Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Quantum and Kipling

HEAR and attend and listen; for this befell and behappened and became and was, O my Best Beloved, when the Tame animals were wild. The Dog was wild, and the Horse was wild, and the Cow was wild….and they walked in the Wet Wild Woods by their wild lones….
Of course the Man was wild too. He was dreadfully wild. He didn’t even begin to be tame till he met the Woman, and she told him that she did not like living in his wild ways. She picked out a nice dry Cave, instead of a heap of wet leaves, to lie down in; and she strewed clean sand on the floor; and she lit a nice fire of wood at the back of the Cave; and she hung a dried wild-horse skin, tail-down, across the opening of the Cave; and she said, ‘Wipe you feet, dear, when you come in, and now we’ll keep house.’….
When the Man waked up he said, ‘What is Wild Dog doing here?’ And the Woman said, ‘His name is not Wild Dog any more, but the First Friend, because he will be our friend for always and always and always...
Rudyard Kipling
From "Just So Stories" "The cat that walked by himself"

For most of my life there has been a dog at home. From Jan, Tank, Cherie, Rocky (our only badly bred dog), Gypsy, Thor, and Dakota, to name a few, the dogs have brought us companionship and pleasure. Each time we lose a dog, I am so sad I vow I will never get another. When our last dog died, we went one month before we were at the Humane Society to select another. The house was cleaner and quieter, but not happier than it was with a pet there.
Our present dog is a pound rescue. He is 65 pounds of a lab cross, with a husky tail, and four impossibly crooked and skinny legs that must have come from the bottom of the Creator’s barrel. When one of our daughters applied for a nursing placement in northern Ontario, her interviewers asked her what she would miss the most from home when she was stationed in such a remote location. Her immediate answer was, “my dog”. Well, she did go up north for a few months, and when she returned, there was no equal to the ecstatic greeting the dog gave her.

Every Wednesday, Quantum comes to the hospital to visit patients. He is a mastiff cross and is the most calm, gentle dog I have ever seen. His handler brings him up to the people in wheelchairs and hospital beds and his attention and affection is shared equally with all. Sometimes he comes with Ellie Mae, a tiny lap dog who wears a fashionable scarf. Ellie Mae is living proof that small dogs can also be well trained, not yappy and spoiled. Because people stay in the rehabilitation centre for weeks at a time, there is a very liberal pet policy in place. One lady had been extremely ill and bedridden for over six weeks, and I was beginning to doubt whether or not she would ever start walking again. One day her family brought in her little white poodle, and for the first time, I saw the light of hope come into her eyes. She began to get stronger and left the hospital able to walk again.
Rudyard Kipling was so right when he said, "(Dog) will be our friend for always and always and always....!"

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I'm dreaming of a green Christmas

I lived for several years in the southern hemisphere where Christmas and my January birthday fell during the school summer vacation. Most of my family will be celebrating Christmas in a warm climate and some may even spend a few days at a beach. I would venture to say that more people in the world experience a green (or brown) Christmas rather than a white Christmas. Many Christmas and Yule traditions are based on ancient celebrations of the Northern Hemisphere's winter solstice. Yet half the earth will be experiencing a summer solstice at the end of December.
For the past couple of weeks, we have enjoyed the “October” weather we missed earlier and temperatures have been unseasonably warm. At this time last year, the local ski club was in full operation and remained open every day until the end of March. I have read a number of comments on blogs today indicating that some people need cold weather to get motivated to prepare for Christmas.
In the above photo, I am in Durban, South Africa posing with a doll I received for Christmas. Mom sewed the doll an entire wardrobe which came packed in a small brown suitcase. We had a couple of palm branches in a pot that we decorated with homemade ornaments.
We have been in Mexico with family for Christmas as well. This country has wonderful Christmas traditions and celebrations, with beautiful nacimientos, musical posadas and the celebration of El Dia De Reyes, Three Kings Day on January 6th. On the night of January 5, the figurines of the Three Wise Men are added to the nativity scene. Before going to bed the children place their old shoes under their bed or in the living room, where the Wise Men will leave them their presents.
I love the vibrant colours of tropical flowers. My mother’s garden had a beautiful poinsettia hedge and the effect of the bright blooms against the brick walls was very festive.
I am not sentimental regarding ice and snow or cold temperatures for the holiday season. If I had a choice, I would take warmth for nine years, and snow one year for a little variety. How about you?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Christmas Caroling

In years gone by, it was popular to go door to door in the neighbourhood singing Christmas carols. I remember doing this in Toronto with friends and family, and money we were given was donated to the children’s hospital. Last year, I was pleasantly surprised by a small group of children who came to the door and sang a carol. They asked for nothing, but brought many happy memories with them.
Each year I have played carols on the piano at various nursing homes in the area with singers from our church. We do a variety of Christmas songs and carols as well as poetry readings and stories. The audience is always enthusiastic and appreciative. I think Christmas carols are the most familiar and beautiful melodies in the world. Tonight was the first carol sing of the season. Everyone could join in with the familiar strains of Joy to the World, Away in a Manger, O Little Town of Bethlehem, and Silent Night. There are many people of German background in our community and there are always a few elderly ladies who want to sing in German…

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

It brings tears to my eyes to hear them sing the words they learned as children, even when some of them cannot remember events of today at all.
These people do not need gifts from the mall, but need a visitor, someone to give them a hug and listen to their stories. They are sure to put you in the “Christmas spirit”.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Cultural Mosaic

Canada has opened its doors to immigrants from many countries over the past century. The Europeans who came here after the world wars have blended in with other white races that arrived centuries earlier. Each new group has had challenges fitting into the cultural mosaic. During the Second World War, Japanese Canadians were interred in camps, and action that our government has now apologized for. In the 1960’s, I remember the Italians and Polish immigrants in Toronto being called “wops” and “pollocks” in a derogatory fashion. Over the past 30 years or so, there has been a large influx of Asian people, from India, Pakistan, Vietnam, China, and more recently, the Philippine Islands. The majority of these new Canadians are hard working, ambitious contributors to society, many of them anxious to carve out a better life for their children, often with great personal sacrifice. I admire their sense of family and community. We seldom see their elderly in our nursing homes, as the extended family usually supports the aging members.
Racial profiling and stereotyping has become more common since 9/11. The war in Iraq and actions of radical Moslem groups around the world has made some suspicious of people who may look different than “us”. I am fortunate to work with many wonderful people from many cultures. Several of the office staff at my community workplace are Filipinos. They are the most polite, gracious and hard-working people I have ever met. The photo show one of the doctors at the hospital, a lovely, devout and compassionate Indian lady. She comes from a large Roman Catholic family and several of her siblings in India have taken vows in the church.
Today, one of my friends from the hospital had a group of us over to her home for brunch. She and her family are progressive Moslems of Indian descent who immigrated to Canada as children from East Africa. Her husband cooked us a delicious meal including samosas and fragrant biryani chicken. They were congenial hosts and we all had a wonderful afternoon.
I do not have to travel outside of my city to interact with people from around the world. My family was once new to this land and I am glad to welcome others who want to join in making Canada a great place to live.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Remembering Simon

Today is the 40th anniversary of my grandfather's death. He died too young, and many of his grandchildren never knew him. His was the first death in the family that I remember, and the first funeral I attended.
Grandad came from Holland to Canada in the early 1920's and his extended family suffered greatly in both world wars. He always appreciated the freedom we have in this country. Family members have told me what a congenial, fun loving man he was.
I have a fun memory of him sitting in an old wooden cradle outside his art and antiques store, his arms and legs sticking out at odd angles, with a big grin on his face.
He was an artist, but it was a difficult way to make a living during the depression and war years. I remember the store he had north of Toronto where he gave art lesson and sold picture frames and antiques. He painted this lovely winter scene that hangs in my living room.
In the Bible, forty years is considered to be a generation. It is hard to believe that one full generation has passed since he died. How do remember someone who has been gone that long, who some of the family have never met at all?
His three children who are living remember first hand growing up with their father. Their personalities and parenting skills were influenced by the way they were raised.
We have some of his art work and several of his descendants have inherited his artistic abilities.
One of my brothers has his hairline, face shape and body build. Family members see Grandad re-emerging as my brother gets older.
Grandad had a strong faith in God and that faith is evident in others as well.
What will people remember about us when we have been gone for a generation? Our past is an integral part of our present. How important it is that our attitudes and actions leave inspiring and positive memories for present and future generations.

In memory of Simon Tolman,
father of Melvin, David, Lois and Ruth
December 10, 1904 - November 25, 1966.

He is still in our thoughts and memories.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Feeding the birds...and squirrels

The past week has been dry, with cold nights and brighter days than we have had for a while. We finally got a chance to clean up the yard and garden for winter and put up the bird feeders. I tied one feeder to the deck for the squirrels and chipmunks, and put up a hanging “squirrel proof” feeder as well as the pole feeder under my bedroom window.
The days are so short now that I leave for work before there is much light, and return home when it is dusk. I seldom see the birds at the feeders. The light was fading when I took these photos, but I was able to enjoy a number of birds...chickadees, juncos, purple finches, a cardinal, and various other sparrows I cannot identify... for about fifteen minutes yesterday afternoon. They landed on the feeder for only a split second and it was a challenge to catch them with the shutter. Some of the birds prefer the relative safety of the bare lilac bush and flit down to get the loose seeds on the adjacent deck.
Once we get snow cover on the ground, I hope it will be easier to get enough light for better pictures.

Happy Thanksgiving to family, friends and bloggers in United States. Have a wonderful, safe long weekend!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

River Walk

The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man. ~Author Unknown

Over the past week, the area of the hospital I work in has switched from paper charting to computer charting. The change has had an enormous impact on the staff, increasing stress, workload, and general frustration. I have had a computer for over 15 years and would classify myself as computer literate. The new charting system is very complicated to work with and I have found myself tense and achy by the end of the day.
I am accustomed to going for a walk at noon and generally take the groomed trail by the river. Yesterday, I was in great need of a diversion from the workplace and decided to follow a new path on the opposite bank of the river. It must have been created by people walking their dogs, or youngsters carrying materials to their tree house, for it was narrow and wound around the flood plain on patches of firm ground. I have seen this river in flood before a dam was built to control the spring run off, and each year large sheets of ice pile up here as the river begins to thaw. I “forgot” my watch and wandered around for over an hour, thoroughly enjoying my explorations.
When I returned to my office, I discovered my socks and shoes were covered in sticky burrs. No problem…I keep an extra pair of socks and shoes at work. The change of foot wear, and my change of attitude from the mind clearing walk gave me a more positive perspective for the rest of the day.

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. ~Lao Tzu

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Remembering a Special Home

I have to thank LauraHinNJ for her recent post featuring a painting of main street in Red Bank, beautifully decorated for Christmas. It reminded me of a painting of Grandma’s house which was featured on a Christmas card a few years ago. The cards were printed to raise funds for the Canadian Mental Health Association, and I cannot even remember how I received one of them. I went on a search this morning and found the card in the top drawer of my dresser, along with many other important but forgotten cards and papers.

As I have mentioned in other posts, Grandma and Granddad were doctors in the small town where they lived. The large red brick house, on the main street of town, was built on the same property where their first home burned down. When facing the house, the rooms to the left of the front door were where the waiting room, dispensary, examining room and office were located. The kitchen was on the other side at the front of the house, and it was a big treat to eat a meal on the flat top of the radiator in front of the window. The first floor had a large dining room, living room, and a sun room which looked out on the rear garden. The bedrooms were upstairs and the large basement housed many monsters who scared me greatly. If I was sent to the cold cellar to get something, I would stand at the top of the stairs to summon my courage and them run down and up as fast as possible. There were no wall light switches downstairs, and you had to walk into the middle of a dark room to pull a cord on a ceiling fixture. As children, we were fascinated by the dumb waiter and the laundry chute which ran from the second floor to the trap door in the laundry room. I have many happy memories of this house and still dream about it from time to time.
This painting, by Susan Hally, is very accurate except the ivy that grew on the house is missing. The brown house with green shutters was also owned by my grandparents, and next door to that was the local butcher shop. I can find nothing about the artist on the internet, and do not know if prints are even available for this painting. Thanks to digital scanning, I will be able to print and frame a copy for myself.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Come Home For Supper!

As children we roamed around the neighbourhood exploring and playing with our friends. Mom had this old cow bell and would stand outside the front door ringing it when it was time to come in for dinner. It was easier than calling five of us by name. We are now scattered all over the world but would all come home for dinner if we could. Sandland Brother recently asked me for some recipes from home, and so a new site was created. I invite family and friends to email me their favourite recipes so they can be added to the collection.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Diaries and blogs

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in a train. ~ Oscar Wilde

I received a five year diary from a friend on my 12th birthday. On the verge of adolescence, I could hardly imagine the person I would be on my 17th birthday. I faithfully kept a journal through my teen years, not only in the little red diary, but also in larger volumes. I still have the diaries hidden in a drawer and hope they never become public property. It is embarrassing to read some entries, but I do remember my teenaged years as being self centered, emotionally uncertain and marked with ups and downs in relationships with friends and family. Rereading my diaries helped me to be more patient with my own daughters as they were growing up as I was far from perfect in attitude and actions.

My husband’s grandfather was also a journal keeper. My brother and sister-in-law copied the diaries from 1918 and 1926 for us and they are a wonderful snapshot of family life in these years. Grandfather A. summarized the activities of each day, listed his expenditures and receipts, kept track of church collections, and offered other tidbits of information about home and friends.
Some of my favourite entries are as follows

Tuesday July 23, 1918
My birthday 44 years. Picked potatoes, hauled 6 loads of manure. Rained a little. To meeting. Spent 75 cents.

Tuesday August 20, 1918
Baby boy born at 2:45. Dr. Lackner at 3 o’clock a.m. Mrs. Matchett to nurse mama and child. I threshed today and ploughed with 5 horses in the p.m. Spent $1.46
(the child was my father-in-law…I wonder if the $1.46 was the doctor’s fee)

On October 11 and 12 of the same year, the deaths of three family friends are recorded, one 40 years old, one 80 years old and one 19 years old. The Spanish influenza hit the community hard. Throughout October, many deaths and funerals were mentioned.

Sunday, October 13, 1918

At home all day. Churches all closed. Many people sick.

I am not surprised at the popularity of blogging. Some bloggers record details of their lives that are better hidden in a drawer. (The Becka is behind me right now reading my old diary aloud with laughter and disbelief!)
Journals are marginally interesting to most people when they are written, but become more fascinating when read by later generations.
I wonder if weblogs will be as enduring as pen and paper?…Only time will tell!

Pale ink is better than the most retentive memory. ~ Harvey B. Mackay

Saturday, November 18, 2006


I love many types of fruit, but my favourite, for flavour and versatility is the apple. It is no wonder that Eve is traditionally depicted with an apple, although the Bible never tells us which fruit tempted her appetite.
My grandfather planted a large apple orchard on his hobby farm many years ago, and some of my fondest childhood memories are of autumn weekends spent picking the fruit from various trees. My uncle inherited the farm and continued to plant heritage apples, Snows, Tolman Sweets, Russets, Jonathons as well as more common varieties such as Macintosh, Cortland, Spy and Delicious apples. We picked bushels of grounders which Mom made into applesauce. She made a huge bowl of sauce every other day during apple season and the seven of us ate it with muffins or gingerbread for dessert.
I no longer live near “the farm” but I visit our farmers’ market every week or two in order to buy a half bushel of apples. Today was cold and windy, and most of the outdoor vendors have quit the market for this season. There are still lots of apples available though and the heritage varieties can be found, especially from the Old Order Mennonites. I have Mom’s old applesauce sieve, and have found that Cortland apples are the best for applesauce. These apples cook quickly to a soft consistency and the pulp is thick and sweet, seldom needing additional sugar. Apple Fritters are one of the most popular foods sold at the market. The lineup at the counter usually goes far outside the door but many people wait patiently for the hot battered apple rings that are sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. The market was quieter than usual today, and I was able to get the first fritters we have had this year.
But there is nothing better than biting into a hard, juicy apple, fresh from the orchard. If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, I will be healthy for a very long time!

Friday, November 17, 2006

On students, stumps and succinct speech

For the next few weeks I am mentoring a student who is completing his masters degree in physiotherapy this year. I enjoy having students and find it motivating and rewarding to share my experience as well as to learn from them.
Our current student has fit into the routine quickly and is well liked by staff and patients alike. His factual knowledge base is very impressive and he is keen to improve his abilities to communicate with and motivate patients in their rehabilitation. I enjoy reading his new textbooks and will inquire about new outcome measures and treatment techniques that have been taught in the academic setting.
I have my grandparents' old medical textbooks from the years they were in medical school.(1914-1919) It is fascinating to read the pathology and physiology texts from this era. Diagnostic and treatment options were far more limited and the diseases commonly seen were quite different than the ailments seen most frequently now. Some of the terminology used in the past to describe patients can make us cringe today. Words like “Mongolian idiots”, “cripples”, “retarded”, and “senile” are no longer used, with gentler, more politically correct terms in use.
Well, my student showed me this week how out of date I have become with one of my descriptive words. We were teaching a patient how to bandage her stump in order to shape it properly for prosthetic fitting. I was informed that the word “stump” is out, and that amputees now have “residual limbs”. So now we are teaching “residual limb bandaging” so that the “residual limb” will fit well into the prosthetic socket. This particular patient is having a very difficult time dealing with her loss and doesn’t really care what we call her remaining leg. Calling it a residual limb is not making it easier for her to look at or touch it. New phrases like this are invariably wordier and take longer to write or type out when doing charting.
Medical jargon varies greatly from centre to centre. I sometimes receive reports from other hospitals and cannot figure out what certain acronyms and phrases mean. “NPH” is a type of insulin as well as the acronym for normal pressure hydrocephalus. I struggled to understand a surgeon’s report that included the word “rtc”. I called his office to discover it meant “return to clinic”.
I am all for clarity as well as simplicity of speech. Patients need to hear words they understand as they are easily intimidated by the lofty and specialized words used by some health professionals. I haven’t decided whether to continue using the word stump or to switch to the latest terminology. "I’m having trouble being politically correct. How about if I'm just theoretically appropriate?"

Folks don't like to have somebody around knowing more than they do. It aggravates em. You're not gonna change any of them by talking right, they've got to want to learn themselves, and when they don't want to learn there's nothing you can do but keep your mouth shut or talk their language. - Harper Lee

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

High Noon

The sun shone today for four wonderful hours. This fall, the prevailing westerly winds have pumped cloud and rain from the Great Lakes over southern Ontario in a most persistent pattern. I went out for my usual noon hour walk today and found it very difficult to return to the hospital. As I stood on the little patio pictured here outside the chapel, one of our doctors joined me in soaking up a few rays of sunshine before we had to go in for rounds. He and his young family moved here recently from Thunder Bay, Ontario which is located on the northwest shore of Lake Superior. He found the air there clearer and drier, albeit considerably colder in the winter time, as the weather is not influenced by the Great Lakes as it is here.
The birds and squirrels were out enjoying the fine day as well. With the leaves off the trees, I had a clear view of the branches and saw two downy woodpeckers and four cardinals in the bush behind the buildings. I managed to capture a photo of one cardinal, certainly not of Audubon quality, but really the first bird picture I have taken that is recognizable as such. (The only creature I can reliably photograph is our dog). Every spot of colour, from the red of the cardinals and the berries on the trees, to the warm glow of the sun was a feast for the senses.
The sun is low in the sky. The patio photo was taken at “high” noon, but the rays of light are similar to those on a summer evening. The Tundra PA mentioned in a recent post that they will have four hours of daylight on winter solstice where she lives in Alaska. But, she also said that going out at noon for a few minutes of sun on the hands and face is enough to prevent her from suffering from SAD.
It is raining again now, but I will use one of today’s photos as a desktop on my computer and remember a beautiful day.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Smart cars

Yesterday was municipal election day in Ontario, when citizens voted for mayors, city council, school board trustees and regional councillors. A common election platform was improved urban transit with the goal of reducing traffic congestion and fuel consumption. Yet we all are increasingly dependent upon individual vehicles as urban sprawl and busy schedules make mass transit impractical. I have taken the city bus to the hospital several times but must allow at least fifty minutes instead of the fifteen minutes it takes by car. Of course, I am required to have my own vehicle as a community therapist and I have driven a minivan for a number of years in order to tote wheelchairs and walkers around with me. I have watched the price of a tank of gas rise from $30.00 to $50.00 or more over the past couple of years and wait for price drops of a few cents before a fill up. In our city, gas is cheapest on Monday evening, and invariably costs ten cents a litre more on Tuesday morning. Right now, gas is cheaper than it has been for many months but we are heading onto the winter season of higher fuel consumption.
Someone who works at the hospital owns the little Smart car pictured above. I see more and more of them around town and there is a long waiting list for them at the Mercedes-Benz dealership. Tiny cars are common in Europe where fuel prices are significantly higher than in North America, and the trend towards smaller, foreign made vehicles is sweeping Canada. As soon as I cross the US border into Michigan or New York, I notice the increased numbers of large SUVs and trucks compared to here.
My current vehicle is five years old now and I am starting to think about purchasing another vehicle in the next two or three years. I don’t know if I could downsize to a Smart car but I will be looking at something other than a van. By the time I do buy again gas prices may make my decision much easier.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Call of Nature

Anyone who has travelled has a story to tell about less than ideal bathroom facilities. Discussing bodily functions is not done in polite company, but our need for elimination does occupy our thoughts frequently throughout the day.
In the hospital, all incidents are dutifully recorded and measured if necessary for the patient record, and aberrations are dealt with quickly.
In my community job, I carefully plan my route, especially in rural areas, to make sure there is a decent facility somewhere when needed. On two occasions I have visited homes in nearby towns that had no indoor facilities, a situation that I found shocking for this part of Canada.
My daughter recently returned from a trip to Europe, and told us of bathrooms consisting of just a hole in the floor. Others were so small, that a taller person could not maneuver in them, and others were costly “pay toilets”.
When I first visited Mexico in the mid 1970’s, I found the roadside bathroom situation to be appalling. I remember one gas station where the door-less stall faced the gas pumps. My brother kindly stood in the “doorway” with his back to me so I could have a little privacy. This picture shows a bathroom that served the needs of several families in a community we visited. The purple ceramic toilet was placed on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The corrugated steel provided a measure protection as you sat and looked out at the magnificent view. Of course there was no plumbing available, but in my experience, plumbing did not improve the function of the average Mexican toilet.
When I was travelling in Mexico earlier this year, I found the bathroom situation was vastly improved. Since the advent of the Free Trade Agreement, an excellent toll road system has been constructed in the country and on the whole, the rest stops were clean and efficient. In all my travels, I can honestly say I do not recall becoming ill from using facilities that were not up to our Western standards.
Peter Menzel wrote a magnificent book featuring photographs and stories called Sierra Club: Material World: a Global Family Portrait. The cover reads,
In honor of the United Nations-sponsored International Year of the Family in 1994, award-winning photojournalist Peter Menzel brought together 16 of the world's leading photographers to create a visual portrait of life in 30 nations. Material World tackles its wide subject by zooming in, allowing one household to represent an entire nation. Photographers spent one week living with a "statistically average" family in each country, learning about their work, their attitudes toward their possessions, and their hopes for the future. Then a "big picture" shot of the family was taken outside the dwelling, surrounded by all their (many or few) material goods.
A number of "facilities" are featured, from a tree on the edge of a property in North Africa, to a gold plated fixture in Saudi Arabia. I would recommend looking for this book (which deals with much more than bathrooms) in a library or bookstore for an intimate look at the lives of families around the world.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Remembrance Day

(March 1919)

Have you forgotten yet? ...

For the world's events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you're a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same - and War's a bloody game ...
Have you forgotten yet? ...
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz -
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench -
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, "Is it all going to happen again?"
Do you remember the hour of din before the attack -
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads - those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?
Have you forgotten yet? ...
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you'll never forget.
Siegfried Sassoon
Photos taken today at the Remembrance Day ceremonies at the cenotaph in our city
World War I:
1. 628,736 Canadians served.
2. 66,573 died and 138,166 were wounded.
3. 2,818 were taken prisoner of war.
4. 175 merchant seamen died by enemy action.
World War II:
1. 1,031,902 Canadian men and 49,963 Canadian women served.
2. 44,927 died and 43,145 were wounded.
3. 8,271 were taken prisoner of war.
4. 1,146 merchant seamen died by enemy action.

Friday, November 10, 2006


I bought an inexpensive tripod this week in order to experiment with low light photos. We are well into the “low light” season of the year and the glow from candles and attractive lighting is most welcome.
I have tried holding my breath as a way to keep my hands steady when taking a photo without flash, but most shots have turned out very blurry.

The Becka and I went to a lovely downtown park at about 5:30 PM this evening to try out the new toy. I have to do some more experimenting to get the kind of night shots I really want, but the photos add a degree of warmth to this cold, grey November day.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Morning Fog

Shrouds of gauze obscure
views of phantom forms beyond
the scarlet cloaked shrub.

Shrouds of gauze obscure
events to unfold this day
from this moment on.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Communicating thank you and goodbye

I received a rose and handwritten card from one of my patients who was discharged from hospital today. Marilyn had a severe stroke following an acute illness which left her paralyzed and without speech. She is young enough to be part of the work force, far younger than our average patient on the rehabilitation unit. Initially, she would not participate in therapy, so great was her frustration of not being able to communicate. The only word she could express was “no” and her use of it was inconsistent in meaning. She could not move her body and had severe pain when being moved by others. It was so difficult to connect through her suffering and meet her needs.
Now, three months later she is able to walk with help and is going home with her family. She has two words, “yes” and “no”. She can read and has learned to write large letters with her left hand.
Communication is our human connection and without this ability we cannot participate in society. Being able to utter two words correctly and use symbols has made a big difference to Marilyn’s outlook for the future. She will continue her therapy as an outpatient and no one can predict what gains she may make in the future.
Marilyn reminds me to use my words wisely in order to encourage others, and to appreciate the abilities I do have to communicate.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Fruit Cake

Fruit cake has a poor reputation and is the butt of many holiday jokes, from the fruit cake used as a door stop to stories told about people mailing the same stale fruit cake from friend to friend year after year. Unfortunately, I have tasted fruit cake that would fit in the category "inedible". Nuts and coconut go stale and rancid quickly and can ruin a recipe, so I leave these ingredients out completely. I find that store-bought fruit cake is too sweet and sticky, the smallest piece causing me to look quickly for something to drink. Grandma D. made a simple, light (as opposed to dark) fruit cake that is a family favourite. We make it the first week of November, wrap it well and freeze it for at least a month. It is still delicious after six months in the freezer. Eldest daughter came home on her days off this week to make the cake, so I pulled out Grandma's old recipe box and the stained card she had written on so I could buy the ingredients. Grandma always said you should eat twelve pieces of fruit cake during the holiday season in order to have twelve happy months the next year. I don't need any excuse to eat this cake!

Christmas Cake

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs

Cream butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, almost colourless. Add well beaten eggs.

12-16 oz raisins
1/2 lb glazed cherries
2 cups mixed peel

Pour boiling water over the raisins, drain and pat them dry with a towel. Place them in a second bowl with the cherries and the mixed peel. sift over the fruit:

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Add the floured fruit mixture to the egg mixture along with
1/4 c of juice
1 tsp flavouring (vanilla or almond)

Bake for 3 hours at 275 degrees F, or until done. Place a pan of water in the oven under the cake. This recipe makes a standard loaf pan, plus a smaller pan. Grandma had special fruit cake tins that she used. It must be well wrapped and kept in a cool place for a while before slicing. Serve in slices the size of dominoes.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Differential Diagnosis

My on-call weekend as a community physiotherapist had been fairly quiet until I received a call from a case manager on Sunday morning asking me to see a lady who reportedly was unable to walk and needed a walker. She had been assessed at the emergency department three days earlier and was sent home with a diagnosis of sciatica to explain her severe leg pain. Her medical history included hypertension, smoking, COPD, peripheral vascular disease, anemia and spondylolisthesis.
Her very concerned daughter let me in and I took a quick history and then moved on to examine her extremities. Her one leg was completely ischemic, pulseless, blanched and cool, with no muscle movement and a darkening, swollen foot. Her pain was severe. I quickly called an ambulance and hoped that a vascular surgeon would be available this weekend to try and salvage her leg.

This is the second person this month I have seen with similar symptoms, both of them non-diabetic smokers, both told that their pain was related to arthritis of the spine. The other lady is now a below knee amputee, after two emergency vascular grafts failed to restore her circulation. She is in the hospital for rehabilitation but has not yet recovered from the shock of losing a limb so quickly.

Patients, especially older women, tend to minimize their symptoms and may not give the examining physician key facts in their history. The amputee had claudicating pain in her legs for years, but didn’t report it to anyone. Our emergency departments are in crisis in this community and in other parts of the province, with overworked doctors working extended shifts in very busy ER’s. My patient’s earlier hospital visit included a back Xray, which showed advanced arthritis, thus “explaining” her symptoms. Other possibilities were not considered after that.

We had a wonderful pediatrician for our children. He was a true clinician, doing thorough physical exams and histories before he ordered any tests. He took his time, and was always behind in his schedule, but I never minded, knowing we would not be rushed when it was our turn. In my experience, it seems that there are fewer of these doctors practicing now, with tests and procedures replacing a thorough physical exam. Other health practitioners need good assessment skills as well, and we can help educate our patients about their symptoms and physical findings.

postscript...the patient died in hospital shortly after admission
Photos from Venice, Italy, courtesy of my daughter