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I had been having increasing difficulty with coughing and decided to go to my MD’s walk-in clinic. I called in advance to make sure of the hours and then proceeded to the clinic. That was my first mistake. The note on the door said, ‘not accepting walk-ins.’ The door was open so I inquired about his, reporting that I had just called to confirm clinic hours, I was told that they hadn’t changed the advertising yet. Really??! That was annoying since COVID had been around for months already.

I then proceeded to another ‘walk-in’ clinic that actually accepted walk-ins. I felt fortunate. After waiting for about an hour, a very young man with long hair greeted me with, ‘Hi, I’m Nick.’ He was the doctor. No problem. Indeed, he was the first doctor who examined my lungs very thoroughly since I moved to Alberta 1 1/2 years earlier. Nick told me that not only were my lungs filled with fluid but also that I had Chronic Bronchitis, aka COPD. Now, this was a concern to me since I had been prescribed puffers a year earlier for Asthma symptoms. I told him that we (my multiple chronic conditions and I) had taken a vote and declared that no more chronic conditions were allowed. He didn’t even crack a smile. Anyway, he also tested me for COVID, since I was already there and told me that I needed a chest x-ray to test for pneumonia. He said that I could try the local lab yet might need to have the x-ray at the hospital.

So . . . I called the lab to make sure of the hours and access to the x-ray test. Are you starting to detect a pattern here? The person who answered said, ‘yes, we’re doing chest X-rays yet it’s on a walk-in basis.’ I said that I’d be right over. that was another mistake. When I arrived, I was stopped at the entrance. This girl said that my type of chest X-ray was only to be done at the hospital. I told her that I had already called and was assured that I could have it done at the lab. She said that my chest X-ray was for pneumonia and therefore only done at the hospital. OK, sure.

So I trundled off to the hospital. I parked the car (that was a big deal to me - my first time to park there) and proceeded to the front entrance only to find that there was a line-up 10 deep at the entrance. After standing for some minutes in the lineup, I realized that I really had to go to the bathroom. After all, it had been about 3 hours since leaving home.) The security guard informed me that I had to stay in the lineup to get in to the building for any reason.

Now I was at a crossroads. My bladder wasn’t what it used to be and I had much invested in my course of action already. On the other hand, my dear little dog, Phoebe, had been home alone for all this time. I decided that I had no choice but to stay the course. So I asked (with a considerable degree of embarrassment) the person in front of me if I could jump the line in front of her since, “I really had to go to the bathroom.’ She reluctantly said yes, along with several other people in front of her, each yielding their place in turn. In this way, I shamefacedly (and urgently) leapfrogged towards the door and my salvation - a washroom.

When I finally got to the head of the line, there were two admittance staff, one on each side of the entrance. On the left, the girl seemed surly. I somehow sensed that she wasn’t having a great day while the girl on the right seemed welcoming. I was holding out for kindness and a wave through for a quick washroom break. I silently prayed that the friendly one on the right would be mine. So, naturally, the girl on the left waved me over. I immediately blurted out that I really had to go to the bathroom. She said that I needed to be processed first. Then, for no apparent reason, she decided to attend to someone behind her before getting back to me. My heart sank.

When she returned to me, at last, I had just enough control to brace myself for a few quick questions. As she fired them at me - the usual, have you been out of the country in the last 2 weeks, have you been coughing, tested for COVID . . ., I answered quickly, intent on being allowed through before drowning and/or embarrassing myself any more. I made the mistake of reporting that I was there for a chest x-ray for COPD yet had just been tested for COVID (for expediency’s sake only) at the doctor’s office. That was a BIG mistake.

Suddenly, it was as though I was the solitary, desperate East Berliner, making the mad dash across the Berlin Wall (the guarded concrete barrier with barbed wire, dogs, search lights and sirens). It felt like the poor unhappy girl before me was finally able to unleash all her pent up frustration and prickliness on me as she threw a (what seemed like neon) yellow outfit with cuffs and cinched me (twice around) in, like a dangerous prisoner. She was intensely displeased with the doctor who had sent me there and vowed to have a word with him. Then finally, I was allowed to make my way to the washroom. What a relief!

That was all fine and good for the moment. I then proceeded, as directed, to the admitting window. This was confusing since I already had the band around my wrist that branded me as an inmate. As I tried to explain my purpose, i.e. the chest x-ray, I realized that the gauntlet had lasted WAY too long and I was feeling wobbly, depleted and shaky. Oh no! I had a low blood sugar. (I have type I Diabetes and wear an insulin pump.) I was so low that I confessed that I needed a wheelchair immediately. The clerk motioned me back to the entrance area. They were out of proper wheelchairs yet I was able to grab the last metal, stand-by device that looked like it might be a wanna-be wheelchair. It was a miracle that I was able to sit down in it and not fall over.

As I sat in it, I began petitioning any and everyone in the vicinity for juice since I had Diabetes and was in trouble. The clerk standing guard at the door, guarding who knows what, declared that the hospital didn’t have orange juice to give. He pointed to something over my shoulder and around a corner that apparently might be a vending machine. I couldn’t even see what he was talking about let alone walk there. So I weekly waved money in the air while calling out that ‘I have money.’ Now you may be thinking, 'she should have been prepared if she has Diabetes.’ In my defence, I ALWAYs carry Dextrose (fast-acting sugar) tabs in my purse and in my car, in my office and beside my bed, plus on the counter in my kitchen. Yet on this very unlikely occasion, I only had a big bottle in the car. Not much use now.

At that moment, I felt very alone and yet also could see the whole FUBAR sequence of events unfolding from a view of 1,000 ft. I dreamily wondered what the headlines would say when I was passed out or even died, as a Diabetic with a low blood sugar, who was refused juice in the hospital. Then I realized there was no TV station or newspaper in Red Deer anyway. Perhaps it’s my unorthodox sense of humour but the whole affair seemed hilarious. 

Now, keep in mind that this condition is called Insulin Shock for a reason. It’s considered a state of emergency and I was quite ‘out of it.’ After a few more minutes, someone came with a very small, tightly sealed, cup of orange juice. Although I knew, at some level, that I needed much more than that, I gulped the meagre bit down, grateful for any step in the right direction. Nobody knew what to do with me after that.

Then out of the blue, an angel under cover, disguised as a porter named Judy whisked me away while calling over her shoulder, ‘I’ll take her to X-ray.’ Down the halls we almost flew, with Judy assuring me that I would be OK. We passed a cantina and I reached out yearningly and said, ‘ . . a cantina. . food. . ‘ Yet Judy was intent on X-ray and we kept going. 

When we arrived I knew that I was in really rough shape and told her that I needed to test my blood sugar. I discovered that it was at 3.1 with 1.9 units on board. Translation: I was in big trouble and well on my way to passing out, and the resulting potential complications. I don’t even want to think about that. Quite panicky now, I told Judy that I needed juice or preferably 4 Dextrose Tabs. When dear Judy heard that, she went into overdrive. Two clerks were standing around X-Ray, doing, well, they didn’t seem to be doing anything. Perhaps they were holding up the wall. Judy asked for the ‘Diabetic Tray’ (that would include juice and dextrose tablets).  Nobody knew anything about a Diabetic Tray. They seemed to be unconcerned as they pointed to a corridor where the tray ‘might be.’ Judy was the only one who had the common sense to take the emergency situation seriously and again sprung into whatever action was needed.

Ironically, that was the biggest mistake yet, since she needed to park me and my wheelchair in the designated area. Of course, I had my neon ‘toxic person’ yellow suit on, so she parked me in the COVID Isolation waiting area! I sat there, feeling helpless, trapped and vulnerable, about three feet away from a very sick looking woman lying on a gurney. I couldn’t believe it! 

Finally Judy arrived with a precious 1/2 cup of apple juice and the hospital version of Dextrose tablets. Judy told me that these tablets were quite potent so I only took one. Ironically, the tablets were hermetically sealed against anyone actually being able to unwrap them and I wasn’t able to break the seal. Of course, Judy somehow managed that and I downed everything as quickly as I could.

From there it was smooth sailing, more or less. I did have trouble standing up for the X-ray yet the technician saw how weak I was. She offered to help me by undoing my bra so that I could take it off and leave my top on; not pretty yet every little bit helped. Even though I was only in there for a few minutes, it was enough time to get my blood sugar up and my feet under me again. Finally, with my bra tucked into my pocket, my strange oversize peculiar sunglasses perched on top of my dark-rimmed specta-goggles with bling trim, I stumbled out the door looking like an escapee from the psych ward. Somehow, I found my way to my car.

When I got home, safe and sound, I quickly inhaled two bite size brownies in rapid succession. It had nothing to do with blood sugar either. And I thought that the story had run its course when the phone rang. It was a nurse from the hospital who, at first, just asked if I was alright. I was touched. Yet after a couple of sentences, it was clear that the rules upholder was looking for evidence against the solitary, thinking-on-her-feet, helpful porter. Apparently, this rebel had not followed protocol (the single sugar tablet was considered medicine) and committed the sin of using common sense instead. My only comment was that I was very impressed with the porter’s smart and timely action. I tried to emphasize that my angel under cover had, no doubt,saved the day. The nurse seemed unimpressed and hung up. I silently prayed for Judy to receive, if not some sort of employee of the month award, then at least some manner of official thanks for going the extra mile.

Since most things happen for a reason, I believe that it was all for my take away lessons. Right now, I count three.

Lesson one is that, in the midst of this global pandemic, everyone is grieving and fearful to some degree. Reflecting back on the perfect-storm-disaster, I realize that everyone who was tangled up in my gauntlet was doing the best that they could, under very challenging circumstances. That’s the important sub-text here. The call is to be patient and compassionate with everyone who shows their pain in various ways. Some cope well and some don’t.

Second is that I appreciate my response to the significant series of personal challenges. It feels like my resolve to keep my sense of humour was tested and I passed! The harder things got, the more my humour surfaced. I feel blessed to be able to step out of my story with humour when the going gets tough. You might want to try it on sometime.

My third take-away lesson is that, much like the b.b.b.bomb word at airports, nobody hears anything else once you mention “COVID.” So the C.C.C.COVID word at hospitals is the last thing that you want to utter these days.


Master Practitioner in Clinical Counselling

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Red Deer, Alberta

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