Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Only on Elizabeth Street

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I have spent more than my fair share of time in hospitals with my Mom who is a "repeat offender" (her term) in the cancer department. Back at the hospital yesterday, we shared with our nurses an episode from one of our medical adventures that took place in the not too distant past. My mother has always maintained that laughter is the best medicine - she should know.

“Take one tablet and if you vomit within an hour, take another tablet.” I am paraphrasing but only a little.

What kind of craziness is this? I mean: as if having cancer and chemo weren’t bad enough, it is suggested on official instructions for your prescription medication that you take another run at a pill that has made you barf your brains out once already!

Just one of the many scenarios I find difficult to understand as an outsider looking into the weird and wonderful world of hospitals. I will be the first to admit that my impressions have been formed by one too many episodes of hospital type dramas on TV so you won’t be surprised at my reaction to the following:

The scene was set with my mother looking somewhat less like a faded beauty rose and more like a wilted dandelion as we headed into the 12th hour of this particular visit to the emergency room. She was “resting” (by resting I mean sitting up wide awake) on the “bed” (by bed I mean large flat rectangle; covered in plastic with matching plastic pillow thing in the middle of the room) attached to a myriad of wires and finger clamps dedicated to recording her every erratic heart beat. We had arrived at a decent hour in the morning as a result of her very rapid heart rate which required further investigation. Without a word of a lie; as the 2 cardiology residents breezed through the curtain masquerading as a door, her heart rate “converted” to a more normal “sinus” rhythm; dripping with regularity. Not satisfied with normal, she had to undergo further tests and then wait for the results and for someone to come up with a plan.

I will admit that for “yuks”, we occasionally put the finger clamp on my finger just to see if anyone would notice the rate change and then collapsed around the place laughing at the naughtiness of it. We were so impressed by the attention from our Nurse Extraordinaire who was always so swiftly all over the “beep, beep, beep” of the monitor when her heart rate ran too high.

SHIFT CHANGE….and familiar faces were replaced with new ones who were busy trying to get up to speed on the patients now in their care.

Out of nowhere, my mother’s heart monitor number started to jump around. So I watched and tried to appear normal as the number went from 87 to 132 to 52 to 67 to 13 to 90 to 0!!!! Beep, beep, beep said the monitor.

ZERO ?!??!!! What the..?? I had certainly learned how to say lots of buzz words over the last few days and knew how to toss them correctly into sentences without really understanding what they meant BUT I did understand one thing and that was as far as hearts go, zero wasn’t a great number. What to do? What to do? I said tentatively over top of the beeps…”How are you feeling Mom?” She said “Cranky. This noise is a little wearing could you go find someone and make it stop?” Thinking quickly, I said sure.

Hmmm…where were the crash carts? Where were the people running in at breakneck speed to yell things like STAT and CLEAR? Surely a ZERO heart rate had to be worthy of some extra attention?

As I walked (well more like a cross between a skip and a trot) around trying to find a person who would agree to being “Cathy” (our new nurse) for long enough to turn off the damn monitor OR bring in the paddles or whatever else they had to do to stop the beeps and/or revive my mother whose heart rate was a ZERO. I thought to myself that the brain, seemingly unaided by a beating heart, was a marvelous thing. Or maybe it was a case of and/or her will to live being so strong that although her heart rate said ZERO she hadn’t acknowledged it yet and was therefore upright in her “bed” frowning at me when I returned without anyone. I was relieved to see that her rate was up to 71, then 132, 64, 89, 13, 47, 63, 7,….”beep, beep, beep” “What’s my number?” said my Mom who couldn’t see the screen. “Um….um….88!” I said triumphantly (and at that moment, it was). “PLEASE go get someone” she said.

Out again I went and I was not going to be deterred this time. I mean, it would be way more embarrassing if my mother died because I didn’t want to disturb someone. How would I explain that in a well-written G & M Obit?

Suffice to say, I found a warm body who assured me that a heart rate bouncing between 158 and ZERO was nothing more than a loose wire somewhere between Grace and the monitor and definitely not worth a “Code Blue Hair” or whatever they say over the loud speaker when a senior goes for a little in-house cardiac excitement.

I returned to the room confident in my newly-found knowledge and secure in the fact that her body wasn’t going to slump over in a heap when her brain finally caught up with her heart’s ZERO reading. Whew – paperwork and tricky questions averted!

“What number is it?” my Mother asked me again as the monitor resumed its’ incessant beeping.

“Funny enough, it’s ZERO but you look like a 93…so it’s all good.”

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Pj Kwong

Pj Kwong is a figure skating expert and writer currently working for CBC Sports. Her first book, Taking the Ice: Success Stories from the World of Canadian Figure Skating (BookLand Press), will be in stores in September 2010.

Go to Pj Kwong’s Author Page