Sunday, November 28, 2010

Always take a book to Emergency

Dodging a Bullet

First and last, I have to thank Nicola at the Guelph Community Health Centre for raising the red flag and sending me to the ER last Tuesday (November 16, 2010).

When she called, I was just forcing myself to get up for breakfast.

“I was checking back in your chart,” she started.

I missed some of the lead up because I was groggy, something about my asthma being under control up until recently. The phrase pulmonary embolism woke me up. She told me there was a test.

“You need to go to the hospital emergency department. Oh, and take a book.”

“I should go right away?”

Not one of my brighter questions.

“Yes. Right away.”

As soon as I hung up the phone I received a text from my friend John, asking me how I was. I called back.

“Got your text.”

“How are you?”

“I need a big favour. Can you drive me to the ER?”

Never let it be said I didn’t have a flare for the dramatic. I had about ten minutes to prepare.


Brush teeth.


Gather medications.

Put health card and some cash in my card case so I wouldn’t need to take my wallet, credit cards etc.

If I had been doing this for my father – which I had done many times before - I would have added a hairbrush, toothbrush and toothpaste to the bag. My sister Joey had her own hospital pack, always ready to go. I just had to add her meds.

I considered and dismissed taking an extra book. I’d only just read the prologue of the one I was taking. I meant to take a banana, but forgot at the last moment.

That’s me in a nutshell. I can be too freaked to remembered food; I am rarely too freaked to forget my book... or coffee.

When I had to do the 911 for Dad or Joanne, I always swung by Tim’s for and extra large English Toffee Cappuccino and a snack for later. There was no point rushing to hospital right behind the ambulance. They wouldn’t let me in until the patient was in observation. Besides, once I was there, I never knew how long I might be staying. Naturally, I also always brought a book or two for myself.

En route to the hospital, I considered asking John for a coffee stop, but I got babbling about the test really not being anything to worry about. Then I remembered that it was roughly this time last week that my brother-in-law was driving this same route to take me of the day surgery that started this imbroglio.

I forgot the coffee.

The week before, I had arthroscopic surgery to repair a complex tear of the medial meniscus. (Not only could I just write that without the help of Spell Check or a dictionary, I could say it after my surgery. Almost everything else I tried to say came out a bit garbled.) Blood clots are one of the many risks with surgery, but they are very rare with arthroscopic procedures. It turned out I was one of the unlucky few.

Pity the fool that goes to Emergency without a book.

I was a quarter of the way through the one I brought before I was seen. The doctor, a very charming young man (ye gods I’m showing my age now) explained the implications of taking the test.

If it came out negative, YAY! But false positives were common. If the test was positive, even by just a little bit, they’d have to follow up with a CT scan.  That meant radioactive dye would be shot through my system. You didn’t do that lightly. On the other hand, Leanne had a hunch and I certainly had no desire to check out early on my kids.

I said yes to the test.

As it turned out, I had a blood clots in my left lung and maybe a small one in my right. After being calm, patient and good-humoured all day (it was close to five now and I was in the last quarter of my book) I had a meltdown.

All I’d had all day was an ER sandwich box around elevenses and a few cup of water. I was tired, hungry and my head was splitting with a headache. I wanted to go home and see my children.

“It’s okay,” soothed the specialist. “You’re where you need to be. You’re safe.”

I knew that.

My big issue with going into hospital wasn’t me, it was my kids - my daughter, son and nieces. They’d hung out in too many hospitals already. My sister was in and out of hospitals for three years before she died of cancer. My father had a major stroke followed by a series of heart attacks. He was the miracle man and recovered, but we had several near misses until, at age 85, he had his last heart failure. Between my sister and my dad, we lost my aunt, who was more like a grandmother to my kids, especially since my mum had died when I was pregnant with my son.

But it wasn’t like that was it, I told myself. It might bring back sad memories, but I was going into hospital before anything dire happened.

With my asthma and being on post operative painkillers, the symptoms of pulmonary embolism weren’t obvious. If untreated, the clot might have expanded, multiplied or moved to my heart or brain. That’s heart attack or stroke time.

I dodged a bullet.

Thanks Nicola!

This blog was written in hospital a few days after my big scary day. I'm out now and recovering slowly but surely. I'd like to add my thanks to the staff at Guelph General Hospital, 4 West. In particular I'd like to thank my nurses Martin, Natalie, Gaye, Donna and a couple of others who didn't write their names on my board.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembrance Day

Eileen George

I remember Eileen (Nash) George...

I have many happy memories of my Auntie Yang (her little sister, my mum, couldn't say Eileen). A lot of those memories involved sitting around the table after dinner, drinking tea and talking. When my little sister and younger cousins escaped the table to play, and my older cousins disappeared to be with their respective boy friends, I would sit with Mum, Nana, and Auntie Yang and listen.

I don't remember exactly when I first heard about my aunt being in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service), but over time I gathered bits and pieces of her experience. She was a driver mechanic, just like Princess Elizabeth. In fact, in uniform my aunt and the then princess looked a lot alike.

Elizabeth drove a lorry. My aunt drove an ambulance.
Princess Elizabeth

Live patients went in head first; dead went feet first. Or maybe it was the other way around. I'm not sure now. What I remember, what I empathized with so strongly was her descriptions of the smell and the sounds and the knowledge that some of the men who entered the ambulance breathing, wouldn't arrive alive.

Patients and bodies delivered, the women would hose out and service their vehicles and go back for more. Again and again.

My aunt had a mental breakdown from that experience. Now we would call it post traumatic stress. She continued her trade as a driver mechanic, but she switched to driving officers.

After the war, Auntie Yang was one of the few and far between not immediately demobilized. She went on to do officers training. However, the climate had changed and women were expected to go back to doing "woman's jobs". Auntie Yang felt that if she was going to be a clerk, she might as well be one with civilian wages.

Bruce, Alison, Pvt K.
I had a similar experience when I was in Katimavik and did the military option. For three months we trained at CFB/BFC Valcartier - home of the Vingt-deux (22nd Regiment). I experienced some of the camaraderie and the sense of belonging that Auntie Yang talked about in her happier stories. If I could have joined up and continued my training in the infantry or even transport, I might have considered it. At the time, women were still either clerks or nurses and I had a taste for neither.

Instead, I went back to university. Because of my aunt, and the help she gave me tracking down other women veterans, I did my undergraduate thesis on Women in the Allied Armed Forces in WWII. I didn't get a brilliant final mark, but my research was highly praised.

 In addition to the usual readings, I interviewed a dozen women who served in the woman's auxiliaries of the British, Canadian and US armed forces. For some, it was a great adventure. For others, it was a patriotic duty. Their stories all shared the common thread of connection with most of the other women they served with, and exasperation at the lack of respect they received from most of the men. In fact, one of the reasons I didn't get as high a mark as I could have, was that I wrote more about the women than the historical context.

My aunt is gone. Probably most of the women I interviewed have passed on by now to -- since most were older than Auntie Yang. But they are remembered. Especially today.