Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

One size simply does not fit all in hospital

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It was Day 47 for me here at Health Sciences Centre. Not that I'm counting, but Emily is.

You know, it amazes me how the "one-size-fits-all" mentality prevails -- even throughout the medical system. Since I'm not mobile yet, I'm using a "portable" urinal, but the problem is that it's so big and clumsy that I miss more than I hit! I enquired about getting a different kind but that's the only one available -- they mass-produce it for all male patients no matter what your situation.

So Emily went on the hunt for a better design and came back with one that was outrageously expensive (those in the health care products business charge obscene prices to captive consumers) that didn't work much better! My question is, why don't the hospitals just make better and more tailor-made equipment (not to mention the fact that the blood pressure machines constantly break down)?

Don't get me wrong, most of my care here has been wonderful and I have met the most amazing people. One morning a health-care aide came in to bathe me and it was one of the best sponge baths I've ever had. The aide happened to be a First Nations man who told me that when he first came to Winnipeg 30 years ago he was unemployed and homeless. Then he got help, went back to school and got this job. Stories like that do give me some hope for this society.

They say that the health-care system is decentralized. Not so. It is fragmented. Consider the issue of communication. The plastic surgery team came in the other day on their usual rounds and told me that my stumps were healing nicely and that I should be transferred to the Rehab Hospital in the next week or so. Then, later that day, someone from infectious diseases visited me and told me that because of the various bacterial infections that I've been fighting since my surgeries, they have had me on three different antibiotics until Sept. 26. Consequently, I won't be able to go to the rehab until the antibiotics are finished. Now, wait a minute. Don't these people talk to each other? Doesn't anybody read my chart? One minute I'm given hope and the next I'm being let down.

It continues to amaze me how inflexible the systems are in the hospital. For example, one day I had requested a particular type of soup and received something that I didn't like (and therefore, refused to eat). I asked if they could get a substitution sent up and they refused, simply saying that it couldn't be done. Then I realized that, of course they couldn't. The food here is still being trucked in, pre-made, a system that was put in place during Gary Filmon's reign. It still flummoxes me that in an institution where people are supposedly getting healthy, patient food isn't made fresh.

Another example of the inflexible system. One day when I developed the shivers and began to sweat, Emily told the nurse about my symptoms and asked her to take my temperature. Well, she never came and didn't take my temperature until much later when it was time to take my vital signs (these are done at very specific times of the day). Sure enough, I had a fever!

This leads me to the whole issue of the hospital's drug routine. I'm taking iron pills that upset my stomach, causing me not to want to eat. Occasionally, the nurses will allow me to take the iron after I eat (medications are given before meals and at bedtime), which makes me feel somewhat better. However, I had to literally get sick to my stomach before someone paid attention and the type of iron pill and the time it was given to me was changed.

The other day, I wheeled myself down to the visitors' lounge. I'd been there a few minutes reading a magazine when a group of people came in and asked me to leave because they were having a counselling session. Now, of course, counselling for families and those in hospital is important. But you would think that in a complex as large as HSC, there would be an appropriate room available for this purpose instead of using a public space meant for patients to visit with their families!

I am now able to get around pretty well in my wheelchair, so I try to get down to the cafeteria at least once a day. The other day when Emily and I returned to my room, a ward clerk (I think -- she wasn't wearing a name tag!) stopped Emily and told her that she had tidied up my windowsill while we were out and put things away because -- and I quote -- "that's what management wants it to look like."

I guess if everything "looks" neat and tidy, then it is.

Nick Ternette, community and political activist, freelance writer and broadcaster, recently had his legs amputated and his teeth pulled as a result of an infection.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 13, 2009 A12

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