vis medicatrix naturae
Wed, Oct 7th, 2009
posted by Thadius

I came through what remained of an old apple orchard. It had only ten or eleven old twisted trees left. Originally the whole area was covered in apple and pear trees. So much so that the Hospital was divided into two separate areas. The Orchard Site and The Brow. I walked out from the trees next to a grand old building that had stood here nearly a century now. It’s dirtied gold bricks a stark contrast to the glistening undisturbed snow on the ground around it. Beside it stood another grand old lady, only slightly younger.
As I walked toward The Brow Infirmary I glimpsed into the past. Now that the building was closed and idol and there were no cars around or sounds of modern technology I could see, slightly, the way she used to look. The way she used to be, a place of healing, a refuge from sickness, a place of hope.

The Military Hospital’s Commission in 1915 built her. Her plans had been drawn by the Hamilton Health Association to serve as their first permanent Infirmary in 1913, but then came war. With that war came a new deadly and sickening weapon, Gas. A terrible inhalant which struck soldiers like a wave and those who didn’t die in that onslaught came to places like this to heal. Side-by-side with their tubercular brothers they weathered and healed. The Military Hospital’s Commission built the Infirmary perched on the top of the Niagara Escarpment for two reasons. The first was that it was a vista like non other who’s winds and mild breezes contributed to speedy healing. The second was because soldier patients were regarded as hard to handle, to keep calm and were known for lousy temperance and for being rather rude. It was advised that they be kept separated from the civilian patients who were housed at the Orchard Site of the Mountain Sanatorium.

As the soldiers healed, or died others with Tuberculosis replaced them. This Military Hospital, decked out in Flags and plaques and who’s decorations and furniture were donated and paid for by gifts and bequeaths from regiments and warriors now housed Hamilton’s sick and needy. As the 30’s and 40’s turned into the 50’s and 60’s and pills and surgery replaced rest and air as the fastest route to wellness, this place changed yet again.

To show the modernity of it’s new role all vestiges of Home and Hearth were removed and the most modern of Institutionalisation characteristics were trumpeted as the new normal and the sanitised and astatically boring features of the renovations showed that even modernity couldn’t hide history. Stuck in some corners and in the rear of the building some few things of the old clung through the changing seasons of the Infirmary’s life. In some places it’s old proud self showed through the streamlined straightness of it’s new corners and closed-in verandas. Through it all though, the ivy refused to die and year after year after year it grew and year after year after year the grounds crew chopped it down.

Into the 70’s and 80’s the building aged and again it changed. Tuberculosis was old and nearly defeated. The Brow Infirmary was no longer a place for the Infirm, but a place for the unwell, and more so a place for the incurable. She became the Chedoke Continuing Care Centre.

Young people who had damaged themselves beyond repair with sever brain injuries began to call her home, some for more than 30 years and as I approached her the remnants of their silent struggle to live emanated out from inside. I could see what was left of them. A sign, a hand rail, a sleeping rose bush once lovingly taken care of gone wild. They had cut the stairs from the roof off, a vain attempt at keeping the vandal and the explorer at bay. I stood outside in the wind for a small time and reflected and remembered my time here, laughing as a resident or two would tell me a story or would just smile wide at my friendly “hello”. I remembered the three legged chipmunk that the patients fed dedicatedly every morning and shooed away the turkey vultures and foxes to protect the delicate little thing who too called The Brow home.

I pulled from my pocket XO key #13 and slid it into the corroded lock and turned it hard. With a solid click I entered The Brow Infirmary and was saddened. Vandals had gotten where a hundred years of budget cuts and disease couldn’t. In two years they had done what a century couldn’t. They destroyed the spirit of this place and I could feel it weep.

I stood silently in what was once the common room of the CCCC and remembered. I remember sitting in this very corner nearly everyday and would watch the TV with the patients for a half hour or so. I remember as George would come wheeling from the corridor and ask me to ask him to spell words for me. I always chose simple words because if he got them wrong he would go off in a fit of self-torture where he would repeatedly slap his head very hard with his hand until he passed out. I remember Dorothy, as she and her sister couldn’t understand why I couldn’t make them steak and pie for desert. I remember Audrey; a darling old woman who would get killer headaches and weep for hours and you could hear her tears all afternoon.

The halls were silent now. The heat was off and I could hear the wind trying in vain to pierce these hundred-year-old walls. I wandered the corridors and went from room to room. I saw the remnants of what was. I glanced from a window in a patient’s room. The window had small stickers on it, butterflies and little birds. A small tear came to my eye, as I knew the patient who had lived there died shortly after they closed the place. Most of them died, after the move. They had called this building home for decades and in a matter of a month they were bundled up and moved to another facility where they didn’t know anyone. They didn’t know their nurse. They didn’t know their room. They didn’t know the food or the new faces that smiled at them. They couldn’t handle the change.

As I sat and stared down into the courtyard and my mind drifted I could still hear the wind. Though the place was old, decrepit and broken I was still comfortable there and damn it, it felt good to be back, regardless of the condition she was in. I had worked there. I had made friends here. I had lost friends there and now I was loosing the largest friend, the place itself. Her days are numbered and it is but a matter of time before the value of the land outweighs the value of it’s history.

From third to second to first floor I returned and met up with my friend and clicked the key again. We both walked slowly around the outside of the building to ensure that she was secure. We could do nothing more.

I was happy to see though that just as we rounded the last corner, I saw a few sprigs of green around the foundation of the building. I smiled wide as I walked along. My friend asked what was up and I said, “After all of this, the Ivy still grows”