The stitches incident is not the only time I went to Kelowna General Hospital. In fact, I spent quite a bit of time there, either as a visitor, or a patient. My mother had problems with her feet that often required trips to the hospital for surgery.
Anyway, one evening in 1977 or 1978, dad took my brother and I to the hospital to visit mom. They had very strict rules about visitors. We couldn’t just go up to mom’s room. We had to wait – for a looooonnnngggg time. I’m sure that the waits were 2-3 hours and sometimes longer. The waiting area was this carpeted, dimly lit formal area with couches and small side-tables that held all kinds of boring: National Geographic, Macleans, Chatelaine etc. – absolutely nothing of interest to a 6 or 7-year-old kid. There was literally nothing to do there. Outside this small carpeted area was the inviting mystery of the hard terrazzo floors painted with all these coloured lines running down them into long hallways and banks of elevators going to mysterious places. However, their exploration was blocked by a stern head nurse, dressed in her white uniform and pointy hat, who sat at a large teak desk across from the waiting area. “No you kids cannot go there!” would come from her when we tried to sneak away from the waiting area to go explore the halls. So naturally we took to the outside of the hospital and began exploring the rather large gardens that made up its grounds.
At first we went around to the large green lawns located on the right side of the hospital building. There were some large trees on those lawns and so it seemed like the perfect place to play tag and it was also that side of the hospital where the ambulances pulled in to unload patients being transferred to the hospital. We got a pretty good view of what was going on and at one point we saw an ambulance pull up and these two paramedics unload an old man with white hair who was sitting up in the stretcher with a large oxygen mask covering his face. I pointed and said to Mike “I wonder what happened to him”. As I said this, I heard a booming voice from behind us say. “What are you kids doing here? Go back to your parents and get out of here!” We didn’t turn around to face the authority figure behind us, but ran off back to the waiting room where dad was.
After about 10 minutes of being incredibly bored there, Mike decided that the mysterious man would probably be long gone and it was time to explore another part of the grounds. So this time we headed out to the lawns in the back of the hospital building. Here we could see the back operations of the hospital kitchen where trucks were taking food into the kitchen and a man wearing a paper cook’s hat and chef’s outfit was wheeling a large dolly of what must have been garbage over to a dumpster. For some reason we found this interesting and we knew we probably weren’t supposed to be there either. Just as we were about to leave to go explore the gardens on the left side of the building, we hear the same booming voice again: “I thought I told you boys to get out of here! Beat it!”
This time we were a little more annoyed than scared. We headed back to the waiting room with me remarking “I thought he was gone Mike!”. “I guess not” he said. We tried to amuse ourselves, but we just couldn’t sit still in that waiting room, and there was nothing to look at but the dark wood paneled walls, broken up by a few random paintings. So this time we decided that for sure this man, who we had still not seen, could not possibly catch us a third time. So now we went back to the lawns on the left side of the building. Right next to the main lawn was a large garden bed that ran its entire length, which had various wildflowers planted in it. A long road ran adjacent to it that came off the main road in Kelowna on which the hospital was located. We played tag for a long time as it started to get dark. Nobody came by and it seemed like we were finally free of the boredom that had had its grip on us for so long. After we were tired of tag, we decided to go for a bit of a walk down the adjacent street and walked past some of Kelowna’s oldest houses. One of them I remember had what appeared to be an old steam shovel in the front yard – the kind you would imagine existed in the late 19th century. It was very weird. Just was we were returning to the lawns to play some more tag, though we hear the voice from behind us again. “I thought I told you to beat it! Get out of here!!”. This time we turned around, but the man was walking away from us. He was about 6 feet tall and was wearing a tan 3-piece suit. In fact, from the back, he looked a lot like Peter Parker from Spiderman, with his short dark brown hair and his build.
My brother, never one to pass up an opportunity to have some fun at my expense, says to me:
Mike: “Chrissy, next time he tells us to leave, I need you to say something to him.”
Me: “What do you want me to say?”
Mike then told me. I didn’t understand why he wanted me to say the words he did.
Mike: “Chrissy, you know how mom is always telling you to lower you voice and watch your tone?”
Me: “Yes Mikey.”
Mike: “Well don’t worry about that this time. Just talk normally, using your normal voice, okay? All you are doing is telling him to stop giving us a hard time because we aren’t doing anything wrong, okay?”
Me: “Ok Mike.”
We walked back to join dad in the waiting room. Just as we did though, the stern head nurse called out my dad’s name and said that we could go up now. “Use the first elevator on the left” she said. Finally we got to go up to mom’s room to see her. She was groggy but well enough to talk. We both told her about this mysterious man who we could not see, who kept telling us to get lost. Mom told us to be polite and respect the rules of the hospital.
Me: “I will mom. It’s ok. Mike here has told me exactly what to say the next time we see him. He thinks it will make the man stop bothering us and let us keep playing.”
Mike sat there in complete silence, which seemed odd to me. After about 10-15 minutes, mom asked us to go back downstairs so that she could spend some time alone with dad. She gave each of us a big hug and then she reached for her purse. She fished around and brought out some coins. She handed me two large quarters and a nickel, and then handed Mike the same thing.
Mom: “These are for you kids to get a little something at the candy machines of the gift shop downstairs. You have both been so patient.”
I looked down at the coins. My nickel was different and weird in that it was not round, but had all these straight sides. It was a brighter silver colour than any I had seen before. I was curious. I looked at one side and instead of the Queen it had a man. Then I looked at the other side. It had a large torch in between a “V”and 1944.
Me: “Dad, who is this man?
Dad: “An old king son.”
That satisfied me for now, though it normally wouldn’t as I would still have wanted to know who he was and why the nickel wasn’t round like all the others I had seen. It was time to go and on this rare occasion I recognized this the first time my mom spoke to us, without having to be reminded. Mike and I went back downstairs and decided to go visit the gift shop. Once in there we spotted a series of shelves that had open boxes of candy:
· Licorice strings for 1c each.
· Marshmallow bells covered in red sprinkles for 2c each.
· Caramels for 2c each.
· Double Bubble gum for 3c each.
We loaded up on candy, and bought a bottle each of orange pop, which was 25c, spending the entire 55c that we were each given. We proceeded out to the front gates of the hospital and went outside, where we found a spot on top of a large, white retaining wall, which was situated under a large oak tree. We sat there and drank our pop while eating our candy. Just was we were finishing, we decided to play hide and seek outside the front of the hospital. We were just about to start when the man in the tan suit came walking towards us carrying a leather attache case under his arm. He really did look like Peter Parker! As he walked past, he stopped and looked right at us.
Peter Parker: “What are you boys still doing out here? I told you to get lost several times. Why are you still here?.
With that, he continued walking toward the front doors of the hospital. I remembered what mike had told me, so with all the force I could muster, I belted the words he had told me to say:
“SHUT UP YOU FUCKING BASTARD OR I’LL BUMHOLE YOU!!”.
He swiveled around and stopped dead in his tracks. To this day I have never seen a look like that on anyone’s face. It was a combination of indignation mixed with the most incredible and acute shock, like he just couldn’t believe what he had just heard. He just looked at me for a few moments and with an almost hurt look, he shook his head and went “aaaah”, turned on heel and marched straight into the main doors of the hospital.
Of course it would be a few years before I realized the significance of the words that came out of my mouth at that moment. We never did tell either mom or dad, what had happened, or what I had said to Peter Parker.