My Visit to St. Mary’s Hospital ER- March 3rd

“The friends that cared didn’t understand either. They tried to help. They suggested the gym and gluten free diets. They had forgotten how much Shiny Girl loved to run and thought she needed motivation. Shiny Girl wanted to scream “DONT YOU THINK I WOULD IF I COULD!!” Instead she smiled and thanked them for their advice. Shiny Girl went to doctors. They said she was depressed. When Shiny Girl said, “I think it is something else”, they scoffed at her. Why won’t you take the medication we are giving you? In Shiny Girl’s weakest moments, they refused to listen to her. They refused to look into other possibilities. With Shiny Girl’s last bursts of strength, she insisted. They finally did the tests half heartedly. With scorn, they scheduled the tests she had insisted upon. With each negative test, they challenged her. “When will you accept that this is all in your head?” they silently stared through her. When she asked for a test, they asked her what disease she was inventing now. They wondered if she was a drug addict or looking for a lifetime of welfare. They would not say it out loud, but their eyes screamed the accusations. As did their sighs when Shiny Girl begged for a few more tests. They did – They did them grudgingly, then shoved them to the side of their desk with the rest of the paperwork. NOW will you leave me alone, Shiny Girl? Shiny Girl felt as discarded and ignored as the medical files that bore her name. Shiny Girl became Complainer. “ – excerpt from another blog…

I took the route 25. Getting to the bus terminal was a repeat of going to work half an hour before. One foot in front of the other. I was exhausted. I had sat in my office chair and sent the e-mail saying I had to leave, then put my coat back on and walked out. I smiled at anyone I met. Better not to reveal the excrutiating nausea I was feeling, or the penetrating weakness. No time to explain. Just keep going; groggy.

The snow had started. I didn’t realize it at first. I didn’t realize much of anything focusing on my steps. At one point I thought I might need an ambulance to meet the bus. It was so hard to move. But somehow I was able to get up at the stop for the hospital, and shuffle off into the fast falling snow. In through the revolving door, I pressed the touch screen and scratched my name on the registration form. Number 24.

I had come to St. Mary’s because they had a good patient charter of values. I’d heard some things about the treatment being more patient centred – maybe even more compassionate. It fit my mental construct: priests walking the halls with rosaries. I know, a bit archaic, but since Grand River it made sense to chose the alternative. I even thought the day before that if I needed someone to talk to about my condition, there would be someone around a corner in a robe waiting to hear my confession. “I’m an atheist,” I would tell them, “but I think I should start talking about my end of days, do you have a while?” Maybe I could be a little religious if they wanted me to be, you know, if it helps.

I had foresight. I had weighed up going to the ER for a couple of days. I was off work the day before and had taken the time to write down my primary symptoms: Fatigue, dizziness, trembling, headaches, and added a couple more just to be safe: nausea and sweating. In hind-site I missed one: I had cramp in the large muscles in my legs; first the left, then the right, then back to the left again. It wasn’t that noticeable and sort of a distraction I thought was related to my diabetes. You get knee-buckling weakness when you have a low blood sugar. I had felt it before. And besides, I had written my note already, placed it in my wallet for safe keeping; just in case. It had my medication dosages, my history of bipolar and diabetes, and the other occurrences of the symptoms over the past couple of months: three times including Grand River.

I got out the note with my health card and registration form and sat down across from Triage. I could barely keep my eyes open; half shut more or less. I caught bits of conversation between the triage nurse and a patient – he was joking and laughing. I wanted them to finish so I could hear what number was next. 25. Good – it wouldn’t be long.

The day before I had thought about bringing a pillow. I knew how uncomfortable the seats would be and I knew I would be tired. I put my head back against a window, and my mouth stayed open. My head rolled forward until I could bring it back up again. I started to slide off my seat and struggled to stay upright. My eyes were nearly closed. I saw very little anymore and fought to keep them open. I wasn’t alert at all. I couldn’t focus my attention and my head just kept flopping back and forward, mouth open. I was so tired.

Shadows came and went in front of me in the bright waiting room. I mouthed the words help. I didn’t know what to do. One green blurry shadow went into a door in front of me and called my number in a woman’s voice. I motioned for her to come over, and I mumbled something about not being able to move. I could only say a word or two with effort, and my breathing was shallow. It was the start of the nurses voices; commanding and abrupt, like the one on the phone at Grand River two weeks before. It wasn’t a priest’s compassionate tone.

The shadow with the woman’s voice brought a wheelchair over and asked that I get in. She tried to support my arm but I slumped to the floor on my bum, my head still flopping around, mouth still agape. She said if I was able to hold on to my chair I should be able to pull myself onto the wheelchair. I wasn’t holding on to my chair actually, I had just discarded my arm and hand there – left them behind when I buckled – forgotten. More shadows. Two more I think. One in purple maybe. They were telling me to bend my knees. I didn’t understand. I was thinking slowly about their words but they kept talking. “Bend your knees, come on; ” abrupt, dismissive. I told them I didn’t understand.

I wanted to say “Please be nice,” but I was too afraid. I wanted to hear the words, “It’s O.K. We’re going to help you,” but they never came. Nor did the angels on clouds. “Get his belt,” one said. “He’s deadweight,” another stated. They gave up pulling on my arms and I felt my belt tighten, and then my pants did a wedgie as the shadows heaved me onto the wheelchair. “I’m not going to bother triage,” one said, coldly, “just wheel him in.”

At a point I actually felt embarrassed. It’s funny how you think of things in the moment. I was glad the waiting room wasn’t busy. What would the other people think? Drunk maybe? I thought that I was dressed casually but professionally, couldn’t anyone see I was not one of ‘those people’? I decided quickly I didn’t care. And that was probably for the better. I was not quite in the wheelchair, and, as the automatic door opened in front of us, my arm that draped over the side banged loudly against it. The shadow jostled me to come at an angle in order to fit.

“Put him in recess.” I thought I heard them say. Or it might have been “re-suss,” which is short for resuscitate. Apparently that’s the ER cardiac arrest unit with specialized equipment. I’m not sure though as I didn’t look around to notice. It was just bigger, and there were more of the shadows. They were trying to get me to stand up so they could put me on a gurney. I wasn’t able to move well and wobbled when they got me upright. I think I told them my arm was stuck between the wheelchair and the gurney frame. I don’t remember lifting my legs up at all but I was on the bed finally, with nurses moving around me. I could only make out one of them; red sleeves with blond straight hair. She seemed like she was in charge. No facial features that I can remember. My mind was going so slowly.

I was asked to help get my shirt off. They had stripped my jacket and sweater, my arms flailing everywhere. I pawed at my shoulder, grasping at the material, and sent my glasses flying somewhere as I pulled at my shirt. I think they helped. It was a confusing hurly burly of arms and commands all at once. I was crying. Not sure if it started in the wheelchair or on the gurney but it came anyway. I kept saying “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

They slapped stickers on me. They poked and prodded. I could only hear one at the side, seemed to be sitting at a desk, in what seemed to be a scoffing tone, “He wrote a list.” She read the notes I had written faster than I could respond to questions. “He took a bus.” someone said. Sounded sarcastic to me. I could barely get a word out. I can only assume they found my vitals were stable as there was a kind of release of pressure at once after only a minute or two and one by one the shadows left. It all seemed to take less time than it did to get me out of the wheelchair. My eyes were still mostly closed, the lights were bright, and red sleeves was still doing something. I heard her say something like,” did you crash in the waiting room so you could get in here quicker?” I knew what she meant. It’s hard to remember the exact words but that doesn’t matter. “I would never do that,” I responded through tear-soaked eyes. My hair was a mess I think. At some point she put my glasses back on my face. I can’t be sure she believed me.

‘Where do we put him?” a voice said as they rolled me out of recess. “I don’t know,” and then something muffled. I was finally in a treatment area with a blue curtain. At least it wasn’t a hallway. Red sleeves came in and out, put an IV line in two different places “just in case.” I couldn’t really see anyway but felt the pinches. My blood sugar was normal too. The order to things is hard to remember now, but I met my priest.

Dr. Lyn was a little wisp of a thing according to Lynda. She asked if they should call Lynda and I wanted her to come. Dr. Lyn stayed in front of me to either side at all times; bonus points. I couldn’t make out her face, just that she had dark longish hair I think. They had turned the lights off and I was putty in the bed. She leaned on the side rails and spoke to me in a soft voice but clear. She told me they didn’t know what to look for but they would take some blood work anyway. It came back negative. I should have asked for what, but forgot. I was beyond tired. I was lulled by her mercifulness.

Dr. Lyn asked Lynda to speak outside the curtain. I strained to hear and made out something about my mental health history. I heard the words psychiatrist and referrals. They new about my history at Grand River and the crisis clinic in October. I didn’t know until later she had asked if I had been committed, or if I could harm myself. They usually ask me that directly. It’s always no. No! I mean, what were they thinking? Why would someone struggle against exhaustion, in a blizzard, get on a bus, get to a hospital, be treated like dead weight, get a wedgie and banged into a door, feel humiliated and ashamed, and then want to kill themselves? It wasn’t until I got home that I read the small piece of photo-copied paper Dr. Lyn had pressed into Lynda’s hand. It was only an address and phone number. 480 King Street West. I knew the address: Grand River’s mental health crisis clinic.

Someone has to say something right? Someone has to advocate for patients rights – do you think? I was too exhausted and afraid to simply ask to be treated nice, and if not for Dr. Lyn I may have been too afraid to let anyone know about my experience – even if she’s thrown me back in a loop where I don’t want to go; backwards, not forwards. In some ways she is a contradiction, offering compassion but no hope. For the first while after, I debated not saying anything to anyone. I would carry on as if it didn’t happen.

There are dozens and dozens of possible conditions that accompany ringing in the ears, extreme fatigue – which I have had for three days now – dizziness, muscle cramping, trembling, sweats, and nausea. I do know that this is getting in the way of living my life. I also try to be proactive, which isn’t much help in the health care environment where waiting is the norm. I have to wait four more days until I see my primary care physician. My endocrinologist wait is undetermined. I will have to wait to see other specialists now – in this case I would like a neurologist, not a psychiatrist – and I will have to exhaust tests. I can imagine in my mind that babies left in baskets on church steps get taken care of by God – at least right away anyway. There has to be hope.

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