The Hospital You Built For Hugh Macedon
It’s a miracle that one of Canada’s worst-wounded soldiers is alive today—a miracle called Sunnybrook. In this biggest of all Canadian general hospitals, more than one thousand veterans of four wars are spending a few weeks, a few years, or the rest of their live
THE LARGEST and most luxurious veterans’ hospital in Canada—in fact the biggest and most expensive general hospital in this country—is Sunnybrook in Toronto. A sprawling, yellow-brick and glass giant, it is situated on a hilltop in a country-club setting on Toronto’s northern outskirts and is one of twelve such military hospitals across Canada. Here', more than a thousand veterans of Canada’s last four wars are spending a few weeks, a few years or the rest of iheir lives. Among them is a slender, onelegged, 28-year-old veteran of the Korean War named Hugh Oliver Callaghan McKeown. As much as any man—and more than most men McKeown serves as a living example of what hospitals like Sunnybrook can do to repair broken bodies.
He is one of the worst-wounded men any veterans’ hospital has ever salvaged. He has been at Sunnybrook for three years and cannot hope to be discharged, in a wheel chair or on crutches, for a year or two more. For six months after a machine-gun bullet passed through his hips he was expected to die at any moment. Doctors from three branches of the hospital’s surgical staff pooled their skills to operate on him seven times and save his life. Their proficiency, along with McKeown’s awesome determination to survive an incredible ordeal, has created a modern medical legend.
Around this legend is the hospital Canadians built to save McKeown, and thousands like him. Sunnybrook’s 13 buildings, set in 400 acres of roiling lawns and forests, cost $14 millions seven years ago. Sometimes it reminds visitors of a
tastefully appointed factory, impersonally swallowing sick and broken men through its glass doors, and just as indifferently healing them and sending them home, with triplicate copies of their discharge papers and a slamming of file drawers. This impression is superficial and the fault is in the mighty scale of the establishment, with its three and a half miles of corridors, 22 elevators, 2,800 rooms, 200 flights of stairs and 21 acres of floor. The 1,635-bed hospital, operated at an annual cost of just under $6,500,000, is larger than any ordinary hospital Toronto General Hospital, the biggest hospital outside the Department of Veterans’ Affairs chain— has 1,418 beds.
« But within the colossal hulk of Sunnybrook is warmth and wisdom and a sense of the importance of the individual. The heroic years of urgent surgery on newly shattered men fresh from hospital ships are past and the veterans’ hospital has steadied down to a between-wars routine of repairing stumps of arms and legs that have become infected, wounds and bones that failed to heal properly, lungs needing treatment forty years after Ypres and bodies from which pieces of dead bone and shrapnel must be removed ten years after Falaise and the bomb runs over Stuttgart. In the sun-soaked wards there are middle-aged men with tuberculosis, young men who are paralyzed, old men with arthritis and still older men whom senility has made mindless.
In soft felt slippers the recuperating patients shuffle the miles of gleaming corridors, smoking restlessly, laughing raucously, swapping small talk
about their X-rays, the Maple Leafs, Marilyn Monroe and that crazy orderly on night duty. An old man dozes, white-haired and full of peace, in a wheel chair parked near the elevators where, between naps, he can watch people coming and going. A gaunt grinning veteran of the Schelde walks on his new aluminum leg down an aisle between hip-high railings and critically watches his limping image in a floor-length mirror. A young father st ricken with polio moves his legs awkwardly in the warm green waters of the swimming pool, hopefully imitating the motions of walking. A handsome youngster in the psycho ward, under observation for mental illness, leans against a wall in his pyjamas and stares at his feet. Four paraplegics have pulled their wheel chairs around a blanket-draped table in the sunroom for a silent, smoky game of poker.
Sunnybrook’s patients range in age from an 18-year-old army private with infected tonsils to a 95-year-old Boer War hero, wrinkled and shaking. In the big hospital some men are dying of cancer and some have infected hangnails; some discovered in battle that they had courage beyond their hopes and some found that they had cowardice beyond their fears; some are brilliant engineers who read constantly and some cannot read at all; some are querulous hypochondriacs and some never complain, though they wake every morning to agony. The thousand men in Sunnybrook have little in common, except that they have all been shaped and changed in t he crucible of war.
McKeown has been Continued on page 68
Ruth Young leads physiotherapy. A 81 12.000 swimming pool helps patients regain fitness.
Staggering yearly statistics tell how Sunnybrook aids veterans like Hugh McKeown
Stan Thorpe is pharmacy chief. More than two tons of cough syrup are measured out annually.
William Baird coaches McKeown in mathematics. Librarians try to lure him away from westerns.
Orderlies stand by to help McKeown gel ready for his wheel chair. He is going to the gym.
Mrs. McKeown watches while her youngest son plays cribbage with his father and brother.
CONTINUFD FROM PAGE 23
changed as much as any and more than most. He arrived at the hospital on Aug. 19, 1951, after three months in military hospitals in Korea and Japan. He weighed an estimated 75 pounds, a little more than half his normal weight. The doctor who examined him immediately prescribed a blood
transfusion and found McKeown’s arm pitted with the marks of a dozen previous transfusions. His five-foot-teninch frame was a flesh less skeleton. His molars showed through the sunken, translucent skin of his cheeks and his eyes were great sockets in his head. He hadn’t eaten for weeks and his pain was so intense that sedatives, except in monster doses, had no effect.
The bullet had entered behind his left Hip and emerged at the front of his right hip, smashing the socket of his right leg and spraying his bowel and bladder with twenty or thirty
splinters of bone which traveled at the
same velocity and did as much damage as bullets. American and British surgeons had performed four operations and succeeded in keeping him alive, to their own astonishment. A doctor in Kure reported, “1 do not think he can be got better . . . and advise his evacuation to Canada before he deteriorates further.”
He was sent home to die and the Canadian Red Cross stood ready to fly his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence McKeown, of Toronto, to meet him if it appeared he wouldn’t survive the trip.
His parents and sister, walking along a corridor at Sunnybrook in search oi him, looked in his room and passed on without knowing him. He called out and his mother recognized his voice. “That’s Hugh!” she cried. His sistei Veronica went back to the doorway and stared at the man on the bed. “No it isn’t,” she told her mother, turning away. Mrs. McKeown looked, and looked again. “Yes it is,” she said faintly.
Since then McKeown’s progress has been a phenomenon in tolerance to pain, medical skill and that intangible factor, will to live. He is known throughout the hospital, which deals daily in human courage and brilliant technique. His charts are thumbed and worn by a hundred doctors and nurses who find his medical history fascinating and dramatic.
Today, however, his hospital routine is like that of any convalescing patient —unspectacular and tedious. Lying in his small pastel-green room with its view of a distant hill of trees to give him a concept of the changing seasons, McKeown is aware of the giant organization around him, but is separated from the activity by his own reticence and the fact that he is far from well.
In the morning at 7.30 when he gets his breakfast of juice, toast, cereal, an egg and coffee, half of the dietitian’s staff of 300 already has been at work for more than an hour. White-uniformed women have poured into thick white pitchers some of the day’s quota of 265 gallons of milk and have popped into toasters in ward serveries all over the hospital a couple of thousand slices of bread from the day’s delivery of 457 loaves.
Sunnybrook’s kitchen is on the ground floor of the hospital, an enormous room bigger than three tennis I courts with a sound-absorbing acoustic I ceiling, ivory tile walls and a red tile floor swabbed to sterile cleanliness twice a day. Beneath a battery of steam kettles, one of which holds 150 gallons, the floor is tilted to drains and washed with a hose.
The kitchen has the finest equipment available to assist in the chore of preparing 5,000 meals a day the noon meal is the heaviest, when most of I Sunnybrook’s staff of 1,800 eat their dinners in three staff dining rooms. The big kitchen has a five-foot egg beater I capable of whipping 80 quarts of batter I at a time. The potato-peeling machine denudes 30 pounds of potatoes in one operation, a velocity required by the noon-meal demand of eight 75-pound bags of potatoes. Nevertheless Miss Dorothy McNaughton, chief dietitian, i keeps a personal touch in her menus by baking a full-size cake for each patient observing a birthday.
McKeown has had three birthdays at I Sunnybrook and records the trickling ! away of his twenties almost impasj sively. Like most long-term patients, he has made peace with his antiseptic environment; weeks and sometimes months go by between his requests for information about how much longer he will be there. When he is disi couraged he can, like every patient, find someone he can feel is worse off than he is. A man with an arm off can always find another with both arms off. A burn case requiring painful plastic surgery may be in the next bed to the young man who has had forty plastic-surgery operations since he looked into an explosion almost ten years ago. A paraplegic, paralyzed in his lower limbs because of a spinal injury, can be humbled by a quadriplegic, who is paralyzed in both arms and legs. Quadriplegics are grateful they aren’t blind. When he is despondent, McKeown brings himself into a better frame of mind by considering
the plight of two men on the next floor who have cancer. “You’re lucky, McKeown,” he tells himself. “Those poor guys have got it really rough.”
McKeown’s days have a desultory sameness. Every morning he wakes at seven just as the orderly arrives to change the dressing on the stump of his right leg. Though the amputation was done more than two years ago, the wound is still draining and hot compresses are applied five times a day.
On days when he is feeling well he wraps himself in a green bathrobe and is helped into a wheel chair, where he sits the rest of the morning. Usually he wheels himself around the corner into a ward where he has some friends and they swap complaints, army style, about the hospital regulations, the relief nurse with the temper, the food.
“We’re due for mutton one of these days,” McKeown mourns, watching a small merry-eyed World War I veteran playing solitaire.
“You oughta get arthritis,” the older man grins. “Then you’d get steak every day. Filet mignon, every day.” They both chuckle at the absurdity of a story which most hospital patients have heard.
Actually the story is true. Sunnybrook has a Clinical Investigation Unit, maintained by a Department of Veterans’ Affairs grant of $63,000 a year, which is engaged in research on the effects of ACTH and cortisone on arthritis and cirrhosis of the liver. Three, four or five men at a time occupy beds in the CIU wing of the hospital and the changes in their body chemical balance are the subject of elaborate study.
Even Water is Measured
To ensure that these chemical changes are the result of ACTH or cortisone, and not some factor in the patient’s diet, all the subjects of the study are volunteers who are willing to eat exactly the same food every day for a period of several weeks or months. The menu is planned with a dietitian, Miss Beatrice Robertson, who must work out the calorie, protein, carbohydrate and fat content to two decimal places to meet the doctor’s prescription exactly. The quantities of food on the patient’s tray will not vary even a gram from day to day; Miss Robertson weighs everything on a balance scale. The patient can’t even have a drink of water that isn’t measured.
The two meats found in this experiment to be the least tiresome are chicken and filet mignon, with canned peas and pressure-cooked potatoes for a vegetable, and canned fruit for dessert. One man chose cold canned tomatoes for his vegetable and ate them, twice a day, for five weeks. The men get meat and potatoes twice a day. One patient gained 41 pounds on the static diet.
The ethereal delights of steak every (lay occupies the attention of Sunnybrook’s bu’l sessions in the wards only occasionally. War recollections, some of them as wildly fictional as Buck Rogers, are swapped in the long quiet hours of waiting for recovery. Most veterans know in what unit every patient in his ward served, what his rank was and how he was wounded.
McKeown stays out of these exuberant exchanges almost entirely; he is a withdrawn man, opposed to bombast and shy of confidences. His military record is an odd one, full of frustrations and a higher idealism than lie will admit. He enlisted in 1944 when he was 17, but missed any action because lie was too young. After his discharge he lived with his parents, worked in a paper-box factory, read westerns and detective stories for
relaxation and studied electricity at night school. He never had a girl friend. In the summer of 1950, without
telling his parents, he enlisted in the Korean Brigade. He was 23 years old.
“I couldn’t seem to save any money and I don’t know yet where it was going,” he once tried to explain. “I wanted to see more of the world . . . I guess I don’t really know why I enlisted.” His friends suspect they know the true reason: McKeown
enjoyed being a soldier, did it well and was proud of the army.
McKeown arrived in Korea in April
1951 and was wounded a month later in his first brush with the enemy. He was part of an advance platoon, laboring up a dirt path shortly after dawn to take the crown of a hill. McKeown, who then weighed 140 pounds, was carrying the 50-pound weight of a Bren gun and eleven full magazines.
He was about three quarters of the way up the hill, cursing under his load and the rapidly gathering heat of the morning, when machine guns opened up on two flanking hills and nailed his platoon to the ground. While McKeown watched, two soldiers were shot
cleanly through the head trying to get their Bren in action. McKeown studied the problem calmly for a few minutes, recognized that the Chinese had a clear view of the position and decided nevertheless to try to get his Bren in action. He pulled his leg up under him to start bellying toward the gun and a single bullet tore through his hips with such force that he cartwheeled twice down the hill.
McKeown has been asked why he bothered to move toward the gun, knowing the enemy would see him. His answer could be carved on a
monument. “If you volunteer for a war,” he replied, “the least you can do is fight.”
While the patients talk idly of such battlefield incidents in the spacious airy wards, a thousand cogs that contribute to their comfort and returning health are turning in the big hospital. Five window washers are scrubbing their daily quota of the hospital’s 2,900 windows; a hundred of thé staff of 330 graduate nurses are on duty, the stiff white veils they wear on their heads bobbing as they hurry; 24 employees, mostly women, in a high-ceilinged humid laundry are doing the day’s washing at a rate of 1,300 sheets, pillowcases and shirts every hour in giant wash wheels filled with scalding water.
Elevators, loaded with food in electrically heated wagons, are rising from the kitchen to ward serveries on every floor, where aides are waiting to distribute the dinner on thick white plates. The servings are checked against the patients’ name cards on every tray. At a quarter to twelve McKeown’s dinner is brought in on a tray; he lifts the cover that keeps the food warm and grins—no mutton today.
After the noon meal most of the hospital patients doze and the halls are quiet. An elevator operator is startled to see a visitor, a shabby woman with a puckered face. “No visiting until tonight, ma’am,” he tells her. She stares at him.
“The padre called me,” she tells him in a strangled voice. “He said, ‘Don’t you know how sick your husband is?’ I thought I’d better . . .”
“You’ll have to get a special card,” the elevator man interrupts gently. “Right over there.”
The doors slide silently together and the elevator floats to the seventh floor, where the operating rooms are located. Sunnybrook’s seven operating rooms have pastel-green tiled walls, the best surgical equipment, and wide windows that overlook a wooded hill a mile away. Since Sunnybrook is situated in a 400-acre park and has no peering neighbors, the operating room windows are not frosted glass.
The hospital’s 35 surgeons, most of them consultants, perform about 300 operations a month ranging from such routine matters as hernia, appendix and tonsils to rarely performed surgery on brains and rheumatic hearts.
McKeown has made seven trips to the operating rooms, usually accompanied by doubts he’d survive. The first two operations were performed three weeks after he arrived at the hospital, a few days apart. A surgeon fished out of an abscess with his forefinger a dozen chips of bone. The medical report referred to these operations as “the first stage in the reconstruction of this patient’s existence.”
The summer that McKeown arrived at Sunnybrook none of its nursing staff could be spared to give him the constant attention he needed. DVA accordingly hired three special nurses, Miss Bernetta McLaughlin, Miss Blanche Salmon and Mrs. Phyllis Savage, from Toronto’s Central Registry of Nurses, to take care of him day and night. The women were advised that they would be kept on “until the end,” which when they saw their patient they expected to be a matter of days. As it turned out, they were with him almost a year and a half and cost the department close to $20,000.
To keep more pressure sores from developing—McKeown already had two, one of them showing bone at its base—his nurses turned him every two hours. The movement was excruciatingly painful, despite the efforts of the staff who would pile as many as thirty pillows around him to cushion his body.
No fewer than five people combinée to turn him. When they had settled him an orderly would put a cigarette between his shaking lips and light ii for him. It was a comfort on which the young man leaned increasingly; hi, father believes he was smoking five packs a day at one point.
His next operation, by Dr. J. I) Mills, the hospital’s chief of genera surgery, was on his colon and the nex, was an amputation of his leg at the hip. The right leg had begun to cause him unbearable pain. He described n as comparable to having the leg in e furnace, constantly. An interne tole McKeown’s mother, “I think we’l. have to let him die.” One of hidoctors commented, “As an attempt te save his life, the only thing I can thins of which might be done would bt disarticulation of the hip (amputa tion) but my feeling is that in hi; present condition he would not surviv; the operation.”
Dr. G. Dale, chief of orthopedie surgery, a big gruff man McKeowt admires, broke the news to him. Me Keown, aghast, refused.
That night he talked it over wit! his father, who had been asked by Dale to urge him to agree. “Looks like ii had better come off,” his father saic quietly. McKeown swallowed. “At right,” he answered bitterly. Thev amputated the next morning.
“He would never have walked or that leg anyway,” Dale observed later
“It was useless below the knee and the bone was dead at the femur.”
Other operations have been per formed to clean out bone chips which fester in his body. McKeown has morr such operations to come because no! all the dead bone has broken away as yet. “We can’t chip it off withoui injuring the living bone so we have to wait for it to separate by itself ano then we can go in and get it,” Dak explains. “It’s impossible to tell how long this process will go on.”
Meanwhile McKeown waits. Whik most of the hospital patients are sleeping after dinner, he lies in his bed doinf arithmetic homework. He is studying business arithmetic, to help pass thf time, with William Baird, one of sis teachers available to patients through (he Casualty Welfare Department ol the hospital. McKeown is now 8i Book 3, which is approximatelyo 11, and is making sensational prog ress. “He gets A plus,” Baird reporte “He’s one of my best pupils.”
While McKeown lies in bed studying j his text books or reading a western, i the hospital librarian comes by with j a cart of books. McKeown has been a stubborn case in her campaign to j improve the patients’ reading habits.
She has developed a system of luring I some readers into enjoying the world’s ! finest literature through a chain of better-written adventure novels. Hopefully, she keeps her best books on the I top shelf of her mobile cart and the I westerns on the bottom, a strategy that j has only mild success. The branch of the Toronto Public Library at Sunny! brook has more westerns in circulation j than any other branch in the city.
Around two o’clock in the afternoon j an orderly and a nurse change Mcj I Keown’s dressings again and help him ! into his wheel chair. His shoulders and j arms strong from two years of this type : of locomotion, he wheels himself swift ly I to the elevatore and along a groundfloor corridor to the hospital gymnasium.
The hospital gym, known officially 1 as a remedial gymnasium, is dedicated !
I to the muscular improvement of sick j j men, rather than increasing the prowess j of strong men. Its equipment includes j weights a man must lift with his foot, j weights that are increased every treatj ment and grips that must be squeezed.
At each end of the gym floor are ! mirrors so men learning to walk again j can examine their posture.
McKeown’s daily prescribed trips j to the gym, when he is well enough, j are to help him learn to walk on elbow-length crutches. Some days he can swing his frail weight between the crutches for 48 lengths of the long ' room; other days he is panting and ! exhausted after four lengths.
Leading off the gym is a dressing room and a shallow warm swimming pool—Sunny brook is one of the few active-treatment hospitals in Canada with its own pool and gymnasium. Remedial swimming instructore guide
1 men with feeble legs who are learning Í to walk again supported by the buoyancy of the water. The pool, built at a cost of $142,000, is used every day by polio victims, arthritics and others whose pain is relieved and muscles relaxed by the 90-degree water.
The gym and swimming pool are part of Sunnybrook’s Department of Physical Medicine. According to its director, Dr. G. A. Lawson, the department tries not only to get the patients back to work but to ensure that they are “willing to work and able to enjoy it.”
Lawson’s staff of 35 includes an interne, 10 remedial gymnasts, 14 j occupational therapists who restore manual dexterity with woodworking, weaving and pottery crafts, and 10 physical therapists who massage, administer whirlpool baths and urge exercises.
“We help the men get back all the movement that they possibly can,” j Lawson explains. “What they don’t j get back we can brace.”
The bracing is done in Sunnybrook’s Prosthetics Department, one of the two biggest factories in North America for the production of braces and artificial limbs. One hundred employees, forty percent of them amputees themselves, make about 600 artificial arms and legs j each year for Canadian veterans and ! the cost is born entirely by the government. An artificial leg, custom made j and with a ball-bearing knee, would ! cost a non-veteran about $300.
The manager of prosthetics, E. A. Weir, and his staff have lately been j stumped by the problem of tinting a j plastic glove so that it resembles a j human hand. The glove itself, complete with fingerprints, a life line and veins, is so lifelike that an amputee testing it over his artificial hand was
challenged by a citizen who didn’t believe he was entitled to wear the lapel badge of an amputee. In spite of this encouraging test, the right color eludes Weir. He is beginning to suspect that hand amputees will require two gloves, a tanned one for summer and a paler one for winter.
McKeown doubts that he will ever be able to wear an artificial leg, though he has heard that one veteran with both legs amputated at the hips can walk up stairs with his artificial legs and another in Hamilton with one leg off at the hip walks forty blocks to j work every day. “The socket of my leg is all smashed,” McKeown observes j offhandedly. “Those guys still have i the sockets sound.”
When he is through in the gym, McKeown wheels himself back to his room where a girl from the Department I of Bacteriology is waiting to get a small amount of the pus draining from his j stump for laboratory analysis. McKeown is more than another name on a test tube for the chief bacteriologist, vivacious Dr. Marion Ross. In the three years of McKeown’s hospitalization, she has isolated hundreds of his infections, including one capable of killing all by itself.
“This happened early in McKeown’s history, before I knew what a fantastic person he is,” she relates. “I discovered among his many infections nocardiosis, a nasty thing which usually goes to the brain if it isn’t found in time i and causes death by brain abscess.” One of her staff phoned McKeown’s doctor immediately. “That McKeown j you’ve got up there,” she said ex¡ citedly. “He’s got nocardiosis. We’ve got to get drugs into him at once or ! he’ll die of a brain abscess.”
“Humph,” snorted the doctor dej risively, “is that all? That’s just one : more thing for him. But I’ll do somej thing about it.”
Just outside the bacteriology department is a $30,000 building for the experimental animals used in testing. Bert Knight is in charge of the 500 I guinea pigs, 20 rabbits and two sheep ! which are used in testing tuberculosis, syphilis and other infections. The animal house uses about fifty guinea pigs a month.
Since his leg was amputated McKeown has been deeply depressed by the movies that are available at Sunnybrook every night, possibly because of the extreme mobility of Hollywood heroes. His nurses used to dread the melancholy that consumed him after a movie but McKeown solved the problem himself: he stopped going to
Every afternoon at a quarter to five an orderly prepares McKeown for bed. He has his supper at five and then lies quietly for the next two hours listening to disc jockeys on his radio, smoking cigarettes and reading pocketbooks.
“The thing about a hospital,” he comments philosophically, “is the waiting for things to clear up. You just wait and wait and wait.”
One of the intangible factors that contribute to the miracle that McKeown is alive to wait at all is the faithfulness of his parents, who visited him every night and twice on Sundays I for two and a half years. His mother suffered a stroke six months ago and
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now visits him only once a week and his father comes four or five times a week. Their constancy is the more remarkable because the McKeowns are both hard-working people, tired at the end of the day, and a trip to the hospital takes them over an hour on three different streetcar and bus lines. The McKeowns have never owned a car.
Sometimes when they were still coming every night they would find their youngest child in too much pain to speak to them. He would hold on to an iron bar that overhung his bed with his jaw clenched and tears running down his cheeks. “I’d hang on as long as 1 could,” he recalls, “and then I’d scream.” The McKeowns stayed the full period allowed by the visiting hours even during these ordeals, talked uneasily with his nurse over their son’s tensed body and refrained from crying themselves until they reached home again.
Most nights Hugh McKeown’s father, a brawny easy-going worker in a stationery company’s warehouse, arrives at the hospital along with a thousand other visitors at 7 o’clock. He brings with him the evening paper and he and his son share it in companionable silence. Hugh hasn’t been reading the front pages since the Korean armistice; he reads the funnies and the sports pages. When they finish the paper they play cribbage until 8.30 when visiting hours are over, and the elder McKeown joins the long line of visitors, some of them wiping their eyes, at the bus stop.
The Most Depressing Time
After his parents leave, McKeown turns on his radio again and picks up a pocketbook crime story. An orderly comes in to change his dressings and a nurse helps him. McKeown tugs at the army nurse-style veil she wears, the nurse squeals and McKeown and the orderly laugh.
The hospital is settling down. In the paraplegic ward’s sunroom, some thin young men in wheel chairs are laughing at a plump television comedian. The two quadriplegics who attend the University of Toronto in the day are finishing their homework, using a page-turning machine operated by chin pressure. The Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is breaking up cheerily and the bingo game in the patients’ cafeteria is almost over. A man in a wheel chair slips silently out of the non-denominational chapel and joins a cluster of wheel chairs waiting for the elevator.
This is the time when some of the patients have been known to kill themselves by jumping out of windows. In a five-year period the hospital had seven such suicides, all of them older men despondent about their health or some family problem. Every hospital has its share of suicides, Sunnybrook no more than any other, but because it is government owned the hospital is particularly vulnerable to criticism. Nurses watch patients who seem depressed with extra care and report to the doctors.
At 10.30 Sunnybrook’s thousand men are supposed to butt their cigarettes, turn off their radios and bed lamps and settle down for the night. Some of them cheat, lying in the darkness listening to dance music or smoking deeply, thinking of wives and children at home. The matron, making her rounds, catches them breaking the rules and makes them feel like errant schoolboys.
McKeown was surprised one night with a cigarette in his fingers, the light on and the radio blaring baseball scores. “Went all to hell,” he comments with
satisfaction. “You should have seen the matron’s face.”
Among McKeown’s favorite literature is his bankbook. As a 100 percent disability pensioner, he has realized his ambition to save some money. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs banks for him all but $20 spending money of the $125 a month he will get for life. His bankbook total is in four figures.
McKeown is one of 28 Korean War veterans receiving 100 percent disability pensions out of a total of 823 Korean pensioners. World War I, by comparison, left almost 4,000 “total” pensioners out of 61,895 who receive pension cheques; World War II left 3,512 total disabilities out of 95,738 pensioners.
In spite of his fortitude and the close and expert care he receives, McKeown finds his nights in the hospital hard to bear. The knees and toes of the leg that was amputated seem to pain him, the celebrated “phantom limb” that doctors agree amputees can really feel through severed nerves. He is sometimes stabbed by fierce hard pains in his abdomen and the stump of his leg causes him continual pain.
“Everything seems to hurt more at night,” he frequently tells his father. “Some of the hoys say it isn’t true but I don’t believe them. You’ve got nothing else to occupy your attention except how much everything hurts.”
Did Korea Achieve Anything?
The patients lie awake an hour or more in the darkness listening to the night noises on the floor: the orderlies changing shifts, the footsteps they have come to recognize and the ones they can’t place and wonder about, the racket in the supply room next door when a bed pan clangs against a sterilizer, the elevator doors opening and closing, the nurses’ footsteps on the floor above, the buzzers. Sometimes someone screams. For weeks two years ago, McKeown listened at night to an ex-service-woman moaning pitifully in the next room. She died of cancer of the spine and then the room was occupied for three days more by a youth who also died of cancer of the spine.
“They asked him what he wanted for his last hours,” McKeown reflects, “and he said beer. As long as he was alive no one touched his beer in the ward servery but as soon as he died, the beer disappeared. I got to the fridge as soon as anyone and it was gone. Later I found out I can’t drink beer any more anyway.”
McKeown concentrates his bitterness, not on the fate halfway around the world that shredded his insides and changed his life, but at the failure of the Korean War to achieve anything he can be proud of. He finds it hard to accept that the hilltop he was wounded trying to capture was taken later that day by his regiment and abandoned that night. A famous Canadian general recently visited Sunnybrook and commented that the Korean War had not been in vain, y
“None of us Korean vets here said anything, naturally,” McKeown later commented, “but I can’t agree with him. Ever since the cease-fire I’ve been feeling lousy about that war.”
Sunnybrook Hospital doesn’t quarrel with McKeown’s opinion of a controversial war, any more than it quarrels with the right of a suspected leadswinger to receive a thorough checkup, or the right of a homeless sick old man to live out his life in comfort, or the right of a roughneck to wear out an artificial leg every three years and receive a new one. Sunnybrook, the most beautiful hospital in Canada, quarrels with no man who has ever offered his country his life. it