The Secret Nail

Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest difference.

When simple truths and treasures, hidden away in plain sight, are revealed to those willing to appreciate them; when common becomes special, and magic is revealed within the mundane.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

This is a story about a 2-inch carpenter’s nail, the most basic of building materials, meant to hold things together. It was lost years ago in the Campbell River Hospital, never to reach its intended destination. Years later, however, it came to serve a higher purpose. 

This is a story about The Secret Nail. 

Chances are if you’ve ever been to the Campbell River Hospital, you’ve passed right by it. You may have even stepped on it. Most likely dropped by a builder decades ago when the hospital floor was laid, the nail blended in and became part of the floor, where it remains to this day.

Worn flat and polished by decades of passing feet, the Secret Nail is easy to miss – until you stand in just the right place and it catches the light just so. It shines, and you wonder how you’ve never noticed it before.

Al Ruff, as a volunteer at CRH, has “the best job in the world.” Al and his beaming smile can usually be found at the Information Desk just inside the hospital’s main entrance, helping people find their way. Ruff learned about the nail years ago from a friend who pointed out the apparent irony of a nail hidden in the floor of a hospital. 

“At the time I thought that I could use it as a sort of children's treasure hunt,” he says. “As time went by, I would notice that some kids seemed anxious about being at the hospital and I started asking them (and their parents) if they'd like to see our Secret Nail. Of course they all want to find it.”

Al helps the children find the Secret Nail by telling them if they’re getting closer or farther, ‘warmer’ or ‘colder’ as they search.

“When they find it they are pleased with themselves,” he says. “I think it helps them think of something other than their anxiety. The response has been amazing and I’ve heard the children show it to other relatives. The parents seen to appreciate that we make an effort to help/talk to/entertain their children as well.

“I actually think that more children in our community know about the nail now than our staff do. If a staff member happens to come by as we're searching for it, they usually ask what we’re doing and then comment that they didn't know it was there, and they have walked on it hundreds of times.”

Jeff Beselt, an Emergency doctor and Executive Medical Director of Island Health's Geographic Area 1, has spent countless hours in the hospital, but he hadn’t heard about the nail until his daughter Shawn, 11, let him in on the secret.

“Al showed me when I broke my thumb,” Shawn recalls. “It took my mind off of my thumb. It didn’t hurt as much. I didn’t think about it. It helped me think about something else and made me happy.”

It’s one of those things Al and Jeff have in common, even if their approaches are from slightly different perspectives, even if one calls it a treasure hunt while the other calls it a therapeutic tool.

“I use distraction as a therapeutic tool all the time, and I think it’s really important, in particular with children,” Jeff says. “A hospital can be a very overwhelming situation. It’s an unknown environment and kind of scary.

“The funny thing is, I actually look at that nail too when I’m there on night shift. In the middle of the night, you’re walking around the halls, and it’s just something that kind of grounds you. It’s unique.”

Of course it’s not really the nail that helps – it’s volunteers like Al.

“He’s always there,” Jeff says. “He’s an amazing volunteer. He shows it to many children. He’s really good at it. He gets down on his knees and shows them.” 

That dedication, patience and kindness is at the heart of the hospital’s patient-centered philosophy – the belief that families, health care providers, support staff and volunteers are partners working together to best meet the needs of the patient. This approach honours the different strengths, cultures, traditions and knowledge that everyone brings to the partnership.

The Campbell River Hospital is full of Secret Nails – physicians, nurses, clinical and support staff and volunteers – who hold the place together. You may pass them by without a moment’s notice because they seem simply part of the building. 

But if you’re lucky, if you stand in the right light, you can see them shine.
And you wonder how you’ve never noticed before.

See more Secret Nail photos

Media contact:

Dan MacLennan
Island Health Communications and Stakeholder Engagement