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Around the Kitchen Table

Maureen Weber


Anyone who knows me knows I’ve done my share of complaining about Saskatchewan winters. It’s dark. The sun gets up late and and lays low.

And it’s cold. I resent the time it takes to look for layers of warm clothes, pull on boots that have to be laced and tied, find shoes to put into a bag to take to work and once getting there stripping off all the stuff before you can finally get to your desk. This infernal routine shreds my patience.

But it’s a dry cold, they say. As if that’s supposed to make one feel better.

I recently spent two weeks in Ottawa where a “dry cold” started to look pretty appealing. In Ottawa winter seeps into your bones and feels much colder than the temperature would indicate.

Gray clouds can hang low over the city for days, spewing forth large fat snowflakes that thud, pellets of ice that sting, and snow that alternates with freezing rain on a roller-coaster temperature ride. A +5 day can sink to a -14 night. It’s called a flash freeze.

The day after one such flash freeze I took my usual 15-minute bus ride to my granddaughter’s daycare to pick her up at 3:30, as I’d been doing for the past seven days. I expected to see icy streets but, as is typical in a big city, everything was covered in salt and, apart from inches of slush, the streets were safe.

The day after that the sun was blinding and I felt no hesitation in walking over to a nearby store to get some groceries. There’s a major sidewalk that runs along a busy drive and when I turned onto it I was surprised to see what appeared to be a vast ice field. A clear seamless glaze covered curb, boulevard, sidewalk, and the open space in front of an apartment building. It shone with menace in the sunlight.

As I gingerly walked along the treacherous surface, I met a man who wondered if I needed help since I was walking so slowly. I said, more brightly than I felt, that I was just trying to be careful because “every time I fall it seems I break something.”

Against my better judgment I forged ahead and angled right to get a foothold into the snow on the side. The crust of ice was too thick to break into, and when my boot lost traction I became airborne for what seemed a long time — enough time to think, please don’t fall on your hand — before landing on my outstretched right hand.

This is the second time I’ve felt and heard the collapse of bone. Afraid to stand back up, I sat on the sidewalk watching the traffic whiz by and, a in a fog of confusion and pain, phoned Russ who, since he was in Saskatchewan, suggested calling a cab. I didn’t have to.

Everyone has stories about good Samaritans, the kindness of strangers, people coming to another’s aid in a time of need.

Shock made thoughts come slowly, but I heard someone call, “Do you need help? We saw you go down and circled around just in case you were still here.”

I squinted against the sun wondering if this young couple calling from their car was really there, or if it was the apparition of a desperate mind. The young man and his girlfriend left their vehicle on a busy road and came across the icy boulevard to help me to the car. “We could take you to the hospital.”

I won’t bore you with the details of a misshapen wrist, holding it still for x-rays, chatting with the radiologist who nonchalantly said I’d need a reduction. You probably don’t want to hear about having a tourniquet applied to my upper arm to cut off circulation, then having a drug injected into my hand to freeze the bone (a procedure known as a “Bier block,” which sounds like something you could order at a pub and after which you definitely need a drink). Or how the orthopedic surgeon pulled on my arm as though playing tug-of-war while someone else applied the cast.

No. This story is about the kindness of strangers, from a selfless young couple who turned around and came back, to receptionists who clucked sympathetically, gentle x-ray technicians who smiled, a radiologist with a wry sense of humour, a talented orthopedic nurse who managed to calm my anxiety while shoving an IV line into my hand. And a large, serious surgeon who brushed off my jokes like lint, and went about his work with serious determination and explicit instructions.

Queensway Carleton Hospital — I want to say the name — is filled with kind, compassionate, caring people. If only warm hearts could thaw icy streets.

Now that I’m back home, I wish I could button a warm shirt, tie boot laces, zip a jacket, or pull on some mittens. I’ll never complain about a Saskatchewan winter again.