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My Afternoon in Emergency

Like all accidents, the one that sent me to the Emergency ward of Hotel Dieu Hospital on a cold February Saturday should never have happened. I should have known better.

Throughout this worst of all winters, layers of snow, ice, and more snow had built up on the streets of Kingston, Ontario. Despite the good job done by the City to keep streets open and sidewalks clear (yes,. we even have a sidewalk plow come by after every snowfall), walking has been treacherous. I’d put crampons on my hiking boots and ventured out to walk Morag, our lively Wheaton Terrier, on her midday outings. But even those I’d given up after Christmas when no amount of plowing was able to remove the ice from our sidewalks. I stopped the daily walks.

Having done that, I should have been more careful when I went to the front doorstep to pick up the morning paper. I’d put Morag out in the backyard and the patio there seemed clear of any fresh precipitation. Ah, we’ve dodged the latest storm, I thought. I should have checked the front doorstep more carefully before stepping out blindly. I’d hadn’t noticed that a thin layer of fresh ice covered the concrete landing at our front door.

As we all know, these things happen in a flash. One foot on the ice was enough to upend me. In a stark moment of terror, I realized I had done it! Of course, I put out a hand to break my fall. I came down hard on my left hand, and found myself sitting dazed, partway in and partway out of the door. I dragged myself back inside, reached for a chair, and struggled to my feet. I knew I’d done some damage, but I hoped I had nothing more than a sprain.

Two hours later, having wrapped my wrist in ice, Deborah and I decided I would have to go to Emergency. We arrived at the hospital about one o’clock and after a quick clearance by the triage nurse, settled down to wait. There were not many other patients, and in a few minutes I was taken to an examining room. X-rays were the next order of business, and after no more than an hour’s wait, the on-duty doctor came to examine me.

Dr. Reed was brisk, efficient, and pleasant. Bald headed — or perhaps shaven. Yes, I had a fracture — I’d jammed my radius bone into the carpal bones of my hand. There were some splinters. He called in the resident intern, Dr. Litt, who turned out to be a darkly handsome young man. His speciality was radiology, and he was going through the prescribed period of emergency duty before dedicating himself to that discipline.

GetAttachment-1 The thought struck me: what wonderful names for two doctors attending a writer — Reed and Litt!

Next order of business – injection of freezing. That took only a moment, followed by a twenty-minute wait for it to take effect. Then the two doctors went to work to try to unjam the damage I’d done. Dr. Reed held onto my elbow while Dr. Litt, pulling as if the two were in a tug of war, hauled on my hand. Eventually satisfied, Dr. Litt wrapped my arm almost to my elbow and applied plaster to the wrapping. Soon I was encased in a sold — and heavy — cast. All of it had been virtually painless.

Now it was time for more X-rays. Dr. Reed let me see them on the computer screen on my way out. The difference in the before and after X-rays — before the tug of war and after — was easy to see. They’d gotten my wrist bones almost back to their normal sites. You could also see a small piece of bone that had broken off.

It was now about six o’clock. In five hours, I’d been through all the procedures involved in Emergency treatment, and been attended to by helpful nurses and efficient, caring doctors. No unreasonable wait time. No forgotten existence in  the limbo of hospital bureaucracy.

Also, thanks to Canada’s public healthcare system, no astronomical bill to pay on the way out. I gave silent thanks to the pioneering spirits like Tommy Douglas who brought public healthcare into Canada fifty years ago — and the principled politicians who have stood by it ever since. No wonder Canadians regard our health system as our single greatest source of pride in our country.

My emergency visit was two weeks ago and I’ve since made two follow-up visits to the orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Mark Harrison. We were not strangers. Three years ago he gave me a new right knee joint to substitute for the one I’d injured in a cottage mishap many years previously. Dr. Harrison warned me it might be necessary to put a pin in my wrist to ensure the bones stay where they belong. And I was not to complain! He reminded me it was not he who had broken my wrist. Happily, as it turned out no such pin was needed.

Day by day, I’m enjoying the small triumphs of making increasing use of my injured hand.  I’m even able to use fingers of both hands to type out this blog. The cast will come off in four weeks, Spring will be almost here, and life will look better again!

A trifling experience like a broken wrist — the second in my lifetime — makes one realize how fortunate most of us are. My fall at the front door could easily have been far more serious — like a broken hip or a fractured skull.

To paraphrase a Quebec poet, my country is winter. That said, can Spring be far behind?

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