Patient #F0680383. Room 350. Niagara’s Dingiest Hospital.

It wasn’t the jarring diagnosis or even the five hours on the operating table to eliminate the malignancy. It was the five nights and four days spent in recovery at the Greater Niagara General Hospital that scared the hell out of me. This place is a dump!

There were chips in walls that have not been painted in maybe decades and a closet for my personal belongings but not a single coat hanger. A second pillow could not be found in the whole damn place. Soiled sheets and urine soaked linen sit in garbage pails while discarded gloves and medical debris stain the floor until a cleaning person comes in. The IV alarms go off all the time, escalating in shrillness until a nurse arrives to shut them off, sometimes twenty minutes later. “Twenty minutes?” “Shift change.”

One guy screams all night “Get me outta here!” while another roams the floor threatening to punch nurses. “Angela” is scolded for peeking into rooms while in her bare feet. Thankfully after two nights of shouting “I Wanna Go Home!” — that woman got her wish. It’s a bit of a nightmare but the last time I visited the Welland Hospital the hallways were warehousing bedridden patients so GNGH is probably not even the worst hospital in Niagara.

At 63 years of age and a spanking-new replacement about to break ground, I understand that the Greater Niagara General Hospital is redundant and unworthy of major financial investment at this point.

However, the very basics of any centre of health and recovery should still be maintained and on a daily basis. Not necessarily for me, as a patient, who is in and hopefully out in a matter of days.

But shouldn’t our nurses whose stress and workload have increased 10-fold since COVID-19 hit have at the very least a calm and pleasant environment to report to… after they spend a few minutes in the parking lot each work day hoping or praying that today will be a better day for their patients, their colleagues and themselves?

And if you believe our Canadian healthcare system is on life support now, wait until those 62% of nurses surveyed make good on their threat to quit the business once the pandemic is over! We will go from health crisis to medical catastrophe almost overnight and as usual — not a plan in place to survive it.

I was blessed with a few great nurses — “Nicole The Efficient,” “No Nonsense Paul” from Uganda and Allah, “My Palestinian Protector.”

My surgeon, Dr. Abel-Malik from Egypt became my ‘knight in shining scrubs’. Far beyond his flawless resection skills, Dr. Malik drove from St. Catharines to Niagara Falls almost everyday to visit me in recovery, stopping to buy me a Tim Horton’s coffee on the way. Articulate and elegant, Dr. Malik looked very much out of place amid the tawdriness of my recovery room. We talked and laughed about much more than my surgery and it made me want to recover fully and quickly so as not to disappoint him. Which I did, in spades. When your fate is in the control of others, sliding into the Stockholm syndrome is inevitable.

And if you’re noticing a pattern developing here — Uganda, Palestine, The Philippines, Egypt — you’re sharper than a scalpel at cutting time. Not only do we require immigrants as badly needed additions to our strained workforce and inclusive society, the odds are pretty good that one day your life could be in their caring and capable hands.

However, no human experience, as dire and dark as it may be is void of humour.

Dr. Michael Gallagher, “The Singing Anesthesiologist” made sure I faded to black with a smile on my face. (Trust me, the assault on your ears is still worth the experience!)

I learned very quickly that during post resection surgery, it’s all about the gas. Is it building up and causing pain or is it passing on through as it should? From doctors to nurses, from orderlies to — “Hello William. This is the Mayor of Niagara Falls and besides hoping your stay in our fine city is a pleasant one, I’m hoping you’re turning our air foul with flatulence today” — it’s all about the gas.

Although you’d be asked to leave a restaurant for doing so, when you belch or fart in a recovery ward, expect a standing ovation from the nurses.

On the phone with Dr. Malik once I got home.

“And the gas is going good?”

“Doctor. I made a sound first thing this morning that frightened the dog.”

“I didn’t know you had a dog.”

“I meant the dog next door!”

I’m blaming the following exchange on the fog created by the painkillers. “Man, it’s a good thing I haven’t had to take a pee because I’m not sure I can get up and walk to the washroom.”

Allah: “Well, we’ve been draining you into these urine containers through a catheter for four days so…”

Extremely lame comeback: “Wow, you guys think of everything.”

A bit of a tip to Jennifer from the Philippines who gave me my pre-op heart and lung examination at the Cardiac Diagnostic Clinic in Niagara Falls. When giving driving directions to your clinic to a patient such as myself who has been pouring over statistics of preoperative mortality in which as many as 20% of patients do not survive major surgery — do not say “we’re right across the street from Patterson’s Funeral Home.” Please find another landmark, okay?

P.S. I’m delivering a shipment of coat hangers to GNGH tomorrow. Hey! It’s a start.

 

For a comment or a signed copy of

The Dog Rules – Damn Near Everything

email: williamjthomas@gmail.com

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