Thursday, January 21, 2016

Fly on the Ward

Last night, I was inadvertently the proverbial "fly on the wall" - observing, over several hours, the activities in a Swiss hospital emergency ward (urgence) in the middle of a cold night. 

It was like Grey's Anatomy but without the sex (as far as I could tell).

Donna-Lane had passed out at the dinner table. The effects of a very strong final dose of chimio five days earlier. She had finished the anti-nauseau/cortisone energy boost pills the day before, so this was her first day cold turkey, and the poison taxotere was temporarily winning.

She revived somewhat before the paramedics arrived, but was still extremely weak. EMT Sebastien saw no alarming signs, so offered the option of her staying at home or going to the hospital. I voted for the hospital where she would have professionals around her, just in case. I was not confident that if she relapsed in the middle of the night that I had the knowledge or medications to deal with such a crisis. The EMTs loaded her into the ambulance and headed for HUG. I gathered up her purse, phone, a couple of books, iPad, and pajamas, and trailed them in the car.

After parking in the underground garage, I arrived at the urgence as they were positioning her guerney in a hallway. It was lying room only; all emergency cubbyholes were already filled. D-L was determined not to be as serious as others in the queue.

After not too long, after the silver-bearded gent who was talking in his sleep was wheeled away and I wished his wife, "Courage," they rolled Donna-Lane around the corner into the curtained cubby nearest the nurses' station. I parked myself in a steel-and-plastic chair next to her bed where she could see me but as out of the adjacent traffic pattern as I could; angled my legs under D-L's jacked-up guerney.

After taking four vials of her blood, the nurse who seemed to be in charge of fluids and tubes told me I could go home - Donna-Lane would be there awhile. I declined. I wanted to at least wait until a doctor checked her out and I knew what was wrong and how long she might be there.

Talked with D-L a little but she was overwhelmingly tired and could not keep her eyes open. I contented myself watching her breathe to make sure nothing was wrong rather than pushing her to talk.

As she dozed, her face toward the stark flourescents in the ceiling, I read. And when I realized I had re-read the same passage at least three times, I looked around the emergency to re-stimulate my senses.

Eighteen adults, counting D-L, on wheeled horizontal chariots, give or take a new incoming patient accompanied by mostly young, sober-faced EMTs, minus a now-veteran patient (being there more than two hours qualified them, in my opinion) who was rolled away somewhere unknown. Most returned. Not all.

They were a quiet lot, generally. A white-haired woman catty-corner. A very large man sleeping opposite, his black-clad wife (I presume) silently seated beside him. A very haggard looking woman in the cubby next to the common bathroom. A man, I think, across and beyond the white hair, who had squirmed in his bed such that his hospital gown no longer covered his personal parts. The norm was for the curtains not to be drawn except when the nurses were checking something on a patient that required privacy. (Someone did cover the exposed man with a bedsheet.)

Out in the hall, a few feet away on the other side of the small nurses' desk, a man lay on his side, his baggy jeans butt crack partially exposed to passersby, snoring loudly. Donna-Lane alleges that I fell asleep at some point, perhaps 4 in the morning (we arrived a little after 9 pm), so she had to endure synchronized snoring. At least my butt was covered (I think).

About 1 am, a young man's trolley was parked between D-L's cubby and those opposite. Perhaps because it was the only floor space that would allow a second guerney to be positioned alongside so he could be transferred. Four nurses grabbed the ends of two metal bars wrapped into his bedding and hoisted him across to the fresh-linen bed. But they still had to get the original sheets out from under him, and he was flat on his back. A male EMT joined to hold the patient's head still while the nurses rolled the man in one direction onto his side and tugged the old bedding from under his body. He cried out in obvious agony, but they kept on. He scream-groaned more until they finally got the sheets out. Donna-Lane slept through it. (Did I tell you she was really, really tired?)

A few feet away from Donna-Lane's bed, a woman occasionally sobbed. Then went quiet. Then sobbed some more. Don't know why; didn't want to intrude. D-L heard her and wished she could offer comfort.

Hours passed. I managed to make forward progress on the book, Children of the Revolution, a DCI Banks novel by Peter Robinson. First time I've read him; he's a pretty good writer.

Finally they came for Donna-Lane. I asked where they were taking her, and they said I could come along. I liked that - after all, I am a "helicopter husband." (My interpretation of the term -; Donna-Lane's view -

She ended up, for perhaps 90 minutes, in what amounted to a private room - actually an examining room where they could hook her into heartrate and blood pressure monitors. Two or three different nurses and a couple of female doctors, who appeared to be barely out of high school, asked D-L questions: about her chemotherapy drugs, the passing out incident, how 'heavy' was what she had to eat at dinner, poking her in various places for possible pain.

Bottom line - all good. Except for the obviously chimio-induced fatigue, that is. They released D-L to go home a little before 6:30 in the morning. We had been at the emergency nine hours.

As I crossed the entranceway of the hospital horseshoe, on my way to retrieve the car, I heard someone call my name ... probably the 1st time this has ever happened in public in Geneva. It was M, friend of J, in her car, leaving after dropping J off to have her arm repaired. She broke it in three places in a fall the day D-L had her toxic taxotere treatment, and this was the first day they could fit her in for the operation.

When we arrived home, I retrieved a pair of shoes for D-L to walk down the stairs to the apartment we now call "Warren Peace." The landlady's stray tiger cat, who has semi-adopted us, was trapped in the bedroom/dining room/office, and was desperate to get outside.

The bed felt good.  


  1. Hospitals are not my favourite places, but the time waiting can be used in writerly observation. Hoping DL is on the up now!