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Sunday, February 5, 2023
Hometown Traveller: A wealth of kindness in a time of need
Award-winning Lake Report journalist Jill Troyer enjoys a dive in Curacao. Don Reynolds
Award-winning Lake Report journalist Jill Troyer enjoys a dive in Curacao. Don Reynolds
On the dive boat. Don Reynolds
The return to the resort from treatment at the hospital in Willemstad. Don Reynolds
Sidelined beside the beach. Don Reynolds
A Rainbow in Curacao. Don Reynolds

That Friday morning, standing on the dock at our resort in Curacao, waiting for the dive boat to come and pick us up for our morning dives, I caught sight of a vibrant rainbow stretching down from a cloud to touch the ocean surface.

I saw it as an omen it would be a special morning, and it was. Just not the kind of special I had in mind.

Our first dive was relaxing, though at the end of the dive it was a bit of a challenge getting up the ladder and back into the boat, with the rolling waves churning up the sea.

We clambered back on board, and proceeded to switch tanks to be ready for the next dive, after a short interval. It would be our last dive for this vacation, finishing off a magical week of swimming with turtles and eels and big schools of small chromis. 

The time came to exit the boat for our next dive. As I’ve done more than 100 times before, I stood, with my heavy tank and weights, flippers on, mask at the ready, and carefully shuffled toward the back of the boat. A perfect storm of circumstances then conspired to change the day. 

In that split second when one hand had released the bar I held for support and the other hand still reached for the next, a surge rocked the boat. My left fin crossed over my right, and I pitched to the deck, off balance in my heavy gear.

Crunch, pop, twist. My right ankle was trapped, it was like falling with crossed skis, and I think I invented some special words in that moment of agony.  

But this is not the story of my pain, it’s the story of my wonder and gratitude for the grace and kindness to come.  

Once I could breathe again and had muttered many very Canadian “sorry’s” to my dive mates on board for the disruption to their morning outing, the captain turned the boat around and headed for shore.

We arrived at the dock and I stood on my one good leg, with one arm around my husband’s shoulder, the other around that of the young and handsome (I was injured, not blind!) dive master.  

I intended to hop off the boat with their assistance. Instead, I felt myself being scooped into the air and swinging between them like a 10-year-old as their hands formed a seat beneath me.

They lifted me off the boat, carried me along the dock and up the driveway to a waiting SUV. I couldn’t help giggling all the way. There was something both ludicrous and joyous in that moment. 

The dive shop owner, Eline, was waiting to drive my husband and I straight to the hospital in Willemstad. She threaded her car unerringly through the chaotic traffic, intermittently checking on how I was doing and maintaining a stream of entertaining storytelling to keep me distracted.

The hospital is brand new, it just opened in 2020. The doctor who saw me was ever so ginger as she gently cut my dive boot off to expose my bruised and swelling ankle, explaining that it was definitely broken.

She told me twice she thought I was very calm considering what had happened to me. And even more so, considering what was about to happen.

After x-rays, I was off to the “cast room,” where a team worked together first to relocate my ankle joint, then splint it in place. The pain may have been excruciating, but it was short-lived and the team was as kind as could be.

They praised me, even though they had done the hard work. They even taught me some colourful words in their local lingo.  

After a couple of days resting, we headed to the airport to fly home as scheduled. At the check-in counter I asked for a wheelchair and was directed to a comfortable spot to sit and wait. As I waited, I watched with dismay as the lineup for clearing immigration grew longer and longer, snaking around and back like switchbacks on a mountain trail.  

My wheelchair arrived, and with it, a smiling chauffeur. We zipped past the ever-lengthening line and cleared immigration in a flash. Next was a quick shortcut to bypass the security line, then an elevator ride to the concourse and a final sprint to the finish line.

I was dropped at my gate with a flourish, left shaking my head at the dazzling speed and ease of it.

Once home, I reported straight to our local hospital for follow up. I’d been instructed to see an orthopedic surgeon, to assess the need for surgery.

Hospitals in Ontario have been under tremendous ongoing pressure since COVID and patients have been experiencing long waits and delays.

The emergency department at St. Catharines was busy that day, as it typically is. I expected perhaps some short tempers from frustrated people, whether staff or patients.  

Instead I saw people looking out for each other, alert for cues that someone might need help or even a word of encouragement.

After sitting in the waiting room for a couple of hours, with my foot propped up on a wheelchair in an attempt to limit swelling, I got up to head to the washroom. Ever ungainly on my crutches, a woman nearby noticed as I eyed the distance with a grimace.

“I’ll take you in the wheelchair,” she said, popping out of her seat. Another woman nearby joined us, competing for the job. “I’m a nurse,” she said, “I’ll take her.” 

Both were there with their own woes, but each was quick to read my slight distress and leap into action.  

Later, in the hallway waiting area for “diagnostic imaging,” patients bantered about their afflictions, swapped stories and shared information.

When one person ventured down the hall to a vending machine for a drink, the others promised to be on the lookout should her name be called in her brief absence. 

A nurse came by and told me I needed to get my blood work done. As I began to struggle to my feet, she placed her hand on my arm and said, sit.  I’ll come to you. And returned with her basket of swabs and tubes and syringes to draw my blood where I sat. 

When the orthopedic surgeon arrived to explain the surgery I needed, he was clearly swamped. He’d just come out of surgery, he took a call about prepping for a major emergency surgery that had just come in, and he had nine more patient consults to do.

Yet he was still empathetic and thorough, even apologizing for having to hurry away.  

Back at home, friends, neighbours and family members were quick to rally. Perhaps not unexpectedly, but still I was so touched to feel their love and caring wrap me up like a warm blanket on a chilly day. 

Was all of this the Christmas spirit at work, I wondered? 

We are barraged with news of infection, inflation and environmental degradation. 

We live with knowledge of injustices, tragedies and abuses.

They are real and important to be aware of.

Yet that landscape can obscure what is all around us, sometimes where we least expect it.  

It is the spirit of kindness that pervades every day life.

I was privileged on those days to open my eyes and to see what was already there. 

What is always there. 

Now I think the rainbow I saw that Friday morning did, in fact, portend something special, and the real pot of gold is the wealth of kindness all around us. 

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