A Hospital Visit, A Pacemaker And The Jays



Last week, while eating white anchovies at a trendy Toronto cafe, I got a text message that Bev (a.k.a my mother) was en route to Toronto General because her heart rate had gone seriously south.

My sister, Robin, and I ran to the hospital. There was Bev hooked up to an IV and a heart monitor looking exhausted and terrified. Her partner, Ned, was beside her.

The 16-year old emergency doctor (who was actually 36) in her red, Converse running shoes thought she was dehydrated. When fluid didn’t bring her heart rate down, the doctor stabilized her heart with about 5 zillion drugs. The nurse looked about 12 years-old but somehow had 2 sons that her husband had fed and put to bed. And done the dishes. We were all jealous about the dishes.

By then it was about 8:30 pm and the Jays game was on. While we waited for Bev’s heart rate to stop dancing like R.A.’s Dickey’s knuckleball, I reported on the game from my iPhone. At 4:00 am, Bev was admitted to the Cardiac Care unit.

The initial hope was that medication would fix Bev’s heart. But by mid-afternoon, the head of the cardiology unit showed up in black stilettos and determined that Bev needed a pacemaker.

“So, like, the deal is that her heart is beating too fast and then when it tries to reset itself and go slower, there is a like a pause and that is the problem…right? The pause is the problem?”

“That is a very sophisticated understanding of cardiology,” said the supercute Israeli cardiologist. “You should know, however, that studies have shown that 90% of people who think that they understand a medical problem will forget what they understand the next day.” I wished that he had winked at me when he said that, but he didn’t.

The nursing staff was incredible.

There was the cousin of the guy who owns all of Canada’s jewelry stores and who wore an “I support Trump” button. There was Ingrid, the cute Dutch nurse, who worked the Emergency Unit during the week and with the pandas at the Toronto Zoo on the weekend, and who told us about how panda poo was being tested as a potential biofuel as well as why my mother’s raised liver enzymes were not a big concern. Joanne filled me in on how to raise a teenage daughter. Layla, who noticed my “Hamtza” necklace, asked if I was Jewish and told me that the Miles Nadal JCC was her family’s second home – to which I replied: “Mine too!” Chu Ye made me write a list on my iPhone in capital letters of all the foods Bev was not allowed to eat and then rechecked my list five times to make sure that I had it all right.

Ned, Robin and I rotated through the weekend. We watched Estrada pitch well in a losing effort. We saw Sanchez pitch a gem of a game and prayed with Osuna when he came in to save it in the 9th. We met Robert from Sudbury who was a senior curling umpire and who called the Canadian women’s curling team by their first names. He also refereed basketball games. At the age of 70, he had survived 5 bypasses, 2 stents, and faulty wiring in his pacemaker. Then there was Bev’s roommate, Sherry, who had been in the hospital since October and who was praying for her heart to stabilize so that she could go on the transplant list. Her needlepoint was amazing and she collected angels.

In my family, we name things that scare us to take away fear.

Any lump or bump that I have ever had is called “Liz.” So, on Saturday night, I texted my mom: “Let’s call it, ‘Patsy Pillar Pacemaker’!! After our centre fielder!”

On Monday, right about when Drew Storen struck out David Big Papa Ortiz to end the mid-morning Red Sox/Jays game, Bev and Patsy Pillar Pacemaker became friends of the heart.

After the pacemaker was in for a few hours, the head cardiologist with the black stilettos told my mom she wasn’t thrilled about how her left ventricle was working. “I’m just going to adjust that in my office.” And from her office, the head cardiologist wirelessly adjusted my mother’s heart.

The Middle Eastern Man who made me an amazing chicken shawarma salad for dinner that night  noticed my “Hamtza” necklace. “You must be Jewish. Your and my governments may say different things, but underneath we are all the same. Here, have a cookie.”

“Thanks,” I said. “It would be hard in a place like this where so many people are suffering to give a serious shit about religious differences.”

When I returned to Bev’s room, Sherry was teaching my daughter how to do needlepoint.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I gave her a cross to practice on. I didn’t know you were all Jews.” “It’s so totally fine,” I said. A few hours earlier, Sherry had found out she was going home on Wednesday with a stabilized heart and on the transplant list.

Robert came in to see how Bev was doing.

“My roommate and I are playing low-pressure poker,” he patted his chest.

“Don’t gamble too much of your heart away!” giggled Bev already a pro at cardiac humour.

As I walked out with my daughter, we saw ten men – some in sweats and some in designer jeans, some in Crocs and some in Italian loafers, all in dressing gowns barely covering old ECG stickers stuck in various places on their hairy chests. They were all watching the Jays game.

“Cardiology is where the party is!” I waved.

“You said it, sister,” said a thirty-something in burgundy Doc Martens.

Thanks to 21st century medicine and its practitioners, Bev was discharged a week after she was admitted. On Passover, she and Patsy led her grateful family in a stirring rendition of Take Me Out to the Seder.


About Author

Natalie Fingerhut is a full-time history editor at the University of Toronto Press and a part-time writer. Her work has been published in Living Legacies: A Collection of Writing by Contemporary Canadian Jewish Women, Volume 3, Dropped Threads: Beyond the Small Circle, Volume 3, Broken Pencil, Thought Catalogue, the Globe and Mail, and the Canadian Jewish News. She is very happily married to a nice, Jewish boy from Winnipeg and has two offspring.

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