Thursday, December 16, 2010

"One Block A Tale of Two Caregivers"

 This is a personal observation on the two separate levels of care within one institution of medicine. On Tuesday I entered Vancouver General Hospital for surgery on my spine, from the moment I began at the admitting desk friendly and supportive staff guided me to my pre-op care, where nurses prepared me, and doctors met with me and soon I was in the OR. All the time no one asked me with repeated questions or preconceived ideas of why I was there, or second guessing me. To them I was a man in pain with a medical condition that needed to be treated and they did so in a respectful manner. After I recovered I was taken to a modern hospital room which was clean, with TVs and a amazing nurse who showed real concern with my bladder and post op urination problems. She was always making sure I was comfortable and not in too much pain. I was treated by wonderful doctors who visited with me often and involved me in my own care with openness and candidness. I was treated with respect and dignity.

 In the early Fall I was severely depressed and made my way to Vancouver General Hospital emerg to seek care for pain, not physical mind you but pain all the same. I was shuffled off on a gurney down a side hallway where I was placed in different patient clothing than the folks there for physical treatment. I was questioned over and over again, telling my life story, my fears, and my experience with attempted suicide with a discounted no so caring manner. Treated to some degree like I was a hinderence to their emergency room duties. I was seen by two doctors who talked at me not to me, and I was shuffled off the the Pysch Unit.

 In the Psych unit  a block away from the modern, clean room I would eventually have my surgery, I was greeted by a old run down building, not so clean, old 70s beds, and dim lighting. The nurses stayed behind the counter treating most interactions with patients like it was a confrontation, or like we were pests. rarely reaching out to those of us in pain, again not physical but pain all the same.

 In most health care institutions, there is institutional stigma regarding mental illness. Rarely are MH patients treated with warmth, or mutual respect, but usually treated like opposing forces. Very few more facilities are newer, up to date or maintained as well as the physical health side of the coin. Mental Health care even though it serves a large and diverse population is usually the recipient of hand me down facilities and equipment. And yes some hospital staff offer different levels of care for mental health and physical health patients.

 This two sides of the same coin became very clear to me as I was in the same hospital in recent stays one for my physical health and the other for my mental health. While I was in my room recovering from my surgery I looked out my window and could see the building that I was once a patient in a patient in pain. One side of this building had boarded up windows like some old tenement and I knew that a person deserving the same dignity and respect that I was receiving  was getting the second tier of care. Stigma is not always verbal, sometimes it is brick and morter, policy professional attitude, and this needs to change.

 In the coming years thanks to a single generous donor is funding a new purpose built mental health centre will be built at VGH. Our community is lucky to have received such a wonderful gift. But still attitudes cannot be funded and must change from within, and with education, compassion and care.


  1. As always, a brilliant discussion of your health care experiences. Thank you for being so willing to share.

  2. I enjoyed this blog post even though I'm sadly reminded about some people's view that mental illness is not a legitimate illness. If anyone who has had a hospital stay also had to have a stay in a mental hospital (psych unit) perhaps their eyes would be opened. At least one could hope so.

  3. Another hospital ward that is equally disgusting in their approach to "patient care" is the geriatric ward at BGH. As the elevator doors open the stench of human waste assaults you. It takes all the will power I can muster to step off the elevator and enter the ward.

  4. It is a shame that we treat our seniors like that, they are such a valuable resource to our community as a whole and should not be warehoused. We treat our elderly like used disposable products it makes me angry.

  5. I'm so glad that our local mental health hospital is a friendly, caring place, most of which has recently been renovated. (The rest is in process, which does cause some construction noise.) In a crisis, just entering it gives me the security that everything will be alright. Maybe it comes with living in Germany? Anyway, I'm sorry to be reminded (again) that many people don't have the same luck as I do, and I hope things will get better. The new center seems like a good step.