History is backdrop to the drama.
The same stream of suffering humanity
occupies this public ward today
as it did when state of the art one hundred years past.
Picture the long ward – ten white iron beds on each wall
built for their longevity, needing a strong cranking arm.
Ahead, the extension houses twelve more
beyond the extension a vacant sunroom
once played host to convalescents enjoying the open air
on a balmy Ontario summer day.
It is one o’clock in the morning.
The sunroom is dark and almost invisible.
The extension is still except for soft snores – the occasional groan.
The long ward is lit by one dim light mid way down the left side
casting shadows from a folded wheelchair
onto the drab lino -covered cement floor.
At the other end of G ward
a disoriented patient
wanders out of the quad room.
He is gently ushered back to join his three roommates.
Hushed report now over –
forty two patients accounted for.
The PM charge leaves –
worrying about the CHF in room two.
Bright light in the nursing station glares noisily in the dark
like other such places in the night – train stations, city streets,
the mood strongly reminiscent of a Hopper painting.
In this place the light goes only where it must
where you need it to
down to bare bones and basic needs.
My first night in charge,
I adjust my cap and clipboard.
The aide is savvy, knows the ropes
tolerating the endless parade of 3rd year students
a little resentment if you scratch too deeply.
Her slightly smug smile says she knows I’ll rely on that savvy this night
Must do a quick rounds checking the sickest first,
looking for chests moving up and down.
Flashlight in hand I start with “The Singles”
six solo rooms – coveted by visitors and patients alike.
You’ll never confuse these rooms with privileged pavilion privates
They are a depository for the sickest of the sick,
needing extra help, their final days counted on fingers
IV’s titrating powerful drugs
choking on their own secretions,
skin rotting before its time.
G Ward is a medical ward and medical ward means
oxygen, isolation, hands scrubbed until they’re raw,
D Ts and the sickly smell of chloral hydrate.
For every organ there is a failure syndrome
and they have all been in the singles on G ward.
Now I stop in room 2 and assess the CHF.
His heart failure in evidence – gurgling
he is choking on his secretions – I suction his airway.
Back at the station writing my notes I listen
squeaky ratcheting of a bed being lowered.
Night super’s staccato footsteps announce her arrival.
I report the gravest patients – she’ll pass the word to her relief.
I tell her how many will leave tomorrow,
those who will wave goodbye and one who may just ‘go’.
Did I pass muster? Is she satisfied that G ward is in good hands tonight?
She says “thank you nurse” I stutter “you’re welcome m’am and smile inwardly.
On to the slog and routine work of the night shift.
Meds have a sacrosanct schedule, an almost holy routine,
crinkly white cups containing all manner of rainbow discs and capsules.
I take my cart and stop briefly at each bedside,
check the id bracelet, ask the name
stay and watch them swallow
Some need an extra moment of reassurance, some need a pillow adjusted.
Now gather and clean bedpans –jewel in the crown of this glamour profession.
The sun, inching higher, starts to peek in on G ward
The sun room owns its name once more
We get the patients ready for breakfast.
I must hurry to finish – the next shift is on its way.
I reflect on the night passed as I sign off my meds in red ink,
then give report in the time-honored tradition of a century.
Finished with my paper work, I thank my aide,
I survived the night…and so did our patient in room 2.