Sunday, March 8, 2009

Squamish Stl'Atl'Imax Cultural Centre

In early February I had the privilege of accompanies an Australian delegation of government reps and aboriginal elders to the Squamish Stl'Atl'Imax Cultural Centre in Whistler.

This is a new cultural centre built to celebrate the cultures of two distinct native nations, the coast Squamish and the mountain Stl'Atl'Imix nations. Historically both nations shared this land so it's fitting that a cooperative effort has gone into the creation and maintenance of the centre. It's a beautiful post and beam long house that features a wall of glass.

Glass walls are hardly traditional but no one minds as the light flowing into the long house perfectly highlights the cultural artifacts and the amazing works of art displayed within.

Shortly after arriving we were welcomed with the singing of a Jimie Jimie song which normally would have been performed as a welcome to a Potlatch celebration. Two things stood out about the performance. When the singer lowered his head took a deep breath and broke into song, all activity in the building stopped. As the notes rose and filled the long house people frozen enraptured by this amazing voice. It was opera-matic in range and texture.

As part of the performance we were invited to dance. Our earnest but some what lacking efforts were eclipse by this one woman who danced the part of the eagle. Her performance was trans- formative. I swear for a moment she became the eagle. It was incredible.

If you visit take time to examine the dug out canoes and try to image paddling them back and forth across Georgia Strait. I'm sticking to my kayak.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sad day for Kingston General Hospital

From Kingston General Hospital there is a commanding view of Lake Ontario. In the summer sailors ply the waters practicing their skills. Some go on to be Olympians. In the winter ice boats fly across the ice in the bright but cold sun light.

Inside, in the halls of the hospital, doctors and surgeons hone their skills. Some have made significant contributions to the health and well being of not just their patients but of patients around the world.

I know this as I am one. The treatment that I am undergoing to combat bladder cancer was developed at KGH. Three years ago cardiac surgeons at KGH saved my fathers life. In February more surgeons successfully performed open heart surgery on my mother.

For these services I am grateful and indebted to KGH. In fact I had hoped to visit the cancer research facility and thank the researchers for the efforts of their predecessors. A year ago when I was diagnosed with stage two cancer I choose to focus not on the cancer but on raising money for cancer research. With the help of a great many people I solo circumnavigated the Isle of Man in a kayak and raised $5,800 cancer research.

My fight against bladder cancer began years ago at KGH where doctors developed the treatment that I under went. I wanted to encourage the present researchers to keep up the fight. It seemed to be a fitting thing to do, bringing my fight full circle back to the beginning.

But I was put off as not all is as it should be at this once great facility.

In February for six consecutive days I walked through the main entrance to KGH. Each day it was easy to imagine I was walking into an east Vancouver welfare hotel. The entrance was that dirty.

Walking up to the revolving door that traps the cold winter air is depressing enough. Just outside the door patients and visitors huddle pathetically like stoned door men puffing madly before the cold drives them back inside. Inside the revolving door the atmosphere is contaminated with the second hand smoke of the desperate.

There is worse to come. The butts of countless cigarettes lay trapped in the revolving door, not just for a shift or a day, but after a week it appears they're trapped there forever.

Through the door the once black floor mat lays there stained white with winter salt. To the right there is abandoned janitorial equipment. To the left a floor polisher or vacuum languishes unused, ironically, gathering dust.

Gathering dust is not hard to do as there is plenty to go around. Casually walk over to the window and draw your finger along the radiator top and it will come away grey.

In defence of KGH it is undergoing renovations. Unfortunately for KGH so are a lot of other hospitals across this country. In my home town the Royal Jubilee hospital has been a construction site for a good many years. Yet it's public areas never fell this low.

Further inside in the interest of good health take the stairs, but try not breathe too deeply or to focus on the sweepings and dust bunnies left behind by janitorial crews who have either been laid off, are on strike, or simply do not give a damn.

None of this is what prompted this account.

On day five walking into my mothers room a used needle was carelessly left laying on the floor of my mothers hospital room.

When I discovered the needle I put on a pair of protective gloves and disposed of it in the sharps container as I have been trained to do. In retrospect I should have brought it to the attention of the staff.

It was not until latter while talking with my family that I started thinking about how standards at the hospital had fallen in three short years.

Three years ago the staff on the recovery ward were constantly working with my father, they walked him throughout the day keeping him focused on his recovery. This time most of the staff visiting my mothers room were student nurses practising the taking of vital signs or nurses aids. Most of the walking and support provided to my mother came from family members and from a couple nurses assistant who long ago were classmates of mine. Maybe this is as it should be.

Yet I cannot help think that the sub standard face that KGH presents to the public in its lobby might just be affecting what is going on up on the wards. If standards are allowed to slide in one area how long will it be before they slip in others?

Times are tough, money and funding budgets are stretched for everyone, yadda, yadda, yadda. We've all heard it all before but I'm betting that if one person at KGH cared about the public's impression of this facility things could change. Perhaps that person will be the new CEO Leslee Thompson.

If this is the face of public health care in Eastern Ontario and if it doesn't change it won't be long until the public starts crying out for private care facilities and services.