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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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Home Invasion – A Bug Story

I skipped my usual weekly Zoom meeting with my friends the other night because I had to catch the flies in my kitchen.

You might think I’m kidding. But if I don’t catch them in my special way, someone in my house will pull out that disgusting bug repellent and spray it everywhere with reckless abandon. I hate bug spray. Mostly, I hate seeing bugs and flies squirming on the floors and counters as a result of it. So I’m a capture-and-release kind of gal.

We had the doors open the other day for hours as we sat outside with some friends celebrating Canada Day, and I guess that’s when the flies took up residence. And apparently, all the rain that we’ve been experiencing lately also brings out more flies. There were literally dozens of them in the house, although we didn’t really didn’t notice how many right away.

So last night, I pulled out the old cup and piece of cardboard, and one by one I captured them and released them outdoors. I accidentally beheaded one, much to my regret, but the rest, maybe 30 of them, got out alive. Lucky for them. Someone in my house would not have had the patience.

I even have one of those spider catchers. It is basically a brush with a long handle that opens and closes on the spider without harming it so you can safely move it outside. Brilliant invention.

This time of year, especially when we are outdoors more, we come face to face with all sorts of creepy crawlers. When I’m working in the garden, I see a lot of them; worms and beetles, fleas and flies and ants. And yes, I will do my best to avoid killing them. I will put them to the side or brush them away from wherever I’m working so that I don’t smush them.

When I’m out for a walk, if I see them, I will avoid any ants crawling along the sidewalk. I’m sure that the sight of a 60-something year old woman springing sideways off the sidewalk just to avoid an ant must be a curious, if not bizarre vision.

To someone in my house, these are not just ants, they are antagonists and must be quickly and mercilessly destroyed. I’ve tripped over traps and slipped on newly sprayed floors many times over the years. And I’ve cleaned up many carcasses. Yuk. It doesn’t help matters much that I have a hummingbird feeder right outside the kitchen door, because the feeder actually leaks a lot. Ants like that. They hang around, drink up the spilled nectar, and then an army of them find their way inside the house.

I am not an ant lover, don’t get me wrong. They are bugs. It’s no accident that the dictionary defines “bug” as both an insect and an annoyance. Not only do they bother us, sometimes they even cause damage. There’s nothing worse than an infestation of carpenter ants, chewing away at the wood frame of your home. And I don’t want to find beetles in my lettuce, or fruit flies in my glass of pinot grigio.

The answer to the invasion of the ants, I have discovered, is vinegar. They hate vinegar and will do everything to avoid it. So you get your spray bottle and spray vinegar anywhere ants accumulate, and that keeps them away. This will be my new plan of action.

Which will hopefully please someone in my house.

Out For A Walk

Steveston Fishermen's WharfImage via Wikipedia

One day when I was about 12 years old, I was about to be sent home from school because I had come down with the flu.  The nurse at the school tried to call my mother at home, but there was no answer.

I knew where she was.  She was out walking.  I didn’t realize at the time that the reason my mother had taken up walking was because of her cancer diagnosis;  she was out almost every day walking anywhere from two to four miles.  It was the only time I ever saw her wear pants and running shoes.  When I was five years old, my Dad’s car kicked the bucket, and since we couldn’t afford another one, we went without a car for about five years.  My Dad was a bus driver, so we either walked or took the bus anywhere and everywhere for those years.  The three of us walked to the neighbourhood grocery story every Friday evening and packed home the week’s groceries.  It was just our routine.  As a kid, Dad loved walking or hiking everywhere either alone or with a friend, and often walked up the famous Grouse Grind on Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, long before it became cool to do that!  As he got older, he never stopped walking, and would often choose to walk rather than take the car. 

Many years later I was out on my usual walk when I suddenly remembered my mother’s walks, and realized that we had both chosen the same activity as a health benefit.  At first, walking was something I did occasionally, especially when I was in Richmond visiting my family.  The boardwalk by the Fraser River in Steveston is a lovely walk, but my little Fernwood neighbourhood here in Victoria is also a pleasant route. These days, I try to walk four times a week and as the weather improves sometimes I walk pretty much every day.  In the last few months I’ve focused on it even more, especially after reading a few stories on the benefits of walking for at least half-an-hour at a time.  It keeps your weight in check, of course, but I’ve always thought of it as the most obvious form of exercise a human being can choose.  We were made to walk.

My sister runs.  I hate running.  It always feels like my innards are being pounded into mush, never mind the crunching sound my knees and hips make when I have to dash across a street to avoid a car, for instance.  I gloated to my sister once when I found out that at a certain distance, running and walking burn the same amount of calories.  Take THAT!  Yeah!  She just looked at me with her little smile, knowing full well that she’s in better shape than I am, regardless of any of my proclamations.  Good thing she’s OLDER so I can at least rub that in.  I win 🙂

A couple of months ago I found an About.com article all about walking.  I found out that your weight x distance = the energy consumed by walking, so I immediately opened Google Earth and used the distance tool to calculate how far my usual walks were taking me and how many calories I was burning.  Hmmmm.  Okay, so not that great.  I fiddled around a bit and adjusted a few blocks this way and that way and came to a new route that would burn more calories.  The other caloric element that wasn’t taken into consideration was the fact that I live on a hill.  No matter which way I go, I eventually have to go uphill to get home again.  That boosts the caloric numbers too, so I decided to find the street with the steepest grade, just to make it even better. The first time I attempted that street, I was wheezing by the time I had only gotten a quarter of the way up.  Holy crap.  Half way up and my legs were aching and my heart pounding out of my chest.  When I reached the top, outside of being completely winded, I had a hot flash.  Sheesh.  But I did it.  And I’ve incorporated that street into most of my daily walks since.  It’s gotten somewhat easier, but it still kills me.

Aside from gardening and golfing, walking is what keeps me sane and centred.  There is the physical benefit, to be sure, but the emotional and mental benefits are just as important to me, if not more so.  Some days when it’s wet and cold out there, it’s hard to get motivated, but once I am out the door, I immediately feel better.  Even though I go at a pretty good clip, I pay attention to trees and birds and gardens and to the people I often see on a regular basis.  I always say hello or good morning and serve up my best smile.  By the time I get home, I’m stress-free and at peace with the world.

When my cat became ill and started to lose his kidney function a few months back, I found a vet that was within walking distance so I could incorporate the visits to pick up his specialized food and medication.  And these days, instead of hopping in the car to go to the bank or to the grocery store, I stick on a backpack and walk it instead.  Fortunately we have a mall fairly close to us that has pretty much everything we need.  With some encouragement, I occasionally convince my husband to walk with me there and back, but for the most part I walk alone and enjoy every moment.

It has been on my mind in the last while that I should one day take you on a small, pictorial tour of my walk, just to show you some of the interesting sights I have come across.   If I can ever remember to take my camera with me, I will do just that.  Maybe you’d enjoy taking a walk with me :-).

IJ

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End of Summer, End of an Era?

Braun HF 1, Germany, 1959Image via Wikipedia

I am more than half way through my time off and thinking “Holy Cow, I had all this time and how much of my To Do List have I done?” This is exactly what I projected I would do. Maybe the projecting part is what did me in. I am a perpetual victim of my own expectations. Ugh.

Anyway, I am going to forgive myself and let it go. Er, well, I’ll try anyway.

It is nearing the end of summer and I sure don’t like letting summer go. Spring and summer are the months that I feel like I come alive. On the wetcoast (no, that’s not a typo), we live through months of grey and rain which to those who are not used to it, can be very depressing. Well, even those who ARE used to it get pretty grumpy after weeks of misery.

It is also nearing the end of months of wondering what is going to happen to the Little TV Station That Could. 

Some of you will remember that months ago I talked about my husband being laid off from his television job of 29 years. So far, we have survived it. He has picked up some independent production work, and has spent the last month working at a television station in Vancouver just as a fill in. But the station where he used to work is going to permanently shut its doors on August 31st, which to many of us is unbelievable.

There are a group of people at work trying to save it, consisting of employees, former employees and other investors. And there is great hope that somehow it will survive, but even if it does, it’ll be a long, hard road ahead to make it viable.

Television is not what it used to be to most of us who grew up with it. Remember when there was only one TV in the house, it might still have been black and white, and when a certain show came on, the whole family would gather to watch? Most families have more than one TV these days, and nobody is watching…and when they are, it is not together as a family. Many kids growing up now were told by their parents NOT to watch TV, that it’s bad for them. So what have they migrated to? Computers and hand-held game devices. Yeah, much better!

In some ways, I don’t blame people for moving away from television. There is a LOT of crap on TV these days. Much of it is due to some know-it-all TV execs somewhere trying to lure younger people to the set, or to hang on to the “National Enquirer” types. I’m talking about the people who watch reality shows. Cookie cutter television shows abound. Once something succeeds, everybody tries to reinvent it and as a result, you get the same show over and over, but with a different name. You know, reality television has probably driven as many people away from television as it has kept others around. But I’ve already written a blog railing at reality television, so enough of that. 

The one thing that many television stations have lost is the “local” aspect. Once a station gets swallowed up by a big conglomerate (this is also true for radio), these big companies do their best to get rid of anything local about it. The company that my husband worked for tried to ask the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission), to allow for LESS local programming, because they didn’t want to pay for it. It’s cheaper to run a bunch of crappy, US-bought shows than to pay local people to write, create and produce local television. But what is the point in having a local television station if there is nothing “local” about it? This is what has driven many people away from watching.

I don’t think that because a company is BIG that it has to be BAD. Unfortunately, however, it becomes easier for a big company to “streamline” certain aspects of its organization to save money, which in turn means job losses due to centralization. Centralization leads to loss of individuality…and let’s face it, people in Winnipeg don’t care what’s happening to people in Victoria unless it’s something REALLY BIG like an earthquake or an invasion of some sort! And vice versa.

Okay, it’s not that we don’t care, it’s that we would rather know more about ourselves than we would about somebody else. And that’s where, in many instances, television has lost out in the last few years.

Except for local news, many TV stations don’t have the budget or the creative minds to develop local programming. And the creative minds who used to have these ideas, have been told to do something else. Although I realize that C.S.I. and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire are far beyond what any small local television station can produce, I do believe that there is a desire by television viewers to see and hear more about themselves and their communities, and not just in a news-type show. And as a result of trying to lure younger people to the TV set, television executives have actually driven many away who were actually DEVOUT television viewers…people of my generation and older. Television was, and is, our habit. Why encourage us to turn it off?

Okay, I don’t really know anything. These are all simply my opinions and I have never run a television station. But I did work at one for eight years, my husband for 29 years, and we might soon become part owners of it. Some might say that television is dying. But they said that television would kill radio, and it didn’t, and I doubt that the internet will kill TV. However, we have to take the best parts of it and create a model that helps it to succeed. And if anyone can do it, we can. 

Winter is coming, and possibly, a LOT of hard work.

Wish us luck!

IJ


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