The cancer diaries: Civic Hospital edition

I love going to the Ottawa Hospital. It's like going to Cheers! where everybody knows your name. If you get lost, a nice volunteer or even a doctor, will actually walk you to your destination. If you lose your parking ticket, you merely have to summon a nice young man who will help you out.

It's not the same at the Ottawa Civic, where I went with Jennette today, not the same at all. First of all, you can't find parking. Second, they tell you to follow the blue dots and they're actually purple. And nobody helps you. Not even the volunteers who seem to scatter when someone shoots them a quizzical look.

I've actually been flummoxed going there and often thought of calling an ambulance and paying the $45 fee, or hitching a ride on the orange helicopter. I'd probably be sent to jail for mischief, but hey! it isn't against the law to fantasize.

Sometimes you just have to go to the Civic, and there's no getting out of it.

What's most disturbing about the Civic is the number of criminals to be encountered. I once took my 11-year-old daughter Marissa there for the allergy clinic and we found ourselves surrounded by guards with guns and orange draped prisoners in shackles. Turns out the allergy clinic also substitutes for the AIDS clinic on occasion.

Today, we were at the dentist whom Jennette had to see prior to her radiation therapy. It should have been a harmless enough visit except for the fact I had to sit next to a drug addict. I'm not judgy. I take people to the detox centre on a volunteer basis and I know most of the drunks in town. I didn't surmise she was a drug addict; she told me.

"I'm here to get all my teeth out," she smiled.

"That's what happens when you're an addict. Your teeth get all rotten, see?" she said, pointing to the gaps in her smile. I simply thought she'd come from a floride free neighborhood.

We got talking about the various programs -- she's in a harm reduction program -- and she gave me some advice for my detox friends. Then she showed me her track marks. Pretty impressive.

Jennette asked me into the examining room, where she got some horrible news and fun facts on radiation therapy. (I now have evidence that the treatment is worse than the disease. More on that another time.)

When we got out of our appointment, my little crackhead friend was wolfing down a sandwich.

"God, I didn't realize it, but I was starving!" she remarked, eyeing a pudding and some sort of hummus and pretzel ensemble. Then she leaned in.

"I just stole all of this from the cafeteria," she said between munches. "I do it all the time. I should have got a drink! Oh well, maybe next time."

She went on to tell me about her illustrious past, her criminal activity and her adventures in prostitution.

"You know that doctor from here, the one who got caught with a prostitute? I saw that go down. He always used to come to my corner."

She giggled, then added, "You'd think with all his money, he would have hired an escort! I guess some of them get off on the chance they'll get caught."

And then, alas, Jennette was finished her paper work, and began to walk out in stunned silence. It was a truly terrible day in Jennetteville, so bad, I can't even tell you what happened. Let's just say it involves another mouth surgery before her radiation.

We walked together to find our car, looking both ways in case we encountered a pick pocket, or a street thug. It was a sad day for both of us.

Thank Goodness the Civic Hospital provides the entertainment.


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