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Notes from the Ground Floor

I set up camp in the Ottawa General Hospital to be with my Dad. Everyday is different. I leave every night and arrive every morning not knowing what the day will bring for my dad and for the other folks I meet each day.

Some days I read to my Dad from Alistair Macleod’s short stories other days I feed him strawberries and chocolate milk. Some days I sketch him as he sleeps, and other days I simply hang out while he struggles in and out of sleep.

When I am not in his room I am riding the elevator with the world, with humanity raw and tender, with a billion human stories in that small miraculous contraption taking us up and down each day.

I tell dad he is not alone in his suffering. And I wonder if this is comforting to him or not. Sometimes I share with him some of the stories I am told and hear all around me and sometimes I don’t tell him. Like I didn’t tell him about the youth man I met who is in the hospital after a suicide attempt and I don’t tell him about the young woman speaking into the phone describing the large jelly fish mass in her mother’s belly that the doctors could do nothing about.

I did tell him about the young woman outside the hospital doors vomiting and people walking right by her and the purse I picked up and the cigarette she begged me to light and the smile she gave me as she took the first pull. I do tell him about the woman pulling her IV stand into the stairwell and seconds later hearing Sinead Oconnor’s, Nothing Compares to U belting from underneath the stairwell door. “My therapy,” she tells me. I don’t tell him about the cancer that has invaded her gallbladder and piece of her liver and I don’t tell him her mother’s residential school story or the atrocious and tender survival stories of her own life. I do tell him about the long strong hug we shared and the blessings we swapped. I do tell him about the Syrian Elder woman walking the halls with a baby doll wedged in the crook of her arm conversing out loud in her beautiful rolling Arabic tongue, how she stopped me and gave two gentle slaps to my shoulder and smiled.

I do tell him how honoured and blessed i am to be here with him and with all the other folks here in Ottawa’s General Hospital connected by the elevators we ride, the sitting rooms we wait, the stairwells we meet, the hallways we smile, the humanity we share.

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