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A Serendipitous Meeting Leads to a Walk Down Memory Lane

Author: By Tim Lai
12 May 2017

This week, I brought my wife Julie with me to take a walk through Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) and up to the 16th floor to mark the 10th anniversary of my dad’s passing.

After walking through the quiet ward to the lounge (with the best view in Vancouver), we stood in the main hallway outside the elevator. About to press the down button, I saw the nurse wrapping up a conversation with a family member beside the aquarium I had walked by countless times a decade ago. I said to Julie that the nurse looked familiar so I stopped to ask her if she had worked in this unit 10 years ago. She looked back at me and tilted her head with a pinch of déjà vu.

“Yes, I remember you. You were here all the time. Your dad was Mr. Lau, in the corner unit – 430.”

Taken aback, I did a double-double take. What? She remembered? Eyes wide open, I reluctantly corrected her and said it was Lai – but close enough. I was floored – in an amazing way.

I was planning on visiting later in the evening, but the night changed slightly to allow us to go before dinner. I would’ve missed her due to the shift change, but I’m so glad I ran into her. Call it serendipitous. She had cared for many patients over her career, but she said my dad stood out. She said he wasn’t an easy patient as he was a perfectionist and wanted the staff to have that quality. But she recalled one time distinctly as she prepared to put a large IV into his arm. During the first few weeks of his four months in palliative care, my dad’s emotions were erratic, and he took it out on the staff. But as the nurse explained what she was doing with the equipment, apparently, my dad placed his hand on her wrist and told her, “I trust you,” before she proceeded with the IV. That stuck with her – she repeated it a few times during our conversation.

Still, this could have been any patient over the years with a Chinese last name. But she then recalled that he was in the insurance business and that some procedures were more challenging with the tracheotomy he had. (Check and check with those details.) She went on to talk fondly about my mom. She asked if I had kids and I showed her a recent picture of my daughters Lauren and Kathryn in front of my dad’s spot at Oceanview. Her eyes starting welling up seeing that picture and the legacy of my dad.

Despite the years, difficult cases and grieving family members, she remembered my dad. She spoke with such conviction and compassion – I guess that’s a testament to my dad and the character he exuded during his long stint there. But more so, it demonstrates the special quality she and other palliative staff bear during a patient’s stay and long after their death.

The crew at VGH was (and continues to be) amazing. I overhead another conversation with a patient that day and it brought back my memories of the discussions I had had with them. They’re empathetic and compassionate, strong and realistic. Before leaving, I gave her hug and thanked her for her work a decade ago and the work she continues to do. She smiled back, and said “God bless.” This nurse remembered my dad’s story and (nearly) his name. I had to look at her name tag to get hers. I don’t think I’m going to forget anytime soon - it's Virginia.
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