By Stan Stewart, co-owner of The Mercury Bay Informer
In the first week of March an unknown virus paralysed my son. He can talk, but do little else. Since then, instead of being with my wife Pauline in Whitianga and working for the Mercury Bay Informer, I am with him every day in a huge Brisbane Hospital.
Here are two reflections from my hospital life.
People don’t talk in hospital lifts. That’s no surprise, as everyone is there for some serious purpose. As well as visitors and hospital staff, the presence of wheelchairs, walking frames and various mobile devices mean the space is often crowded. The atmosphere is neutral, trending towards depressed. Normally there is no interaction.
But sometimes things explode. Boom! Flash! Something has happened. The lift has been illuminated. Not a word has been said, but all of us lift-travellers are smiling. Why? A young woman has joined us at the birthing floor. In her arms she holds a tiny being, swathed in a white, soft blanket. In an instant we are all touched with positive emotion. We are no longer passive and introverted. We are infused by hope and joy. Newborn babies are powerful. They change people. That’s why I’m sad for young people who believe that having sex (we used to call it ‘making babies’) is the pinnacle of human pleasure. I tell them, the thing more powerful than ‘making babies’ is having a baby.
Brisbane winter days are the best, absolutely clear skies and gentle sunshine, with middle of the day temperatures around 2O degrees. I spend my mornings on the ward with my son. But come lunch time, my choice is to take a Subway wrap and eat it out in the sunshine. The most convenient location is on one of the long seats at the far end of the drop-off and pick-up area at the front of the hospital. These are not crowded, and I usually find a seat to myself. I have observed there are many homeless people living around the hospital. I don’t know where they live, perhaps in nearby parks or in buildings made derelict by the recent floods. All I know is that there seems to be many of them.
One by one they just appear. I have seen them outside the hospital entrance and inside the hospital on various floors. I suspect that the many security personnel employed by the hospital are tasked to keep an eye on these ragged visitors. They are mostly men of various ages and some older women. What I found most noticeable is their feet. Most of them have no shoes, they are bare foot. Occasionally I have seen an individual with shoes, but the shoes are mismatched. When I am sitting eating my sandwich, they spot me. Suddenly, one of them is standing in front of me. Quietly he asks “Can you give me any money”? I say ‘No’ and they quickly move on. (I don’t have cash, just a card). His hurried exit from me is because of the ever present brigade of hospital security. A tall older woman in a grey overcoat approached me. At first I did not identify her as a homeless person, However, when I looked down at her feet, she had no shoes.
“Any spare change?” she asked. “Anything would help.” My knee jerk reaction is “No”. I say it firmly and that is usually the end of the matter. On this occasion I added, “I don’t have any money”. She left and moved onto other people sitting on the seats.
However, in a couple of minutes she was back. In a challenging way she asked, “Would YOU like some money?” she asked. “Yes” I said, “I would.”
“How much?” she asked. “Ten dollars,” I replied.
“What would you do with it?” she asked. “Pay it to Uber for a ride home,” was my answer. “Hmmph!” She was not impressed and walked away.
I am not at ease with the way I relate to homeless people. But, truthfully I don’t know what is the alternative. I wonder, who are these isolated, shoeless people? I know they are someone’s son or daughter, someone’s father or mother? What went wrong for them? How is it that they now need some substance or liquid, more than they need human relationships?
It makes me want to be careful with everyone I meet. I don’t want my responses or relationships to make anyone feel hopeless or rejected. Working to enrich relationships seems to be the best way ahead for me. Well, that’s how I see it.