Fellini was making documentaries

by Yule Heibel on August 2, 2004

To blog or not to blog? Although not exactly taking a summer break, I’m an oppressed summery mass nonetheless, crushed by domestic chores that somehow seem to be going ’round and ’round, like an endless sushi loop at “Yo Sushi,” to quote Eddy from AbFab. Forget the links, no time. If you haven’t seen the show, tough. On Saturday the darling daughter (no sarcasm or irony here: this is in fact a very special person) took a head-first-over-the-handlebars tumble off her bike at Ross Bay Cemetery. She walked all the way home to our street at Rockland, which is quite a number of blocks, even in wee Fairfield. She was assisted by her brother and their very capable friend, who performed the heroic task of pushing her bike as well as his own the entire way. She and the brother meanwhile walked more quickly than the friend, she spilling blood most of the way. While avoiding skull fracture (she was of course wearing a helmet), she managed however to push three of her front teeth right through her lower lip/ chin area. If you’re a vegetarian, you won’t like the image this conjures, especially the consequent intervention of suturing and the reaction of the outraged flesh as the body marshalls its healing functions. Of course, some women would kill to afford the collagen injections for lips like that, but …. Fellini comes into the equation in the wake of our fast-paced but measured trip to the emergency room at the Royal Jubilee Hospital, followed by what seemed like an interminable wait. Can I just say right here that I hate the name of this hospital? Jubilee? Royal Jubilee? For a sick ward? The only other time I ever saw its emergency room was when, as a teen, I slammed a car door on my finger. It was very odd incident, somehow. I never really had boyfriends — I was such a CASTRATING BITCH with my smart mouth and my smart head and my smart autodidactic hands (in fact, the kids and I recently had a very deep conversation about sadism and masochism as a construct of sexist paternalism that explains why women should just lie down and think of England or something, so that guys and their one-eyed-trouser-snake [please see Caroline Knapp] could continue to feel empowered and superior) that most guys my age tended to stay away from me unless they were desperadoes, anarchists, or seriously on drugs — yet that one time in the hospital, I was there because I was actually on a “date” with a guy, which I suppose was so weird to me that I somehow had nothing better to do than slam the car door on my own finger. It happened right at Oak Bay Junction, in front of a store formerly known as Freddie the Freeloader’s. Hey, I’m my own dom, ok? This memory flooded back to me as we waited for six (6) hours (let me repeat that: six hours, sechs Stunden, six heures) to have my 10-year-old girl, who hadn’t shed even a single tear during this entire ordeal, be seen. Once she was seen, she was out of there in 15 minutes, but it took six hours to get to that point. Canada’s health care system has salient health — correction: sickness — issues. The main reason everything took so long was because the majority of the emergency beds are occupied by regular, long-term patients. It also certainly wouldn’t hurt if there were additional doctors on staff. One woman, a geriatric patient, has been occupying an emergency room bed for 35 (thirty-five!) days (as of Saturday July 31). The previous record was held by a guy who stayed for 30 days: I learned this from the doctor who eventually was able to show up. The emergency ward is so cheerless and discouragingly functional, I know I would feel that killing myself would be the better option than spending a month there, but if it were the only option, I would, I suppose, hang in there like anyone else, yet consider it a virtual reality version of Dante’s inner circle of Hell. Fellini. Let’s talk about that. Just a vignette, just a tiny bit, not a big panorama. There is no time for really long descriptions: I have recycling to take out and vacuuming to do and dishes to clear and laundry to sort. The waiting room: a man who kept offering bodily fluids in response to requests from a manic-seeming orderly. One moment it was en empty vial, then it seemed to be full of a clear liquid, then — I swear — he gave the orderly a vial of blood. Where did he get the blood? Did he draw it himself? Cradling my daughter, I start to overhear another group’s conversation. An older man — 83, I Iearn — is telling his granddaughter about his experience of surviving Nazi concentration camps during the Hitler period. He was Dutch and deported when he was 18. His mother and brother were murdered, his father died of other complications directly related to the prosecutions. He went to Germany this past May — to Celle — to attend a memorial. He’s kept up a regular association all these years. His wife, the granddaughter’s grannie, had stumbled that noon and broken her wrist, and husband and granddaughter whiled away their incarceration in the inner circle with stories. In this outermost outpost of colonial British empire, in an emergency room on a Saturday introducing a long holiday weekend (today, Monday, was “BC Day”), I get to listen to and then chat with an elderly gentleman who once had dinner with Chaim Weizmann. In Rotterdam, I think. At the invitation of a then-young friend whose rich father had invited Weizmann to star in a private fundraiser to raise money for the future Israel. While we’re talking about the ills of the world, while the elderly gentleman talks about how so many groups have been unspeakable, including the Belgians in the Congo, an impossibly obese woman who until recently had been loudly burping (and farting) in her sleep while she napped in the attached chair, piped in. I had just said something about Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, and, boom!, she was right on top of it. What was so discombobulating was that she knew all about concentration camp survivor stories, with which she was sympathetic, and she was very savvy about Kingsolver and literature in general; yet superficially, in terms of appearance and behaviour, she would be the kind of woman — she was only about 35 years old or so — who would be dismissed by those in power. She was truly obese, she had those terrible open leg sores, bad clothing (think toddler style in ultra-sizing), a non-haircut, and her voice added the coup de grace since it was cartoonishly out of place with her large body. She embodied a kind of North American removal of boundaries: huge, overflowing, but with a Mickey Mouse voice, as though she were thoroughly shaped and constructed by popular culture — McDonalds fastfood and Disney videos. When she spoke, the nasal cartoon sound signalled a discord with what she said. Yet judging by what she said, she had such a brain…. It was a weird contradiction to wrap one’s head around. Other walking wounded kept drifting in and out, including this unbelievably handsome built guy originally from Powell River — I mean built: biceps like a god’s, just gorgeous, abs like a really hard fantastic board you could bounce buns off, beautiful dark black eyes, black hair, olive skin: ooh, no average lumber jack from the Sunshine Coast was he. And what was wrong with him? He had seriously damaged his finger while … washing his kitchen floor. I’m not kidding. It was insane: older, thoughtful man with sometimes oddball ideas about history (he didn’t like the establishment of the state of Israel, for example), survivor of Bergen-Belsen; obese cartoon-character-like woman who nonetheless had a real intellectual life happening; built hunk of a guy who got whammied scrubbing the floor; possibly deranged mental case possibly homeless type offering what seems like an endless stream of bodily fluids; and so on…. And now the daughter is admitted to a real stretcher on the station (we’re in Area B, Bay 5; in Bay 4 we meet the grandmother whose wrist has just been set and bandaged and x-rayed several times), and in Bay 6 we eventually (after another hour) begin to chat with a Hell’s Angel type biker dude who was admitted because of wasp sting. Ok, laugh all you will, but this poor guy got stung on the arm on Friday, whereupon he went to a Walk-In Clinic. They treated him with Benadryl and icepacks and sent him home. During the night, he started having heart palpitations, the swelling increased to the point where there was no difference in shape articulation between palm of hand and shoulder: he felt truly scared now. However, all the Walk-In Clinics had closed on Saturday because it was a long weekend. An aside for non-Canadian readers: Walk-In Clinics serve as after-hours doctors’ offices — no Canadian doctor will accept calls or patients on weekends or after hours, and the Walk-Ins accept the overflow. But guess what? They closed for BC Day, so the only option was the hospital emergency room. Keep in mind that it’s a holiday weekend, a Saturday, and by now nearly 8 pm, meaning the drunk drivers and their victims were probably starting to filter in. And as with every emergency room, you get treated according to severity of injury, but unlike other emergency rooms, beds in Canadian emergency rooms are also occupied up to 80% by regular care patients who should be in the regular hospital or in a long-term situation (nursing home). In other words, we’re moving toward the eye of the needle here. It’s now after 8 and we still haven’t seen a doctor, but the daughter and I are sitting in an incredibly chilled ward (I get a blanket from the heating cubboard, a kind of reverse fridge, the daughter feels overheated from nausea), and the biker, in hushed tones, hisses out his story and leaves. I hope he went to a pub and had a beer, which probably cures wasp sting better than sitting in emergency for 7 hours. Another 40 minutes pass; a chaplain traipses in. The song “Vicar in a Tutu” by the Smiths springs to my mind afterward. The chaplain doesn’t identify himself as a chaplain to us, even though that’s how he introduced himself when he next went to the kitchen-floor-washer in Bay 6. The chaplain was lucky that he, garbed in shorts and regular shirt, couldn’t be identified as a person of responsibility: he made some terrible jokes, which in any case is an unforgiveable sin. Seeing my daughter, he asked her, “Had a fight with your boyfriend?” …Har har har, what a cutup. Can I just say that I had to restrain myself, and that it was my stupid “workers’ consciousness” that kept me from making mincemeat of this idiot? I thought he was just an ordinary orderly, hence “excusable” because possibly uneducated. That’s what I get for being such a prejudiced pre-judging dope. I should have treated him as a human being, in which case I would have skewered him and cut him to fucking ribbons. I mean, it’s so appropriate to make jokes about domestic violence, isn’t it, especially with a ten-year old who has been waiting for nearly 5 hours to be seen by a doctor, isn’t it???? O Canada. We stew for another hour, growing colder by the minute. Many hours earlier, the admitting orderly had made a joke about how they keep the temperature this low because they don’t want people to get comfortable and stay. Boy. And so we’ve stewed in reverse temperatures for yet another hour when, finally, the doctor arrives. Here comes yet another “documentary” moment: “Hey, I know you! You have a dog, don’t you? Yeah, we’ve chatted on Dallas Road!” Oh joyful noise: general backslapping and happy cheerful tones ring through the ward: we have dogs, we know each other. The doctor has a slight physical handicap, and also he’s American. All of this adds to the Fellini-esque aspect: the doctor is handsome and built-built-built, just like a floor-washer, but he is handicapped. His legs are uneven, he has trouble standing on an even keel: his top and bottom express a disjuncture. He tells us that although he came to Canada when Bush got elected, he will leave this country soon because he “just can’t practice medicine here”: he feels there is no certain ground to stand on here, his muscled arms can’t hold the object he desires. I am experiencing the Canadian emergency health care option through the eyes of an American doctor — although I have to add that several hours before, a Canadian doctor (granted, he had a Brit accent, so who knows where he was from) had ranted at length to another patient’s relative about the understaffing, the long shifts, the overwork, and how the administrators all get to go home for the long weekend while anaesthesiologists get to work 18 hour shifts. Documentary or Fellini? Different or same thing? Dr. Ex-Pat sews up the incredible hole inside my daughter’s lip, gets the nurse to put some polysporin on all the other wounds, and sends us home. Very efficient, once she got seen. But by now it’s dark and 10 pm. The next day (yesterday) I went to the health food store to buy meal replacement powder that can be mixed into drink form so that my daughter can take her meals through a straw. Next time, I’m calling the vet first. It’s faster, and they’re even around on weekends. And PS: Sorry about all the bad writing, but I really am blogging this on the fly. This is pre-first-draft stuff, and no, there will be no revisions, alas. For me, it’s back to turfing out the Augean stables, as Maria of Alembic (whom I owe email) would say…. The kitchen awaits, the basement beckons, the dust demands, and laundry pile grows by the hour. …With a knick-knack paddy-whack give the dog a bone, this girl’s gonna bomb her home. Eventually.

{ 1 comment }

maria August 3, 2004 at 2:38 pm

I am so sorry to hear about your daughter’s accident and subsequent “rights of passage” through the emergency care rituals of Canadian health care system. Talk about a nightmare … putting in a full working day’s quota of hours into waiting! [Though, I tell you, the American system is fast learning from the Canadian model in terms of filling its emergency rooms with people who shouldn’t be there and people who have to wait for hours on end to be seen for exactly the type of injuries your daughter had! And then, if you don’t have insurance … well, you can imagine the size of the bill!]

As for those inappropriate remarks about the “boyfriend”; I probably would have decked the speaker myself…. [but then, that wouldn’t have helped much in getting the kind of medical attention that was needed, right?]

Hope your daughter is feeling better … and the Augean stables are not sapping you of energy! And don’t worry about the email! You have been through quite the ordeal there! We’ll catch up – as we are doing now!

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