Straight Talk
TAREK FATAH - A healthy dose of thanks

Credits: Fotolia

TAREK FATAH | QMI AGENCY

I come bearing good news. Our much-berated health-care system is alive and well, and the fact yours truly is writing this column from London, England, is part of the evidence.

Earlier this month, my oncologist told me since my cancer is now in deep remission, I no longer have to visit her every three months for dreaded checkups to see if the monster that almost got me, had not sneaked back in to complete the task.

Two years ago, on a cold frozen February night, I was rushed to St. Michael's Hospital having lost my ability to stand. In a matter of 24 hours my legs had turned into rubber.

I was trapped in a chair on the third floor of our home. Nargis, my wife, called 911 to ask them to come and help her move me so she could rush me to the hospital. Even today I marvel at the ability of the two young medics who got me out of the house and raced the ambulance to emergency where they stood with me until I was registered and given a bed.

All the horror stories I had read about ambulance delays, inattentive medical staff, lazy receptionists, and general sloppiness in the emergency rooms of our hospitals turned out to be false ­-- at least in my experience. Even with excruciating back pain and a blinding headache, I couldn't help notice how well the system worked and at the same time how patients came brainwashed into believing they were not to get decent care, even when they got it.

Within hours I was rushed in for an MRI. Shortly after, the neurologists had determined a cancerous tumour on my spine had collapsed on my spinal cord and was rapidly destroying the nervous system of my lower body.

They said if I didn't have surgery immediately, I would become a paraplegic who would soon die of cancer. Their faces were grim and the tearful plea of my wife that they could be wrong, was met by a frank response: "No Mrs. Fatah, we are positive your husband has cancer which has metastasized on his spine. We need to operate as soon as possible." To be told one has possibly come to the end of one's life is a fascinating experience. Nothing can explain that feeling. There is a silence in your soul that drowns out the noise of pettiness and silliness that surrounds us all.

After five minutes of tears, my family and friends broke into laughter when I suggested I'll be in good company with Christopher Hitchens in heaven where I'll have the 72 virgins and he won't.

After the surgery, the doctors told me they could not take out all of the tumour as some of it was behind the spine, but chemotherapy will do the rest.

Like so many other cancer patients, I started many rounds of chemotherapy, except I had lost the use of my legs in the process. For four months I stayed in the care of St. Michael's doctors, oncologists, ambulance drivers, medics, nurses, support staff, janitors and physiotherapists.

These men and women became my extended family who I still visit. They are the angels that reside amongst us and put up with our idiosyncrasies. They are Canada's best citizens and they deserve our respect.

Later I would live at the Lyndhurst Rehab Centre where they taught me how to stand, then walk with a stroller and finally how to climb stairs.

Today I am in London. I travelled here alone, flying across the pond for the first time without help. I walked the streets last night and cried in joy, thanking Canada's health-care system, that made it possible for me to not just walk again, but beat death in the process.

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