by Harvey Oberfeld

Keeping it Real…

May 14, 2018

I was supposed to be cruising. You know… my usual end-of-winter Florida departure with 2,000 possible new friends at sea … well pampered, provisioned, entertained and totally relaxed .. a perfect end to another winter season and a great way to head home for the Spring, Summer and Fall.

Not this year.

On Friday afternoon, March 30 I ended up at St. Paul’s Hospital Emergency Department after suffering chest discomfort … something I thought would likely just be cleared and/or treated with medication.

I was wrong.

I ended up spending 28 days in St. Paul’s cardiac ward: not only had I suffered a heart attack, requiring triple bypass surgery, but also was hit with renal failure and bleeding ulcers requiring internal cauterization and four units of blood … none of this EVER being even indicated in regular checkups, ultra-sounds etc. over my many decades …. but ALL occurring simultaneously three weeks after my 73rd birthday.

Lucky I was not on that trans-Atlantic cruise I had booked and paid for only weeks earlier.

Instead, I was able to personally experience, witness, admire, endure various aspects of our critical care health system … or at least, a small part of it from St. Paul’s Hospital’s cardiac ward for 28 days … and, of course, blog and report about it from my perspective.

First, and foremost, my own experience was that BC medical care, at least in St. Paul’s cardiac department, is absolutely FIRST RATE … not just the surgeons and other doctors and medical teams involved, but also the various levels of nurses, practitioners, assisting care staff, lab technicians, counsellors as well.

I have no doubt my life was saved at St Paul’s.

But it was only on reading my full discharge papers that I even realized the full extent of the critical health issues involved in my case. And apart from my surgeon and his resident intern, I can’t even begin to remember the names of all the other specialists and doctors who came to my aid .. at all times of the day, night, weekdays and weekends.

And in case anyone wonders, I spent my entire stay in a public ward (4 beds) … not private or semi-private. And NEVER did I feel my care or anyone’s care I witnessed was affected in any way by being in a public ward.

I also cannot help but recall that, days before flying back to BC, I had visited a Walk In clinic in Florida, where … after finding out I DID have travel medical coverage … without even using a stethoscope or taking an EKG or doing ANY kind of checks …tried to steer me to their own cardiologist “who could see me that day”.

I still wonder what my treatment bill would have added up to being hospitalized there for major surgery and my other illnesses for almost a month! (Probably still not good for my heart to even ponder that!).

But I’m back … in BC, and getting better! So what would a Harvey blog be without SOME critiques! :)

If I spotted/experienced any weaknesses at St Paul’s …. it was in two areas that are “non-medical”: cleaning and food catering.

These, of course, are merely MY OWN observations … but I sometimes was surprised at the slackness of cleaning in patient areas.

The main corridors (regularly seen by hospital brass, doctors staff etc.) were kept spotless, and seemed to me the ward bed areas closest to the hallways and bathrooms were regularly swept and mopped. But I (and fellow patients) in two different wards noticed beds near the windows and thus further away from the doorway … were swept not so much. Pieces of paper, needle tip plastic covers, pills that fell around or under beds would literally sit there for days.

I really have no idea whether these services are privatized or operated directly by St Paul’s, but certainly was surprised at some of the failings.

The good news: whenever a patient left, the bed and entire area around it underwent a thorough sanitization process.

As then there was the food … word among patients this is apparently another privatization cost-saving measure. I had no idea … but was appalled at some of it.

First, the hits: turkey meatloaf; herb-baked sole; beef chili; pasta; meatballs, tasty salads, soups and the sliced and diced fruits were all quite decent. And I renewed a childhood affection for morning porridge.

And let’s face it: St Paul’s is a hospital, not a hotel … with a whole multitude of restrictive diets to be addressed.

We get that …but still has to be said: some of it was downright awful: worst “scrambled” egg ever tasted anywhere; tuna, chicken salad or salmon sandwiches (served over and over again as a “main” course) so thinly spread on tasteless wheat bread (hope they don’t pay more than .25 a loaf); and, then there was Pollock, more Pollock (Marinara) and more Pollock (Lemon), Pollock (poached) …. probably the most tasteless fish I have ever encountered anywhere in my world travels… I actually gagged on it my second time trying it .. and I LOVE fish!

I realize this may sound picky …. but when you are 28 days in a ward, unable to leave because you’re totally immobile or wearing heart monitoring gear that alarms if you leave the ward, you start to wonder why prisoners in BC jails or federal penitentiaries are served better meals than patients in BC hospitals? Should the UN’s Human Rights Council become involved?

Fortunately, visitors can bring patients food … a true treat …. as long as they NEVER bring Pollock!

The road back will be a long one … three months or so before I am fully liberated from the restrictions I now face.

Just happy to be home …. back blogging and able to express appreciation to St Paul’s team (ALL of them) … and also BC/Canadian Health Care!

Harv Oberfeld

(NEXT: The CORPORATIONS …. what it was like to cancel some pretty expensive travel plans at the last minute!)