Archives for posts with tag: Hospital for Sick Children

Imagine you are running down a hospital corridor.
It is like a television with the sound off,
silent film, only constant green flick, flick, flick,
of fluorescent tubes passed, nurses running alongside
a hospital bed, oxygen tank attached to the back,
others racing with the I.V. pole— there are six, seven nurses,
a doctor rushes up and is given a quick report,
their mouths move, hands move, the movie moves.

We are running because my son has stopped breathing,
we are running for the elevator to take him to I.C.U.—
Intensive Care Unit. You go in your stats are bad
the moment you go—and you either make it back—
or you don’t. I laugh—no one gets it—this is just a blip—
you don’t understand how full of life he is— just look at him—
this won’t beat him—medical personnel are telling me
how serious this is—they just can’t see the life in him;
I look through them as if they are ghosts—I can’t help it,
I see through them. “Relax, he’s going to be OK.” “Perhaps
you don’t understand how serious this is.” They can’t see
the life that is in him—this is just an illusion.

Did I make the wrong choice? Should I have known
as the doctors and nurses knew, this was the beginning of death?
That his liver had died inside him, and his life was over, though
it would take two months more and me never believing he
would not live. Two days before he died, he woke up and watched
his favourite movie cradled in his mother’s arms—can’t you see
the life? Turn the sound off, concentrate on the picture.
Did I make the wrong choice to believe you would live?

I don’t need help making wrong choices—I have made as many
as I could even without you—wrong deals, wrong loves, wrong
moments, and never certain which was the worst. Did I fail you?
No, I know I ran alongside of you alive, always sure you would
survive the green flicker of lights as the gurney races along
and I could almost sing so everyone could hear the life clearly
how much I love you, tell them to stop listening for a moment
to the train crossing clanging “this is your stop”.


It is oddly distant, seen through the window,
only more so through binoculars.
I am the only one watching—Arlen is asleep,
receiving a blood transfusion.
He is not excited; he is tired.
I imagine many of the children are sleeping,
and as many watching TV,
as are actually watching from the VIP section.
I can’t imagine the parade means much
to the longtime patients here.
It’s one way or another—
either there is no Santa Claus, or
he’s here everyday—giving some a future,
while others die waiting for their present.
It is the bands marching by silently
that starts me crying, Play you bastards, play,
serenade those kids you pass, let them hear
your horns blow, drums pound, all and any amount of sound
you can manage to commemorate the ones still here,
and let each note remind Santa of the ones who are gone.

I am angry. I’m walking to the hospital
so I will not drive. I am afraid of what
I would do behind the wheel of a car.
I hate everyone. I cannot bear to look at them
smile, talk, laugh with each other, hold hands;
I would like to see them suffer as I suffer,
I would like to see them lose everything they
hold precious, I would like to see them die like flies.

I stand paralysed on my way to the hospital
I cannot continue. I cannot live this way.
This isn’t me. I try to remember—each person
I pass for that moment, is the face of God,
and I must not forget. I must honour the God
in each of us.

I am angry. I walk to the hospital, surrounded
by God and his work. I struggle to let go,
soothe the anxiety that lies behind it, to see this
instant the beauty that surrounds me on this city
street filled with the living who show me the Face
of God. To take from each of them a blessing as I
go to face another day of fear and sorrow. To walk
through the Valley of Death unafraid.

It cannot be heard during the day,
for the Atrium echoes with voices
of children endlessly excited by the potential
of reverberation, and that is natural.
It cannot be heard in the din of I.V. alarms,
intercom pagings & Code Red announcements;
these are definitely the sounds—but not the song.

You hear it at night, the song of the hospital.
A simple song: two notes, rise and fall.
Mother’s hum to her sleeping child, the breath
of vented air; sharp sudden cries from far away
that hush or wail with no apparent rhythm. It is
the hospital in song—life, death, life, death,
misery, joy, sickness, health; the song sings
a golden rage, a silent sound, an infinite array
of prayers, dreams, promises, fears, their object
lost, then found; it washes over them and recedes,
always in grasp, never held onto; lost, then found, lost,
found again, lyric verse, words undone, melody found;
lost, back to monotonous cleave, a vision,
a nightmare, the song is sung again, cello beat
of string, sigh of winds and plumbing,
whale song issues from inaudible depths; inhale,
exhale, a mother’s grief, a mother’s joy;
it is late, it is early, it is three in the morning;
tuba notes, white noise of the radio, the punching
of pillows wrapped around the head tight.

standing on the sidewalk, looking up
from the sidewalk across from the hospital
it is a bright day and the windows glare
or are ink black in the shade
I can make out a little child
standing at a window
high above the sidewalk
I wave but he doesn’t notice
the man beside the child does
and waves back
I wonder how long they have been there
watching traffic, the flux of light upon skyscraped vistas
whether they understand the irony of me looking at them
I who just left a room like theirs, child standing
in the window staring at the city, our faces reflected
back at us like fish in an aquarium, mouthing against
the glass, wondering what it is like to breathe the air
out there, the great ocean of air

1st floor, lobby, cafeteria, shops, elevators
2nd floor, O.R., N.I.C.U., I.C.U.
3rd floor, administration
4th floor, research
5th floor, first wards, broken bones, short stay
6th floor, heart patients
7th floor, infectious diseases
8th floor, burns, plastic surgery, urology, oncology, bone marrow transplant/ isolation
In the hospital, never choose the penthouse suite.

I jump on an empty elevator, and hit 8,
pray for the door to close
just let me get past it all,
make it back to the zone
where everyone understands;
back to another world.
But, then, a doctor comes in,
a couple, next a middle-aged woman,
two nurses, researchers with bulging briefcases,
—perhaps pharmaceutical salesmen—
hands reach out and ignite little buttons,
the door is held for an elderly woman, who asks for a floor,
and as the steel slabs slide shut every number is bright.
We stop. We start. Bump up another
level. The car slowly empties. I scan the others.
And I see her. The middle aged woman,
except she isn’t, she is Oriental and her
black hair fooled me. She is a grandmother.

Gently, barely perceptibly. Dabbing at her underlid,
with a twisted knotted tissue. Fifth floor. More room now.
She turns to face the door, so no one can see her. We who ride
past these floors know not to notice. Her shoulders shake.
Her dress is patterned with flowers on a black background.
The scarf about her neck shakes at me, a little boat
tossed upon a hidden sea, a black sea ornately waved
with buds and blossoms. Another floor passes.
How can she empty the horror that suddenly appeared
in her heart, the desperation that clings to a tiny soul?
And how can she catch it all within that one small scrap
of tissue?

Seventh floor. She turns sideways again, confident in my complicity.
She trenches eye-liner, dries her face; snuffles into the ball,
wipes the tip of her nose, dabs her red lipstick; puts on her
armour. She knows I am in armour; she knows I am weeping;
we know we will not show it; we are not the brave.

Striding off the elevator without a glance,
she tosses a crumpled ball into the trash.
I stop to wonder at the rarest of blossoms,
find it floating upon wax paper written
with ketchup, and finished fast food containers;
it bursts with a thousand creases,
faintest hue of pink and jet staining each edge,
I stare at this most beautiful flower
and cannot imagine its cost, the price,
and what remains to be paid.

This is a short account (Pete and Tink lose interest if you’re not quick)
of Peter Pan visiting the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada in the year 1998.

Peter will appear in the guise of my son, Jarret,
who, at the time, was 5 years old, during a relentless March still deep
in snow, and uncertainty about Jarret’s brother Arlen, but one year old,
diagnosed with leukemia.

Which meant little to Jarret—he loved the hospital because in each ward there is a playroom,
which Jarret called, “the Toy Store”. There was every conceivable toy, book, video game waiting—and Jarret loved each one.
Each night Jarret and I would pack a meal to take to the hospital to eat with Mom and Arlen,
and as soon as we were done, Jarret would drag Arlen from his hospital room,
as happy as could be, as happy as a child should be, to go to “the Toy Store”.

There he would play with every child, any child, oblivious to the multi-branch forest
of tubing and IV pumps, moon faces marooned in wheel chairs and haze of medication—
he would get through to each, Peter Pan ready to lead the Lost Boys in imagination.
And they would find him,

join in his charmed circle that knew only lust for toys and refined sense of adventure.
He would play, each child invited, and urged to fly, because the Toy Room was so
splendid it could not contain them;
Peter flying ever upward, urging them onward, to forests, lakes, and lagoons,
adventures against pirate ships, singing with mermaids, faster, higher, to the Island
where only children are citizens and all are admitted, none denied (that love to play).

His triumphant “cock a doodle doo” was the natural finale to another night in “the Toy Room”
the children wild and unwilling to go to their rooms;
parents finally content their children are still normal;
volunteers truly worked and happy they were here this time;
nurses, though less affected by pixie dust than most, a little light footed;
and the corridor lights shine, wheelchairs stand empty and wait,
while elevators go up and down, taxis parked whether night or day;

listen to Peter’s war cry as it echoes through the corridors, past surgery,
past infectious diseases, past coronary, past oncology, and psychology,
past burns, and urology, it irresistibly crows “OOO o oo o OOO!!”
to call each child to dream harder, to save Fantasy Island from the
dark storms and shoals that surround it, to know that no pirate can defeat,

that nothing can withstand, a true heart at play.

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