personal reflections on human rights...and other stuff

Thank you, three years late

I went to the Lakeshore Hospital today. Like a lot of people, I don't like hospitals. I remember going to the hospital thirty years ago after I broke my arm. I was there in the summer of 1988 working as a security guard, my first assignment was to haul a body into the morgue (it's a smell you never forget). And my last experience at that hospital was three years ago, spending 42 days there as I watched my mother die.

I had to go twice today: this morning to meet the nurse at the travel clinic to get my shots, and later this afternoon to get my anti-malaria prescription from the doctor. I'm heading off to Burkina Faso next week.

Going to the hospital at this time of year is a risky thing to do. The Lakeshore is operating at 196% capacity, its overcrowdedness is apparent the minute you walk into the waiting room, a large hall filled with over 100 people sitting there in their big heavy winter coats. Most looked spaced out, staring at each new patient walking in, waiting for their names to be called. The flu, colds and gastro are running rampant in the city - it gets to the point where you don't wonder whether or not you'll get sick, but rather when you will get sick.

Door 41 is the travel clinic. Walk into the small room and you'll see lovely travel posters inviting you to visit Egypt or Venezuela. Sorry, most of my travel spots aren't poster-friendly (Yahoo, let's all to go Ouagadougou). I got jabbed in both arms for shots that end in ix or ex and should protect me for several years against bad stuff. At least it was better than my first visit to a travel clinic in 1993. Back then, because I was in a rush to leave, they had to stab me with all sorts of shots, including two in the butt cheeks (one on each side). Forgive the pun, but it was a pain in the ass to drive home in my Thunderbird with my butt two inches off the seat the whole time.

My wait this morning at the hospital was minimal - only a half hour. As I left the clinic I walked past the elevators and stopped, wondering whether or not I should go to the fourth floor. Eventually I pressed the button and made my way up. Got out, and a flood of memories came back. My mother spent the last six weeks of her life on the fourth floor, dying of cancer. It was in a ward where most of the patients were left to die. Most of them old, and almost no other visitors came. My brother and I would spend our days there, taking our mother for a walk around the ward (at least until she couldn't walk anymore). Our conversations with her dwindled to hellos and I love yous and not much more within two weeks, her mind rapidly decaying to a whisper of what it once was. If anything, it was a time when my brother and I got closer than we've ever been.

The nurses took good care of her. Two of them in particular, Barbara and Mary, were especially kind. As the years passed I always wanted to return to the hospital and take a moment to properly thank them for what they did. When I had last seen them, the day my mother passed away, both were there and said goodbye, but I was hardly in a state to say much.

As I got out of the elevator I walked up to the nurses station.

"Are Barbara and Mary here today?" I asked. The nurse looked at me and said Mary was off, but Barbara was working in the other ward. She took me to see her. As Barb opened the door to the ward her face transformed with a look of genuine surprise.

"I do remember you, just the other day I was thinking about your mother, and I don't know why."

"I was at the travel clinic and thought I'd say hi. I wanted to thank you again for all that you and Mary did for my mother back then. I may not have said it then, but I really appreciated it." Her smile showed at once the happiness of hearing those words and the sadness of remembering my mother. We chatted for a few more minutes - in the end I realize we spoke mostly about my mother, my family and my brother's family. A hint of tears were forming in her eyes, and I thought it was best for me to make an exit at that point.

Well that's it. I know this blog is meant to be about human rights. It might be a stretch to say that thanking someone three years late is somehow related to human rights. Perhaps it's not, but it felt right. So thanks again, Barbara and Mary.



2 comments :

-joe said...

Great post, Paul. My brother and I went through something similar with my Old Man. The palliative care nurses are saints, to be sure. Peace, man.

Nathalie Belloy said...

Salut Paul,
C'est cool que tu te souviennes! Et puis pour elles, ces femmes qui travaillent en "première ligne", sur le "front" comme toi et bien, je suis certaine que cela lui a fait du bien!