You Can't Read This While Taking a Shower
Stay at the Glen Hospital
I was at The Glen, Montreal’s new giant super hospital, and a short guy who looked a lot like old Moses of ancient times was strolling by my patient’s door accompanied by a tall, smooth and loud talking sixty-year-old who’d just delivered the rich and selfish line. The smooth and loud talking sixty-year old had an assuring arm around old Moses and wore a hospital robe that revealed much of his backside, as sturdy and well-formed as any I’d seen. I thought the tall, smooth and loud talking sixty-year old could easily have been an NFL quarterback in his younger days.
The quarterback was by no means the only entertainment on my patient floor.
Already I’d heard a lady in a room diagonally across from mine complaining about the absence of her children. Much later I got to know her name. She was a very nice lady whose name, I later learned, was Mrs. Bondaruk. (Bondaruk)
I had gotten to the Glen the usual way: by accident. Twice in ten days I had fallen from my high bed—about four and a-half feet high when I was standing beside it. The second time I fell was the most dramatic. I was sound asleep and only knew I was falling when I felt my body tumbling to the floor in mid-air. Why it happened, I have no idea, although some doctors at the Glen thought it might be dizziness.
They also thought I had bad ears. They attributed my bad ears resulting in my loud voice: since I couldn’t hear I spoke loud just to make sure I could at least hear me speaking. Nonsense. I told them I had a loud voice because as a kid I stuttered a lot. To compensate, I spoke slower and ever louder. The louder I spoke the less I stuttered. On occasion I still stuttered years after I got to Montreal. Many months ago I called the CLSC, asked for the head nurse and asked her how people stopped stuttering. After turning several scrapbook pages she said: “Drink lots of hot water.” It worked. I no longer stutter even a little bit.
Back to falling from my bed. When I hit my bedroom floor I immediately felt for broken bones. There were none. I didn’t even suffer pain. I tried to get back in my bed. My knees wouldn’t allow it. As had happened before, my knees when confronted with the floor hurt a lot. Somehow I couldn’t get my knees into a position where I could jump back on my bed. Eventually I gave up and on my exterior pushed myself to my bathroom. It took me half an hour. Once more, as before, I worked at getting one of Mrs. Carlini’s big blue towels underneath my knees so I could stand up and get back in bed. I couldn’t manage it. Mrs. Carlini (real name, Angelina Carlini) had given me the blue towel on one of those occasions when because of old age (I am 83) I couldn’t get out of the bathtub and neither she or Ms. Andrea Hazelwood, one of my editors who’d taken pity on the state of my apartment, could life me up. Eventually the CLSC Benny Farm installed a steel bar perfectly situated to allow me to get up from a sitting position in my bathtub.
So, I was still in my bathroom. I couldn’t get up. Beaten down, I went to sleep, trying to cushion my head from time to time on a plastic bag that contained part of a shoe. Most of all I didn’t want to get dizzy. I tended to get dizzy when my head was flat with the rest of my body. So, with my head on part of a shoe, I slept and slept.
One thing I knew, it being Monday, was that Santropol Roulant would be coming with a meal. The Santropol Roulant was meals on wheels in French.
In the meantime I slept and slept.
Eventually, I heard my buzzer sound. This was the Santropol Roulant! Whoever it was from the Santropol, often a man, would have to bring me a bag with a meal in it. If he was a young man, an athletic type, he very likely would be able to get me on my feet and so back to bed in my bed!
I heard footsteps on the stairway outside my apartment. I thought the Santropol guy was coming up the stairs. Then he retreated. Good. He’s going to get a key from Mrs. Carlini. For a while there was no sound. Then, after a long wait, I heard more activity on the steps. Then, once more silence. Finally, after another long wait, I again heard steps. I couldn’t wait. From my prone position on the bathroom floor, I yelled out: “H-E-L-P!!”
There was no answer.
Again I slept and slept.
Finally, I heard a knock on my door. I shouted, “C’mon in!”
After several seconds, Mrs. Carlini opened the bathroom door, followed by Mr. Will. Mr. Will is Mrs. Carlini’s companion. Mr. Will’s name is Will Charles, but since he’s part of management I’ve always called him Mr. Will.
Mr. Will saw me on the floor and immediately proceeded to pick me up. I thanked him profusely, of course. But then, Mr. Will is a very strong man. Lifting me was easily done. I imagine Mr. Will to be sixty. I’m certain he is much stronger than the Santropol guy, even if the Santropol fellow is found to be a former McGill fullback and since McGill University invented American football that’s saying a lot.
In the meantime, Mrs. Carlini, despite my protests, insisted I be taken to the hospital immediately. She reported that she’d spoken to my downstairs neighbor, Mlle Eva, who’d told her that I’d yelled for help. In the meantime, Mrs. Carlini had called for an ambulance and within minutes I was on the way to the Glen, the fabulous new super hospital not far from 2111 Beaconsfield Avenue, where I live in Mrs. Carlini’s building.
At the Glen I was told by everyone that Mrs. Carlini had made the exact right decision at the exact right time.
Hours later, I was telling a visiting doctor at the Glen about my hometown of Steinbach, Manitoba. “Yes, it’s the fastest growing town in Canada, maybe North America, by far. When I left Steinbach for the Dauphin Herald under the leadership of that remarkable woman, Helen Marsh, Steinbach was much smaller than Dauphin. Maybe there were five thousand people in Steinbach in the early fifties and ten thousand in Dauphin, a city with all the conveniences. Over the years, as my friend Gerald Reimer, has been telling me, Steinbach surged and surged to the point where it now has nearly 20,000 residents and is the third largest city in Manitoba and much, much larger than Dauphin, which is now approaching 10,000 population. The thing about Steinbach is that it is a Mennonite town. For years Steinbach was the favorite place for Winnipeggers to buy their cars. The Mennonite car dealers built their reputations on great service and never, but never overcharging. In time every garage had more mechanics than they needed. The result was that the garage owners began looking for things they could make and sell. One Steinbacher told me of his garage owner friend going to industrial shows and discovering a goldmine of opportunities. He soon began meeting market demands for products easily manufactured in the small spaces of a garage. Other garage owners did the same. Soon there were lots of garages making all sorts of things. So Steinbach grew and grew.”
The doctor listening to my story, stroked his chin, then asked: “And this Mennonite thing is the key?”
“Absolutely. The Mennonite garage people have great pride in themselves, although pride can be a sin, but if pride is used to give jobs to fellow humans, it isn’t considered so bad.”
Hours later, I was telling my falling from bed story to another doctor, when he said, “Mr. Warkentin, I’m told by a politically aware nurse that long ago, before any of us was born, that you ran for Parliament as a Conservative. Are you still conservative?”
I smiled nicely as the question was being asked. “Of course I’m conservative,” I replied. “Sometimes I’m even called a fascist. Fascists are utterly focused and I don’t mind so much if the fascist charge comes from a thoroughly knowledgeable Socialist who knows his or her stuff. Naturally, most successful CEOs, fiercely focused on the bottom line and share price, have more than just a bit of fascism in them.”
“Would you elaborate just a bit on your conservatism?” the doctor, just slightly bearded and quite thin, asked.
“Of course the world isn’t fair. It’s never been fair. It’s a basic fact: If you have money, you can obtain expensive things that are simply unobtainable if you have little money. Not even socialist governments have tried to solve this problem. Governments will try and even things out for basic housing and basic food, but no government I’ve heard of will directly aid in the buying of luxury items such an expensive car.”
“Running in an election must have been an impulsive act, Mr. Warkentin,” the doctor said. “In various ways I’m envious of some of my patients who’ve acted impulsively, even admired their courage. Thank you, Mr. Warkentin,” the doctor says and leaves to see other patients.
I laid back in my bed, not too far of course because of the dizziness threat, and watch as the parade of visitors moves past. I heard an active little girl jumping and shouting vigorously “Hello, hello,” approaching. In an instant I saw her ̶ I shouted, “Little girl, who are you coming to see?”
“My grandfather,” she said.
“What will you tell him?” I asked.
“That I’m going to fight.”
She had a huge smile on her face as she stood beside what I guessed was a slightly older brother and nudged him. I assumed she would be telling her grandfather that she’d be telling her older brother that she was going to fight for more living space in the family home. Nothing wrong with that, I thought.
After all, each human being was a universe unto herself, I thought, with her own priorities. The President or Prime Minister may be all-powerful in the White House or Parliament , but in the general the vast majority of people couldn’t care less about his likes or dislikes. They were far more interested in who’s up and who’s down in the world of Hollywood stars, who’s up and who’s down in baseball and football and, for those with a bit of money, who’s up and who’s down in the stock market. Compared to crises in their own world, a crisis in the White House or Parliament Hill is a relatively unimportant thing.
Perhaps, I thought, the little girl already knew what the philosophers knew, that in the real world she had to fight to maintain space. The philosophers knew that over the millennia official moralities were designed to fight nature. Official morality, as thousands of preachers and priests had known over the millennia, were designed to fight nature. They’d always failed, would always fail. If the official moralities had succeeded, there’d be no need for the police, there’d be no sin and there’d be no preaching against sin because it didn’t exist.
Besides, liking the view of the parade in front of my door, the reason I didn’t allow my head to fall too far back on my hospital bed was that when my head was flat with the rest of my body, I was immediately dizzy, the whole room spinning around the front of my brain.
Perhaps the doctor had heard my exchange with the little girl, since just as she left her brother and family in tow, he arrived. He said: “What’s your major concern right now, Mr. Warkentin?”
I told him about my dizziness when my head was flat on a bed with my body. I then added, “Never, but never, have I ever been on a Merry-Go-Around. Forcibly put me on a Merry-Go-Round and I’ll be putting on an outstanding exhibition of vomiting within seconds.”
“You’re not the only one.”
The good doctor moved his weight from one leg to another. He breathed in as if he was having the time of his life. He turned directly to me. “I heard you talking to the little girl who just passed. What do you think of such encounters?”
“Easy. The little girl was part of Heaven on earth. There’s more Heaven on earth than atheists can count. The first Heaven for everyone is in a mother’s womb. The second Heaven is Mother herself, being Mother, Teacher and God combined. The second Heaven usually lasts till about age three, when children begin to talk somewhat coherently. At about age eight, as you would know much better than I, a child’s personality has been formed. More and more often, especially when the teen years arrive, a child’s personalities is at war with his parents. Even so, a child’s teens may be, and often is, a Heaven all its own. High School and college may be death on Heaven overall, although Heaven peeks in every now and then with a new girlfriend or boyfriend. After college is marriage. It may be Heaven for a few weeks, but reality suggests Hell as often as Heavcn. Heaven may again take center stage if the once teen and college grad is an entrepreneur or an inventor. The new gadget or breakthrough is a feeling or pure Heaven. On the other hand, it’s pure Hell when one’s partner or spouse doesn’t see breakthrough, but breakdown.”
Probably against the rules, hospitals are fill to the brim with rules, two nurses were standing at the door listening to my response to the doctor. When the doctor left, one of the nurses stayed and asked, “How come you know so much?”
“Easy. I’m a writer. I listen when on Sherbrooke St. in Montreal, and read wherever I am, whether on my throne in the bathroom, or in a bathtub. The latter’s important. Everyone wants me to take a shower. I refuse. You can’t read while taking a shower.”