Sunday, February 28, 2010

The heart wing reprobates

Friday night I stayed up as long as I could to watch the Canada-Slovakia hockey game, I managed the first two periods. I hear the third period was quite exciting and I missed it.

Our MC or DJ or whatever you want to call him, the guy who decided he was in control of the TV, kept everyone on track for appropriate Olympics viewing and the occasional old movie when the Olympics weren't up to his standard. He seemed to be a guy who brooked no intervention so the rest of us ambulatory heart patients just let him do his thing. He did have a certain expertise in all things TV, but maybe a tad heavy-handed.

Late at night a battered rock musician (think Jimi Hendrix) joined us, he had a mobile pole of medical paraphernalia and had apparently suffered some kind of dramatic collapse not related to drugs. He added a certain colour to our motley crew, with dreads hanging down to his rear end, a goatee, and coloured glasses perched on his nose. Not to mention his very complicated portable life support system.

Friday afternoon I met Emmanual and his wife in the TV lounge. He seems to be a slightly more advanced case of whatever I am, we are both waiting for angios on Monday. We kind of connected and throughout the day and evening would exchange glances about our strange companions, the DJ and "Jimi".

Saturday morning the DJ was discharged, sort of a relief even though he did add a certain je ne sais quoi to the place. They gave him a prescription for seven different drugs he now has to take all the time! Good luck with that one, he doesn't seem the type to stick to that kind of drug diet. Definitely one of those characters that fill a room whether you like it or not, and not shy about sharing his
observations and opinions on human nature.

Emmanual went on a hunt for the Saturday newspaper. There are several newspaper boxes located around but not in the hospital, you have to find one and make a dash through the snow in your hospital gown with the correct change to get one. Emmanual was OK with that, the trouble was that apparently all the boxes were empty today. He had asked around from some of the hospital staff if they knew where he could get a paper, and one of them told him that the box at Emergency might still have papers.

Isaac came by with a new infusion of books and clothes for me, I took him down to the lounge to see our view and TV. Emmanual was there, reading yesterday's newspaper in frustration. He told us his story so far and said that he didn't know how to get to Emergency without leaving the hospital and walking around the outside, which he didn't want to do in his gown. It was still snowing out.

I told him that actually he wasn't even supposed to leave our floor with his wireless heart monitor, because the signal doesn't extend past this floor and the nurses don't like it when the monitor goes dead.

Or so they say, one of my leads came loose and I was dragging it around unknowingly for a couple of hours the day before and no one told me. I don't think they ever actually checked the monitors! Anyway, that was news to Emmanual, he had been off-floor a couple of times and no one said anything to him either.

Isaac volunteered that he knew how to get to Emerge without going outside, he did it all the time when he parked on that side of the hospital. Emmanual looks at him brightly, Really? Then he looks at me and says, Wanna go off-floor?

Hoo-wee! An adventure!

Isaac all of a sudden realizes he is being co-opted into leading an illicit activity but he's cool, so the three of us, Isaac fully dressed and Emmanual and I in our hospital gowns and heart monitors set out for the elevator. No one stops us. We go down to the main floor and start following "Emergency ->" signs through a maze of corridors. We walk purposefully, as if we belong there, and no one stops us.

Sure enough, we end up in the Emerge waiting room, the only people not bundled up in overcoats. Emmanual and I march through the waiting room looking for newspapers. I am pretending my gown is really a doctor's white coat and I am here on business, inspecting the clients. We scour the room, but no newspapers. But through the window we see, across the road, a row of newspaper boxes!

Since Emmanual and I are in gowns Isaac offers to go out to the boxes, we start pooling our coins to pay for the paper, then Emmanual says, No look, it's free during the Olympics. And sure enough, there is a big "Free" sign on one of the boxes. So Isaac dashes out across the snowy road and retrieves two thick Saturday papers for us.

We march smugly back to our ward, almost swaggering with our newspapers under our arms. As we head down the hall to the lounge Emmanual says, Let's check our monitors. We stop at the board where all the heart rates are displayed, mine seems to be normal but Emmanual's is flatlined, with the words "Not Detected" flashing red at the top. Oops.

But nobody said anything to us so apparently they don't check, the monitors are just for show. And Emmanual is flatlined.

Isaac said he might come back on Sunday to watch the final hockey game between Canada and the USA for the gold medal. He could watch at home but he likes our TV and thought it would be more fun to watch with a bunch of people than to watch alone. Emmanual said, Great, bring popcorn! So Sunday night should be fun. I am sure everyone halfway conscious will be there, hopefully there will be wheelchairs or something for folks who can't walk.

Just before supper Emmanual and I went for another walk, but we didn't go on the elevator, we behaved and stayed on our floor. We decided we would try to find "Jimi", just for something to do. We thought his problem had to do with his kidneys, so we went down the Nephrology wing. Sure enough we found him there with his girlfriend and he was glad to see us, told her we were his bro's. Hmmm...

Saturday evening there was a good crowd in the lounge for Olympic curling, standing room only. Earlier Isaac had explained some of the finer points of curling to me so I understood a bit better what was going on than I did the day before with the women's curling. Canada's women's team narrowly missed the gold on Friday, but on Saturday the men's team scored gold against the Norwegians. The Norwegians wore funny pants, kind of clownish harlequin pants, but they were all very good looking. It was exquisite watching the Canadian team play, they hardly made any mistakes at all. You could see the frustration mounting in the Norwegian skip's face. But it is interesting watching a game that requires as much strategizing as skill, you could see them working out their next moves and hear them talking amongst themselves about it.

One fellow came in and tried to change the TV channel. He just walked right up to the TV, ignoring all the people watching it and started fiddling with the buttons. Emmanual and I looked at each other, another DJ?

Finally the fellow turned around and said, How do you change the channel, I want to watch the curling!

I said, Yes, that is what we were watching.

I got up and changed it back to the Olympics channel. He sat down and left the TV buttons alone after that. He said later he didn't sleep so good the night before so I guess it was getting to him.

Emmanual's roommate is dying and he is not too comfortable with that. At suppertime he started flirting like crazy with his nurse, cajoling her to put him in another room. Halfway through the curling game she came through for him, he has another room. His wife and kids arrived and he took them down to see his new digs. Emmanual's wife brought chocolate which she shared with everyone in the lounge. She asked if we were allowed to eat chocolate and of course everyone nodded Yes. She gave the last of the chocolate to Emmanual's nurse.

I hope our neighbour passes peacefully.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Still here at St. Joe's.

Friday morning I had my stress test, the results were ambiguous. So, next step is St. Mike's for the angiogram. In the meantime, I've been moved out of the CCU into a regular ward. And wonder of wonders, I have internet access here!

I spent just over three days in the CCU, tethered to my bed. It was actually not a bad experience but kind of interesting.

Mostly it was pretty quiet, except when the nurses changed shifts, then it was like a party, all the outgoing nurses and incoming nurses exchanging information and just generally chatting and catching up. The three nurses I had most of the time were Leona, Romi and Milada.

Leona settled me in when I first arrived at 2am on Tuesday morning. She said to me, Good it's your heart, that's fixable.

She wore a big Obama button on her chest all of the time. Seeing that made me realize that for all the disappointment some of us have about his lack of achievement or follow-through on promises, he still represents something huge: the first black man to be president of the most powerful country in the world. A whole bunch of Americans just got legitimized.

Leona is from Montserrat, she said when the volcano there became active in the 1990s most of the population moved away, many to the UK (they are British subjects). Leona's family moved to New York and Toronto. Her mother diedin New York last year, and recently she went down to put a marker on her mother's grave, but it was in the middle of the big snowstorm and they couldn't see a thing so they never placed the marker. She says she doesn't want to go down again this year, maybe next year.

Romi greets me every day as "Queen Elizabeth" or "Lady Elizabeth", and the first thing she said to me when I first met her was that my hair was gorgeous. She's a keeper! Unfortunately it was on her advice that I tried that instant hair washing cap, and the results were less than gorgeous. Let's just say that there was too much conditioner in it and leave it at that. Romi is so cheery, and so energetic. She makes you happy just by walking by and smiling at you! When she was on nightshift, she would bring me juice and cookies for a bedtime snack.

Milada was slow to warm up, she has a certain East European reserve, but seeing me knitting quickly broke barriers. She remembered her mother knitting, and learning to knit herself as a young girl. She said she loved it but now with kids and a full-time job she had no time. Perhaps when her kids are grown...

One day a young physiotherapist came into the CCU to see a woman in a bed down the way from me. She spoke loudly, as if the woman were deaf, or slow-witted. Apparently this woman was due to leave but she needed to practice walking as she had been in bed for so long. So the physio wanted to get her up and walking with a walker up and down the CCU.

The woman didn't sound very happy about the prospect. The physio was cajoling and carrying on, eventually getting the woman out of bed and propped up in the walker. They started walking down the hallway toward me and I could see the really sour look on the woman's face. She definitely was not happy about this.

They walked as far as my bed and then turned and went back, the physio helped the woman back into bed. Then she said she would be back the next day to do it again, I heard the woman mutter something.

Finally the physio said her good byes and brightly said, It was nice meeting you!

The woman replied, I can't say the same, and I heard a nurse snicker from the nursing station.

Red-faced, the physio beat a retreat and was never seen again.

I kind of got a kick out of it. Listening later to one of the nurses talking to this woman, it was clear she was neither deaf nor slow-witted, but kind of snippy. They exchanged snippy remarks and then they both laughed.

When I got back from my stress test, Leona said they had found a bed for me on the regular ward and she packed up my stuff and took me over. On this ward I have a roommate, an older Polish woman who fell down one day and couldn't get up, her legs just stopped working. She came to Canada after the war because it was better than going back to Russian-occupied Poland. During the war she and all the other young people in her area of Poland had been rounded up to go work in Germany. Her mother told her, there is nothing here for you anymore, go somewhere nice. So she came to Canada.

My bed is by the window and I have a view of Lake Ontario, just across the Gardiner Expressway from St. Joe's. We have the window open because it is very hot in here, but the highway is noisy and we will probably have to close it tonight just to cut down on the noise.

But the best thing is, I now have a wireless portable heart monitor, I am not tethered to my bed. And, there is a patient lounge with an even better view of the Lake and a TV and tables and chairs and couches. And people. This afternoon I spent a few hours watching a great old movie from the '30s and some Winter Olympics.

My angiogram is scheduled for Monday, so I am here over the weekend. The nurse says they will transport me to St. Mike's for the angio, then bring me back here afterward. I will need to stay another day at least after that. Or longer, depending on the results.

Down the hall is a place where all the readings from all the heart monitors on the floor are displayed. I go down sometimes to see mine, and how it compares with some of the others. They are all so different!

I miss the quiet womb-like atmosphere of the CCU, I felt positively coddled down there. But being able to walk again is great! It is good to be able to go down to the lounge and chat or read or watch TV.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I am tied to my bed. Literally. I have a six-foot tether that lets me reach the toilet but not the main door of this room. This morning I washed my hair with a kind of haircap that washes, conditions and rinses your hair all in one! It's still wet now, we'll see how good a job it does when it's dry. Things are quiet now, breakfast is over, there are no visitors and lunch has not yet arrived. Meals are the big events of my life right now.

On Monday I had a busy day: I got email from my brother to say that our Aunt Ruthe had died on Sunday morning. It was also my son Sam's 33rd birthday. And I was getting together with WiseWebWoman for another blogger's lunch at a great little Indian restaurant on Bloor near Bathurst. The first major snow storm of the season was just starting (I gather it was a bit of a dud, but I can't see outdoors so I have to take other people's word for it).

I had my regular writing workshop in the early evening, and since it is close by I usually walk to and from there. I got home around 8pm and my chest was achy. This has been going on for awhile, and was particularly bad over the weekend, somehow on Monday night it just seemed like enough was enough. I just didn't know what to do about it. I really hate the idea of going to Emergency, it just seems like such a waste of time and on a snowstormy night I'd far rather stay home and tough it out. But I was wondering if maybe this might not be the most sensible thing to do.

My compromise was to call 911 and ask their opinion.

Kind of dumb in retrospect, what do I think their opinion is going to be? Man, they don't mess around! They didn't want any details, just the address. And minutes later, siren blaring and lights flashing, there was a big old firetruck sitting in front of our house blocking traffic in both directions. Very discreet.

Four burly firemen crowded into our tiny entrance hallway, they wouldn't let me move or try to pack or anything. Just step this way ma'am, into the ambulance.

So much for asking questions.

I got strapped into a stretcher in the back of the ambulance, something intravenous hooked up to my left hand, and we were off to St. Joe's. A few moments later they had me at Emergency and were negotiating a bed for me. I was unloaded onto a bed in a curtained off area of the hospital basement, surrounded by other curtained off beds and the various sounds of people in not great shape coming from behind those curtains.

Very quickly I was hooked up to a machine that recorded my heart beat and took my blood pressure automatically every hour. Blood was taken. Someone came by with a portable X-ray machine and aimed it at me for a chest X-ray; he came by half an hour later to do it again, saying that he had cut off the bottom of my lungs with the previous X-ray.

Someone identifying himself as a doctor asked some questions and left, someone else also identifying himself as a doctor said they were keeping me overnight and then transferring me to St. Mike's the next day for an angiogram.

Can I go to my Aunt Ruthe's funeral on Wednesday? He gapes at me. Are you nuts?

Amazingly, I think I actually did manage to sleep for a few moments during all this, but not much more than that.

Around 2am I was wheeled up to the Cardiac Care Unit (CCU) where Leona tucked me into a little bed in a little room with real walls. She said, You're new at this aren't you? I can tell by the way you're looking around, your eyes are just all over the place! I said I hadn't been in a hospital overnight since my son Sam was born, 33 years ago. She nodded and said, You've had a good long run. Meaning I suspect, it's over now.

Today is the funeral. I really wish I could be there. Ironically, I was unhappy that it was going to be on a Wednesday, my Mimico Adult Ed day. But all that's irrelevant now. The doctor (another one) came by yesterday to talk to me. So far I have talked to I don't know how many doctors, and none of them mine. I don't think mine even knows I am here.

This latest one said she was going to run a stress test on me, then she was gone. I found out later from Milada my nurse that the test was scheduled three days away and I was expected to stay in bed until then. I asked her why the stress test, why not the angiogram, and she very carefully avoided expressing an opinion, only that one, the angiogram, is more specific and more informative than the other. But also more invasive.

I talked to my sister-in-law later in the day and she said that in the same situation my brother her husband had been offered a choice and he had chosen the angiogram. In retrospect he's glad he did that. Maybe this doctor chose the stress test because they don't do angiograms at St Joe's, I'd have to be moved to St Mike's for that. I asked Gretel where St Mike's is, she said it was also close by and closer to where Isaac works.

The Saints preserve us!

The doctor just came by and I asked her why she wanted the stress test and not the angiogram. She says my situation is a bit unusual, she thinks it may not be heart pain at all. I must admit I am wondering that myself, but the exhaustion and fatigue I feel makes me lean more toward heart issues than something else.

Wouldn't it be funny if the firetruck came with the siren blaring and all lights blazing for a case of heartburn?

Isaac brought me some knitting and books and my netbook to entertain myself. He also put a couple of videos on my netbook. Tristan brought me a chocolate bar.

Yesterday they admitted an older man to the CCU at the other end of the unit. In the evening a whole bunch of young people, high schoolers, came to visit. There were so many of them that they couldn't fit into the room, they overflowed into the hallway. I wondered if that person was their teacher. Anyway, those kids were worried and concerned, they seemed relieved that their patient was able to talk to them and even to joke with them.

You'll never lose your sense of humour, one of them said. I didn't hear the reply, but then the kid said, I'll never lose mine either.

Isaac and Tristan arrived a little later, Tristan was fascinated by the monitor showing heart rate and blood pressure above my bed. There is one line that doesn't appear to move, Tristan said it must not be working, and I said, No, watch. Then I waved my arm around and that flat line jumped all over the place. Maybe it measures my arm rate?

This is not what I had planned for this week, but what can you do.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A weekend of time travel, 40 years into the past

Back in the 1970s, it was apparently considered a good thing to store camera pictures as slides instead of photos. So I did that, and through that decade managed to accumulate many many slides.

The problem with slides though is that you can't keep them in photo albums or even shoe boxes to haul out and look at whenever you want.

Slides usually end up in stacks of little plastic boxes that never see the light of day unless you have a projector, screen, and captive audience.

Mine did at any rate.

A couple of winters ago Isaac and I started talking about scanning my slides. A couple of years before that I had bought a scanner with an attachment that allowed you to scan slides, but never got around to trying it out, because I found the software that went with that scanner quite user-unfriendly, so I only used the scanner when I absolutely had to. Isaac tried it and found it completely inadequate.

However, he played around with different techniques, finally settling on projecting the slides onto a large screen and then photographing the projected images. So we did quite a few slides that way.

The images were recognizable, but not very good quality. We didn't know whether that was because of the technique, or because the slides had just deteriorated that much. They are mostly 35-40 years old. So we discussed it off and on, and thought about other methods of digitizing the slides. Last winter we were going to project them again and be more careful about focussing the camera on the images, but we never got around to it.

Several weeks ago we picked up the conversation again, this time looking at getting the job done professionally. But the cost was prohibitive. I have around 350 slides, and the cost of scanning them is anywhere from $0.50 to $0.90 per slide, plus taxes and delivery costs. Finally, Isaac suggested renting a bulk slide scanner.

We looked into that and it turned out we could rent fairly good equipment for $125 per day, and the rental company considered a weekend, even a long weekend, a single day. Last weekend was a long weekend here, the Family Day weekend. So on Friday afternoon I drove to the rental place (Vistek) and picked up a Nikon ls-5000 slide scanner and Nikon fs-210 bulk slide feeder (that's what you're seeing in the above photos).

Vistek is on Queen St East, in an older building. It's easy to drive right by it without seeing it because although the building is quite large, the store entrance is off an inner courtyard that you can only get to by a coach entry. Out on the street it just looks like an old office building.

The store is huge inside, and apparently well known among photography professionals. Every kind of photographic equipment imaginable is available there for rent. And for those in the know, the Friday before a long weekend is an excellent time to rent equipment: you get three days for the price of one. So when I went there it was very busy.

There is a long rental counter on one side of the store, with several cash registers devoted just to the rental business. Behind the counter was a huge stack of equipment in various padded bags and cases. In order to rent my equipment I had to make a $650 security deposit and hand over my passport and credit card for scanning. They also took a picture of me.

Before renting this equipment I did a bit of research about it on the internet. I found out that although it is considered very good, there are definite problems with it, particularly with the sf-210 bulk slide feeder. Apparently it is very prone to jamming, and when it jams you have to shut down the entire scanner and software and restart it all. Also, there are problems running it in Windows Vista, which is what my desktop computer is running.

The alternative is, well, nothing. There is no alternative, or none that I can afford. I decided to go ahead anyway and just steel myself for a long frustrating weekend of feeding 350 slides into a recalcitrant scanner. Fortunately it was not as bad as it could have been.

The scanner itself can be made to work in Windows Vista (Nikon has a driver for that), but the bulk feeder cannot. My netbook (Dora) runs Windows XP and both the scanner and the bulk feeder were fine with that.

About half of my slides have plastic frames and the other half have cardboard frames. The bulk feeder had no problem with the plastic frames so I could scan up to 50 at a time of them with no problem at all. However for logistical reasons I did them in smaller batches.

The software is quite sophisticated, it can clean up dirty slides, and adjust for fading and other problems. However I was slow to pick up on what it could do, the manual didn't really explain it all, so I ended up spending all day Saturday scanning and rescanning the plastic-framed slides as I figured out the settings.

That was OK, after all the reading I had done about how frustrating this job was going to be, I had mentally planned on spending all day Saturday just working out the bugs; so the fact that I actually got half of my slides scanned in the process was a bonus.

The cardboard-framed slides were another matter. Essentially, I had to feed them into the scanner one at a time. However, I figured out a way to use the bulk feeder to do two at a time without jamming, and since each slide took two minutes to go through the entire scan and post-processing routine, that meant that I could actually leave the scanner alone for up to 4 minutes at a time, allowing for such things as doing laundry and making tea and sandwiches as needed.

By Monday afternoon all the slides were done. I also found a box full of old negatives, and since the scanner also had an attachment for processing 35mm negatives, I thought I'd try that as well. Going through the box I found a few "rolls" of negatives that I never got printed (back in the day when I was playing around with a darkroom and thought that I would print them myself). So I scanned in about 50 negatives as well. The software processes the negatives into positive images.

I put all of the processed images up on our home network and Isaac downloaded them onto his computer and tried his hand at enhancing the images with his Mac iPhoto program. He did some impressive work! iPhoto is way better than anything I have on my PC. However I do have a program that does batch conversions of TIFF files to JPEGs, so I did that for all of the images that Isaac enhanced.

So now all of my slides are digitized. The images are way better than the ones we did a couple of years ago using a projector and camera, but they do show their age. It was a massive job but now it's done!

Returning the equipment to Vistek was almost harder than renting it from them in the first place. I arrived at the store on Tuesday morning shortly before the deadline, and the store was full of people returning equipment. There was a long line-up of people with large boxes and bags of stuff. The rental staff checked everything quite thoroughly when it was returned, and it took over half an hour for me to go through the line-up and the check-in procedure.

But it was a productive weekend and definitely a learning experience! I suppose if you put a dollar figure on my time then it was not cost-effective, I really only saved about $75 over the cost of having it done professionally. But I ended up spending three days poring over slides and negatives I had not looked at in many years, it was quite an experience. Not to mention learning about ICE, GEM and ROC technology for enhancing digital images. Not that I plan to use that new-found knowledge any time soon!

Here's a little taste of what was in all those slide boxes:

Visiting Everdale

Lindsay butcher boy

Fooling around in the grocery store

Fooling around in a Toronto office waiting room

My mother

My parents walking their dog Cinnamon

Eli having his very curly hair brushed
Erecting a teepee
Wenegans gardening

Our campsite while building Nimrodell
Nimrodell half built
RL getting her hair hennaed

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sunday morning big ass quiche

The Dog Ladies did it again. This time at Grace's home.

We had talked about getting together sometime after I got back from BC, but trying to get the six of us together is rather like herding cats. We used to meet regularly at the dogpark, but our schedules have changed, and some of us no longer even go to the dogpark, some of us have chosen to walk our dogs elsewhere (not going to mention names here...).

Catherine insisted that Grace make her "old big ass quiche", Grace wanted a Sunday brunch with mimosas, and Sandra and I wanted it to be at Grace's house because we were sure it must be very interesting. And it was.

In the end we settled on the time and place and Grace agreed to make her old big ass quiche. Fatima brought champagne and OJ for the mimosas, I brought a baked French toast with fruit and maple syrup, and Barb brought cardamom squares. Sandra brought flowers and Catherine slept in. She never showed up at all!

Grace's home is magnificent. She has a two-storey condo in an old factory/warehouse, and she has lived there for 20 years and fixed it up quite nicely. She lives there with her partner, two cats and dog Indy. It has high ceilings, old wood floors and ceilings and brick walls. There's a skylight in the roof and an opening in the second level floor so that you can see from the dining room on the ground floor all the way up to the sky.

Grace made some big sliding shutters for the kitchen window (which looks out onto a garage across the alleyway) that are covered in four big shiny tin ceiling tiles with a large circular pattern, normally used for where a chandelier would hang from. They look spectacular on the shutters.

We waited around for Catherine to show up, Grace left her several messages but she never responded. Finally we gave up and got down to serious eating and drinking. A couple of hours later Catherine called to say she had only just woken up. Oh well!

Barb and Grace and I have decided that the next event will be a sort of pub crawl. Barb wants to find a good pub that serves craft beer in the neighbourhood. There are of course a bunch of them in the city, but she wants one close by, close enough to walk to and stagger home from. We think we have a line on one, but if not then I guess it really will be a crawl.

The old big ass quiche was exactly that, and really really good.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Third time's the charm

Josh called this past weekend when I was out at the Dog Lady brunch (more later about that). He talked to Isaac and left a message for me to call him. Isaac wouldn't say what it was about, but I immediately guessed (as apparently Isaac had told Josh that I would). Josh called me again today when I was in woodcarving class and I congratulated him on his news.

I'll be a grandmother again in August.

I guess they knew when I was staying with them in New Westminster in late December and early January, but they were reluctant to say because it was so early.

We also chatted a bit about the Olympics, Josh works at the airport and he says this is definitely a rich people's event. He says the Vancouver airport has never seen so many private jets from all over the world, ever. They're just stacked up there.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Coffee break

In my woodcarving class on Wednesday we take a half hour break for coffee. It's a three hour class once a week, and to me half an hour for coffee seems like a long time. I'm paying for a carving class, not a coffee break! But I'm the newbie here, most of these folks have been in this class for many years, and they take a half hour break for coffee. One guy, he doesn't even come here to carve anymore, he just arrives at coffee break time and leaves right after!

At the beginning of each class Ruth, our teacher, always makes a few announcements. Sometimes stuff about the school, sometimes about our class, sometimes about other students she has. Today she tells us that one of her students in another class just died. A young woman, maybe early 50s, she was enrolled this term but she told Ruth she had terminal cancer, and I guess she wasn't kidding. Ruth thought she seemed very alive and active, it was hard to believe that she was gone so fast.

It seems like most people who enroll in one of Ruth's classes only leave via a funeral home. She always tells us when one of her students dies. I think that must be very strange to have your students die on you.

Today, Bill arrives a little early with two big boxes of doughnuts. Not just any doughnuts, SanRemo doughnuts. that's the little bakery and deli up the street from Mimico Adult Ed. He sets himself up at the coffee table and reads the newspaper while we carve, waiting for coffee break. Bill says that he has all his own tools at home, and he only occasionally needs advice or help from our teacher, Ruth, so there's no point taking up space in the class except for coffee.

Soon we are all gathered around the coffee table, five women and seven men. The big news today is Adam Giambrone, the City Councillor for my ward who is running for Mayor of Toronto. Or was. He is officially out of the race as of today because he is accused of and has admitted to having an affair with a woman while living with another (he's not married). Not that that is illegal, but it has made the news and a lot of people are upset about it. So at coffee today we talk about sexual impropriety and other misbehaviours, the things men do that are rather unsavoury, and the things that women do that are rather unsavoury. There are a few jokes.

At a certain point one of the men says, It says something about our society that we can have this conversation now, in mixed company, without name calling or embarrassment or hurt feelings. I don't think we could have had this conversation twenty years ago. We are a bit surprised by that comment, but we all agree with him. We probably could not have had this conversation in times gone by.

For all the unpleasant things going on in our culture today, there are a few things that are improving.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Emilie and Vasily

This morning I pulled into the Mimico Adult Ed Centre parking lot in my truck for my day of weaving and woodcarving classes. As I cruised around looking for a convenient parking spot I noticed a woman with a bike watching me. She had a stern look on her face, for some reason she seemed to disapprove of me. Or something. I parked and walked toward the entrance, passing the lady with her bike. She stopped me to talk, asking if I worked here.

I had a hard time understanding her, she seemed upset or concerned, she held up her bike lock and gestured toward my truck. I looked at her blankly, I had no idea what she wanted. Then she pointed in the other direction, at a man walking into the parking lot

Wait, she said, He speaks good English.

So I waited, and as he approached the building entrance she called out to him. He came over and she began to explain to him what her problem was.

Finally he turned to me and said, She has her bike lock but she brought the wrong key, it's her son's bike lock key. She can't lock her bike up and is wondering if she can put her bike in your truck while she is in class.

In the mornings at Mimico Adult Ed, they run ESL classes for immigrants. They are from all over the world. In the hallway, they have posted little one page personal descriptions of many of the students, written in their own words. They are quite poignant, some have good language skills, some do not, they are of all ages and from many different countries. These two people are obviously in an ESL class, but I do not know what language they are speaking, or where they are from.

Once I know what she wants I agree to it. I arrived early today so I have some time to kill anyway. I get a rag to wipe some of the slush off her bike wheels and fortunately have a couple of tarps I can use to protect the stuff I store in the back of my truck. The man helps me manoeuvre her bike into the truck, and I lock it up. I tell the man that they should follow me to my classroom so they will know where to find me when she needs her bike back. I ask the man to be there to help get her bike out again.

A couple of hours later, they are at the door of my weaving class looking for me. I go out to unlock my truck for her.

She pats my shoulder and says, You are a very nice woman.

I say, I am sure you would do the same for me.

After we get the bike out, the man asks my name and I tell him. He tells me that my name is the most popular name in the whole world. Then he tells me his name, Vasily, and she tells me hers, Emilie. She is Polish and he is Ukrainian.

I look at Vasily and say, You just had an election! How was it? Are you happy or disappointed?

He looks around and then says, I am very disappointed. That man is a murderer.

He starts to say more, and then stops and says that he must go, he will explain more the next time.

After my woodcarving class I am ready to go home. I go to the hallway where all the student descriptions are posted and I look for Emilie and Vasily. I find their descriptions, on the wall across from the lunch room. Emilie has included a photo of herself, Vasily a little cartoon of a teddy bear.

Emilie has come here with her husband and children, she has an MA in Administration from a Polish university, and hopes one day to learn enough English to get a job as an Administrator.

Vasily is here alone, his wife and children are still in the Ukraine. He came here to be free. Life is very difficult, he does not have a job, but he hopes to get himself established here and to bring his family to be free too.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My new blue card

I was at St. Joseph's Hospital yesterday for some tests. When I went to register in the waiting room, the woman asked for my blue card.

My blue card?

Yes, your hospital card, your blue card.

I don't have one. How do I get a blue card?

She looks at me and says, I'll just print off another one for you.

What do you mean, another one? Did I used to have one?

She looks at me sympathetically. Yes, you had one.

Then she asks me some questions about next of kin. She wants a name to contact in case something happens, er, in case I don't answer my phone.

I start wondering about these tests I'm supposed to do. Are they life-threatening?

I give her Isaac's name.

She asks, Is that I, double-s, a, c?

No, I say, it's I, s, double-a, c.

She smiles and says, That's what I said.

I wonder what she actually types on her computer.

A few moments later she has printed off my blue card and hands it to me. Isaac's name is not there, I will never know what she typed.

The card looks new to me, I am sure I never had a blue card before.

But now I do.

Fortunately, the tests are not lethal, no one has to call Issac. Or Isaac.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Dora's back

For those of you who are disgusted by the 2010 Olympics in BC (I count myself as one who is disgusted by the Olympics in general), here's some good news: the Red Tent Campaign.

Yes I know that the Olympics provide wonderful opportunities and motivation for young athletes---every evil has an upside---but as far as I am concerned the evil of it is overwhelming. I could go on for awhile about why I feel that way, but I digress. Go visit the Red Tent Campaign article and website for news of an innovative and heartening initiative.

And yes, Dora's back, with a brand new motherboard. This is her first post, and so far so good.

I was at Sam's place in D'Arcy when Dora the Teeny Tiny computer broke down, and I had my browser home page set to the Environment Canada local weather page, Pemberton, when it happened. So it was kind of nostalgic and interesting to get that weather report from another world when I first fired up the internet connection. I have the Toronto weather as my browser home page on my desktop computer; it's kind of fun to have the Pemberton BC weather report as an alternative. Toronto is below zero, Pemberton is above. Pemberton has snow, Toronto does not. I find the friggin' cold with no snow a little bizarre, but apparently this is normal here.

But Wiarton Willie saw his shadow today (he shoulda been in TO, no shadow here!) so it's six more weeks of winter!