Mar 2019 05

An elderly woman wearing a hospital gown and a very stylish hat smiles at me. She glides down the hall, spinning every once in awhile, very sure on her feet. Like she is in a dance hall.

“Where’s Shirley? Have you seen Shirley?” another woman, also wearing a hospital gown, asks no one and yet everyone. Loudly.

An older man wearing his own patient smock, and a very smart fedora I might add, almost bumps into me as I try to get my bearings. I smile and say ‘Good evening’, but he glares at me like I just mounted his front porch and rang his doorbell.

Various people jostle themselves around in wheelchairs like a soccer game, with a ball undetectable to me, is going on. Nurses talk gossip openly to each other. A TV in a common lounge is showing people a new recipe on a cooking show.

Yesterday, my father was in another wing, in a room with other patients who looked like they would never leave the hospital alive. And today he was transferred to this area. The Transitional Care Unit.

There is no smell of death. No one moaning in pain. No call bells for help ringing, unanswered due to being overwhelmed. There is an energy here of the living. Like the buzzing activity of a bus station. Of people in transit, bags packed nearby within eyeshot. Everyone eager to ship out as soon as the ‘Board on Platform 7’ is displayed on the board.

This is where patients are sent when they’re on their way to another facility – like a rehab centre, which is where my dad is heading. Success stories. People who are now well and get to go back to their lives after their next stop. The lucky.

I ask the nurse’s station where to find my dad.

“Your father’s at the end of the hall. Go all the way to that window, make a left, first bed.”

Some more pirouetting on my part to get around some soon-to-be former patients with energy to burn, just roaming the halls.

And there he is. Albert, written off for dead less than two weeks ago, and now lounging in bed with his arms behind his head propping him up as he stares out the window. No oxygen. No IV tubes. Untethered. A view of the lake. Sunset casting its early rosewater glow. First time he’s seen the sky in 17 days.

And he looks … well, bored.

We talk a bit of politics, and sports. And how my day was.

He is still wondering why he is alive. What his purpose is, at 90, to go to rehab. What is the point, he still asks. Get healthy for what? His friend, Bill, at the senior’s building died a few weeks ago. What is there to go back to? It will be the same old jell-o.

The harsh truth of living in a senior’s building is new neighbours are always moving in. I remind him that we never know who could walk into his life when he returns there, after a few weeks at rehab.

The elderly, but spry looking, man in the bed next to him offers me the Toronto Sun to read, but I pass. “What are you here for, Charles?”, I ask. He introduced himself to me with a firm handshake a moment ago. He tells me he fell and damaged his knee and it’s inoperable. He’ll be limping for the rest of his life. He says my dad looks good, like he could run a marathon. He’s envious. One person’s hell is someone else’s heaven.

The point is lost on Bert. I do not come from a long line of optimists. The glass isn’t just half empty. It’s chipped, too.

His bag stays plump and packed next to his bed. Ready for tomorrow, or the next day.

We stare out the window. From here it looks like spring is also ready to turn the tide on its own battle.

Footsteps out the door.

The woman with the stylish hat, and the gruff man with the fedora are standing together at the hallway window. The man is now wearing 3 hats, stacked on top of each other.

In silence, they stare out at the still lake and the migrating cars on the Toronto Gardiner Expressway with red tail lights trailing behind.

All in transit to new, unknown destinations.