My mother wasn't feeling well a week and a half ago and ended up in the emergency ward at one of our local hospitals. The experience is still ongoing and emotionally draining, but provides a never-ending source of sensory information.

An unusual flower vase
What follows is an abridged version of our interaction with the health system thus far:

Firstly we met the ambulance technicians who arrived very soon after we called. A reassuring pair of strong, strapping young men whisked mom off to the nearest university teaching hospital equipped to treat her condition. 

Our first responders wore army pants. Curious about their unusual uniforms, I asked "why the camouflage gear"? 

Answer: A pressure tactic to get more ambulances and first responders on the road.

Initially mom was placed in a little alcove all by herself in the emergency ward. Quickly, hers was one of 3 stretchers crammed into a space approximately 9 by 15 feet. A maintenance person soon arrived to install curtains around each bed.  

Emergency was VERY busy that day. 

The medical profession gets a lot of flack but overall, I was impressed with the staff I came in contact with. One or two individuals were just there to get a paycheque. Robotic, taciturn, without much heart or soul, they performed their tasks efficiently but mechanically. The majority however displayed a great deal of compassion.  

Mom lay there stoically as strangers probed her body and asked an unending stream of personal questions. There is NO privacy in an emergency ward. Patients and visitors soon find out what everyone else is in there for. On the positive side, cramped quarters inevitably lead to mutual support. A patient or family member can provide valuable information such as where the button is situated to call for a nurse, how to lower the bed, or the location of the cafeteria.

Expecting quick answers and solutions when someone is ill is an exercise in frustration and futility. Diagnoses takes time, tests, and expert sleuthing.

Mom's neighbours included a slim, blond woman who was writhing in pain. A shot of something eventually muffled her moans. The woman's loyal friend and regular visitor arrived one day sporting a temporary arm sling. She also required emergency services after falling on the ice near the hospital building and smashing her elbow. Ahhh...winter in Québec.

The gentleman in the stretcher adjacent to mom's was a veteran who had repaired tanks in France during World War II. A charming person, he quietly waved whenever I re-entered the room after chasing down personnel. 

I spent hours sitting at one end of my mother's stretcher. In an attempt to discourage visitors, no chairs were to be found in the emergency ward. The lady with the smashed elbow and myself got into the habit of sneaking in folding camping chairs.

Orderlies and nursing staff who worked 12 and 16 hour shifts were not uncommon. I asked one particularly dedicated woman what the heck she was doing back at the hospital the morning after her night shift. She had been called in once again because the hospital was unexpectedly short staffed. Her smile and comforting words lit up the room and my mother couldn't help but hug her.

From my "unbiased" observations, I was able to confirm that surgeons have no obvious social skills. 

We were lucky, Mom's condition was not life threatening and quickly improved. She now shares a much larger room on another floor with 3 other patients. The hospital is 100 years old with interior surroundings that complement my mother's age (99 and 8 months). Solid construction tells of a time when workers were proud of their workmanship. Colours are peeling a bit in some areas and wooden windows are thick with paint. Vases for flowers are rare. The bouquet I brought my mother rests in a container that is generally used to collect urine. Whatever works I say!  

I took a picture of mom's flannelette sheets and came up with some rather interesting "bedscapes" after some digital manipulation. 

Even worrisome experiences can lead to beauty.


  1. As usual, your reflections are a soothing reminder of what we can do as humans. Sometimes the smallest act of kindness brings so much relief. Thank you for sharing. I hope your mom gets better to settle into a "home" soon. Be well Diane. xox Sheryl


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