If you missed the funeral, don’t worry. There wasn’t one! I was simply removed from circulation in order to have a hip replaced. Some people thought that a face-lift would be a better idea, but the doctor did not suggest it so I kept quiet.
I am not going to give you a blow-by-blow description of my operation, except to say that it was successfully performed by an excellent surgeon named Dr. James Rathbun, in Scarborough General Hospital. The weeks and in fact months of physiotherapy which followed make a much more interesting story.
St. John the Divine
Shortly after my operation I was told that I would have to spend some time at a physiotherapy hospital. The only place with a vacancy at the time was St. John the Divine Hospital. It is run by a group of Anglican Sisters. I hesitated for a while. Would I be an embarrassment to them? Would I have the facilities for celebrating Mass? Having received satisfactory answers to my questions, I agreed to go. St. John the Divine Hospital is a wonderful place and I had a really enjoyable few weeks there. The Sisters could not have been kinder and the chaplain, Canon James O’Neill, was most cooperative. A corner of the beautiful chapel was put at my disposal every day and Sister Elaine prepared it for Mass each morning and I distributed Holy Communion to the Catholic patients. On Sunday mornings there were three religious services to suit the various faiths of the patients.
But there was much more to it than the religious aspect. The nursing was excellent and the food delicious. Perhaps the most enjoyable hour of the day was the morning “dip” in a lovely heated pool. We were deposited in the pool – about ten of us at a time – by a hoist and we spent an hour performing exercises to strengthen our muscles. It was good exercise and good fun and everybody enjoyed it and became great friends.
We were exported from our rooms to the pool by young men who were so expert and experienced that it was like driving on the 401 at rush hour. While the morning visit to the pool was most enjoyable, it was also very tiring. We were exercising muscles that had lain dormant for years. I don’t know what the others did on returning to their rooms. But I just fell into bed and went to sleep.
After lunch we were “driven” down for more “physio.” This time it was not in the pool but in a large hall or ward with beds and exercise constructions of all kinds. There were probably about fifty people being treated at the same time. We were a very mixed crowd of men and women of all ages, shapes and sizes. The physiotherapists were really busy keeping all kinds of exercises going at the same time.
Just glancing around the hall made one realize the amount of suffering there is the world – and just around our own corner. Most of the patients were well beyond middle age. Some were without legs or arms or perhaps with only one of each. Others were doubled over with back pains. And yet there was an extraordinary sense of peace about the place. Nobody seemed to lose his or her temper or patience. Everybody was cheerful and friendly and I saw no sign of resentment or self-pity. In fact the entire episode showed a side of human nature with which the ordinary person is not familiar and which I do not profess to understand. But I think it has to do with the common denominator to which suffering reduces all of us.
I didn’t intend this to be a sermon but it looks as if it is veering in that direction. You remember the words of Satan to our First Parents? “You will be as gods.” We all want to be as gods and what we seek more than anything else is – not riches – but power. Riches in themselves are useless. But they can be a short way to personal power. The rich, as a rule, can command. But, when we find ourselves minus a foot or a hand or perhaps deprived of both, we would give all the riches in the world to get them back. We feel a humiliating sense of dependency – and that is the opposite of power.
Another effect that this had, at least for me, was a sense of gratitude. All I had to suffer was a little pain in my hip and the inability to walk without a “walker” or somebody holding my arm. But I knew I would be well again in a few weeks. However, there were men and women in the physiotherapy hall who, I knew, would never walk again. There were others who could never hold a knife and fork and feed themselves. Driving a car was probably a thing of the past for 90% of the people I met. It reminded me of an old saying, “I felt sorry for myself because I hadn’t any boots till I met a man who hadn’t any feet.” I think it is true to say that we do not appreciate the gifts we have until we lose them.
A spirit of charity
During the afternoon and early evening we were free and could sit outside when the weather was warm in the really beautiful grounds. On Sundays it looked like a garden party, as friends and relatives came to visit the sick. I was very glad to see how many young children were brought in to visit their grandparents. It certainly gave the old people tremendous pleasure.
Each evening there was some kind of entertainment provided for the patients – a game of bingo or bridge or a film. Sometimes a group of singers and a pianist entertained us.
I think what impressed me most about St. John the Divine Hospital was the spirit of charity that seemed to pervade the entire community and expressed itself in a universal friendship. Everybody could speak to everybody else without an introduction. All you had to say was, “How’s your leg today?” Then you sat down and discussed “legs.”
I hope I never have to get my other hip replaced. But if I do, my first choice of a physiotherapy hospital will be St. John the Divine. I would like to take the opportunity to express my thanks to the Sisters and staff of the hospital for their kindness and care. I would also like to thank the many who sent me “Get well cards.” I’m afraid this is as near as they will get to an acknowledgement before the turn of the century.