December 25, 2008

Christmas in the Emergency Ward

It's Christmas Eve. We're visiting friends in Mississauga. It's about 10:30pm. Our son Jeevan is having dessert --- chocolate cake and apple pie. After a bite, his mouth feels itchy. Thirty minutes later, hives appear on his chest. He's short of breath and shivering. A severe allergic reaction. He takes Benadryl.  

11:30pm An hour later, Jeevan is shivering and still short of breath. We go to Credit Valley Hospital, 900m away, calmly guided by GPS. I drop him and my wife, Sharmila, at the entrance of the Emergency wing. Unlike the movies, the mood is subdued. No ambulances with flashing lights and blaring sirens. No one outside. No excitement at all.

The Emergency ward has less staff due to the Christmas holidays. After 15 minutes, Jeevan is being examined at Emergency Reception. Questions about symptoms. Measurement of his heart rate, blood pressure, weight. This takes 10 minutes. We forgot his OHIP card for proof of eligibility for government health insurance but this is not a hurdle. 

Registration is next. The process takes a few minutes. The paperwork goes back to Emergency Reception. After a few minutes, Jeevan is taken to a hospital bed and gets examined. Sharmila accompanies him. It's 12:05am. Merry Christmas?

I stay in the waiting area, writing this post as I wonder what's happening. I avoid touching anything for fear of catching a serious contagious disease. Three other families wait too. Everyone is calm. The scene is much like a doctor's waiting room. Another family enters around 12:25am. There are 10 of us, which fills most of the seats. There's another room full of patients. I'm not sure how many. Maybe they've already been examined and are waiting for further treatment. There's a feeling of calm. A feeling of waiting. 

12:30am Four staff working. A pair each at the Reception and Registration desks. This is full capacity but I don't see more patients.

12:40am Two paramedics drop by to chat and go to the staff room. The staff are pleasant and calm throughout. The experience feels unreal, like a dream in slow motion. 

12:50am Sharmila comes out. Good news! Jeevan is recovering! He received adrenaline and Benadryl. He is in a private room. Number 18.  I can go in too. I see he's on two or three drips (one to treat side effects). It feels like a movie with all the machinery beeping in languages that only R2D2 would understand.

1:40am The IV drip machine starts beeping because the fluids are finished. No one is around to respond. The emergency wing bustles with activity due to more patients and more urgent cases. That's fair but the beeping is annoying.

2:00am A new IV drip. One litre of a saline solution. Previously 0.5L administered. This is going to take a while. In my drowsy stupor, I realize I'm hungry. I follow a winding path to Tim Hortons for water, hot chocolate and a cream cheese bagel.

3:00am Trying to doze. We can probably go home in another hour if Jeevan's condition remains stable.

4:00am Waiting for the doctor

4:45am Waiting for the doctor

5:10am Waiting for the doctor

5:40am The Doctor! He was with more urgent cases. All's well. He writes a prescription for an epipen. Jeevan is to take Benadryl, as required. 

5:55am All the tubes and sensors are removed. I pay for parking ($14 --- nothing's free even on Christmas) Jeevan and Sharmila wait at the entrance of the Emergency wing, where we arrived seven hours earlier. Light snow flurries fall. Roads are nearly empty. How unusual.

6:20am We arrive at a Shoppers Drug Mart near home. We're thankful that it's always open, even on Christmas. Filling the prescription takes 20 minutes but feels like hours after the night's ordeal. I notice eight other customers making purchases. One leaves his Dodge Ram truck on while he shops. A woman forgets her purse in her Acura RDX and does outside to get it. 

6:50am Home again after 14 eventful hours. Blinking clocks show we had a power failure in our absence. Exhausted, we tumble into bed.

Update at 7pm
Jeevan has recovered. Life is back to normal as if nothing happened. 

Hospital service varies depending on when you arrive and how serious your condition is relative to other patients. We were fortunate to receive excellent, fast service. For free. 

We weren't able to leave milk and cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve, but he remembered us. An object, no matter how valuable, is replaceable. A life is not. We got the best gift ever. 

Our deep thanks to the caring, efficient staff at Credit Valley Hospital. They were separated from their own families on Christmas so ours could be together.


Unknown said...

I'm happy that your son is feeling better. All the best!

Lisbeth Tanz said...

So glad things turned out well, even if your original plans didn't include a trip to the Emergency ward. Been there, done that. I can't imagine working in that environment (which is why I don't). Those folks are typically overworked, underpaid and stressed. Glad you had a positive experience! Happy New Year!