I’ve always been fascinated by hospitals and the world of medicine: curious about the secrets of “authorized personnel only” zones, addicted to shows like House and ER, and devouring behind-the-scenes tales like The Night Shift.
Today I had a chance to tour my neighbourhood’s brand new “Superhospital”, before patients and staff move in next spring. The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) will consolidate several large – and aging – Montreal-area hospitals on one site, including The Montreal Children’s Hospital, Royal Victoria Hospital, and Montreal Chest Institute, as well as the Research Institute and Cedars Cancer Centre. A new Shriners Hospital for Children will also be housed nearby.
The visit was a rare opportunity to explore a huge, pristine, health-care facility before the first blood draw is taken and first baby born. Here’s what it looked like.
Before my great-aunt Leba (Presner) Mayerovitch died a few years ago, she lent me some thick photo albums, in which I found some family pictures I’d never seen before. This is the story behind three of those images.
My grandfather Samuel “Shia” Presner was a second-generation Canadian whose parents escaped poverty and anti-Jewish sentiment in Poland around the turn of the twentieth century, coming to Canada and settling in Montreal.
Education was the clear route to success in the new world, but despite top marks, when Shia applied to medical school at McGill, the well-regarded university in his hometown, he quickly discovered he wasn’t welcome. A “a strict quota” limited “Jewish enrolment to 10% of all students” in the Faculties of Medicine and Law. (This was not a friendly time for Jews in several parts of Canada. My father remembers being told about a prominent resort in Quebec’s Laurentians with a sign at the entrance proclaiming: “No Dogs / No Jews.”)
So Shia did the next best thing, as did many of his friends: he became a pharmacist. After graduating, and thanks to a loan from his brother-in-law, he opened a drugstore around 1936 on busy Ste-Catherine Street West in downtown Montreal, just a few doors west of Crescent. He dispensed prescriptions at the back of the narrow shop, served up chocolate sodas and malted milks at the “luncheonette” counter, and sold all manner of knick-knacks, or should I say tchotchkes. Evidently the pineapple ice cream sundae was also a big seller.
My grandmother Lillian (Bierbrier) Presner helped customers with cosmetic purchases in a role then called a “beautician,” which didn’t really take advantage of her Bachelor of Commerce degree. (She would put her education to use later in life, starting a mortgage company.) The store stayed open seven days a week – even though some Sundays saw only one or two customers – because Shia felt an obligation to be available, just in case someone needed some toothpaste or Aspirin or an urgent prescription filled.
After acquiring two more pharmacies around Montreal, my grandfather’s three-pack-a-day (unfiltered!) cigarette habit took its toll, and he was hit with a heart attack in 1955. He quit smoking and scaled back his work, selling his stores but still practicing pharmacy until the age of 80. He died three years later when I was 16.
Shia, thank you for persevering in the face of ignorant and prejudiced people. I’m glad you found a profession you were proud of, even though it wasn’t your first choice. I wish I’d gotten to hear your stories directly, but am still grateful to have learned them now.
Special thanks to my dad Bob Presner for help piecing together and fact-checking the stories in this post.
I glance at the caller ID screen and don’t recognize the number, so I don’t bother picking up. If I’m near a computer or my iPad I’ll probably Google the number for clues.
I check voice mail. Oh, yay! I’ve won a cruise to the Bahamas… for the fourteenth time this year.
Nine out of ten phone calls I get these days are either surveys or robocall spam. The automated calls from my local Honda dealership that are so conversational they sometimes suck me into replying “Hello?” are particularly annoying.
The days of friends and family calling to chat are just about over – and I’ll admit I’m rarely compelled to initiate a call myself. My dad still calls to catch up now and then, which is refreshing.
I miss the sound of the phone ringing as something positive to look forward to. Would it be a friend wanting to see how I’m doing? A family member calling to share their latest news?
I wonder if I’m being nostalgic for no good reason. Email, Facebook, and Twitter are are the main ways I communicate these days, and they seem to serve me well. And yet, every time the phone rings and it’s not a real human, I get a little wistful.
Do you miss having “real” conversations on the phone? Do you still call your friends?
This was supposed to be the exciting post in which I re-premiered a revelatory autobiographical documentary I made many decades ago. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be, as thanks to my over-attachment to outdated technology, I have no way of converting my old VHS tape into a digital format at the moment. (Ironically, the software we had for the task no longer runs on our current operating system.)
Despite this technological failure, I will still share with you the title of the video: Kathy P: Listoholic. In the spirit of the piece – which will have to wait for another day – I present to you, a list:
Five Random-But-Slightly Related Things You May Not Know About Me
Back in the stone age pre-Internet era, I worked in film and television as a production manager, associate producer, script supervisor, and editor, among other stressful, demanding, and unglamorous positions. If you – or your children – watched TV in the 1990s, you may have seen someof myshows.
I used to be called Kathy. My moniker morphed in 1992 when I assistant directed a kids’ TV show and the floor manager’s name also happened to be Kathy. Two Kathys on one control-room/studio intercom system was not workable, so being the younger Kathy I volunteered to give up my name. Kathryn stuck.
Before I thought I wanted to work in film and television, I thought I wanted to be a professional actress. I had small parts in movies and acted in plays from about the age of eight to my late teens, when I discovered super-8 filmmaking and decided that being behind the camera was a much better place to be than in front of it. (Later in life I would learn that behind-the-scenes was not all it was cracked up to be, either.)
I get nauseous and headachy watching movies that are too handheld, fast-cut, or that were shot with a high frame rate. If I take anti-motion-sickness meds beforehand I can usually handle it.
My favourite genre is the documentary. There is nothing quite like reality to move and inspire.