Right in the centre - Observations from the hospital bed


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

Over the past several years, I have been in hospital five times and at the ER several times. My wife has been in hospital at least five times and had several visits to the ER. The hospitals include HSC Winnipeg, St. Boniface, Brandon, Neepawa, University of Kentucky, Cameron, Missouri and North Kansas City. I guess you could say we are a somewhat sickly pair but we have come through it all with thankful hearts and a lot of respect for the health care system, in general, and a lot more respect for most staff.

As a matter of update, I am in good health now and Christine is now at home recovering from major surgery after being 14 days in HSC. She had been feeling sickly for months and in November was diagnosed with severe gall bladder issues. She only had one typical gall bladder attack but the situation had apparently been lurking for quite a while. 

With observing and participating in the services of so many hospitals, I have some observations.

1. Most staff are very good to excellent.

2. There are big differences between various hospitals.

3. The American system is very much faster than the Canadian system.

4. American hospitals appear costly but I think we, as Canadians, are lulled into complacency about how expensive our hospitals are. I doubt that anyone really knows what surgeries and procedures cost in Manitoba. I know my five day stay at North Kansas City was over $10,000 per day and that didn’t involve any surgery. Currently some Manitobans are outraged at the amount of money that was spent on reducing Manitoba’s surgical backlog by using U.S. hospitals. I doubt anyone will calculate the comparative costs under each system, but they should.

5. Most people hate hospital food and in most cases it wasn’t great in my experience, but it is okay, unless you are sick. There is very little coordination between the kitchens and the needs of a recovering person. After surgery, and my wife and I now have each had one, the clear fluids diets have been OK but the step-up to solid foods has been a disaster. A person can’t just go from juice and Jello to solid foods. With my surgery, they tried to take me from juice for a day or two to a hamburger and fries. With Chris it was a similar jump. It was a disaster in both cases.

6. In Manitoba, we are told that food, at least at the big hospitals, is prepared far away and reheated at the hospital. I would estimate one-third to one half of the food trays go back relatively untouched. The waste of time, money and food appears to be huge.

7. The food at North Kansas City is handled much differently. Each patient has a dial pad at their bedside and orders off a menu. If you want tea, you get tea, if you want pudding, you get pudding. If you want chicken or beef, you get chicken or beef. It makes a huge difference to a recovering sick person when you can attempt to eat what you want once solid foods are allowed.

8. If you are waiting for a bath at St. Boniface or HSC, you can wait a long time. Christine was in for 14 days and no bath. One day, an aide dropped off towels, a gown and a basin of water and she was supposed to bathe herself. She was in no condition to do so and nobody ever offered to help. Brandon and Neepawa offers a shower and a bath once in a while. North Kanas City had a shower in each room.

9. Space is extremely limited in most hospitals. HSC and St. B are really bad, with four people to a room. And to many peoples’ surprise, the rooms are for men and women combined. Maybe that’s the best they can do, but overcrowding leads to that situation.

10. North Kansas City is a large and relatively new hospital and, in my mind, they do many things right. The rooms I saw are one patient to a room. There is a bed, a window, a sink, toilet and walk-in-shower. Our experience has been four to a room at St.B. four at HSC and two per room at Neepawa and Brandon. It costs money for space but the level of care is better when there is one to a room and enough room for the staff to actually work.

11. In the Canadian hospitals, there is a strong union shadow hanging over the staff. Staff have to walk away from a bed pan or dirt on the floor if the right job designated person isn’t around. Some staff will ignore the “rules” and will clean up, but I saw more masks, rubber gloves and syringe caps on the floor last week at HSC than I can imagine. Cleaning and tidying of rooms was minimal, but there is no space to move. The best room cleaning, in my experience, was at Brandon Hospital, but there were only two people in what had been a four patient room, so there was actually space to move around and work.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the Banner & Press staff.