Hospital: Roommates


My work insurance covers the cost of a semi-private room when staying in the hospital. When I moved from emergency into an actual room, we asked about paying the difference and moving to a private room. The hospital told us that even if they could give me a private room, it would likely only be for a night here or a night there because higher priority patients (i.e. those who require isolation) would be given the private rooms before the rest of us. As a result, I had roommates almost every night of my stay. None of the names below are real, and unless it’s critical to the story, I’ve left out why they were hospitalized.

Harold

My first roommate was a elderly gentleman named Harold who could not speak. (Aside: New entry on my list of “creepiest things to look at”: an old man sleeping with his mouth wide open.) I don’t know the reason he was in the hospital, but he had a fancy thing that he could hold up to his throat and talk, and you would hear what sounded like a computer-generated voice saying what he was trying to say. It wasn’t foolproof technology by any means – half the time it was just as hard to understand as his silent mouth movements. Harold was only with me for a day or two.

Roommate 2

My second roommate was also only with me for a couple of days, and I think it was when I was just starting to be a little more coherent at times, though I never caught his name. I remember him getting served his lunch or dinner, and he had real food on his tray. This was when I was still on water and nothing else (not even jello or juice or anything), and I remember being jealous and thinking “must be nice”. Then his doctor came in to talk to him and his wife, and it turned out that he was diabetic and was in the hospital to get some toes amputated. The whole “must be nice” thing faded pretty fast.

Roommate 3

After the diabetic guy, I apparently had another roommate for a night or two – an East Indian doctor who works or used to work at Grand River hospital. I have absolutely no memory of this fellow, but Gail tells me he existed.

At this point, I was moved down from the 6th floor to the 5th.

Peter

My first roommate on the 5th floor, Peter, was probably in his mid-50’s. We didn’t have any conversations or anything, but we said hello a couple of times here and there. He spoke some English, but sounded to me like he was German or Austrian or something. One night I was heading to the bathroom when he popped his head out from behind his privacy screen and started talking to me in what I perceived to be gibberish. When he was done, I politely told him that I had no idea what he was talking about. He talked some more, and again I told him, “I’m sorry, I still don’t understand”. In the next “blurb”, I heard the word “Croatian”, and I immediately said “No, I don’t speak Croatian.” He asked about Serbian, and I told him that I couldn’t speak Serbian either. He then said something like “…then what…” I told him “English” and he said “Oh, English!” as if English was a really weird language to speak in Ontario. I went to the bathroom and returned to bed.

A few hours later, some movement in my room woke me, and over the PA system, there was announcement of a “Code White” in progress on my floor, and then they specifically mentioned my room number, but the other bed. A short while later, the Code White was cancelled, and four security guards brought Peter, weeping, back into the room and secured him to the bed. It turned out that he had had some kind of breakdown and wanted to “run away”. After he left our room, the nurses tried to stop him but he grabbed a pencil from the nurses desk and brandished it like a weapon. (Code White means something like “we have a patient who is a danger to himself or others”.) He left the next day, though I don’t know if he was discharged or moved somewhere else.

Henri

I had the room to myself for a half a day, and then they brought in Henri, who spoke with a French accent – eventually I found that he was originally from somewhere in Northern Ontario. I don’t think I even had a “hello” conversation with him, but he wasn’t afraid of telling the nurses anything they wanted to know, and a bunch of stuff they likely didn’t want to know. His first night, a nurse asked him why he was there, and he matter-of-factly said “I’m addicted to painkillers”, and also told her that he liked to get drunk a lot. He was very specific on the types of booze that he would buy because it was the cheapest and the strongest. Sorry, I don’t remember the names he mentioned.

He never once pressed the nurse call button, he’d just wait until he heard his nurse (or possibly any nurse) outside the door, and yell “Excuse me!” Not a morning or evening went by that he didn’t remind his nurse to bring him his pain meds. At the time, I thought he was just being impatient, but it then occurred to me that he was essentially going through detox right there, so he was probably in as much pain (some physical, some not) as I was.

He wasn’t the friendliest of folks (not surprising, as a depressed homeless drunk drug addict). He asked one of the nurses if she spoke French and she answered no. He then spoke to her in French, which is rude enough as it is.  When she came over to my side to do some work on me, she mentioned that she doesn’t speak French, but she has lots of family from the Sudbury area and as a result she understands more French than she speaks. She knows what he said to her (though she didn’t tell me), and it wasn’t very nice.

He was with me for at least a week, possibly two. The day he left, he was getting dressed when a nurse came in, and he got angry at her, saying that she was trying to look at his <something in French>. Guessing at what the word meant, I had to laugh – nurses see a hundred of those a day, and I’m pretty sure that nobody was trying to see his.

Daniel

Daniel was my roommate for a week. His wife came to visit him every day, and they were both pretty friendly, so we had a few conversations. A couple of times his grandkids came in (ages about 3, under 2 and about 8 months) – the oldest loved to play matching games or “war” with grandma, but he cheated like crazy (according to grandma). Nice couple – not much else to say about him.

Ronald

Ronald was an older English gentleman. At one point, Gail, the boys, my parents, and my sister were all visiting me, and he called out asking when they were leaving. We thought he was just being rude, as did his wife (“Ronald!” she said), but then he said no, he just wanted to leave with them. Over the next couple of days, however, his mind seemed to go, and he fell into dementia. He was calling out for “Ruth” to help him, though there was no nurse named Ruth. Other times he’d call out his wife’s name (which was not Ruth). He had difficulty doing pretty much anything, but got angry when nurses tried to help him, even cursing at them a couple of times.

Once, (during the day when he was more coherent) he was bragging to the nurses that he was a math whiz and asked them to give him a math question. Someone asked him 50 times 99. Then one nurse said “We have another math whiz over there – Graeme! What’s 50 times 99?” I quickly multiplied 50 by 100 (5000) and subtracted 50 and said “four thousand, nine hundred fifty”. All was quiet from the other side of the room until Ron said loudly “smart ass”. We all had a good laugh.

During the day, for the most part, he was pretty coherent, though he slept a lot. At night though, that’s when his mind seemed to go. He’d call for his wife in the middle of the night, he once asked a nurse to call him a cab because he wanted to go to Grand River Hospital (and refused to believe that he was already there), and he asked me once if I could give him a ride somewhere tomorrow.

After a little over two weeks, he was transferred to another hospital in Kitchener.

Klaus

Will talk your ear off, loudly, with a strong German accent. Quite the impressive history of hospitalizations and surgeries (including hip replacement, cancer, chemo), especially given that he was 80 years old, and quite spry for his age. Actually, he was quite spry for someone ten years younger. Just a day or two after he moved in, I was informed that I was having my surgery, so I moved out.


After surgery, I was taken back to the sixth floor, where I was given the same room (601) as I was in the first time I stayed on 6. The next day I was moved to a different “wing” of the floor, which turned out to be just around the corner, but the nurses here are more accustomed to dealing with recovery from abdominal surgery. I only had one roommate the rest of my stay.

Charlie

Charlie was an 88-year-old stubborn-as-an-ox Ukranian guy (It’s getting more and more difficult to come up with interesting but not cliché ethnic pseudonyms for my roommates, so Charlie will just have to do for this one, OK?). I’m not sure what he was originally in for, and his surgery was a couple of days before mine. He had a lot of visitors – his son came every day, sometimes more than once, as did a number of others. His son called him “tato” a lot (and I mean a lot, sometimes twice in the same sentence), which I interpreted as Ukranian for “dad”, since nobody else (except his other son, who was only in once or twice) called him that. He had a picture of his twin 21-year-old grandsons on his table and would tell every nurse he had who they were. He was obviously very proud of them, and they came to visit a lot too. At one point his wife was also admitted to the hospital, and they took him downstairs in a wheelchair a couple of times to visit her.

As I said, he was pretty stubborn, so a few times his nurse would tell him that if he wanted something, he had to press the call button, but he’d try to get out of bed himself to do whatever it was. I’d press my call button (which was shared with his), and his nurse would come in and give him hell for getting out of bed. Then once I got out of my bed to go to the bathroom, and so he called the nurse. The nurse told him that I was stronger than he was and that it was OK for me to get up by myself. After a week or so, he ended up strong enough to get out of bed by himself.

He spoke with a strong Ukranian accent, so we didn’t have a lot of long conversations. Near the end of my hospital stay, I was diagnosed with a minor virus that required me to be in isolation, so after two weeks with Charlie, I was moved to a private room. Charlie went home the next day, and I went home about three days later.

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