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.