Thank you, Rudolph
In the amphitheater of the Centre Hospitalier de Sherbrooke there were 50 or 60 persons and Dr. Jodoin invited me to walk before a group of medical students.
I had to pace back and forth in front of the class concentrating on each of my uncertain steps while the doctor explained the nature of my state to the group: A non progressive congenital cerebellar atrophy, which provokes spasms at the base of the neck, problems with coordination, motor functions and balance, accompanied by elocution difficulties. He asked me to stop and asked me a few questions in order to prove this last point.
While he was explaining his diagnosis to his students, I remembered the amphitheater of L'Institut de Tourisme et d'Hôtelerie, where everything began five years ago. It was Tuesday, February 15, 1977, I remember the date because the day before there was a dance for the occasion of Valentine's Day in the Mont-Royal Street room. At 20 years of age I liked to dance, I was far from suspecting that another kind of dance would start...
While I was taking my break, between my cooking course and my accountancy course, I was taken by violent convulsions at the level of the neck. I tried hard to hold back the spasms, which lasted for at least 2 minutes. Not knowing what was happening, I blamed the event on fatigue, since I had celebrated a little late the evening before.
Around 2 hours later, it started again but this time right in the middle of philosophy; the episode lasted a good five minutes and the professor even stopped his course to ask me if I was alright. I answered no and I left the classroom to rush to the toilet room.
After having calmed down, I went to see the school nurse who really did not know what to do. Finally she signed a ticket which justified my absence and advised me to go and rest at home for the rest of the day. "If the spasms come back, go to the C.L.S.C. of your district", she advised me.
The next day there was no manifestation before evening. On Thursday I went to the C.L.S.C. Centre-Sud. A general practitioner received me a few minutes later and referred me on the spot to a specialized clinic, the Bois de Boulogne neurological clinic in the north of the city. The general practitioner also prescribed Valium for me. The next week I went to the clinic in question to meet one then two and finally all the team of neurologists who were confused in all sorts of hypotheses on the nature of my illness.
After several weeks of waiting and examinations of all sorts, I was finally given a diagnosis which, I would later learn, was erroneous: nervous troubles of a psychosomatic nature.
- Then the problem is in my head, Doctor?
- Yes, but its manifestation is very real.
- In the results of the examinations, you did not find anything defective?
- No, everything is normal.
- Is there a treatment?
- You can continue to take Valium and you should follow therapy with a psychiatrist.
I accepted the diagnosis with resignation, but it was the end of April and in less than a month I should have been leaving for Alberta, more precisely for Jasper Park Lodge, in order to undertake my training period in cooking. I absolutely did not want to miss this opportunity, therefore I planned my therapy for the autumn. I could have put off my training period for later, but training periods at Jasper were the most coveted, and I saw this adventure as a break in all the events of the past months. My spasms were still present but less frequent thanks to the Valium. We were eight trainees from the institute and I knew most since they were all students in their second year like me. The train trip lasted three days and two nights and everything went well. A few hours before our arrival, I could see the spectacle of the Rockies in the distance and I started to dream about mountain climbing, excursions in a canoe and long rides on a horse.
There are these persons who mark you for life. In the case of Rudolph Hefti, his impact may have seemed negative at the moment, but in hindsight I realized that it was he who helped me build this shell which served me and which still serves to protect me from people like him and it is for this that I will be eternally grateful to him.
Rudolph Hefti was one of the three under-chefs of the kitchen brigade of Jasper Park Lodge, a brigade of around 40 persons, of which half were permanent employees. The others were seasonal employees and trainees. Among the permanent employees a dozen were of German origin of whom one was Rudolph Hefti.
Right from getting off the train, a few employees were there to welcome us and already they warned us about the infamous Mr. Hefti. After the usual formalities including a medical examination, I met the chef of the kitchen who assigned me to the evening shift with Mr. Hefti. Right from the first day of work, the welcome from the evening shift was rather cold and Mr. Hefti had an aversion to Quebecois, a "first take" against me; all trainees were incompetent, according to him, "second take". The first evening of work was hard but my co-workers assured me that after a few evenings all would go well. But the next day I had a spasm of a few minutes in front of Hefti.
- What is wrong with you?
- I have a small nervous problem.
- I don't need this, get out of here.
"Third take": the next day I was working with the vegetables. I thought that by working in another department and on another work shift the Hefti problem would be settled, unfortunately not, the 2 shifts overlapped and he never let up provoking me:
- Hi! Frog, you're not jumping today?
I did not even answer. He went so far as to even mime my spasms and he laughed with the chef who was my superior. The latter never took me apart, but he could not nevertheless denounce his compatriot.
A few days later I was called to the human resources office. The director, an anglophone from Montreal, was more compassionate toward me after I explained my situation to him, but he had just the same to put down a written reprimand in my file. Even if this reprimand was not justified, it came from the chef of the kitchen who considered it fully merited. This diminished my chances greatly of succeeding in the training period. Furthermore the hotel ascribed me a setback, but after an appeal, the director of training of the hotel school reversed the decision.
Luckily all my colleagues from the institute supported me and I was able to go through the summer. The social aspect compensated greatly for the disagreeable side of the work, especially that of preparing vegetables for an average of a thousand guests a day was not very stimulating. But I was eager to finish my training period, it was too late to redo a new training period and my end of studes training period, in administration, was already confirmed for the spring of 78, in a large Montreal hotel. At the time I would just the same accomplish my work. If the spasms became too severe I stopped for a few minutes.
Coming back to before the class in medicine, there is now a short question period, and a student asks me:
- How were you able to live in doubt these last five years?
- Rudolph Hefti taught me many things such as patience, perseverance, integrity and respect. But especially he proved to me that a positive attitude can bring many hardships to an end.
Thank you, Rudolph, for the lesson in life.
Paul St-Laurent's Story
Thank you, Rudolph