The title of “Men’s Group” is a bit of an ambiguous one. It could refer to just about anything, from a group of friends who hang out and watch sports to other varieties of clubs. As a result, when Garry Upton dropped by the Foundation office a few weeks ago and mentioned that he was on his way to “Men’s Group” I was quite curious and a little apprehensive. I would soon find out what it entailed however, because it was quickly suggested that I attend a meeting to make the acquaintance of “The Guys”.

That is how I found myself wandering the wings of SPH’s Extended Care Unit in an attempt to find the sunroom where the group was meeting. When I knocked and let myself in, I found several male residents circled around a table laughing as they teased Jim, who had fallen asleep.

“Wake up Jim, there’s a girl here!” Sleepy Jim opened his eyes a crack and I sat down at the table with them. It was clear that I did not fit in; at twenty years of age, I am a fair bit younger than the typical attendee. I was also the only woman present. Garry quickly made the introductions with a wide smile, and the meeting commenced.

Exactly when Men’s Group began here at SPH is a contested topic, but Garry began hosting the meetings a year and a half ago. A Rotarian who began to volunteer at the hospital in his free time, Garry was helping out with lunch one day when hospital staff asked if he could stay a bit later in the afternoon. There was a Men’s Group scheduled and they needed a volunteer to chair the meeting. Garry agreed and the rest is history.

It did not take long for me to feel at ease with the guys. Welcoming and friendly, they made several jokes at Garry’s expense. At one point, Garry turned to me and swore me to secrecy, “Men’s Group is like Vegas. What happens in Men’s Group stays in Men’s Group.”

There is no topic off limits in a weekly meeting. The group of guys is a close-knit circle of friends, and while they love to laugh together, there have also been trials and tribulations to face. They shared with me the promising medical news of one of the members and touched on how they have lost some friends during their time together. Jokes, tears and everything in between, these members go through life as a team. 
The support and care filling the room was tangible.

We talked about quite a few things during my visit. The guys have all led fascinating lives and bring a diverse array of experiences to the table. Take Leo for example. Leo – who is known as the “Blackberry Guy” around here – used to be a rock mason. He helped build the Alaska Highway, refurbished the masonry on Buckingham Palace and even explained to me how earthquake-proof cement is made. Then there is Frank. Frank loves race cars and boats, and has built a kayak for each one of his grandchildren. He also used to build “elf doors,” tiny artistic doors that people buy and prop against tree trunks for their local gnomes.

I was also debriefed on one of their long-running schemes: in an effort to fund a boat tour in the Mediterranean for the group, they have decided their best course of action would be to put the hospital up for sale. They have their entire vacation planned out down to the minutest, most extravagant detail. I was solemnly informed that the Mediterranean is a beautiful destination and not to be missed.

Big dreams aside, I was interested to learn that just like twenty year olds, the residents of the ECU have relationship woes – some of which are the talk of the town. The other week at sing-a-long for instance, a lady resident held onto Frank and simply would not let go! It was decided she must have a crush on him; except that at the next sing-a-long, she did the exact same thing to another resident in the Men’s Group, Gary! Alex on the other hand is currently dating a fellow resident named Dell – but that did not stop him from asking for my phone number!

It was disappointing when the afternoon finally drew to a close. Men’s Group is really just a circle of supportive friends with excellent senses of humour, and I could not be more grateful to have sat in with them. Their words changed how I saw the ECU; it doesn’t feel like a hospital. It feels like a home and the strong sense of community is the best evidence of that.

By Stephanie Siddon, 
SPHF Summer Co-op Student

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