Tuesday, July 12, 2011



We take walking for granted. It's just something you do without thinking after those first baby steps.
I started to think about it a lot after six weeks in hospital. I could no longer walk, let alone stand.  When I teetered with two nurses supporting me, I was unable to shuffle for even centimetres. I wondered despairingly just what I was going to do to make my legs work after the muscles had withered.
It was so bad that I asked a nurse once just how long I was going to have weights strapped to my feet. Was it therapy? There are no weights, she said. Which depressed me even more.
 I was in awful limbo. I panted like a dog in August. I had only enough energy to work a converter. (And I often didn't since TV has become the great wasteland it was first called in 1961). Visitors, even my loyal family, exhausted me.
Yet there was improvement. Poisons weren't draining out of me by the pint. (I swear I didn't rip tubes  out, although that was the suspicion.)  I would be on medication for ascites, the accumulation of fluids, for weeks.  My pneumonia would linger, my bum ulcers needed months, and my MRSA hospital infection wasn't about to go away. In short I wasn't an ideal candidate for the next step of rehab.
I didn't sleep much but my dreams were about walking. I pushed to be free of St. Joseph's and placed where my health problems would be dealt with even as I got the legs working.
And so I ended at Runnymede where, ironically, I had been on the board since 1988 and wrote about its struggles to survive, let alone prosper into the lovely new building which replaced the century-old converted school. (I even headed its fund drive, and was terrible at it. )
When I attended the opening and staff Christmas party (and wrote about it last Dec. 14 in a blog titled Great Success Of Runnymede Health Care Centre) I never dreamed I would be a patient for 43 days.
Its past is that of chronic care where patients spend their final days, or even years. But with the new facility, president Connie Dejak wants more patients like me that can outlast problems and return home. The health ministry has just bought into that, announcing $6.27 million in annual operating funds to allow the use of all 200 beds.
A hospital is never going to be a spa, but it helps when most nurses and meals are great. The staff used to boast  just how good the food was. It still is. I was served meals of restaurant quality. Thank heavens! And it all came at a third of the cost of St. Joe's. But OHIP, which paid nothing of my  Runnymede bill, paid 27% of my St. Joe's bill.
Rehab was an ordeal where muscles failed at the simplest tasks with my therapist pushing until my body trembled. Tedious! I never managed more than two steps there without support, but their exercises led me to reclaim that precious gift.
The entire miserable 86 days in four hospitals convinced me that the patient, no matter how sick, and his family, have to pay attention to every pill and every test, or they can become victim. For example, my illness pushed me into diabetes, complete with insulin and the blood sugar vigil. Nurses would forget to bring me the needle and meter. Once I was given a needle filled with insulin quicker and stronger than my routine dose and saved myself.
Runnymede went to great trouble fighting my bum ulcers,  even giving me a bed with a compressor to keep it inflated like a giant air mattress. The first night, I swung my feet out to make my way laboriously to the bathroom. The compressor stopped, the bed edge collapsed, my feet skidded on the slick tile, and I crashed through a table and suspended myself on a TV arm. I couldn't find the call button so after a few seconds, I swore and crashed the rest of the way. They found me face-down on top of a wastepaper basket. It took four to pick me up, put me in that slippery bed and then wake me every hour in the head injury routine. The nurses revolted against the bed.
 I was being taken by a van hired by the hospital to St. Joe's to see an infectious disease specialist. The driver arrived late and needed directions. He tried to drop me and my wheelchair a block from the hospital in the middle of sidewalk construction. I waited two hours past my appointment to see the specialist who spent only a minute with me because the clinic was closing. The driver returned 80 minutes late after I borrowed a cleaner's cell phone to locate him.
He bounded down to the van until I pointed out the wheelchair ramp was steep and slippery from rain. He had to help me brake.  He returned sullenly and I think pushed rather than anchored me. I flew down the ramp bouncing off the concrete walls, grabbing at the rails. I figured desperately I would try to glance off the van fender rather than shoot across the lane into the metal fence that separated it from Queensway traffic. I  stopped just in time after bruising my hands.
He offered no apology as I returned to Runnymede two hours late, wet and shaking.
 I left for home the next day because after that experience that could have broken me, I figured I could handle anything the real world could deal me. Besides, Mary had installed $1,000 worth of railings and grab bars and I had three walkers and two canes.
I walked the length of a room two weeks later, to my outward joy and inner amazement.
I have survived.


Butch McLarty said...

John I'm having difficulty understanding why OHIP didn't pay more of your hospital bills.

My late mother recently spent 108 days in two London, Ontario, hospitals and OHIP covered everything except ambulance rides and her insurance company was billed for private or semi-private rooms.

wchgrad said...

I am a RN who graduated from the old nursing school system. I totally sympathize with Mr. Downing. The system is broken, hospitals are dirty, there is no staff because the bureacrats running them make all the money-have a look at the sunshine list and you will see who is making almost a million-even the Prime Minister doesn't make this $. Running a hospital or should I say hiring consultants to run it is a cash cow-forget the nurses, the cleaners, its all about surveys of the staff, getting awards for having diversity programs and putting names all over the place of benefactors who are giving to new furniture or buildings or to salaries of the CEO's.
Nurses aren't taught applied skills, some when the graduate have never give an injection, they know the philosophy and process of nursing but their clinical experience is minimum and they usually don't stay in the profession long-as they want management positions.
The average age of nursing is 46, they have worked 12 hour shifts, are tired and injured, care is being switched over to the family now, if you don't have a family to watch out for you-then you probably are dead-with this system