Hospitals are not my favourite places, neither to be in nor to visit. I’m not a fan of being sick, nor spending much time with sick people.
For the most part, with my family and friends being healthy, I manage to avoid hospitals. I’ve convinced myself that when someone does get sick they really don’t want me to visit anyway. Who wants to make small talk with a healthy person when you are stuck in the hospital?
This past week though I have spent a lot of time at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, where my wife has been a patient. Being a dutiful husband I made a point of visiting occasionally. Okay, it was more than occasionally. During those visits I was struck by the difference between medicine in the big city and the small-town care I received when we lived in Pembroke, Ontario.
The Heart Institute is probably the best such facility in Canada, but Ottawa is a big city. The care Vivian received was excellent. The staff were caring, friendly and good at their jobs. They communicated well with the patient and family. But it wasn’t like being in a small town. They didn’t know her before she showed up for her surgery, and probably won’t see her again.
It was different in Pembroke. In such a small town (population about 15,000) t was not unusual to run into my doctor at the grocery store checkout line. He could see if I was eating healthy food. (The reverse was also true – I could check to see if he was practicing what he preached.) People in the community knew each other, if not personally then by reputation. And in a small town pretty much everyone has some sort of reputation.
For years I had thought I had a garlic allergy, which I dealt with by avoiding it. Much as I loved garlic, the resulting pain was not worth it. A routine medical checkup though (I’m not sure if it was urine or blood analysis) revealed that the problem wasn’t garlic but my gall bladder. The solution was to remove it.
It was routine surgery, the only time I was ever admitted to hospital when we lived in Pembroke. My doctor told me I needed surgery, the hospital called to tell me the date was set and I went merrily in for my operation. It’s a small town; I think I walked tp he hospital that morning. It was then I discovered just how small town Pembroke was.
As I was about to be given the anesthetic, one of the operating room nurses came over to chat with me. She asked me if I had realized that this was actually a rescheduled date for the surgery. I had not known that, it was the only date I had been given. No-one had asked if it was convenient.
It turned out I had originally been scheduled originally for the previous. The nurse had seen my name on the list and had had the operation postponed; she didn’t think it would be convenient for me. She remembered hearing that I had committed to cooking a dinner for 100 people at church that week, so she had the operation postponed. No need to consult me.
As I said, in a small town people know other people and what they are doing. There aren’t that many strangers – if the nurse doesn’t know you she probably knows someone in your family. There is something special about that. In Ottawa, with about a million residents, the vast majority of people entering the Heart Institute are strangers to the staff. The place can’t have that small-town feel, no matter how great the care (and they do provide great care). I doubt the Heart Institute would schedule surgery around a church supper.
I’m a city boy, but I will admit there are times when I miss some aspects of life in a smaller community.