Published in the Whig Standard Oct 17/13
KINGSTON – There are five levels of emergency rooms at Kingston General Hospital. I’ve been in them all.
Most recently, at 3 a.m. I hit level C, progressing to E as things improved. You know what these sanctuaries look like: bed, basin and a bell to call for another basin. Other barfing is usually going on through accordion-pleated paper curtains on both sides.
They do the best they can with privacy though one memorable night from the curtain on my right came a highly-embellished story of a bear that had eviscerated the sufferer’s car. It was an account to lift you right out of the bowels of the hospital and set you down out there in the woods with the bear.
I was most grateful since I am an increasingly reluctant regular to the Escheresque panorama that is KGH in their 175th year. Escher is the 19th century artist whose precision delighted mathematicians in his sprawling depictions of crowds of individuals all looking inward, intent on their own pain as they climb ladders and staircases that often take them upside down.
Elevators were not an Escher thing. Feet were his means of transportation, mostly attached to plodding, despairing bodies in vast labyrinthical structures of the imagination. He could have been drawing KGH, 365 days, 24-7. Like the Lucille Ball chocolate sketch, work keeps coming and coming and coming, piling up as though a conveyor belt from the rest of the world is directly attached to its front door.
Why are there regular ‘Cards of Thanks’ in the Whig-Standard classifieds? These are ads taken out by grateful families, thanking doctors and nurses (which might rightfully include mother-hen porters, wise cleaners, chirpy aids, inventive techs, dieticians, physios and all their kin, along with consolation that is bred in the bones of every volunteer).
A good hospital, like air and water, is mostly taken for granted. But every now and then when it pulls off a routine miracle, someone sees what it took for this particular survival to happen. Or for an individual to find a way to go peacefully into his good night.
There will always be some medical horror stories in the press because they are so out of the ordinary, given the provision of never-slacking care running like a fountain. I turn up clutching my abdomen at 3 a.m. and an efficient process grabs me, whomps my pain away and transports me from a tenuous hold on the lower rung of life to their top floor where Lake Ontario is spread out through the tall windows. “Hope,” that view says. “Possibility.” When I was a patient at the end of September, Bluenose II with sails unfurled swept by as though it had gotten off the dime to cheer me up.
Auto mechanics have supplied much of the pain vocabulary: wrenching, hammering, knifing. Get rid of that and you see the chipping of IV poles as euphoric patients attempt the Indy 500 down the hospital corridor.
I woke up in KGH only a few years ago to find a device attached to my stomach which would allow me to be washroom-free. I had no idea such a thing existed but with my pain all gone I was intensely amused. Then the young resident came in who had assisted with the surgery. “Tell me something funny,” he said.
Maybe he wants cheering up, I thought. It was the least I could do. So I told him the one about the blonde who took up ice fishing, going into detail about how she adored all the reasons it gave her to go shopping; the little stool, thermos, the cute clothes as well as other accessories. But when she attempted to cut a hole in the ice, a voice from above said, “there are no fish under this ice…”
I stopped, suddenly aware that all the nurses and the occupants of the other three beds were listening intently. I hadn’t been out of the anesthetic very long. I took a deep breath and went on about how the blonde, when she couldn’t see who said that, moved on down the ice, attempted again to cut a hole but got the same message from the voice.
On her third attempt, when the voice said again, “No fish under this ice,” she looked up and said, “Is that you, God?”
Whereupon the voice said, “No. I’m the manager of this hockey rink.”
I doubt if I will ever hear a more hearty laugh than that resident gave. His body doubled up and he fairly shook with his enjoyment. But I knew it wasn’t really the joke as much as his delight and relief that someone, whose guts he had seen spread out on an operating table just a few hours earlier, was now sitting up in bed smiling and telling him a joke.
None of the subects of Escher’s work dance and sing. Life for them is a solitary, lonely business despite the presence of others all around. KGH with its teams, in its 175th year obviously believes otherwise, gathering those who need it most under its wings.
We may take it for granted like the sun coming up in the morning yet still with what seems the same dependability, KGH continues to rise.
Community Editorial Board member Rose DeShaw is a retired bookseller with prison library experience, and is employed part-time by our community credit union.