Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Tales From A Hospital Waiting Room

Before I begin, please note that everyone in the family is fine and that my time spent yesterday in a hospital waiting room was more of the wellness type visit as opposed to the "Oh my God, he broke something!!" type of visit. Hospitals have a tendency to exhibit schizophrenic behaviour depending on the reasons for one's stay. Everybody can relate some horror story or another about the ER, but has nothing but hearts and flowers descriptions about maternity. And, because hospitals are places where people often feel like shit and thus, emotions run very hot, the tension in these buildings is thicker than the humidity in Toronto today!! Being that I was merely a casual observer during my visit yesterday, (I was the designated driver!) it gave me the opportunity to really take in the atmosphere of one the premier health care centres in the area.

This was my first occasion to enter the door of the archdiocese run hospital. It isn't that I have any sort of problem with the church run health care facility, (save for their medieval approach to women's reproductive rights-but that is better left for a future posting!) it is due to the fact that this is a small downtown hospital and I have been a suburbanite for most of my life. The first thing that was readily apparent was the dearth of parking! Where is the parking facility at St. Mike's? Anyone, anyone? Please forward your responses to the comments section of this blog, because if I do have need to cross over it's threshold again in the future, I would like to not park at the Eaton's Centre. There is a weird feeling associated with mixing your health care needs (i.e. shlepping one's urine in a plastic jug!) whilst strolling through the mecca of shopping in town. I had a strange compulsion to stop in at the Roots store facing Queen St. to see if they had my purse in black!

The front entrance of the facility is clean, well-lit and fully functioning, with a Timmy Ho's bustling with patrons. (We actually tried to score a java on the way out, but the line was out the door and around the atrium. Jesus must be a Tim's fan!!) Hospitals are very different places when you are scheduled to be there, rather than coming in due to some sort of emergency. Faces are friendly and stress-free. Out-patients are guided through a very different part of the building than the one that services the life and death situations. There is none of that "hospital odour" that seems to be a combination of fear and isopropyl alcohol! But, my God are these institutions massive!! Even a smaller version like St. Mickey's, is huge. You better darn well (damn seemed so inappropriate given that we are in Catholic territory!) know which floor you are headed toward or you might end up with a procedure that you didn't sign up for!!

Once at your destination, you are given instructions for the next leg of the journey. Head back down to x-ray, check in with them, wait to be called (there is a great deal of waiting in hospitals by both visitors and patients alike!) and for God's sake don't lose the little green check-in card. It seems as though your entire hospital life is dependent on this card. The x-ray waiting area is a cramped little area that looks like it hasn't seen a coat of paint in 30 years. 20-30 people were sitting and pretending to read 2 year old Time magazines, while they dreamed of hearing their name called. There is a sign on the wall that informs patients that they may not necessarily get called in the order that they arrived, but rather when their specific sort of imaging room is available. So if you are there along with most others in the room, waiting for a simple abdominal picture, you should have packed a lunch. Only trouble is, you aren't allowed to eat!!! This seems to apply to the designated drivers as well as the patients, because there is no opportunity to purchase even a candy bar anywhere other than the front atrium. I should have paid attention to these first pangs of hunger, because food did not become any more readily available. (There is an old story that exists in family folklore. My mother was in labour with the little bro in the middle of a dark winter's night. Other Dad comes over in the wee hours to babysit with "yours truly" so that parents can go off to hospital to make me a big sister. No more than five minutes pass before Dad is back! "Was the baby born in the car?" Other Dad inquires. "No", replies Dad, "I just came back for an apple in case I got hungry!" Little bro was partially born in the hospital's elevator, but I think I now have a better handle on what my dad was thinking!! Hunger, waiting and hospitals are not a good combination!) Finally the name that you have been waiting for is called, and they usher your loved one towards a changing room to don the most hideous garment ever designed since the fig leaf! The hospital gown is one of those unique items of apparel that makes everyone who wears it look horrible. You can never figure out if it is supposed to tie in the front or the back, but either way some part of you that you were taught to hide from the world, is hanging out for the masses to gape at. The rest of your "real-people" clothes are stuffed into a plastic bag and toted around for the remainder of your stay like garbage.

X-ray is over and we return from whence we came. Patient is ushered in to talk with doctor, while DD is plunked down in yet another waiting area. For the record, this one was much nicer. Cleaner, fresher and with magazines that don't pre-date the current Prime Minister's tenure! Still no food, but at least there is a bathroom that can be accessed without having to track down a nurse or orderly for a key. There is a TV! I think to myself, "Great! Something to pass the time." But, NO!! The TV is there to show you all a video demonstration of the procedure that your loved one is undergoing. It is informative, a bit gross and boring in the way that old health films were boring in high school phys ed class. Fascinating, when you see it once. But the damned (this time I was hungry and aggravated-so damned was truly appropriate!!) thing ran on a loop every twenty minutes. And, since I sat waiting for more than two hours, I watched the f@#$*&g thing 6 TIMES!!!! There was a kid of about 22 sitting with me waiting for his loved one, with his iPod cranked up so loud that the hip hop in his ears was beating me into submission. There was a middle aged woman who vehemently refused to wear both parts of the hospital gown, so that we were treated to way more than nature intended, and a portly middle aged man waiting for hours to see a specific doctor. He spent most of his time on the phone bitching to his wife about his current state of affairs. Thank God for my book!!! I ate every lint covered mint and piece of chocolate in my purse. I should have tried to find food, but there was no real time limit set on the procedure and I didn't want the patient to be left waiting for me, so I stayed put--STARVING!! (Note to self: if I ever have occasion to play DD again, try one of these two things. 1. Pack a lunch! 2. Don't work out before embarking on hospital trip and neglect to eat!!)

Procedure ends and the patient is fine. Little discomfort and a great deal of pain killers. Drugs are good! Good thing too, because we still have to traipse back to the Eaton's Centre to find the car. At least they fed him an egg salad sandwich and a juice. Me? McDonald's at the Centre was looking pretty good to me, but I fulfilled my duties as the DD and returned home, only to devour the entire contents of the refrigerator!!


  1. Unfortunately, I frequent the blessed St. Mike's Hospital.....best parking if you can't find a meter on Bond Street is the Church parking lot on Bond.

    Hope this helps for next time.

    That's not to say it won't cost a fortune anyway.

  2. Unfortunately for me as well, I have spent some time at St. Mike's, and more at the pit of the building across the way that is their offices, lab, etc.

    A rule of thumb about parking anywhere downtown - the further from the core, the cheaper. (Of course, I just get on the streetcar at my doorstep). Park around Queen and Coxwell (or Queen and Bathurst, I suppose), and hop the streetcar.

    St. Mike's adjunct building has scary elevators as well - the license expired April/07. There are actually signs on the door asking people to make sure the doors are fully open before exiting.

    St. Mike's proper has an interesting elevator situation - one set goes to one wing, but you can't get to the other side if you've taken the wrong one.

    My advice? Toronto East General. There are televisions in the waiting areas (CP 24, but what the heck). The food situation is no better, but the washroom distribution is generous.