New Year’s Eve, 2017, Woodstock New Brunswick. A foot of fresh snow on the ground and still falling, -26C and dropping (this will be relevant soon).
About 4PM. My mother, stepfather, my husband, and I are starting to get ready to go out. Nothing fancy, my mom is 82. But a nice dinner, followed by Royal Canadian Air Farce NYE special. Nothing too tiring.
Because I live in chronic pain from a botched spinal fusion, we are careful about planning things for my comfort. A bad chair or a slip on the ice will put me out of commission for days, and we were to fly home on Jan. 2nd.
So, the plan was set, I was dressed nicely but warmly and comfortably, and we were starting to wonder why my step-father was so slow getting dressed upstairs.
We found out when he collapsed halfway down. His eyes were glassy, one pupil was bigger than the other and he was slurring so much we could barely understand him.
Shit, he’d had a stroke. We were familiar with the signs because my Dad had died of a stroke fifteen years ago.
Being a man of a certain “I’m fine, I don’t want to bother anybody” age, he resisted going to the hospital. So we called an ambulance to make him go. But the driver was too polite and left it up to the guy who can barely stand or speak.
My mom and I made him go. We can be tough as hell when necessary. My husband says sometimes even when it’s not. Good thing as he was still within the “golden hour” so they could treat it. But arriving at a hospital, cold, wet, slipping on ice, and starving… My back was screeching in pain. I needed a wheelchair. I just couldn’t walk on hard tile any longer.
Then the confusion started. Wheelchairs are for patients only. I don’t need to see a doctor, I need to not walk around the hospital on hard tile floors. Not acceptable. So I limped to the emergency ward where my step-father was already in a bed and hooked up to a bunch of machines. No chairs in emerg. By this time I was worried, in agony and trying to support my mom, who was scared half to death. (Oddly, my dad died of a stroke at exactly the same age as my step-father is now.)
We decided rules are for people who are not crying in pain and went looking for a wheelchair. They were locked up! Man, they are serious about casual wheelchair use in New Brunswick.
But my dear hubby managed to find a couple of chairs and carried them to the emerg for me and my mom. So we crowded into the little curtained area beside the bed. First doctor to see him ordered us and our chairs out. So we moved them to the hall, and back when she left. Doctor #2, same thing. Doctor #3 ( unrelated to the actual crisis at hand) saw me crying and shaking in pain and tried to order me a bed. All I wanted was a wheelchair so I didn’t have to walk. Not without a doctor. But you’re a doctor! No dice, I needed a full exam, an interview, and authorization.
I began to worry that me and my wheelchair needs were distracting from the stroke victim, you know… the reason we were here instead of eating Chinese food.
I sat, head in my hands, waiting for my own non-hospital painkillers to kick in, interrupted several times by well-meaning people asking me if I had a room, or did I still need to register.
And I could go on and on about the helpful doctor who glared at me when I took my medical marijuana at the hospital. (I take an oil under my tongue, not smoke; so not a bylaw infraction)
Perhaps I should explain what legal at a federal level means? She did not look happy. I took my oil anyway. Pissing off a doctor is way better than sitting here crying and taking the attention away from the actual patient.
We finally left at 10pm, after they decided to keep my stepfather overnight because his test results did show a stroke, as well as dangerously low blood pressure, dangerously low blood sugar and a few things that apparently wigged them out.
Up until now, I’ve just relayed what happened. But thinking about it, how many ways was this ableist, how many ways could this have gone wrong? What would have happened if I’d let them get me a doctor to go over my medical history to get a freaking wheelchair? Would they have forgotten that I WAS NOT THE PATIENT? There were four doctors on duty, two had seen the patient, but ALL FOUR had stopped to talk to me about my pain.
In Ottawa, there are about twenty wheelchairs just sitting by the main doors, I grab one whenever I’m there. No one raises an eyebrow, I’m ignored as I push myself around. Except for the wing with a ramp, I need a pusher for that sucker!
Why is Woodstock so anal retentive about the same thing? Woodstock’s population is aging rapidly, not in an X-Files sort of way, but because the lack of industry makes anyone young enough to work move to the bigger cities. After spending all of December there, I can attest there are very few who are not over sixty or handicapped. An example? My sixty-four year old sister works as home support to people older than herself. Because there are too few younger people to do the work.
So, one would think, there would be visitors at the hospital who could use a wheelchair, or even a folding chair. What about the huge number of people I saw walking with canes, poles and other devices? Do they never visit?
I was seriously concerned that the amount of attention I was getting, and the sheer volume of staff who came over to question me, that the actual patients in emergency care weren’t getting any.
What if I had been elderly? What if I’d slipped on the floor made wet from melting snow and ice? (I told you the weather would be relevant).
If my stepfather had gotten the amount of attention I did, they might not have needed to keep him for four days because they might have gotten tests and results back faster. Will I face this same issue the next time my mother or stepfather is brought in for something? They are 72 and 82, it is inevitable that I will be called there eventually. Will their treatment suffer, or will I be arrested for causing such a scene as they have never seen?
If only I could get them to move to Ottawa. But Mom still has five living siblings and won’t leave the old homestead. So all I can do is wait. And learn to be firm without being angry.
Because that shit ain’t easy when it’s my mom.