Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Memorial

The other day I was Googling names of people I used to know but have for one reason or another lost track of, and I found the obituary for one of them. He died last year, of a cancer he had to deal with for most of his adult life. It finally got him.

This was a man I had known since my teen years, we met in high school and managed to keep in touch---off and on---over several decades. It was no accident that I lost track of him though, I simply stopped writing to him because I was offended by something he said in the last email I received from him (in reference to my previous email), to wit: "...postmenopausal grumpy old woman rant...".

I reacted rather strongly to that comment partly because it wasn't true, I thought I was being good-natured and humourous not ranting or grumpy. You know how email is, you can sometimes read into it a tone or emotion that isn't really there. But the part that really got to me was that I was just tired of men blaming women for their supposedly hormonal reactions to things. And to hear it from someone I counted as a friend and thought was fairly enlightened about such things, well, I didn't like it.

All my pre-menopausal adult life I was hearing men blame any kind of female reaction to things that they did not like on their rampant female hormones. Clearly, women are completely subject to their hormones and should not be taken seriously! And now, now that I am post-menopausal and have no hormones worth ranting about, now I am being castigated for my lack thereof? Damned if I have 'em, damned if I don't!

Even more ironically, this man who was accusing me of being a postmenopausal grumpy old woman was hopped up on testosterone injections as part of the treatment for his cancer. If anyone was being run by his/her hormones, it was him!

I debated writing back to him and explaining all that to him, but decided in the end not to; the misunderstanding in my view stemmed from trying to communicate by email so why would I think that yet another email would somehow resolve the problem?

I lived in Vancouver at the time and he lived in Toronto. A few years later I moved to Toronto and again debated getting in touch with him, but I'd go through the whole scenario in my head and then think that he was just as likely to respond negatively as positively to any effort on my part, so I didn't. You know how it is, the longer you leave that sort of thing go, the harder it is to follow up on it.

Now he is dead.

I feel regret, but I am not sure what exactly I regret. Not having sorted it all out? The lost years of contact? Having stopped a relationship for a petty reason? Sadness over his death? The finality of never having another chance? I don't know.

He wasn't a bad person, he certainly was an interesting person, and I knew he had little chance of living to great old age because his health was precarious. Reading his obituary, I understand that he had many good friends and he is sorely missed. He added good things to many people's lives, even to mine. What can I say.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The fishy wabbit diet

Between the acupuncture and some diet changes, I am way better than I was last week. At my last acupuncture session I told the doctor I was 50% better, but I think I am closer to 80% or 90% now.

I've started walking exercise at a local track with a fellow dog owner, I can barely keep up with her but I do manage to complete the entire 40 minute session without collapsing in exhaustion. The dogs love it.

The Chinese medicine doctor is saying he still has concerns about my kidneys and pancreas. Chinese medicine is very different from western medicine, I would never have associated my kidneys or pancreas with the symptoms I have been having.

The only dietary change the doctor has mentioned was to cut out refined sugar. I have to say that I have not been entirely successful in that, I still use sugar in my tea, albeit not as much.

I have tried to follow the conventional dietary changes recommended for acid reflux, but that is really hard to do. Basically, they recommend you cut out all the good stuff: coffee and black tea, alcohol, sugar, chocolate, cheese, fried food, dairy products, anything crunchy.

When I first read these restrictions, I thought, how on earth does one eat? There's no way I am going to turn into a herbal-tea-and-tofu nut!

But I have managed to make some significant changes. The trick has been to go looking for what I could eat rather than what I could not eat, and be experimental with it. The novelty factor got me through the first few days of deprivation.

I have cut back on cheese, so far I have had no chocolate (waah!), I've cut out coffee (but kept the black tea), and have pretty much stopped frying food.

I do keep a bag of potato chips and occasionally treat myself to a chip or two.

I read that what I need to do is reduce production of stomach acid and try to allow my esophagus to heal by avoiding anything that will irritate it (crunchy or scratchy food). One website I read said that if you can increase digestive enzymes in your stomach, that will tend to decrease the need for stomach acid. You can get digestive enzymes from supplements or from eating dark leafy greens and other foods that are high in those enzymes. So I have been eating a lot of rabbit food: chard, lettuce, spinach, that kind of stuff. One recommendation was for carrot soup to soothe the esophagus and add enzymes, I found a great recipe for ginger carrot soup (ginger is good for the stomach too).

To make the soup, chop up carrots and celery, and grate some ginger. I think the ratio is roughly 2 cups carrots, 1 cup celery, 1 tablespoon grated ginger. Cook together until soft in approximately three cups of water (or more, my first batch I boiled dry and had to throw out). Then run it through a blender. You can substitute broth for half the water if you need salt in it, I just add a bit of miso when it's done. Serve with a dollop of yogurt, maybe a sprinkle of parsley. You can also add other vegetables to the soup.

For the first week or two, all I ate was fruit, fish, leafy green salads and carrot soup, but now that I feel better I am adding other foods.

I started eating fish because cutting out all the cheese and dairy products pretty much eliminated my normal protein sources. But I have no skill in cooking fish, the first few meals were terrible. Then my neighbour Fatima gave me a fool-proof recipe for fish at the dogpark, so the quality of my meals has vastly improved.

Fatima covers a fish fillet in a sauce made of mustard, soy sauce and maple syrup (trust a Portuguese-Canadian to put maple syrup on fish!), I substitute miso for the soy sauce. Then you pop it into a toaster oven set at 400F for 10-12 minutes. Presto-pasto! Instant fish! Doesn't matter what kind of fish, the sauce works for them all.

An apple a day: eat a golden delicious apple at the end of each meal to ward off heartburn. Don't know why it works, but it does.

Drink lots of water, but not with food. Eat more smaller meals. This is hard to do, trying to fit in copious quantities of water between numerous meals is tricky and time-consuming. Plus you can never go anywhere: between eating, drinking, food preparation and bathroom breaks, that's pretty much a full day. Good luck with that.

Your stomach is the size of two open fists (make a fist, open it up so only your thumb and one finger are touching), each meal should be no bigger than that, otherwise you are putting needless pressure on the sphincter that keeps the stomach acid from going up the esophagus.

Restore your gut flora, eat foods with live good-bacteria cultures in them. Probiotic yogurt is an obvious source, but certain misos and sauerkrauts are too. That's why I use miso instead of soy sauce on the fish. These days, miso is just about my 'sole' (ha ha) source of salt (trying to keep the blood pressure down too), so I have become a big fan of the stuff. There's just no way I can cut out salt altogether, I am too much of a salt-lover. At least with miso, I am getting good nutrition along with the salt.

Miso that comes packaged in a soft plastic wrapper is probably pasteurized and therefore not a good source of good bacteria. Look for miso in yogurt tubs or jars with lids. I was told to use Tradition brand three-year-old rice miso (from your healthfood store refrigerator). Look for Eden brand organic sauerkraut, I can't eat the stuff because of the vinegar (I react rather strongly to that), but it's another good source of good bacteria.

I never gave up the yogurt but I did switch to skim milk probiotic yogurt. I continue to eat oatmeal and rice and a slice of wheat toast every day. I've switched my biggest meal to midday and I try to eat my last meal a good 3 hours before bedtime. No more chocolate macaroons for desert (waah!)! I grate ginger and carrot into my salad, and make up a vinaigrette and miso salad dressing. I don't drink my morning tea first thing, but have some food first so the tea is not going into an empty stomach. I continue to add milk to my tea, but I have switched from 2% to 1% (can't stand the taste of skim milk and apparently there is a big difference in fat content between 1% and 2%).

Tomatoes are supposed to be bad for acid reflux, but I read somewhere that it's only cooked tomatoes, fresh tomatoes are OK. So I have not cut out tomatoes altogether. If you are a big fan of pasta and tomato sauce, there is a fabulous uncooked tomato sauce in the Moosewood cookbook (or one of them, I don't remember which one). Gretel makes it and puts it on cooked spaghetti squash for a to-die-for meal. I think it has a fair bit of vinegar in it though, so it might depend on how you tolerate vinegar. It also has a fair bit of parmesan cheese in it, but apparently hard cheeses like parmesan are better tolerated than softer cheeses.

I have cut out citrus fruit though. Fresh pineapples, bananas and apples (golden delicious) are my staple fruits at the moment.

I read somewhere that I should try to sleep with the head of my bed raised 6-12" higher than the foot, and ideally on my left side. I did try this but the acid reflux went through the roof and all of a sudden I could not sleep through the night for the pain. I put the bed back to level and went back to my normal sleeping position (on my stomach) and the pain disappeared.

Moral of the story: everybody is different, you do what works for you.

I have tried eating cheese on occasion, I figure that at this point I can probably get away with small amounts. I have also had a glass of wine or two with little ill effect. I might try the sauerkraut again, although a life without sauerkraut is not nearly as dismal a prospect as a life without wine.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My mind is as big as the universe

I went to see the Chinese medicine doctor on Monday.

He has a tiny clinic above a store on Queen Street. The first little room is the waiting room/office/dispensary, and the second and third little rooms are the treatment rooms. They are subdivided into cubicles with laundry line and bedsheets, I think there are six cubicles in all. Each cubicle has a massage table in it.

When I arrived I was greeted by the doctor's wife/nurse/receptionist.

Ah, you must be Isaac's mother! She grinned and nodded at me.

The signs said to turn off my cell phone and take off my shoes, there were plastic sandals for me to wear in the treatment room. She led me to a cubicle and directed me to undress and lie down on the table, with a sheet to cover me.

Soon the doctor came in, with his intern.

He said, Tell me everything. Where does it hurt?

I told him about the chest pain and the shortness of breath. I told him about my numb foot. I told him about the sore spot on my arm and the other one down low in my belly. He took my arm to feel my pulse, and he saw the bruising and scar from the angiogram.

He looked shocked. What is this?

I tried to explain about the angiogram, how the cardiologist ran into a blockage in my arm and had to try again elsewhere. The Chinese doctor rolled my wrist in his hand, examining the bruise and the scar. The scar was right where he wanted to feel my pulse.

Energy is blocked there, that's why the doctor couldn't do the angiogram there, he said.

Then he looked at my foot, asked me to point to exactly where it was numb.

Ah, he said, That is your kidney and your liver.

Then he told me to think of my mind getting bigger and bigger. Imagine that your mind is as big as the whole universe. Your mind is expanding to fill the universe and the energy is coming into your mind and into your body. The energy is flowing from your mind through your body and down to your feet. As he said this, he waved his arms slowly over my body to illustrate the flow of the energy. Keep your attention on this, your mind is expanding to fill the universe. The energy is flowing through you.

Then his voice got very quiet, I couldn't hear the words, but he was talking faster. I don't know if he was talking to his intern or himself or if he was reciting some healing incantation. But I was getting very relaxed and my eyes were closed and my mind was getting bigger.

He started inserting the needles. He would tap hard where he wanted to put a needle, and then insert it in that spot. Sometimes I only felt the tap, sometimes the needle hurt. Sometimes he fiddled with the needle, inserting it deeper or sideways or something. I looked at them later, they were long and very very thin, they flopped over when they were inserted.

After he and the intern were finished inserting all the needles, they left me alone. I had needles on my face, in my hair, on my stomach and up and down my arms and legs. In the background was soft soothing music. I heard him talking to another patient in another cubicle, and then later another patient. I felt very relaxed and tried to think of my mind getting as big as the universe.

He came back to me in a while and took out the needles and directed me to lie on my stomach so he could insert some needles in my back. Again he left me alone for awhile, and then came back to remove the needles.

You can get dressed now.

I felt very relaxed, as if I'd just had a really good massage. I dressed and gathered up my things and came back out to the waiting room. The doctor's wife started to write the bill for me.

The doctor said, You like some pills?

I shrugged and said, Sure.

He picked two boxes with fancy Chinese writing on them and put them on the desk beside the bill.

You take 8 pills of each, 3 times a day.

Holy shmoly, he wants me to take 50 pills a day!

He said, Next time, I treat your skin condition (there's a small scaly patch under my hair, he wants to put a needle in it).

Next time? When should I come back?

You need lots of treatment, you a mess. You come twice a week, then once a week. He grinned at me.

He showed me some exercises he wanted me to do, and also how to stomach-breathe.

Next time, he said, I show you how to meditate.

I walked out of there feeling just about as high as I could be. For the first time in a very long time, I felt like I could get better.

Maybe acupuncture works, maybe it doesn't, I don't know. But all those doctors and nurses at the hospital could sure learn a thing or two from this guy about how to promote healing. He made me feel like getting better was very doable.

And when I was walking home I thought about all those things I told him about. About the breathing and the numb foot and the ache in my lower belly. I thought they were all unrelated, all different things. But they all started at the same time, and he made me see that they are all related. He made me feel like a whole person, nothing is unrelated, nothing is a coincidence.

And I can get better. My mind is as big as the universe.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Reading

Being somewhat grounded, I am doing a lot of reading lately. I seem to have an endless supply of books on hold at the Toronto Public Library, I may never buy another book again.

A couple of books that particularly grabbed my attention lately were Whole Earth Discipline: an ecopragmatist manifesto (2009) by Stewart Brand and Filthy Lucre: economics for people who hate capitalism (2009) by Joseph Heath.

Stewart Brand is of course that Stewart Brand, the one of Whole Earth Catalog fame, and Joseph Heath is a philosophy prof at the University of Toronto.

I love the title of Heath's book. As he says in his introduction, this is not an Economics 101 for all of us who avoided the course at college, or a even a diatribe against capitalism. Heath is no cheerleader for free markets and the capitalist way, but neither is he a blindly wholehearted supporter of environmentalist and leftist causes. He writes about why some favourite environmentalist or leftist policies are just as shortsighted and ill-conceived as the right-wing capitalist prevailing dogmas they oppose. I found the book refreshing and educational. He suggests that we may be stuck with capitalism in a Churchillian sense, as being the worst economic system except for all the others.

Heath goes through a number of examples of shortsighted thinking on environmental, social and libertarian issues. He also deals with the fact that we are not simply mindless consumers and entrepreneurs looking out for Number One, we are moral and social creatures with complex motivations. The assumptions by ultra-conservatives and neo-cons that "enlightened self-interest" (usually shortened to just plain self-interest) will bring health, wealth and happiness to us all have largely been exposed by recent events to be just another suit of the Emperor's clothes, but Heath explains that some of the antidotes proposed by well-meaning leftists are equally shortsighted and disastrous.

One example of this is the campaign for fair trade coffee. Paying higher prices for coffee encourages producers to produce more, but there is already a glut of coffee on the market, which is why prices were low in the first place. While raising coffee prices hasn't affected the rate of consumption, the risk is that if you pay producers more, they will naturally want to produce more. A similar campaign was conducted by The Body Shop a few years ago around the trade in Shea Butter, this resulted in a rather disastrous (for the producers) collapse of the trade due to overproduction. Perhaps a more useful thing to do would be to encourage producers to grow crops that people actually need, such as food.

I found Heath's explanations of how the market really works clear and understandable. He also explains some of the current economic theories, and how well they have worked (in explaining market behaviour) so far. I recommend this book as imminently readable, surprising, and thought-provoking.

Stewart Brand has always been on the bleeding edge of change and innovation. He sticks his neck out while others watch to see if he will be decapitated this time 'round. Whole Earth Discipline is pretty far out there. Brand suggests that we need to go beyond simply being green, we need to mix some blue (as in blue planet) in with that for turquoise ("Turqs" to supporters, "turquies" to detractors). He is pro-nuclear energy, pro-genetic engineering (genetic modification to others), pro-urbanization. He sees all of these as the ultimate "green" strategies.

Even before reading his book I was inclined to agree with Brand on nuclear energy, based on reading several years ago an absolutely fascinating book by Mary Mycio called Wormwood Forest: a natural history of Chernobyl (2005), not to mention books by James Lovelock of Gaia hypothesis fame. Brand supports Lovelock's perspective and provides interesting supporting evidence. He notes that while Nevada, the home of Yucca Mountain (the very controversial proposed site for burial of nuclear waste), is vehemently opposed to development of nuclear energy based on the issues surrounding the handling of radioactive waste materials, New Mexico is quietly accepting nuclear waste without protest. He suggests that there may be an historical reason for their opposed positions: Nevada was the state where most nuclear bomb testing occurred, New Mexico was the state where nuclear labs for developing the bombs were located. New Mexico benefitted from job creation in the nuclear industry, Nevada suffered the fallout, so to speak.

Brand suggests that we may not want to bury nuclear waste, we may actually want to hang onto it for future use. He writes about the state of nuclear energy development in other countries (France exports nuclear power, Japan is heavily invested in nuclear energy). It is interesting that Japan is so pro-nuclear, being the home of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One would think that if any country had a reason to fear or oppose nuclear energy, it would be Japan. While Lovelock supports nuclear energy as the best way to forestall climate change, Brand provides a number of other reasons to support it, including but not limited to safety and economics.

I don't care to argue the point here, I know this is very controversial to many people, but I would urge you to read Brand's book, he is a credible defender of the technology.

A few years back I did a fair bit of reading about genetic modification (Brand refers to it as genetic engineering), trying to determine for myself whether this was as evil as many environmentalists make it out to be. I never really came to a firm conclusion but my gut feel about it was that the most valid argument against it was around the issue of property and intellectual rights. This is a problem not only for GE organisms but for many other organisms, not to mention music, data and text. Brand argues that GE in combination with organic agricultural practices could be the best answer to our problems around global food supply and food quality. Genetic engineering is basically a fast-tracked and highly nuanced breeding program that allows specific characteristics of other varieties and even species to be incorporated into the target species, for example to improve drought-resistance, pest-resistance, and low nutrient requirements. A GE variety of rice can withstand prolonged periods of submersion in water, which allows farmers to use flooding of rice paddies for longer periods of time in order to drown potential pests of young rice plants.

The major problem is that GE technology is largely in the hands of corporations who are not necessarily trying to use it for the "good of humankind". As long as environmentalists are vehemently opposed to the use of GE at all, we cannot expect organic farmers to embrace it, and it will remain in the hands of corporations such as Monsanto, who will impose their own rules and limitations on how it can be used.

Brand associates the worldwide liberation of women with urbanization. He explains that the huge squatter slums surrounding fast-growing cities in developing nations are actually hotbeds of innovation, co-operation and liberation for women. As women move from small villages dominated by traditionally sexist elders to the free-for-all of urban squats, they have access to jobs and information, their paid labour gives them status, and the incentive or requirement to produce babies is significantly dampened. As the world urbanizes, population growth slows. A woman in a squatter town can build her own home, start her own business, and associate with other women doing the same. Authoritarian elders lose their grip on women's bodies and minds.

Urbanization is also, ironically, associated with the return to nature of vast tracts of land formerly occupied by small farms and villages. Wherever desertification has not already occurred due to overfarming, reforestation is taking hold. Eastern North America is a good example of that, the growth of mega-cities on the eastern seaboard has corresponded with the return of the Eastern Deciduous Forest over large parts of the eastern United States and southeastern Canada.

I have several other books on the go at the moment, including a book of poems by Mary Oliver (Thirst, 2006). I wish I was a poet, I wish I could express myself the way she can.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A good yarn

There's a great little blog post over at The Yarn Harlot today (actually, yesterday).
It's not what you think.

Oh, and Josh?
You need a new hovercraft.
Eels indeed...

OK off you go, I'm done here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Winter?

It was a sunny warm day, and the sun now sets an hour later, so it was like spring. I did see some crocuses, and some trees starting to bloom the other day. And tonight our street was full of kids, shooting hoops, skateboarding, and just plain hanging out.





I went for an after-dinner stroll around the block (can't go much faster than a stroll these days), and Phelan decided to follow me on his Skuut bike in his stocking feet. He's quite fast on that little thing, I didn't even notice he didn't have any shoes on.





It was OK until we hit a broken patch in the sidewalk, filled with dirt. Then Phelan realized the down-side of being out in your stocking feet. I had to lift him, Skuut bike and all, over the dirt patch. But after that he was off and Skuuting, we soon ended up back at the house, where his Mom had left his shoes and helmet out on the porch steps for him.

(This picture is from last year when Phelan first got his Skuut bike. He's bigger now, and the weather is warmer.)

Can't believe it's officially still winter.

Words to live by

This is what you should do:
Love the earth and sun and animals,
despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks,
stand up for the stupid and crazy,
devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants,
argue not concerning God,
have patience and indulgence toward the people...
reexamine all you have been told in school or church or in any book,
dismiss what insults your very soul,
and your flesh shall become a great poem.

~ Walt Whitman ~

(Excert from Preface to 1855 edition, Leaves of Grass)

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Diagnosis

I saw my doctor today and while I was skeptical listening to her thoughts on what is wrong with me, I am now a bit more agreeable to the idea having done some research on the internet. She thinks I have acid reflux. She wants me to go do some test involving swallowing barium to confirm this diagnosis.

When I looked up acid reflux in combination with "shortness of breath", I found something called "silent reflux", which is another name for Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR). LPR can cause something called a laryngospasm, which among other things, can cause shortness of breath. A number of other symptoms that I have but I thought were unrelated now look to be linked to this.

So my doctor is probably right, but I am not sure I want to do this barium swallow thing to confirm it. I am already convinced. If I do the barium swallow and the diagnosis is confirmed, then she can prescribe a bunch of drugs for the condition. I don't want to go that route unless I have to.

So I am now looking into alternative treatments. I have a couple of leads on possibilities, mostly involving dietary changes (give up coffee, cheese and chocolate! no more curry, no more burritos, no more milk! drink carrot juice! eat cabbage! omigod, the drugs are starting to sound good!), and a Chinese doctor (Chinese, and he practices Chinese medicine) that Isaac and Gretel like.

Here's another interesting thing about having universal healthcare: it only covers conventional medicine so one's inclination is to follow that since it is cheaper. But if all health practice costs were covered (or alternatively you had to pay for them all), then one might go the alternative route a little more readily. But at this point I know that whatever treatment I opt for, it's going to cost me and frankly, I'd rather spend my money on food and herbs and acupuncture treatments than on acid reflux drugs.

I am getting kind of bored with this endless description of my health problems, so I think I am going to try to lay off for awhile.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Waiting room hell

OK, so as a result of the angiogram I had on March 1st, I now have what's known as an AV fistula in my leg. That means that the femoral artery that supplies blood to my leg has joined with a nearby vein and is not delivering blood to my leg in quite the way that it is supposed to. Sounds bad, and it can be, but this morning a doctor at St. Mike's said that their vascular surgeon took a look at all the test results and symptoms and thinks that in my case it is not serious and can be left to heal on its own.

This is kind of a good news/bad news thing, on the one hand I avoid surgery and yet another stay in the hospital, on the other hand I have this sore lump in my groin that makes it difficult to walk. In addition to the already existing and as yet undiagnosed shortness of breath, dizziness and chest pain. The doctor says it will take time to heal by itself and I should still be vigilant for signs that it has worsened. But I can go about my life as usual. Such as it is.

This whole thing is frustrating in the extreme. I still have not got a diagnosis for the original problem, and I now have a complication as the result of one of the tests done to find a diagnosis (can we say "iatrogenic"?). On top of that, they wanted a CT scan to try to see if my problem was a fistula, and a CT scan involves way more radiation than an X-ray. The technician had to do it twice, because they have a recording that is supposed to tell you when you are to hold your breath for the procedure, but that recording malfunctioned. I kept breathing, so she had to run the CT scan twice, meaning double the radiation dose.

To be fair, I cannot see any point in the whole process where I can fault someone for having made a wrong decision. Every step of the way there was a good logical reason for the choices made. There were alternatives, but lacking 20/20 hindsight choices were made with the knowledge available.

I could possibly fault the intern who nicked my femoral artery, but that's what interns are there to do: learn from their mistakes under supervision in hopes of not making them twice and having someone die because of it.

This afternoon I got home from the hospital after not eating for almost 24 hours, Gretel made breakfast and coffee for me. In the course of discussing what has been going on, she pointed out that my frustration would have been so much worse if we did not have healthcare coverage, I would have the additional weight of the financial cost of all this on my mind.

If I lived in a country where I had no healthcare coverage, right now I would definitely be thinking about suing somebody, anybody. I would for sure be trying to make a case for malpractice or negligence. If all this had happened on my dime, you can bet I would want my dime back and then some, for all the aggravation (not to mention iatrogenic complications) involved.

I can understand why people might be trigger-happy about litigation in a country with no national healthcare program, and why malpractice insurance would be a very big deal.


It's still sunny and warm here, and today I have a temporary respite from medical waiting room hell, before starting in again tomorrow. So excuse me while I go off to enjoy it.


Can you see the robin?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Walking for tulips

The weather is just too nice to stay indoors, no matter how sick or tired.

Yesterday I walked all the way to Queen Street, caught the streetcar and rode to Romni Wool. I wanted to buy some circular knitting needles. I found what I was looking for, but of course it is impossible to visit a yarn store without looking around so I did end up buying a bit of yarn. Then I walked home.

That was a significant accomplishment, Romni is several kilometres from home. My first day home I couldn't even make it to the end of the block without stopping several times to catch my breath. Yesterday I started out walking extre-ee-emely slowly, but found that after a few minutes I could pick up the speed a bit, until by Queen Street I was actually managing a decent stroll.

Today Grace came by to go for a walk, I told her I could only go slowly but I don't think she quite got how slowly. She's used to power walking. But after a few minutes she managed to slow down and I to speed up, so we did not too badly.

We went down to a little grocery store on Queen that sells flowers and potted plants. She wanted to buy a rosemary plant, but the two rosemarys they had looked too scruffy. So we bought tulips instead.


Aren't they lovely?

Friday, March 5, 2010

My forest trail socks

In all the fuss over breathing, I forgot to mention that I finally finished my new pair of socks. The yarn is hand-dyed by Fleece Artist (Seastorm colourway), the design is my own.


It's a toe-up sock with a Magic Cast-on and a pattern called Spiral and Eyelet that I picked from a book of knitting patterns. Not a terribly imaginative name, but isn't the colour lovely?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The pleasures of sleeping in one's own bed

I am at home. Spring appears to be just around the corner, we have sun and above zero (Celsius) temperatures all week. There's hardly any snow around, I would love to go for a nice long walk or bike ride, it is so lovely out.

Gretel came to pick me up at St Joe's on Tuesday morning with a little bag of potato chips, my first food request after a nearly salt-free week. It was great, I truly savoured all that salt.

I signed myself out of the hospital, I did not wait for the doctor to sign me out. Several people advised me against doing that, but I was just so fed up with being there. I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about why I was fed up, just to say it was a lot of unnecessary little irritants, both for me and for other patients I came to know over my time there. Somewhere along the line it got to me, I stopped trying to be polite and patient about it. When the nurse said I couldn't leave, I said, Is this a jail?

On the positive side, the cardiologist who treated me at St Mike's was wonderful, bedside manner coming out his ears. He actually came by after the procedure to apologize for causing me pain. I looked him up on the internet when I got home, turns out he is the head of cardiology at St Mike's and a professor at the U of T school of medicine.

My half-day at St Mike's was a bit of a contrast with St Joe's, I think if I ever have to go to hospital again, I will do my darndest to go to St Mike's. I saw Emmanual on Monday evening and he said pretty much the same about Western, so if I can't get to St Mike's, Western will be my second choice. St Joe's will be down around the frozen reaches of hell.

Emmanual had an angiogram and two angioplasties, he also was going home on Tuesday. I could see that he had finally reached his breaking point too, he was pretty grim about being back at St Joe's.

I still have whatever my original condition is, if anything somewhat worse. However I think I have had every possible test for heart-related problems and nothing significant showed up. So we can rule out the worst case scenario.

My breathlessness is now so bad that I cannot go outdoors without panting. Even walking from one end of my small apartment to the other is problematic, it wasn't like that before. However, I managed to see a doctor today and she's ordering a breathing test, presumably for asthma or something like that. She feels confident that I don't have any serious heart or lung issues after all the tests they ran while I was at St Joe's.

Yesterday I went to my Mimico Adult Ed classes and it was so nice to get out and about! I just popped in to the carving class because I didn't think I was up to the physical effort of carving just yet, but it turns out that another person in that class had also had an angiogram (plus three angioplasties) the same time I did. He was still at home but the instructor was passing around a card to him for everyone to sign.

I said I would be back to normal next week, and Bill, the guy that only comes for the coffee break laughed and said anybody who checks herself out of the hospital is sure to be just fine next week. Well, I hope I can live up to that.

Later that evening though I called Telehealth because I noticed a bruise forming near the angiogram site, a nurse called me back after a few minutes. Turns out he (it was a male nurse) was the same age as me and he said he'd had an angiogram too so he understood my concern.

He said, They call it the Golden Years but I think they are colour-blind, it's really the Rust Years!

Anyway, he asked some questions and gave me some useful advice, I am glad I called. He said it didn't sound urgent but I should probably get it looked at by a doctor within 24 hours. After I got off the phone, a friend of Gretel's recommended a clinic out in Mississauga (west of Toronto) as better than any clinic in Toronto for wait times, and since we live not too far from the highway it was just as easy to go there as to a clinic downtown, so Isaac and I drove there shortly after the Telehealth phone call.

However, it turned out the clinic was in a hospital and I was so turned off of hospitals that I made Isaac take me to a walk-in clinic down the road from the hospital. I just couldn't bear setting foot inside a hospital, even if it was only an outpatient clinic!

About half an hour later a doctor had examined my bruise and said it wasn't serious, so we headed home again. A spot of whiskey to calm my nerves and I was off to bed. I sure do appreciate my very own bed now.

Next time I am tempted to call 911, I'm gonna call Telehealth instead.

Unless I really do want four burly firemen on the doorstep.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Good news bad news

The doc who performed the angiogram said afterwards, I have good news and bad news.

The good news is, there's nothing wrong with your heart.

The bad news is, you spent a week in hospital for nothing.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Taking blood

Sunday did not start well. On Saturday afternoon my cardiologist put a nitroglycerin patch on my shoulder, and by bedtime I had a raging headache. The nurse gave me Tylenol and said the headache was most likely caused by the patch. She said I'd need the doc's permission to take it off, so when she left the room I just took it off, the Tylenol was useless and it seemed stupid to wait, a case of the cure being worse than the illness.

However the headache took a long time to abate, and when a blood technician showed up at my bed at 6am, I was in more of a mood to take blood than to give it. I snapped at her and she backed off right away and called the nurse.

In the end they got their blood, and they installed a new intravenous needle, no doubt punishment for being unco-operative. I am trying real hard to be polite, but I guess I am just tired of this whole thing, I want out. Or failing that, to inflict harm.

"Jimi" stopped by the lounge today, he no longer has his portable life support system so I guess he's getting better. He says he feels fine but the doctor tells him his kidneys are still a little shaky.

Emmanual told me that he had another reason for not wanting to be in the same room as the dying man. He said that the man was Maltese, the same as him, and everyone visiting the fellow spoke in Maltese. They didn't know that Emmanual was Maltese too, they said some things that he didn't want to hear. But on Sunday he walked by his old room and saw the dying man sitting up. Maybe he's not dying after all!

I watched the 50km cross-country marathon skiing, the Canadian Devon Kershaw came in fourth. This was a record performance for Canada, but the poor guy was devastated that he was only 1.6 seconds from gold, a fraction of a second from being on the podium at all. The race took just over two hours, two hours of all-out effort, and I imagine he had nothing left at all so the tears were probably as much about exhaustion as about disappointment. The TV interviewer was congratulating him on his great performance, but all he could do was apologize for letting everyone down. Poor guy.

The big hockey game started around 3.15pm, Isaac and Tristan came with popcorn, Emmanual's family came, a couple of other patients and some visitors and staff. It was a good game, and we had a full house. Canada was leading for most of the game but the Americans scored a goal that tied the two teams in literally the last minute of play. Quite amazing. So there was 20 minutes of "sudden death" overtime and Sydney Crosby scored the winning goal for Canada. Lots of cheering in the patient lounge, I am sure the nurses at the nursing station at the other end of the hall knew exactly what had happened.

Later in the evening some of us watched the closing ceremonies. A couple of nurses came by to see too. They said they were sorry the Olympics were over, the TV would be boring now. I agreed. I said I planned to get better and go home now that the Olympics were over.

On Monday I have my angiogram at St Mike's, hopefully some kind of diagnosis and treatment will come out of that. I may or may not be returning to St. Joe's so I am to pack up all my belongings to leave. I'm not looking forward to the procedure, but I am looking forward to it being over with. Three of us are off for our angios, and a fourth is off to start radiation for lung cancer. We have been wishing each other well because we may or may not see each other again. Who knows what our outcomes will be, but everyone has the attitude of, you do your best and what will be will be.