During a serious bout of bad health, Dale laid helpless on the couch where she’d suffered a stroke. In her agonizing crucible, within minutes, the octogenarian was carefully lifted onto the ambulance gurney and whisked off to the emergency room of the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, British Columbia.
The first night she was there, without using the call bell for help, she left her bed. Slumping to the floor, a young intern heard her groan and rushed to her aid gently getting the disoriented elder lady back to bed. Archibald Ortega, an international student of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing Courses at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops was on alert the rest of the night popping his head in her cubicle to double check that she was still safely in bed.
Before the light of day, Dale awoke at the sound of the curtain moving along the rod around her bed and looked up from her covers. “Who’s that?”
“It’s me, Miss Dale; I’m Archibald, but just call me Chip. I’m your man, your Mexican medic you might say… temporarily, that is. I’m interning here till my next semester… aiming to be a registered nurse.”
“Wow. When did you learn English and how’d you wrangle coming way up here to Canada?”
“I picked up English growing up and spoke it well enough, as a teen, to assist an orderly in our town’s clinic. That’s where I found my niche. I’m originally from Nogales, Mexico. My uncle’s wife lived up here and they wanted to see me in a good med school so they financed my trip. I’m the youngest boy in our family; the luckiest too, because they’re supporting me and funding my education.”
“That’s amazing… did you say your name’s Chip? That’s gotta be a nick-name.”
“Yes, ma’am, it is. My little sister couldn’t pronounce Archibald, and it came out ‘Chip.’ I took a liking to it so it stuck.”
The attentive intern had a most compassionate bedside manner. Dale found herself asking for his assistance rather than interrupt busy nurses for menial tasks. She once suggested he’d be a great geriatric nurse. It was a thought-provoking idea.
One night when a nurse on shift brought Dale her meds, she couldn’t make a large pill go down and coughed violently, but it lodged in her throat. The night dragged on and, as it eventually went down, she suffered chest pain. Chip rallied the doctor on call and Dale was taken to get x-rays. They showed water on her lung which warned of inflammation or infection. Chip was close by when she was wheeled back to her room and remained near to comfort her until the trouble passed enough for her to sleep.
But the pain persisted and she was taken to the OR for a thoracic surgeon to perform a bronchoscopy. Down her throat, a surgical tube with camera revealed a shadowy mass on her lung which would have to be removed later. In the meantime, she was on an inhaler to help her breathe.
The morning after, Archibald asked, in his charming way, “Anything my beautiful lady needs this morning?”
Dale laughed and whispered, “No thanks, my man!” The procedure had left her tongue swollen and her jaws sore as though her whole mouth had been clamped into a horse bridal. Time passed and the coughing spells continued as did other conditions like high blood pressure, low sodium levels, stroke risks and weakness. Masked and gloved, Chip often helped lay her back down. He was keenly aware of her fragile bony spine and the misery of cramps, spasms, swollen legs and ankles even though she rarely complained. He elevated her painful legs to ensure better blood and oxygen flow, with no bent knees to restrict circulation, and the edema subsided.
The more Chip worked with his patient, the more he learned about caring for the aged. During some periods of Dale’s hospital stay, she could have suffered very disarming indignities, but his assistance in professional and respectful ways spared her the atrocities some elders suffer when, unfortunately, they’re handled with less sensitivity. It all prepared him for the career he dreamed of taking up in his home town.
To remove the mass, which threatened cancer, a second bronchoscopy was performed on Dale’s lung; this time, with a rigid instrument. No cancerous tumour was found. Instead, to the thoracic surgeon’s shock, the pill Dale had swallowed down the wrong way weeks earlier was still intact! It blocked an airway in her lung! The foreign mass broke up during surgery and was removed successfully by the astounded surgeon. “No one will ever believe me,” he told her.
All the while Chip got to know Dale, she got to know him. She saw that he was anxious for his term of internship to be complete and for the next three months of formal classes and exams to be over. He hoped to bring his family up from Mexico to witness his graduation. Unfortunately, during the Corona Virus pandemic, they’d endured financial burdens. The night was dark when Chip and Dale spoke of opportunities lost due to Covid restrictions.
By the end of Chip’s final exams, people were being vaccinated but his grad ceremony had to be virtual. It struck Dale to thank Chip deeply from her heart and her pockets for incessantly helping her in practical and emotional ways. She was strong enough to be discharged and was soon back on her feet. She arranged a monetary graduation gift which would get her dear friend and his family back on theirs.
Epilogue: In 2021, as Dale wrote the account of her extraordinary care and eventual recovery, she was honoured to write about her man, Chip. He’d returned to Mexico to nurse his own people in a Nogales Polyclinic… as he’d dreamed of doing. He wrote Dale of his plans to marry “my best girl, next to you, Miss Dale” as he put it.