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Power of the people on display

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Participants during their march on Labour Day

At least three matters have profoundly impacted my sensitivities this week. Firstly were the thousands who filled Union Square for the 34th annual Labour Day celebrations. Secondly was news of the passing of Bermuda’s oldest resident, Mrs Doris Josephine Corbin.

She was just one month short of her 104th birthday. Last rites for Mrs Corbin are scheduled for today. And thirdly, news reaching this correspondent about an increasing number of women losing their balance and falling to the ground.

Over the decades we have had occasion to write tons of features about Mrs Corbin in her capacity as organist and director of the choir at St Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, Court Street, Hamilton, which is regarded as the cathedral of African Methodism in the country. She taught for many years at Victor Scott Primary School, formerly known as Central School.

She beautifully shared the spotlight with her husband Clarence who was a star tennis champion, and a great singer in his own right. He predeceased her in 2010. Three sons were born of their union, being George W and Charles (Canterbury) Corbin and the late Michael Corbin. Mike Corbin was one of the dynamic on-air radio and television personalities before his untimely death. He was so personable and resourceful a newsman that he was nicknamed “Scope” by his colleagues.

Mrs Corbin was one of the top practitioners of the revolutionary singing techniques of American, Dr Furhman Fordham. He was promoted here by a group headed by the late baritone Dilton Cann and including Mrs Corbin, also myself (yours truly) as well as embracing some of the best known male and female soloists in the land such as the late Violet Lambert and late Ismay Louise Philip.

In my column a week ago about the trip to Buckingham Palace mention was made how this correspondent could count on one hand the number of times having begun a feature with the use of the word “I”. Here’s another “I” feature extracted from my Island Notebook feature dated Friday December 20, 1996 in the Mid-Ocean News. It was headed “Ismay’s On Song Again”, and read:

Bye-bye Good Old Bad Hip! That’s the refrain mezzo-soprano Ismay Philip has joyously been singing for the past several days.

But deep down she admits having had mixed feelings parting with a hip that stood her in such good stead for so many years, one that carried her halfway around the world, as the mother of seven children, and which has never let her down as a wife sharing the limelight of a busy public figure, and in her own right for more than 60 years as a soloist, choir director and active community worker.

Perhaps, she might never have needed a total hip replacement were it not for a freak accident, and how she related to it; which she and her orthopaedic surgeon wanted others to know could happen to them.

Eight years beforehand while decorating the boutique she operated in the Bermudiana Arcade, she slipped on a plastic bag. Being the stoical person she was, she quickly rose from the floor, thinking the only hurt she suffered was to her “dignity and honour”, which she soon recomposed. Eight years later she developed a strange limp that had her doctors baffled particularly because she had been experiencing no pain whatsoever.

The doctors, however, determined that Ismay had sustained a hairline fracture in that fall which over the years, despite no pain, had precipitated serious joint deterioration and unwittingly she was forced to become one of an alarming number of Bermudians for whom the use of a walking aid was a growing fashion. For some it was a sort of “last resort” syndrome that could well led to confinement in a wheelchair as well as other complications.

Joint replacement was what doctors called elective surgery, meaning an operation which patients must decide whether or not to have. Often pain was what drove them to make up their minds, which Family Doctor Allan Bruckner noted in the weekly column he wrote then for The Royal Gazette.

He was a young Canadian-trained Fellow of the Royal College who had some advice which Bermudians should bear in mind. He had noticed, because by nature the bones of people of African descent are very hard; when they fall they do not necessarily break, and if they break, it may well be in the nature of a hairline fracture. And a further complication, the doctor had noted, was that Bermudians seemed to be very tolerant of pain. He added, it could be because they can’t afford to be out of work, or to take time off. When something happens they pretend it is not serious and are prepared to limp for a while and then go back to work. If his patient had fallen in the United States or Canada, where they are less tolerant of pain, or if she were white, she probably would have broken her hip. Hip replacement in Canada at that time occurred at the rate of 400 in a population of 100,000.

Dr Bruckner told me for my Mid-Ocean column: What I would advise people who fall, even if it may not appear to be serious, and while it may not seem to have pain, they should go to the hospital’s emergency room and press their doctor to take an X-ray. Sometimes a fracture may not be seen. If pain persists, or if one is limping a week or two after a negative X-ray report, other tests can be done such as a bone scan that can show if a bone was broken.

Bone scan is not an expensive examination and is available in Bermuda. It would pick up what an X-ray missed, particularly in the case of black people, whose bone are so hard and can take ten times the of pressure of a white person. If it is not a complete break, the use of crutches may be ordered to keep weight off the bone to allow it to heal, stated Dr Bruckner.

I concluded that December 20, 1996 Island Notebook feature noting how it had been a mind-blowing experience for myself functioning as an aide-de-camp to Ismay during her hospitalisation. It enabled me to be able to see close up how the hospital functioned. I considered the hospital to be a complex city within itself; and perhaps was Bermuda’s premier city, from which the outside world could learn many lessons in efficiency, civility and traffic control. It just seemed to be so highly organised, extremely busy, with an endless procession of hard-working caregivers, patients, family and friends quietly going about their business around the clock in an environment I considered to be neat and friendly.

Since I wrote the foregoing back in 1996, a new multimillion dollar acute wing of King Edward VII Memorial Hospital has been built and having had a few days confinement there last month, I am happy to declare it seems to be accentuating the positive.

Meanwhile, this correspondent on Monday decided not to be among the hundreds setting out for the 34th annual parade from Union Square. They sang, improvised their own music for their demonstration, chanting with big and small banners each carrying a particular message calculated to show that “the power of the people” was far more potent than “the people in power”. They were fully charged, having been fired up by speeches by heads of the BIU, Teachers Union and Musicians Union. Union leaders had decided not to utilise the famous tourist sightseeing train as had previously been for elders like yours truly. Instead a big air-conditioned Government bus had been chartered. Respectfully, I was given a seat, but alighted preferring to wait on the Union steps to capture the paraders as they wound up their march. They danced to the torrid music supplied by the BIU’s ace DJ’s until a shower of rain cut the activities short.

The late Mr Clarence and Doris Corbin. Mrs Corbin was awarded the Certificate and Badge of Honour by the Queen in 1983 for her services in the Girl Guide Movement
Participants during their march around the city