For a long time, coffee shops were my de facto office for blogging, but I’ve found an even better place. It’s quiet, the lighting is fantastic, and even the smell is pleasant. Most importantly, there is just the right amount of people passing by that I can switch easily between focused attention and deliberate distraction. The nearest free parking is a block away, and I have to relocate every hour or two as the time limit is reached, but on balance, Royal Jubilee Hospital makes a great new office.
As we all know, I’ve logged some serious hours in hospitals in my time, the most recent due to adverse reactions to the chemotherapy I was on last year. I’ll be back here in two days for a fluoroscopy to see if anything can be done to ease the discomfort in my throat (there’s a stent holding my left vocal cord in the “ON” position. It helps me speak clearly, but also causes me to cough persistently to clear my throat). A couple weeks after that I’ll be back here for a CT scan of my left wrist which I injured 6 weeks ago (we suspect a fractured scaphoid, a tiny bone at the base of the thumb). Any treatment needed for that will likely mean additional visits here. The frequency of hospital visits shows no sign of slowing and that’s just fine by me.
Rox and I recently cancelled Netflix and subscribed to Crave+HBO. Watching TV is a very effective brain break, perfect for when I’m too cognitively fatigued to do anything, but not tired enough or ready to go to bed. I’m not one to really get into actual TV shows and typically spend more time watching YouTube channels of painters, woodworkers, and other creatives. That said, I am fully hooked on The Good Doctor, a medical drama centred on Dr. Shaun Murphy (played to perfection by Freddie Highmore), an autistic surgical resident with savant syndrome at San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital. I finished binge-watching both seasons currently available yesterday so I just started over again; medical jargon has become my second language.
This show has shed light on some of what happened to me in Vancouver General Hospital all those years ago. Watching a patient at St. Bonaventure go into cardiac arrest and a doctor massaging the heart during surgery, I get to see what my body has gone through. When the doctors have to make split-second, life and death decisions on a patient coming to the ER with multiple traumas, I get a sense of the urgency with which I was attended to. I see surgeons fighting to save a kidney before removing it in order to save the patient and realize the same decisions were made when I was on the operating table.
As I’m writing here, I realize I need some clarification and approach a table next to me where four people in scrubs are sitting, “Sorry to interrupt, but can I ask a general surgical question?”
“Sure,” answers the oldest guy, Mike, who I learn is an instructor at the hospital.
“Which type of cardiac arrest requires manually massaging the heart, and is that scenario what’s referred to as ‘flatlining”?” My quick internet research is making me sound more educated than I am, but then again, my experience is an education of sorts.
“Well, that type of therapy is used when regular CPR techniques aren’t an option, like during surgery or if the ribs are fractured. It’s an emergency last resort.”
“So if that doesn’t work, there’s nothing to try after that.”
“Right. Why do you ask? Are you a med student?”
“No, that happened to me.”
As expected, jaws drop, and the conversation turns to a brief history of what I’ve survived. The group expresses amazement, first that the heart massage was a success, then again when I tell them I had my left kidney and spleen removed. Just as they’re getting over that, I hit them with the whole torn aorta thing and they’re levelled once more. As they slowly begin to regain composure I’m asked what caused the head injury. I tell them it was a car accident and that my C-1 vertebrae was fractured. Now I’ve really made their day. Mike, the instructor, suggests different avenues for me to share my story, either at high-schools or even with med school classes. I respond that the cognitive workload makes it cost prohibitive, but I wonder if the rewards could be greater than I anticipate.
After enjoying this bit of celebrity and once the group has left, I sit and wonder what the ER looked and sounded like when I was on the table. From my conversation with Mike, I now know that I went into an asystole cardiac arrest, and did indeed flatline for three minutes. I find this image of a left-sided thoracotomy (the surgery performed to gain access and repair my aorta, among other things) and just stare at it, imagining the high-pitched tone of the ECG, constant for three minutes.
I’ve been feeling detached lately – unsettled, slightly anxious, and getting a little depressed because of it. I had this sense that I’d forgotten something important, and that I needed to pay attention to something somewhere. I feel that writing here at the hospital has helped, and I’m starting to understand why I like spending time here. In the hospital, whether it’s the MSA Hospital in Abbotsford, Vancouver General, Victoria General, Saanich Peninsula, or Royal Jubilee here in Victoria (all of which I’ve spent time at), there is a higher concentration of people who more fully appreciate what I’ve been through and the implications of it. I don’t feel as misunderstood here, and it’s comforting. Most people here are either going through something life-altering or treating someone who is. Some, like the group of scrubs I spoke with earlier, appreciate what an asystole cardiac arrest is to an extent I’m only beginning to grasp. Just now, I asked a couple women one table over if the correct phrasing is “asystolic cardiac arrest” or “an asystole cardiac arrest,” and one of them, a cardiac nurse, informed me it’s the latter. Interactions like that are why I set up here in the Diagnostic & Treatment Centre instead of the more casual Patient Care Centre atrium next door. The hospital feels like my home away from home. The people here are my people, and spending time here is spending time with a part of myself that gets buried in the day-to-day hustle.
It’s 1:18pm now and I’ve been here since 7:00am. I’ve moved my truck three times and have 6 minutes before I need to move it again. I took this week off work to address this drifting feeling and I’m proud of myself for listening to my body/brain and deliberately working to process what I’d been experiencing. I think I have enough time to grab some Timbits downstairs, maybe hit the Subway over in the Patient Care Centre, then catch an episode of The Good Doctor before picking Rox up from work. It’s been a good day.