By Emil van der Poorten –
I will now take up where I left readers last week – unconscious on a hospital floor after unsuccessfully seeking assistance from the nursing staff of the ward.
As I understand it, a cardio-thoracic surgical team took me in their care and performed emergency open-heart surgery in order to clear out all the blood and other material in my chest cavity which was threatening to choke me to death. I was put back together with a stainless steel wire cage, as the surgeon subsequently described it to me. I was unconscious for a period of five or six days and my partner was instructed to inform my next of kin as I was not expected to survive.
Survive I did, I believe to the consternation of those responsible for putting me in that predicament and I suspect, particularly to the discomfort of the person who had “out-sourced” the procedure to someone obviously lacking the skill of a “pacemaker-installer.” Reverting to the matter of that installation, I believe that the damage was done at the time the tube connecting the pacemaker to the area of the aorta was violently forced in causing a rupture and very serious haemorrhaging.
The speed at which the surgical team was required to work can be judged by the fact that they didn’t have time to remove the pacemaker and the tube and had to go in a second time, when I had recovered to some extent, to get those two pieces of hardware out!
Once I regained consciousness, the surgeon warned me that I should not even think about twisting my body in any way because to do so could cause internal problems serious enough that a second surgical intervention would not be of much use.
This presented an interesting dilemma for someone hooked up to all kinds of “drips” through canulas etc. when the attendants ignored my requests to leave an urinal by my bed so that I could pick it up, use it and return it to the ground for removal in due course.
The result of that refusal to respond to such a simple request can well be imagined. I woke up in a bath of liquid with a significant ammonia content more mornings than I care to remember!
Sponge baths? Forget it! Despite bribes to some of the attendants by some of my visitors, this happened so seldom that when I was ultimately moved to a private health care facility, it took four changes of water before the end product was less than a darker shade of brown! I suppose the good news there was the fact that I didn’t end of with bed sores!
In addition to this, a lasting memory I will carry to my grave is that of an old Tamil man transferred from some district hospital many miles away from this Teaching Institution. Not to put a fine point on it, he was subjected to gratuitous cruelty. If his sarong so much as inched its way up his thigh, he was shouted at by the “angels of mercy” in whose care we were as if he was some kind of exhibitionist! You didn’t have to be a medical genius to see the man was old, feeble and probably in the early stages of dementia and this gratuitous cruelty seemed to confirm my impression that the prevailing culture of this ward was one of racism/communalism. This was something that was constantly reinforced by my being compelled to convince my listeners, in my more-than-passable Sinhala (both my grandmothers came from peasant Sinhala stock in what used to be the Kandyan Kingdom), that I wasn’t a “white foreigner free-loading on our free (?) medical care system!”
Of course, from time to time our consultant, would sweep regally through the ward with minions trailing and when I demanded that I be discharged because the stress and pressure I was subjected to was counterproductive in the matter of my recovery, the response was yet another regal gesture accompanying the information that “all the staff in that ward were at (my) disposal!” This was beyond the comprehensible given the fact that the staff were absolutely over-worked and even those few who had a Florence Nightingale-like devotion to their tasks, were powerless to overcome the fact that there was only so much that they could do for those in their care. If a very senior medical practitioner wasn’t aware of this fact………………………….!
On another occasion, when I demanded that I be discharged, this same consultant said I had to continue in that place so that me and my medication intake could be monitored and stabilised. This was in a situation when, on several occasions, the attending nurses would inquire from me whether or not I had taken a drug of some kind!
Ultimately, I escaped this hell hole.
The icing on the cake has been that so much as a mention of the consultant’s name to members of the legal profession in this jurisdiction had them, metaphorically, screaming “conflict of interest” and trying to disappear into the hills as fast as they could! One of these legal eagles, however, before taking off, advised me against even seeking the legal assistance I required in this provincial capital! Place that in the context that, if I secured legal representation for a malpractice suit from a lawyer in another town, there would be the additional cost involved in travelling to the town in which the action had to be filed each time the case was called. A no-brainer? You bet!
While my physical recovery has been slow and there appears to be a (negative) residual effect from all that occurred in that month following a “simple, non-surgical procedure” going wrong, I will neither forgive nor forget the lack of humanity displayed by many of the so-called care-givers I encountered in that little adventure. What was reinforced for me was that the culture prevailing in this or any other institution is dictated by those controlling it. Fish rots from the head as has been established over the years and god help anyone having to put up with such circumstances.
This is the final instalment of my “hospital narrative” and I count myself very fortunate indeed that it was not the final instalment of my life!