24 Days at HSC

Not everything in the health care system is broken. Care at Winnipeg’s two major hospitals is something to be proud of and thankful for.

By Dorothy Dobbie

Construction at HSC for a new on-campus hotel as viewed from the walkway to the William Street garage.

There is a lot of fear among people who worry about the kind of care they will receive in the hospital if ever they should be placed there. Take heart.

You have very little to worry about if your stay is at one of Winnipeg’s two major hospitals. My husband’s recent experience at Health Sciences Centre was extremely positive and reassuring.

Starting early
It started at 5 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, the last day of January. The operation was scheduled for 7:30 and we were told to be there an hour early. The intake was large; after registering, a group of six was escorted to the pre-operating room and prepped for what was to come. Everyone exhibited signs of anxiety, especially one young girl who confessed that she was scared.

Then it was off to the operating room – under your own steam, these days – pushing an IV pole. We were separated on the threshold and then there was the long, long wait. The operation was scheduled to take six hours and it took every minute and then some, but after the excruciating suspense, the surgeon came to the waiting room door and told us all had gone well.

We were allowed into the recovery room where Glenn was awake and alert; there is no such thing as sleeping off your anesthesia. A nurse was dedicated to his care and he sat the end of Glenn’s bed, watching to ensure that any slight complication, post op, would be detected. The care was courteous and solicitous. We felt surrounded by sincere concern.

More, we felt secure. Everywhere at HSC are signs advising visitors and staff to wash their hands. Everywhere, there are hand-washing devices; the elevators smell like a booze-convention because most people obey the signs and use the alcohol based hand cleaner.

The Step Down unit
After an hour or two, Glenn was sent to a Step Down unit, an intensive care ward where there is one nurse for every two patients. The beds are arranged in a semi-circle around the nursing station so that the patients are under constant surveillance. The care is meticulous and warm. One patient who had been there before said he hated to be upgraded to the regular ward because the care in the Step Down unit was so good.

After four days, Glenn was moved to the respiratory ward known as GH6. The nurses were very obliging when it came to accommodating him with a window-side bed. The nurses were attentive and hardworking.

While the care was very positive, this wing of the hospital is so old that the washrooms in some rooms are too small to accommodate patients who are tied to a double pole, as Glenn was. The rooms are also very small and it is difficult for nurses to manoeuvre around the beds to care for the patients. Visitors have very little visiting room. Nevertheless, everyone works it out.

Here, too, the care was courteous, prompt and concerned. Nurses and their aides worked very hard and willingly. In all our time there, we and Glenn’s roommate encountered only one unpleasant nurse’s aide (they are now called “unit assistants”). One doubts that she will be there long.

The surgical team
The three thoracic surgeons, too, work extremely hard, some operating as many as three times in one day and then making their rounds a couple of times. This small unit is responsible for thoracic surgery at six regional acute care hospitals. In addition, a resident doctor is also on call, checking on those who recently had surgery.

Just as he felt he was home free, Glenn suffered a bit of a setback with a slight infection, quite common to his type of surgery, that kept him in hospital about three times as long as originally predicted. It was the vigilant monitoring that caught the problem before it became very serious. Near the end of his stay, even though he was clearly on the mend the last few days, the care continued to be kind and concerned.

After 24 days, we met and got to know every member of the staff and found them to all be professional and responsive.  We had time to observe how this particular ward operated and what we saw was encouraging. If Glenn’s experience is indicative, all 6,000 staff members of this 800-bed hospital, appear to fit together well, working as a tight machine, each doing his job efficiently and effectively.

St. B. great, but not smaller hospitals
The same glowing reports are made about the operations at St. Boniface Hospital, according to people we spoke to.

Sadly, though, this does not always extend to all the smaller regional hospitals. Three of them have been given very low marks for both care and cleanliness by recent patients. Complaints include reports that nurses spend too much time gossiping and laughing around the stations while patient alarm bells are consistently ignored. Attitudes are lackadaisical at best and insolent at times.

Worst is the dirtiness. I personally observed some distressing conditions in one of the private rooms in a smaller hospital. My friend who was a patient there came home with C. difficile, the bacterial intestinal infection that is so hard to cure and that can be very dangerous to older patients.

I have deliberately avoided naming these small hospitals in the hopes that the administrators of each will take the concerns to heart and have a hard look at their operations.

Meanwhile, kudos to those who run our two main hospitals and to all their staff for providing such outstanding care to our population. We have a right to be proud. Assuming our experience is the norm, you can face hospitalization with confidence and be able to concentrate on getting well.

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