Recently my husband Ken spent 84 continual days in hospital – first in Campbellford, then Peterborough for a short while and then back to Campbellford for another 10 weeks. When he was discharged from CMH in early March, 2016 I wondered what I could do to show my appreciation for the wonderful care that he received and I decided that writing a letter to you, and outlining the perspective of a person who uses the services, might be appreciated more than a box of chocolates! CMH reminds me of the child’s story called The Little Engine that Could! It may be small but it is mighty and the innovative services it continues to offer are on par with any hospital in our province.
While Ken was on his journey with a compromised immune system caused from chemo side effects and then battling fungal pneumonia, I was facing breast cancer, diagnosed at the end of the summer and having to go through chemo and radiation treatments, out of town. This caused major challenges for both of us as our family is not nearby and Ken and I could not support each other in a fashion we have done all of our lives. It is at this point that I feel it is important to outline the role that CMH played in allowing us to face what we had to do to get on the road to recovery.
Ken arrived at CMH by ambulance on December 10, 2015. Because I was undergoing chemo, my immune system was also in danger and the treatment we received in your emergency department was second to none! Any emergency ward can give medical treatment but what sets CMH apart from the others is the compassion, the caring and the familiarity of being with someone you know and trust. Ken is a retired farmer and I am a retired teacher and we have been in this area all of our lives. When possible, your ER staff makes a connection. In a very professional fashion, they put you at ease and lessen the anxiety. They introduce an often unknown emergency room doctor, who then takes us each step of the way through what is happening and why. When you are on an emotional high and you fear the unknown, that approach is almost more important than the testing and medication.
For the next several weeks, I found that same compassion and professionalism with every level of service that we faced. Once Ken was admitted, it became the role of CMH to get him stable and then to find out what was wrong and get it fixed. First floor staffing members and all of those who back them up outdid themselves. They took every precaution possible to keep both of us safe while they tried to identify his infection. When it was time to bring in a specialist from Peterborough and to send Ken to that hospital, it was obvious that this would put major pressure on me and what I was going through. Your infection control lead person was amazing as she took all kinds of time to work with me and to explain what they had ruled out and what they had to discover before Ken could get better. I am normally a very strong take charge, positive person but the effects of one chemo treatment onto another left me vulnerable and confused. Your entire team recognized this as well. The treatment at CMH goes far beyond diagnosis, medication and discharge. Having to send Ken to a hospital, where I could not risk going, was devastating for me. My comfort zone was breaking down as Ken was discharged from CMH and it did not return until he came back on Xmas eve – the greatest gift of all.
Ken was diagnosed with fungal pneumonia, a very serious condition and had to be on strong medication for 3 months. But the major problem, his compromised immune system, had not been solved. I will never forget Dr. Pritchard saying to Ken – “You are not going from here (CMH) until we get your blood levels where they have to be for it to be safe for you to carry on your life, or you are going to be right back here with another serious infection.” Little did we foresee the length of time and the amount of care that Ken’s recovery would require.
Although there were some days from December until March when my chemo prevented me from going to CMH, I had much opportunity at any time of day to sit in Ken’s room with him. Being in a ‘protected’ room, on his own, was safer for me and certainly what was required for him. The one overall factor that continued to impress me was the teamwork that I saw day after day. I witnessed holiday weekends, snowstorms when some staff could not come or go, community flu and cold bugs that never affected either of us. I heard much laughter and I witnessed staff helping each other day in and day out. There was no way to tell what the role was of each person – unless they told me or I got close enough to read a name badge. Who was an RN, an RPN, a PSW, cleaning staff, meal creators, physiotherapist, lab technologist and volunteer? And when you went to the 1st floor main desk for assistance – who is the receptionist, the nurse, the doctor? Everyone has a smile and is ready to help, regardless of how busy they are. And I am sure there were days when all of my questions were asked at a time that was not the best – but one would never know.
Your medical teamwork became more and more prevalent. Because of his length of stay, Ken mainly worked with Dr. Pritchard. However, during each day of his long stay at least one doctor came to see him – even if it was just a very quick visit. Each member of the team knew Ken’s case and Ken knew he was in good hands with so many professionals sharing symptoms and sharing solutions. Ken’s off-site specialists were continually consulted – especially to get to the solution to build his immune system.
I had major concerns over Ken’s recovery. Over a period of months before and during the time he was hospitalized, he lost 40 pounds, which a man of his stature did not have to lose. He was in bed for weeks on end and had not stood or walked. He was ‘skin and bones’ and I could not imagine his recovery. However the ‘care’ partners at CMH look after more than I realized. Ken continually commented on the wonderful meals – very different from those he received in a larger hospital, which outsources everything. He went from a patient who could hardly eat anything because he was so short of breath to one who ate everything put in front of him and more if he wanted. He went from being in bed all of the time to getting assistance to get to a chair to eat his meals, to being able to get to the chair on his own and then to go with a walker. He was taken to exercise classes on the 2nd floor and his progress over the weeks was amazing. His balance improved and he graduated to a cane from the walker and was up and down the halls as much as his danger of infection would allow.
I cannot believe the high level of infection control that is practiced at CMH. I knew that I was taking a risk to go to a hospital or emergency room while undergoing chemo. With the cleanliness that I witnessed and the number of precautions available from hand sanitizers and masks, gowns etc I was willing to take that risk. I did not develop even a sniffle and Ken’s infection was kept under control.
One of the downsides for CMH staff must be that they never get to hear how their long-stay patients are doing once they are discharged. Ken is doing fine and so am I - on our road to recovery! CMH accomplished what it set out to do – you identified Ken’s problems, sought assistance as needed and then fixed them. You kept him with you and constantly monitored him until it was safe for him to come home. Your daily assessing of his blood counts assisted you to find the solution. His blood levels have held in the normal range for over 30 days now without any injections – something that has not happened for almost a year. He is able to walk to the end of our street and back again, with no cane and no shortness of breath. He is driving short distances and taking on some of his former tasks with our home, pacing himself as his strength builds. Our lives are gradually coming back to some degree of normalcy.
It is our community that gave me the assistance and support to continue my journey while Ken was in good hands at CMH. Although sometimes it can be questioned by those in charge at the LHIN or province, there is such a major role for our smaller innovative hospitals to play in our health care system. Should you ever need any kind of ‘testimonial’ to support any of your future ventures, do not hesitate to contact us.
I am sending a copy of this note to 1st floor, as well. Ken and I want the team to know how much we appreciated what they did for both of us. Too often we take our local health care system for granted and way too often we do not show our appreciation for having such an excellent facility in our midst.
Keep up the excellent work and thank you!