Sunday, December 25, 2005

Come Fire or Flood

Both baby Erich and Karen were finally discharged Christmas morning. A very kind nurse (Amy) came to tell us the good news: The baby's weight had gained ever so slightly over the previous day. This was of course a positive sign, and all the nurses and pediatricians felt more comfortable discharging us with Erich's weight on its way up. All of us had gotten some rest the night before too.

We decided it would be best to leave the hospital just after the next feeding when Erich would be the most content. I [Jonathan] repacked our belongings into our bags while Karen tended to Erich. Then, the most unbelievable thing happened. Fire broke out at the hospital, followed by flood.

Now, during our almost week-long stay at the hospital, we had come to observe a few daily rituals. The first was the daily change of guard - nurses clock in every 12 hours, once in the morning and once at night. The second was the ever recurring false fire alarm. Nearly every day we were at the hospital, the fire alarm would sound, and we would observe two bright red fire trucks race up Thurlow St., stay for five minutes, and then be on their way. We once asked a nurse about this, and she simply replied that with the age of St. Paul's Hospital, they tend to get many false alarms.

So, when the fire alarm went off Christmas morning as we were preparing to leave, we thought nothing of it. (Never cry wolf?) As was before, two bright red fire engines came racing up Thurlow St., except this time they didn't leave. A few minutes later, a fire chief, a policeman, and two more bright red fire engines showed up. Now, we were curious! I cautiously opened the door to our room, and observed that all the nurses (which incidentally were not that many - it was Christmas afterall!) pacing frantically about closing one fire exit door after another.

"Regular code red procedures", I thought. "Nothing to worry about."

That's when I started to smell smoke. A nurse came in to inform us of the situation: Fire had broken out on the fourth floor (the floor directly above us), and was in the process of being contained. She warned that water could come down at any moment, so we needed to evacuate. The fire alarm had gone from a muted chime to fast short rings indicating that the sprinklers could come on at any moment. Whatever tiredness I had left gave way to adrenaline and this new sense of urgency that I had not felt previously. I think I would have reacted quite differently had it been only Karen and myself, but now I was worried about our son! Cooly, calmly but quickly we gathered up our bags, put Erich in his bassinet, and rolled him out of our room and joined the 4 or 5 other families -- some still in labour(!) -- in the refuge area.

Photo taken with my cellphone camera: Note the two other babies in their respective bassinets behind Karen. Several other babies and their parents were also in the refuge area along with one women in labour.
We were huddled in the refuge area for about an hour or so. None of us really knew much of what was going on, so it made for some rather interesting conversation. Afterall, it's not everyday that babies are born in the midst of fire and flood.

It turns out, in the end, that the fourth floor was on fire set by an arsonist (see the corresponding news story). What kind of sick individual would set a hospital on fire?! There was extensive flood/water damage to the fourth floor and several of the maternity ward rooms.

Strangely enough, all the babies slept through most of this ordeal. We were finally "rescued" from the hospital by our brother-in-law, John. The nurses discharged us, and took us through some interesting back routes through the hospital in order to get to an exit well away from the affected areas. We arrived home, happy to see our own bed again.

1 comment:

Joycelin Ng said...


So glad you're writing all this. Glad that part of something we all shared this Christmas has been captured so beautifully.

Your sis - Joycelin

PS - I never thought I'd see the day you'd choose to do creative writing. I never told you this, but I still remember being brought to parent teacher interviews one year when you were in junior high and pretending to be playing in the corner by myself while your English teacher, mom and dad murmured on about your mediocre performance in English - I thought, then that you must hate writing =)