Saint-Vincent Hospital is a 336 bed facility in mid-town Ottawa that offers complex continuing care to its patients. Most patients stay an average of four to six months; others stay longer -- oftentimes years -- depending on their medical needs or the availability of more suitable accommodations in long-term care facilities. For those patients Saint-Vincent is home, but it is a home within an institutional environment: regulated diets and meal times, limited social activities, and limited opportunities to engage with the community outside its doors.
However, there is a sense of community within the hospital itself, despite the fluid nature of its population. There is a core group of long-term residents that forms the nexus of the community. But still, despite living at the hospital for years, there is little interaction with the people who live in the neighbourhood. We are neighbours, yet there is a significant social divide.
Part of that divide, I think, lies in our discomfort with illness and incapacity. And to work through the divide requires that we confront our assumptions, judgements and fears about illness and vulnerability and our own mortality. It demands that we see beyond the wheelchair or the amputation and look instead at the full measure of the person sitting in that chair.
I began this series of portraits with the idea of bringing our two communities together, to help those of us in the neighbourhood understand that we are not very different from the patients living at Saint-Vincent.