Thursday, June 18, 2015

A very personal story about friendship

Q on one of his first trips out of the hospital this past March
Just about a year ago, a life long friend and a role model for me since grade school called me and asked me to be his executor and his power of attorney. While our lives have taken very different paths since we first met, we've always kept in touch over the years, so I didn't hesitate to agree as I honestly thought everything was going to be just fine and I knew he would not hesitate to do the same for me.
A year prior, my friend (I will refer to him as "Q"), had told me that his doctor had discovered that he had what he casually described as a blood disorder called MDS. As time went on, I discovered that this was in fact a very serious condition that if left untreated would lead to leukemia and almost certain death.
The treatment prescribed by the team at Princess Margaret Hospital was a bone marrow transplant. Q was 56 years old with two children in university. He had three siblings but none of them were a match. When the time came for the transplant, and a suitable donor was found last August, everything seemed to go very smoothly and routinely. There didn't seem to be any cause for concern. In what seemed like a very short time my friend was discharged and sent home.

About a week later Q was rushed to the emergency department in a state of delirium. I received a frantic call asking if I was the PofA, and if I would consent to heavy sedation and intubation. All of a sudden I was pulled into the medical system and I thought my friend was going to die in intensive care.
Q spent 8 months in the hospital. He lost his hair, his appetite, his mobility and 75 lbs. He also suffered a brain injury as a result of an infection. I found myself totally immersed in a set of circumstances that I was totally unprepared for. Communicating with doctors nurses, physiotherapists, lawyers, family and friends and making decisions on behalf of Q, the role of PofA quickly became a part time job, an emotional roller coaster and a series of complex and quite often difficult decisions and relationships.
On the first of May, 2015 my friend was again discharged. However this time he was in a wheelchair, unable to stand, disoriented and weakened by his 9 month ordeal. Now decisions had to be made about home care, as I was again thrown into another part of the health care system administered by an under funded bureaucratic agency called Community Care Access Centre or CCAC.
While he is making progress and is now cancer free, the road ahead is slow, uncertain and frustrating for Q. He will need to learn to walk again, find his appetite, put some weight back on and learn to live with the effects of his brain injury. For now this requires 24 hour care, and the support of various community based medical and paramedical resources. Through all of this I've learned that being a PofA is a very serious and complicated job that cannot be taken lightly. I've also realized that choosing the right PofA is an equally serious decision that cannot be taken lightly or put off especially as those of us in the boomer generation progress from middle age to old age.
If my story has moved you to consider committing a random act of kindness towards this brave teacher, coach, father and friend, please take a few minutes to look at the video that I put together to chronicle my friend's journey.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Massie's Big Adventure

My dog has learned to do lots of tricks, but his best by far is when he lays on the sad eyes whenever he senses that I am going to leave him behind while I take a little holiday.  So recently, I have made an effort to bring him along where its practical.  Even still, he just jumps in the truck as if to say "Don't expect me to be all happy and tail wagging - this is just what I expect, oh, and would you happen to have a treat for me?"

This weekend, David was competing in the Mont Tremblant Ironman competition, so I booked us a dog friendly hotel and packed some kibble.  Massie has this nervous thing about shiny floors, and it seems as though every hotel lobby has a shiny floor.  He puts his head down, treads ever so cautiously, and darts from side to side.  This of course makes carrying luggage a little tricky, but it's only a warm up for the elevator shuffle.  I guess if I could get inside his head, I would also have trouble rationalizing this box that you get into, the rumble, the undefinable movement, and the whole new place when the door opens.

On our first night in the "summerized" ski village at Tremblant, we got Massie settled in the room with his food and some water while we went out to get a bite of human food.  Back come the sad eyes when he realizes that he is going to be left behind for a few hours.  But nothing prepared me for what would happen.  While we were at dinner, fireworks started.  Massie hates fireworks and thunder.  So I started to think that maybe I should return to the hotel to make sure he was OK.  Before I could get the check and leave, I got a call from the hotel.  Massie had let himself out of the room, and had made some friends in another room.  How a dog opens a door that swings inward is beyond me, but he did it.

The next day, we went out for a walk on the ski hill so that Massie could take care of a few bodily functions and explore every piece of grass where another dog had previously tinkled.  We came upon a gondola that provided transportation over the top of the hill to the casino.  Massie tentatively boarded the car, and off we went.  Again, I'm sure his little dog brain was having one heck of a time figuring this new series of sensations out, but he was pretty good.  He did stay close and held onto me for dear life, but I think he enjoyed the experience.

While Dave was doing his big athletic event, I thought I would explore Mt. Tremblant National Park.  I was hoping to find a trail that we could get some exercise on.  I was about 20 minutes into the park driving in my vehicle when a warden pulled me over to tell me that I had to leave the park because no dogs were allowed in this park.  Never heard of a park that you couldn't drive through with a dog.  We were given a police escort to the park entrance.  Massie was oblivious to the whole thing.

The picture above is Massie doing one of his favourite things on road trips.  He will put his nose against the window, which is to tell me to roll down the window so that he can take big gulps of air.  When he's had enough, he will do his most favourite thing and lie down, sprawled in the back seat until the next treat stop.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

An angel in black

Yesterday, I got up out of my office chair and had the most intense spasm in my back.  It was so severe that I had to sit down.  I tried a few stretches, but I could barely straighten my back. 

I hobbled home and took an anti-inflammatory and a muscle relaxer and propped myself in front of the TV hoping the drugs would make it go away.  The drugs did make me sleep a full 12 hours, but in the morning my back was still sore when I stood up. 

Around 11:00 this morning, I received a text message from Natalie, our wonderful spa director, and asking me if I wanted to have a massage in a gazebo at 11:30.  Of course I said yes - a massage opening in August in a gazebo is a more rare than a solar eclipse. 

When my therapist came to get me I read her name tag - her name was Angela.  Angels are there when we need them but more often than not, we just don't recognize them.  My back is fully recovered.  Thank you Angela and Natalie.

Monday, November 5, 2012


This past weekend I spoke with several mother's at the spa who were clearly enjoying a some time away from their kids.  I met another who needed to be at the spa to recover from her role as a mother, a wife and her career.  Unfortunately, her life only allowed her one night away, when I expect she needed 2 or three nights.  I have also encountered many mothers at the spa who are cherishing time with their kids; the greatest joy seems to come when young girls reach an age where they can come to the spa with their mom, and in some cases with their grand mom to share one of the pleasures of being a woman. 

For me, (not having been a parent), the dynamics of human-parent-child relationships are one of the most complex and at times puzzling mysteries of life.  Years ago, a great friend of mine, while trying to convince me to have children, argued that it is the most selfish thing you can do for yourself.  I thought I heard "selfless", but she clarified and told me of the great personal joy she had experienced as a mother.  Recently, a dear friend of mine lost her son.  Even though I haven't had children of my own, I know that her life has changed forever, and I can't find the words to sooth her pain.  My own mother has told me time and again that the worst pain she could imagine would be to lose a child. 

This past weekend, I watched the movie We need to talk about Kevin, an exploration of the relationship between a mother and her son, in a case where the son commits an horrific crime.  This depicts the loss of a child from an often unexplored angle.  So cherish your children, but take the time you need for yourself to be the parent that they need you to be.  And I suppose, not having one child myself, I would have to say that if you do lose one, consider the great gift of the time you had, and take care of the ones you have left.  Life is so short.

Monday, July 30, 2012

My Public Transportation Adventure

After four years of mostly trouble free driving, a vehicle lease on a fine piece of German engineering came to an end.  I decided that I would drive the car back to the dealer in Newmarket and make my way home by public transportation.  I have several friends who just do not use public transportation for one reason or another, but I kind of like it, although living here in Grafton, there really isn't much opportunity to use it, other than the odd trip on VIA Rail. 

Well I have to tell you, I was very pleasantly surprised by my experience.  I boarded a VIVA (York Region Transportation) bus on Yonge Street and rode it to the Finch subway station, where I boarded the southbound Union Station Train.  I was hoping to make the 11:35 VIA Train to Cobourg, but through my own fault, it pulled out of the station as I was running along side it.  So, I ended up taking the Lakeshore East Go Train to Whitby where I was met by a friend for the trip home.  My pictures (above) include the big blue bus, the breathtakingly beautiful view of Lake Ontario between Pickering and Ajax, and lonely old me staring out the window of the GO Train.

The first few passengers on the bus were a little sketchy looking, but not scary.  But the bus quickly filled up with a vivid cross section of travellers, most of whom seemed to be heading for downtown Toronto.  It was particularly fun to listen in on conversations and people watch.  The whole trip was in spotlessly clean air conditioned comfort, surrounded by courteous people and modern electronic information systems, and cost me less than $15.  As I was rolling along I thought how easy it would be just to drop off my car keys, get on the bus and quietly slip into a new life.  But then, who would run the spa?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Twenty years ago, when Ste. Anne's Spa was in her infancy, I attended a seminar in Montreal given by Dr. Deepak Chopra.  It was a life changing event for me.  Since then, the wisdom imparted by Dr. Chopra has helped to guide the me through many of life's difficult decisions, and has been at the foundation of what Ste. Anne's is today.  I have signed up for this event, starting at 1:30 tomorrow (Monday July 16th), and I hope that you will join me.  Let's do this together and see where it leads us . . .

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

For several years now I have stood on the sidelines as friends of mine participated in a variety of athletic events; 5K, Pitter Patter, Around the Bay, IronMan, 10K, Marathons, Triathlons, etc.  I have been an observer as they crossed the finish line, often looking like they were about to die, sometimes throwing up, sore, exhilarated but always quietly proud of their achievement, and ready to do it all again.  But I just didn't get it. 

Why would anyone want to push their bodies to these kind of extremes?  In an effort to find out, I spontaneously joined in a 5K run in Peterborough a few years ago.  I was used to walking a few kilometers a day, and thought I was in pretty good shape, so this should be a cake walk for me.  I hated it.  I thought I was going to die.  I couldn't wait until it was over, and yes, I was sore and I swore I would never run again.

So when these same friends casually mentioned that they were going to run in the Sporting Life 10K Camp Ooch - (a camp for kids with cancer run), all of my internal defence mechanisms kicked in to provide me with all the excuses I needed to once again offer to stand on the side lines as a "supporter", but not a participant.  And then one day, some force from deep within my soul overcame all of my excuses to silence the naysayer.  Deciding to leave the sidelines and be a participant was as easy as clicking "OK" on the Sporting Life website.  But even still, a little voice in the back of my head was saying - you've made your donation, you really don't have to run, or, you can just walk it, or you can take the subway.

As "race day" approached, I "trained" by taking longer, more challenging walks in the morning.  A couple of times I joined one of my running friends and did about a 6K walk/run.  It was tough - after all, I'm in my mid 50s now, and my body isn't what it used to be.

On "race day" I met up with the other runners outside of Sporting Life just north of Yonge and Eglinton.  A group of  21,000 souls gradually assembled as we were divided into corrals, depending on the time we estimated we would take to complete the mostly downhill route to Fort York.  My three friends left me to join up with the first group of people who were estimating their finish to be 45 minutes or less.  Even though I was surrounded by all kinds of people, I suddenly felt very alone.  By about 8:30, my group (estimating to finish in an hour and a half), were moving over the starting line.


As I started into a light jog David Bowie serenaded me with the song "Heroes".  All of a sudden I was overwhelmed with emotion.  My eyes started to well up with tears.  I wasn't alone any more.  I was a living, breathing part of a stream of human goodness flowing down Yonge Street with one common objective - to help strangers who needed our collective love and support.

There were many other "moments of clarity" on the route down Canada's longest street as I passed by many of the bars and clubs where I spent countless days of my youth.  I actually stopped to take a picture of the marquee above the Zanzibar which read (sic) "dozens of nude dancers the show don't stop - mothers day lap dance spectacular". Too funny.  A sign along the route that really impacted and motivated me read " I don't know you, but YOU ROCK".  I completed the run in 1 hour and 7 minutes, which was much better than I thought I would do.  But this time, I wasn't running to prove anything or beat anyone, I was just running and felt great.

Eleven songs coursed through my ear buds and into my head as they brought back memories of my wasted youth and allowed me to float through and with the crowd.  Here is my play list;

David Bowie; Heroes
Missy Elliot; 4 my People
Cat Stevens; Can't keep it in
David Bowie; Cat People
Butterfly Boucher Feat; Changes by David Bowie
David Bowie/Mick Jagger; Dancing in the Street
Cat Stevens; Moon Shadow
David Bowie; Space Oddity
David Bowie; Starman
David Bowie; Young Americans
David Bowie; Ziggy Stardust

The total amount raised to send kids with cancer to camp Ooch from this year's Sporting Life 10K is $1,950,000.