Photo by Tracy Armstrong
Today was 23 more days till I tackle a challenge I am not even sure I am ready for. As I touted to my boyfriend that it was probably like 0.7 km from the bedroom to the kitchen at his place he paused saying, “I’m not sure you really understand how far this walk is!” (It’s a 154 km to be exact). It was a terribly hilarious moment as I reconsidered my internal distance tracker and recalibrated quickly.
But 23 days don’t lie, I’m not making that up, it’s nearly 3 weeks and the last two days have slowed me down immensely with all the goings on, making it still feel like eons away.
The number 23 now…where do I start? My Samuel was born on the 23rd of October. He was to be my 4th c-section. I couldn’t answer reassuringly enough to Dr Helewa after baby number 3 that I was done having kids so my ex and I gambled one more time, pre-Valentines eve. (while we were still married of course) Apparently that was day 14 of my cycle, ovulation day for all you non medical types…you know… fertile as fuck in laymen’s terms. So Samuel was conceived, Samuel would be born, and Samuel would become my gentle (and loud) giant.
A few weeks before Samuel’s c-section I came in to visit the obstetrician who was going to perform the surgery. A resident I worked with on labour floor met me in the clinic waiting room and pulled me aside. She said Dr Helewa’s life was hanging in the balance, he had had a heart attack. It was frightening and terrible news. This is a man I had worked with for many years, whom I respected immensely, who could die at any moment and the man I trusted to deliver my other three babies wouldn’t be there for number 4.
I was reassured there would be a doctor covering of course, and I knew all the Dr’s and knew everything would be fine. But I’ll never forget heading up to labour floor a bit dazed and seeing Dr McCarthy sitting on our couch in the lounge completely distraught. It was no secret. Dr McCarthy and Dr Helewa had had it out several times. Both brilliant obstetricians in their own right, both holding different values around research, experience and the ever present intuition of Dr McCarthy. I clearly remember Dr McCarthy yelling in his Irish accent, “you can make the numbers say whatever you want them to!!!” He trusted his gut more than any research study surrounding birth issues.
But Dr McCarthy was a compassionate man, and after all the feuding, to know his colleague was suffering through a possible life ending heart event, well, he was disheveled on most days, this was altogether another thing.
A brand new obstetrician and a resident I picked out delivered my Sam after a difficult extraction that requires forceps (yes we use forceps sometimes in c-sections too). 11 minutes from uterine incision to delivery time and a lot of coaxing and sweet talking from the two sweating Drs led me to my youngest baby boy’s birth. Although I was proud to have been the first c-section for a new attending, Dr Helewas absence was noted, and a bit of my history altered. And if you know me at all, history, connections, and meaning are super important. So much so I asked the anesthetist who did my very first csection to do that last one as well, I had wanted to keep the team together.
Dr Helewa went on to get the care he needed and received a new heart and years later even began practicing again. The feud between the two doctors dissipated and I had even caught them joking around a few times since.
They were only men after all. Not gods, despite being Drs. Fragility of life noted, adjustments to routines and both Drs took care of their own health in their own unique ways. I remember Dr McCarthy leaving labour floor to tell me he would be unavailable because he was going swimming. (I just can’t recall if that was before or after he stole the lemon tart off a patient’s tray.)
So yesterday it was Dr McCarthy’s turn to leave us all distraught. Our beloved Irish Dr McCarthy died from a massive heart attack. Rattling our cages once again, reminding us that even the legends, even the people we hold in highest esteem despite laughing at them as their scrub pants are falling off them, even these precious compassionate, generous, albeit abrupt souls die.
You see death was as abrupt for Dr McCarthy as his phone calls were to labour floor. So abrupt we couldn’t even get our goodbye in. But death was cruel and unkind, unlike our Dr McCarthy. He’s left behind a family and a wife who loved him devotedly and dearly. He’s left a third floor of an entire hospital in shock, a northern community in disbelief, and an entire province of nurses still a little bit perturbed that another goodbye was missed. And the conglomerate of birthing professionals very very sad.
So I couldn’t help but think of Dr McCarthy and Samuel and Dr Helewa, and how all their stories were intertwined to make up my countdown today. 23 days till I get on a plane and tackle this pilgrimage that was motivated by my own mother’s death, only 8 months ago. And a day after my aunts death, I can’t tell you how certain I am that I need to live today, to not put off things till tomorrow. Because life (and death) keep reminding me that tomorrow is never promised, only hoped for. (And minorly foreboded in the perspective of 154 km).
We’ll miss you terribly Dr McCarthy. But we are so grateful for ever knowing you and all your antics. Thank you for being a part of my story, and so many generations of stories in the northern women you served and in the obstetrical staff you have worked with through the years. You are imprinted on our hearts.