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Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal, Quebec

I’m sitting in the waiting room of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal after coming off the bike. I was cycling into town and must have hit a pothole or something in the road cos I just felt myself going over the handlebars and then sliding along the road on my chin. I eventually found my way to the hospital but was told I’d have to pay $459, which I don’t have. I was heading into town to see if I could get any money out – I haven’t been able to for the last two days. The guy said there was a cheaper place I could go to where they’d only charge $40, but I only have $2.79. So I said well, I can’t do it. I think I’m OK so I’ll just go. A few cuts and grazes and a bit of pain in my jaw, but nothing serious.

As I was walking out the nurse who first checked me over said she’d clean me up, but then realized my chin needed stitches. She spoke to the doctor and they agreed to treat me now and bill me later. I have insurance so I should be able to claim on that and pay them, it’s just that at the moment I’m up to my overdraft limit with my bank so can’t get any money out or pay for anything.

Things like this, having to pay for hospital treatment, make me realize the good things about Britain. I stayed up late last night creating a play list of British music on iTunes on my laptop (which fortunately survived the crash): The Fall, Half Man Half Biscuit, Ivor Cutler, New Order, Nick Drake, The Beatles, The Smiths…

I’m supposed to be heading off towards Ottawa/Gattineau tomorrow but don’t feel ready at the moment. The money situation is the main worry right now, and with things like this happening I realized I can’t go around without access to cash. I could do with eating some food as well. The $2.79 is set aside for a loaf of bread. I have some meat and cheese to go with it in the fridge in the university room I’m staying in, plus some peanuts so that should keep me going for a while.

There are a few other people in the waiting room. Not that many. The health service here doesn’t seem nearly as stretched as the British one, but maybe that’s because people have to pay.

Someone is wheeled in on a stretcher. I wonder if they do ever turn away injured people who can’t pay. From my experience just now, the administrator was willing to watch me walk away but the nurse wasn’t. Mixing up money with dealing with sick and injured people seems very alien, but I guess that’s the way it is in most places. I thought Canada had a similar type of health service to Britain – basically free, but maybe that’s not the case if you’re not Canadian.

There’s a woman sitting opposite me writing in a notebook. She doesn’t look injured. And the guy sitting next to me reading a magazine, I can’t see what’s wrong with him. But when I broke my arm there was nothing to see, and I remember then sitting in the hospital waiting room (for about 4 hours) pissed off that people who were covered with blood (mostly due to getting pissed and doing stupid things on a Saturday night) were getting seen before me. But I don’t know what the order is here. I feel a lot better than I did earlier and could just get up and walk out. I probably don’t really need those stitches. I do look rough though. I have a bandage on my chin, blood stains on my trousers and grazes on my arms and hands. As I was walking along the street earlier, pushing my bike, people were staring at me. As I picked myself up off the road after coming off the bike a guy on a bike and a woman in a car stared at me. I’ll have to go back to that spot to see exactly what it was I hit. Though I was saying before that Montreal is a great city for cyclists, it’s not that great really. When there’s a cycle lane it’s good, but when there isn’t and you have to cycle on the road the road’s are terrible, huge potholes, cracks, canyons and crevices, and mostly towards the side of the road, which is where you want to be when you’re cycling. The pavements, which they seem to prefer cyclists to cycle on here, are just as bad, or worse.

There’s another cyclist here, with a bandaged elbow. I know he’s a cyclist because he’s carrying his helmet and water bottle.

As he comes out I go in. There must be a bike accident specialist here. I follow some guy along some corridors and I’m now sitting in a treatment room waiting for the doctor. There a cupboard labelled Bed Pans, Bed Pan Support, Urinals. A drawer labelled Needles, Scalpels, Razors, Syringes. I can’t remember the last time I had stitches. I hope it isn’t painful. I think I had stitches in my chin when I was about 3 years old and was standing on a chair doing the washing up and slipped and hit my chin on the edge of the sink, but that’s probably not significant so I don’t think I’ll mention it.

They all seem to speak fluent English here, which is good. Speaking French when your jaw is stiff is not easy. I was trying to think of the French word for chin on my way here, but didn’t need it. I was able to say “J’ai tombé de mon velo” which means I fell off my bike, though that probably makes me sound a bit pathetic. It would have been better if I could have said “I was thrown off my bike by a canyon in one of those grey bumpy tracks you have the nerve to call roads out here.” Perhaps it’s a good thing my French is un peu merde.

Still no sign of the doctor. I’ve not been waiting that long though. It must be less than an hour since I got to the hospital. Before coming here I went to a clinic in a shopping mall which was no use at all. They totally refused to treat me.

I’ve been sitting in this treatment room for about 15 minutes now and no sign of anyone. I’m sitting behind a curtain so maybe they can’t see me and have forgotten they put me here. Or maybe this is how they deal with patients who can’t pay. There’s a gas in here called Nitronox – not sure what that is but I reckon it probably puts you to sleep, so I expect that’s what they’ll do, though not in an obvious kind of way. Once I’m asleep they’ll be able to recycle my organs (which are still intact) and give them to the paying patients. They say they’re going to send a bill to my address in London, but they can’t be sure I gave them a genuine address or if I did whether I’ll pay their bill, so why take the risk? They checked my temperature and my blood pressure, they know I’m a healthy specimen. They can’t just let me walk out of here. That wouldn’t be good for business.

Announcements come over the PA system. They’re in English but don’t make any sense. Must be code. Now muttering, also in English, from the other side of the curtain. All I caught was “when he comes back…”, said by a man. A woman is replying but a trolley being wheeled by covers her words. Now squeaky footsteps, and the sound of something churning. Liquid. Like a toilet filling itself after being flushed, but deeper and richer. Like the liquids involved are more viscous than water.

The guy who brought me here said take a seat, but I think he meant sit on the bed whereas I’m sitting on the chair which is probably meant for the doctor, so when they look in here they don’t see a patient on the bed so they think, aha, an empty room with no one to treat (or put to sleep) and so I get left here, obscured by the curtain. I took a look out into the corridor just now but didn’t see anyone. Can still hear voices though. Perhaps I’ll go and sit on the bed and see what happens.

What happens is I start reading the notice on the wall next to the bed.

How to choose a dressing
Surgical wound: Clean wound with normal saline or Baxedin. Cover wound with Tefla or Gauzes and abdominal pad.
Pink (epithelialization) Ulcer stage 1: Clean wound with normal saline…

A patient out in the corridor wearing a bed gown comes into my room. You eat something? He’s an Indian guy, in his fifties, or maybe older. No, I haven’t eaten anything, I say.

I want to eat something, he says. They give me medicine but they don’t give me anything to eat. I want to eat something.

Have you been here a long time?

Since 5 o’clock.

It’s now 7 o’clock so he hasn’t been here much longer than me. But I usually eat something around this time, he says. I last ate at midday.

He goes away, asking the cleaning lady who’s now working her way down the corridor where he can get some food. She suggests he try the canteen.

This is getting a bit crazy. If they’re going to put me to sleep and recycle my organs they should just get on with it. Unless I am already asleep. In which case I’m dreaming that I’ve been sitting in this treatment room for over half an hour now and no sign of a doctor or an anaesthetist. A notice on the door to the room I’m in says: ATTENTION!!! DO NOT USE FOR ANY ISOLATION. For patients who need isolation use MCA 1-5.

A doctor comes in and asks if I’m Mr Latif, which I’m not so I tell her I’m not, though I consider telling her I am since whoever he is he’s obviously next in line. She tells me I’m next after Mr Latif. So I guess there’s not much more to say now.


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