This is one of the ugliest postcards I have or will ever send.
July 5th, 2013

This is one of the ugliest postcards I have or will ever send. I am in Halifax on some family business. This is the view from my downtown hotel room—a couple of guys window washing across the street in stinking hot temperatures. I bet they are fantasizing about rock climbing somewhere in a cool mountain valley. I have been watching them out of boredom and aversion to the punishing humidity. They’re making all the right moves, that’s for sure.

I am rarely if ever in Halifax in July. The city in summer is taken over by buskers and tourists—oh, and lots of students. You always know you are in a university town here. Actually, you are in a multi-university town. At the hospital where some of my family business was taking place over the last few days I had an extended discussion with a charming geeky young guy who was holding a clipboard and shyly advising people what corridor to proceed to. Turns out he is volunteering all summer—a biology student who is thinking about medical school and thought he would hang around the hospital all summer to meet doctors and get a feel for the profession. These guys are all over the floors. They have no paying jobs and so they signed up to do something useful. I bet their moms are happy. This seems to me to be a terrific way to pass the idle days of summer–when not studying. It shows their ambition in a largely McJob kind of market and gives them a chance to do something useful. And, man, are they ever useful. Canadian hospitals of the vintage of the Victoria General were designed to madden patients and frustrate visitors. Seems only the harried-looking staff really know how to navigate the dreary labyrinth of wards and labs. As with so many modern atrocities of the last century, human beings were never really considered part of the engineering and architectural conceptual framework. One of these young guys told me that the wing I was visiting was about to be torn down. Halleluiah for that, I say, and pass the dust masks. In any case, I have been grateful for the assuring presence of student volunteers.

I noticed that cell phones are now permitted all over the hospital. Not too long ago you couldn’t boot up a Blackberry without getting arrested. I might be out of touch, or fortunate not to have been in a hospital lately, but this was news to me. Waiting rooms are now filled with people burrowing into their games or apps or text messages. The hospital is falling apart but the people are definitely deep into the 2st century. It sure beats reading torn and finger-sticky Good Housekeeping magazines from the last decade—or being forced to listen to the shopping channel on one of those precariously suspended tv sets on every floor. Hospitals haven’t quite caught up to the technological habits of their patients although I suspect their operating equipment has. I sure hope so.

You don’t really want to spend any time—let alone July—in a hospital in Halifax, but so be it. There’s always something to learn from the experience. Now would one of those volunteer guys point me to the airport for the flight home?

NG

Dr. Faye Murrin is Dean pro tempore of the School of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor in the Department of Biology. She completed her B.Sc. (Hons.) at Memorial University, her M.Sc. at Acadia University, and her Ph.D. at Queen's University. Her research interests have always been focused on fungi, in particular the cell biology of insect pathogenic fungi and, more recently, the ecology of mycorrhizal mushrooms in the boreal forest. Dr. Murrin has served in a number of positions on the Council of the Mycological Society of America and was awarded the title of MSA Fellow for her contributions. She was awarded the Women in Science and Engineering Lifetime Membership Award as founding co-director of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Summer Program. Dr. Murrin participates in public lectures and workshops, and is a Director on the board of Newfoundland Foray, Inc.

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