In 2005, Doug Brown didn’t know who he was, how he got to the hospital, or why he was being restrained.
Five weeks later, he was out of his bed and helping others around the hospital even though he was still recuperating himself.
Since retiring, helping people has been Brown’s passion.
Brown originally came to Sault Ste. Marie in 1970 to work construction for Algoma Steel. Although he always wanted to volunteer, with the tough economy he had to travel sporadically to find work and couldn’t find time or a routine that he could fit in volunteerism.
As soon as he retired in 2001, he almost immediately started volunteering at the hospital, helping patients with mobility issues.
“I figured it's time I do something with my time,” he said.
However, one day in 2005 Brown was 6 feet up a ladder getting his home ready for new siding when, based on what he can now piece together, he passed out on the ladder, fell and hit the ground. He was flown to Sudbury with severe head trauma.
For the first five to six weeks, he didn’t even know who he was. When he kept getting agitated and trying to leave his bed doctors had him restrained.
“I was a real mess. They were telling my wife that they didn’t know how I was going to turn out. I could have become a raving lunatic or the nastiest guy in the world,“ he said.
At first, they weren’t 100 percent sure he would even walk on his own again. After a month and a half, Brown actually made his way out of bed and started doing the same mobility-assistance volunteer work in the Sudbury hospital that he was doing in the Sault.
After two and a half months, Brown was released and sent back to the Sault, where he immediately returned to volunteering.
He suffered no permanent mental or physical problems after the injury except for an almost complete loss of his sense of smell.
Besides the occasional scent of gas and diesel fuel, the only thing he's smelled in the past ten years has been, oddly enough, an orange about two weeks ago.
These days, while still volunteering at the hospital, Brown also drives seniors, their caretakers, and others to and from medical appointments and other places for the Canadian Red Cross Society.
His volunteer work is almost an unpaid full-time job. He works 30 hours a week or more and is often at the Red Cross four days a week from 9 a.m. until 6:30 p.m.
He helps 80 regular clients and 260 people in total.
To him, his efforts are no big deal. In fact, he enjoys volunteering as he gets to help as well as socialize with people.
Brown thinks more people should volunteer, not only because it's the right thing to do, but also a good thing to do.
“I like to see people being happy. I get a good feeling from that. To me, volunteering is not a big thing. I don’t know why more people don’t it. They sit around and watch the idiot box and have nothing else to do. Why not volunteer?” he said.
At 74, Brown is currently training to become a volunteer with the Red Cross’ ‘Disaster Management’ program.
In the future, he could be dispatched in the middle of the night, helping people in fire and flood situations, or potentially even being sent overseas on a Red Cross mission.
Because he does so much work, he was recently profiled by the Red Cross’ national internal newsletter as an 'outstanding volunteer.'
The Red Cross staff and his clients all talk about how much they enjoy Brown's personality, which they describe as warm, friendly, and humorous.
Brown's personal hospital experience helped him to empathize with those he helps.
“My experience helps me kind of think how a person is feeling, even if I am just pushing them down the hallway or helping them get into the van. I ask them,‘How long you been in the hospital?’ Most say ‘Too long,’ said Brown.
He knows how they feel.