by Michael Carin
It began with my Thursday night’s sleep being interrupted five or six times by what I took to be a severe muscle cramp in my left calf. Each attack came like a stab followed by a ten-second spasm of tightening – the pain was intense. Yesterday, Friday morning, the attacks started coming every fifteen or twenty minutes. Mr. Google warned me, among other possibilities, to suspect a deep vein thrombosis. I communicated via email with my doctor. When I told him that Cielo and I had flown in from Hawaii five days earlier, he said phlebitis was a risk condition of long flights and added:
“Get thee to an ER.”
I took a taxi through mostly deserted streets to the Jewish General, arriving shortly before two o’clock. The first person I met was a formidable security man wearing a mask and gloves. He was standing in front of the emergency room door, effectively barring it. I informed him that my visit had nothing to do with the virus, and described my condition. He let me pass. Only two other patients were sitting in the initial waiting room – certainly a phenomenon of the times we are living through; the empty room made me blink. The first triage nurse, masked and gloved, asked me half a dozen questions and agreed with my doctor.
She said: “Yes, that certainly sounds like it could be a phlebitis.” I was sent to a windowed room and another triage nurse (masked and gloved) took my temperature and blood pressure, and questioned me about where I had traveled. I was sent back out to the waiting area, which was now eerily empty. I logged on to the hospital’s very fine WiFi and communicated with both Cielo and my doctor.
After about fifteen minutes I was called to the reception window and asked for my medicare and hospital cards, as well as my signature on a consent form. I was then sent to an interior waiting room, where I discovered a grand total of six persons ahead of me.
Ninety minutes later I was called into an examining room.
A young (masked and gloved) doctor with an impeccable bedside manner gave my left leg and pelvis a going-over with his ultra-sound contraption. The exam revealed no clots. Apparently I wasn’t about to be killed by a phlebitis climbing up my tired arteries. I was immensely relieved. The ultra-sound took maybe ten minutes, after which I was sent out to yet another waiting area – to wait for a blood test.
Forty minutes later I was called to give blood.
A lady of a certain age (masked and gloved) took my blood. Then I sat back down with my iPad, together with a total of four other patients in this area of the ER. There are fifty or so cubicles in this inner part of the ER which, I am sure, under ordinary circumstances, would be filled with patients. On this day in the time of the Coronavirus, only one of the cubicles was occupied. I should add that hand sanitizer dispensers exist approximately every six feet along the corridors of the ER. You can’t look in any direction without seeing half a dozen hand sanitizers posted like sentinels in front of every door.
About eighty minutes later I was called into another examining room.
I waited five minutes for the doctor to arrive. He said my blood was “a little high”. I asked, “High in what?” He replied, “In the numbers.” “The numbers?” “Yes, when the number goes above 690, we are a little concerned. Your number is 724. That’s not terrible, don’t worry, but I think you should do a more exhaustive scan.”
I have since learned from my doctor (a great Canadian, Stanley Heisler, who has been a revered Montreal GP for close to half a century) that these numbers refer to the D-dimer test, which is used to help identify or rule out serious blood clots.
So, I have an appointment at the Jewish General two days from now for a more complete scan. Meanwhile, the stabbing cramps in my left calf are much less frequent and much less painful. Leading me to wonder: if the cramps disappear completely, should I keep the appointment given the danger these days of stepping out of one’s home? This is a real question.
Bottom line to my little story is this: while granting that my wait times would have been substantially greater under ordinary circumstances, my experience at the Jewish General points to the wondrous power of citizenship in Canada and the potency of a thing called a medicare card. My afternoon of stress was alleviated at every turn by the personnel and organization of a truly great hospital. That is something to celebrate.