Yes, Like Any Family We Had Chores

It has cooled down a bit which made a good wheel worth it. It was warmer in my condo than it was outside so I went wheeling. I had planned to attend the concert in Tomkins Park anyway so an early start to be there for the 12:30 performance. So again thank you 17th Avenue Business Association, another great Sunday concert in the park. Now that I am home, anxiously awaiting the premiere of the new House of the Dragon, I will do a quick update on growing up in a hospital and the role of my “polio family”.

Old black and white shot of the, then Junior Red Cross Hospital for Crippled Children with an arrow pointing out my room, top floor, farthest room in the SW quadrant
The arrow was my room

As a way to make the kids in the hospital feel more like a family than an institute (as we understand them today) we did have “chores”. Saturday morning was chore time before play time. I spend a lot of Saturday mornings on my hands and knees cleaning up the black tread marks left over following a week of wheelchair racing in the hallways. Truth be told, I would have had more chores there than I would have at my community family home. In the community no one expected a “kid on crutches” to cut the lawn or take out garbage, etc but in the hospital we all had chores (shades of the movie Annie).

Once chores were finished we could all head for the solarium for fun and games. The solarium is that long room (took up the entire north wing of that building and had a small fresh air deck (discernible in the picture). We also had an outdoor space over looking the city facing east but that required staff time to accompany us. It was all fenced and overlooked the local Mormon Stake House, the largest in Calgary at the time. Anyway there was always ways to get fresh air.

In those days I believe we had one TV for each floor that could be moved from unit to unit when needed. We didn’t really watch much TV (lots of reading particularly comic books) but many other genre as well. I was ten years old reading things by Edgar Casey, Isaac Asimov, etc but, for those times when you may have been stuck in bed for months on end, I gobbled up reading materials. These all went into the foundations of my developing belief system.

One of the popular TV series of the late fifties and into 1961 was a British take on King Arthurs court called Ivanhoe. This was an early Roger Moore series, long before his role as a James Bond. One of the games we would play in the solarium was wheelchair “jousting”. The idea was for each of the jousters to get to each end of the solarium then race towards each other with the purpose to push the other kids wheelchair over. I was pretty good at that game (there were no nursing staff over seeing our solarium playtime). There was one kid I remember very well, Lloyd.

Lloyd, a year younger than me so probably ten, had been inadvertently shot by his younger brother with their fathers shotgun. It was a very close distance shot but his one leg (can’t remember which one) was mangled. He spend months in bed having that leg put back together so by the time he could use a wheelchair he was overjoyed to be able to get out of bed and play with the rest of us. Of course, on a Saturday morning, he wanted to get in on this “jousting” and I was his competition. Lloyd was not a big kid (none of us really were, we were kids) but he had also just spend about six months in bed having repeated surgical procedures to get that leg back together. Without even giving it any thought (I was 11, what did I know) as we passed each other midway in the solarium I grabbed him and, basically, threw him over my body to the floor. Broke the leg they had just spend months rebuilding. Needless to say the staff wasn’t impressed but my reputation as a “hellion” just continued to grow.

Saturdays was also “candy day”. It didn’t matter how much candy you might get from your parents, it all went to a cupboard in the nursing station. Every Saturday we would get a dixie cup size of candy which we would usually squirrel away for the Saturday afternoon movie. I can’t remember if it was the Kiwanis or Kinsman but some service club always brought a projector into the solarium so we could pretend we were at some Calgary theatre. There wasn’t an Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, etc beach movie we didn’t see.

We did have an option, the “Fresh Air Bus”. An early version of a school bus with large windows so we could go touring the City. I generally opted for the movie. The movie would start following the traditional post lunch “rest period”. The daily rest period was always an hour and, from what I could tell, (we had to make the effort of staying on our bed), this was a time period where nurses would take their lunch breaks, etc. No unions, no real labour code so things just happened.

It was also right after each meal of the day when the staff distributed meds as ordered and did the (we had 4 each day) rounds to check pulses as well as take temperatures. It was routine plus the daily check list of bodily functions, “Terry did you have a bowel movement today”. Once all of that was done it was, as they say, off to the movies, beds and all. Somethings just never change and gender separation was alive and well then as well. The girls in beds were lined up on one side of the room and the boys on the other. The service club projectionist would sit, with a nursing staff, in the middle with his canisters of 32mm reels of film. As each reel wound down, we would busily munch on our container of candy while he looped in the next reel into the projector. Once the movie was over, usually timed to end just as the “fresh air” bus got back we would all head back to our rooms and await the arrival of the steam carts that held our meals of the time.

The nurses would serve out the plates, put them on a tray and each kid had their meal taken to them. This would be done by the next shift of nurses, the evening shift. As soon as that meal was over (usually by 5pm) the nurse would be back with her “check board”, thermometer, blood pressure cuffs and stethoscope so the process could be repeated.

About once a month we might get (for the older kids which meant 12 to 16) a Saturday evening dance courtesy of some Calgary garage band. It would be held in the solarium so there was lots of room. The one that sticks out the most was a local band called the “Shades of Blonde”. That was really “uptown” for a group of kids in the hospital. On a couple of occasions my sister and a friend of hers would show up in their white go-go boots to provide dancing like any teen dance of the day. This was a time when most community centres provided Saturday evening teen dances and the proliferation of “garage bands” swept through the city. It was a form of normalization for the time. With all of that said, bed time was still 9pm.

That would begin when the evening staff started their snack cart at the end of the hall with the youngest kids. Snacks tended to be milk, a couple of digestive cookies (a break was getting Arrowroots rather than digestives and, maybe, lukewarm chocolate milk). By the time they got to the older kids (like 12 and up) all the other kids were bedded, medicated with whatever had been ordered, (antibiotics, supplementaries, etc) and tucked in. This process continued until every kid on the unit was bedded.

Sunday was a repeat except that was bath day (only one bathtub on each floor) with fresh clothes (we had fresh clothes every day but Sunday was a bit more polished) parent visiting day. From 2pm until 3:30 your parents would be visiting, they could visit us at bedside or we could go down to the solarium. One end of the solarium was like a little terrarium filled with plants and large easy chairs, some kind of like love seats so a mother could “snuggle” with her little precious. Sunday was also pop day so we all got either a coke, an orange crush or grape crush. Options were limited but everybody liked the pop day.

Once visiting time was over it was, again, every kid for themselves, either some board or card game. Maybe reading but always checking out what new comic so and so’s parent had brought that week. Sunday evening would usually involve some community church group in for a service of some kind, and you couldn’t skip it. Traditionally it was either a catholic service (the Grey Nuns had originally opened the hospital) or some United protestant church would provide a Minister and choir. Our exposure to religion ended the week and we would all head back to our rooms, chatting away waiting for the sound of that one wobbly wheel on the evening snack cart. The polio family were the pioneers of organized healthcare plus contributors to the “maintenance” of the house. So with “chores” and the weekend out of the way we would get ready to start the process all over again while discussing who was having what surgery that week.

And with that, good nigh John-boy, night pa, night ma, back to Waltons Mountain…

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