Cowichan District Hospital. (File photo)

Cowichan District Hospital. (File photo)

Guest column: The story of a surgery in Cowichan

In homage to the Cowichan District Hospital and its surgical team

By Annick Lefloch

In homage to the Cowichan District Hospital and its surgical team.

6:45 a.m.

A crisp May morning. I arrive at the hospital. My first impression is of a beehive where a multitude of workers, all corseted in green, are twirling and twirling, and their swift movements are granted rhythm by a gentle humming. Each one is busy performing a diligent task with an equally quick and diligent attentiveness.

Right away — and how efficiently! — several nurses in turn take care of me, but this prelude to a major event has left me too light an impression, and I forgot who was who. Sorry, good nurses, and thank you.

7:45 a.m.

Lying on a stretcher, pushed with cheerful energy by a nurse whose face, to my regret and confusion, has vanished in the midst of my pre-anesthetized brain, I present myself at the antechamber of the surgical unit, the Holy of Holies. I am welcomed by several beaming faces, like good fairies bending over the cradle of a newborn baby, ready to bestow their gifts and blessings. Each person in the team introduces themselves to me.

First, two young female medical students who look particularly angelic and benevolent. Then a nice little lady, quite a motherly type, introduces herself as my anesthesiologist. I have not seen her before. Due to the pandemic, almost everything has been done on the phone. So, it was an important moment to meet the person who was going to hold my life in her expert and responsible hands. I would not be disappointed since I am here today, three weeks later, to tell the story. Besides her high skills and her good-natured approach, she knows how to make light of the situation. I tell her I am scared. “I would be too,” she answers with sympathy.

Then a man arrives, the only man on the surgical team that day, with a large and attractive smile on his face, and he starts speaking in French. I must admit here that I am and probably will remain a French woman first of all — please forgive me, I can’t help it — and to be able to exchange a few sentences in my native tongue with this charming Québécois really cheers me up. He introduces himself as a surgeon who is going to assist the chief surgeon.

It is only now that I realize that they have arrived in a very hierarchical order. I don’t know if it was intentional but certainly very efficient and, in spite of their smiles and easy-going approach, provided a serious touch to the atmosphere.

The last but not the least, a very long and slender figure with a cheerful face appears, my surgeon. She is the only person on the team whom I know. I am not sure of her ancestry (she has talked about Irish) but she may have concealed from me her true origin, perhaps from another planet, because she looks like one of the characters in the movie Avatar. So much so that I have wondered if she had been taken as a model for these splendid creatures. She is truly spectacular, and me, a petite short woman, I look at her with awe and envy! Anyway, here she is, and she talks to me with an upbeat energy.

Now I am told that I must get up from the stretcher, enter on my own feet into the surgical unit and climb on the bed by myself! I ignore the reason for this procedure but I am surprised. And here I am, lying on this formidable bed, surrounded by seven people — I forgot to mention two nurses — all looking relaxed and smiling at me in a comforting and reassuring way.

Then my surgeon, towering over me at my right side, says: “Now I am going to talk.” Me, poor innocent, I don’t know that it is a trick! She starts to explain what they are going to do, and I listen intently, unaware that the motherly anesthesiologist is doing her own tricks in the shadow, hidden behind me on my left side. This is how, in the middle of a sentence, I lose track of everything, and the next thing I know is that I am being rolled on a stretcher into a very attractive room, having totally lost the memory of what has happened in between, of how and when and where I woke up.

11 a.m.

It is a spacious and airy room, planned for two children. The nurse explains to me that they put me there because, at the moment, they don’t have any children. So lucky, so blessed I am to be in this room alone, with a large window through which I can see trees gently swinging. In front of me, the wall is covered with charming paintings of animals, cows, lions and others who are looking at me without ulterior motive and attract me in their peaceful domestic world. This is where I am going to spend the day and the night, under the efficient and tender care of the nurses. The rest of the day is uneventful.

8 p.m.

The night is not. Actually it is the worst part of my stay at the hospital, a quite nightmarish night.

I cannot sleep partly because of an ingenious contraption, ingenious but ignominious in my book. It is a pair of leggings, a kind of “electric massaging boots” that are wrapped around my legs, from ankle to middle thigh, and are agitating themselves constantly and alternatively. When the left one has done its job, it hardly stops when the right one starts again, and this again and again and again, all the while vibrating at my expense! (Though to my benefit). I know, I know, they are supposed to activate your blood circulation and prevent blood clots. I recognize their good will and efficiency but I am not sorry to say that they have been an ordeal to endure from my entrance into that room to my departure the next morning. I hated them: they are noisy, heavy, cumbersome. I am not an expert in that matter but they were the most uncomfortable type of massage I ever experienced in my long life, for me who cannot stand any weight, heavy blanket or husband’s leg over my legs during the night.

The result of that weird massage is a sleepless, painful night, plunged into anxiety. Yes, I am aware of how ungrateful I am: I didn’t get a blood clot…

7:15 a.m.

Now early morning has come and I feel slightly better. The animals on the wall yawn and wink at me. The rising of the sun has chased away the ghosts of the night. With glee, I see entering the room the nurse who had attended me the previous evening. She is back after a better night than mine, I hope. She is very warm, efficient, attentive to what can be helpful to me in the smallest details. Once more I am pampered. Then other expert nurses check a few things and it seems that the red light is turning orange, then hopefully green.

It is not my Avatar-like beautiful surgeon who comes to discharge me but her charming Quebecois assistant. In these fragile circumstances, a bit of male support is not to be underestimated. And that does the job. I am declared ready to leave! By that time, my favourite nurse and I have started to make friends. I highly appreciate her wonderful care. She helps me to get washed (cat style) and dressed. Then she rolls me out of this pretty room, no longer on a stretcher but in a wheelchair — quite an improvement already — along the hallways of the hospital, through the exit door, and there, my husband is waiting for me with a smile on his loving face, ready to take me home.

This surgery which I dreaded — was I going to die during anesthesia? or become a vegetable? Was I going to be depressed after the loss of my reproductive organs? — turned out to be a rich human adventure.

I want to tell all the healthcare workers who have attended me in this hospital how grateful I am for what they have done and been for me during these two days. The doctors, surgeons, nurses of the surgical unit worked as a real team, united in their effort to provide the best for the patient in their hands. May their professionalism and their dedicated care be highly valued, and honoured here.

Thanks to them, my surgical stay in our Duncan hospital was, and is, a very positive experience in my life, and I gained a lot from it. It makes me feel closer to the people who live in this beautiful Cowichan Valley, and become more a part of its community. The Cowichan District Hospital, along with the people who work there, is a great benefit to all, and one of the jewels of Vancouver Island.

I thank you all. I will never forget you. Forever are engraved in my memory your seven faces around my bed in the surgical unit, so confidently smiling at me and encouraging me. I will always remember you with gratitude, admiration and emotion. Your intervention in my life is a grace that will go on flowing in my veins, in my heart, in my spirit.

Congratulations! Go on doing the great job you are doing for the good of others, in spite of and through many hardships, over-tiredness and difficulties of all kinds.

God bless you all, your families, your patients, your work.