Niagara Falls General Hospital, 2003
They called it a “moderate cardiac event” and put me in the ICU for a week. I was only allowed 2 visitors each day, and for only 1 hour total. When, at 16, I cried for my mom they broke the rule, but only once.
The room was perfectly white, except for a single red-tinged splat near the bathroom door.
I would hold my breath until the heart monitor alarmed, just for my own curiosity on its sensitivity. One of the nurses rolled in a television and lent me the only VHS tape that they had in the unit: Speed 2. I watched it on repeat for 4 days.
Sandra Bullock never did stop that cruise ship from hitting the dock.
St. Thomas’ Hospital, 2014
The admitting nurse brought me into a storage closet and inserted an IV in the dim light. He placed a piece of heavy duty tape over it, wrote my information on it, signed his name, and told me not to give the IV to anyone else.
Sat across the hallway was a man in handcuffs with two police officers on either side. He looked back and forth between myself and the couple that sat next to me, a pair of impeccably dressed men whose hands clung together in discomfort and fear. To the left lay a man on the floor, in a pool of his own urine. Doctors and nurses stepped over him, as if he were a permanent fixture in the doorway. Maybe he was.
Once in a room, a stranger entered. I can’t remember her name, though she told me several times. Her hair was dyed bright blue, and her glasses magnified her eyes to comical degrees. She was well past 80, sporting leopard print tights and a pageboy hat. She had a thick Cockney accent and a terrible stutter. She lifted her shirt to show me the tattoos that adorned her abdomen- Fairy tale imagery of butterflies and flowers, spiraling about her wrinkled skin. She told me of all the people she knew that had died in the hospital, how she’d cared for many of them in their final months or years. She was evicted twice from my room by the Aussie nurse on the unit, but she’d always return and continue her story.
They never used the IV line, but at least there was free Wi-Fi.
Niagara Falls General Hospital, 2010
I spent 4 days in the Emergency Room with a rampant fever that wouldn’t break. They ran every test they could think of, but could not find the issue. They even called in a special diagnostician team (like House) who asked a million and a half questions, before leaving and never returning.
On day 2 a doctor who was not one of mine came in and announced that my pregnancy test came back positive. When my mom burst out laughing he looked to me and asked, “Are you not Amanda?”
My dad came to visit one day wearing unreasonably form-fitting spandex exercise pants.
Laying on a gurney for 4 days is not comfortable, at all, FYI.
McMaster Children’s Hospital, 2003
This was my first long stint in a hospital. I was 16 and had been sick for well over a year. I didn’t know what was wrong, but my body was shutting down. I’d lost 50 lbs. in the months leading up, my hair had started falling out, my teeth were rotting, I’d been sleeping 20 hours a day, and I was slowly losing my vision.
I’d missed over 40 days of school that semester, and was admitted into the hospital just days before final exams.
I was in a double room, and my roommates rotated every couple of days. On the first night it was a 4 year old with a shattered arm. She screamed all night from the pain. My next roommate was a ginger girl who was about the same age as me. She was having her tonsils removed, and spent all day complaining to me about her mother, despite the nurses telling her not to talk. The bed was blessedly vacant for the last couple of nights.
A few days in my good friend Tara and her mom came to visit (the hospital was about an hour drive from where we lived), so naturally 5 minutes after they arrived the nurse took me out for tests and didn’t return me until the end of visiting hours.
I would go for walks around the hospital late at night, when the halls were empty and still. The hospital was colour coded, and I’d walk in a square, from Red to Purple to Blue to Yellow, and back to Red, where my wing was. I’d do the walk with my IV pole in tow, and it was inevitably start beeping about halfway through my walk. I’d ignore it.
Barnet Hospital, 2013
I was terrified. I couldn’t stop having panic attacks and I didn’t know why. WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME?
The doctor at Barnet Hospital sent me in an ambulance to a country hospital for a psych assessment; in a town I’d never been, where I sat alone in a room for 6 hours. Eventually someone came to talk with me, and said the panic attacks weren’t anything to worry about and I was discharged.
It took me 3 hours to walk back to London along the country roads.
Eastbourne District General Hospital, 2006
It was my first year away at university and I’d had a fever for several days. When my limbs started to go numb my RA sent me to the local doctor, who immediately put me in a taxi to the hospital. I was admitted into a special ward for patients who were susceptible to infection. It was 9 women, all over the age of 85, and myself.
The nurse was angry with me for saying I was not from Australia, when she was sure I had an Australian accent. Myself and another patient on the ward tried to assure her that I was most definitely Canadian (the patient testifying that she had lived in Toronto for 50 years and would know the accent anywhere), but the nurse was having none of it. She called me a liar and said she would not care for liars.
The same nurse also happened to answer the telephone when my mom called the hospital, after the university had informed her that I’d been taken there. She told my mom that I had meningitis, though after hanging up would realize that she misread the doctor’s handwriting. Meanwhile my parents, neither of who had passports at the time, were on their way to Toronto in order to be issued emergency travel documents from the government so they could travel to the UK to be with their apparent meningitis infected child. (Don’t worry; someone eventually contacted them with the correct information.)
After several days my fever broke, and I was told I could go home in the morning. Unfortunately that night it was discovered that there was an outbreak of the Norovirus in the hospital, and within a few hours I had it.
Due to the severity of the outbreak the hospital was quarantined, and because I was infected, our room was a hot zone. Plastic was put over the door, no one was allowed in without proper HAZMAT outfitting, and none of us were allowed to leave the room, for any reason whatsoever. And I mean any reason. The woman next to me died on the third day of quarantine and remained there until it ended.
The Dean of my university, whom I had never met, heard about the situation and made a special request from the hospital to come and visit me. They suited him up and he was allowed entrance into the room. He told me through his paper and plastic helmet that he had a daughter my age and that thinking about her being alone in a hospital across the ocean made him quite emotional. So, he decided to come and visit me. It was such a kind gesture that still moves me to this day. He sat with me for the afternoon, and we chatted about this and that.
Welland County General Hospital, 2012
I watched him exhale and go very still, his cheeks sinking in and his face turning a strange shade of white. It was peaceful, but my heart is still broken.
Niagara Falls General Hospital, 2015
I started to have a terrible panic attack in the waiting area of the Emergency Room. A woman came over and began talking me through it. I later learned that she was a local yoga instructor who had taught a course specific to people with anxiety. She gave me her business card, and I texted her later to thank her / apologize.
She now sends me uplifting, life affirming texts every week. They always put a smile on my face.
Credit Valley Hospital, 2011
I was putting oil in my car in the parking lot of a Canadian Tire in Niagara Falls when the hood fell shut over my arm. A stranger who was close ran over and lifted it up, and my arm didn’t seem to be damaged. So, I got on the highway and headed to Toronto to write my Communications exam. However, as I got closer my wrist became more and more sore. By Mississauga it had doubled in size and turned blue, so I exited on Erin Mills Parkway and went into the Credit Valley Hospital ER. Panicking that my exam was in a few short hours turned out to be unnecessary as I was in, checked over, x-rayed, and plaster casted in under an hour.
I hopped back on the highway to Toronto and was soon after shouted at by my program coordinator for coming in. I said I was fine, but as the wet plaster left white marks on the ID office counter, she picked up the phone to call my instructor to have my exam pushed a couple days later.
On my way home I realized I was in a manic panic, after running a streetcar stop sign and bursting into frantic tears that lasted for an hour.
Niagara Falls General Hospital, 2003
The room was cluttered with disassembled beds and cribs, laid half-hazard against every available surface. There was a single assembled bed in the far corner, where I was assigned. I stayed there for several days, with a doctor checking in only on the first and the last day. His wife had unexpectedly gone into labour and he forgot to reassign my case. He transferred me to McMaster on the last day.
North Middlesex University Hospital, 2012
It had been a month since I’d arrived in London. I had a job working at the Natural History Museum, and things were going well, up until that day. I woke up very panicked, and it got worse as I made my way to work. When I got in I was having a difficult time, and my manager insisted I take the rest day off and head home. I assured that this wouldn’t be a common occurrence, and the attack was not in any way related to the job, which I quite enjoyed. She told me to stop being silly, that of course this wasn’t a problem and we’d return to normal tomorrow. So, I left. On my way home I started having a panic attack on the Piccadilly Line. It was by far one of the worst I’ve ever experienced to this day. The tunnel vision became more and more intense, until everything went black. I don’t remember what happened next.
My next memory is sitting on the platform of an unknown station, covered in blood. My nose had begun gushing at some point, and my uniform front was sopping from where my head had been leaned forward. And as the fog cleared I realized a woman was sitting next to me, asking me questions. I can’t remember her name, but she was from Poland and owned a café close to the station. She helped me up and took me to a TFL employee, who called an ambulance.
The paramedics arrived, and I insisted that I was all right. As my nose was still bleeding and I’d yet to calm down, they urged me into the ambulance and took me to the hospital.
The visit was uneventful. The blood loss wasn’t severe, my pressure was going down, and there wasn’t anything to worry about. They let me leave.
Except when I got out of the hospital, I didn’t have the slightest clue where I was, or how to get home. I didn’t have Internet on the cheap phone I’d picked up for emergencies when I’d arrived, so I called a friend in Ireland, not sure of what else to do. I gave her the name of the hospital and she kindly researched how to get back. She also topped up my Oyster card online, as I didn’t have enough money on it to get home. But I finally made it back, well after midnight.
No one batted an eyelash when I got back on the tube looking frazzled and covered in blood.
Oh, and I was fired from my job the next morning.
Niagara Falls General Hospital, 2013
I’d been back in Canada for less than 48 hours. I’d felt unwell on my first day back, but chalked it up to jet leg. But by day 2 I knew that something was wrong. I’d started working my first day back, but asked to leave on day 2 when I began having difficultly standing. A co-worker drove me home, and when I arrived back I asked my mom to drive me to the ER. She didn’t look thrilled at the prospect of spending 8 hours in the hospital waiting room, as we’d done so many times, but she obliged.
When I arrived and went into triage, I realized that I’d forgotten my health card. Having been out of the country for a year, I hadn’t had the chance to reassemble my wallet yet. And anyone who has had any experience with the Canadian health care system knows that arriving anywhere without a health card is a no-no.
As such, my first indication that something was wrong was when I realized that I didn’t have my card as the nurse was taking my vitals. I told him I’d have to go home and get it, but he shook his head and said he couldn’t let me leave. He walked me over to the registration desk and said something to the nurse, who quickly got me registered, with no comment about the health card.
I then got up and went over to find my mom in the waiting room. Anticipating a long wait, she had brought her students workbooks to mark and had them strewn across the chairs around her. As I approached the triage nurse came up behind me and took my arm, saying that a bed was ready. Both my mom and I looked at him in total confusion. Shouldn’t I be called in 6 hours from now?
He took me back to a private room, and then next 20 minutes were a flurry of activity. Chest x-rays, blood work, an EKG. There were nurses and doctors running in and out, and I began to freak out, having no idea what has happening. I’d been hooked up to a heart monitor and when the panic attack started the nurses circled around me telling me I needed to calm down.
During all this my mom stood baffled in the corner.
Not long after the doctor returned with test results. He said it was a good thing I came in when I did. He said that if I’d gone home and gone to bed, I probably would have died in my sleep.