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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.

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We All Need A Little Hygge

My parents were both Danish, so I grew up hearing that language all around me. My first words were in both Danish and English, likely in that order, and it wasn’t until I started school that I realized they were actually different languages.

There are words that seem to be unique to a language, and hard to translate exactly into another. For instance, one of my favourite Danish words has always been “pyt”. It is said in response to something that is stressful or frustrating. And when you say it, pyt is almost like spitting. So it works really well when you’re fed up. “PYT! Let it go…”

You may have come across the word “hygge” in the last few years, and perhaps you even know what it is. But for those of you who haven’t heard of it before, I will explain.

Hygge actually originated in Norway, but first appeared in Danish writing around the 18th century. It is an old, but still very relevant and common practice that has become more popular all over the globe lately. Pronouncing it is your only challenge: the “hy” part sounds sort of like you’re hacking up something that is stuck in your throat. And then add a “ga”. Saying HOO-ga comes close.

The Scandinavian languages are all rather guttural, and Danish is no exception. There are certain letters and pronunciations that are difficult to demonstrate. Danish has often been described as sounding like German, but with a hot potato in your mouth.

But what exactly is hygge? It’s coziness and comfort. A long hot bath. Reading a good book by a crackling fire. Lots of lighted candles. Warmth, soft music, good food and friends, all of those cozy things. Being out in nature is hygge, as is a feeling of gratitude.

In Danish, there is the word “hyggebukser”, or hygge pants. Those are the pants you love to wear, but rarely in front of anyone else. Maybe your pajama bottoms or sweats. In fact, if you’ve been working at home for the last few months, you’re probably wearing them a lot anyway. I mean, if no one can see, who cares? That is hygge.

There’s also the word “hyggesnak” which is what you might think of as cozy conversation. You know, a nice chat with an old friend about comfortable topics. No politics or anything that could be controversial. Politics is definitely NOT hygge.

For me, hygge is sitting out on the back deck on a summer morning with my thermos of coffee and my cat on my lap. I have been known to stay there until noon. As long as my husband doesn’t turn on the radio to blast the news, that is. The news these days can ruin everything, can’t it? All I want to hear is the birds.

Many times over the years I’ve had my friends over for smørrebrød, which is a Danish meal that literally translates as “butter bread”. These are open-faced sandwiches made with dark rye bread topped with all kinds of delicious treats. You might use different cold cuts, shrimp or other fish with fancy garnishes. And lots of butter. I usually make Danish red cabbage along with the sandwiches, and serve up some pickled herring too. We drink Aquavit and Danish beer or “øl” and feel the hygge. (You probably noticed that letter ø. That’s an extra letter in the Danish alphabet, which also sounds somewhat like you’re gagging.)

These days, of course, having friends over is not possible in the same way. So instead, we spend time every week on a Zoom chat with a glass of wine.

Your idea of hygge might be different from mine, and that’s okay. The point is that however you do it, it has to be something that makes you cozy and content. Happy, even. And with fall and winter looming, we’re going to need lots of hygge to get us through.

And we’ll hope for a better 2021. Because, you know, PYT to 2020!

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The Changing Face of Masks

“Oh damn,” I mumbled to myself when I realized the tap feature hadn’t worked on my debit card. I fumbled with it and inserted it into the card reader instead. The keypad was barely visible through the foggy lenses of my glasses perched on top of my mask. I took a half-blind guess at my PIN and got away with it.

“Moothoo sath a foints garp?” asked the masked checkout clerk.

“Pardon me?” I never realized how much I depend on lip reading.

“DO YOU HAVE A POINTS CARD?”

“Oh! Oh! Yes, yes.” I fumbled through my purse for my wallet again and held up the card for her to scan.

“Bleep!”

With my groceries haphazardly tossed into bags (Note to self: don’t pack the lettuce on the bottom next time), it was with great relief that I realized my ordeal was nearly over.

All I had to do now was to safely wind my way through the people milling around the other checkout counters, and then I would be out the door and free. Free, free!

Grocery shopping is certainly not the casual, relatively mindless task it used to be. In the past, I automatically knew where everything was and would whip around the aisles with Super Woman confidence. Now, I stress out at every turn. Am I going the right way down the aisle? How am I going to backtrack to get that thing I forgot? Is that lady actually touching ALL of the watermelons? And when I leave the store, you can bet I’ve missed something. Every time.

Safely back in the car, when I can finally remove the mask, it’s such a relief.

Let’s face it, none of us really like the mask. And for me, not only do I have the eyeglass frames around the back of my ears, but I also have hearing aids. There’s a lot of competition for space back there. So when I stretch the elastic of my mask behind my ears, they flop forward like Dumbo. Only not as cute.

In spite of all of that, I made the decision a couple of months ago that I was just going to have to get used to it. I started wearing the mask any time I was indoors somewhere other than my home, because I figured that some day soon it was going to be mandatory in a lot of places anyway. I have one mask that I keep in my car, and one I keep in my purse, so I’m always prepared.

Only a few short months ago, I thought it was odd to see someone in a store with a mask on. “Paranoid!” I’d say to myself with a chuckle. Now I’m more concerned about those who DON’T wear masks. “Cov-idiots!” I grumble, hopefully not too loud.

Masks used to be something you wore at Halloween. Now I’m more spooked if I forget mine. And since masks became mandatory on public transit, I have appointed myself as a member of the Mask Police Force. I will glare at any passenger sitting on a bus without a mask. Anyone who can actually see me through the window, I mean.

In fact, today as I was out on my walk, a transit bus slowly passed by me and I had the opportunity to stare inside of it. There were only two passengers that I could see. The first one was definitely wearing a mask. The second one I had more trouble seeing, so I squinted and peered as much as I could, and then SMACK! I walked into a street sign.

I didn’t make that up.

I had to take a minute and calm myself down. There’s nothing worse than a self-righteous, foggy-lensed, Dumbo-eared mask cop.

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Swingin’ In The Rain

It was raining a couple of Fridays ago when my friends and I met at Cordova Bay Golf Course.

“Should we do it?” one friend asked.

“Maybe not.”

“I think we should.”

“Okay.”

“But I don’t know.”

It went on like that for about 20 minutes before we finally came to our conclusion.

“Let’s do it!”

A little rain isn’t bad. It’s when the clouds open up and dump everything they have on you that it gets miserable. Some golfers come prepared with those massive umbrellas that attach to their carts and cover pretty much everything.

Not me.

The best I can do is a rain jacket with a hood. It works well enough. My shoes aren’t water proof though. So that usually means a soaker. But I can live with a little of that. In fact, I can put up with a lot when it comes to playing golf. I just love being out there. And that’s especially true this year.

Lately for me, golf has been as close to normal as life can be. When you’re out on the fairway, it’s just you and your friends (at a healthy distance, of course) and that long stretch of green stuff in front of you. Occasionally, there’ll be a deer and its fawn or a couple of eagles (the kind with feathers…little golf joke there) and a rabbit or two. Cordova Bay Golf, where we play, is a certified Audubon Sanctuary, along with a number of other golf courses in our province.

Oh, and then there’s the part about trying to get that little white ball into a hole far, far away. We’ll get back to that.

In the last few years, a lot of local golf courses have been shutting down as interest in golf has been dwindling.

And then the virus showed up. Many businesses have been adversely affected, of course. Gyms and dance studios and indoor sports businesses are struggling, or shutting for good in some cases. What caught my eye while we were playing a few weeks back, though, was a group of kids on the 2nd hole. Two of them were probably teenagers, the other two were younger. They were loud and goofy, and they probably didn’t know much golf etiquette, but I was delighted to see them. Because for any sport or activity to continue, it needs young blood.

As it turns out, golf and tennis have both had a resurgence in the last few months because they are outdoor activities that don’t really require any physical contact. Not only that, but courses have put a few protocols in place so you don’t have to touch anything that anyone else has touched. Like the flags in the holes or the rakes in the sand traps. For those of you who don’t know anything about golf, sand traps, also called bunkers, are those pools of sand, usually strategically placed at or near the green where the hole is. Balls have a way of landing in bunkers often. And they’re not easy to hit out of.

These days, you don’t have to rake up after yourself if your ball ends up in a bunker and you make a mess in the sand. Which is great. You see, normally, I have to rake often.

It’s much more difficult to book a tee time lately, and we often have to book two weeks in advance to get the time slot we want. I’ve also noticed the tennis courts a few blocks away from where I live are always busy. Every day of the week.

Our great fortune is that these two activities can be enjoyed year round because of our mild weather here on the west coast. Well, if it weren’t for that darned rain.

And so we slopped up to the first hole and took turns teeing off. The rain started coming down just a little harder, so I pulled up my hood as I walked over to the tee.

I set the ball up. Drip, drip, drip. All was silent except for the sound of the rain spattering on my jacket. I took a deep breath, swung the club back, and gave the ball a good whack. It disappeared behind a mound in the trees somewhere. Oh well.

As we walked up the fairway, the water started seeping into my shoes and sprinkling on my eyeglasses.

I smiled. Isn’t life great?