Ken Bovey, Part 4: Into the Hospital

June 13th, 2011 was the 20th anniversary of the death of a friend of mine, Ken Bovey.   Ken died at the age of 32 from scleroderma, a rare auto-immune disease.  This is the story of the last 10 months of Ken’s life.  It is a story of how one man prepared for his own death.

After my return from Medjugorje, Ken and I got together and I told him all the stories of what had happened there.  We continued to have our dinners and pray, but our prayers took on a deeper confidence that everything was going to be alright.  Nothing much changed between late October 1990 and February of 1991.   Ken continued to work in the Physical Plant Department at Western, where he established the university’s first recycling program.

At Christmas, Ken went home to Montreal to be with his mother Nancy, his father Chris, and his younger brother, Geoff.  Geoff would tell me later that he and Ken had made a silly Christmas video in which Ken said “This will be my last Christmas.”   In denial about his brother’s condition, Geoff was upset with him for saying it.

As winter plodded on, hope of treatments at the Mayo Clinic faded.  Yet, Ken never seemed to lose his joy for life.   He never seemed to fall into despair, though he did express discouragement and frustration sometimes.  He was dying, after all.

One sunny afternoon day in February, my phone rang.   It was Ken.  His voice cracked, and he could barely get the words out: “Pat,  the doctor told me today he wants me to go into the hospital.   Will you come pick me up at work?”  A feeling of dread washed over me, melting the denial of the grave seriousness of Ken’s health.  The cold truth of his illness set in again.

By the time I got to Western, Ken had calmed down.  I met him in his office and he gave me a box to carry out to the car.  It was surreal to watch him say good-bye to his co-workers, knowing deep down that this would be the last time he would be there.  I suspect they knew he was leaving – forever.  What were his co-workers to say?  “See you later?”  “Good luck with the move?”  “Have fun at your new job?”  We went to his house where he packed some clothes and we headed to University Hospital.

After being admitted, I told Ken I’d see him later that evening.  It would be the first of many evening visits with Ken between February and June, 1991.   Almost as soon as he was admitted, his vegetarianism became the cause of complaints.  Often, the best they could give him were cheese sandwiches on white bread.  The lack of vegetarian food was worse than the scleroderma!

Friends of Ken would come for visits in the late afternoon, many of whom were social activists and fellow vegetarians.  Among two I’ll never forget, was a particularly nervous middle-aged woman and her alternative health mentor, a tall man bearded man who carried himself with a sense of ‘take control’ confidence.  Alice was her name and she had with her a wooden box with a rope handle on it.

I sat in a chair beside Ken’s bed while she opened the box and took out some tuning forks.  Under the careful watch of her instructor, she struck the fork on her hand and started waving it over Ken.   Suddenly, the instructor burst out, “You’re going the wrong way!  Go in the other direction!”   Now panicked, poor Alice started the process again, striking the fork and waving it way too quickly over Ken in the opposite direction (I was now an expert in harmonic tuning fork modalities).   Any remote sense of therapeutic integrity was now gone and all I could think was, “How ridiculous!  He’s dying for Pete’s sake and you want cure him with tuning forks!”

Though I jest, the drama exhausted what little energy Ken had left.   Seeing this, I said a prayer over him, asking God to give him a spirit of peace and perseverance in his suffering.   At the beginning, Ken had lots of visitors, but as his hospital stay lenghtened, the number of his visitors dwindled, as did his health.

Categories Blog Post | Tags: , , , , | Posted on July 26, 2011

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  • Tammy

    How heart-wrenching this post was! Here are my thoughts:

    There is a sad, yet spiritual, irony that the February day when Ken called you was a sunny one as you listened to the hollow-sounding words of “he wants me to go into the hospital”. How does one process the idea that they are taking their final drive…… ever………. and it’s to a hospital?

    “I met him in his office and he gave me a box to carry out to the car.” This short sentence was so visually powerful. A box……he packed and gave you a box…. of things he’d never use again…. Ken’s working life was metaphorically contained in that single box that you carried out to the car, leaving behind an empty desk and aching co-workers’ hearts. I felt, in this paragraph, what you and he, as his friend, must have experienced that day in those moments of leaving……….leaving behind a life as he knew it to begin one he didn’t know….. a journey where spiritual trust would be the only thing you and he would have to lean on. Your excellent work with words has drawn me in.

  • Wendy Blain

    It was a privilege for him to have you as his friend, a faithful friend. Your prayer time would have been so meaningful for him. You must have been going through a lot yourself as you were watching Ken walk through his journey. God, I believe, was sustaining you also.

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