14. “A new ending” – The final chapter

Disclaimer: Everything I share below is true, dear reader – and, for the record, none of my “inner crew” saw it coming, not even my main guide who is pretty good as far as giving hints about “possible futures” (for lack of a better term) are concerned.

“You cannot make this @#$% up,” said “Dr. Barb” afterwards. “Even if you wanted to,” replied “Barb 2.0”.

What happened, you ask?


Fever isn’t such a new thing

On July 15, 2022, less than 36 hours after I had e-mailed the first full draft version of Right on Time to my beloved brother-in-law (a fellow author and award-winning poet) for comments, I began having severe chills.

“I want you to take your temperature now,” said a concerned “Barb 2.0” a couple of hours later.

The thermometer read 38.2 degrees Celsius.

“That’s definitely a fever,” she diagnosed. This comment brought back memories of my unscheduled – and at times scary – hospital visit between rounds three and four of chemotherapy due to a viral infection in December 2020.

I laughed out loud when my top-hatted guide promptly cited a specific line from Fever, a famous song by the late American jazz singer-songwriter Peggy Lee.

“Do you want me to come over and do a Covid test?” my worried twin sister asked.

“Yes, please,” I replied.

The good news? It was negative. And since I had no other Covid-related symptoms, I took a couple of extra-strength Tylenol and monitored my temperature like a hawk for the next 48 hours.

The bad news? The fever would not only return but get worse over time. My body temperature was sort of okay – as in below 38 degrees Celsius – during the day and then would peak in the evening (39.5 degrees Celsius on Saturday night, and 39.7 degrees Celsius on Sunday night, to be exact).

A second Covid test taken on Sunday had once again been negative. “You should contact your GP first thing in the morning,” my twin sister’s husband advised.

My doctor called back around lunchtime on Monday. He listened to my symptoms (or lack thereof), and then said, “You need to go the hospital now – we need a blood count, Barb.”

“Why?” It was good to hear his voice, but he sounded unexpectedly serious.

“You’ve got a history of leukopenia because of your cancer treatments,” he clarified. “This could be serious, Barb.”

Since my GP had used his “urgent tone,” I packed a backpack with a bit of food and water and updated my twin sister (“Guess what …!”).

Then I called a cab since she didn’t have access to the family car that day to take me to Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital.

I walked into the emergency department 20 minutes later. Thankfully, there was no lineup when I explained my symptoms and recent patient history to the triage nurse.

“Have a seat over there, please, Ma’am.”

Two other people were waiting to be seen by a physician; each one was coughing up a storm. A third person arrived shortly after me and joined their rather atonal “I cannot breathe – hack, hack, hack, hack” chorus. (Did they perhaps all have Covid, I wondered?)

A nurse came to take my vitals. To my great surprise, my temperature only read 36.9 degrees Celsius. In other words, I was not running a fever anymore.

“Darn,” I thought. Maybe my thermometer at home had been malfunctioning …?

“Tell her that you took a Tylenol three hours ago,” I was reminded by “Barb 2.0”.

“That’s good to know,” the nurse said and disappeared. Then another nurse approached me and jotted down more information (“How high did the fever go on the weekend?”).

Finally, two hours after I had checked in, I was told by yet another nurse to get up, exit the hospital, and walk to a separate isolation tent to be seen by a doctor.

“That was incredibly fast,” I thought, feeling relieved.

After all, one of my GP’s Regina patients had waited for 19 hours (!) to be seen by someone in the emergency department “just the other day,” he had said on the phone. (A patient in North Vancouver had died in mid-July 2022 after lying in the waiting room for two days.)

When I got up from my chair, I promptly sat down again because I felt dizzy. “What if I faint on my way to that tent?” I kept thinking.

I did not, and the walk was mercifully short. As it turned out, “the tent” was a remnant from Covid times and attached to another part of the emergency department.

Some days are better than others

When I opened the door, the three other patients who had been waiting with me beforehand were already seated (and coughing). Imagine my surprise when I heard my name called less than five minutes later!

Blood was drawn within 15 minutes. But it took three quarters of an hour for me to be moved to a (very uncomfortable) chair that did not recline.

Then I waited patiently for a medical doctor to enlighten me about what was going on. An extra blanket helped me cope with increasingly severe chills.

“Consider me your GP in Victoria,” said a very kind emergency physician a short while later. “I’ll talk to you again once your bloodwork has come back, Barb.”

“Will I have to be admitted?”

“I don’t think so.”

“I lied,” that same doctor admitted after another 45 minutes had passed (which had felt more like 45 hours.)

“Your liver enzymes are elevated which means that something is going on,” he clarified. “I have already ordered a CT scan for you, and I want a chest x-ray and a urine sample as well.”

“Thank you.” I was impressed by his initiative (and trying to keep warm.)

“We have a bed for you,” a nurse indicated a few minutes later. It was, of course, only a stretcher. But it came with an IV drip that the doctor had requested on my behalf (“Thank you.”)

“Well, you’ve got a fever now.” The nurse was taking my vitals. “It’s 38 degrees Celsius.”

“Oh dear,” I replied, trying to stay calm.

The CT scan was next on my agenda and, thankfully, an uneventful affair (“Been there, done that.”)

“We found an abscess in your lower right abdomen, Barb,” the kind ER doctor informed me within minutes (!) after I had returned to the emergency department.

“What …?” My entire inner crew suddenly went into “alert mode.”

“I’d like to take a closer look at your belly – are you in any pain?”

“If you mean muscle soreness, yes.”

I had gone to a strenuous waterfit class on Friday morning and could feel my abdominals talking to me all weekend long. In hindsight, it had been the abscess nattering on!

“I have already requested an MRI appointment for you, Barb,” the physician said. “And I consulted with a surgeon; he’s sort of like the quarterback around here and will decide whether you need surgery or not.”

In other words, I was going to be here “for a while,” the emergency doctor clarified.

“Could you bring me a bag with ‘stuff,’ please,” I asked my twin sister on the phone shortly after.

“They wouldn’t let me come in and drop it off in person,” she texted an hour later, clearly disappointed.

When I checked with the nurses (“Why not?”), the security officer managed to find my sibling (“She looks just like me!”) and led her my way.

We were thrilled to see each other, despite the less-than-ideal circumstances. Neither of us had expected this turn of events, to say the least.

She was also glad to know that my chills had finally subsided. When she finally hugged me goodbye at 10 pm, I realized that nine hours had passed since I had left my condo in a cab.

At 3 am (I had just checked the time on my wristwatch), the night nurse opened the curtain to see what I was up to. She was pleased to see that I had finally decided to change into a hospital gown (“That’s a good idea, Barb.”)

At 7:30 am (I had just checked the time on my phone), a very upbeat and clearly knowledgeable surgeon dropped by (“Good morning!”).

He did not like the fact that despite the medication I had been given, my fever had gone up again.

“Would you like to take a look at your CT scan pictures with me, Barb?” I nodded.

When he pointed out the highly unusual location of the abscess, I suddenly piped up. “It’s near my bladder?”

I told him that a sizeable bladder cyst had been deemed “post-surgery” by my medical team in Saskatchewan and warranted a PET scan and an MRI while I was in active care.

Thankfully, it was nowhere to be found in late November 2021, when my last CT scan had been taken.

Could there be a connection, I wondered? “Possibly,” the surgeon said.

“How about I contact my GP in Saskatchewan and authorize him to forward relevant medical documents to you?” I asked.

“Leave everything to me,” my GP said a couple of hours later, clearly concerned about my well-being. He was also going to let my medical oncologist in Regina know about my hospital stay out west.

“The MRI folks are now ready for you, Barb,” I was told by a nurse soon after I had hung up the phone. Then she handed me over to a hospital porter.

“You are very lucky, you know – it typically takes weeks to get an appointment,” the nurse commented.

“Then I am probably close to dying,” I thought, but kept my mouth shut.

My inner child had been pondering that exact scenario for days now.

“What if you had got on a plane and gone to present that conference paper in the UK on Friday?” she cried while the MRI machine was doing its thing.

“What if you had gone on that mini trip to Vancouver on Sunday as planned?” she yelled. (MRI machines are terribly noisy.) “And what if you had not called your GP on Monday?”

Tears began streaming down my face in frustration. “I went to the hospital instead, remember?” I could feel her pain but was trying desperately to keep it together.

Then the emergency nurse managed to get the attention of my “little one”.

“You must be hungry, Barb,” she said and produced a fully loaded breakfast tray.

That’s when my inner child began to scream, “I hate this place … I hate this place … I hate this place … !!!” in my head.

I couldn’t blame her. Coffee (which I don’t drink), porridge that had hardened, an overripe banana, a hard-boiled egg that smelled, um, funny, and a miniature muffin that looked like it had once been frozen, were my breakfast choices.

“At least it’s food,” I commented, with “Barb 2.0” nodding in agreement.

She had watched my inner child sulk all night after I had sent most of the edible items that I had brought with me to the hospital back home with my sister.

I now regretted the decision, given that the two apples and some yummy dark chocolate brownies – the latter had been a “get well soon, Barb” gift from Winnie’s mom – seemed like a gourmet meal in comparison.

“I’ll get you some tea, Barb,” the nurse promised and delivered it a few minutes later.

After letting out a big sigh, I began to eat my way through the breakfast tray. (What choice did I have?)

“We’ve got a plan,” said a new physician while I was attacking the porridge with a fork.

He introduced himself as “the one who will be taking care of you during your hospital stay, Barb” (“Nice to meet you.”)

Then he rattled off the following three pieces of critical information:

1.) The abscess would have to be drained.

2.) Surgery was likely not necessary.

3.) The MRI would tell them more.

“Excellent,” I replied. “Have you received any of my files from Saskatchewan?”

“Not yet.” (Fair enough; I had given the hospital doctors a run for their money ever since being admitted.)

“Is it possible for you to share my current treatment plan with them?” I wondered.

“No,” stated the physician, much to my surprise. “I will give you a printed copy of everything we will have done when you are being released.”

I was not impressed with his answer, to say the least. My medical team from Saskatchewan was sending them important information on my patient history but they could not be, um, bothered to return the favour?

“Maybe it’s a privacy thing,” my main guide commented. (“Or this doctor fellow is just being unusually stubborn,” my inner academic added.)

“Do you have a sense how long I will have to stay in the hospital?” I asked.

“For a week or so – we need to make sure the fever is gone for at least 24 hours before we switch you to oral antibiotics and see how you react to those.”

“So, maybe I could be out of here next Monday?”

“At the very earliest, Barb.”

The physician then assured me that he would not let me go until it was “absolutely safe.” He was also going to be on call for the entire week (“My schedule is brutal.”)

“I am supposed to fly back to Regina on August 15 – will that be a problem?” I was quite anxious about having to delay my return to the prairies. The fall semester was scheduled to begin on August 31.

“That should be fine, Barb.”

I shared “the medical plan” with my twin sister when she dropped by for a visit after lunch. It had consisted of an exceedingly dry tuna salad sandwich and cold (!) barley soup. “I am officially done with this hospital kitchen,” was my inner child’s frustrated response.

Then my younger sibling wondered whether I would have to stay “down here on a stretcher” until further notice.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” I replied.

Suddenly, my main guide piped up. “Don’t worry, ladies – this hospital visit will be very different from others in the past,” he stated confidently.

He was right.


A room with a view

A few minutes later, the emergency department nurse came to talk to me. “We will be moving you to the fifth floor of the Patient Care Centre shortly.” (Had she perhaps been listening to our conversation behind closed curtains?)

Dr. Google then told me that this part of the hospital had only been opened in 2011. Perhaps that meant it would be less cramped than the Regina hospital’s “Short Stay Ward” to which I had been sent following my cancer surgery.

If nothing else, I would be given access to a proper hospital bed. That was a step up as far as I was concerned.

Not bad for a hospital room

Imagine my surprise and delight when I was wheeled into a west-facing corner unit called the “sun room” with big windows and gorgeous views!

“You are going to have the best sunsets,” my twin sister predicted.

“Agreed,” I said, thanking the universe and my lucky stars.

A set of new nurses soon welcomed me to their ward. “How are you feeling, Barb?”

They had been told by the computer that I was “vomiting consistently” and relieved to find out that I seemed just fine. (“I sure felt like throwing up that horrible breakfast,” my inner child was quick to comment, but I kept my mouth shut.)

Looking around the room, I realized quickly that there were several drawbacks, including:

1.) No emergency call button:

“We have organized a dinner bell for you, Barb,” the nurses said. “We will leave the door open, and then you just keep ringing the bell to get our attention.”

“Well, then I must not be dying,” I concluded, albeit only in my head.

But would they be able to hear me (“Ding, ding, ding, ding …”), given that it was a big ward, and they were chronically understaffed? The short answer is no.

My best bet was to slowly drag myself out of bed and wait patiently in front of the nurses’ station for someone to spot me (“Hi there! Would you be able to refill my water bottle, please and thank you?”).

2.) No ensuite bathroom:

“You can either use this commode chair or the facilities next door, Barb,” the nurses informed me upon arrival.

“There is no way I am going to use that contraption,” my “little one” informed my “inner crew”, with “Dr. Barb” nodding in agreement.

“Will the two patients next door be okay with me entering their room, especially at night?” I asked the staff, trying hard to ignore the incessant chatter in my head.

“Absolutely,” I was told. “They cannot get up to use the bathroom themselves.”

On that informative note, I had to find out the hard way that you needed to scooch all the way back on the (rigged) toilet seat before emptying your bladder.

“Sorry for making a mess,” I told the staff, mortified.

When I pointed out that the motion-sensor on the tap above the sink did not work, I was advised to use the sink meant for staff next to the door.

By the way, according to my health guide, “Barb 2.0”, the absence of a call button and an ensuite bathroom qualified merely as “minor inconveniences.”

Other patients and/or their families disagreed vehemently and filed complaints with the hospital.

My (ingenious?) plan was to be “the easiest patient ever.” That (brilliant?) idea resonated with my “inner crew”, with one exception.

After the breakfast fiasco and the lacklustre lunch, my inner child had got me to beg my twin sister to bring along grilled cheese sandwiches for supper.

That turned out to be the right decision. The “Chicken Parmigiana” (which the computer had randomly selected as my last meal of the day) looked and tasted, um, questionable.

An hour later, my fever had shot up to 39 degrees Celsius.

“You need to cool yourself off, Barb – now!” The male care aid, who had checked my vitals, sounded worried.

To that end, he quickly organized three ice packs. One I was to put on my forehead, while the other two were to go under my armpits.

Dinner bells and yoga balls

“This is too much,” I said and removed all of them within five minutes. The ice packs had been wrapped in cotton bags but felt like glaciers.

Worse, my lower back was killing me. My smart twin sister had anticipated that, however. She had brought along my pearl-coloured yoga ball that morning; it’s right next to my right hand, on the wall.

This miracle gadget relieved my pain virtually instantly once I had put it under my lower back, specifically under my sacrum, and released into it (“Ahhhh.”)

When the care aid checked back half an hour later and saw that I was not following his orders, he got cross with me. “I want you to leave these ice packs on for at least 30 minutes, Barb.”

Since he used a distinct “or I will kill you myself if the fever doesn’t” tone, I promptly wondered whether he was perhaps related to my trusted neighbour in Saskatchewan.

I was glad when the male night nurse came in to check on me an hour later. He was not only incredibly handsome (it pays to put your glasses on sometimes) but also one of the many “travel nurses” on this ward.

It turned out that he originally hailed from Texas, USA (“My mom’s Canadian.”) He had completed his training in Ontario before taking a job on the West Coast, he said.

An agency handled everything from finding nurses “an assignment of their choosing anywhere in Canada,” booked their flights and organized them a place to live and paid the rent, he explained. The best part? His salary was higher than at home.

My nurse then turned his attention away from the stunning sunset to the machine that was used to administer medication intravenously.

“I am going to change the tubing,” he announced after ten arguably frustrating minutes.

He laughed when I told him my memorable “Shut the @#$% up” monitor story from December 2020 (detailed in Chapter 9 of Perfect Timing.)

“That’s what I tend to mumble under my breath as well when the equipment is giving me a hard time,” he admitted, making me smile.

I told the nurse that I had grinned like an idiot when a similarly frustrated care aid had been asked to take my temperature earlier on. After trying close to 20 times (at least!), she gave up, and for good reason. According to the monitor, my temperature was only 20.8 degrees Celsius!

“I can clearly see that you are alive and well, Ma’am,” the care aid had commented.

“Not really,” I thought. My body was still trying to fight off a bacterial infection inside my belly.

As a result, my second night at the hospital turned out to be a disaster. I only slept for what felt like a total of five minutes and turned into “Zombie Barb” the next morning.


Feeling drained

“At what time is my surgical drain procedure scheduled today?”

A very pretty (and capable) day shift nurse was checking my vitals.

“We don’t know yet, but we’ll let you know, Barb.”

I was given more antibiotics intravenously (“It takes 30 minutes to run through”), and my breakfast tray arrived shortly after. I took one look and decided I wasn’t hungry. Instead, I focused on my twin sister’s visit later this morning.

“Would you please buy me a new charger before you get here?” I had asked her when she had checked in via text.

My old one had got soaked by the icepacks last night (don’t ask), and I didn’t want to be electrocuted, for obvious reasons.

Then the door suddenly opened.

“Have you touched any of your food, Barb?” one of the nurses on call asked. I shook my head which visibly pleased her.

“A porter is going to come to pick you up in an hour and a half for your procedure,” the day shift nurse informed me shortly after.

“Wow,” I thought. I had not expected to be seen by a radiologist until the afternoon.

Perhaps, my most recent blood work had given them cause for concern. Or had there been a sudden cancellation?

“You should thank the universe that they are fast-tracking you.” My younger sibling had arrived, new charger in hand.

“I have been giving thanks non-stop for the medical care I have received to date, let me assure you.”

A short while later, I bid her goodbye (“I’ll call you afterwards”), and a porter took me to a distant part of the hospital. After about thirty minutes of waiting around (“Yawn”), I was handed over to an ultrasound technician.

“I noticed that the scheduling people made a mistake this morning.” He was pushing me into the treatment room.

“They did?”

“They ticked a gallbladder procedure instead of an abscess drainage for you.”

“Good heavens,” I thought. What if they had ticked the box “chop off head”?

“Thanks so much for catching that,” I said and meant it.

“I have worked with this doctor for three years,” the ultrasound technician continued. “You are in good hands, Ma’am.” Then he gave me paperwork to sign, and I promptly smiled.

The last name of my doctor sounded exactly like the protagonist of a famous BBC science-fiction television series! Maybe this physician was also a millennia-old alien who travelled through space in his spare time (you never know)?

Five minutes later, a youngish physician walked in and introduced himself. To my delight and relief, this interventive radiologist was super-efficient and very experienced.

Evidently, he had played the piano in high school, as per his parents’ wishes, and his wife loved Western Classical music from the late 19th century and early 20th century.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that he was trying to distract me from whatever he was doing inside my belly. (I had, of course, been given a local anaesthetic and couldn’t feel “a damn thing,” to quote my inner child who has never been fond of being poked and prodded by people wearing white coats.)

To the delight of my inner academic, the radiologist mentioned that his wife’s favourite composer was the famous Jewish-Austrian conductor Gustav Mahler.

They were also hoping to make it to a Bayreuth Festival sometime soon to see some of Richard Wagner’s famous operas (“It’s tough to get tickets.”)

Clearly, early 18th-century Kapellmeisters like my very own Mr. Fasch were not really his “thing.” But I was not going to hold that against him, given that the procedure at hand took only about twenty minutes to complete and did not hurt, per se.

“I have collected 40 millilitres of fluid to be sent to cytology, so the type of bacteria that caused the abscess can be identified, Barb.”

This sample would also be tested for cancer, and it would take a couple of weeks to get the results back. The rest of the fluid would drain passively into a bag attached to the surgical drain that had been placed inside my belly.

This foreign object had been sutured in and – spoiler alert – would stay in place for the next 48 hours.

“All the best to you,” the radiologist then said with a smile.

His trusted technician moved me back to the waiting area and another porter took me upstairs to my “sun room.”

“You are still running a temperature,” the day shift nurse said upon checking my vitals.

I wasn’t surprised, as the chills had come back. Maybe eating, um, some breakfast would make me feel better? It did not.

In fact, sitting up caused excruciating pain all over my abdomen, not just on the right side where the drain had been placed.

When a lunch tray was brought up an hour later, I forced myself to try some of the hummus with pita bread, cucumber slices, and baby carrots (“It’s the special today.”)

Sadly, consuming food did not make me feel stronger either. But compared to cancer fatigue, it was manageable. (“Always think positive,” I was told by “Barb 2.0”.)

Then the hospital doctor dropped by, for the third time that day. “How do you feel now that you’ve had your procedure, Barb?”

He was nervously adjusting his mask. (“I think you scare him,” my main guide commented.)

“I feel drained, literally,” I replied, sounding exhausted.

He laughed and told me that he had already been contacted by my medical oncologist from Saskatchewan. She had even agreed to examine my belly during my next cancer checkup in mid-August.

“And now focus on not running a fever anymore, Barb – that’s your fastest way to get out of here.”

The beginning of the end?

When I checked in with my body after his departure, its message was clear: it needed a shower, and my hair need to be washed as well.

The latter had turned into a complete mess, thanks to alternating chills and hot flashes.

“Let’s get you cleaned up,” a very kind nurse told me when I asked about it. We walked over to the bathroom next door which had a shower facility.

“You sure know what you are doing,” I said when she went to work.

“This is not my first rodeo, you know,” she quipped, which made me smile. Life was good!

When she handed me a new hospital gown, I got excited. “Compared to the garments they give hospital patients in Regina, this is like designer wear.”

“I wouldn’t know,” this nurse replied, grinning. (She hailed from Ontario, after all.)

Curiously, and in contrast to my other hospital stays in Saskatchewan, a morning robe was not offered to me.

But I had been smart enough to ask my blessed twin sister to bring mine from home, plus my yoga footwear (which also doubled as bath shoes and slippers while at the hospital.)

The result? I looked and felt somewhat stylish when I walked back into my “sun room” twenty minutes later.

“I can feel that I am on the mend,” I announced to my younger sibling with a big smile on my face when we video chatted.

I was wrong.


We, the Borg

Ten hours after my surgical drain procedure (I was still checking my wristwatch frequently), my fever was consistently sitting at 38.2 degrees Celsius.

It was time for a serious chat with my ailing body while enjoying the gorgeous sunset (“Now, you listen to me …”.)

“Remember that healing takes time,” commented “Barb 2.0”. She was right, of course.

Then I let out a big, long sigh because I knew I would have trouble falling asleep. Turning of any kind meant immediate belly pain; not moving meant immediate lower back pain.

As a result, I was in quite a bit of discomfort throughout the night.

“How are you feeling now?” the day shift nurse asked me first thing in the morning.

“Better.” I could tell that the fever had finally decided to drop.

The incision point was still paining incessantly, however. At least I did not feel foggy in my head anymore. And I had even managed to get up and circle the ward after turning down blood thinners.

The hospital doctor, however, had not been impressed with my “No, thank you” decision, to say the least. He had popped in for a few minutes to ask me about it.

“I am mobile, and blood thinners give me a bumpy heartbeat,” I had successfully argued.

“Fine,” he commented and examined the collection bag before looking at my belly. “The drain can come out tomorrow as long as the fever does not come back.”

“It won’t.” Then I thanked my body profusely for tapping into its amazing healing powers!

After the doctor had left, I called my GP’s office in Saskatchewan. It was important to me to update them on my progress and share the “after care” plans: “It will be done by my medical oncologist in Regina.”

Incidentally, at lunchtime I asked the nurses for a favour: could they please replace my, um, designer gown, even though I had been given a new one in the morning?

Believe it or not, there had been complaints – by my twin sister, in person, and my sister in Germany, via video chat – about “the big holes” that were visible on my left shoulder. (Clearly, my siblings wanted me to look stylish while getting better.)

“I am going to turn my phone off and get some rest now,” I informed the nurse who checked my vitals mid-afternoon.

Yet, despite feeling exhausted to the core, I could not get any sleep for reasons which my health guide, “Barb 2.0”, considered trivial, and my inner academic, “Dr. Barb”, called “first world problems.”

My “little one” had been mad that the (short-staffed?) “Cafeteria folks” continued to mess up my carefully placed food orders.

Case in point: not only was the lunch tray missing a bowl of creamy coleslaw (my favourite), but the tea bag included had been chamomile (my least favourite ever.)

When the supper tray was delivered that evening, my inner child was still sulking while I was resting on my blessed yoga ball.

“What is it for?” The attendant was a burly male in his 40s and listened to my explanations carefully.

“May I ask you another question, Ma’am?”

“Certainly.” (Where was he going with this?)

“What do you do for a living?”

“I am a university professor.”

“I knew you were in education!” He smiled.

“How did you figure that out?” I smiled right back at him.

“Just by how you handle things.” (“And people,” added “Dr. Barb”.)

I wrote down some information on the specific brand of the yoga ball I was using and where to order it, as per his request.

“Please watch some how-to-videos before you use it for the first time,” I said (or, more precisely, “Dr. Barb”.)

“I will – and sorry about the banana that was missing from your supper tray!”

“No worries! I am always glad to be of help!” I was still smiling when he left.

Now, if only this long piece of surgical tubing in my lower right abdomen – which felt like a sword with spikes that hurt every time I tried to twist or sit up – would start behaving.

Resistance is futile,” my main guide kept chanting. He was, of course, quoting a famous line by the Borg, the infamous Star Trek character, while I was trying to control my pain.

“Stop making me laugh! It hurts!” This, in turn, made “Barb 2.0” smile. “It’ll be out before you know it,” she predicted.

When I woke up on the next morning, I was thrilled that my temperature had read 36.8 degrees Celsius, which is considered perfectly normal.

Who cared that nobody had come by to change my pillowcases and/or blankets that I had sweated into for several days (and nights) now?

And did it really matter that the “blood work people” were many hours late – again?

And that my breakfast tray was missing a banana and a tea bag …?

Nothing could spoil my mood on Friday, July 22, 2022, and for good reason.

The hospital doctor had come by and told me that the drain was going to be removed this afternoon.

Even better, I would be switched to oral antibiotics soon and – best of all – I would likely be released on Sunday, “before the end of the day,” as in supper time. Hallelujah!

After lunch (I’ll spare you the, um, assorted details), I enjoyed a lovely visit with my twin sister. When she left, the day shift nurse quickly and expertly removed my surgical drain. Thankfully, it did not hurt much.

Having a long piece of surgical tubing removed from your belly is not something I would label “fun,” however.

The minute “The Borg” – that had been my nickname for it – was out, my abdomen started to ease up. In fact, my entire body started to relax (“Ahhh.”)

“I’ve put a dressing on it, Barb. The doctor wants you to remove it yourself two weeks from Sunday,” the nurse explained.

For the first time since the fever had started a week ago (had it been that long already?), I felt remotely like myself again.

That changed drastically after supper.


Two nights, three ladies

“Barb, we need this room now for another patient,” the nurses announced.

My inner child promptly started weeping, fearful about what was going to happen next.

“Please don’t move me,” I begged them. “I really like it here, especially in the evening.”

“We know, but you are no longer running a fever,” they argued.

“Where are you going to put me?” I asked, feeling genuinely scared.

Having circled the premises multiple times in the past 24 hours, I was afraid to be paired up with an elderly gentleman. He, um, kept shouting profanities at whoever dared to come near him (or walked by his room.)

“We will end up in the morgue,” my inner child predicted. “In that case, count me out.” Thankfully, she was wrong.

“Barb, you will be joining two lovely ladies two rooms over,” I was told.

“Okay.” I felt unsure about what to expect.

A few minutes later, two staff members moved my hospital bed into the southwest corner of said room, below a large TV that was mounted on the wall.

“At least it has an ensuite bathroom,” noted “Dr. Barb”.

By the way, the fact that this corner room boasted fantastic views of the Olympic Mountains to the south was completely lost on the nurses. They had my hospital bed facing the door!

Let me see the sky!

“Please, ladies, turn my bed around so I can at least see the sky,” I begged them.

To my delight, they did.

“I’m glad you asked right away,” said “Barb 2.0”. “It will help you heal.”

Then I introduced myself to two elderly women. They had been told by the nurses that there would be “a visitor.”

This announcement had caused them quite a bit of anxiety, it turned out – and I couldn’t blame them. My sister in Germany had shared many stories about “hospital roommates from hell” over the years with me. Maybe my luck had just run out?

Until I would be sent home, my “plan” (besides wearing a mask 24/7 – better safe than sorry!) was to make the best of an awkward and admittedly crowded but temporary situation.

Hence, I remained quite chilled when approximately 500 people lined up for the next 48 hours to see an important member of their family. Who cared that they all had an around-the-clock view of my bed (and me) during visits?

I also stayed calm when that same individual could not remember how to flush the toilet (“Is there a button?”).

And who cared that she kept me up by snoring intermittently, both day and night as well?

When my other roommate – who was incredibly kind, including to the nurses – talked loudly in her sleep for what seemed to be hours, I simply adjusted my ear plugs.

Granted, I was going to feel like “Zombie Barb” during the day as a result but knew from experience that it was not going to kill me.

Incidentally, “Barb 2.0” had delivered a quick, well-rehearsed “This is who I am” speech upon arrival in response to my roommates.

“Oh, my Lord – I was born in Regina and, like you, lived near Wascana Lake,” said the elderly lady who was receiving visitors seemingly non-stop.

When she mentioned that her father had been an Anglican bishop, I told her that my twin sister was the music director at an Anglican church in town.

“I thought you looked familiar,” was her cheeky response – because she attended that very same house of worship, and I looked just like my sibling, of course (!).

This sealed the deal for my two roommates: I could be trusted, including with raising and lowering the blinds (“There’s a switch on the side, Barb.”) That way, all of us could enjoy some of the fantastic city and mountain views together.

The latter certainly beat what I saw when I looked straight up.

Below a big TV on the wall was a huge sign. It looked like it had been designed by a Grade 1 Teacher: “I like to be called …” and “My goals for today are …”.

Of course, my inner child loved it: “I would like to be called ‘Ba’ … My one and only goal for today is to eat everything on my tray ….”

Thankfully, neither of these women, nor yours truly, were interested in watching TV. We read the local Victoria newspaper instead.

In fact, we bonded so quickly that I was treated to some fascinating “life stories,” courtesy of my white-haired “church lady.” (That’s what I began calling her, albeit only in my head, after finding out she knew my younger sibling.)

A bubbly extrovert of strong faith who had met her husband at UBC, my roommate had lived in both Canada and the United States. She had given birth to four children in the 1960s, two girls and two boys, “without all that modern technology.” Come to think of it, she sounded remarkably like my mother and grandmother …!

Most importantly, this octogenarian admitted to missing her husband of many decades (“I worry about him day and night.”) He had had a bad fall a couple of years ago; thankfully, their daughters and caregivers looked after him while she was in the hospital.

By the way, my other roommate did not want to share any personal details. At the same time, she did not mind our “lovely chatter,” as she called it.

A couple of the nurses did, however. One had even dared to, um, yell at me for assuming that the monitor was beeping because I had done “something wrong.”

“It’s always the machine, never you,” the nurse had snapped at me.

“That’s not what your colleague said the other day.” I made sure to sound calm and with an air of authority.

I chuckled (albeit only on the inside) when my roommates, visibly horrified by the nurse’s “tone,” quietly nodded in unison as if to say, “You go, girl.”

I didn’t have to, however, because that nurse decided to sulk in response (go figure!).

An hour or so later, the kind nurse who had removed my surgical drain the day before, came by to check on my belly (“Are you in any pain, Barb?”). I figured it was safe to ask her a question that had been on my mind for a while now.

“Do you happen to know who has moved into my room?” Her reply was not really an answer, it turned out.

“There are four different administrators in this hospital whose one and only job it is to make sure that patients are assigned to a room that fits their needs, Barb.”

A surprised look appeared on my face in response. Where was she going with this, I wondered?

“The individual who is now in the ‘sun room’ needed to be in isolation – of course, it was an astute nurse who noticed before it was too late,” I was told.

Worse, it had taken over an hour to get the room cleaned after my departure. A very sick patient had been parked in the hallway as a result (!).

“Wow.” I was shocked to the core. “Wow, indeed,” the nurse repeated, visibly upset. “What is going on these days in Canadian hospitals is way worse than how the media portrays it.”

I had already figured that part out on my own. In fact, to give the overworked nurses on my ward a break, I had been refilling my water bottle myself for several days now.

Waiting for 30 minutes for one of them to do it – that’s how long it had taken the first time around – seemed like a complete waste of everyone’s time, including mine.

But what do you expect when you’ve only got a dinner bell to ask for service?

Another nurse, tasked with checking in with my chatty “church lady” on Saturday afternoon, had not been in the best of moods either.

“Would you please give me your full attention,” she asked her, clearly annoyed.

“I will, but only if you give us two rolls of toilet paper in return,” my feisty roommate responded, using a hilarious “You don’t scare me, young lady” tone.

The nurse’s prompt reply was priceless. “I will always choose people’s health over toilet paper, you know.” (Was that a smile on her face?)

You guessed it: by the time we were ready to retire, our toilet paper cupboard was fully stocked. (“Amen,” said my main guide.)

Since it had been a long day, I lowered the blinds (“Good job, Barb”), and much to my delight, managed to catch several hours of uninterrupted sleep.

What I had not been expecting was the constant stream of people who began crowding our room on Sunday morning. (Evidently, they had all decided to skip church.)

“That settles it,” I thought and adjusted my resting schedule accordingly. In other words, I was going to circle the ward to give them some privacy.

Thankfully, there was a small visitor’s room at the end of the long hallway. Whenever I was tired from walking, I would sit down to rest or make phone calls of my own.

During a video chat with my sister in Germany the day before, another patient I did not know suddenly opened the door. The elderly, frail looking woman went up to the window, stared outside for felt ten minutes, turned around, and then walked away.

There had been no eye contact whatsoever – had the person even realized I was there?

“That was weird,” I thought.

“No, that was sad,” my inner child commented, with tears in her blue eyes.

I had been heartbroken that my other roommate had not welcomed (or even been expecting?) any visitors whatsoever since my arrival.

After eating (an unexpectedly tasty) lunch, I began bugging the nurses at the desk every 15 minutes or so about being allowed to leave (“Hi, it’s me again …!”).

My repeated inquiries were not unwarranted. The physician in charge of my stay had come by right after breakfast for which I had ordered pretty much everything on the menu (“Just to be safe.”)

Once again, this doctor rattled off instructions for what to do after my release (from hospital prison?).

They included one important directive for my GP’s office in Saskatchewan: “They must call the BC lab for the cytology report next week.”

For the record, his official diagnosis was a “mysterious bacterial infection in your abdomen,” to quote this (still frazzled) hospital physician. Did he ever sleep, I wondered?

I had been impressed to hear that he had consulted with the medical oncologist at the other local hospital about my case.

They were confident that it was not related to my cancer even though it had affected the same part of my anatomy. Hallelujah!

“Thank you for everything, and I hope that our paths will never cross again in a hospital setting,” I said the end of his “goodbye speech,” with a smile on my face.

He laughed out loud, nervously adjusted his mask, and disappeared. That made me think that I would be able to unlock the front door of my condo very soon.

I was wrong.

An unexpected delay caused by the hospital pharmacy (don’t ask) provided me with ample time to read a most informative document. A nurse had handed me my “patient report” shortly after the doctor had left.

I realized quickly that it was incomplete. Why? Because the last entry had been dictated at 9:38 pm on Saturday night. (“That doctor never sleeps,” my main guide concluded.)

As a result, it didn’t include any details about my release today, Sunday, July 24, 2022. But there was a section at the very end entitled “Social History.” The latter was also the only part of the four-page document that I understood.

The other pages included way too much medical jargon, even for someone who had taken many years of Latin in high school.

For your continued reading amusement, I have reproduced the physician’s comments in my “patient report” in italics below, with my own musings interspersed.

  • Barbara Reul is a history professor who specializes in 18th Century Music.

“Did they google you?” my “inner crew” promptly asked (“Not sure.”)

“The autocorrect function in the voice dictation program he used must have been disabled,” stated “Dr. Barb”. (There is a hyphen missing between 18th and Century in the sentence above in case you didn’t notice.)

  •  She is independent with her ADLs and IADLs.

Translation: I did not need help with activities of daily living.

“Correct,” said “Barb 2.0”. She figured that this information could have been shared by my medical oncologist in Saskatchewan.

  •  She drinks alcohol only very rarely …

“Wrong,” said “Barb 2.0”.

I had not consumed any booze since my cancer diagnosis two years ago. My medical oncologist would not have known anything about this (very smart!) choice of mine. She was busy focusing on other things before, during, or after doing pelvic exams.

  • … and does not use illicit drugs or smoke.

“True,” said “Barb 2.0”.

“You should give it a try sometime,” several of my friends had suggested after my cancer treatments had ended. Evidently, it would “take the edge off” (whatever that meant.) My inner child would not want to hear of it – she preferred Nutella as her “drug of choice” above all.

  • She lives in Regina, Saskatchewan.

“He did google you!” I was told by a smiling (and flattered?) “Dr. Barb”.

In truth, I had mentioned that piece of information more than once to that hospital doctor during my stay.

Come to think of it, I had also told a couple of the nurses about having published a book describing my cancer journey.

Would they read my patient memoir, given that they were not working on an oncology ward? Would it touch them? Did I care if the answer was “no” both times?

“We are ready to let you go home now, Barb,” my (by now favourite) nurse said suddenly, bringing me back to the present.

I grabbed my bag and said a heartfelt goodbye to my two roommates, wishing them both a speedy recovery. I had grown quite fond of them in the past couple of days.

On my way past the nurses’ station, I thanked the staff as well (“You were awesome!”).

“Will you walk me down to the entrance?” I asked one of the nurses.

“Why?” That question surprised me because it is standard procedure in Saskatchewan. (“It’s a liability thing,” I had been told after my cancer surgery.)

“We don’t do that here – but did you want me to accompany you, Barb?”

“No, it’s fine.” (I knew full well that they were understaffed as usual.)

Instead, I followed another visitor who clearly knew their way around this huge hospital all the way down to the main entrance.

When I got into my sister’s car less than ten minutes later, I couldn’t believe that I had spent nearly six days of “forced rest” (for lack of a better term) in this “building of healing.” (“Make that life and/or death,” my main guide quipped.)

I smiled and concluded that if the universe had wanted to get my full attention at the end of my stay on Vancouver Island as far as my health was concerned, I had to hand it to their script writers – this had been an unforgettable adventure!

The timing of the trip, as in right after I had finished the first full draft of this book, had been incredible as well, to say the least.

“Please tell me everything that happened since you were admitted last Monday,” my best friend told me on the phone later that afternoon.

I had not wanted to burden her with details of my hospital stay. Of course, she had worried about me (“It’s not like you not to be in touch, Barb.”)

As always, it was good to talk to her (“How is that new corgi puppy of yours doing?”).

But truth be told, I had been quietly grieving our friendship ever since she had been declared palliative several weeks ago, in early July 2022.

“The doctors have given me between three and six months to live, nine months at best, Barb,” she told me, matter of fact.

“I’ll be back soon” was my admittedly evasive reply.

It was, of course, code for an important realization on my part. Life as I had once known it in Saskatchewan would never be the same upon my return.


A lesson in healing

“What do you think this bizarre turn of events was all about?” my twin sister asked me later that evening. We were sitting on my condo’s balcony enjoying another wonderful sunset.

“I think it was a reminder to put my health above everything else – and this one came right on time.”

I had only three weeks left before I needed to get myself on a plane to the prairies. Because of my recent ordeal, I was going to focus on resting as much as possible.

Vigorous exercise was to be avoided for two weeks, according to the hospital doctor. Stretching and walking would be fine but would have to happen early in the morning and/or late at night because of yet another an impending heat wave (go figure!).

As far as my day job was concerned, my schedule was mercifully light. Nevertheless, my health guide, “Barb 2.0”, insisted I write to my academic dean the day after returning home from the hospital. (I had kept my boss informed throughout the week.)

“I want to be released from all administrative duties for which I have volunteered for the entire upcoming academic year,” my e-mail read.

My wonderful supervisor agreed immediately (“Of course.”)

A hop, skip, and a jump

Finally, I swore to myself that from now on, if not for the rest of my days, my life-work balance would be as close to perfect as possible: rest and play would always outweigh work.

And if any weird symptoms like spiking fevers appeared, I would run (not just walk) to the nearest hospital, for obvious reasons.

The fact that I would no longer be turning to my favorite GP for medical advice would be weird, but I would undoubtedly get used to it.

“Barb 2.0” also reminded me gently that I had no other choice but “to adapt and grow to become a better version of me as life went on.”

“You mean, like, turn into ‘Barb 3.0’?” I was not sure how I felt about that prospect.

“I don’t think that would be a bad thing.” My trusted health guide was smiling from ear to ear.

“The challenge is on, universe!” I stated confidently. And as if by magic, every single diamond on my “healing tiara” lit up at the same time.

There was another question that had weighed heavily on my mind: How could I make sure that I would never lose my sparkle again?

“By remembering to live life forward,” I was told by “Barb 2.0”. She was, of course, quoting Kierkegaard’s astute observation.

“How much life is there to live?” my “little one” then asked, sounding philosophical.

“Well, as far as I can tell, I’ve made it to the third phase of life by now,” I replied.

“What are the first two?” asked “Dr. Barb”, quietly intrigued.

Phase 1 was to “be young and stupid,” I explained.

“That makes sense,” commented my top-hatted guide and looked my inner child straight in the eye. (“Haha!” she laughed.)

“Phase 2 is to ‘be motivated and hopeful’,” I continued.

“I see,” my male guide replied and turned his attention to “Dr. Barb”. (“That’s me in a nutshell,” she admitted.)

“What, then, happens in the final phase of life?” my inner child wondered.

A chuckling “Barb 2.0” (and maybe you, too?) had figured out by now what I was doing: sharing some admittedly questionable “internet wisdom” (for lack of a better term) to amuse my “inner crew” (and readers).

“Well, as we get older, we get ‘annoyed by everything and everyone’,” I declared (or was that my inner drama queen?).

“Or, depending on the situation, we get annoyed ‘less, if not at all,” my main guide added.

And that profound truth of mellowing over the course of one’s life (which holds true for some of us, at least) concludes this section.

It is, however, not the end of this sequel.



If you are familiar with Perfect Timing, you will remember that it included an Appendix. The latter featured “Leading Reading Questions” intended “to help you get the most out of your reading experience (and lighten the load of fellow university professors).”

Right on Time does not, and for good reason. My writing guide would have sent anyone who had only skimmed it or, worse, skipped it altogether, “straight to readers’ prison” (his words, not mine.)

“I couldn’t agree more,” commented “Dr. Barb”. As a university professor, she had been there many, many times herself and concluded that “only chemo hell is worse.”

Consequently, I will end this sequel with some words of inspiration meant for anyone who would like to follow in my footsteps as an author.

If that is not you, I would love it if you did read on anyway, as “you might just learn something” (to quote “Dr. Barb”.)

If, however, you were hoping for a Dear Abby-like advice column to that end, you are out of luck, I am afraid.

Instead, I have opted to use a chatty “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) format; that is how “Dr. Barb” concludes many of her study and assignment guides.

As you will see, my main goal is to help potential authors ponder two basic questions: “Why should I write?” and “What should I write about?

I begin each answer with a rationale to draw attention to the internal dialogue that prevents many folks to get started on what is an admittedly daunting task. Ready? Then let’s go.

1.) According to what [insert culprit’s name] said to me in the distant past [like in high school] and/or recently [insert date and time], I am the worst writer on the planet! Why should I even try to commit something to paper …?

BR: Don’t let other people’s opinions deter you. If the concept of writing scares you, then consider recording yourself, with or without the camera on. The most important thing to remember is to involve your heart as you engage in this activity – it is your main target audience.

2.) While I enjoy reading about other people’s journeys (like yours), I feel that my own story is nothing to write home about (or, God forbid, a book.) How do I know what is of interest to others?

BR: I have had to learn the hard way that the “comparison thing” is, well, a waste of time. I suggest you set up an interview with your younger, current, and/or future self, and see what happens …! And who said you needed to write hundreds of pages? Short is good. The occasional reflection and realization will also set your own lived narrative apart from others.

3.) You seem like a nice lady. It would mean so much if I could send you a draft of what I have come up with so far and get your feedback on it (please be nice.) And would you be willing to help me with getting it published, ideally at no cost? That would be awesome.

BR: I am a kind person, but the answer is still no. My “inner crew” would kill me if I did. Enough said.

Interestingly, when editing this section many months later in an effort to cut out all the “redundant bits” (because short is good), I realized that something was missing from the above FAQ list: The When question.

With that, I do not mean the time of day or night that one should devote oneself to such a project. Instead, think of the age you should start chronicling your life. (And I don’t mean keeping a diary.)

The right time is when your heart says to your head, “When are you finally going to listen to me?”

In my case, being woken up in the middle of the night in mid-February 2021 to write about myself had not only been perfect timing.

It had also been right on time to remind me that my health was going to be my main focus from now on.

And on that note of wisdom, I wish you all the best as you tackle the rest of your life, dear reader. May it be filled with wonderful surprises and unforgettable memories!

“Like sipping from a chocolate fountain that never dries up,” my inner child suggested.

“And watching flying unicorns that sing pretty songs,” emphasized “Barb 2.0”.

While “Dr. Barb” was not quite sure what to make of these (potentially brilliant?) suggestions, my top-hatted main guide knew what to say.

“The most important thing is that we will get to experience all of these things together.”

After all, living life to the fullest is really about sharing as much of it with others as humanly possibly, both on the inside and the outside.

And this is, I promise, the end of this sequel.


Share This Book