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“Here Mate, Let Me Help…”

It’s 5 p.m., a bright warm promise of a summer evening. The spacious courtyard approach to the main entrance to Victoria General Hospital has a clean-swept deserted look. A few well-washed wooden benches where patients with mobility can sit and converse with visiting family are empty in the sun.

Well, not quite empty. One man and two women are sitting far apart waiting for friends, or maybe they’re staffers taking a well-earned break from the pressure cooker of a large general hospital in pandemic times.

The glass entrance doors hiss open and clank shut as the three, their sun break over, precede me into the main lobby where their identity as patient or staff is confirmed. A nod from security staff, followed by what has become the ritual washing of hands with germ-killing lotions, and they are on their way down the long corridors to wherever they belong in the hospital labyrinth.

I bring up the rear to answer a brief, polite questioning. Do I have a temperature? Have I travelled outside Canada in recent weeks? Have I been in the company of anyone known to be inflected to COVID-19? Half-a-dozen other easy-to-answer questions from runny nose to routine feeling unwell follow, and my negative responses lead to the final: “Are you here to visit someone or as an outpatient?” I respond: “The latter and looking for directions to Medical Imaging.”

Then comes the wash hands routine and, as I’m already wearing a mask, I’m on my way “down the main corridor, past the gift shop, keep walking until you see the electronic imaging sign. It’s clearly marked.” It is, and I’m right on time – 20 minutes ahead of my 5:30 appointment.

Check-in is simple once I can flash my relatively new BC Services Card issued a few months back when I “surrendered” my treasured driver’s licence for the BC Services Card and my new BC Identity Card.

Waved through to a waiting room across a corridor lined with patients on beds or stretchers, I carelessly dropped my wallet spilling ID cards across the floor. For a 96.6-year-old, that spells disaster because the floor is no longer as close as it used to be. There was a time, and not so long ago, that I would have just bent over, scooped the wandering cards up and carried on. Alas, the floor these days is a long way away, and any attempt to reach it, slowly or in haste, is extremely hazardous.

As I contemplate the scene, there’s a stirring in one of the corridor beds where a young man waits to be moved for treatment or a procedure. Before I can make what would surely be a disastrous lurch, he rolls off his bed, takes three or four steps and says very quietly: “Here, mate, let me help you,” and with one motion swoops down, picks up the straying cards and is back in his bed before his attendant knows he’s been up and about.

I have to pass his bed to get to my rendezvous with the imaging machine scheduled to take an inside look at a lung that tends to misbehave with COPD. It gives me time to thank him for his kind help. “No problem, mate. A pleasure to be able to help.” 

“Stay well,” I say. “You too, mate,” he replies with a face-wide, genuinely joyful grin. 

I wanted to share this story today in the hope that in this vastly troubled world we find ourselves living in, it might just bring readers a little of the joy it brought me. Just a vignette, the briefest of scenes, but we can dream that one day it might become as contagious as COVID-19.