Heathcare Providers…and robins

Why do robins sing at 4 a.m.?  The sun isn’t up, the worms are asleep and yet the robins are out there chirping their little heads off.  This inane question ran through my mind because I was trying not to think about a more serious question—how is Roy doing?  On Tues June 7 my husband had a stroke.  Before I go any further let me assure you that Roy is well on the way to a complete recovery.  However last Tues and Wed his condition was less certain.  Here’s what happened.

On Tues morning Roy collapsed while making the morning coffee.  The next 20 minutes were a blur of 911 calls, firemen, EMT guys and an ambulance that deposited us at the Foothills Emergency Department.  I fully expected to be forced into “bulldog” mode in order to get the attention we required, but we were immediately taken into triage.  (Stroke patients get priority over others because early treatment is critical).   The doctors and nurses quickly assessed Roy’s condition, scheduled the required tests and continued to monitor his status while we waited for a bed in the critical care unit.

I had a chance to observe the ED staff while we waited for a bed to clear.  It became obvious that not only were these people skilled professionals, they actually liked their jobs and their co-workers.   They were open and empathetic, offering us everything from explanations to extra chairs when my daughters showed up.  Our attending physician stopped at the end of his shift to have a conversation (rather one-sided in the circumstances) with Roy, an urban planner, about the state of planning in Calgary versus his home town of Mexico City.  The morale of the place was epitomized by the screensavers that scrolled across the computer monitors:  FMC—ED ROCKS!   (FMC = Foothills Medical Centre, ED = Emergency Department and ROCKS! = no explanation required).

Within 4 hours Roy was transferred to the critical care unit for additional tests and close monitoring.  Here we met more doctors, residents, fellows, practitioners, nurses, practical nurses, physical,  occupational and speech therapists as well as aides and the housekeeping staff.  Luckily Roy continued to make remarkable progress and would not require many of these services.  What was crystal clear however was the quality of the care available and a sense of professionalism and pride in a job well done.

A day later Roy was moved to the stroke unit where he shared a room with 3 other patients.  The patients on this floor are healthier (relatively speaking) than those on the critical care floor so the number of healthcare providers per patient is reduced.  The halls were cluttered with hospital paraphernalia—computers, chairs, stretchers and equipment—and the staff were very busy, nevertheless they maintained the same high standard of professionalism and care we’d experienced on the critical care floor.

Roy is home now.  He’s adjusting to his new regiment, more pills, less work and no driving for a whole month!  I am grateful to the healthcare providers at the Foothills because they know only too well what it is like to work in a difficult environment.  I’m not talking about the stress of working in a place where people are suffering and some actually die, but rather the stress that comes from working in a place that is at the mercy of politicians and bureaucrats who have not yet figured out how to provide optimal healthcare to Albertans but are too proud to reach out to workers on the front line and ask for assistance.*

I ask myself:  how do our healthcare providers maintain their morale, how do they continue to rock?  Then I remember the robins that sing at 4 a.m. and realize that healthcare providers, like the robins, do what they do because that’s their job and they will do it to the best of their ability even when the sun is low in the sky and no one is watching.  Healthcare workers are professionals who will do their very best even when their short sighted bosses change the rules over and over again.  For this I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

*Despite political and bureaucratic roadblocks, many healthcare organizations have taken a proactive approach to solving provincial and federal healthcare delivery problems.  The Canadian Nurses Association has launched an expert commission to make recommendations on the evolution of Canada’s health system.  The Commission is co-chaired by Maureen McTeer and Marlene Smadu.  Heather Smith, the president of the United Nurses of Alberta sits on the expert panel.  Closer to home, a recent independent study has reconfirmed the wisdom of the Alberta Medical Association’s push for more primary care networks (PCNs) as a critical element of Alberta’s primary care strategy.  You’ll recall that the government threatened to cut funding to the PCN program in the last round of contract negotiations.      



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6 Responses to Heathcare Providers…and robins

  1. Rose Marie MacKenzie says:

    I, like you Susan, have discovered that it takes a very special person to be a health care provider. Despite the constant uphill push they seem to manage to pull the irons out of the fire…successfully. I wish our politicians would take a long, hard, personal look at all these men and women and reward them by making their work place less stressful.

  2. I think you’ve nailed it Rose Marie. If politicians would stop thinking like politicians who are afraid to admit their mistakes for fear that they won’t get re-elected we might stand a chance of fixing the problem. Looks to me like we’ll have to find ourselves a new bunch of politicians!

  3. Sheila O'Brien says:

    First of all, I’m very pleased that Roy is doing so well. That is wonderful, and the most important thing.
    I would also add that your experience at FMC mirrors mine : my mother had a mild stroke 3 years ago, and while in the hosptial, had a severe stroke from which she could not recover. ALL the staff at the hospital, from the doctors to the cleaners were kind, compassionate, caring and highly professional. They allowed my mother to have a good death – a death with dignity – and allowed us to see her off just as she would have wished it.

    I cannot commend these workers highly enough – they are the gems in our firmamant.

    • Thank you for sharing your story Sheila. Being treated with respect and dignity is such a simple thing and yet it’s not always the case. The remarkable thing about your experience and ours is that FMC was able to provide that level of care 3 years ago and is still able to provide it today. That speaks volumes for the staff and management of FMC.

  4. roy wright says:

    I feel you provided a very good insider view of how our health system worked. I also had a view, not altogether different from you, but that as the patient you were referring to. My first few hours in emergency could have turned out far worse than was indeed the case. Knowing that you and the girls were there gave me my first wave of optimism in case things went sideways. However, after listening to the staff talk to you and to others, that also gave me another boost in confidence as these people were truly professional and we were all fighting together to make sure I got to the next “station”.

    Over the next four days, I saw a wide variety of staff ranging from my nurses and doctors who dealt with me daily, to those who undertook tests and pushed me through corridors. Each and every person showed me the sort of respect and courtesy you could only hope for in everyday life outside of the hospital. We have all read stories, both in your columns and in our local newspapers, about how the health system is not keeping up to demand, but let me assure you, it is not the front line professionals who are keeping us back. We are extremely fortunate to have such individuals and they deserve our credit and support in spite of the bureaucrats and politicians who continue to make their lives difficult.

    Lastly, thank you to you and the girls for being there!

    • Roy, I agree with your characterization of the experience as “all fighting together” to make sure you got to the next station. The girls and I knew that the staff at FMC would give us the support that we needed to help you come through this.

      Lastly, you’re very welcome!!

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