Review – IWK “Everything Right” from Atlantic Books Today


A Century of Caring for Families
By Stephen Kimber. S22.95 (pb)
978-1-55109-712-1. 212 pp.
Nimbus Publishing. September 2009

When, just fifteen minutes into reading the book, I am in tears, then something’s got to be right. And I believe Stephen Kimber has done everything right in his captivating history of the extraordinary story of pediatric care that exists right here in Halifax and beyond. In fact the scope of the book is testimony to former chief Dr. Richard Goldbloom’s desire to see the IWK expand beyond Nova Scotia, beyond the Maritimes, beyond Canada to ‘make women, children, and families everywhere the healthiest possible’.

By matching miracles with patients and their parents, persuasive and highly capable doctors and devotees, funders and fundraisers, volunteers and visionaries and, of course, nurses, he has given us more than a chronology of care. Kimber has given us a fully integrated account of what makes the IWK Health Centre what it is today, 100 years from the opening of the Halifax Children’s Hospital. He has given us 100 years of meaningful milestones and mergers with, for instance, the Salvation Army’s Grace Maternity hospital, and made us know that the IWK will continue to adapt and flourish.

The book is about life—those saved, above all—and death, for naturally it must be about sadly-premature death. It’s about legends like those who had a dream at the turn of the last century, women such as Marion Morrow, or the Killams, Izaak Walton himself, ‘who was something of a tightwad’, and his widow Dorothy, who anted up her original promise of three million dollars into eight, the drive of men and women like Kathleen Rowan-Legg, and other cornerstones like Benge Atlee and Alex Gillis.

It’s about dedication shown by the doctor who met a new out-of-town patient at the bus stop, or the one who donated his own blood when exigency demanded. Or bending the rules to allow an under-the-age-of-two patient room with her over-the-age-of-two brother in what became known as the ‘Thompson suite’. This kind of concern has become a hallmark of the IWK’s policy of integration of family into the process. This has itself translated into the fact that patients keep coming back just to make contact with those who once made such a difference to their lives.

Recollections and reminiscences from doctors, nurses, patients, families and a cross-section of almost every type of person who has been touched by the IWK bring a smile or a tear or simply a salute. Goldbloom, when being courted to head up the hospital, noting that naming the hospital after Killem would lead lo its being called the “I Kill-em hospital’, was neatly told: ‘Doc, eight million dollars you ain’t worth.’ So the name stayed and the doctor did, too.

Kimber, who has his own personal story about the care his children received at the IWK, has tracked people as far away as New Zealand to show how far the reaches of the health centre are. His brief was not to conceal the warts and so there are a couple that, along with stand-alone anecdotes and cameos which never interrupt the narrative, serve to enliven the story. Take the doctor who was fired for inappropriate conduct (fudging expenses and autopsy reports) and later found to have stockpiled organs in England, or the administrator who lied about his qualifications. These are few enough and the lesson learned is that when handled with honesty and openness such things need never be a problem. Interspersing the time-line with case studies has made this book a superb read and, indeed, a collector’s item.

—Shirley Gueller
Atlantic Books Today
Spring 2010