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Posts Tagged ‘room mates’

Hospitals are not my favorite places at the best of times. They are such concentrations of pain, stress and raw emotion that I barely need twenty minutes before I start feeling emotionally overloaded in them. But, after last week, I have reason to like them even less.

Thanks to the overcrowding that has become the norm, Trish had to share a semi-private ward with a man having psychotic episodes. This circumstance is not (I say with understatement) recommended for someone who has just had major surgery.

At first, he seemed normal enough. Possibly, I thought on my visits, he was a little simple, not being able to distinguish his current hospital stay with past ones or give his doctors and nurses much information about himself, but I could hardly blame him for that. Even when he insisted on giving a half-incoherent, half-rambling reply to every comment made in the room, I dismissed his behavior as annoying but harmless.

Then, last Friday night, he went off like a bomb, trying to tear out his IV and catheter and other connections and struggling to get out of bed (which, fortunately, he was unable to manage). At first, he seemed to think he was in a war movie – and, before long, the movie became real. He seemed to believe that the Chinese had landed troops in British Columbia, and that he was on a boat that was shelling their positions. A little later, after nurses and security swarmed around him and tied him to his gurney, he seemed to believe that he was in a town called Dawson, where he had been taken prisoner and was being tortured for information.

Between swearing and shouting abuse, he made his plans out loud. He would pretend compliance, he said, so he could escape. He would even eat the food provided – although it was undoubtedly poisoned – but just enough to stay alive.

And Trish? In her room mate’s delusion, she was pretending to be his mother to trick him. She came in for a share of the swearing and abuse. She managed to get some sleep after the nurses brought her some ear plugs, but trying to sleep less than two meters from such events is not exactly restful.

Nor could she help thinking what might happen if her room mate got loose – he may have been too weak to walk far, but he still might get as far as her.

The next day, the hospital found a nurse to sit with the man, and Trish finally managed to get a few hours’ sleep. She also spent as much time as she could manage outside the room. Her room mate was mostly sedated, but he was still rude and angry when awake.

By the time Trish came home on Monday, she was more than a little tense. We weren’t sure she was healed enough to go home, but she wanted out of that room badly.

I don’t blame the nurses for what happened. They do the best job they can in trying circumstances, and, anyway, surgical nurses aren’t experienced in dealing with psychiatric patients. I’ve often thought that the medical system would be more equitable if doctors’ pay was halved and nurses’ pay was doubled. They do a job that I would flee screaming after half a shift.

But I do blame the organization and budget cuts to the medical system that such a patient was put in with another one who could only be traumatized by his behavior. The next time someone claims that the British Columbia health system is fine, I’m going to reply with this anecdote. It’s one that would be compelling as a Stephen King short story – but even King would have trouble convincing readers that such a real-life incident could happen in fiction.

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Right after I moved out of my parents’ house, I shared a basement suite with a high school friend. He had always seemed quiet and responsible – exactly the type of room mate you want when you’re a university student and studying fills your days. But the arrangement wasn’t a success. Inspired by the example of a girl for whom I’d nursed a crush, I was ready for adult responsibilities like cooking and doing the washing. My room mate wasn’t.

In a sense, the arrangement wasn’t too bad for me. He was paying half the rent, but he was at his parents’ on the weekends and two or three nights a week. I had the suite to myself so often that I had to remind myself that he had every right to stay over. I rarely had to cook for the both of us, and I could usually use the washer and the dryer without tossing a coin with him to see who got to do the first load.

However, it was a strain, sometimes, trying to deal with someone who was not only gone more often than not, but wasn’t ready to take care of himself. I quickly tired of taking messages for him, to say nothing of hearing him complain that I hadn’t bought exactly what he wanted for breakfast; he might have been providing half the grocery money, but he was never around when I had to haul groceries from the store – and we weren’t exactly on the bus routes.

Still, the experience had its comic moments. I remember sitting in our kitchen one night while he tried to cook himself a midnight snack, and his sudden yelp of pain as he put his oven-mitted hand on the hot burner. It was the sort of event you couldn’t put in a story or script, because nobody would believe it.

Another time, he showed up unexpectedly while I was entertaining my girl friend. We were sitting on the couch preparing our costumes for the university medieval club, but from his reaction you would have thought he had caught us in a moment of tumultuous and kinky passion. His face and ears turned a bright red as he passed from the bedroom to the bathroom, fully clad in pajamas and a thick housecoat. From a man with sisters, it seemed an extreme reaction.

About a month into the semester, my room mate found his own girlfriend, which meant he spent even less time in the suite. However, I did notice eleven red roses on his desk before a desk, and a card reading – wait for it — “11 American Beauties, and the 12th is you.” I’m not sure whether the cliche, or the fact that we were living in Canada made the sentiment funnier.

He planned an ultra-romantic evening for his girlfriend, which would culminate in a canoe trip on a lake in a heavily-forested local park that he didn’t know very well. He arrived back at the suite at about 5AM, soaking wet. Not only had they been caught in the rain, but they had carried a rented canoe several kilometers along the unlit cedar trails of the park and, with him in his best suit and her in high heels and nylons. They never did find the lake, but they had got very lost, and very, very damp.

Somehow, I managed not to throw back my head and laugh when I heard the tale. I’d been assuming that the date had ended steamily, and had gone to bed muttering, “Bless you, my children,” so the contrast between my imagination and the reality only made his tale of woe more comical.

Still, perhaps he sensed my impulse to laughter, because he started spending even more time at home. By the time he told me that he was moving back home a few weeks later, I had already been making plans for my next semesters’ accommodation in the campus dorms. Come our final exams, we packed and returned, each to his own parents’ house – me until I could move to the dorm in the New Year, my roommate – I believe – until he married the American beauty.

We had never quarreled, but somehow we never saw anything of each other after that. About a year later, I had heard that he had married his girlfriend and – suburban kid that he was – dropped out of university to help with the dairy farm run by his wife’s family. I can only hope that he knew more about taking care of cows than he did of taking care of himself, but I suspect not — the marriage ended in divorce.

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