Anyone who has read Emily St. John Mandel’s brilliant and terrifying dystopian novel, Station Eleven, will remember the early conversation in which an Emergency Room doctor is telling his friend about a patient who presented at the hospital with flu symptoms after arriving on an international flight. Within only a few hours, more than two hundred additional patients are admitted. He describes the ER being full, beds parked in hallways, half the ER staff too sick to work, and advises his friend to get out of town as fast as possible.

It’s a terrifying image of a situation which worsens as the story unfolds. It’s not the story I wanted to have in my head as I went to the Nanaimo Hospital earlier this week to deal with an episode of atrial fibrillation. Here, though, the Emergency entrance opened to a clean, well-lighted place with calm, professional staff firmly in control. As I entered, a friendly young attendant kindly noted that my daughter could not accompany me, asked me the usual Covid questions, and pointed to the hand sanitizer.

The waiting room was busy, but the admitting nurses were efficient and quickly moved patients through to the next stage. It was odd to see everyone wearing masks, and I could feel that many people were missing having their spouses or children with them while they were waiting to see what was in store. All of this, along with the endless sanitizing of equipment, might have made the atmosphere feel clinical and alarming, but that was not the case. The kindness, supportiveness and calm presence of doctors, nurses and support staff made everything peaceful. It was a busy night when I was there, and yet I felt well attended. Well cared for. I recall the King’s speech in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII in which he says Things done well, and with a care, exempt themselves from fear.

I left the hospital with my heart rate normal and steady—and nobody presented me with a bill for their services. If I lived a little south of here, my hospital experience would have been very different. I thought about this when I read Wade Davis’s recent article in Rolling Stone: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/political-commentary/covid-19-end-of-american-era-wade-davis-1038206/

We are fortunate to have our good governments and solid health programs. No amount of pot banging and window hearts can begin to express our indebtedness to our professional healthcare workers and hospital staff for all that they do and how they conduct themselves in these challenging circumstances.

I am deeply grateful.

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