A man to look up to
Former Brigus mayor praises health-care system
It’s a Saturday in the late 1940s and a young McGill University student, John Waller, boards a ski train that takes him up the Gatineau Hills, north of Montreal. A child, seeing the very tall and lanky man, exclaims, “Gee, you’re tall, mister. You must be at least six feet.”
Waller good-naturedly responds, “I am five-feet-15.” Disappointment registering on the boy’s face, he says, “Aw, I thought you were at least six feet.”
More than 60 years later, Waller is now 83 years-of-age. It’s often said a person gets shorter with age, but this well-known resident of Brigus has lost precious little height. In every respect, he’s still an imposing and towering person. He has paid his dues, and is now accorded love and respect by those who know him best.
Waller’s Brigus connection stems from his late wife, Jean Marina Mae Hoddinott. They were married for close to 30 years. The town was once home to the Hoddinott family and she still had friends there. The couple regularly holidayed in Brigus. So in 2000, they left their home in Ottawa and relocated to the historic Conception Bay town.
Waller plunged right in, and within no time was the mayor.
“ Someone suggested I put my name in for councillor,” he recalls. He topped the polls, and served as mayor from 2001-05.
He continued to lead a productive, healthy life until a year ago, when he suffered a stroke.
While talking on the phone with a friend, Waller “started talking gobbledegook,” he recalls. The friend immediately called for an ambulance.
Much of what happened next is shrouded in a fog, at least from Waller’s standpoint. But he managed to walk to the ambulance and climb aboard.
He was taken to the Carbonear General Hospital, and awoke four or five weeks later. Doctors were concerned he wasn’t going to survive. The stroke, caused by a blockage in his neck, affected his right side. Now, his hand is weak and he walks with a limp.
Waller is profuse in his praise of the medical staff in Carbonear. The superlatives pile up whenever he brings them to mind: “I was treated extremely well . I have only the absolute highest praise for them.”
From Carbonear, where he had detected improvement in his condition, Waller was transferred to St. John’s, eventually undergoing rehab at the Dr. Leonard A. Miller Centre.
Doctors cleaned out the blocked carotid artery in his neck, after which he was given physiotherapy.
A red-letter day was when he was finally able to move a finger. While waiting for the hospital to come awake, he was jumping for joy. “ There was great rejoicing in the Miller Centre,” he says, “when I moved one finger a quarter of an inch.”
Little things meant much to him there. He enjoyed the food, even if he was surprised to be given eggs every day, what with the “story going around that eggs are not good for you.” He enjoyed the live entertainment provided by the hospital. He peered out the window at the scenery. Playing chess with staff stimulated his mental prowess.
Above all e lse, he was overwhelmed by the smiling faces around him. “I didn’t see a frown among them. It did make a difference. It encouraged me, and it must have encouraged the other patients.”
By May or June, Waller was back in his Brigus home, affectionately dubbed the Killick. The emotional toll on Waller has been sizable, and he often feels frustrated. The loss of his driver’s license has been difficult to accept, and he suffers from memory loss. For example, he sometimes forgets the names of communities from Brigus to Carbonear.
Meanwhile, he believes he’s dealing well with the deleterious effects of his stroke. Admittedly, he isn’t as active as he was, but adds, “I’m not exactly the youngest person in the neighbourhood.”
Waller is confounded by those who have nothing but negative things to say about the provincial health care system.
“Part of it,” he reasons, “is they do not go to the doctor when they should. They let it build up, and then they panic. Then they want the problem fixed right then and there. They’re impatient and they don’t do what they’re told.”
How does Waller cope? The stiff upper lip of his English father is evident as Waller says: “I have learned to live with what I have.” He has adapted to his situation because of lessons he has already learned about handling the disappointments of life.
His long-term goal? “I intend to outlive my mother.” Jill Waller was over 100 when she passed away.
Today, Waller benefits from home-care services, but notes: “ I’m quite capable of doing most of the things I need. I’m doing everything I can to achieve my goal. I’m still surviving.”