctor for follow-up.

  3. A colonoscopy? That’s it? What a big baby. Down here you’re not even awake. They knock you out and you wake up in a bed. It’s beautiful.

    Hope Rob is feeling better. Please send him my regards. These are harrowing tales because they’re all too true. Hang in there.

    1. It was, I think, more of a rebellion against the system here which assumes that once you enter you will wait as long as they say and put up with whatever bullshit they dish up. Those extra hours he was asked to wait were not a guarantee. He could easily have waited twice as long or even to the next day – and he knew and that social worker knew it.

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