On the slab.

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Beep… beep… beep...

The ECG monitors broadcast their electronic heart beats as I walk down the corridor of the Cardiac Unit.  Each beep represents a heart beat.  I’m struck by the irony - life reflected in soulless monotone.  As I pass each room, the acrid smell of iodine, infection and effluent flood my senses.  I swallow my nausea.  The loudspeaker crackles to life and blares a code blue warning. I know the routine.  I press my back to the wall as a doctor and two nurses rush past me, pushing monitors and resuscitation equipment.  I mouth a silent prayer for the poor soul and move on.

In room 609, my friend lies in bed.  He shares his close call with me.  I see in his eyes he is appreciative of his chance to testify. So I listen.  His words exhaust him.  I keep him company until he fades, drifting off to sleep. 

I cast my eye across the ward.  There are 4 beds here, but only one other is occupied.  The other two checked out - the hard way.  I look at the patient in the other bed.  He appears to have lived a life on the other side of the tracks.  Tattoos mark his flesh, his hands are calloused.  His face bears the lines of a hard life.  Some people get no breaks.  A telltale scar runs up his leg, a sure sign of bypass surgery.  His moans betray his pain.  I know first hand - the tougher you are, the harder you fall.  He is vulnerable and he feels it.  He has called a nurse - the monitor mounted to the ceiling has recorded the call.  I observe the scene in silence.

Time passes.  10 minutes.  15 minutes.  20 minutes.  His moans increase.  No one is coming.

I approach him and look into his eyes.  Two wells of pain and suffering.  He is confused, unsure of my intentions.  I open my hands and smile at him, a gesture of reassurance.  "…You ok mate?…" I ask, using a common tone.  His eyes light up and he manages a smile.  He responds "…G’day mate, I’m alright, just havin’ a rough time here…"

Connection.

I ask him what the story is.  Everyone has a story to tell in here. He tells me he is in pain.  He has been trying to get some help for the last few hours, but no one wants to help.  He tells me about a life of trying to make ends meet, burning the candle at both ends trying to survive, only to end up on his back in here.  He says that he is a good guy with a rough past, but the staff ignore him because he doesn’t look like the rest of the patients in this private hospital.  I tell him to relax, I’m on it.  He looks at me in disbelief, his face telling me what his words can’t.  Some guys just don’t get any breaks and he is expecting disappointment. 

A few minutes later, he is medicated.

On my way out, I have a few words to the supervisor.  I note his name.  I inquire as to why the tattooed patient was left unattended for so long?  The supervisor seems unconcerned and his tone is dismissive.  His attitude tells me everything I need to know - the guy was right - he has been pigeon-holed.  The contradiction is apparent:  Out on the street, those tattoos keep him safe.  In here, that same ink is a liability. 

I feel the need to deliver a reality check.

I block the supervisor’s path and lock eyes with him.  I tell him that I’m the patient’s nephew.  I let him know that his patient may have tattoos and drive a truck, but he has just had open heart surgery.  I slip my card into his top pocket and smile my shark’s smile.  As I take a step backward, I let him know I’ll be back to check on my new uncle.  Missing medication may lead to a missing paycheck.  The supervisor’s demeanor changes instantly.  He apologises and leaves me to check on him.

As I fade from my home turf again and make my way to my next plane, I consider how stereotypes cause suffering.  This world would be a better place without preconceptions.

flying_dolphin7 says:
thanks for the story Dion:P You did a right thing.
Posted on: Oct 22, 2008
alicegourmet says:
Thanks Dion for stepping in to help that gentleman in the hospital! I really upset about the stories of patients being neglected or didn't receive the right treatment. I worked in the health care for years...I've never let my patients/clients unattended and neglected about their pains & discomforts. Sometimes, I think a lot health care workers forget the most important chapter in the training is "tender loving care"! Thanks again for sharing your story! :)
Posted on: Oct 19, 2008
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