The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Death and life

The hospital has completed building a fence around the helicopter landing pad in front. The medical helicopter landing lights are never turned off, these days. It is the season of serious traffic accidents and train collisions and general impatience with the requirement for time to elapse in the process of going from one place to another and for roads to be shared with others. Yesterday a train was stopped yet again near another major level crossing after yet another collision, two blocks over from the low overpass which every rental truck driver somehow assumes must be taller than the "Caution" sign states. This time, at least, the train happened to stop such that it was not actually blocking the major street, only the schedule of trains all along that network of tracks: and so the buses did not additionally have to be detoured around to try to accommodate their schedules.

I live, still, in a place where one person's death can stop the most efficient of technology ... sometimes.

It is also the season of a very black hope, for those waiting for organ transplants. There is a very odd atmosphere in dialysis units during summer holiday weekends, simultaneously of cringing and of expectation, a 92% guaranteed parole from the tubes at the expense of another's death sentence. (The reminder is constant that there are no guarantees: but it remains a chance at a life freed from hospital umbilicals.) Those who perform organ transplants, those who are waiting to receive them, know well that every beautiful summer weekend will be followed within 24 hours by a sudden surgical rush hour, as organs from recently alive and exuberant youths have to be quickly fitted into new homes and new lives: and it must be done quickly, in many cases within a maximum of 72 hours, or else the tissue decays beyond viability.

Different transplant departments have different names for these weekends, all drawing upon the same black humour which acknowledges that for one person to live something resembling a normal life, another must die. But for most on the list, each such weekend of guilty hope pases without the hoped-for telephone call ... and the waiting begins anew.

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