Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Through the Perley gates

I spent the afternoon with two of my favorite people in a resort for people who are on the mend.

My friend Donnabelle has been incarcerated for the crime of having a split hip that had to be pinned back together. She can't go home, as she lives alone, and doesn't want to be found smelling bad and prone on the floor like a distempered dead hamster should she miss the commode. So she's recuperating at the Rideau Perley, the place where all the war heroes go to smoke their final cigarettes.

I lived near the Perley for years but never got a chance to visit. It's a beautiful facility with well-manicured gardens and picture windows, but it's still a nursing home. They do a good job keeping the place neat and tidy, but there are the familiar smells of rubbing alcohol, mixed with old farts.

I know the smells well. I spent my youth working in a nursing home telling jokes to sad little old ladies while spinning the Bingo popper. I love seniors, so a visit to the Perley was, in fact, a treat for me.

I met my friend Suzanne at Starbucks and we found a back way in, cheating several officials out of checking our credentials should we be criminals or plague-carriers. Our door was also next to a smoking facility, where Suzanne and I sat and waited for Donna to be finished physiotherapy. Got to talking to a young guy named Sabel who shared a lighter with Suzanne. Sabel was on the disabled list with a broken elbow, the result of a misstep on a staircase. It reminded me that all of us are one metric foot from near disaster.

We might have smoking regs all over this town, but nobody told the Perley. Second hand smoke at the Perley is like dog hair at my house. Gets all over everything. I've never been a smoker but I've always liked smokers. They are more interesting than non-smokers and have all the good gossip.

I noticed that many of the oldsters seem to actually live in their wheelchairs, which are outfitted with upholstery and flags of various vintage. The Perley is cheerful, with everybody saying "howdy do" as you pass them. I met one lady who worked on Parliament Hill back in the day, when the place was civilized and everybody cheated on their expenses with gusto, not like today.

The place is full of ancient inmates in revved up wheelchairs playing bumper cards. Getting used to her new wheels, Donnabelle confessed to nearly running over a 140-year-old attached to an oxygen tank. It occurred to me that instead of fruit, I should have brought her elbow guards.

No matter. Donna. Suzanne and I were out to have a little fun. We brought her a few party favors which might not be considered, let's say, regulation, but fortunately we weren't patted down at the door or made to strip and squat to ensure no contraband entered the place.

We spent a good couple of hours jawing about the good old days and it was just like we were back at the press club all over again. That's what is great about visiting people in the hospital who aren't actually sick. They don't spend their time whining or crying while you sit there wishing you were at the dentist instead. They're happy to see you.

Anyway, I'm back here being eaten by hounds, forever grateful that it isn't me at the Perley. Also grateful for old friends in bad wheelchairs.


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