The Search continues…
When I was 16, something happened that formulated how, right or wrong, I would make many decisions throughout my life. Living in an unhappy home is hard on kids and causes stress. Stress negatively affects the body and mine, like so many, resulted in stomach pains. My dad, who also suffered from the same ailment, sent me to his “big stomach doctor” who after a battery of tests told me that I had a nervous stomach. I could have told him that. Instead of considering the cause, or asking how things were at home, he prescribed some pills for anxiety. As he was writing the prescription, his head kept falling forward as if he were falling asleep; he was overweight and he looked sick. I remember standing outside his office with the prescription in my hand thinking, “How can he help me if he’s so sick?” How did I, at that early, dare to question the status quo? Who questions doctors? I tore up the prescription and decided to look for another way. I can’t remember if my parents asked me what the doctor said, but I don’t remember saying a word.
A naïve girl grew into a very naïve teenager, living in her own world. After high school, my mother, who wanted to be a teacher herself, must have encouraged me to enter McGill University. She was the only one in her family of 5 to finish High School but because her older brother didn’t, her father wouldn’t allow her to go to college. In her day, women didn’t have the opportunities that we have today. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I applied and was accepted. During my first year, I felt lost, like a little fish in a big ocean, swimming without direction. I finished that year with little enthusiasm, first because I watched my parents struggling financially and I felt guilty for having them pay for my education especially that year when two hundred teachers were out of work.
I didn’t what to do but that summer, I decided to get a job. I was used to working. I started at 13 at Woolworths after school and loved it. It made me feel good. The previous year, my parents had moved their factory in the shmattah business to Chambly where I attended a Catholic School for a year and a half until their factory burned down. I heard the whispers that it was because we were Jews but I never found out what happened. My dad took the insurance money and convinced my mom to go into business with a friend; they opened a beauty salon. My mom became a hairdresser but never seemed very happy about it. I used to hang out there every day after school and helped by washing, setting hair, rolling perms, cleaning up, whatever I could to help. So, with this experience, I applied for a job at a high-end beauty salon. The owner’s wife asked if I had a “beautician’s card”. I replied “Yes” without having a clue what it was. I said “No” when they asked if I planned to return to school in the fall. I immediately called my mom – “What’s a beautician’s card and where do I get it?” She told me what to do and where to get one. I immediately headed down to the Guild on Sherbrooke St E and asked for a card. They took my information, asked a few questions, and told me to come back in a couple of weeks to pick it up. I insisted that I needed it right away because I had already accepted a job. I guess my persuasive baby face worked because they rushed it through and handed it to me. I’ll never know where my chutzpah came from, but it is still in me today. I went through a training course from hell. I would return home many a night crying from humiliation by a very tough teacher. I was exhausted. I guess having a tough mother helped me get through this. At the end of the summer, I told them that I didn’t want to become a hairdresser after all. I was so happy to be out of there. But what would I do next?
As I look back on my life, it seems that whenever one door closed another opened. When I was looking through the programs offered at McGill, I saw that the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital, connected to McGill, was looking for students to enter a three-year program to become a Hematology Technician. The best part was that they were “paying” the students $30 a month to take their program. Wow, I could learn while I earned it. I didn’t hesitate to apply and loved it from the first moment. They gave me a book to study and on my first day, I was taken down to the clinic before I even had a chance to read any of the material. The first thing they did was to put a syringe in my hand and tell me, ok go draw blood. I had no idea what to do but when I think back that’s how it has always been for me…flying by the seat of my pants. My first patient was an elderly woman with veins like rubber tubing. That poor woman! Finally, the head of our department came over and grabbed the syringe out of my hand which was not like today’s, it had a huge needle, and drove it into her vein. Talk about trial by fire, but I loved it. Working there built up my confidence and gave me great satisfaction at being good at something. I had a personality that made everyone feel at ease. I soon developed a great rapport with the patients and even sang to them as I inserted the needle. I was able to soothe them so that they hardly felt anything. Some of the doctors would call me for the more difficult cases with children. People jokingly called me “the vampire”.
My intuitive nature helped me to sense things about people; for example, there was a woman who was very sick, but they were having trouble diagnosing her. One day as I took her blood and looked into her eyes, something inside told me that she just couldn’t cope with her life, and at an unconscious level, her response was to become sick. This way she could be taken care of for a change. It was at that moment that I realized that an important component of our wellness is our emotional state of being.
It was also during those years working at the Vic, that I saw another side of medicine. I was asked to work for a team of doctors doing cancer research. Their thesis was that the thymus gland could contain a cure for cancer. They killed rabbits for their thymus gland and did a variety of experiments with it. After six months, I couldn’t sleep lying down not only plagued with very bad asthma but also the picture in my mind of those living, innocent animals being sacrificed on the altar of science. The doctors were interviewed about their work, and when I read the report, I saw that it was very different than the results they were getting. It was all about the research money. My respect for “the Science” was lost that day.