I See the Stars
By Sue Robins
Cities have personalities too. If Edmonton was a woman, she’d be like the serious one in the cubicle down the hall who lets loose only rarely, like during the Christmas party or in the beer tent at the folk fest. Edmonton’s personality is both good-natured and hard-working; she’s both loyal and modest.
Edmonton is a good place to build a community. People network really well here, and are willing to help each other out. They happily introduce themselves at conferences, and set up coffees and lunches to connect. It is easy to be a freelancer here, and my work often comes through three degrees of separation – I get contracts through someone who knows someone I used to work with. Edmonton demands that you prove yourself as competent, but once you do, people are loyal to their connections, and the referrals come streaming in.
My paid work is freelance writing and photography, and I’m also blessed to be involved in the health system doing unpaid work. I’m filled with admiration for the senior management and front line folks doing the heavy lifting in the health system – often while under the weight of fiscal and political pressures.
I think those who care for our most vulnerable are the epitome of grace. Like the young volunteer who sat on the floor in the Stollery waiting room and played blocks with my son while we waited to meet with the surgeon. Or the two Directors who took the time out at the end of their long day to visit my boy post-operatively. I continue to be impressed with these glittering touches in Edmonton’s challenging health environment. The modest folks in health care prove that the heart always wins out over the accounting ledger.
I believe that everybody has a story to tell. We all have rich lives. What is great about being a writer is that I get to shed light on these stories. Most of the stories I write are about care given at the hospital, or profiles on people working in health care.
My absolute favourite interview was for the College of Licensed Practical Nurses magazine, CARE. They sent me out to an assisted living facility to photograph and interview a woman named Emma, who was 101 years old.
I drove out to the facility on a blizzardy December day, where Emma and her daughter were waiting for me. Emma has three children, many grandchildren and countless great-grandchildren. She has lived a full and lovely life, and was clearly beloved by her daughter, who was there to help translate Emma’s occasional lapses into German. Emma was excited about having her photo taken, and had her best pink sweater on, with her hair carefully styled. It was so rewarding to ask her to talk about herself, share wisdom, and pose for those photos.
Another favourite is a feature I wrote about a big grizzly guy who was an orthopaedic technician. His job is to put casts on kids with broken limbs. He used to be a trucker, but went back to school to become a nurse after his dad died of Alzheimer’s. It is hard not to be moved by a story like this.
Through my work in the health sector, I’ve come to believe that Edmontonians have a highly developed work ethic. Winter is hard here, but we are hearty prairie folk. Nobody shows that heartiness more than those working in our health care system.
To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson – it only when it is darkest that we can clearly see the stars.
Sue is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer. In addition she is a co-coordinator of the Edmonton Down Syndrome Society’s Visiting Parents Program, chairs the Steering Committee of the Canadian Family Advisory Network, and is a member of the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital’s Parent Advisory Council.