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Close Encounters with Science: Picks

Bedside Vision by Jennifer Barr

The tea was lukewarm. I considered popping it into the microwave but I was too entranced. I sat in my pyjamas curled up on the couch and read the hand-written letters from my grandmother. The words each placed eloquently on the paper and post cards years before. My eyes were swollen from tears but the squint from smiling felt good. I read slowly, not wanting the experience to end. I hadn't seen the letters since they were received, read and saved years earlier.

There was a presence about my grandmother I could feel even as a young child. Her strength and wisdom radiated from her. Her humour and zest for people and all things natural was fascinating to me. She didn’t complicate things. In fact, she made things less complicated. She was a nurse, but the letters were written to me in her retirement years. She spoke of friends, flowers and fruits from her garden. She encouraged culture, experience and curiosity. Her personality was strong and vibrant. She had just now passed away, but had already long been missed. Alzheimer’s had robbed us of her for the decade preceding her passing.

One of her letters from twenty years earlier revealed her limited experience with computers, although not at all surprising for someone of her generation and time. What she wrote was interesting to read now. I recalled a moment only a few years ago when a friend of mine showed me a video he was excited about. In it, people were using real touch and holographic-like technology in real-life business and personal situations. My skin tingled with goose-bumps in disbelief, when he proudly announced, “This is a promotional video for stuff being released next month.”

Only three years ago, I had been spooked at how every day technology was becoming very sci-fi-like. At that thought I slid my finger across the screen of my phone, tapped it with my finger to mute it, and entered the funeral chapel. I read aloud some of the letters she wrote in hopes that her loved ones that day would enjoy the experience as much as I had the Saturday before. She was referring to a (printed) letter I had sent her when she wrote, back in 1993:

"So happy and pleased to get your computer letter. When it comes to computers I feel ‘computer illiterate’. Before I retired in 1986 the hospital had three computers - one in Payroll, one in Admitting and one in Medical Records. I used the one in Medical Records, maybe three times, but it was great. Now, all departments at the hospital have a computer. Next thing will be a computer at bedside for nurses to use to document. No more ‘charting’."

There was a buzz in the parlour. People at a funeral were smiling and looking knowingly and proudly at one another. Even with today’s fast-paced technology, some twenty years later, we await this now seemingly simple vision to become reality. Perhaps it’s complicated.


Jennifer Barr is from Ashton, ON

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