Tuesday, 26 July 2011


Before I go very far with stories from my life experiences, I should write about something that has marked my life since the very beginning.

In February 1936 an ice storm struck the Fraser Valley in B.C. At that time Mom went into labor and a neighbor drove her and Dad the seven miles into Mission and the hospital. I was born in the early hours of February 17. From what I was told, my birth was usual and I was a healthy baby.

However, two and a half months later I became very ill and was diagnosed with severe sinusitis. Again a neighbor with a car came to the rescue and I was rushed to the Vancouver General Hospital where I remained for four months. My folks lived in Ruskin, some 35 miles east of there but, fortunately, Granddad's youngest sister and husband owned a home in North Vancouver and Mom was able to stay there for much of the time.

The illness pushed my left eye part way out of the socket leaving the left side of my face disfigured. In 1943 our family moved to the Dawes Hill area of Coquitlam from where there was a commuter bus line that took us into New Westminster. Mom and Dad were referred to a Dr Bowles - an eye, ears, nose and throat specialist. I was examined and it was determined that plastic surgery could be undertaken (this was during World War II when many of the best surgeons were in Europe with the army) and, perhaps, the sight in that eye could be restored.

There were four operations undertaken at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster. I underwent these operations between 1943 and 1945. I missed a lot of school but still passed each of my grades!

Yes - I loathed the ether used, was not at all impressed by the pain and discomfort, but I do remember some amusing incidents.

That was when the wards were huge rectangular rooms with the beds arranged along each side and in an oval across the far end. On two occasions my neighbor was the same boy - he kept falling out of trees and/or haylofts breaking an arm each time!

My baby sister, Babs, was born at the end of 1943 and Mom called upon both Alda and I to help her. Sometimes I would feed Babs her pablum or jello and would carefully copy what I thought that Mom did when she fed her. Mom always tested the food for heat by putting the spoon to her lips before giving the contents to Babs. Therefore I did the same - only I put the spoon into my mouth first much to the horror of a nurse who caught me!

After I came home from the first operation all the neighborhood kids came by
to see me. Unbeknown to everybody, there had been a chicken pox outbreak in the hospital so, unwittingly, I gave each of these kids the germs - and a brief vacation from school!

After the fourth operation my face was still disfigured and remained that way until after I graduated from high school and became an articled student in a Chartered Accountant's office. This was in New Westminster. The principle member of the firm was Howard Chadwick who, due to his position in the community, served on the Board of a few community groups one of which was a private medical/dental insurance company. Also, his firm did the auditing and I was given that society as one of my 'clients'. I would go there for a week or so each month reconciling bank accounts and preparing the books for the monthly financials. I really liked the woman who managed the organization and she me. Also, our family physician served on that Board as well. It was proposed that, while the insurance company did not cover 'cosmetic surgery', they would cover the cost of further surgery for me. I was referred to a plastic surgeon in Vancouver and he agreed to do two operations (one each summer during my vacations in 1958 and 1959).

The experience was not pleasant but did produce some funny incidents. During the first operation (in St Paul's Hospital in Vancouver which, at that time, was operated by an order of Roman Catholic nuns) it included a bone graft from my hip to below my eye. This was painful, A day or two after the operation the Mother Superior came by with some reading material by which to occupy myself while in my hospital bed. One of these was a Readers Digest magazine containing a condensation of Farley Mowatt's book "The Dog That Wouldn't Be" which is a hilarious story - but, laughing hurt like heck! I believe that that was why the good nun passed me that magazine - it was part of the healing process!

The second operation consisted of skin grafts to my upper cheek and just below the eye. The scar tissue was quite raw looking.

I became friends with another younger male patient who was recovering from broken bones. One evening neither of us had visitors so we decided to go for a stroll in the entrance hallway downstairs. It was near the end of visiting hours but we encountered three young men who were hurrying in to see a friend. One of them stopped us and exclaimed, "What the 'H' happened to you guys"? My companion snapped back, "We had a fight!" We didn't notice a group of nuns who were on their way to Chapel. They overheard the exchange and one of them, in passing, smiled at my companion, patted him on the arm, and said, "God Bless You!"

When I visited my grandparents home my Granddad would challenge me to games of cribbage and I became quite a good player. While in St Paul's I played cribbage a lot. During one of my stays one of the nurses came by to play. As she was supposed to be on duty she always pulled the drapes around the bed. Usually I won but one day the cards went her way. As she moved her peg into the last hole she let out a whoop of delight. The curtains were whipped open and there stood the crankiest of the staff physicians. Glaring at the poor nurse he bellowed, "Don't you ever let me hear you say that you have too much work to do!" She looked as if she wanted to crawl under the bed and hide!

Many of my friends probably have never noticed the scar tissue around my left eye but - to me - it has always been visible.

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