Recently, this scribe went undercover, posing as the recipient of a new hip to get the inside scoop on a department that consumes almost half the Albert budget each year. The hospital I was doing my research at was the Royal Alexandra in Edmonton, which, coincidentally, was the hospital I was born in, although no one really remembered me, disappointingly.
Being immersed in the culture of the medical system for the four days it takes to swap out the parts, was quite a journey of surprising discoveries. Here are some of the more startling examples.
One unexpected aspect of my stay involved staffing practices. The nursing schedule must have been designed by the ancient Mayans, because it’s as intricate and complex as their once popular calendar. Making sure there’s always adequate staff in place is an ongoing challenge in any industry but that challenge is made tougher for hospitals, given their need to have staff at their posts every minute of the year. They never close, which makes the locks on the door seem redundant.
Still, the rotation developed by the Alberta Health HR people is truly wondrous. There was a different floor nurse for just about every shift I was there, with subordinate nurses seeming to be an ever-changing kaleidoscope of scrubs-clad women, plus Dan and Oleg. When I asked about it, the nurses would describe their work schedules as a constantly shifting landscape with work periods ranging from four to twelve hours at a crack. Overtime was plentiful which, to my ears, sounded expensive, but they liked it.
Another surprising feature of bedpan alley was that, other than the dishes at meal time, everything else the hospital provides is disposable; from the constant parade of ice-water glasses they push on you with all the enthusiasm of street evangelists, to the single-use inflatable blanket, although admittedly, the hot air blower was reusable. They even had single-use thermometers they’d stick under my tongue which was most surprising, since I thought hospitals used electronic models you aim into a person’s ear-hole. I noticed, unbeknownst to some nurses, if they used a disposable thermometer on you, shortly after sipping the ever-present ice-water, the little wonders failed to work. Experienced nurses would ask if you’d sipped recently and if so, would jam the plastic strip, which looks remarkably like a twist tie, into your armpit. The newbies, however, would keep chucking them until they got a reading unless you explained how they worked.
I was shocked to learn the two most discussed issues facing heath care workers in the nursing station, weren’t the issues the union insists are paramount in their hearts. I discovered what these issues were by overhearing (believe me, not by choice) all the beefs of the staff, since my room was across the hall from the nursing unit’s main counter.
The most discussed issue was an ongoing, almost violent battle, between smokers and non-smokers. The two groups in this nursing station could teach Conservative and NDPers lessons on polarization. The backstabbing when one of the camps was not represented at the desk, was disturbing.
The second most-discussed issue regarded free pizza which had been, apparently, promised to them somewhere along the line, but had failed to materialize. The wailing and gnashing of teeth over their piece of the pie was, not just sad, but perplexing. Considering most of these people make a pretty good hourly wage, often at time-and-a-half, you’d think they could simply buy their own pizza.
I was surprised to see that not all health workers are equally diligent regarding the spread of germs. The majority seemed fairly careful, putting on new gloves when entering the room, for example, but not all. I witnessed an attendant come in to reset the intravenous drip monitor’s incessant beeping. He coughed into his bare hand, grabbed the Kleenex box that had been provided, and used the UPC code to accomplish the reset. He claimed he would rather use the tissue box than his security card they all wore around their necks, so “the KGB don’t know what I’m up to.” Whether he was serious or not, I made sure I avoided the tissue box for the duration.
Another eye-opener I received was how often the equipment failed to work. From the aforementioned dripolator machine that tripped its alarm constantly, (more frequently during sleep time) to a sphygmomanometer so unreliable, they double checked the figure with a manual blood pressure cuff after each reading.
Then there was the toilet. As interested as the staff appeared to be in my bowel movements, their disinterest in problems with the toilet was universal. The problem was not that the apparatus had a lousy flushing system, in fact, quite the contrary. This toilet flushed with such energy and water volume, water would routinely swirl right out of the bowl, mid flush. For the uninitiated, (or slow learners) this means wet knees after every flush. Those already similarly baptized soon figure out the only recourse is to leave the room and activate the flushing mechanism with your crutch.
I am surprised and mystified by the approach to parking by the RAH administration, however. Considering these are public buildings designed for well-ness, it seems illogical to charge so much for parking. Boy, do they soak you, too; almost 20.00 for my wife to park, although her being there was a requirement of the surgery. Parking at a hospital to give care and support to loved ones should not be metered out in half-hour increments.
The least surprising facet of my hospital stay was that overall I received great care and was discharged in much better condition than I had come. It’s how it should be.
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