sometimes all you can do is walk, read a poem

For several years I have been submitting a poem, or two, to the annual Friends of the
University of Alberta Hospital poetry contest. The poems are to focus on “hope,
healing, and the hospital experience”. Medical staff, patients, and visitors are
all invited to submit. The selected poems are on display for one year on the
“Poetry Walk” wall on the second floor. The “Poetry Walk” is across from the pedway
to the Kidney Clinic, or straight down the long hall from Diagnostic Imaging or
Dentistry, should you be local to Edmonton, Alberta and some day wish to read the
chosen poems. Though to be honest, I hope you never have occasion to be at the
hospital.

CLICK on photos to enlarge / read.

This year, for the second time, I have one of my poems chosen to be displayed on
the “Poetry Walk” wall. The poems are selected by a panel including hospital staff
and the head of the “Artists on the Ward” program”. The “Artists on the Ward”
program” is dear to my heart. I believe the program staff and volunteers do work
that may be more healing to many patients than any prescription medication or
procedure. A patient may request a visit from an artist to write poetry or stories
together, paint and sketch, or perhaps create or listen to live music.

I discovered the “Poetry Walk” by chance in 2012, when my husband was first a heart
failure inpatient at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute, attached to the U of A
hospital. I needed time away from him to collect my thoughts, so I set off on a
walking meditation. As I wandered throughout the hospital, I happened upon the
poetry. I recall reading a poem about a woman who sat vigil by her spouse’s bedside,
knitting. I continued reading the poems. I felt my breath deepening, shoulders and
neck relaxing, mind clearing, as I continued down the row of frames.

In January 2018, my husband returned to the hospital via ambulance, becoming an
inpatient once again. The dilated cardiomyopathy (believed to be viral in cause) now
had him in end-stage heart failure, too ill to wait for transplant. Mechanical
circulatory support via an LVAD to pump for his damaged left ventricle became the
only option to prolong and improve his life. It is not a cure. It is 24 hour, 7 day a
week portable life support; but it is life. He was an inpatient for five weeks.
Again, at times I needed to wander the lengthy halls alone, to find comfort in reading
words on the wall when I could not write my own.

On February 14th, 2018 my husband was to be sent for an echocardiogram. The unit
staff was busy, so I asked to take him in the wheelchair for his echo by myself.
Allowed to remain with him during the ultrasound of his heart, I watched the screen.
I was struck by the realization of what day it was on the calendar, as well as what
I was observing.

Almost one year later on January 31, 2019 I wrote “On Valentine’s Day” which will
be on the “Poetry Wall” until 2020. It was my Valentine to Mr. Wanton this year:

Is it the best poem I’ve ever written? It is not. I don’t like that the poem is
“telling”; I should be “showing” (my writer friends know exactly what I mean).
But poetry is subjective – people like what they like – and for whatever reason, this
year the jury selected it. Though the poem is far from my “best”, I hope it might
bring comfort some day, in some way, to some other wanderer.

First 15 Minutes in Day Surgery

(What follows below is the first draft of a  writing assignment I completed for writing group. The exercise was to show “setting” of our choice, fact or fiction. )

Celeste leaned back on the narrow bed that was covered by a thin white cotton sheet smelling slightly of chlorine bleach stretched over the thick rubbery plastic mattress pad. Feeling the soft rubbery surface underneath her reminded her of sleeping on an air mattress that was only half inflated. Some might be bothered by the faint bleach odor but to her it brought back memories of the neighbourhood swimming pool. Good memories. The flat as a pancake pillow underneath her head was also plastic, covered by a well bleached, highly sanitized, vellum thin pillowcase. Though the bed was bound to be hot and uncomfortable for someone with a fever, it was fine for someone chilled with fear, someone like Celeste.

She wiggled and adjusted her body to get more comfortable, finding just the right position to support her aching spine and hips. Breathing a lengthy drawn out sigh, she felt her body momentarily relax in spite of her racing mind. She tugged on the slightly rough but thick blanket on the end of the bed, pulling it up over her entire body. She had the thought: “what if this was a magic blanket, that pulling it up over your body could make you disappear Chris Angel style?” If only.

Having been temporarily left alone with her thoughts, she stared up at the stark white ceiling. Her eyes then slowly drifted downwards to the barren white walls decorated only with medical paraphernalia such as oxygen outlets, suction vessels, and call button cords. Her eyes went down to the recently polished white linoleum tile floor, then up to the printed plaid wedgewood blue with tangerine orange curtain separating the beds. Thankfully someone at some point had made the decision to provide a touch of color and cheeriness to the otherwise plain bleak room. She hoped they at least got a high five for that decision.

Resting her right arm alongside her body, she kept it still and straight so as not to disturb the IV that had been inserted. She had not been prepared for the chemical medicinal smell that invaded her nostrils, so strong that she tasted it on her tongue for a few seconds before it dispersed into the air as the nurse swabbed her arm then plunged the tiny needle into her blue-green vein.

All was quiet at the moment except for country music being played softly. She recognized Johnny Reid crooning a ballad. Possibly it was slowing her pulse. Yes, it seemed it was. Research said music could do that; she believed it to be true. Johnny Reid was probably a wise choice. His mellow voice probably would not be overly offensive to any of the people in the room, no head bangers or gang bangers here today.

As Celeste had entered the day surgery ward with the chubby, slightly limping, pleasant demeanor but all business nurse leading the way to her bed, she had checked out the other patients, none of which had their bedside curtains completely drawn. One older middle aged Native woman with glasses on, eyes closed, possibly sleeping or perhaps just pretending. One older middle aged Caucasian woman with long brown hair pulled back in a ponytail reading an Oprah Pick book. Celeste could recognize the large white sticker signifying it being an Oprah book from across the room. One older man beginning to rouse, momentarily trying to talk to the woman on the chair beside him, sounding like a soft-spoken Darth Vader, since he had an oxygen mask covering his mouth and nose. One very elderly lady, with two middle aged men standing at her bedside wearing ball caps, blue jeans, one a white t-shirt, the other a denim work shirt, quietly discussing a concrete pouring project, while the woman lay completely still, eyes staring straight ahead.

Just as the nurse showed Celeste the bed that was to be hers for the day, next to the sliver of an oak paneled closet that would store her clothes while she was wearing her baby blue, always revealing, opening in the back hospital gown, another nurse wheeled in a patient on a gurney. She delivered the older woman to the bed directly across from Celeste’s, and announced “V___25 P___ 150” to the only other nurse in the room, the one preparing to take Celeste’s medical history once she was changed.

Celeste remembered those were the drugs she had the last time she had been here for tests. She also remembered those were some of the drugs MJ had in his bloodstream at the time of his death. They were extremely fast acting, caused amnesia too. When you woke up you felt like you had been out for only two seconds, and nothing had happened at all. It was the only thing about today she was looking forward to – the chance to think and feel nothing at all for half an hour. She realized at that moment how someone became addicted to drugs. How she could become addicted to something that made her think and feel nothing at all.