Saturday, 26 December 2015

Christmas, Ottawa Hospital Style

The observation room at the Ottawa Hospital is on the 6th floor. It's a big room with six or eight beds with a nursing station in the middle. Here, patients get one-on-one nursing care, with specialty staff helping with physio, speech, and whatever is needed.

Over Christmas, it's quiet. There aren't many people getting operated on over the holidays. Only the urgent and very sick get to spend their Christmas and New Year's in this bright room with big windows and a cheerful Christmas tree.

This is where my friend Jennette is spending her holiday, hooked up to a virtual Medusa of tubes that feed her, fill her little body with all kinds of good stuff, and help her breath. On December 23rd, she had life-saving oral cancer surgery to remove a tumor the size of a Hall's cough drop from under her tongue. It was eight hours of misery for her excellent surgical team.

When I got the call from her primary surgeon, she sounded absolutely exhausted.

I didn't know what to expect when I got to the hospital the day after surgery. I certainly didn't expect my little friend to be sitting up in her chair doing physiotherapy. She didn't look bad, her face was pretty good; she just had a ring of stitches around her neck and up to her mouth. I told Scott it looked like somebody had cut off her head, and sewed it back on.

She didn't say much, but she smiled when I played messages from her friends and her Dad. I'd asked everybody to call my phone so I could play back the messages for her. It perked her up when she heard her father Jim as he bickered with his lady friend who was prompting him. At 87, he's not exactly tech savvy.

Jennette was still pretty out of it  the first day, as she showed me her drug button, then gave me a thumbs up. And then the therapist asked me to leave the room while he suctioned all the goo out of her gob.

Pretty good for a first day, I would say.

Yesterday, we showed up with her iPad, and she was absolutely pixelated. She was laughing and joking -- as much as somebody can joke with a trach. She opened her mouth and showed us the inside which was, well, I don't know how  to describe it. I suppose it's just a pink mess in there.

The docs took part of her jaw along with six teeth.

"That's perfect," I said. "It will make a brilliant bridge!"

That's what she was so afraid of, the fact that she would have no teeth, but apparently the dentists can do wonders for cancer patients these days. She can't wait.

What I saw on her face was pure joy at the fact that the cancer had been dispatched. The waiting in the cancer game, the fear, the not knowing, is excruciating. Things are different on the other side. The docs say they are confident they got it; only pathology will tell the story. It's Christmas so it might take a few days.

By Monday, Jennette will get rid of the trach, and will begin the road back, with the help of a speech therapist. Hopefully, her future will be tobacco free. That's what got her into this mess in the first place.

It makes me mad, smoking. It's always made me mad. I've seen what it can do. It killed my mother; it gave my friend this ugly cancer.

I'm pretty sure Jennette will find another hobby. This is not a rodeo anyone wants to go to twice.

But all is good. The docs did what they promised; they kicked cancer's ass for Jennette. She's one of the lucky ones. There are lots of people -- two every day -- who visit this hospital for treatment. Not all of them come out alive.

As I turned to leave, I looked at the nurses and waved goodbye. I was heading for the gym to work off the tourtiere I had last evening.

"Thanks for all you do," I said.

The pair of them looked at me like I was a bit nuts and went back to their charts.

They take their duties for granted.

But there isn't a person in this unit who takes them for granted.

They are the medical coast guard throwing out lifesavers to people everyday.

God Bless 'em, everyone.

Thanks to everyone who has worked so hard to save this little lady's life.

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