Chopin, Roman Polanski, and a cab


Foreword

I am listening to the soundtrack from the triple Oscar-winning “The Pianist”, a film indelibly linked to the night I was struck by a taxi, fracturing my right wrist and femur. It was one of the first things I wrote about in the “Narrative Group”, at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Clinic for HIV Related Concerns (presented here as a second draft, based on some of the constructive comments I received).

“What a great film!” I thought. “No wonder Adrien Brody won the ‘Best Actor’ Oscar.” As I walked out of the Carlton I welcomed the freshness of the night air. I glanced at my watch. It wasn’t quite midnight.

Heading east along Carlton Street, the music of Chopin still ringing inside me, I hugged myself briefly to shake off the late April chill.

Eventually coming to the corner of Sherbourne Street I figured that, at my current pace, the light would be green just as I got to the intersection. I was correct.

A taxi approached, from the left in my field of vision, slowing to a stop precisely when I stepped off the sidewalk. However it moved again and as I frantically tried to get the driver’s attention, my body contorting and folding unusually upon impact, I was knocked to the pavement. Inexplicably my right shoe popped off.

“Owww…oh fuck…oh my God!” I yelled.

The cabbie got out and rushed to my side. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you,” he shouted above me, in an accent I could not readily identify.

“Don’t touch me!” I yelled as I noticed the man reaching down towards me.

A police car’s lights flashed – almost immediately, it seemed to me – and the cruiser sped into the intersection, effectively blocking traffic.

I continued to moan, lying on my side. A cop knelt down and said something like, “It’s okay, Sir. Help is on the way.”

(It should be noted that I was to have several conversations with emergency personnel over the next few minutes and so it is difficult to accurately recall precisely who said what, even whether it was a male or female voice.)

“Can you tell me your name, Sir?” the officer inquired. (I learned, much later, that his name was Constable Kell.)

“Kenn Chaplin,” I replied.

“I need to ask you a few questions”, continued the officer. “Where are you coming from, Sir?”

“The Carlton Cinema”, I said.

“What did you see?” he asked. (Clearly this small-talk was more about seeing how lucid I was than any interest the police officer might have had in getting a film review from me.)

‘The Pianist’“, I replied, immediately self-conscious of a sense of embarrassment, perhaps even internalized homophobia, in declaring this choice of films to see – however neurotic such insecurities are.

“So you haven’t had anything to drink then?” the constable asked, confirming my suspicions that he was merely trying to establish that I had my wits about me at the time I was struck.

“No,” I moaned.

The shriek of an ambulance, coming from one direction, and a fire-truck, approaching from another, put an end to our conversation.

Whadda we got?” a paramedic asked from overhead, still trying to tie up a plastic gown with his latex gloves. (This was at the height of the SARS crisis in Toronto.)

“Better get a back board”, came the reply from someone else.

“Where does it hurt?” a voice asked.

“My back, my leg, my arm,” I quickly assessed. Frankly I couldn’t think of any place that did not hurt at that point.

“We’re getting a back board,” someone said to another.

“Oh great, citytv is here”, I groaned, as the relative darkness was flooded with a powerful camera light. “Wouldn’t you know?”

“Yep, they’re everywhere,” someone laughed.

“What’s your name, Sir?” I was asked for what would be the second of many times that night.

“Kenn Chaplin,” I replied.

“Where do you live, Sir?”

“85 Bleecker Street,” I recited.

“Can you tell me what day it is?” I was asked.

“April 29th, well I guess it’s the 30th, now,” I replied.

“That’s good. Any allergies?” the questions continued.

“Just sulfa,” I said, adding, “and, just so you know, I have HIV. If you reach into my back pocket my wallet has all my hospital cards and everything else you’ll need, like a list of my medications.” (At the suggestion of one of the nurses who would speak to me over the following days and weeks I now have a Medic Alert® bracelet and wallet card.)

“I got it”, someone else said, as I felt the wallet being lifted out.

“Any chance I could go to ‘the General’? That’s where my records are,” I asked.

“Sorry, guy”, was the reply, “‘St. Mike’s’ is the closest trauma unit downtown.”

“Looks like a fracture of the femur”, I heard someone say to a colleague, “and probably the wrist, too.”

“So this is what a broken bone feels like!” I said, including myself in the conversation, feeling a giddiness I suppose comes with shock. “I have always been curious about that!”

“Well now you know!” a voice chuckled from overhead. “Now you know.”

“Okay, Mr. Chaplin, we’re going to try to get you on to the back board. It’s going to hurt but it should stabilise you a bit.”

“On three”, one voice said to another. “One, two, three.”

I groaned, taking in a sharp breath, as the board was pushed under me, my thin frame feeling the straight surface’s hard angles.

“Okay, good”, a paramedic said, panting slightly through his mask. “You’re doing fine. Now we’re going to lift you on to the stretcher.”

I felt my senses flush, the way one’s stomach leaps on a roller coaster, as I was suspended briefly, then laid down on the mattress of the stretcher.

“How’re you doing, Mr. Chaplin?” Constable Kell asked, having returned – I surmised – from taking an initial statement from the cabbie.

“Okay, I guess,” was my reply, verbalising much more succinctly than I was processing my thoughts.

“Mr. Chaplin, can you tell me again what happened?” confirming my still-intact journalistic instincts that the constable was probably reconciling statements from the cab driver and me.

“Well,” I began, “I was crossing on my green light, and the cab stopped on his red, then he kept going and turned right into me. The last thing I saw was the back of his head as he looked in the other direction.”

This was a conversation I would repeat – or perhaps merely conclude – with Constable Kell later at the hospital, although I did not recognise him there.

“Who are you?” I asked him emphatically, in the Trauma Unit, thinking the questions to be a bit odd for a nurse or a doctor to be asking.

“I’m Constable Kell”, he chuckled from behind his mask. “I’m the investigating officer. We spoke earlier at the accident scene.”

“Ohhh”, I said, thinking “that explains it.”

Christmas 2003


It has been another year in which I was glad that we are unable to see into the future and, while I haven’t double-spaced this, feel free to read between the lines.

The year began ominously enough with yet another George W. Bush war, this time in Iraq – a country now so “liberated” that Air Force One flew into Baghdad for a top secret Thanksgiving with its lights off and window-shades drawn!

My contribution to the pre-war demonstrations – which now seem a life-time ago – included a little bit of drumming, when I wasn’t marching with my church family. I had bought a couple of djembe drums and joined a bunch of fellow hippies, or latter day hippie wannabes, in “Drums of Dissent”.

Now I only use the drums for some physiotherapy on my wrist.

Just after midnight on April 30 I was walking home from a bargain Tuesday movie night (“The Pianist” was certainly deserving of its Oscars) when, at a traffic light close to home, I was struck by a taxi whose driver, while looking left for oncoming traffic, proceeded into the intersection with me folding onto the pavement under his right bumper. Fortunately he wasn’t going too fast, having stopped at his red light, and he soon heard me yelling and jumped out of his car to help me. At that point I didn’t want his help. A police cruiser was a few cars behind in traffic and immediately set about closing off the intersection. It seemed like no time at all before more police, a fire truck and ambulance had arrived – oh and, of course, CITY-TV.

In my state of shock, and after a preliminary diagnosis, I managed to say, “So this is what broken bones feel like!”. I was loaded onto a back-board and taken to St. Michael’s Hospital. I honestly don’t recall much of my time in the Trauma Unit, other than a lot of talk over me about my femur. It turns out my right hip and right radius (that long bone which moves from side to side in the forearm) were fractured and both would require surgery.

This all happened between SARS I and SARS II. Everyone was gowned and masked, from the firefighters, paramedics and police who came to my immediate assistance to the nurses and doctors who treated me at the Trauma Unit of St. Mike’s. Only after I was moved up into a room did the masks begin to come off – for some. I remember lying in Emergency when someone, all gowned and masked, came in to talk to me. He asked me very detailed questions about what had happened – odd, I thought, for someone dressed up like a doctor. He was, in fact, the investigating police officer. It was difficult to know who was who under all that plastic and paper!

Thursday’s surgeries fitted my wrist and hip with metal plates and long support screws, after which my forearm was put in a cast for six weeks. While I was fortunate to be able to have several masked visitors, SARS precautions were lowered and raised fairly unpredictably and there was an outright ban on visits for a good part of my stay at Bridgepoint Health, where I was put through my paces with physiotherapy from May 13 to June 6. (I remember all these dates as if they were extremely important in the grand scheme of things.) As I recall Mom and Uncle George were not required to be masked when they drove up one day. It was not too long, though, until SARS II had hit part of St. Michael’s and everyone there, or recently discharged from there, was being isolated.

In my first few days at St. Michael’s I held out faint hope of using a cane and being able to watch the Pride Parade towards the end of June from somewhere along the route, and my discouragement had nothing to do with SARS. It really seemed like a long-shot during those first few nights of being turned (and doing a fair bit of yelling) in my bed while the linens were changed. Well, I did one better. Instead of watching from the sidelines I rode on a float (with the retired Anglican Archbishop of Toronto, no less.)

It was not too long before I had switched from pushing a very tall walker (so that my forearm could rest elevated) to using only a cane. Despite outpatient physiotherapy until early September I still feel unsteady enough to want a cane with me when I’m outside the apartment. I can make it through the choir processional each week without the cane but there have been a few times when some members of the congregation of Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church may not realize how close I have come to grabbing their arm for support along the way. It is support I could count on, I know, as they showed in so many ways through the spring and summer – and ever since. My wrist remains somewhat locked up, in terms of range of motion, but fortunately I am left-handed so the practical restrictions are minimal. Over-all, the biggest difference I now see is the general fatigue I feel, coupled with – or perhaps caused by – difficulty sleeping at night. It’s almost as if I feel safer being awake.

Into all this drama, in fact not too long before it had begun, came the birth of my first nephew, a younger brother for my niece. This, of course, was a very happy occasion for the family and I look forward to watching him grow – even if some of us can’t keep up to him!

To round out the archives of injury, and so that no one feels left out, my niece broke her arm playing last summer – a bright pink cast not bothering her in the least – and Wesley, the terrier Craig and Claude brought home from Portland eleven years ago, was struck by a car this fall and, after some orthopaedic surgery of his own, has lived to tell about it!

Lynn is back with Corrections Canada after completing a pre-Easter (former Solicitor General Wayne Easter) appointment to the National Parole Board. She and Joslyn are missing their minister, Peter Short, who they were – of course – pleased was elected Moderator.

Mom’s “adult education”, which this year included a series of pastoral care workshops, has taken a new twist since she learned this fall that she is diabetic. This means there ought to be a lot less Christmas baking going on but, somehow, I think I will get more than my fair share – even if I, too, have to try something called moderation.

A fringe benefit of my time rehabilitating was having my apartment re-painted. The most labour-intensive thing I did was go through some colour tabs and wheel some of the paint home in my bundle-buggy. Come to think of it I didn’t even have to do much of that!

When I haven’t been self-absorbed in the healing process and the on-going legal work (the cab driver was charged with careless driving) it has been a terrific year to watch my favourite sport – politics.

My local Member of Provincial Parliament, George Smitherman, became Health Minister when the Tories were finally kicked out of office so, while I voted in the spirit of my grand-uncle Lloyd (the only other New Democrat I can find in the family tree), at least the results overall were positive in that the Conservatives were sent packing. So don’t blame me as the gloss already starts to wear off the McGuinty government.

In November my choice for Mayor and City Councillor both won so, politically, it’s been a pretty good year. The next challenge will be to get Jack Layton elected in Toronto-Danforth.

With Jean Chrétien’s exit, satirists now have something better to mock (and this became the joke of currency early in the year) – the same-sex marriage of the Progressive Conservatives and Canadian Alliance.

The “accident” (if that’s truly what careless driving leads to) contributed to my postponing plans I had to study at the Gestalt Institute. I just didn’t feel up to it and, at this point, can only hope I will try again. In the meantime, early next year, I’ll be part of a “narrative” writing group at Mount Sinai Hospital for people with HIV/AIDS. I read about it in a magazine and thought it looked like something I’d like to be part of. I am especially pleased that it will be once a week in the early afternoon, my favourite – or shall I say my most alert – time of day. Truth be told I just don’t have the energy that I used to.

This was the year of SARS, the hottest summer in 55 years, the hydro blackout, a “mad cow” crisis blamed – like the Chicago fire – on one cow, destructive wildfires – and then floods – in B.C., and tree-toppling, road-caving Hurricane Juan down east. The year seemed, at times, like something out of The Revelation. And the death rattle of AIDS continued.

More than 8,000 people worldwide die of AIDS every day – that’s about 30 percent more than the entire population of Perth. Ninety-five percent of the deaths are in the world’s poorest countries. I heard Stephen Lewis speak at the University of Toronto last winter, and he told of visiting a small infirmary in southern Africa for less than an hour during which time three patients died. It’s mind-boggling. The fact that it is now preventable (and I’m living proof that it is treatable), while life-saving action by governments remains so tentative, is scandalous.

I sometimes think it’s my anger that keeps me going. As the U.N.’s Kofi Annan said in an interview, “AIDS is a weapon of mass destruction.” How inspiring it was, then, to watch (live on the internet) Nelson Mandela at his 46664 concert in Cape Town. Mandela lends his prisoner number to a website, souvenirs and worldwide petition in the fight for freedom against AIDS. The message was clear – the solution is political. I can hardly wait for the release of the concert DVD.

The United Church of Canada is trying to have an impact on AIDS worldwide with the Beads of Hope campaign as well as the Signatures of Hope petition – something to think about as we head out to the malls to deplete some of our wealth. I am proud of our family’s traditional snub at consumerism. Except for the children, who we are happy to spoil just a little bit, we draw names among the adults and exchange just one gift.

I am really looking forward to Christmas week in Perth. Lynn was up on government business late this week, and had a visit with Mom, so she will be in New Brunswick, but the rest of us will be there – maybe all at the same time – for at least a few days around the holiday. It seems as though this may change, beginning next year, as my niece and nephew make it easier for Santa (not to mention their Mom and Dad) by having as many of us as possible out to their home.

All the best for 2004!

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