Early morning, April 25, 2007


A prompt this week to write about something in a health-care context brought out this story which, despite having been told over and over in my head, had heretofore not made it down in writing.

It wasn’t quite 5:30 am and Janice was already waiting for me on the main floor of Union Station. Her husband Randy, who drove her in from Ancaster, needed to get to work but first back to his parents who had been drafted to baby-sit the two kids.

Janice and I hugged, exchanging exasperated greetings, then continued the conversation from late the previous night.

Our brother Craig had been walking to his home in Montréal’s Le Plateau neighbourhood, arms weighed down with food and other birthday party necessities for Claude, his partner of sixteen years who turned 54 that 24th of April 2007.

As Craig approached their three-storey stone walk-up, he tripped and fell, almost instantly smashing his head on the sidewalk. The owner of a small store directly across the narrow street saw Craig go down and rushed to his assistance. He was clearly unconscious, his head bleeding profusely. She called 9-1-1 and eventually Craig was taken to the city’s well-known Neurological Institute (think “I smell toast, Dr. Penfield!”)

Claude was contacted at St. Luc Hospital, where he worked, and he rushed to the Neuro calling my sister Lynn in New Brunswick on the way. Janice phoned me after hearing the grim news from Lynn. They decided that Janice and I should go and stay with Mom at this critical time; that having seen Craig and Claude just a couple of weeks earlier over Easter she would be upset enough without rushing to Montréal. So Janice and I took the train to Kingston and then a taxi the eighty kilometres or so to Perth. Janice phoned Mom from Kingston, gently breaking the news and giving Mom a bit of time to absorb some of the shock before we got there.

I couldn’t believe it. Craig and I had both survived HIV/AIDS since the early 1980s, watching many loved ones die. But not like this!

Over the next few days Lynn kept us up-to-date on Craig’s condition which was critical at best. When our uncle told us he had to be in Montréal over the weekend, and offered to take any of us along, Janice and I decided to go.

The drive up the steep hill of University Street from the Ville-Marie Expressway seemed to take an eternity, not that traffic was especially bad but because of the pits of anticipation in our stomachs.

George dropped us off at the front door and Janice and I found our way to the Reception area of the Critical Care Unit. The hospital screamed, “Demolish me!” with its cracked interior walls and historic odours. Lynn stepped out of Craig’s room.

“I just want to prepare you as best I can for how you’re going to see Craig,” she said. “Whatever descriptions I’ve been able to give you over the phone this week really don’t count for much in person.”

She was right and, one at a time, Janice and I found out.

I went in first, Claude walking over in tears with a big hug and kisses on both cheeks. He made small talk in his broken English until I asked a few questions.

One of the first things I noticed about Craig was how the swelling of his brain had inflated his face to a preposterous size. His eyes were wide open and couldn’t shut even if he wanted them to. There was a large flap of gauze on one side of his skull, taped at the top but left unattached at the bottom to let the emergency surgery to relieve swelling of the brain do its work.

The most telling piece of equipment in the room, which was expanding his chest and belly the way his brain swelled his face, was the respirator and its associated oxygen pump, which rhythmically forced air in and out of Craig’s chest because he could, and ultimately would, not breathe on his own.

The artificial breathing made up in noise what the strained but quiet breathing of Claude and I did not.

Claude stood closer to Craig and shouted the news that Janice and I had arrived, at which point he gave the “thumbs up” sign. I eventually saw that to be his only method of communicating, and I now wonder if it wasn’t just some involuntary impulse of the brain.

Claude and Lynn reviewed what doctors had told them. Craig was in no pain, and no pain relief was necessary. They could tell this by the fact that he wasn’t restless at all. It almost went without saying that pain sensors in his brain were damaged, if not destroyed. Even in their earliest assessments, the doctors had told Claude and Lynn that if Craig survived he would not be the same person.

Janice and I stayed for an hour or so and then we all walked back to Claude’s (and Craig’s) place on de Grand-Pré. It was a cathartic walk, one which we would repeat, through the edge of the McGill campus, around Molson Stadium, and up Park Avenue, cutting across Fletcher’s Field to avenue Mont-Royal and Boulevard St-Joseph.

When Janice and I again visited Craig the next day before our ride back to Perth, I had a very tearful intuition, if not realization, that this would be the last time I saw Craig.

One attempt to see if he could breathe on his own had already failed. Staff hoped to try, or at least Lynn and Claude were certainly going to encourage another try, in the next few days. We were all in agreement, as much as feelings can be, to accept the results.

Ultimately the attempt failed and, while Lynn and Claude were out of the room having lunch, Craig died on May 9, 2007 – six days shy of his fifty-second birthday which that year also happened to fall on Mother’s Day.

That unimaginable Sunday was spent travelling to Montreal with Mom for the funeral service the following day. Then on Tuesday it was back in to two cars for the drive to Perth where a sunset burial was held at Scotch Line Cemetery next to the plot owned by Mom and Dad.

Later that spring, Claude bought a headstone with Craig’s birth and death dates as well as Claude’s birth date. The inscription described Claude as Craig’s “compagnon de vie”, the first openly gay – and surely among the first bilingual – grave-markers in the town’s three or four cemeteries.

Chaplin Craig et Claude

YAK – creating trust among Perth youth and adults


He’s maybe thirteen, going on thirty-five, perhaps a survivor of abuse who is experimenting with rubbing alcohol and having trouble in school. She might be fifteen, maybe pregnant, and unable to bear being at home after school.

They, and dozens of other young people with a variety of greater or lesser needs, have found both a family and a home at a place called YAK. The Youth Action Kommittee’s community centre is in a roomy loft on the main floor of a former shoe factory in the Lanark County Town of Perth.

During my tour of the centre last Friday I told Executive Director Tanis Cowan and Program Manager Donna Stratton (pictured above) how impressed I am that such a place exists in Perth. When I used to stay with my grandmother there each summer as a kid she kept me on a pretty tight leash, bemoaning the “nonsense” that town youngsters my age got into – hooliganism such as pulling out flower planters on the main street or defacing signs.  (I got away with a few minor infractions unbeknownst to her!)  These were but symptoms of much greater issues being faced by young people then (and now) but there was precious little for anyone, not – say – heavily into organized sports, to do.

That’s a drastic over-simplification of the issues, then and now, but YAK is doing an amazing job in a variety of ways to give youth a greater sense of purpose, making life in a small town much more bearable. Specialized services, more available in densely-populated areas, do not always measure up where school boards are one hundred kilometers or more across!

Community meals. A public health nurse. Addiction and mental health services. Mentoring programs. Recreation. Computer skills. Youth homelessness support. Literacy and homework help. (See the web-site for much more information available through YAK and its partners.)

YAK has a board of directors representing professionals and community mentors, backed by Town Council.

Notice the rainbow flag overhead. Respect for diversity is so ingrained at the centre that whenever staff hear a homophobic slur, for example, Donna says the offender knows to “drop and do push-ups”. Even better, the young people themselves exert their own positive peer pressure.

This is not the town of my youth!

I am setting myself some reasonable goals of assisting YAK, in ways yet to be announced, because I see myself wanting to help make the growing up experience a more positive one for young people who are motivated to move ahead against some occasionally difficult odds, in this town of Perth I hold so dear.

For a young peoples’ video look at the history of the Tay Canal please click the link below, by which I mean…


this one!

I am so proud! Not that I had anything to do with this (and I didn’t) but because the video shows how the appreciation of Perth (Lanark County, Ontario, Canada) history is, and will continue to be, alive and well!

Congratulations to everyone, particularly the young people and their mentors, who made this possible.

Reading today (when I’m not writing)


 

When I read it’s a bit like grazing in front of the dessert table (minus the diabetic considerations).

So it is that I am currently reading, roughly a chapter or section at a time:

The Scottish Pioneers of Upper Canada, 1784-1855: Glengarry and Beyond
by Lucille H. Campey
Robert Bourassa
by Georges-Hébert Germain (texte en francais!)
Those Who Save Us
by Jenna Blum (on the recommended list in the recently-read Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay)

 

It’s the paper book version of channel surfing but with far greater results.

I bought the Bourassa biography (still available only in French) after seeing the author on Tout le monde en parle several weeks ago. It is a pleasure to recognize the neighbourhood in Montreal where he grew up, went to school (later across town in Outremont), and acquired a taste for the cut and thrust of politics with which I can so identify. His father was a painfully shy civil servant, his mother a more boisterous lover of singing – all during a time, in the thirties, marked by the Great Depression and the foreshadowing of war. It was, in fact, his keen interest in the day-to-day developments of World War Two which helped make Bourassa the walking atlas he would become.

That’s as far as I’ve read thus far.

In the novel Those Who Save Us, a university researcher is helping a Holocaust researcher interviewing German-Americans who experienced the war in their homeland. Meanwhile her mother’s story, including the disappearance of the narrator’s Jewish father, is being told in flashbacks.

The Scottish Pioneers of Upper Canada, 1784-1855: Glengarry and Beyond appeals to the historian-genealogist in me. I am finding plenty of references to the life my ancestors must have shared, some coming to the named-for-home Glengarry region in the south-easternmost part of Ontario and others to Lanark County in the military settlements of the townships around Perth, on land assembled by treaty with the Algonkian (Algonquin) people as wood and farm land for immigrants and, in the case of Perth, as a military settlement for half-pay and retired soldiers from the War of 1812, including both the European battles and those along the border with the United States.

I haven’t bought an e-reader yet, still enjoying the weight and touch of a book’s pages – three books even!

Plan ahead – before it kills you


h/t to my friend BA!

Today, April 16th, is National Advanced Care Planning Day in Canada…have you started the conversation? Here’s a link for more information and a 3 ½ minute video produced by the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association. Please forward this video, share on your Facebook page, tweet about it and help to get the word out!

I carry a wallet card which reads,

In the event of my death please notify:

Humphrey Funeral Home and Chapel Ltd.
Toronto, ON
(416)487-4523

They have written instructions regarding my prepaid funeral arrangements.

…and they DO!

There will be few “heroic” measures taken if my quality of life is at stake. I trust my family members with these decisions.

A few years ago, following my bad-but-could-have-been-worse encounter with a taxi cab I visited a basic funeral establishment, which Humphrey later acquired, and set out the simplest of instructions for the dispensing of my body. I’ll be cremated in the cheapest, most environmentally-friendly container.

As for my ashes, I’m of two minds – they’ll either be buried in my parents’ plot at Scotch Line Cemetery on the outskirts of Perth, Lanark, County, Ontario – in any event my name is already on their stone with my other siblings – and/or scattered in Grant’s Creek (Tay River) at one of my favourite photographic settings at Allan’s Mill (not far from Scotch Line).

Here’s why:

Now, the mill and surrounding buildings are privately-owned so I wouldn’t want to have any problems with the residents (only one, a previous owner, of whom I have ever encountered when there), and Friends of the Tay Watershed might be consulted on the advisability of the sprinkling of my fairy dust in the creek!

Also from BA:

I would love your support for the bereavement and hospice work I am now doing in Scarborough. The Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities (SCHC) is hosting a Hike for Hospice on Sunday, May 6th to raise funds and inform our communities about the new Hospice and Caregiver Wellness Program (for which I am the newly hired Volunteers, Outreach and Training Specialist). Here’s how you can help:

1) Go to the link and REGISTER TO BE A WALKER http://www.schcontario.ca/support-us/featured-event/hike-for-hospice
Even if you don’t have time to get pledges, please register and just come out and support the event to help to raise awareness about our new programs in Scarborough! Bring your kids, family & friends and forward this note to anyone you think might want to know about us.

OR

2) MAKE A DONATION through Canada Helps (secure online charitable donations site) https://www.canadahelps.org/DonationDetails.aspx?cookieCheck=true. Just make sure to put HFH – Betty Ann Rutledge in the message box!

Town of Perth, Ontario moves to conserve downtown’s beautiful buildings


Perth Town Council has taken the bold, even if obviously necessary, step of creating a formal Downtown Heritage Conservation District.

It comes in the form of a by-law which outlines the boundaries of the district – North and Harvey Street (to the south) and Wilson and Drummond Streets on the west and east sides, respectively. There are also a few encroachments across these boundaries south of Harvey and north of North Streets.

A staff report to Council stated that by approving the Plan, Council would “ensure that the Town’s heritage conservation objectives and stewardship will be respected; strengthen the relationship of our heritage brand and cultural tourism goals and objectives; ensure a culturally and economically vibrant downtown core; preserve the Town’s built heritage; set the stage for the Town’s 200th Anniversary celebration in 2016; ensure that guidelines pertaining to emergency preparedness are in place in the event of a natural disaster. (Ex. Town of Goderich)”

Well done Perth!

My camera survived!


This was the last photograph I took on Sunday before going ass-over-tea-kettle into the waters of the Tay River’s Grant’s Creek at Allan Mills.

I then walked across the arched, stone bridge I’ve photographed on other occasions to get to the other side of the creek. In order to get a springtime perspective on the following photo, I needed to walk downstream along the shore, crossing a barbed-wire fence on to the next property – all of which I did without incident (the barbed-wire had hung me up momentarily over the Christmas holidays, so I knew this walk was not without risk!)

Although Craig’s partner, Claude, was with me on Sunday we were not walking together so that when I attempted to get my spring version of the winter shot, backing up to get the framing right, he only saw me fall into the river from quite a distance away.

The shock of what had happened, and of being soaked in water, prompted me to jump up with surprising agility only to stand twenty pounds heavier, soaking wet with my camera still around my neck.

I was quite prepared to sit outside the mill in the sun to dry for awhile but Claude thought it best to get me back to Mom’s, sitting on a plastic bag in the passenger seat. I convinced him to delay our arrival a few minutes with a stop at the Tim Horton’s drive-thru down the hill from Mom’s.

When we got back, hoping that Mom would be resting upstairs after an earlier long drive that afternoon (and she was), I stripped out of my clothes and Claude threw them in the washer. Then I changed into my sleep-lounge wear and we took apart my shoes (Dr. Scholl’s orthotics and all) and spread them out on the sunny driveway.

By this time Mom had come downstairs and so there was no point in sugar-coating what had happened – although I did try to make it funny. However, approaching the five year anniversary of Craig’s fall and subsequent death, and remembering that it was nine years ago that I was knocked down by a taxi which fractured a femur and wrist (the effects of which I still feel), Mom wasn’t overly amused and suggested that I needed to take more consideration of my age and abilities before doing anything so risky.

I assured her that I agreed and vowed not to go anywhere, from now on, that a wheelchair could not safely go.

As for my camera, which worried me with its water-logged works, the view-finder was fogged up and it did not respond to the “on” switch. By Tuesday, however, the fog had lifted and fresh batteries brought it back to life although the zoom function seems a bit handicapped. I’m just hoping, which I hadn’t dared to before now, that I can get some consistent performance from it between now and next month’s trip to Montréal. If not, there’s a tax refund for that.

Honouring Dad for his birthday


This Sunday, yes April Fools Day, would have been my father’s eighty-fifth birthday.

I last saw him when the whole family gathered in Perth to mark his seventy-fifth, within months of his first stroke.

It was a very happy occasion, given the warning scare we had experienced when he was sick briefly earlier in the new year.

His first grand-daughter, Kailey, was a toddler born the previous August. She and her younger brother now only know “Grandpa with the glasses”, as they used to refer to him, through photos and a treasured home video in which Dad hammed it up to continuing rave reviews.

He was born Thomas “Arnold” Chaplin on his parents’ farm in Glen Tay, a healthy long walk west of Perth in Bathurst Township of Lanark County in eastern Ontario.

He’s pictured here being held by his mother out in the back garden:

When he and Mom were married in Perth in 1952, they lived in improvised quarters with my maternal grandmother who had been widowed the previous year.

Dad’s company left Perth, not too long after Craig was born in 1955, which is how I and my two sisters came to be born near Valleyfield, Québec.

This picture is of Craig and Dad, who is holding either me or my sister:

I knew this photo, taken at Dad’s 75th birthday party, would have special significance far too soon.

Dad grew up in the simplest of surroundings during the tough years of the Great Depression. Much to the chagrin of his parents he quit school in order to begin work, as was common in those days, but remained a life-long learner doggedly pursuing French as a second language, for example, during the days following the Quiet Revolution. For that, even with dubious success, he was exceedingly well respected by the Québecois(e) with whom he worked until his retirement and his return to Perth with Mom to the same old home across from the Court House. (With the proceeds from the sale of their Valleyfield home, Mom and Dad built an addition to the back, tastefully tucked in so as not to be seen from the street where they could have their dream of a fireplace and living room to spare.)

Happy birthday Dad. The white birch we planted in your honour, close to where you died in the back yard in 2002, looked very beautiful last December!