Health care with character

My wife and I arrived at the downtown Toronto hospital just in time to see the patient we were concerned about transported from an ambulance into the hospital Emergency ward. Then, we saw the crowded waiting room, and knew it was going to be a long stay. Within a few minutes, however, the paramedics who’d wheeled our patient in, got a heads-up and we were suddenly on the move.

“Express Six,” the paramedic said. “We’re going to Express Six.” And right away the paramedic team had cradled our patient onto a bed in one of those Emergency room cubicles where curtains gave the only privacy.

About an hour before all this, Jayne and I had come across this same woman in a downtown Toronto parking lot. She had fallen and was lying face-down on the pavement and in obvious distress. We had called 911 and helped the paramedics load her onto a mobile stretcher. There and then, we decided she would need more than just the paramedics to get her through a trip to the hospital; so, we volunteered to follow her there. What took place around us – there in the Express Six area – felt more like an episode of “Night Court” than it did a modern Toronto hospital emergency ward.

We hadn’t sat down more than a few minutes in the waiting area, outside her cubicle, when a guy who was quite agitated began pacing back and forth in front of us. Clad in a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, he was upset that he’d been a while in the hallway waiting for some test results.

“I’ve been here for an hour,” he moaned. Then he parked himself next to a wall outlet so that he could charge his cell phone, not to call anybody, but to read his email, I guess.

Hospitals are places that are in motion constantly. Doctors, nurses and orderlies were rushing medical equipment, paperwork and patients around without end. Except for one staff person I noticed. She looked as if she were an orderly or something. And every few minutes she passed us as we sat in the waiting area. Every time she walked by, she hummed or whistled or talked to herself. There didn’t appear to be any urgency in her step, but she always seemed to be going somewhere with a song or thought on her lips.

About an hour after we got to the Express Six area, a doctor visited the woman we’d escorted there. He checked her wounds, quizzed her about what had happened and figured out what needed to be done. “We’ll have to stitch up those cuts,” he decided, “and do a few X-rays. Won’t be long.” But somehow, from the guy we’d seen ranting about his overdue test results in the hall, I figured that wasn’t likely true. Leaving the cubicle, the doctor nearly tripped over the guy with his cell phone plugged into the wall. “You’ll have to move,” he told the guy. “You’re blocking the hall.”

“I’ve been here three hours,” he claimed. (Funny how one hour grew to three in a matter of 20 minutes).

Before long, what had been a busy Emergency entrance became a busy Express area. A woman arrived with her mother in tow. They sat there speaking in an Eastern European language. On the phone the younger woman explained to another family member that her mother had a torn retina. “They’ll be operating on her tonight,” the daughter said. “I don’t think Mama understands.”

Not long after, they wheeled another patient into the area. But there was no room in any of the cubicles, so he sat there next to us calling his family to tell them what had happened to him. He said he’d been in the Dufferin Mall, but as he exited, he tripped head-first on a traffic island. He’d dislocated his elbow. “What’s amazing,” he said on the phone, “were these people who stopped. One helped me up. Another called 911. I can’t believe how nice they were.”

I guess there were a number of good Samaritans on duty that day in Toronto. But none apprently for the guy waiting for his test results. Even as they finally took our woman injured in the parking lot for X-rays, he was whining, “I’ve been here all day!”

And what happened to the woman we escorted to the hospital? Well, by coincidence, she lived in Stouffville. So, later that evening, we had reunited her with her husband at their home. She was a little bruised and stiff, but thanks to the able staff at the Toronto hospital, she was well on the road to recovery.

Why did all this affect me so deeply? I think I recognized how fortunate we are in Uxbridge to have as patient-friendly, accessible and most often as efficient an Emergency service as we do. Oh, we have our share of characters too, I guess. But I count my lucky stars for all the times my family and I have benefited from a health-care facility with big-city services, and a small-town heart.

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