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October Storm

One day last week, I was in my basement studio finishing up a lesson with a guitar student. He started to pack his guitar in its case when POW!! There was a huge bang and the lights went out.

The wind had been blowing pretty fiercely all morning, so it wasn’t really a surprise, but when we both walked outside, I could see that this was more than a blown transformer. The power lines to our house were almost touching the ground and the thingamajig holding those power lines to the house was ripped right off the exterior wall. Oh, oh.

I texted my husband who had been working from home but who had gone into work that day. No response.

I looked for the number for BC Hydro and called them instead. I reported the issue and hoped for the best.

When I looked out and down the street, I could see lots of neighbours coming out of their houses, and I realized that this was a whole chain of events affecting us all. Just down the street, another power pole had snapped right in half and was hanging precariously above the street by the wires.

Someone had called the fire department and a couple of trucks responded. Firemen began to block off the roads, and I knew this wasn’t going to be over anytime soon. Using my phone, I emailed all of my students for that day and cancelled their lessons.

Having lived in the same house for 32 years, I can count on one hand the number of times that we’ve had power outages. It’s been many years, in fact, since the last one. I know that people living in rural communities or on the smaller islands go through this all the time, especially during our winter storm season, but I felt like a kind of a newbie. What do I do?

It was almost lunch time, but I didn’t want to open the fridge. I foraged for anything that I could find in the cupboards. I decided it was a good time to start gathering candles and flashlights, even though it was the middle of the day.

I went outside again to survey the situation and saw a young firefighter at the corner.

“I guess I get an extra long weekend!” I laughed. “I like your attitude!” he smiled. From our short conversation I found out that it was going to take at least 6 hours to get this mess straightened out. I went back inside.

A short time later a very friendly BC Hydro guy knocked on the door, and with a big grin he told me that because the mast was ripped from the house, I was going to have to call an electrician to repair that before BC Hydro could repair the line. An electrician! I panicked. I called my husband again and was finally able to get through to tell him what happened.

He took it upon himself to get a hold of an electrician who could respond quickly.

My phone was about to run out of power. I got a text message from my phone provider that I had already used up half of my data for the month. And it was only day 2 of the cycle.

I have a battery booster that I bought for my car when it had a battery leak that my mechanic couldn’t figure out. Fortunately, the booster was fully charged, so I brought it upstairs from the basement. It has a USB connector and one of those cigarette lighter chargers, so I managed to find plugs and cables to plug in my phone and a couple of other battery packs. I was even able to plug my laptop in so I could do a little work.

I was feeling pretty good about my resourcefulness. The electricians showed up and set about fixing things. And then they handed me the bill. Gulp. More than thirteen hundred dollars.

The day dragged on and BC Hydro worked continuously up and down the street repairing the wires and putting in a new power pole where the old one had collapsed. It grew darker so I lit up the candles. My husband brought home some take out for dinner and we ate by candlelight. We took turns with the battery booster to charge things up.

Every now and then I would pop outside and look down the street where most of the work was being done. There were fewer and fewer trucks. Part of me worried that they’d just give up and go home for the evening. But they didn’t.

At 8:25pm, almost nine and a half hours after the power went out, the lights came back on. What a relief.

Thinking about the whole event, I decided to take note of what I had learned from the experience.

  1. I can be pretty resourceful when I have to be.
  2. There are never enough candles. Or flashlights. Or battery packs.
  3. When a BC Hydro guy comes knocking at your door with a big grin on his face, it isn’t necessarily a good sign.
  4. The part that holds your power lines against your house is called a mast.
  5. The character trait that serves you best in a situation such as this is called a sense of humour.
  6. When you don’t want to open the fridge for the white, you can always open a bottle of red.
  7. I’m nowhere near prepared for the Big One.
  8. Because, you know, it’s 2020.

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“Dinner’s Going To Be Late!” And Other Turkey Tales

The first time that I was invited for Christmas dinner at my boyfriend’s parent’s house many years ago, they had just bought this new fangled thing called a microwave oven. They were very excited about it. A microwave was supposed to cook things a lot faster than a conventional oven, so they figured why not cook the turkey in it? Brilliant!

Well, to begin with, the turkey was far too big to fit in the microwave. They ended up having to chop it up and cook it in pieces, one or two at a time. And oddly enough, the turkey didn’t turn brown as it cooked, but instead came out a hot, sickly white colour. In the end they had to stick all the parts in the oven to brown them anyway. Needless to say, as the evening progressed, the voices drifting from the kitchen rose in pitch as the discussion became more heated.

The rest of us just sat in the living room and kept our mouths shut. We knew better than to say anything, even though a giggle would occasionally escape our lips.

We didn’t eat until 9 or 10pm and, from what I remember, the table conversation was rather subdued. I don’t think anybody was even hungry by then, but we obediently ate what we could.

I was so very proud of the first turkey I baked just a few years later. It was a dark, dark brown, just like all the pictures. But when I stuck the knife into it, it more or less exploded like the Griswold turkey in the movie “Christmas Vacation”. My Dad was too polite to say anything, but nearly choked to death on his first bite. In my defense, the cookbook I was using never mentioned that you should cover the turkey for most of its cooking time. The bird was dry as a bone.

A few years back, I was just putting our Thanksgiving meal on the table when the lights went out. A power outage. We pulled out a few extra candles, lit them, and enjoyed a cozy turkey dinner by candlelight. It was actually quite wonderful. By the time we were ready to do the dishes, the lights came back on again. Great timing.

We were the lucky ones, however. We found out later that a lot of people hadn’t finished cooking their turkey meal by the time the power went out, which threw their dinner into chaos. Half cooked turkeys, raw vegetables, cold pies. And no gravy, I’ll bet.

Maybe a few of them found creative ways to use their barbeques and fire pits to finish cooking their meals. “Dinner’s going to be late everyone!”

A couple of years back we bought a used mini freezer and a mini fridge to have just in case we needed back ups for our regular fridge. We kept the two units in the basement, unplugged most of the time to save power.

When it came around to Thanksgiving last year, I bought the usual turkey and trimmings for our dinner. Our regular fridge was pretty full, so I thought I’d be really clever and I threw the turkey, which was frozen, the vegetables, dinner rolls and everything into the mini fridge.

Except there was one small problem. You’re thinking that I forgot to plug it in, aren’t you? Nope, I plugged it in alright.

No, the problem was that I had actually put the all of the food in the mini freezer, not the fridge. By the time I pulled everything out, the vegetables, potatoes, everything except the turkey was ruined. Rock solid frozen. And we were having guests too.

I panicked at first, but in the end, I went out and bought all new groceries again. The dinner went without a hitch. Phew.

I’m sure many of us have turkey tales, whether from Thanksgiving or Christmas. Maybe something went horribly wrong, or amazingly well. A surprise guest might have shown up, or a new family member joined you for the first time. Trying something new turned out to be a huge hit. Or a catastrophic failure.

Thanksgiving 2020 will force many of us to find new ways to be together while trying to stay far enough apart. There will be very different Turkey Tales this year.

In my little family, we have a Thanksgiving ritual. Before we eat our meal, we go around the table and take turns telling each other what we’re thankful for. This year, I think we will be most thankful just to be able to be together.

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The Winds of Change

I was wide awake in bed at about 2am the other night, as I often am these days. I was listening to the wind and thinking about this state we’re in. This whole new world.

It occurred to me that I really dislike the phrase “new normal”. The old normal was just fine, thank you very much. Some days were ordinary, even boring. But I was okay with that. Sigh.

Neither am I a big fan of change. I mean, certain kinds of changes can be really exciting, like a new car or better paying job. The birth of a child. Other, more pro-active changes can make you feel better about yourself; committing to a healthier lifestyle or working at having a more positive attitude. There are a lot of healthy, happy changes.

And then there are the life altering changes that are thrust upon you with little or no warning. Like the loss of someone or something, or a sudden illness. Or a pandemic. It’s when you feel at your most vulnerable, and you become very aware of how little power you actually have over many things.

We are shifting into a change of seasons now with autumn blowing in. The first of the rainstorms has hit, the air is a little crisper, and the leaves are starting to turn. We don our sweaters and light jackets. We think about bringing an umbrella if we go out for a walk. Soon we may turn the heat on in our homes for the first time in many months, and cover up the patio furniture. A change of seasons is something we are familiar with and know how to adjust to.

But how do we deal with a new and very different world we are also shifting into? This dreaded new normal? Thanksgiving will not look the same for many of us this year. Never mind Halloween and Christmas.

Well, we do what we’ve always done. We adapt, we adjust. It might not be as simple an adjustment as putting on a heavier sweater or grabbing the umbrella. But since we first roamed this earth, humans have had to learn how to adapt to all kinds of changes, big and small. And that ability is what has helped us survive as a species.

We’re lucky that we’ve had smart people to lead us safely through this pandemic and show us what changes we need to make. So far we’ve learned that there are many things we can do to keep ourselves healthy and hold this virus at bay.

Well, some of us have learned. There will always be those few who will refuse to behave differently, who will rant and rail against any small changes they have to make. I mean, as I said, I don’t like change either. But the way I see it, refusing to adapt to the threat of this virus is like purposely walking off a cliff.

Charles Darwin said “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

There is nothing we can do to stop the winds of change. Even if it blows.

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Paging Dr. Jackson!

Since my recent surgery went so well, I was pretty much prepared for smooth sailing back into my regular life. That is, until I realized that I needed a follow up exam from my GP.

You see, I no longer have a GP. Our family doctor retired at the end of August. He was in his 70’s, and with COVID-19 making its way through the population, he was convinced that it was time to go. Many other patients have found themselves in the same situation in the last few years. Their doctors have retired with no one willing to take over the practice.

So I was pretty much left on my own to try and figure out what to do. I took my paperwork for a follow up ECG and bloodwork to a local medical lab and got that done. And after a few anxious phone calls and emails, I found a doctor at a clinic who agreed to give me an appointment to go over the results with me. Phew.

Still, having given it some serious thought, I’ve decided that the obvious thing for me to do is to open up my own practice. Dr. Jackson has a nice ring, doesn’t it? Just to be clear, I will be my one and only patient. I wouldn’t be able to afford the malpractice insurance.

I would need a stethoscope and a white coat, but I think I’ve seen them both online through Walmart. I mean, you first have to LOOK the part, no? That and a little Dr. Kildare swagger, and I’ll have it down.

Sorry. Dr. Kildare is a reference that probably only makes sense to those of us who’ve seen a black and white TV. In person.

For so many of us, this is what it has come down to. We are shifting away from being able to entrust our health and our medical history to one person, to having to become our own health advocates instead.

One positive is that there is new technology now to help us deal with these changes. Babylon Health is an app you can download that matches you up with a BC licensed doctor via a video call. You can renew prescriptions or discuss symptoms and even get referrals through them.

LifeLabs has an app that helps you to find any openings at their local labs, and even book a time to get any testing that you need done. There is also my ehealth which is essentially an electronic health information service. When you sign up for an account, you can access the results of any tests you have done, from blood tests to ECGs, to mammogram results.

And, of course, there are still the walk in clinics. It’s just that they’re not as easy to “walk in” to these days because of COVID-19 restrictions, and because they’re just so darn busy.

But for many of us, there is no Overseer. No one to say, hey, we haven’t taken a stool sample or blood tests, or performed a prostate exam for awhile. Let’s get that done. There is no one who knows you and your family really well because they’ve pretty much seen you through every illness, pregnancy, or broken leg in your life. That person just doesn’t exist anymore.

Nurse practitioners may become the GPs of the future. They are nurses, but with added education and experience that enable them to diagnose and treat illnesses, interpret test results and even perform some medical procedures. There is a new nurse practitioner office opening up on Yates here in Victoria soon. I applied for my husband and myself to get in there, but no call so far.

So I am left on my own to diagnose and follow up, and do whatever else I need to do to maintain my health. I have ordered a digital copy of my medical records, downloaded all the medical apps, and signed up for an ehealth account. I will resist the temptation to Google my symptoms, but I’ve made lots of notes. I’ve got a blood pressure monitor, Pepto Bismal, and bandaids. I’m all set.

It’s just that I can’t read my writing.

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A Mended Heart Filled With Gratitude

“Irene!”

What? What happened? I was having such a good dream. I opened my eyes as the nurses were transferring me from the operating table to my hospital bed.

“Just relax, we’ll do all the work!” And before you knew it, I was whipped over to the bed and wheeled back to my parking spot in the Cardiac Short Stay unit at the Royal Jubilee Hospital.

My surgery, an ablation to treat atrial fibrillation, had originally been slated for May 4th. But along with thousands of others across the country who had scheduled elective surgery this year, it was cancelled because of COVID.

I was lucky in that I wasn’t suffering any painful symptoms. Afib usually doesn’t hurt, it just makes you light-headed or dizzy and unable to do anything too physical. Sometimes people pass out or end up in emergency when it doesn’t go away on its own. We’ve all felt heart palpitations before. Afib is like that, only more powerful. And it can go on for hours.

I felt more sorry for anyone who might be in pain waiting to have hip or knee replacement surgery, or anything else like that. We all just had to hang in there until our surgeries could be rescheduled.

When I finally got a new date for my procedure, I was a lot more anxious than I expected to be. I’ve had an ablation before. Twice, actually. But this time was different. I almost had second thoughts about going into a hospital with all this COVID stuff going on.

I kept my eye on the British Columbia COVID Dashboard the whole time, hoping NOT to see any hospitalizations here on the island. And during that time there were none, much to my relief. But I knew that there would be people coming and going from the hospital with potential exposure, and so I didn’t know what to expect.

The day before the surgery, I had to go in to the Jubilee for a number of pre-op tests, so I got a bit of a preview of the set up there. When I arrived, I put on my mask and lined up outside the doors with maybe five or six other people.

There is a COVID “Ambassador” at a desk right at the front entrance who asks you the usual questions; have you been tested for COVID, do you have any of the following symptoms, have you traveled outside of Canada in the last two weeks. We all know the drill by now.

When they are happy with your responses, they ask you to apply some hand sanitizer and you get a little sticker to wear so nurses and staff know that you have been screened.

Once inside, you go to the usual check in desk, which is now behind Plexiglas. Most people inside the hospital are wearing masks, although I saw a few who weren’t. But all of the nurses and technicians that I dealt with wore them. And once my tests were done, I was out of there in a flash. Easy peasy.

I felt a bit better, at least knowing what to expect.

At 7am the next day, I went through the same process. This time I was accompanied by my husband, but he was not allowed in with me. I found my way to the Cardiac Short Stay Unit on my own, and when I checked in there I was screened again, but this time my temperature was also taken. Then it was off to my assigned bed and the prep for my surgery began.

Once the three hour procedure was finished, I had to lay flat for another five hours. That’s the hardest part. I brought my phone with me so I could text my family, letting them know that it was done. Most patients doze off during the five hour period, but not me. My nurse, Crystal, couldn’t believe that I was lying there fully conscious the whole time. We chatted a lot as she checked my incision, my blood pressure and heart rate every 15 minutes, and then every half hour. When I told her it was my third ablation she said “Third time’s a charm!” I hope she’s right.

I tried to read a book that was loaded on my phone, but I just wasn’t in the right head space. So, because my bed was right across from the nurse’s station, I watched their comings and goings instead. They all wore masks and sanitized their hands after every patient check. They pulled on fresh gloves when they were performing anything more extensive. As soon as a patient checked out of the unit, a crew came in and did a thorough cleaning of the bed and surroundings. Anyone who entered the ward had a mask.

Aside from watching all of these activities, I had a lot of time to think. My throat was sore from that tube they thrust down it during surgery, and it made me think about all of those COVID patients on breathing tubes. I’d be getting up eventually and walking out of the hospital, lucky me. At lot of them won’t. I’d have a few days of recovery at home and a bit of discomfort, but that’s about it. Many COVID patients who survive appear to have serious, lingering symptoms, and worse.

Having to lie in bed like that for a long time can give you a lot of perspective.

When the five hours was finally up, I was allowed to rise slowly and encouraged to do some “laps”. And so, decked out in my fancy hospital gown and those weird slippers they give you, I pulled my medical trolley with the saline drip along with me and slowly made my way around the ward. Most of the patients were men, my age or older. A couple of them helped me keep track of my laps, calling out from their beds. One! Four! Seven! At one point, two of them were also up and lapping, so we created a little parade. One fellow, who was rather stocky, said he’d be the parade float. We laughed and made some more smart ass comments, and all was well with the world.

I was eventually allowed to dress, and at 6:30pm my husband arrived to take me home. My nurse Crystal and a student nurse, John, walked me to the exit door. “I hope we never have to see you again!” Crystal laughed. She meant that in the best of ways, of course. My stay in the CSS Unit at the Royal Jubilee was a very positive one, my procedure went smoothly, and the nurses and staff were wonderful.

I walked up to my husband with a smile under my mask and my mended heart filled with gratitude.