Try a little tenderness…

16 06 2014

Yesterday, while helping my daughter, Melissa, move to her new apartment, a lawn chair that I was carrying unfolded unexpectedly and the aluminum tubing bumped my lower leg. It wasn’t a hard enough bump to notice much and I simply refolded it and kept on going. I’d forgotten about it by the time I’d taken the elevator to her floor. Later in the day, my leg felt a bit irritated and, when I checked it out, I found a small bruise that was sore to the touch. There was still some work we wanted to get done so kept at it for about another hour and by that time, the bruise was about the size of an egg and very sore. As we relaxed at home after a busy day, my leg began to throb and soon became unbearably painful. No longer able to hold back my tears, Melissa became alarmed and called the online nurse who suggested that I call an ambulance. By this time, I would have done just about anything to make the pain stop. My bruise, now the size of a goose egg, felt exactly like my thumb had felt when I slammed the car door on it many years ago — only this time the pain was spread over a much larger area.

The ambulance medics were very careful and were clearly worried about the size of the bruise and its location just below the knee and toward my inner calf on the shin area. On our ride to the hospital, the older medic rode in the back with me and explained to me that the excruciating pain was because the blood in the bruise was tightly compressed in that spot on my leg so it was setting off nerves in a pain response. I think he was trying to distract me and, in his own way, comfort me.

When we arrived at the hospital, the medics gently rolled me into the triage area where the triage nurse did everything but roll her eyes at me as she tried to tell me that this kind of bruise was what I should expect as someone on Warfarin. She ordered a wheelchair for me which set off a new wave of excruciating pain as there was no way to keep my leg elevated. I was in despair as I truly felt that I would not be able to deal with the pain much longer. The older medic leaned over and whispered in my ear, “we are going to get a second opinion” and simply wheeled me into the treatment area and got a nurse and doctor to look at me immediately. They soon had me in a cot, foot elevated by a soft pillow and gave me a pill containing a modified form of morphine. My pain began to diminish enough that I could bear it as long as I didn’t move my leg at all. Then things got worse.

Within about 15 minutes I began to experience waves of pain that felt like my leg was burning. It was excruciating — the worst pain I’ve ever experienced in my life. I tried to be stoic and quiet but I couldn’t help moaning at the worst of the pain. My original nurse never came back to check on my pain levels and, although Melissa tried to comfort me, it was clear I was in agony to anyone who took the time to look. Finally another nurse who was stationed across from my cubicle came over to check on me. When she realized how much pain I was experiencing, she said, “I’m such a wuss but I can’t stand to see a patient in this much pain.” She immediately inserted a line and began direct injection of the morphine drug. I finally had some merciful relief.  In the meantime, my original nurse came by with more pills but when told they hadn’t touched the pain, shrugged and said that the other nurse might as well try a line. Ummm…yeah!

Things could have been so different. If I didn’t have a medic who was compassionate enough to break protocol to seek another opinion or if the nurse hadn’t intervened when my assigned nurse wasn’t willing to act on my behalf, I’m not sure what would have happened. In this world of standardized efficiency and cost cutting protocols based on quantified probabilities, so many are suffering in unimaginable ways because overworked staff follow the rules rather than take the time to get to know and then meet the needs of those they are serving. I’m thinking of the children who are made to feel “less than” because they aren’t the “standard” middle class student with supportive parents and sufficient food and shelter to ensure he or she arrives at school prepared to learn. Increasingly, children who are not being taught in their first language or who carry the trauma of war and/or extreme hunger find themselves being tested by culturally inappropriate “standardized” tests. First Nations students whose learning needs are so poorly met, immigrant children, children with disabilities in classrooms with more and more students and less and less support staff. Busy teachers, stressed parents, and the suffering mounts.

In the absence of systemic change, we can only hope that these children will find their medic who ignores protocol or their nurse who is a “wuss” in the face of someone else’s suffering and then acts despite standardized protocols. My leg is slowly healing — my hope is that the children in our schools will find a place of tenderness and healing as well.







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