In Sickness and in Health

It was a regular Tuesday: we were sitting around watching Netflix (The Fosters, which is awesome by the way). Since it was getting a little drafty with the patio door open, I got up to close it, turned my head as something was said or perhaps even seen on the TV, and then slammed the sliding door closed on my thumb. The pain was extraordinary, blinding. Blood gushed from both sides of the nail—far more than you’d think could come from a thumb. I rushed to the bathroom, ran cold water over the wound, and knew in a moment that I was going to pass out: that weightless vertigo, that black fog creeping in along the sides of my vision.

A moment later (for me), I woke up on the floor. My partner was sobbing and holding me—I’d really fainted. As in: partial-seizure, eyes rolling back, body collapsing. Because I’d been out for about a minute, and because my partner was so distressed, he called 911. I am not a person who likes nurturing of any kind. In fact, accepting the love and care of others has been my greatest challenge in relationships. Until the moment my partner hung up the phone, I was—unpleasantly, probably hysterically—telling him and the operator that: “I’m just fine.”

We enjoyed a grumpy silence until the first EMTs came knocking: three firemen—one young, one middle-aged, and one older in a Goldilocksian parody. What first struck me, was how personable and kind these men were. You can see kindness—genuine kindness—glimmering in a person’s eyes (just as you can see the twinkle of cruelty). These men were so patient, funny and warm that I hardly thought of them as EMTs, and in a moment had divulged my entire medical history to the oldest fellow; who made no judgments or moves to unsettle us and even complimented us on our beautiful home. This, despite, the awkwardness in our encounter when trying to identify the persons involved in the accident. “You and your?…” (Hanging question.) To which I replied: “Husband.”

I remained in bed with ice on my hand, chatting with the older fellow until the paramedics arrived. About ten minutes later, the firemen and two new EMTs swapped places, and the replacements were as lovely as the caregivers who’d preceded them. Again, because I’d blacked out, possibly had a seizure and fallen, it was stressed—in that mothering way that cannot be denied—that I go to the nearest hospital. Conceding, I let them wrap me in orange blankets, strap me down like Hannibal Lector to a gurney, then wheel me into an ambulance. Inside the ambulance, the EMTs continued doing tests and taking notes while keeping things convivial.

We arrived into the chaos of a late-night emergency ward: accident victims, moaning, confused, bloodied persons galore—and me with my sore thumb and shrinking sense of being a necessity amidst such tragedies. Still, my EMTs stayed with me, and kept coaching me to remain and ensure that I hadn’t suffered head trauma or worse. By the time I’d finally seen a doctor (who examined me, then declared me not in need of a CT Scan), my initial team of EMTs had left, though their stand-ins were just as efficient and caring. We’d been sitting in St. Joseph’s emergency for a while by then, and as I mentioned, I’d seen lot of the messier side of care. Stuff that I’d forgotten from my mother’s days in cancer treatment.

Nonetheless, there’s a beauty found in these places and moments where suffering occurs, and my brush with danger reminded me of that. There’s people like my partner, who caught me as I went limp, and kept me from injuring myself. There’s people like my friend and neighbor, Teresa, who flew to my side as soon as she heard I was hurt and remained with us all through the night. Then there’s all these beautiful angels-in-people’s-clothing, the EMTs, who have dedicated their lives, their time, their hearts and souls, to helping people in need. Yes, medical care is never perfect, and is subject to human error and insensitivity. But when care works, when the people who work in those environments are committed, willing and loving, there are few experiences so philanthropic or inspiring to see. Time and again, I’ve seen the darker side of hospitals, though on Tuesday, I was reminded of all the good that happens in those places, too.

I regret that I never learned any of my technician’s names. Still, I want them to know, if they’re reading this, how special they are to me. I hate being helpless or feeling weak, and yet these strangers—and the others I mentioned—made that moment bearable; not only for myself, but for however many people they helped that day. I am so proud to be Canadian and to live in a country where all persons can receive care regardless of race, creed, orientation or social-status. I am so grateful to have met people who embody the standard of our country, and of medicine, so well.

All my love (especially to you EMTs),


P.S. My thumb is on the mend and hasn’t impacted my ability to churn out pages for Feast of Mercy 🙂