Posts Tagged ‘hospital

14
Jan
13

So I skate onto the ice and fall on my face…

…35 years ago…and that’s why I have to go in for an operation this week.

There’s blood everywhere, bright red on the hard, flat, cold surface, but I don’t notice it because my only thought is to stand up as best I can, turn around and make it back to the bench without falling a second time.

Canada Germany hockey game Hamburg 2012“Hey buddy,” a guy says, “your nose is really bleeding.”

And so began – and ended – this Canadian’s ice hockey career at 17.  I’d always loved playing street hockey, played it for hours and hours after school and weekends like any kid growing up in Canada, squeezing in an extra 20 minutes’ floor hockey over high school lunch break.  But it never gets cold long enough on Canada’s southwest coast to freeze the local lakes thick enough to skate on, and our town didn’t have an ice arena, so I never learned how to skate until I was about 30 and moved to Quebec.

But the fact I didn’t know how to skate didn’t bother Kenny, who convinced me to borrow some skates and hockey gear and go down with him and a bunch of other guys one night for their weekly pick-up game in North Vancouver.

“You can ski like crazy, man, so you can skate for sure!” he said, and I was dumb enough to believe him.  I fell to the ice within 10 seconds of stepping off the bench during the warm-up, and watched the rest of them play the rest of the night as I made sure the bleeding stopped.

The bruising spread across my face and stayed there like disappearing berry stain for three weeks, but after that, I never gave it much thought.  As anyone who’s really active in- or outdoors will tell you, you take cuts and bruises as part of the game, and this I figured was in that category.

Several years later at 24 while at a routine medical exam before taking a job with the railway the company doctor looks up horse schnozzmy nose and tells me that I have a deviated septum.

“What’s a deviated septum?” I ask him.

He angles a mirror around so I can look up my nose at the blockage up one nostril, asking if I’ve ever been whacked on the head or had trouble breathing.

“Well, sure,” I tell him. “But I never really thought about it that much.”

I knew I should get it fixed, but took another four years to get around to it.

By some dumb luck I managed to land an Austrian Ear, Nose and Throat specialist who’d emigrated to Vancouver after the war.

Once we agreed to go ahead with it and the first x-rays were done he explained in detail how my nose would look once the operation was completed and I could breathe easier again.

But he never once told me HOW he’d go about straightening it, so it was only a couple of weeks later while lying on the operating table that I learned just what it meant to re-straighten a broken nose.

Because after he’d squeezed at least three needles up there to make sure the entire area was frozen so well I’d never feel a thing, he started to go to work on my face.

If you’re queasy about such things, you can click away now.

As he inserted his scalpel and started digging away I felt nothing, but he made a scraping sound through the skull to my ears I’ll never forget.  I know all this because I was also dumb enough to let him convince me to have it done under local, not general anaesthetic.

I really wish I’d never been awake to see this, but what saved me was Demerol, a wonderful, legal drug when introduced directly into your veins makes you feel in an instant like you’re floating in mid-air.

hammer and chiselSo I felt good and relaxed until he pulled a silver hammer and what looked like a chisel off the tray and held it over my head.

“What are you going to do with that?” I ask him.

“You von’t feel a sing,” he says, “but if you vant, you can haff some more Demerol to relax you some more.”

The extra Demerol boost felt like what I’ve heard a heroin rush feels like.

After he was sure I wasn’t going to object anymore, he aimed the chisel up my nose, raised up the silver hammer, and started hammering.  He hammered and hammered and hammered and all I could think of was, they can do what they want with me, I could be trussed up and hung by the ankles from the theater lights and I wouldn’t care, just let it be over.

When he’d finished re-arranging my nose, he packed it with cotton and I was wheeled out to recover.  Three weeks later, I still had a bit of bruising, but at least I could breathe easier once the cotton packing was removed.

It’s now been 25 years, and I thought I’d never have to think of it again, but somehow, it’s crooked again.  Or maybe the operation wasn’t all that successful, or maybe the falls and hits playing sports since then injured it again and I once again didn’t care.

But I’ve been to three ENT specialists over the past two years in Hamburg, trying to get help for another problem: phantom smells.  It started about two years ago with a powerful smell of metal all the time.  Copper, mostly.  That went away, but now it’s other stuff.  I smell soap, burned wood mixed with soap, weird chemicals wafting through my head.  It comes and goes in five-day cycles.  They’ve given me an MRI and ruled out brain tumour, but I’m slowly coming to realise this is like tinnitus for the nose.   Like hearing sounds in your head that aren’t there, the nose smells things that aren’t there either.

But at every visit to ask about the smell thing, the new ENT took one look up my nose and said I should look at getting it fixed.  I’d tell the story I’ve just told you, and they all looked horrified and said that things have improved in the ENT branch since 1988, that fixing a nose is not so brutal anymore, and in any case, they’d give me a general whatever they had to do.

But I wasn’t going for it.

Then I visited a fourth specialist who said there’s still a problem, but such a drastic measure as re-straightening the septum isn’t necessary.  What he is going to do this week is clear out the scarring left over from the first operation, and perform a minor procedure to widen the passages so I can breathe easier.  I did a test a month ago at the clinic that showed I’m just not getting enough air.

I don’t usually yammer on about my operations, but since this is only the second one I’ve ever had if you don’t count the routine tonsil yank-out they did when I was 8, it’s a big deal for me.

I just hope one day I can play some hockey again.

This winter in Canada, for sure.

ice-skating-holland-netherlands-sunrise-hockey-stick-puck-rough-ankeveen

21
Jun
12

The Germans don’t beef about draining my blood

I used to donate blood when I lived in Canada, but am no longer allowed to, even if I paid them.  Because I lived for more than three months in France in the early 1980s, I’m no longer eligible to give blood in Canada.

Eet ees ze vache folle, you see.  Mad Cow disease.  The Canadians fear I’m a carrier because France at the time I lived there was importing possibly infected beef from Thatcher’s Britain, a mad cow dominion if there ever was one.

Roast beef?  Hah! I could tell them that as a struggling student I lived exclusively on baguette and brie washed down with cheap wine, but it wouldn’t do any good.

In fact, if you applied Canada’s incredibly strict rules for donating blood to Germany, the entire system in this country would collapse.  That’s because Canada now says that if you’ve lived for more than five years at a time in Europe at any time since 1980, they won’t allow you to donate, either.

Canada is paranoid, I suppose, because there really is no way of knowing whether my blood is tainted or not, or, if I truly am a carrier, when it will flare up.  There’s this disease called Kuru that still pops up in former cannibals from New Guinea about once or twice a year, even though it was more than 50 years ago the last time they tucked into some filet humain.  Kuru is what they call a prion disease, and is like mad cow in that the cattle got it after being fed the ground-up – and infected – bits of their forefathers .  That was a bad idea, because it spread to humans and has killed more than 170 people so far.

But the Germans see beyond all that, and have no qualms about sticking needles into my left Canuck arm to drain a bit of fluid.

Every eight weeks I go to a clinic about 20 minutes away, down a litre of fruit juice while filling out a form that says I am still in a monogamous relationship with a human being I trust, have not suddenly decided to swap needles with strangers, and am not at the moment on day four of a three-day bender.

Then I go have some more juice while waiting my turn at the draining beds.   It takes only a few minutes of semi-horizontal relaxation with the friendly nurses, after which they give me a meal voucher I trade for two long, crunchy European wieners and a mound of potato salad washed down with another litre of fruit juice.  Gotta make sure I don’t collapse on the way home, I guess.

For all that they give me €23 to cover my bus fare, time and trouble.  But they also give me a bit more.  Even though your contribution is anonymous, indirect and just a drop in the bucket, it’s a good feeling to know it’s going to help someone get through their stay in hospital.

And you might call it the karmic installment savings plan, but some day I might be hauled in on a stretcher and need to make a withdrawal myself.

09
Mar
11

A couple of reasons why German healthcare is in such a mess

From some of the highest drug prices in Europe to bloated bureaucracies, there must be a dozen reasons why healthcare in Germany is an expensive mess – about 8% of gross wages for those on the public plan, and rising.

trust me i'm a doctor buttonA few years ago, during what turned out to be the longest stretch I’ve ever had to endure in a hospital, I got a good look at two of those reasons.

It started out as a routine blood test at my family doctor.

“This doesn’t look good” he says when showing me the results.  “You’ve got to see a specialist about this as soon as possible.”

So I get an appointment at a specialist who performs an ultrasound, along with another blood test.   When the tests come back he hums and haws, says it could be this or that, but to find out for sure, we have to take a tissue sample.  Jab a hollow tube through my liver and rummage through what they pull out.

“Just a couple of nights in the hospital,” he tells me.

I get sent to a third doctor, the one who’s going to be taking care of the hospital visit, who performs the third blood test in about three weeks, which comes back with the very same results.

Upon admission to hospital a couple of weeks later, they take another two blood tests, one on admission, another the next day.

“Look,” I tell them.  “I don’t understand.  I’ve got an arm like a junkie’s with all these needles.  Why do I have to get a new blood test every time I’m sent to a new doctor?”

“Because that’s the way we do it here,” they tell me. “You may be referred to another doctor, but they have to take a new test each time.  They can’t take the results of the former doctor at face value.”

I wondered how many billions each year are wasted that way, but it was the hospital visit itself that really opened my eyes to the way the system is set up to rip us all off.

Not only did they only perform the tissue sample the morning of my third day after admission, already forcing me to stay one more night than I’d planned for, but they also arranged to have me undergo a colonoscopy a few days later, because the tissue sample showed nothing abnormal, and they wanted to “make sure we aren’t missing anything.”

That was on a Friday, and they told me I’d have to spend the entire weekend in the hospital waiting for the colonoscopy to get underway the following Tuesday.

What?  Wait f0ur full days in hospital when I feel perfectly healthy just to prepare for another procedure that might not even be necessary?

“Screw you,” I told them.  “I am not spending five minutes in this dump more than I have to.”

Dump?  More like an asylum.  My time until then had been spent enduring the ravings of an attention-starved recovering alcoholic in the bed beside me, who, completely oblivious to the impact his constant ramblings and interruptions had on the rest of us, actually woke me up the night before the tissue sample, because he couldn’t sleep and so was watching his personal TV at 3 in the morning.  Mostly to get away from him, I packed up and left that Friday afternoon, signing a waiver on my way out saying that whatever happened to me that weekend was my own doing.

After a beautiful weekend hiking the storm-swept mid-winter beaches of St-Peter-Ording with K and the little red-haired girl, I showed up Monday morning at the hospital, spent a day drinking gallons of some vile solution turning my backside into a storm drain, submitted myself to an invasion by a 12-foot black plastic snake, and spent a day and a half recovering.  The only thing I was grateful for was their generous application of Demerol.  I liked it so much, I’d have let them do it again just to get more of the stuff.

I told my family doctor all this and he replied with what I’d been thinking all along.  “I’m really sorry you had to go through all that, but hospitals do that all the time..  Every night you stay there is worth a lot of money to them.  They maximise the time you have to stay so they can turn around and bill the health funds.  There’s really nobody checking to see if what they do is really necessary.”

To top it all off, I received a bill from the hospital for the daily user fee we all have to pay.  They completely disregarded the two nights over the weekend I had left the hospital, billing me for the full nine days.

I paid for seven with a note and a letter explaining why, with proof I wasn’t there and all the rest, but the bureaucrats ignored it.  Instead I received a nasty notice threatening me with legal action and all associated additional costs if I didn’t buck up for the two days I did not stay in their comfortable surroundings.

So I paid for those two days just to get them out of my hair, only to find out a few weeks later from my healthcare people that I shouldn’t have, and that I could get the money back if I applied for it.

But by then I was so glad to have the whole sorry mess behind me I didn’t bother.




The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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