COLUMN: Inside the ER

So there I was, lying on a gurney in the Delta Hospital ER about 1:30 in the morning listening to a man in the middle of a drug-induced meltdown.

He was screaming for someone named Roddy.

“Help me!” he howled.

He couldn’t say who Roddy was or answer any other questions coherently.

They tied him to a stretcher with leather straps and dosed him with tranquilizers before paramedics wheeled him out for transport to another hospital, presumably one with a psychiatric ward.

I wasn’t going anywhere.

On Boxing Day, what I’d thought was a chest infection turned out to be a collapsed lung that required emergency surgery.

Two doctors in the ER trauma room surgically inserted a foot and a half of tubing into my chest through my left side under local anesthetic.

It was mostly painless. Mostly.

My wife, who drove me to hospital, got to hear all of it as she paced outside the hastily drawn curtains of the trauma room.

That was probably the worst part; the look on her face when the nurse explained I was going to have surgery right now and would she please step outside.

And the look on my daughter’s face when she arrived with her own daughters afterwards to make sure I was okay.

My girl is not given to histrionic displays, but her eyes were red and she held my hand tightly as she told me I had to take better care of myself.

It took two days and two nights before a proper hospital bed on a ward could be found.

I had a lot of company while I waited.

The ER was packed to overflowing, with some patients on gurneys in hallways waiting transfer to a proper room, or at least a curtained treatment space in the ER.

Like the woman from North Delta who was nauseous and almost delirious with pain, but still determined to go to the South Delta hospital.

She would have done better at Surrey Memorial Hospital, which was closer to her home and had more resources, the ER doctor told her.

Didn’t matter. She wanted to go to her community hospital.

Delta residents are funny that way.

They browbeat the provincial government of the day into building the Ladner hospital in the first place, then waged a successful war to preserve the ER as a 24/7 service when the powers that be thought it wasn’t busy enough.

I had plenty of time to think about that, as I watched the doctors nurses and specialists deal with the onslaught of medical crises with skill and good humour.

Like the ward nurse who was running between 10 patients because there was a staff shortage yet still found time to help an 82-year-old man have a shower before a family outing.

“We really don’t have enough people on right now for a shower,” he said and stopped himself.

“It’s your birthday isn’t it? We’ll make this work.”

I spent another three days and two nights in a hospital ward before going home to spend three weeks recuperating.

Besides a small scar, I’ve acquired a deep appreciation for the people at Delta Hospital, who do their jobs under less-than-ideal conditions.

To them, and to my stubborn neighbours who campaigned to construct and preserve it, my thanks.


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