The Evening I Died…. Briefly

This isn’t a story for the faint of heart; this is the story of a near-death event. Consider yourself warned.

I have hesitated to post this, but considering how much of my life now pivots on this, I thought it was important to share this moment.

This is the story of the night I died. Well, I was dead for a short time. Rumours of my demise were only slightly exaggerated.

I’m very glad that this didn’t come to pass.

It’s hard to believe this was 10 months ago today. It seems like a lifetime ago, and I’ve been through so much since. But in some ways, it also feels like it was only yesterday.

I don’t actually remember any of this. This entire story is based on what my wife and mother have told me, and what I’ve pieced together from medical records I obtained. 

 I was admitted to the hospital on February 2 for loss of bladder control and leg weakness. I deteriorated quickly after that.

At the time, it was unknown what was ailing me. The blindfold was so I could rest without being so confused and agitated.

I was in a room at the Trillium Health Partners – Mississauga Hospital 6J unit on the evening of February 5, 2019. I was in a private room, but very confused and bedridden. We now know that I was suffering from a very rare auto-immune disorder called Transverse Myelitis where my immune system was destroying my spinal column and brainstem.

Earlier in the day February 5, 2019.

My wife has a photo of me early on the 5th where I am lying in a hospital bed with my infant daughter and my childhood teddy bear, Roger. I was apparently alert sometime before and after this photo but have no memory of that day.

My wife decided to stay overnight with me which certainly helped save my life.

Growing concerned with my deterioration, my wife asked if I knew who she was. Apparently I replied that she “was the most beautiful woman in the world.”

Shortly after that, around 10:30pm, my wife said I started vomiting violently. She hit the call bell furiously for over 7 minutes but no one came. Eventually she ran down the hall to a nursing station and dragged someone down. She says when she returned, I had stopped breathing and looked grey/blue. Then the ‘Code Blue’ call was made and scores of people piled into the room. My wife retreated a corner in horror.

The story submitted by the attending nurse is that I was responsive when she arrived and then I stopped breathing. If you excuse me, I’ll believe my wife’s version.

My wife then called my mother and and could only get out “Paul. Code blue”. My mom was watching our infant daughter at the time, but fortunately my Aunt was at my mom’s house and could watch the baby. Apparently my mom arrived at the hospital quickly and was at the door before my wife knew it.

My wife says that at one point she cried out “You have to save him! We have a two-month old baby!”

I don’t how long my heart actually stopped. But they they couldn’t find a heartbeat for at least one cycle of CPR. They really did those chest compressions. I have the proof; a scan of my chest at a later date revealed a void/bubble caused my the CPR and the medical team worried about the damage.

At some point the medical team decided I was stable enough to rush to ICU. My mother and wife followed until I was put in an elevator and they could not follow. I’m told my mom was emotional at the closed elevator door.

In one of the medical reports of that evening, one of the doctors noted my family seemed “distressed”. That seems like an understatement.

I can only imagine the panic of sitting in a waiting room for such dire news. But, that’s what my wife and mother had to do while my life hung in the balance.

A doctor and nurse came to my family some time later. My wife saw the nurse smile and she suspected good news. It was: At least I was still alive.

But as you know, or can read about here, I was hospital for over 3 more months, and recovering after that for 5+ months…

The aftermath of my “Code Blue”. Intubated, with a feeding tube, unconscious, and covered in sensors, wires, and tubes.

I suppose one takeaway from this was the importance of my wife being in my room that evening. Some hospital units are very sparsely staffed, especially at night. I was not being monitored, the nurse was nowhere to be found, and no one was responding to the call button. If my wife hadn’t been there to drag some out of the hall, that really could have been my last day on Earth.

8 Things to Know About Staying in Hospital

Yesterday I posted about 10 Things to Pack for the Hospital. I have some more general experience and wisdom to share on the topic.

As I said before, even though I don’t work in a hospital, I have been a frequent “customer” over the last 12 months and hope this helps others navigate the Ontario Health Care system.

  • Health care is certainly not free!
  • Parking can be Expensive
  • Learn the Nurses’ Schedules
  • Put Your Family to Work
  • Internet Plans can be Expensive
  • Surviving Hospital Food is Part of the Challenge
  • Learn to rely on “health care team” not just the doctor
  • Pack your Patience as a Patient

Health care is certainly not free!
A lot of people talk about the Canadian Health Care system being “free“. It’s not. First of all, every Canadian pays for insurance essentially in their taxes. One estimate says a typical taxpayer pays about $5,500 / year. It is really nice that lots and lots of things are covered. But there are gaping gaps and most don’t notice because it is covered by their supplemental insurance.

For example, try going to a walk-in clinic or Emergency Room without a Canadian Health card (OHIP in Ontario). Visitors from out of province or residents with expired health cards could be in a lot of trouble! It can cost you upwards of $400 just to be seen!! On a side note, you may want to ask guests visiting from out of province if they have travel medical insurance, just in case. They often get it with their credit cards or through work insurance.

Even after that, the baseline is free, but to be comfortable you may pay a lot more. For example, for a broken arm a plaster cast is included with OHIP, but you can pay $$ for a fiberglass cast which is lighter and more durable.

Similarly, if you are admired to hospital, you default to a “ward” room which has 3-8 people. You can request semi-private which is only 2 people, but that can be $250/night extra. Check your insurance coverage to see if you can “upgrade”, and how many nights are covered.

Also, you may pay a lot for some tests, medicine, TV, Internet, phone, food, laundry, and mobility aids.

I guess a more accurate description of Canada’s health care system is not “free” but “selectively socialized/subsidized“.

Parking can be Expensive
Parking is going to cost you and your friends and family a lot. Typical hourly rates start around $3/hour. Much more for downtown locations. That 7 hour wait in the ER to see a doctor will certainly not be free.

Some hospitals offer weekly or monthly-like passes which can come in handy.

Paid parking: An unexpected medical expense

Learn the Nurses’ Schedules
Nurses in the hospital are busy, and sometimes stretched pretty thin. Patients expect constant care, but when a nurse has 3-10 other patients, you may have to wait a while. It is helpful to learn the nurse’s schedules: For example, shift change and when nurses are taking reports or vitals are BAD times to ask for something non-urgent.

Put Your Family to Work!
It can get pretty lonely in the hospital, so it’s nice to have friends and family visit. But, are they there just for company? NO! Put them to work! 

As mentioned in the last item, nurses can get really busy and can’t always help patients with non-urgent tasks. That’s what friends and family are for. They can:

  • Assist with brushing teeth, dressing, and other personal hygiene tasks
  • Get food and water, and assisting with feeding
  • Help get objects that are far away or in drawers/closets
  • If nothing else, your guests should be be there to listen and bringing positive stories to distract you from the ordeal

Internet Plans can be Expensive
Hospital TV may cost you money. So, you could entertain or distract yourself with your phone, but you risk emptying your data plan. Wi-Fi plans at hospitals get cheaper the longer the package you get. So, you, or your loved ones, can stay connected while in the hospital.

Surviving Hospital Food is Part of the Challenge
Surviving 4 months in the hospital also meant surviving and recovering on hospital food. I was struggling to regain 40+ pounds of muscle on these minuscule meals. 

I had many discussions with the in-house nutritionists, dietitians, and other food service staff about the food. They said the meals are really designed for their most common demographic: 80-year-old women or 70-year-old men that stay in bed all day. In the end of the day, they try to accommodate all dietary and nutritional requirements, but they are on a budget trying to feed hundreds of patients.

So, your family may need to support you by bringing more food, especially fresh vegetables. Check with your medical team about what you’re allowed to eat because you don’t want food you may choke on.

And, your family and friends will have to fend for themselves for food. That means lots of overpriced cafeteria meals, or Tim Horton’s sandwiches.

One of the better meals I had in the hospital

Learn to rely on “health care team” not just the doctor
I am starting to see this more and more, and I think it’s a really important progression in health care. We tend to give a lot of authority to doctors. And we should because they are EXTENSIVELY trained, some even more so in specialized areas.

But they are also really busy. You’ll be lucky to get two minutes face time with a doctor. But a pharmacist, nurse practitioner, physiotherapist, speak language pathologist, social worker, occupational therapist, or other specialist can spend much more time with you and your family, answer questions, and connect you with additional resources.

I think shifting some contact to these specialists is a great movement, which frees up doctors to do more, and gives more un-rushed contact time with patients and their families.

Pack your Patience as a Patient
There is a lot of hurry up and wait in the hospital, kind of like an airport. Hospitals are getting better at streamlining processes, but one hiccup can send the schedule back by hours. Sometimes there aren’t beds available, so getting transferred puts patients in limbo. And then you have to wait for porters, paperwork to be filed… so, pack your patience.

Any other tidbits of wisdom or experience that should be shared?

10 Things to Pack for the Hospital

Nobody wants to be in hospital. But it happens with accidents, illness, and the birth of babies. If hospitalization ever happens to you or a loved one, here’s some advice on surviving the ordeal. Some of these items may not apply for very short stays, but certainly should provide some guidance.

Staying at a hospitals certainly isn’t comfortable. They say the experience of flying has degraded over the years, and it seems the hospital experience has too. It’s often dirty, NOISY, lonely, depressing, and boring. But, you’re there to get better. The goal is to get better and get home.

I’ve been in and out of hospitals a lot over the last year with family, for a birth, surgeries, and other visits. And, after my own 4 month ordeal in 3 different Ontario hospitals, I feel uniquely qualified to make such a list.

A lot of this is unique to the Ontario Health Care System, but may apply elsewhere too.

  1. Power of Attorney
  2. Your Own Medicine
  3. Printout of your Medical Information
  4. Toiletries
  5. Comfortable Clothes
  6. Slippers
  7. Tablet / Mobile Phone
  8. Headphones
  9. Charger
  10. Earplugs

Power of Attorney
We live in a litigious society, privacy is at a premium, and everyone, including hospitals are afraid of being sued. Just because you say you are the spouse or sibling of a patient, doesn’t mean the hospital will tell you about their condition or let you make decisions. Some jurisdictions do not recognize some relationships, like common-law or same sex. They don’t know who the unconscious patient would want making decisions for them, or reveal private information. Don’t leave this to debate at a stressful time. The only document that guarantees legal consent to make decisions for someone is a Power of Attorney (PoA).

My wife and I got our Power of Attorney kind of by accident. We had our Wills drawn up before our daughter was born, and the Lawyer’s package included Power of Attorney documents too, so we had those drawn up too. We are SO glad! We had no idea we’d need it so soon, or that it would be so important. 

Being millennials, I had uploaded a copy of our PoA to the cloud, and my wife was able to show the medical staff almost immediately. We do have the hardcopies readily accessible too, as our Lawyer suggested.

Go get a Will and PoA!

You can get one from the Lung Association’s “The Will Campaign”.

Your Own Medicine
If you have medicine you use regularly or for emergencies, you should bring it with you. The hospital may not what you’re taking, and they need to know exactly, including the dosage. Also, they may not be able to supply it for you, so you may need to supply your own.

Printout of your Medical Information
In Ontario we do not have a functional eHealth system. This means individual hospitals, physicians, and specialists cannot see each others’ files on you, even if it’s really important. They can’t even see basic info in you like your allergies or the name of your family doctor!

I remember when my wife was close to giving birth to our first child, the check-in at the labour assessment unit was detailed and arduous. Name of Obgyn? Address? Fax number? Results of some sort of smear test? We were prepared, but we overheard another couple that wasn’t.

As the lady was clearly in labour discomfort, her hapless partner was trying to answer the check-in questions. He didn’t know the answers, which lead to some consternation from the mother-to-be. “How do I spell your family doctors name? What is your Obgyn’s address?” VIOLENT noises came from the woman in labour.

So, have a PRINTED document handy with the following info (printed because phones seem to run out of power or fail at the worst times):

  • Full legal name of patient
  • Date of birth
  • Health card number
  • Full address including postal code
  • Name and phone number for emergency contact / Power of Attorney
  • Names, addresses, phone and fax numbers of ALL doctors ( family, specialists)
  • List of medical conditions (diabetes, anemia, allergies, surgeries, etc.)
  • List of proper names of all medications, dosage, and frequency
  • Results of any pertinent tests

Some hospitals provide some toiletries, but don’t count on it. Pack as if you’re going to be staying at a hotel: Toothbrush, toothpaste, travel-size shampoo/body wash, brushes, comb and other personal hygiene products.
You may want to throw in nail clippers as well. 

Comfortable Clothes
I came to start calling these “civilian clothes”.

As functional as hospital gowns may appear, they are hardly stylish, comfortable, or modest. Have something you can wear to go home. Something easy to put on like sweatpants and loose shirts.

I read somewhere that dressing in a hospital gown means your sick. Dressing in your clothes means your getting better. May be a trick of the mind, but that may be some of the most powerful medicine.

Hospitals aren’t the cleanest places. They clean often and thoroughly, but they are pubic buildings full of sick people. You may not want, or be able to put your shoes on all the time. This is where slippers can come in very handy. 
Also, if going to a hospital shower, you will want some sort of waterproof slippers. They’re good for hygiene, and also to reduce risk of falls.

Tablet / Mobile Phone
Here is your source of communication and entertainment. You often need to pay to use the phone in the hospital room, so this is a way to save some money. Hospital Wi-Fi isn’t always free, but neither is the TV. At least this way you’ll have some entertainment, maybe Netflix. At the very worst, you can get a new high score in Candy Crush while you recover.

I had a really rude roommate that was listening to music in a foreign language at full blast at 4am. When I or the nurses asked him to stop, he feigned that he didn’t understand English.

Your tablet and/or cell phone can keep you connected and entertained, but they can be noisy. So use headphones as a courtesy to your roommate and the rest of the floor. Another reason to use headphones is privacy so that your neighbours aren’t privy to all of your conversations.  

Your phone and tablet and other devices can keep you entertained or in contact with people, but these devices will run out of power quickly. Pack that charger, and a long cord in case the outlet isn’t conveniently placed.

An absolute necessity. You are in the hospital you are not at home. There are noises you can’t control like snoring roommate, incessant beeping of devices, and staff chatting in the halls. Earplugs won’t block out all the noise, but hopefully muffle it enough to let you sleep.
While you’re at it, a sleep mask can help if the constant light (or light from neighbour’s TV) disturb you.