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October 21, 2010

The Pre-Emergency, Emergency Room

If you've ever doubted your own mortality, a trip to Surrey Memorial Hospital's Emergency Department should help adjust that delusion in a second.

I was there yesterday and this morning as a result of my father, who is now two years into his ninth decade. He's a tough old guy though. A stubborn Scotsman who survived World War II so aging as the enemy has been a lighter load for him (until recently) than it might be for the rest of us.

When you are called to be there for an elderly parent, your own mortality tends to get in your face like you're staring in a mirror at a carnival funhouse and that scary thing in the mirror, that looks strangely familiar because it is YOUR face afterall, is mocking you.

You're old and vulnerable and afraid and lying there completely dependent upon the care and decision-making of strangers whom you can't hear because you don't have your hearing aids and you can't see because you don't have your glasses either.  And, that's if you're lucky. That's assuming you have someone to HELP you. Because you BETTER have someone to help you. You better not be there ALONE. You need someone to feed you, to get you stuff, to help you out because strange as it may seem, all that caregiving stuff is a la carte in hospitals.

Let me tell you, it's a major motivating factor behind internet dating for mid-life singles. If you're looking for beauty and sex appeal, you're looking for the wrong things. Kindness. Patience. Servitude. Preferably a decade younger. Valid Driver's licence. Calm. Babysat as a teen. Has changed a few diapers in his time. All those skills plus a good sense of humour and a wonderful sense of irony are worth their weights in gold. That's what you really need in an old-age mate.

The first alarming sight in Emergency, especially when like me, you've come from a place where silence and suicidal deer are the two things you most commune with, is that there are human beings on every surface. The psychic energy gets  ramped up about a million decibals. It's like you've gone from drinking chammomile tea to gulping down a couple of cans of Red Bull. (I actually liked that part.) You really feel as if you've just dropped into an episode of ER as an Extra. And everyone is in various states of decay. They're badly dressed, half dressed, half undressed.  Paramedics keep wheeling them in and these people are clutching at various body segments wearing their discomfort like a badge that tells everyone else they have every right to be there.
The ridiculously small Emergency department at Surrey Memorial, which outgrew itself about 20 years ago, can, at times, feel busier than Canada Customs at YVR right after the arrival of a flight from Beijing.

Yesterday it was so busy that some poor sick schmuck (who had probably been out in the hall for hours and hours)  had to be wheeled into a miniscule enclosed room that looked as if it had once been used only for cleaning supplies. Getting the bed into the tiny room was like do-it-yourself movers trying to get a baby grand piano into a non regulation sized apartment elevator.

The hallway has now become the pre-emergency, emergency room. Think of it this way.You feel a little bit calmer because you've entered the building; at least you're in the right place, but you're in the hallway. You've still got all the same symptoms, you're dying, but you're pretty much invisible. That's how pre-emergency, emergency works.

People seem to get moved around a lot once they're in the real Emergency department as well. Some woman with a cane had it in her head that her husband was in that tiny supply room. I'm not sure why. But, she walked in there and my ever helpful sister carried a chair in behind her only to discover that the guy she sat down across from wasn't her husband afterall. Musical patients.

As an observer, I have to say, it cracked me up. Some poor guy, laying prone, staring into the eyes of some woman about to lean over him only to discover he didn't look anything like her husband. Not sure what took her so long to figure that one out but after a couple of decades of marriage, it's not impossible to imagine.

And they were trying out some new GPS-like bed tracking system where they attach something to your pillow and it should tell them where you are at all times. There was only one problem. According to this, she said, your dad's in an elevator and I know he's not in an elevator," she said. "He's been here all day." We had a laugh at that one. Let's just say the system needs a wee bit of tweaking. It also fails to account for people who refuse to stay in bed.

All that talk about the baby boomer generation and what's going to happen when they reach old age (which is looming large) suddenly became more than some theoretical media story happening to someone else. Afterall, I am of that age that I'm at the very tail end of it and those of us who were born at the tail end know that we got ripped off on jobs and everything else so of course it's not going to be any better at the other end of the bell curve.

Forget earthquake preparedness. Old age preparedness makes a lot more sense to me. Because, let's face it, "The big one" will seem like a mere amusement park ride compared to the really big one that's comin down the lifeline pipe.

What do you most fear about aging?

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