Having just been diagnosed with breast cancer and undergone surgery three days ago, this is not a letter I was expecting to write, but the overwhelming need to put these thoughts to paper cannot be ignored for a minute longer. So here is my letter of gratitude.
It’s a simple letter with a simple message—I have never experienced such universal compassion and caring from an entire body of people in my life before. I’ve asked myself many times since my experience three days ago, on Tuesday, October 20, if I imagined it all or if it had something to do with my heightened emotions as I faced down a full mastectomy, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it was all real. I’m not sure if there is pixie dust in the water at Lions Gate Hospital, but I will tell you that something very magical takes place in that building day after day after day, month in and month out—where a team of health care professionals offers exceptional customer service to us lucky North Shore residents. They manage this despite coping with extreme bed shortages, an antiquated building and staffing shortages, not to mention the day-to-day challenge of offering something of your soul to heal and help people.
I cannot remember everyone’s name and for this I apologize profusely. My mind has been preoccupied of late with medical terms and appointments. But, it started at my 7 am check-in at the main admissions desk, where the friendliest, kindest woman checked me in, made me laugh and asked me about the 4-person posse accompanying me so early in the morning. From there, we went upstairs to pre-surgery where, within 30 seconds of arrival, I received my instructions and a huge warm hug from the Head Logistics Coordinator. She juggled bits of paper, she loved her coloured markers and, of course, she took great care with all the details in my patient binder. I felt like I’d just met a long-lost loving relative.
Next came Alison, who was a ray of sunshine with her funky shoes and jewellery and her open personality. Like me, she likes to garden and lucky her; she is leaving for Palm Springs soon. Seriously, she couldn’t have been more supportive or warmer. On to nuclear medicine… I felt like I was on a roll now, could people really continue to be this nice? Yup, here comes John. He took the time to explain the next procedure and even made injecting radioactive isotopes into my lymph nodes sound normal. He apologized copiously for any hurt he may have caused and double-checked the time of my next appointment for me, before I left. The scan came next and I had two lovely technicians who took care of me through that. Back up to pre-surgery where there were more hugs from the Head Coordinator and genuine concern to make sure my kids got to see me before I headed to OR.
I felt like I’d won the lottery with my surgical team. Led by the esteemed Dr. Jenni Smith, this team of super-heroes swept into my draped area one-by-one for a quick intro and pre-op talk. Dr. Smith, the consummate professional, explained the procedure in her warm confident voice and then initialed my breast with her best black marker—for some reason, that protocol struck me as funny and made me smile. The most caring anesthesiologist followed her, and I’m sorry, you said your name so fast that I didn’t catch it. You were soft-spoken but with an instant focused connection, you made me feel completely comfortable about what was about to happen and I appreciated sharing thoughts on the Liberal sweep of the night before. LOL. Then came the surgical nurse—and again, my fuzzy head won’t let me remember, but your name was either Angela or Andrea. You stopped me on our scenic walk to OR to make sure that I’d properly hugged both my kids. Please, who are these impossibly caring people, I thought.
Post-op included Nancy, who introduced herself and made it her mission to find me a bed and the amazing porter, a multi-tasking dynamo, who was shifting beds herself, on the 6th floor, to find room for mine, all the while calling my brother on her personal cell phone to tell him I was on the move. The customer service was all 5-star-resort even if the physical property was not.
I was introduced to Dani on the 6th floor as the best nurse in the hospital and she did an exceptional job to keep me comfortable before she left for the night. She was replaced by May, who despite having a very trying Code White night herself, kept her cool and still came running if I needed help with something. You probably won’t believe me if I tell you there were more—they just kept coming and entering my sphere—all friendly, helpful, committed and above all, compassionate. The next morning, there was smiling Brenda, who came bearing hot water and fresh towels and Helen who made community nurse appointments for me for next week. Not to mention my lovely day-nurse, assigned to me that morning, who told me as I was being discharged, that she had been born at Lions Gate and both her parents born in the adjacent older building, which is now closed.
As I checked out of Station 6 East on my way home, I asked the nurse if they were all sent on some top-secret compassion course on a yearly basis. She laughed and said, no. I’m not sure I believe her, because it’s either that or it really is down to the pixie dust.
Kudos and a heartfelt thank you to the entire Lions Gate Hospital team. Also, a huge thank you to Dr. Katie Colwell, who has advocated for me every step of the way in this journey that I’ve just begun.
My heart is full of gratitude.
A “Lucky North Vancouver resident”