Sitting down to a cup of tea with Pam Hyatt is an event.
She had agreed to speak to UHN News about her patient experience. Her telling of the story reminded us of why a Toronto Star drama critic once described her as "…One of the most zestful all-round performers" with "an effervescence rare among Canadian women on stage".
Over a chai tea with milk, Pam sang, cried, and even reprised a brief hair-stand-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck scene from Eugene O'Neill's masterwork
Long Day's Journey into Night - part of a memorable audition long ago for Stratford Festival Artistic Director Robin Phillips.
"That audition – it was sweltering, July 4, 1974, at a church on Bathurst, south of Bloor, it was supposed to be seven minutes - it went 45! – and one of the most meaningful moments in my life."
Pam's recollection of events from her seven decades as a comedian, singer, and actress is remarkable. Being directed by Norman Jewison in Montreal. Performing on a riverboat in Dawson City. Singing satirical songs on CBC TV's controversial
This Hour Has Seven Days. Stratford. Voice work. Commercials. And movies such as
Police Academy 3,
Care Bears 2, and
This past June, Pam was gearing up for rehearsals for her next gig – a musical revue called
'That's Life' - when an MRI revealed a fatty lump in her upper left lung. To get a better look at what they were dealing with her GP Dr. Andrew Sparrow of the
TWH Family Health Team (FHT) scheduled a CT scan.
Within days the CT scan was performed. The results would be next. But Dr. Sparrow was about to go on summer holiday. So he gave Pam his cell phone number and made arrangements for her to see his FHT colleague Dr. Francesco Leanza should the results come in while he was away.
"This was astonishing to me that he would make himself so available" says Pam.
The CT scan results did indeed come while Dr. Sparrow was away – so the task of revealing their contents fell to Dr. Leanza. Pam says it was confirmed there were marks on her lungs, and that it could be any number of things – an infection, or worse something cancerous.
Dr. Leanza recommended Pam for the
Lung Cancer Rapid Assessment and Management Program to ensure the wait for a specialist examination of the CT scan was as short as possible.
As Dr. Leanza spelled out the news, Pam says she became overwhelmed.
"He could tell. And he could tell I was going to cry. Then he asked if I would like a room for privacy and he found me a room to have a good cry. He was wonderful," explains Pam.
It was a "hellish" wait, but within days she was sitting in the clinic "…of the thoracic wisdom of Dr. Andrew Pierre at TGH", says Hyatt.
She takes a sip of tea and refers to her notebook to read her notes of Dr. Pierre's explanation: "Well, the CT scan shows five small spots on your upper right lung, four on your upper left lung. Hazy spots, subtle, two are of a level of concern on the left lung."
"Could be cancer, or pre-cancer, or not cancer – an infection." He asked if she had been sick. Pam confirmed she had a bout of pneumonia last April. The spots could be remnants of that illness.
The prognosis was "let's wait and see" until November, when Pam is scheduled for another CT scan.
"Today, I don't think about it. I'm 80 – if it's the only stuff that's wrong then I'm lucky."
With medical worries allayed, Pam is back treading the boards. She's in final rehearsals for the September 30 launch of
That's Life at the Aki Studio Theatre on Dundas Street East.
In addition to the wisdom accrued at 80 years young, Pam also has some advice for fellow patients.
"After the CT scan I approached a lawyer to do my last will and testament. You've got to be pragmatic." And for every doctor visit she carries her trusted notebook so that she has a record of what was said.
"The mind is a tinker," she says waving a finger at her head, then leaning in with an infectious smile she says, "the only thing I leave to memory are my lines and lyrics!"
Pam also recommends whenever possible bring a family member or companion to doctor visits. A second set of ears is useful for processing information.
And oh yes – what of her UHN patient experience? After this summer's performance Pam gives a rave review.
"They're wonderful, the doctors there are great."