After I was transferred from ICU to Close Observation following the removal of Timmy (my previous brain tumour) there wasn’t much to do for entertainment. For the first day or so I was resting with my eyes closed, I found the lights too bright and it was a little hard to focus. I wasn’t able to read, or talk for long periods so I would just lay there and listen. My husband was by my side when visiting hours would allow but he’s pretty quiet and he just let me rest.
Being that my only real source of entertainment was the action happening in the close observation ward I listened, and listened, and listened. I was in the ward with three other people but with nursing staff, visitors, doctors, housekeeping, food services it was a hot bed of activity.
The neighbour to my right was a 17 year old surfer stuck in the body of a 27 year old diabetic alcoholic that broke his back in a car accident. He was in the hospital to stabilize his back, blood sugar, and to detox before surgery. He was having some pretty crazy hallucinations, yelling out in his sleep, and was forever confused. We both had to answer the same questions everyday:
- Do you know where you are? His answer Philadelphia
- What month is it? October
- What year is it? 2005
Considering that we were in the hospital in August of 2015 he was a little out of it. I also learned that he just moved here from Ontario, and Niagara more specifically which is where I grew up. He had a huge suitcase with all of his possessions in the hospital because he didn’t have anywhere to live yet. He was forever trying to get out of bed, and the nursing staff had to keep a very close eye on him. His mom would call daily to learn of his condition, and I couldn’t help but think about my own kids and how scary the situation would be if that was my child lying in the hospital far from home. As his surgery got closer I could hear how scared he was getting. The nursing staff was trying to reassure him that it would all be ok but he I could still hear the anxiety in his voice.
By this point I had nothing but empathy for the kid because I had also panicked about my surgery. So I asked the nurse for a pen and paper and I made him a card. On the front it said “You Got This” and on the inside I wrote him a note about my experience. He went off for surgery and returned later the same day. He was in a lot of pain but he was on the road to recovery.
My neighbour on the other side was an eldery man with teenage grandchildren he also had a broken back and pneumonia. He couldn’t speak and was having a hell of a time being understood. He was asked to write out what he was trying to communicate but was struggling to make the words legible. He asked for water constantly but wasn’t allowed to drink. When he needed something from the nursing staff he would bang on his tray table. He needed to cough and have his throat suctioned hourly (which was a pretty gross sound) and it probably hurt like hell.
I listened as his son did an amazing job advocating for him. I listened as his daughter in law lost her patience and became a total bitch. I listened as his grandchildren told him about their days. I listened to the nurses, doctors, and respiratory specialists day after day try and help this man, some with more patience than others. One doctor who treated this man was truly wonderful, he was able to communicate in a way that no one else was able to. He seemed to be able to understand the mans writing and gestures. It gave me a sliver of hope for the patient.
Because I was in the position to listen all day every day I began to understand what the man was trying to say. When he wrote electr…… and the nurses guessed electricity (and then tried to make sense of electricity) he was really trying to ask about his electrolyte levels (which had just been tested). It was hours before someone figured out that he was asking about his electrolyte levels because most people saw a man that couldn’t communicate and unfortunately saw him as confused. I came to realize that he was intelligent, and he really wanted to get better.
What I noticed was that he would start trying to explain himself to one person and very rarely did anyone have enough time to figure out what he needed. So he would continue where he left off when the next person came in. The trouble with this is that no one listened to everything he said and it took forever for them to put the pieces together. His son was really great as was one of the doctors, but everyone else could have listened harder. By the third day I could understand him and his method of communication, and from the one sided conversation I could guess what he was asking and would occasionally shout what I though he was trying to say.
The morning that I was moved to out of Close Observation a doctor came in and told him in no uncertain terms that he was going to die. He was getting worse, and they couldn’t seem to get the pneumonia under control. They asked if he wanted to go back to the ICU, but they also said that there was a pretty good chance that the ICU wouldn’t take him back. My heart was breaking for this man who was really fighting to survive.
When I left the close observation unit I was moved into a semi-private room with another patient. She was a 52 year old healthcare worker that had just under gone back surgery and was simultaneously quitting smoking. She had a morphine pump, and was mobile with assistance. I learned that she had become a single mother when her husband passed away when her daughter was 5 months old. I learned that she had to bury her first born grandchild, and her teenage niece. I can’t even image how difficult life has been for her.
She has a great sense of humour and an excellent outlook on life. We got along instantly, and because I was slightly more mobile than she was I was able to get her ice packs and drinks from the bar (aka the fridge in the hall). When I was screaming out in the middle of the night she buzzed the nursing staff to check on me (which I have no recollection of) but I have done it at home since so I am sure that it probably happened. During the day we laughed so hard that it hurt both of us, it was like a sleepover party for the injured.
I also learned although she didn’t specifically say it, that she has never had much money. She mentioned that she had always wanted to buy a house but couldn’t, and that she had only been on vacation out of the country once. She described her apartment building as the worst one in the city and I knew exactly which one she was talking about. Yet both she and her daughter love people and choose to work to help others as healthcare workers. She is truly an inspiration.
Lessons from Timmy
Had I not been diagnosed with a brain tumour and gone through with the process to remove it there is so much that I wouldn’t have learned. I have never been very compassionate, I have always struggled to be empathetic, I am not the best listener and even though I practice patience I still get frustrated easily. This experience has taught me how important it is not to judge others, we are all humans doing the best we can with what we have. I have learned how to be more compassionate, how to be quiet and listen, and the importance of patience. Timmy is gone and in the process I have learned so much about myself, and my husband which I am truly grateful for. Timmy is gone and now I can continue on with the lessons I have learned. It wasn’t easy but it was worth it.