Wednesday, July 6, 2011



To put it kindly, my family regard my memories of my hospitalization just after I knocked on death's door, indeed tried to kick it down, with the tolerance usually shown toddlers.
Of course this is the same wife and three sons who consider my thousands of columns and store of anecdotes as being the fruit of an active imagination that may just, on occasion, give a story a little help.
Actually, if the truth will out, my memories of nine days in West Virginia in hospitals at Princeton and Charleston, my air ambulance trip home, and the early days of my St. Joseph's ordeal, are crippled.
When you drift in and out of fevered sleep, or cling to a contorted consciousness, you can't exactly give an accurate description of anything, let alone disagnoses, treatments and probes. Most of the time I had no idea of such fundamentals as what room I was in, or even what city.
And Mary, John Henry, Brett and Mark, loyally and with compassion, shielded me from any decision.
 Yet I was aware, when I wasn't asking questions of shadows at 3 a.m., that there was a great fight to get me airlifted. The family said I wanted to get home more than the insurance company did.
I wasn't sure what was going on except I heard there were no empty hospital beds in Toronto that could be found (if you can believe such nonsense) and no air ambulance was going anywhere until there was some hospital that would accept me.
I couldn't figure out whether my sons were threatening, cajoling or bribing to get me into Canada, indeed even whether the $12,000 cost was coming off my VISA card. When I tried to ask, the family told me to let them worry about it. For once, it was nice to leave major decisions to the family. And I knew I wasn't capable of adding two plus two, let alone negotiate a better lunch.
Finally, after endless delays over several days, I was loaded into yet another ambulance and bounced to an airport atop a hill, which makes it interesting for landing and takeoffs.
My sons drove my car back to Etobicoke, enjoying the rare opportunity to spend time together.  On this "road trip', they bought souvenir T-shirts and hit the historic sites, even visiting Punxsutawny Phil, the world's most famous groundhog.
And I was wooshed, as if strapped in a jet fighter, to Pearson. It was the second flight of the day for the air ambulance crew. I was anchored on a narrow stretcher, but still told my attendant I felt like I was falling out and after the three falls at the start of my misadventure, I feared that.
To reassure me, he tightened my belts and then shoved his forehead against my shoulder. It smelled to me as if he was fortified by a quart of rye but Mary insists I was smelling his antiseptic mask.
A fast trip and even faster trip through customs and immigration, considering I was almost nude and devoid of any identification like a passport. And then Toronto paramedics, the air ambulance crew, Mary and me made our way through late evening traffic to....surprise surprise...not to my expected destinations of Toronto General or Western but to St. Joseph's Medical Centre, which greeted us with hostility.
It was a scene that I will never forget even if my view was rather fevered. I seemed to be in the hospital lobby with a rude doctor on one side, the air crew on the other, and embarrassed paramedics at my feet. The doctor declared the hospital hadn't said it would accept me. The air ambulance crew hung tough since I represented a hefty pay day. And the paramedics shuffled. Finally the doctor agreed to admit me, saying with angry petulance this was always happening and he was fed up.
I was trying to say to him that I had three sons and two grandsons born at the hospital and that I was a scarred survivor of its emerg, beginning in the 1950s when an intern on his first morning trimmed too much flesh off a jagged cut, leaving me with a big scar for life.
Yet no one seemed interested in my ravings on anything. I was placed in lonely isolation in a room that looked like it was used for meetings. Isolation is policy for all patients flown in from the States. Ironically, I had been struck by the hospital infection known as MRSA, meaning a warning sign would be placed on the door of every room I was in for months.
The gowns and masks worn by everyone made me feel like an extra in a ghost movie. But at least I was near home, thanks to the expensive magic carpet of an air ambulance.

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