Elevator #3

Work in Progress

By Ivan Morgan

The hospital elevators don’t work properly. Elevator-3 won’t take you to the sixth floor. It took me to the seventh floor, then to the basement, then to the main floor, then back to the basement where it stopped, opened its doors and did nothing but make a loud buzzing sound, despite what buttons I pushed. I kept pressing the “6” button and it finally took me to five, where I got off and took the stairs.

I spent a lot of time in St. Clare’s Hospital last week. My wife underwent serious surgery (it went well, she’s fine). Here’s what I saw.

I saw an overworked nursing staff trying to keep up with the many people recovering from serious ailments or surgeries, or both. I saw them deal with recovering patients, as well as tending to people who were obviously not going to recover. All of them next to helpless.

They deal with desperately sick people, frantic loved ones, angry loved ones, demanding people, upset people, terribly frightened people. They deal with death.

This is what they do, day in and day out, week after week, year after year.

I saw a level of professionalism and cheeriness from practically every person I encountered. I joked with a food tray worker, who knew she was the most anticipated person in the building. Recovering in hospital means lying around waiting for breakfast, lunch and supper.

“When’s the food tray coming?”  “I can’t remember what I ordered.” “Starved t’ de’t” “I am sure they were here earlier yesterday.”

“Everyone’s always glad to see me,” laughed the woman with a cart laden with grub for lunch.

I saw empty rooms, clearly former hospital rooms, while a PA system blared overhead telling us there was an overcapacity alert.

I watched, fascinated, as a cleaner prepared a room for a new patient, half an hour after the old one was discharged. Hospitals must be clean. I watched this person cleaning with a thoroughness and meticulousness that can only be described as professional. I doubt he’s paid enough.

My wife’s surgeon had a manner about him that calmed me down (those who know me understand this is no mean feat). He clearly cared about his patients and took his gentle time with each. I hope the residents who tagged along are learning from him.

I am starkly aware that my loved one had a good outcome. I saw some around us who did not.

I had a lot of time to watch cafeteria staff, laundry people, janitorial staff – all the people who make up this system. Almost everyone polite, cheerful, hard working, dedicated.

Two nights into my wife’s stay, a grandmother from a small harbour hours from town was wheeled into the room my wife was in. She had been in intensive care for some time. At three in the morning as I crept past her bed to go to the washroom (I stayed over several nights to help with my wife’s care) I glanced over to see her curled up, fast asleep, cuddling a green Care Bear. It was surprisingly emotional. 

As there is no privacy in hospital, I had the privilege of being present when she was told, after three long years of chemo, worry and painful surgeries, that she was cancer free. 

I came to see Elevator # 3 as a metaphor for health care in this province. It was broken. No one seemed interested in fixing it. No one seemed responsible. Visitors and staff alike would laugh and share Elevator # 3 stories.

There’s lots wrong with the health care system, besides wonky elevators. Lots. But it’s certainly not the front-line folk. Every day they are faced with this broken, underfunded, poorly managed system, and they shrug, laugh a world-weary laugh and make do, caring for the people who truly need help.

The building itself is a disaster: ancient, dilapidated, obviously neglected. The only thing I could see that is holding it together is the dedication, compassion and plain old hard work of the people who have to work there.

Ivan.morgan can be reached at ivan.morgan@gmail.com

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