Lorraine Rouyn-Noranda, QC
Sit, stand, kneel. Repeat. At Sunday morning mass those are the actions of the congregation; an age-old set of customs in which everyone participates. But for Lorraine Howard it was not possible to take part. At the time of the onset of her illness she was in her early forties, still young. She watched as white-haired grandmothers in the pews around her performed the actions to the best of their abilities. Sit, stand, kneel. But she could not. She was too weak to stand or kneel. Lorraine could only sit. Today, at 66 years of age, Lorraine still remembers the sting of judgement on that Sunday morning. Her illness has inhibited her activities in countless ways.
As a child Lorraine moved with her family from Montreal to Rouyn-Noranda. A mining community located in Abitibi-Temiscamingue, in the northwestern region of the province of Quebec, Rouyn-Noranda is a small city with limited medical resources. It is 630 km from Montreal and that is the distance Lorraine must travel to access the specialized treatment she requires.
Lorraine remembers “always being sick,” and admits that her education and her working life were
limited because of recurring illness. She experienced bouts of symptoms including severe gastric pain
and bloating, diarrhea and vomiting, and, always, the debilitating weakness that accompanied the
discomfort. When she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease over twenty years ago, and she understood
that the illness has no cure and is a chronic condition, Lorraine says simply: “I cried.”
Today Lorraine’s illness is stable. But the treatments she must undergo are daunting. Crohn's disease
inflames the lining of the gastrointestinal tract and disrupts the body's ability to digest food, absorb
nutrition, and eliminate waste in a healthy manner. Eighteen hours a day, even during her sleep,
Lorraine receives liquid nutrition through an intravenous site.
“I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to have this sickness,” Lorraine says. She explains that some people
have a more severe case than others. For her, powerful pain medication is required every three hours
and anti-nausea medication every four hours. She has undergone multiple surgeries, to remove
portions of her intestinal tract and to create an ostomy. Once a week a local nurse visits to monitor her
condition and change the ostomy bandages. But the local medical facilities in Rouyn-Noranda are
unable to provide the tests and specialized treatments she depends upon. Every four months Lorraine
must travel to the Montreal General Hospital to access this vital care.
“I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to have this sickness."
In the early years of her illness Lorraine and her husband, Guy, sometimes drove the eight hours to
Montreal. The trip would leave Lorraine so utterly exhausted that she would spend a week in bed
recovering. In winter weather the drive was out of the question and she flew, via Air Canada. If they
didn’t have the money for the flight they simply cancelled her appointment. In 2003 a nurse at the local
hospital in Rouyn-Noranda told Lorraine about Hope Air. Since then she has made 23 trips with Hope
Air. Last year Lorraine’s doctors advised her against making the arduous trip by car. Since then, support
from Hope Air has become even more crucial.
“I appreciate them so much,” Lorraine says. “In Montreal we must stay in a hotel, sometimes for two nights. We have to take taxis back and forth to the hospital. It all costs so much. Because of Hope Air the flight is covered and so we can manage."
“I provide the name of the doctor and the details about the appointment. At Hope Air they confirm and approve. They are so polite, so professional! It makes me feel good and it helps so much. I always try to remember to send a thank you note.”
Warm and soft-spoken, Lorraine accepts the reality that she has missed out on some activities that
others may take for granted. But she tries to keep the focus on the good things in her life. She and her
husband have been married for 48 years. Her two daughters and six grandchildren live nearby, and she
is delighted when one or two of the youngsters come to her home for a sleep-over. Lorraine is very
close to her neighbours in Rouyn-Noranda and despite recalling with sadness the weakness that
overcame her in church that Sunday morning long ago, Lorraine speaks of her rich spiritual life and the
deep connection she has with her faith.