Looking out the long, narrow window in the small room on the 7th floor of the CCU there is a very nice long view. Panoramic almost; nearby a construction crane among the hospital buildings, further out high-rise buildings of some sort, and in the distance the gentle slopes of the Gatineau Hills can be seen.
And it is surprising, looking out on a small urban forest of birch trees between the Perley and the General Campus, to see that autumn has suddenly arrived. The canopy of that lovely little wood is now bright yellow, with an occasional rosy blush of maples. The CCU (critical care unit) is a very compact and efficient unit located within the General site as an outreach of the Ottawa Heart Institute.
Most of us are still in late-summer mode. Who was really thinking of fall? Parliament was set to resume for its fall sitting; the opposition in full throttle attacking the government over a series of issues, with a vote on a private member’s bill to take place on the gun registry. Ottawa itself in the throes of a fall election campaign. Hurricane Igor was headed toward Newfoundland. Queens Park was bracing itself for increasing hydro rate protests. Health care an ongoing topic throughout the country; discussion about the controversial new MS therapy, organ donations and time-of-death for donors, and the potential for legalization of euthanasia.
On the international scene, the devastating flood in Pakistan reminds us of natural disaster vulnerabilities. Our Prime Minister was speaking at the UN, with Canada aspiring to another temporary term on the Security Council - the EU is struggling with immigration issues, the U.S. pumping up the Israeli-PA peace talks, and Ban ki Moon cordially greeted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the UN.
And here am I, in that tidy little room bristling with all the latest in diagnostic, monitoring tools for people whose hearts have begun to fatigue after years of dedicated service.
It was only days after my admission that I was able to look out of that window onto the park-like quadrangle below, to see the magnificent colours that my nurses described to me. And with the thought of fall having finally arrived, and the cool and wet weather that accompanied it, came thoughts of my need as an avid gardener, to put my garden to sleep for another winter. Would I be able to? What would result from this entirely unexpected collapse in my formerly robust health?
When I presented at the Emergency Department the entire apparatus of a modern, professionally staffed hospital seemed to have become alerted to the presence of one frightened, suddenly-frail woman, in a state of stunned disbelief that her lifetime of good health had suddenly disintegrated for some unknown reason.
A sweetly concerned admissions nurse bundled me directly into a wheelchair, and quietly informed me someone would be taking care of me sooner, much sooner rather than later. I sat huddled in the wheelchair, disbelieving, waiting for my husband to burst through the hospital entrance.
An elderly man, himself quietly awaiting attention, tentatively approached with concern writ large on his face, to ask if there was anything he could do to help me, for I was weeping. No sooner had those words left his lips than I was being wheeled away by an orderly with a nurse by his side.
In a small room I was placed on a bed, and a swift succession of nurses, doctors and technicians took charge. The probing questions, the concern elicited by my responses and those of my husband were moving and at the same time confidence-building. I would be well looked after.
Blood was extracted, X-rays taken, and a technician arrived to prep me with two IV airlocks, one for each wrist. A blood transfusion was started, and a saline solution, along with a drug administered simultaneously. More doctors arrive to begin questioning; cardiologists and gastro-enterologists, and they examine me, listening to my heart, palpating, questioning, talking among themselves.
A pharmacist comes along to discuss allergies, drug interactions, protocols, then departs. Not before telling us he lives in our neck of the woods.
All of these professionals speak softly and with authority, kindly and with confidence, assuring me that whatever it is that has eroded my confidence in my body will be looked after by them with all the skills at their disposal.
I am formally admitted and taken up to the 7th floor, to the critical care unit of the Ottawa Heart Institute within the General. My blood transfusions continue, as do the drug deliveries, and electrodes are placed here and there on my chest and I am tethered to a tall grey monolith out of which protrudes dependencies, and monitoring devices.
There is the low, steady humming of voices and equipment interspersed with discrete beeps and pings of equipment; temperature taken throughout the vigil, and blood work for the ingathering of vital data; ultra sounds and EKGs.
Each of the health professionals who approach me smiles, introduce themselves by name, inform me what branch of the healing profession they represent, and quietly discuss with me and my husband what might have occurred and what their plan of action is to be over the next short interval of my life at the hospital.
In that small and efficient room opposite the nurses’ station in that very small unit of fewer than ten beds for the Heart Institute at the General Campus, I am to remain for the time being. From that narrow window looking out over those fall-turning trees, light streams across the room when the sun is out. The room is fully functional as a temporary bed-rest and a haven for an individual in full need of acute medical care.
Throughout the day, and in the wee hours of the morning blood samples are taken. Each morning an EKG is taken. Twice each day the resident cardiologist and his staff make their rounds and consult with the patients. The nurses in this unit are assigned two patients to each nurse. Nurses work twelve-hour shifts. They care, deeply, both professionally and personally, about the people whose physical well-being and shattered emotional state are temporarily in their care.
The ambulance personnel who took me from the General Campus to the Civic for a scheduled angiogram were gentle and kind and personably involved. In the hospitals the orderlies, the nurses, the pharmacists, the doctors, the young volunteers - even the cleaning staff evince obvious empathy and concern for the needs of the patients.
The wires and tubes tethering me implacably to life, refusing with all the adamant conceit of modern medical technology and experienced medical practise to allow me to slip the silken bonds of life and spirit and love, spoke of huge advances in medical care in a modern, well-functioning and wealthy society.
I was transfused with some strangers’ gift of blood. The saline drip and drug counteracted my internal bleeding. Electrodes positioned on my body, snaking out to the monitors electronically connecting my ongoing condition to the watchful attention of the nurses at the station outside my room ensured no collapse would occur within their vigilant dedication. The ever-pulsating blood-pressure cuff lent itself to monitoring duty.
The most experienced specialists were there to tend my condition, in an effort to ascertain what had impelled my body to descend to its state of collapse and to return me to optimum health.
The ingathering of data enabling all of the people dedicated to my personal survival was finally completed, and an explanation discovered for what had occurred. A follow-up protocol was determined. I am back at home now, safe, sound and healthy.
I am a woman approaching my mid-70s, with no previous health issues. Normal weight, healthy diet, never smoked, do not drink alcohol, and exercise diligently and regularly. A good life-style, in other words, and a fairly good gene package.
Yet with all those advantages the inconceivable occurs. And when it does, we should all be alert to the self-propelled requirement to respond to our own need to be looked after by the health professionals that we have the great privilege to have access too.
There are many who may criticize the value and effectiveness of our universal health care system. I am not among them. I am in awe of the professionalism, dedication, humanity and generosity of our health care professionals. And with good reason. I have experienced the very best.