Two years ago, I was recovering from my first surgery. I was struggling to make sense of my decision to have that surgery because it was mired in complications, and my recovery was mired in setbacks. And on this day, Canada Day, two years ago, I felt like a terrible Canadian. I was as big of a burden on our socialized healthcare system as I had ever been, and ergo, a burden on society in general. Despite people telling me otherwise, I was a drain on finite, albeit plentiful, government resources. Government resources that come from the pockets of every working Canadian. I used your money, and I’m sorry I had to.
Things have improved since 2013. I eventually made my recovery thanks to all of the caring and skilled doctors and nurses who provided their services and never left me with a bill. I owe my current place in life, and in Canadian society, to them.
A couple of weeks ago, I went back to Mount Sinai Hospital for a checkup with my surgeon. More cordial a meeting we have never had. He was happy with my progress. A pelvic pouch is not a perfect organ, and living with one will never be as straightforward as living with a well-functioning colon, but I am living better now with my pelvic pouch than I had been with my unwieldy ulcerative colitis. It was wonderful to have a happy meeting with my surgeon after so many previous meetings in which the mood was definitively somber.
After my checkup, I stopped by the nursing station on the 14th floor. A couple of the nurses remembered me, and were happy to see me dressed like a desk jockey rather than an inpatient. On my way out, I ran into my friend Alistair, who works at the hospital. Like meeting my surgeon and nurses, it was nice to see him and talk to him inside the hospital knowing I was in decent shape, that I was just in for a routine checkup, and that I wasn’t there because I needed my bowels sliced and stapled.
I stepped out of the hospital and walked along University Avenue wearing a white dress shirt, black pants, and black, pointed toe dress shoes. I remembered how I struggled to creep along the same sidewalk two years ago in my white hospital gown and blue robe and white plastic slippers. Memories came back. The pain, the vomiting, the blood transfusions, the fear, the nasal tube, the CT scans, the black output from my ostomy, the regret, the wound below my navel, the percutaneous tube in my butt cheek, the drainage bag on my thigh, the anger. I turned onto a side street, ducked into a parking lot, and started crying.
I leaned against a brick wall that had green patches of paint masking graffiti. I buried my face in the palms of my hands and sobbed. It hurt to remember. No matter the progress I’ve made, no matter that fact I’ve endured, no matter the fact I’ve survived the horrors, all those memories hurt. I pulled a handkerchief from my back pocket, wiped my eyes and blew my nose. I stepped out of the parking lot and took the photo at the top of this post. It looked like a cool shot to me. Then I made my way to work.
I cried twice while I was in hospital. Once when my doctors told me I wasn’t ready to be discharged, and once while blubbering to my girlfriend Jayee, “everything seems so far away.” The “everything” I was referring to is essentially what I’m fortunate enough to have right now – a job, an apartment, and some semblance of stability for my body. Maybe if I cried more in hospital the memories wouldn’t have hurt so much. I don’t know. But I was right in my blubbering. Everything was far away. Roughly two, difficult years away.
This evening, I’m planning on walking over to Celebration Square to watch the Canada Day fireworks. This is my first Canada Day as a resident of Mississauga, and the first Canada Day since 2007 that I’ll be able to come home to an apartment of my own after the show. It’s an apartment that I pay for with my salary from my full time job. It’s a salary that’s subject to all the usual tax deductions. I’m contributing to my country again, and I owe it to my country to do nothing less.