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The Waiting Game
The call came at noon on Saturday. The uncle had slipped and fallen onto his left side while helping a worker carry something out of the house. Helped to his feet, he was sitting on a chair on the spot where the fall has occurred and refusing to move. I rushed over. About 20 minutes had gone by and he still had not moved. He looked good if a little flushed. He knew what had happened although he could not understand why. He had simply slipped going down the single step from the apartment onto the patio and couldn’t “brakes” the fall. No, he had not blacked out. No, there had been no chest pain. Yes, he could move everything. So why was he not getting up? Because when he tried his leg hurt. Where? And he pointed to his left hip.“If you can help me get to the sofa to lie down, I’ll feel better.” So we tried. For about one second. The pain was unbearable. We tried a second time. He almost collapsed onto me and he not light! This time his colour went and the cold sweating began. So did the argument about going to the nursing home. He was fine as long as he did not move the left leg. Why he cah stay there in the doorway? Is his house.
How you getting inside? The pain might go in time? Your life can change in a second. It’s hard to accept. How foolish he had been, he kept saying. His day was planned out. A lazy Saturday. Watch some cricket in the morning. A drink then lunch. A little siesta after lunch, then Euro 2012, now hotting up. Why did this have to happen? Then he looked at me and said, “What you think?” “A break,” I replied, “could be a break in the hip. We should really go.”
“You have to go,” said the sensible woman from next door. We called the private ambulance service. They were courteous and efficient but could not be there until 2 pm. There was no pain as long as he did not move the leg and by this time the neighbours were out in force so we would wait. Old talk commenced. Who fall down where. What happened. Who had surgery. Try to get up, nuh. No, don’t try. Better wait for the ambulance. There was mention of soup. “No soup please, we don’t know if he’s going to need an operation.” A little silence after that one. But no one left and the chat soon regained its Trini flow. The ambulance arrived. They knew their job and were impressive. Without much fuss and pain, they got my heavyweight uncle up from his chair, onto the stretcher and into the ambulance and off they went, my aunt and I following behind. By the time we got to the nursing home, he was already inside the small A&E and a nurse was taking his blood pressure. Perhaps we were lucky, perhaps it was a slow afternoon, perhaps it was me, but within 30 minutes he had been seen by a doctor, X-rayed and we knew he had fractured his left hip. Then we sat down to wait for the surgeon.
As a doctor you aren’t accustomed to waiting. People wait for you. I dislike waiting and I dislike people waiting for me but that’s the name of the game. One cannot leave a sick patient without solving the problem or at least part of the problem, before moving onto the next. So there are times when, with all the best will in the world, waiting becomes necessary. The word patient has nothing to do with the word patience, although you certainly need patience to be a patient. Patient comes from the Latin patiens or “one who suffers” and the term is apt, but the waiting family also suffer. Waiting is not easy. Dr Charles Mayo, co-founder of the Mayo clinic in Minnesota, once said that all surgeons should experience pain once a year. Makes them a better surgeon. The same could be said of waiting for physicians. Though everything was done as quickly as possible and at all times our experience was really quite comfortable and satisfactory and there was little that could have been done to speed things up. We, as the people would say, had was to wait. We waited for the ambulance. We waited for the X-rays. We waited for the doctors. We waited for the lab tests. We waited for the urinal. We waited for a bed. In a second my uncle moved from being an independent person accustomed to running his own life to someone who had to wait for others to do their job and no matter how well they did it, and they did it well, he had to wait. And I, his physician family, had to learn to wait too. It was an exercise in humility and appreciation for one’s health as well as the work that doctors,and nurses, have to do. You don’t miss the water until the well dry.
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