Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Lucky Ones

There are a few "Quiet Rooms" adjacent to the Ottawa Civic Hospital's intensive care unit. According to the signs on the doors, they're primarily intended as meeting rooms where doctors can talk with families; also according to the signs, what they absolutely are not to be used for is a personal family space (even though families who have call to spend time in the ICU could probably use it.) According to the signs, families aren't allowed to lay any territorial claim to a Quiet Room for any length of time, with the exception of the aforementioned doctor meetings.

So when, having been asked politely to leave Lisa's side for a few minutes while the nurses took care of some stuff, I wandered by the Quiet Rooms and saw hand-written signs claiming the Quiet Rooms for specific families taped right next to the much-more-official-looking "families aren't allowed to claim the Quiet Rooms" signs, I did something I came to regret. That these families could be so insensitive to everyone else, that they'd so egregiously violate the rules and take for themselves what was intended for communal use made my blood boil. I was seething, so much so that I suggested to Mum that I might go give a piece of my mind to the diminutive woman who had the nerve to give me a slight, anxious smile as we walked past the cracked door of the room she'd staked out.

Mum told me to leave it, and I did, but I was furious. When I ran into the woman from the room in the elevator a few hours later, it was all I could do not to unleash a flood of abuse on her. When she started talking to me--to me, the selfish so-and-so, like she hadn't done anything wrong--I could feel my blood pressure rising. And when she'd finished talking--she was a rambler, so it took awhile--I was absolutely disgusted.

With myself.

This woman's daughter was in a car accident a few days ago. The daughter's boyfriend wasn't wearing a seatbelt and was killed pretty much instantly. The daughter had several skin grafts, which apparently weren't doing whatever skin grafts are intended to do. Worse than that, the doctors believed that somewhere in her daughter's midsection there was a hole, a hole that apparently was doing a fair amount of damage, a hole they were having trouble finding.

I heard this story three times; once in the elevator, twice when I chanced to wander by the woman and hear her telling it to other people she didn't know. She had no one else to tell the story to.

She's a single mom--or she was and I hope she still is and her daughter gets better (signs were positive, last I heard.) Her family consists of her daughter, her mother, and her stepfather--and her mother's not in the best of health and her stepfather's got issues with hospitals. This woman had been in the ICU for three consecutive days, her only respite coming when the doctors asked her to step out to work on her daughter and a few hours spent alone in the Quiet Room I'd so resented her for taking for herself.

I found out about Lisa's heart attack Saturday around 7PM. I'd travelled I don't know how many miles, hundreds if not thousands, to be with her before noon on Sunday. Dad was already here, having spent the week prior to the surgery that led to this disaster to help Lisa and her husband and daughter, Harvey and Cevyn. Mum got there a few hours after I did. When we got the neurologists' first assessment, I called Tiina; she was here in under 24 hours. Harvey's sister, who lives several hours from a city with an international airport, arrived a few hours after that.

Between the half-dozen or so of us, my sister was never without a family member nearby unless doctors asked us not to be. And all of us had each other to lean on.

All this woman had for comfort was a couple hours a night on a couch in a Quiet Room. For support, she had strangers.

It's an odd thing to find oneself in this situation and realize that, for all I've lost, I am so, so lucky. Lucky to have had Lisa as a sister, lucky to have my family, lucky to have Tiina. I have so much I sometimes take it for granted, and intellectually I know I take it for granted but sometimes, when I'm voyaging into the depths of my navel, the forest gets lost behind all those trees.

Everyone should have the things I have. And I need to remember that many don't.



Jennie M said...

My heart goes out to you & your extended family. I will say a prayer for you & your sister (and families).

Kewlgirl39 said...

I just found out from reading Lisa's profile page of her passing. In an effort to find some answers I am across your blog. I want to pass on my condolences to all of you. Your blog about your time at the hospital is amazing. How really we do need to be thankful for who we have in our lives. Lisa was a remarkable person and we shared a lot of laughs even after her move to Ottawa.