BY KEITH NEWTON
Copyright is held by the author.
ELEVEN O’CLOCK, Friday. I should be taking a first sip of Stella with my crossword buddy, Pat. Instead, I am somewhat uncomfortably propped up in bed in a downtown hospital, with a broken hip and a variety of other ‘minor’ injuries. An ambulance has just transferred me over snow-covered streets to my new haven where, rumour has it, I will reside too bloody long.
Now don’t get me wrong. The hospital staff are very efficient and unfailingly good-humoured. It’s just that lying immobile for hours on end (can’t stand up yet) and being prodded and poked and ablated (oh! the indignity) is not my idea of a sunny day in the park.
How the hell did I get here? Well, since I retired I have busied myself with reading, writing a few short stories, whatever pleasures of the flesh are permitted to a gentleman of my advanced age, and my volunteer activities. Of the latter, one is a Saturday morning ‘gentle exercise’ session that I run at a local seniors’ residence. Last Saturday’s had been a particularly satisfying one and I emerged from the rez in fine humour. My mood was dashed when I stepped out into the maelstrom. Swirling gale-force winds and lashing rain. Still, I had only to negotiate about a hundred yards of sidewalk before reaching the comparative safety of the Royal Oak (my ‘local’), Pat’s cheery countenance, and a beer. I struggled determinedly till I came abreast of an alleyway between two tall buildings on my right. A sudden fierce gust was amplified to wind-tunnel force by the alleyway. I was lifted off my feet and blown clear across the sidewalk, where I landed heavily on my left side, head in the gutter.
A young couple who had witnessed the incident came quickly to my aid. They hauled me to my feet and tried to help me to a more sheltered spot. But I couldn’t put any weight on the left side. They stood supporting me while another public-spirited bystander battled his way to Starbucks to fetch a chair. Meanwhile the storm raged on. (I swear that for a few moments the reputation of Winnipeg’s Portage and Main as the coldest corner on earth was severely threatened.) Someone phoned an ambulance. I sank gratefully into the Starbucks chair. Someone else went to let Pat know of my mishap. Another Samaritan came from the pharmacy with a blanket. Yet another donated what appeared to be a newly-purchased hat and gloves. (The tags were still on.) One of my rescuers, Lucy, confided that she had secretly hoped for some excitement on that particular day. It was her birthday! Not quite what she had in mind, I guess.
Soon, however, I was bouncing gaily off to hospital number one, in a nice warm ambulance. My destination proved to be a grey, austere building where I was duly prodded, pulled, pushed, poked, kneaded and jabbed. The procedure euphemistically referred to by the seemingly innocuous term ‘transfer’ is particularly instructive. One is ‘transferred’ from bed to gurney and back again with about as much deference as one would accord a cadaver of pork. Or one is hauled out of bed—excruciatingly—to be coaxed onto a diabolically uncomfortable chair or commode. Once again I hasten to add that all of this is performed by long-suffering, overworked staff who somehow maintain a sense of humour throughout.
Now I lie here in what appears to be a rather cozy hospital number two. The quality of the food is no better but the quality of the jokes seems much improved. It exudes an air of cheerfulness and optimism. Survival is beginning to look like a distinct possibility. I am filled with optimism.
I did miss that lunchtime pint, though.