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Innovative CBC series captures life at Roger's House and other health-care spots across Canada

Still image from the six-part CBC series "Keeping Canada Alive, which examines the stories of 36 people across the country in Canada's health care system. This is Campbell, a disabled boy in respite care at Roger's House, with Roger's House manager Marion Rattray.
Still image from the six-part CBC series "Keeping Canada Alive, which examines the stories of 36 people across the country in Canada's health care system. This is Campbell, a disabled boy in respite care at Roger's House, with Roger's House manager Marion Rattray.

Nurse Marion Rattray cuddles a young boy in her lap. “Poor little man,” she says softly. “Are you having a bad morning?” Campbell, who is deaf and blind, was awake and in pain again last night. As Rattray gently strokes his face, he leans his head back and gives her a loopy, ecstatic smile.

It’s May 6, 2015, a typical day at Roger’s House, a pediatric hospice on the grounds of CHEO that also offers respite care so parents of ill and disabled children like Campbell can take a break.

What’s unusual is that the simple moment was captured on camera. It’s part of an ambitious CBC-TV series that documents one day in the life of Canada’s health-care system.

The six-part series, Keeping Canada Alive, tells the stories of three dozen people across the country. It’s narrated by Kiefer Sutherland. CBC dispatched 60 camera crews to 10 provinces and one territory, and captured the drama unfolding in hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics, and homes.

Campbell appears in the second episode, airing Oct. 11. The one-hour show is gripping.

Campbell has a huge smile for Marion Rattray, a nurse and manager at Roger's House.
Campbell has a huge smile for Marion Rattray, a nurse and manager at Roger’s House.

 

We meet Campbell’s friend Sienna, 15, another respite regular at Roger’s House, whose muscular dystrophy has put her in a wheelchair. Sienna giddily confides to Rattray that she has a boyfriend. “Is he good to you?”  says Rattray. “That’s nice.” Later, Sienna whimpers with relief and worry when her mom Louise arrives. Louise is being released from hospital herself that day. She’s battling lung cancer. Sienna gazes up at her mom, both of them crying. “You’re tough!” the teenager says.

At a hospital in Vancouver, the parents of a 25-year-old man enduring what his doctor describes as “dangerous” heart surgery huddle in a hallway. The dad’s face is etched with worry. “You know,” he says softly, as we watch images of blood dripping onto the operating room floor, “Jamie is a very good son. That’s why God always takes care of him.”

In Halifax, 88-year-old Angus arrives at an emergency room, his face bloody after a car accident. He is treated by a kindly doctor who describes his patients as “just lovely” and warns it’s best not to trust any ER doctor who thinks he knows everything about a patient he’s just met.

Angus is OK, although he gets a traffic ticket for running a stop sign. His white-haired wife Mary, walking slowly with a cane, comes to retrieve him. She gently chides her husband: “We better not let you out alone again.” They both laugh.

The snippets of stories are interspersed, so you have to watch to the end to find out what happens to the patients. They’re simple, universal tales, more revealing in many ways than a mountain of statistics on wait times, doctor shortages, and heart transplant lists. But if you want the facts, CBC has provided lots of them, too, on the accompanying website, which also has hours of raw footage, including full surgeries, interviews and commentary.

Keeping Canada Alive

What: Six one-hour shows that offer a snapshot of Canada’s health-care system over one 24-hour period

When: The first episode premieres Sunday, Oct. 4 at 9 p.m.

The Ottawa angle: The episode featuring Roger’s House airs Oct. 11, and another episode on Oct. 25 features an Ottawa woman with cancer undergoing the removal and reconstruction of her remaining breast.

More information: www.cbc.ca/keepingcanadaalive. The website features statistics, commentary, interviews, and a  24-hour stream of raw footage shot during the series, including full surgeries.

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