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Has It Been A Year Already?

Well, happy anniversary everyone! We are now officially past the year mark since the W.H.O. declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. And it’s been a year like no other.

Back on March 11, 2020, we couldn’t have imagined what we were in for. COVID-19 was a mystery, and we had no idea what to expect. The phrase “new normal” suddenly became popular.

Our initial reaction to the big shut down was positive, sometimes comical. We can DO this! We hoarded toilet paper. We baked bread, made Quarantinis, and we stood outside every evening at 6pm and banged our pots and pans to honour our health care workers. We laughingly wore pajama pants during video calls. We put hearts and signs of support in our windows for our front line workers, and donated money to local charities like Rapid Relief.

Businesses that sold them, ran out of hot tubs. Gardens flourished, home renovations abounded. We found heroes in people like Dr. Bonnie Henry, whose calm and compassion gave us much comfort. A global pandemic wasn’t going to keep US down!

Then reality kicked at us a little harder. The novelty began to wear off. Day after day we somberly donned our masks, washed our hands, and kept our distance from each other. Well some of us did. Others screamed in protest. Tempers flared. And all the while, more and more people were getting sick or dying.

Our hair grew long, beards became unruly. Zoom calls that started out as great fun, began to wear on us. Living and working and learning at home got more and more boring and intolerable for many. Not being able to see or hug our family and friends was depressing us. In fact, anxiety and depression was on the rise in all age groups, but especially in young people. We were exhausted. And all of this happened before winter had even hit.

As we said goodbye with great relief to 2020, COVID continued its ominous advance. New cases and new variants sprang up everywhere when a second wave hit. Long, dark days with no end to this pandemic in sight, left us mourning and miserable.

But there were some small hints of hope. Pharmaceutical companies around the world who had been working around the clock to come up with a vaccine, started to have some success. A few countries that were initially hit hard by the pandemic, were beginning to see their COVID numbers level off, or even come down as a result of shut downs. There was just a little bit of light appearing at the end of that very long tunnel.

And now spring is almost here. As of March 12th, almost 3 million vaccines have been administered in Canada. We have, most of us, adapted to this new reality, to the shut downs, the social distancing, and the masks. Handwashing and sanitizing is more habitual. But we are so looking forward to the day when we can actually spend time together in person again, and that day comes ever closer. Still, as the expression goes, the last few miles of a marathon are the hardest.

I know, I know. Kilometers.

So what have we learned from this past year so far? I would venture to guess it will take a long time to completely assess that. Businesses, governments and communities will gather their list of lessons learned. As individuals, we will each write our own epilogues. Ultimately, you might say that we are forever changed.

But in spite of it all, babies were still being born and people were still marking milestones. All this time, life was forging ahead and hopeful. And now, here on the west coast, the trees are starting to burst new buds, robins are laying their eggs, and cherry blossoms are blooming.

And vaccines are here. At long last. Ah, spring.

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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.

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The Grand Re-Opening. Sort of…

I made the decision a couple of weeks ago that this would be my week to venture back into teaching guitar. I teach out of my home, so I pretty much had to decide for myself how things might be changed around to allow for the protocols that need to be in place now; physical distancing, keeping everything clean and disinfected, and signage to remind students of everything they needed to do, too.

When you’ve been doing things a certain way for 30 years, it takes a fair amount of brain function to change it up, but I think I’ve figured it out. I’m sure there are a lot of people, especially in smaller businesses, who are doing their best to wrap their heads around this new reality. We’re in different times.

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One of the first things I did was go to the WorkSafe BC website where they have a section called “Returning To Safe Operation” for businesses and facilities opening up, to know what protocols need to be in place. I downloaded some posters to use as signage, I marked out the proper spacing between myself and my students on the floor in the studio. I bought new music stands that are easier to clean, got cleaning supplies ready, and I worked out a plan for students to follow when they arrived back. I even recorded a video to send to them so they could see what changes I was making and would know what to do when they got here.

I emailed them all and sent a link to the video.

So far, so good.

About half of my students have returned, which is more or less what I expected. Some of them would have been in classes of 3 or more, and so far, that’s too many people to have together in my small studio yet. Maybe one day soon.

Some students are more nervous than others, or not ready to return for various reasons. I understand that. It’s been rough for a lot of us.

And some may never return. I’m prepared for that.

I’ve been rescheduling returning students with a little time in between each one so I can clean and disinfect between lessons.

So they come in the door, they sanitize their hands, they leave their guitar cases out in the waiting area, they bring their guitars and music into the studio, they tune on their own or with my help, and we begin to play. Then we start to smile a little as the music kind of lifts us up. We can’t help but share some of our stories in between songs. It’s a little like coming back to life.

I’ve been thinking about all the students, clients and customers that have been returning to different businesses this past week. The conversations they must be having, the laughs (behind face masks in some cases!), the getting back to something that almost feels normal. For small businesses like mine, our clients are not just our source of income, they sometimes become good friends. I’ve been teaching some of my students for 10 or 15 years.

These are relationships we’ve all been missing.

For those of you with small businesses or who are self-employed like me, I’m rootin’ for you. If we do everything as we’re told by those in charge, over time it’ll get better. Even if we have that dreaded second wave, I think we can anticipate what to do, and ride it out.

And thanks to my students who’ve done everything the way I asked them to.

Some of them even practiced a little 🙂

IJ