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Holiday Hospital Visit (Posted On: Monday, March 07, 2011)

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I’m now on what one could consider a first-name basis with the toilet in cubicle OBS 8 at Collingwood’s General & Marine Hospital.

I spent most of the night following Boxing Day in that cubicle staring through the bathroom door at the toilet when I wasn’t catching a little bit of sleep in fits and starts.
There are a lot of things you can’t do when your esophagus is blocked and you can’t swallow.

Things such as not being able to eat food, drink, or take any oral medications which might be compulsory in your life.

I found out the hard way on the evening of Boxing Day.

My overnight stay at G & M hospital came about as a result of a surprise I received that had nothing to do with Christmas gifts and everything to do with post-Christmas dining.

During a delicious roast beef dinner, I was surprised to find that having just swallowed a mouthful of food, I had it stuck in my esophagus below my throat. 
The food would not travel down and I left the dinner table as politely as I could as gurgling noises emanated from behind the hand I had placed across my open mouth.

In the privacy of a bathroom, I tried to swallow some water to wash the blockage down. That did not work and the water came back up as quickly as it went down. I repeated this process over the next hour, or so, always with the same result; very disconcerting for me, as well as for family and friends.

I tried bending over at the waist, hoping that my movements might help the blockage to move downward.

That did not work.  I tried sipping carbonated soft drink a glub at a time. All it did was glub back to its point of origin. When I wasn’t trying the soft-drink treatment, I found that saliva built up, pooling above the blockage and needing to be evacuated from time to time.

I build this not-so-pretty picture to provide the background to what would eventually be two trips to the emergency department at G & M.

My wife Nancy took me to the emergency department early in the evening. Being a guy, I don’t go to emergency departments unless there is something desperately wrong with me. On this particular evening, upon our arrival at the emergency department we found a full house. 

People jammed every available seat and space in the waiting area as the triage nurse handled a seemingly-never-ending stream of clients. They came in many shapes and sizes, the young and the not-so-young and some fellow in the company of two Collingwood policemen.

I talked Nancy into letting me hang around for a little while, without registering, in hopes that my blockage would move to my stomach. She even agreed when I said we could go home and wait there, as easily as wait in the emergency department. So we left without registering and I went back to sipping soft drinks a mouthful at a time and spitting them back up seconds later as some sort of reflux action took place.

The blockage persisted and another hour passed.  I decided that it would be best to return to G & M’s emergency department and Nancy took me there again. The triage station was as busy as ever and I waited my turn to register while an audience packed into the waiting area watched to the mixed sounds of coughing and chatter.
At registration, my blood pressure, oxygen level and temperature were checked. The appropriate paperwork completed on the receptionist’s computer and I was asked to wait my turn.

At triage, they decide who will move onto the emergency room not based on when people arrived, but based on the urgency of their condition. Somebody must have thought I had a potentially-serious problem, because I found myself in a cubicle in the emergency department in short order.

There, doctors Richard Furtado and Mark Enright, were spearheading the effort to help person after person. Throughout the emergency room the doctors and other staff worked calmly diagnosing and starting treatment as required.

I started the evening in one cubicle of the emergency department and then was moved to OBS8, a small room with an adjacent bathroom. From my bed, through the open door, I could see the porcelain toilet.

Dr. Furtado checked in with me and then left to attend to others. From what I could gather, my situation was a waiting game.

A nurse came into the darkened room and gave me a squirt of nitroglycerin under my tongue. I was told that the nitroglycerin loosens one’s muscles. That spray was the first of four such doses I would receive as the night stretched on. Very late that night, a nitroglycerin patch was applied to one side of my stomach area.

As the hours passed, I tried sipping water, but each time it would not go down and I would end up spitting it out. The waiting game continued and I could tell that the blockage was making its way down to my stomach.

About 6.30 a.m., I did a bunch of deep-knee bends while in the prone position. I tried another drink and it went straight through to my stomach.

To say that I was simply relieved would be an understatement. I was ecstatic.
The nurse, who had been dropping in and out throughout the night, came to check again and I shared my good news. The doctor came back and told me that I could go home.

“But we have to find out what is causing this,” he told me, adding that he would make arrangements for me to be examined by a surgeon.

That surgeon would be Dr. Adedapo Akinyele. Within a few days of my release, I was booked for an appointment at Dr. Akinyele’s Downtown Collingwood office for February 14.

From the day that I left General and Marine Hospital to the day that I arrived at Dr. Akinyele’s office, I was very careful about what I ate and how I chewed my food. I double-chewed it, if you can think of it that way, and perhaps I was being too cautious.  But the memory of not being able to swallow my food was haunting me. I did not want to find myself in those circumstances again, if I could help it.
Dr. Akinyele’s verdict was that I have Zender’s Diverticulum. To really get to the bottom of the matter, it would take gastroscopy – considered a minor surgery – at General and Marine Hospital. Dr. Akinyele described the pros and cons of what might be matter of factly and within a day I was booked for the “scoping” procedure on February 24.
My hospital date arrived and at 6.45 a.m.,  I was entering G & M just as Patti, who works in the day-surgery department, was arriving. Other staff members were arriving to replace those who were going home from the night shift.
By 7.30 a.m., I had been checked and double-checked as to identity, had been given a number of tests and was awaiting the “scoping” procedure in the comfort of a backless gown. Other people were arriving and were being prepared for their respective procedures. Patti was joined by nurse Catherine and they were looking after all-comers and sharing information with other staff.
Catherine, almost apologetically, stuck an intravenous (IV) needle into the top of my right hand. Another nurse arrived and took my blood-sugar reading.
“We’re short-staffed,” she told her co-workers and I felt sorry for them, knowing that any shortage of staff adds to their workload. But I didn’t say anything.

Across the room, some fellow wearing a black T-shirt was helping his wife get settled and holding their baby. On the back of his T-shirt was something that struck me as morbidly funny. There, in stark white contrast was the picture of a skull.
I held myself back from making funnies, but do know that the slogan under the skull said: “Union until I die”.
Just before 8 a.m., I was wheeled into one of the small surgery rooms where two doctors (one a resident) would attend to my anaesthesia. A nurse wrapped a blood pressure cuff around my upper-left arm and Dr. Akinyele arrived. He said hello and then confered with the doctors and nurses in the room as I lay there on my side, hooked to machines.
Dr. Akinyele asked me to open my mouth wide and sprayed my throat with something that he asked me to swallow. I followed instructions.
Somebody had me bite down on a mouth guard. This mouth guard had a hole in the middle and I reckoned that would be where the scope would travel through on its way to my esophagus. Truth be told, I had not relished the idea of a scope being put into my esophagus. But the alternative was likely worse than the current situation, I told myself.
I remember one of the other doctors moving over to where my IV bag was hanging.  I awoke on the gurney in the day-surgery. Minutes later Dr. Akinyele was telling me about his findings. Then, he went on to his next patient.
Minutes earlier, I had been put to sleep so quickly that I did not see, or feel, it coming. I felt nothing of the “scoping” procedure.
A hospital volunteer arrived with a small glass of apple juice. Minutes later, the IV was pulled from my hand and a Band-aid applied. At the day-surgery desk, my wife Nancy was being called to come and take me away.
It was 8.40 a.m., and I was directed to sit in a nearby wheelchair. Standard procedure they told me when I said I thought I could walk anywhere. The volunteer wheeled me to the exit at about the same time that my wife arrived with the car.
On the way home, I gave Nancy the good news. The “scoping” determined that my esophagus did not need to be dilated. (Yes, they can do that!). I also explained about three other things that Dr. Akinyele determined: all to do with the esophagus and in need of further attention; but not major surgery.
“God bless them all,” I told Nancy as we headed home. Think about how remarkable it is that we can get hospital treatment, almost instantly depending on the severity of the condition. Think about our hospital – an industry in its own right – where doctors and nurses and a host of other support staff members do their jobs…. all to help us.
I won’t get into how much money it costs for the hospital to serve us. Nobody asked me for money during my visit on February 24. But they did ask for my health card.

Think about it. I had contact with four, or five, nurses and three doctors in my short visit to the day-surgery. I was in and out within a couple of hours and in that time they were also looking after other patients. Elsewhere in the hospital, somebody was cleaning, or cooking, or doing laundry, or looking after the heating system. Additionally, the volunteers, who don’t get paid, were helping out in various ways.
They’re all priceless!
When you’re young, one considers oneself invincible. We work hard. Play hard. Eat too much and sometimes too much of the wrong stuff. (I’ll leave drinking out of this story.)
Fact is, a lot of people my age -- and I’m 65 -- did not pay proper attention to their diet, to their bodies, as the years flew by.
Guilty as charged. That’s me. Years of excesses, inattention to good-eating habits and no attention to exercise, took their toll. How different might my body and general health be today had I been attentive to good-eating habits and exercised?
I’ll never know.   I find hope in the upcoming generations. My kids, my grandkids, and the education and health systems of today seem to be on a better track. It’s an excellent thing that younger folks seem to be paying more attention to eating properly and to exercising properly than I and most of my counterparts did.
Still, the emergency ward at General and Marine Hospital seems full to overflowing on most days, while the finance pot from which money for our hospital’s day-to-day endeavors seems to be running dry.
Getting money to keep the hospital serving our community is one challenge. Finding money for the hospital foundation so that it can finance capital projects – such as equipment – is another challenge. Both need our strongest of support.
I’ll do my part and hope you do yours.

EDITOR’S NOTE: George Czerny of Craigleith is a retired newspaperman. He shares his story in the hope that readers will financially support General and Marine Hospital in Collingwood. To do so, contact Jory Pritchard-Kerr at the hospital foundation office at 705-444-8645.

By George Czerny 


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