Wednesday, January 30, 2008

One mother, one child

Four Rivers Medical Clinic does not take appointments. It caters to the needs of Winnipeg citizens who are poor, disfranchised, and continually down on their luck.

Methadone is distributed here. A majority of the people in the waiting room are indigenous. Some of the older people have rotten teeth. Most of the young adults are overweight. All the children are coughing and have runny noses. Everyone is poorly dressed.

The reason I'm here is because the clinic is conveniently located, offers vaccinations for travellers, and I need the second of three Twinrix shots. The shots are expensive, sixty dollars each. I'm as sure as I can be of anything that I'm the only person in the waiting room who can afford this vaccine. It's not covered by Manitoba Medical.

I'm a Canadian devoted to universal health care. We may not all be the same, but we are treated the same. It's good that these poor people are able to receive medical care. I may resent the long wait, it will be 2 1/2 hours before I see a doctor for 2 1/2 minutes, but that's what happens when limited resources are equally shared.

After sitting for about two hours it suddenly dawns on me, how stupid, I don't need to sit here. My neighbour is a nurse practitioner and can give me the injection. I have the power to circumvent what will be a long wait amongst the disfranchised. Oh well, my name has moved to second on the list. I might as well continue my wait.

The reason I have the choice of not waiting is because I live in what the Winnipeg Free Press once referred to as an upscale neighbourhood. I can afford to live where I live, and I can afford to have neighbours who fit nicely into the mainstream of Canadian society.

About an hour of my time at the clinic is spent sitting near a mother and her little girl. The little girl, who was perhaps 18 months old, is strapped in a poorly built stroller of questionable safety. It is an extremely cold Winnipeg day and this child has no winter coat! In fairness to her mother she has dressed her little girl in many layers of clothing, offering protection outside but causing discomfort inside.

Strapped into the stroller and uncomfortably overdressed the little girl frets and squirms. Her mother sticks a baby bottle half full of milk into her mouth. She doesn't want milk. She wants out. She throws the bottle onto the floor. The floor is full of sand, muck and salt from the road. The mother picks up the bottle and puts it back in the little girls mouth.

The little girl is fair skinned with jet black hair and large dark eyes. She could be pretty, but one cheek is mysteriously red, the other cheek is bruised blue and has a deep scratch. Her clothes are faded and dirty.

I hope this mother has the good sense to have no more children, to take parenting classes, and most importantly to learn to love this little girl because I don't see love I see burden.

"Please," I say, as she is about to put the bottle with its dirty nipple back in the little girls mouth for a third time, "Don't do that, it hurts me, she is a lovely little girl."

The mother gives me a feeble smile and doesn't put the bottle back in the little girls mouth.
At last she unstraps the little girl. Overwhelmed by all the layers of clothes the little girl, who is perfectly able to walk, lies on her back on the floor full of sand, muck and salt.

I want to say to this mother "For goodness sakes, pick your daughter up, undo some of those clothes, care about her, feel empathy, love her!" But that would be too intrusive. Instead I talk to the little girl. I make horsy sounds. I clap my hands. I stomp my feet. I do my very best Donald Duck imitation. I pull from distant memory all the tricks that kept my son occupied at her age. Eventually the little girl smiles, but she also manages to move so that she is able to clutch at her mother's leg.

"Yes," I say to the little girl. "You love mommy best." At long last this disfranchised mother picks up her child and cuddles her. That was all I could do. All the help I could give.

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