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Patient Adel Doss, 54, is seen at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Ontario Thursday, October 31, 2013.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

This is part of The Globe's three-month series on the challenges facing Canadian hospitals. Follow @Globe_Health on Twitter and share your hospital experiences with #thehospital

Every day, hospitals are the scene of overwhelming sorrow, moments of pure joy, hours of nervous anticipation and deep uncertainty about the road ahead.

When you walk into the main doors of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre's main campus, none of the gripping dramas that are unfolding within are apparent. You see people in wheelchairs waiting for rides, volunteers directing lost individuals to the correct wing and staff members chatting as they wait in line for coffee.

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But like any hospital, go a little deeper and you'll be overwhelmed by stories of human tragedy and triumph, pain and suffering, hope and even happiness.

I've spent quite a bit of time at Sunnybrook over the past month, meeting doctors and nurses, patients and family members. The people who work there have dedicated their careers to helping others and providing the best care possible. The patients who are lying in beds and family members and friends who sit at their bedsides don't want to be there, for the most part. Some are working hard to recover and leave while others are too sick or frail and have nowhere else to go.

I've seen a man in his 50s confined to a wheelchair break into tears as he describes how he will one day "fly" out of the hospital. I saw the stress and tension on the face of a middle-aged daughter as she contemplated the rapidly declining health of her aging mother. I've heard a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit remind a doctor that they had to talk to parents about end-of-life care for a failing infant.

Every day is a battle, whether you're a health-care worker or patient.

And it's easy to forget once you escape to the bigger world outside.

Once, when I was leaving the hospital, I texted my family members that my new life goal was to "stay out of the hospital at all costs."

Hospitals aren't typically fun places to be. They are, as one doctor reminded me, where sick people hang out. Many floors have an unmistakeable, yet somehow unidentifiable, unpleasant smell. If you're a patient, you may have to share a room with a perfect stranger who keeps you up all night moaning in pain.

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Front line health-care staff do the best they can with limited resources, ageing facilities and less-than-ideal working conditions. But it's clear there are ways we can also do better. Finding the way forward – that is the challenge.

Follow me on Twitter @CarlyWeeks

Your input

We want to hear about health care in your community: What works, what doesn't, and what you think we should do about it. Share your experiences – and ideas for change. Follow @Globe_Health and tweet with #thehospital to join the conversation.

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