Sleeping Issues or Memory Leaks

“The night is the hardest time to be alive and 4am knows all my secrets.” ― Poppy Z. Brite

It is 4am and I finally had to succumb to the foolish belief that I would be able to drift off again. I can’t, get over it and get out of bed. It is like the cobwebs of my mind are drying up and dropping old memories into my conscience. Those conscience realizations are keeping me awake. It’s the 4am that is interesting.

In my healthcare days I preferred the night shift. For the bulk of people who don’t understand or give any thought to the concept of the 24/7 workweek a night shift in a hospital traditionally goes from 11:15pm until 7:30am. That period between 4 and 6am was always the hardest. Most of the night duties are finished so that’s charting time and napping time.

I worked in the emergency department at the now defunct Calgary Holy Cross Hospital, the only inner city hospital of the day. In the rush to strip away healthcare costs the Alberta government did away of the only inner city hospital and now Calgary holds the dubious distinction of being the only major Canadian city with no inner city hospital. And yet they are now in the process of redeveloping the inner city by adding housing for an additional 30,000+ residence. I may be over simplifying but that kind of residential density requires a full service hospital, not just a walk-in urgent clinic. Anyway, not what I’m writing about.

And let’s put the TV version of an emergency unit or hospital concept to bed. The Holy Cross was nothing like New Amsterdam or the home of “The Good Doctor” the San Jose Bonaventure Hospital. For the record, and I like The Good Doctor, the outside shots of Bonaventure Hospital is actually the Surrey City Hall. I’m just saying the Holy was not a television hospital where you seem to have four doctors involved with every patient. That only works on TV. I swore after they cancelled St. Elsewhere that I would never get myself engaged with another hospital show but almost 40 years later I changed my mind for the two shows I mentioned.

I worked for a very unique team, the Psychiatric Assessment Team (PAT). The Holy Cross was the only hospital to provide this type of 24 hour service and I preferred the night shift. Our office was in the emergency department and we were aligned more with the emergency staff than the psychiatric staff. We were, in every way, part of the emergency department. The doctors loves us because we could save them hours by doing the time consuming “psych assessment” and the nurses loved us because part of our responsibility was the difficult job of supporting the loved ones of those patients who has passed away or the harshness required to confront the parents of an obviously abused child. Yes people die in emergency, a reality of that type of work and, yes, parents can be very abusive while clutching to the belief that we were uninformed idiots. Communication is, not only an art form, but also a science so there was no pulling the wool over our eyes.

I preferred the night shift because 1. I was removed from the politics of healthcare you saw during the day (for three years I was the local president of the nurses union “United Nurses of Alberta” UNA so I had no options but to be involved in the politics) and 2. you saw a much more interesting group of patients. I preferred the challenge of the psychotic decompensation of a chronic schizophrenic over the attention seeking suicide attempt of some passive-aggressive personality disorder.

I have nothing against personality disorders but my preference is for a genuine delusion over a temper tantrum resulting in a botched (usually deliberately) suicide attempt. Personalities disorders were just beginning to be recognized and diagnosed in the late 70’s, early 80’s so they were a relatively new phoneme to psychiatry.

It was not uncommon for a disorder like that to seek admission rather than deal with the root of their issue. For that reason, a suicide attempt did not guarantee admission otherwise you were feeding into the psychopathology of the disorder. Based on my own experience only about 5% of attempts were admitted with the rest given follow-up appointments for crisis interventions work. Interestingly only about half ever showed up for those interventions. I’ve had my share of assisting in the restraint of an overdose attempt patient while a lavage tube was inserted, not a pleasant procedure. I have also had many good shirts ruin by the regurgitated “activate charcoal“, a black substance that doesn’t wash out very well. I never had to worry about that with a good schizophrenic assessment. The regular OD visitors, besides their heavily bloated medical file, you knew was experience at overdosing because of the large helping of pasta they had scoffed down along with their pills. The glutinous nature of spaghetti made the lavage process much more difficult but not insurmountable. We would just have to use a larger tube for the pasta to get sucked up in.

Anyway we also had our regular schizophrenic’s. Schizophrenia is a life time disorder and nighttime is one of their favourite time slots. One of the regulars (for the sake of this article I will call him Jim) had a habit of showing up around 4am. I enjoyed Jim due to the monotony of that time period and the fact that he was a pretty good guy. Having him present at that time of night was very convenient since the 4 to 6am time slot was a boredom killer time. Most things were done and staff were getting tired, ready to wind down, go home and get some rest in preparation for the next night. Anyway Jim would show up around 4am, wrapped in binder twine with a length of rebar tucked in the binder twine like a sword. He was pleasant but noisy. It is not uncommon for a schizophrenic in a psychotic state to speak very loudly as a way to drowned out their voices. Audio hallucinations are one of the most common.

He also liked me so would often call first to see who was on in psych assessment. If it was me he would present. I’m convinced that deep down even the most psychotic have a part of their brain trying to be healthy. His story was always the same. He had been feeling pretty good and those pills the doctor gave him made him feel “fuzzy”, not an uncommon analogy in those days. Psychotropics have come a long way. So he had gone off his meds, decompensated and was now in the process of “ascending” to fight the battle of armageddon. He was about to save the world but he knew “I” had a secret potion that would make him invisible to the enemy. That potion was an injection of largactil which would calm him enough to get him admitted and back onto his medication regime.

A picture of a very tangled bunch of wires with the wording "I've got thoughts more tangled than my headphones" with captioning "Manic thoughts"
Manic thinking

The other good time night patient was a manic depressive in a full manic state. Manic’s tend to be very bright people who will also go off their meds because they miss the excitement of being manic. They don’t miss the downs that can come with the depressive part of the disorder but they are prepared to roll the dice and hope for the manic though process. Assessing a manic is challenging. It’s like being in a debating club with a bunch of speed freaks. They are quick, they are bright but they to tend to lose focus so you can trip them up. That was the kind of patient you hoped for around 5am. They would keep you going until the end of shift.

So here it is 6am in the morning and I can’t sleep so I have been writing about the post sleep thoughts left in my brain. Not sure if this is unpacking old memories or simply my way of expressing my concern over the new Kenney governments approach to healthcare.

There is a link here, dread. 6am on the nightshift was the hour of dread. You would sit there with sweat on your brow hoping no new patient would present at 6am. If a patient presented before 6:30 the night psych staff had to deal with them. This could often mean you weren’t going home at 7:15 since, if you were looking at a potential admission, you had to see the case through to conclusion. I could be stuck in emergency until well after 9am. After-all, the inpatient unit was also going through staff change and were never prepared for an admission until after all of the early morning routines had been concluded.

It was psych assessments responsibility to stay with that patient until they got to the unit. You couldn’t hand them off to the day person since I had to do all of the pre-admission history notes. If a patient presented AFTER 6:30 you could kind of duck this issue pending the arrival of the day staff. That same dread I now feel in anticipation of what the Kenney government is indicating in potential cuts to healthcare. A system that is little more than the Thanksgiving Day turkey carcass compared to what it was 30 years ago.

So now that I have made it through the disquieting mist of that 4 to 6am of a nighttime hospital shift maybe I’ll stretch out in the recliner and see if I can catch a nod. Night is the hardest time when nightclubs, bars or work are absence. Have a good one

Public Safety over Fiscal Responsibility isn’t Really Responsible

Home is where the heart is, home is where believe we are safe” – Terry Wiens (2019)

I love Calgary. Calgary is my home. I’ve left it many times, sometimes for career purposes and a few times just to go on a crazy adventure. However every time I leave I eventually find myself returning. And each time I return I see new cracks and fissure taking place in the fabric of what Calgary was. I am slowly coming to the realization that the Calgary I loved may not exist anymore. The question I keep asking myself is “Can it be turned around?”. Can it continue to grow while maintaining that vibrant sense of community which is what I have always loved about Calgary, that sense of community.

Turning on the lights 1953

I still have childhood memories of family picnics and romping through the wading pool at Riley park. Or the annual employees picnic and BBQ held yearly at Bowness Park. All of the adults gathered around the picnic shelters, men playing games like horseshoe while mothers kept the younger kids entertained (no electronics back then) and the older kids swam or canoed around the lagoon. No fecal issues then.

It was a very different City then and civic pride was strong. The City was more united while being determined to grew and prosper. The urban sprawl began and Calgary has been prospering for the past sixty years. Sure there have been a few up’s and down’s, every City has those periods but Calgary, overall, has done very well for itself. That’s what keeps me coming back.

What does concern me is that every time I return there appears to be a new fracture. I think you have to have been gone every now and then to notice, you see things differently when you are looking through refreshed eyes. A lot of that change occurs, in part, due to regulatory change. To really understand that one has to know the history of regulatory change, like the downloading of jurisdictional responsibilities.

A lot of this began in the late 80’s (a period I refer to as the dawning of the age of regulations ending the “Age of Aquarius“) and into the 90’s. The various levels of government used “fiscal management” as a way to dump the responsibility that goes with regulations. As an example the federal government couldn’t keep up with the cost of rising health care. In an attempt to maintain the “universality” guaranteed in the Charter they adjusted the federal transfer payments system. This meant giving provincial jurisdictions the authority to decide how healthcare could be administered and what would be covered. From that simple adjustment the concept of treatment by postal code was born. Many disabilities were treated differently based on what province you were in.

The ripple effect of this resulted in the provinces, as their own way to avoid costs, to begin downloading to the municipal level. It was only in the mid 90’s that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs got out of the inspection business. The inspections that use to be provided by the province were either transferred to local government or, in some cases, created “inspection authorities”, a form of privatization. What local government didn’t factor in was the cost of that “responsibility” which is why, in part, we are seeing such an erosion to our infrastructure. A number of those programs are now being reversed, an example of that is returning driver licence testing back to government from the private sector.

Now, in any attempt to cut cost, municipal governments are abandoning the responsibility of inspection services. I live in the Beltline and all you have to do is walk around the pathways to see how much deterioration has gone on. Without regular inspection erosion just gets worse. Being wheelchair dependent a well maintain walkway is important to me. All it takes is a small crack to come to an unexpected screeching halt and do an airborne out of a wheelchair if you are not paying attention.

I spend a week in the Rockyview Hospital this past February as a result of one of those wheelchair flying patterns due to a poorly maintained curb-cut. The City’s response (cut and pasted from the e-mail) “We were able to mill the road on the NE corner of 14th Ave and 7th St SW on Tuesday. However, after reviewing the location and the wheel chair ramp it needs more attention than what I was able to provide. I have forwarded this location to our Construction department and they have said they will look at it and will do their best to have the grade redone in the 2019 construction season so that the wheel chair ramp is not so steep.” Even the City’s Central District Manager, Roads Maintenance has no idea how bad the walkways are in the Beltline.

I have over 70 e-mails that I have send to the City describing or supplying pictures/videos of unmaintained sidewalks. We are paying the price for the City’s inability to inspect or maintain road safety in a very high density community. Meanwhile I pay the price with my body but most recently a major setback for my wheelchair.

Lightweight Titanium wheelchair

Now I’m facing a $6000 cost to replace a bend frame due to a pothole the size of a small volcano. This was during Stampede week and I was left on my ass with a bag of groceries strewn around me. Thanks to the kindness of strangers who helped me back into my chair and helped me rearrange my groceries things got resolved. I took the video, send it to the City and, on the trip home, realized my frame was bend. When all four wheels are no longer touching the ground you know something has happened to your chair (and my chair is Titanium so it doesn’t bend easily),

Calgary is subject to some pretty intense rain falls and small lakes are not uncommon around curbs. Had of that been the case here it wouldn’t have mattered if you were in a wheelchair or walking, you would have toppled.

As I have mentioned numerous times, I love Calgary so I can live with this. I contact the City regularly reporting bad walkway situations. I do that believing I am being a responsible citizen and trying to do my part to make Calgary the best City it can be. It would be nice if my elected Ward rep would return one of my notes but that never happens. Doesn’t matter, let’s just get the repairs done.

But this latest has pushed me beyond my limits. It is very personal to me and the City’s lack of regular inspections has the potential to create issues for many of our kids. When the City allows the public splash pool on Olympic Square to get to the point where the health authority makes them shut if down due to dangerous levels of fecal matter, that’s my limit.

As a polio survivor it’s personal to me because the polio virus lives in fecal matter. We are living in a time when people are avoiding vaccines, where international visitors are coming from countries that have NOT totally eliminated polio and the virus can live for a long time in a persons gut. How long do you have to go to get to a point where the coliform count can get that high. Calgary, I love you but you still have a level of responsibility to maintain. If the level of fecal matter can get to 7 times the acceptable level you have failed. There are budget cuts but that doesn’t justify increasing the level of danger that threatens our kids.

Colour me pissed off…

Perception and Trust

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception” – Aldous Huxley

As I have said many times I love Calgary. Every time a life event has taken me out of the city I eventually find my way back here, this is my City. At least it once was. Following the actions of Calgary City Council during their July 22, 2019 meeting I am left challenging my perception of what Calgary was and what it appears to have become.

Have I put my trust in an entity of the past that has fractured beyond recognition or was Mayor Nenshi’s refusal to allow #KeepCalgaryStrong to speak a “one off” and not a foreshadow of dismissiveness to come. It really challenged my perception and the level of my trust for what I believed was the City I loved.

This is why words matter, while Mayor Nenshi was expressing concerns over “setting precedent” I was witnessing a lost opportunity for Council to allow “reasonable accommodation” to those speaking on behalf of the marginalized. Both my perception and trust in this City have now been shaken weakening the foundation of my belief in Calgary.

Public Perception

Over the last number of decades Western societies have become generally healthier but increasingly more cognizant to risk aversion.  Society has come to perceive itself as increasingly vulnerable and helpless to a range of hazards around them, from storms to earthquakes, from food additives to toxic chemicals, and from faulty building designs to dangerous energy facilities. The accepted perception (often blindly) is that governments are addressing risk concerns.

Society has invested a great deal in ensuring that many human needs are satisfied and risk is minimized.  This includes areas involving food and shelter, police protection, education, health and other opportunities for human growth.  With this minimization of risk comes greater regulatory authority, which leaves the populace with the assumption that they are being protected and taken care of by the government.  Most of the protection is of a general nature and has a positive impact on the general population. 

On the other hand, that segment of society that has been marginalized for so long has come to expect the same levels of quality that the rest of society enjoy.  Unfortunately, the traditional approaches that have served us well for so long may not be as effective with the more non-traditional members of our society.  This requires innovative and progressive thinking in establishing programs and initiatives that allow for flexibility when dealing with specific target groups, such as the disabled. 

Many of the general public lack the awareness of the “micro-inequities” that confront the disabled daily.  Improved education and awareness has increased the visibility of disability but so few people really look at all of the “little things” that make living in the community possible. An effective regulatory system in the world of disability is central to independent living.

When a City Council like Calgary begins cutting programs that impact one group more than others they are sending a strong message that they only represent a certain segment of the community. This was not the Calgary I use to know. The Calgarians of today have become so segmented local groups spend more energy “ripping” each other than working for the good of all. The concept of “compromise” appears to be a false perception in Calgary. If you watch Council meetings you quickly discover that “some” are more equal than others, that’s a reality.  

The second reason for greater public concern is the impact of the modern media.  Technological change has given the media the capability of delivering news from all over the world in an instantaneous fashion.  And just as individuals tend to find bad news more interesting than good news, media outlets tend to deliver bad news events more often than good news events. 

The public considers involuntary risk to be much riskier (i.e. they pose a greater threat to their health and well-being) than voluntary risk.   Consequently, individuals willingly choose to go skiing, use a tool without proper safeguards, or eat vegetables they have sprayed themselves, and they will consider the risks of such activities to be relatively minor.  But for somebody with a physical disability (just one example) involuntary risk looks very different. When a City ignores the maintenance of their own curb-cuts it creates an “involuntary risk”. When a City cuts funding to emergency services, like fire fighting and police services, they are creating an environment of involuntary risk. These are “ripple effects” which requires authorities to proceed very cautiously when introducing new initiatives that have broad impacts on society in general.  There are two caveats that should be adhered to when planning any new initiatives having an impact on society in general:

  • they must be built on a strong foundation with support from a cross section of participants and disciplines;
  • and a strong education and media program must be in place which will inform the public and recipient of the initiative.

Public Trust

The second consideration is “level of trust” that exists between the public and the government.  This trend of distrust is particularly evident in the populist political cultures we are seeing from the USA, to Canada and to the EU.  Psychologist, Paul Slovic, has written extensively on risk management and in a recent article discussed the role of political culture and levels of trust.

  • “One of the most fundamental qualities of trust has been known for ages.  Trust is fragile.  It is typically created rather slowly, but it can be destroyed in an instant – by a single mishap or mistake.  Thus, once trust is lost, it may take a long time to re-build it to its former state.  In some instances, lost trust may never be gained.”

One further observation related to trust.  This is the fact that trust takes much more time to acquire than to lose.  This is because negative trust-destroying events are much more visible than the positive trust-building events (the tainted blood scandal receives more news coverage than Sheldon Kennedy’s skate across Canada to raise money for the sexually abused).  Society, also, gives greater weight to negative events than to positive ones.  Combined with these facts is the general orientation of the media to publicize bad news as opposed to good news.  All of these features combine to make trust-building a very difficult exercise, and one that is played on an un-level playing field.  Paul Slovic emphasized this point:

Organization or individuals that have an opportunity to have input into the design of community support programs meant to improve quality of life for the marginalized need to have their voices heard.  The disabled community has heard from as far back as the polio epidemic in the early fifties that their needs would always be looked after only to discover that “being looked after” can be more restrictive than not being seen at all. To attend a Council meeting only to be refused your right to be heard is no way to build trust in the community.

With the proposed budget cuts having a disproportionate impact on the already marginalized of Calgary it is hard to have any trust in this Council. My perception of the city I love is definitely waning. I am not convinced the city I have moved back to is the same city I love. I am starting to realize that my door of perception has opened into a city I no longer recognize and that I may be clinging to a memory out of a need to love.

Today, being Monday, I tuned into the live stream of the Council meeting and right out of the chute (organizing the meeting agenda) the Ward 4 representative, Sean Chu, opening remarks challenged the level of trust with Council. He raised his concern of “leaked” information to the press by an unspecified member of Council. Mr. Chu made it very clear it was his belief that this information was leaked by someone interested in running for Mayor in the next municipal election.

If this new “fractured” Calgary is what has become of the City I grew up in then I have to re-evaluate my own belief system. When you can no longer trust your perception of what you believed to be a “community” you understand why love and commitment is fragile. In fact in todays society you begin to doubt if “love and commitment” is even a factor in this new world of politics. No budget cuts in the world justify further denigration of those already marginalized that the @KeepCalgaryStr1 speak for.



The Western Migration

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb

A couple of political events in Calgary and Alberta opened some curtains in the mist of some lost memories this week. That can be beneficial because it makes me think of how we got to where we are today, certain events on the development of Calgary and some of the irony generated by our past. The first was the issue over Calgary’s planned transit expansion, the Green Line and the second is the Alberta governments new labour law, Bill 9. Both of them stirred up childhood memories.

We are experiencing some elements in our current societal discourse regarding diversity and reacting like it’s something new. ALERT, it isn’t. My fathers legacy is buried deep in the world of the Mennonite faith. His ancestors had migrated to Canada in the late 18th century to avoid the religious persecution Mennonites were experiencing in many European countries of that time. With him came a diversity of faith. Large sectors of Mennonites settled to farm in what would eventually become Manitoba following Confederation.

Mennonites are pacifists and live almost communally. They are tight knit and dedicated to self sustainability. They were into environmental protection before anyone even knew what environmental threats were. This was reflected in their farming techniques, rotating crops, field left seasonally fallow and planting crops to meet the needs of the soil. This wasn’t a conscience plan, it was just common sense farming.

When WW2 came along many of my fathers generation of the Mennonite faith joined the Canadian military. They were young and they felt they owed the country that allowed their fore-fathers an opportunity to live a safe, unthreatened life. Unfortunately the price, as ideological pacifist, was excommunication from the Church. As the new generation of Mennonites, their belief in Canada as a nation, the very country that had offered them safe harbour, was a belief worth risking excommunication over. They left the farms, took up arms and the rest is history.

My father, upon on his return from the war, began dealing with war related health issues before beginning a new life off the farm. He began with my mother in a small rural Manitoba town and eventually found himself in Winnipeg driving street car. Electric vehicles driven on tracks and power through trolley wires. Again “electric” vehicles ahead of their time.

But the lure of the west was growing. For numerous reasons the need to move westward was decided over 60 years ago for my parents and the offer of a driving position with Calgary Transit just sweetened the deal. So started the transition to what became my home city, Calgary.

Calgary Transit circa 1960

Calgary, like dad’s family, was growing. A position with Calgary Transit was a “union” position which offered some security to my father. A security he needed with a growing family and a son (me) who was a polio survivor. The Alberta Children’s Hospital was offering services to polio kids so there was no hesitation when the opportunity arose. With the assurance of employment and health care for his son (this was long before universal healthcare) he packed up the family in the mid 50’s and made the westward move to Calgary. When we arrived Calgary was just shy of 200,000 and a good number of those were European immigrants displaced by the war. There was no doubt Calgary was diverse but far from the shining beacon of success it is recognized as it is now.

One of my first memories of Calgary was sitting on dads shoulders as he walked picket in 1958. The transit workers had taken strike action due to the City’s reticence in renewing a union contract (I now refer back to the current situation with the Alberta governments position over Bill 9). Part of the issue with the contract was the extension of transit routes. At that time the northern most point for transit service ended at Northmount Drive and 4th Street NW (Mount Pleasant/Killarney). The Thorncliff/Elbow Drive routed ended at Northmount Drive and Centre Street. Thorncliff was the northern most part of the City at the time. How boundaries have changed!

My point here is Calgary has a long history of being progressive and diverse. The diversity was mainly European and it existed. The Kensington area was Little Greek Town, Bridgeland was little Italy, Tuxedo was German Town and Thorncliff/Highwood was basically prairie farmers who had decided to move west. Calgary was the stopping point and the expansion began to happen. With the value of natural resources taking off in the mid 60’s the growth explosion happened. By 1980 Calgary had almost tripled in size (to almost 600,000) but the driving group-think was still the WW2 veterans. The Baby-boomers were just coming into their own.

Today I watched the City Council meeting listening to arguments and debates that mirrored many of the past issues this City has faced. We have had that “Green Line” transit argument in the past except it involved extending trolley lines for electric buses but resulted in gas powered vehicles because of the new found belief in the natural resource community. We have had that same argument over tax relief by cutting services, services that are crucial tools to quality of life issues. That same quality of life that brought thousands of immigrants to Calgary over the past fifty years.

Palliser Hotel downtown Calgary 1964

While some may think todays Council meetings are steps backwards (in my opinion they are) others frame it as protecting the future. I see it as a Council that either doesn’t recognize their history or have chosen to ignore it. Times are changing, again, and how politics works needs to change as well. What worked in the 60’s wasn’t so hot in the 80’s. At the same time we have also outgrown what was working in the 80’s. Time for a rethink over how we move forward and how we do business. Most of the people our politicians are playing to are dying off (myself included). It’s time to focus on the policy makers of tomorrow and what will work for them. Time for change…

Canada Day Celebration 2019 – what is it?

Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity.” – Marshall McLuhan

It is Canada Day and the country is celebrating. Large, joyous celebrations from coast to coast to coast. That day of the year dedicated to what it means to be Canadian and express our joy of being Canadian. For many new Canadians, this is the first experience enjoying a Canada Day celebration and welcome. Many more have celebrated back to the time it was still called Dominion Day and for those, to quote a great Canadian artist (Neil Young), “keep on rocking”.

What would Canada Day be without a bit of Canadian trivia, another contribution to the world, Trivial Pursuit? Today is “Canada Day”, originally called Dominion Day but changed to Canada Day when the British North American Act (BNA Act) repatriated to Canada in 1982. From that point forward the BNA basically ceased to exist and the Constitution Act, we we know it today, came into being as did Canada Day. “O Canada” was not proclaimed our official national anthem until July 1, 1980 but was sung for the first time in French 100 years ago. The Canadian flag became official February 15, 1965 leaving the Union Jack behind. We have been an evolving country for 152 years now. As long as new Canadians continue to arrive at our shores and families, regardless of what part of Canada they live in, we can look forward to another 150 years of celebrations.

Speaking to Inclusion and Diversity at a Canada Day celebration in 2014

In the 90’s I was very involved in an international exchange student program. I spoke with more international students (these were high school students) about where they would prefer to be placed. The program had volunteer host families (no families were paid but the student was expected to some of their own spending money). The importance of a “good fit” placement could not be understated.

This was planned this way with the expectation that the student would become part of the family and truly understand life as part of a Canadian family. In my mind it was a successful model. My wife and I hosted a young man from Japan the first year, a young fellow from Belgium the second and finally a young fellow from Germany. I am still in touch with all three of them almost 30 years later and they continue to be like family.

That is when I really began to think about Canadian “identity”, I needed some concepts to help frame it for these kids. The first time I heard my student from Japan phone his parents the call was over in about five minutes. He then shared with me the extent of the conversation and part of it was “Canadian”. I asked how he had cramped all of that info into such a short call including describing what a Canadian was. His was response was simple “Easy, I said you were Canadian”.

I have lived in Toronto and they would describe a Canadian very differently than some from Calgary. I have lived in Halifax and they would describe a Canadian very differently than someone from Montreal. I have lived in Montreal and they would describe a Canadian very differently than someone from Vancouver. My experience has been to most of the world we are “Canadians” and identity is unimportant. Identity reminds too many of them of “class distinctions” which is what many immigrants were fleeing when they came to Canada. They just wanted to be “Canadian”. My point is Canada is diverse and regional, that has worked for 152 years now.

Marshall McLuhan made that statement over fifty years ago and it is true today as it was then. We don’t have an identity. We are simply Canadian. We are a country that has been build by immigrants escaping perceived “identities”. My roots go back generations however they began with one branch escaping persecution in Europe. We all started somewhere so it is always overwhelming for me on Canada Day to see the focus being put on what it means to be Canadian, diverse, accepting and open to compassion. We are Canadian not based on identity but based simply on being Canadian.

I can only hope that 150 years from now those grandchildren of this newest group of immigrants are sitting around in their lawn-chairs celebrating the way most are today. Right now I fear we are at a turning point where too many politicians are playing “identity politics” rather than continuing to build on the strength that is the commonwealth of Canada. We may have regional differences but at the core we are all CANADIAN.

Happy Canada Day…and in true Canadian fashion, let me close by saying “I’m sorry” if I’ve offended anyone (smiley face).

Burning Through Tax Dollars

“It is worth our passions as it is with fire and water; they are good servants but bad masters” – Aesop’s Fables 1692

I am really upset with this most recent suggestions from our local government to cut $9 million from our fire departments budget. This is no way to manage a progressive city, public safety should never be used as a cost saving measure. I find this particularly upsetting considering it has recently been identified that Calgary owned golf courses have lost over $2 million in the past two years while being subsidized by the City. Now I have no issue with golf or City involvement in assisting recreational facilities success but I do take issue when programs that threaten public safety pay the price for political expediency.

Calgary 1964, 9th Ave before the Tower, Palliser Hotel standing tall

I love Calgary and have spend 40 years of my life here. I have also taken time to live in other cities in all parts of Canada while few of the people I grew up have. They have spend their entire life here and really have no idea just how well off Calgary actually is comparatively speaking.

Many still think of Calgary (or like to) as that sleepy little cowtown of 45 years ago. I don’t. Having left and returned five different time I have observed the difference between sleepy town and thriving metropolitan. It is like those relatives you see every three or four years, you are much more aware of the changes because you haven’t seen them every day. The relatives have so they don’t recognize the change as much, they have been part of the evolution. To me, every time I have returned to Calgary I have noticed the changes and they really have been massive, mainly in a good way

Since returning to Calgary I moved back into the inner city 17 floor condo building I lived in ten years ago. I consider where I live to be a microcosm of the City around me. There use to be a sense of community in this building that just isn’t here anymore. It’s still a nice building (about 30 years old) but the demographics have changed and some of that sense of community has changed. That is something that is reflected in the “city sprawl that has gone on over the past fifty years.

I experienced the effectiveness of the Calgary Fire Service just recently. For the first time since I first lived in this building (now or back in 2009) we had the fire department respond when the alarm went off. The fire department was excellent and arrived very quickly, under five minutes. Unfortunately all of the tools that should have been available to them wasn’t. When the alarm went off (7:50pm) I didn’t really do much, I knew there were suppose to be emergency plans in place and that nature would take its course.

I couldn’t smell smoke and I couldn’t see flame licking away at the building so I just stayed in my recliner. As a retired policy analyst with the BC Office of the Fire Commissioner I know the standard and regulation relatively well. Being in a wheelchair I knew the elevators would lock down so it is always best to just wait in my condo.

The fire department was kept here for almost an hour with the alarm being shut off at 8:45pm. Traditionally, and based on fire regulations, the fire department immediately check the status of the alarm. They then go to a lock box that is suppose to include a “list of vulnerable residence” (in other words people living in the building that wouldn’t be able to use the stairs). If required they will respond to those on the list that may be trapped for any number of reasons in their suite. Basically people like myself who wouldn’t be able to manoeuvre the stairs due to wheelchair or mobility. If the threat wasn’t serious the fire department would shut down their operation and move on to the next call. Traditionally the condo staff person would then check on those on the list to reassure them all was well. That didn’t happen. I discovered the next day there was no list in the lock box and condo management company wasn’t aware of the regulations (which I have now send them copies of).

Last year Council voted to change the fire response time from seven minutes to ten minutes despite the fire chiefs recommendations. Why is public safety threatened whenever we need to reconcile budgets while we subsidize golf courses? I have no issues with supporting community sports or other community programs but I do take issue when funding for public safety is threatened. I find it even more insulting when developers, property managers and condo management companies download their responsibility onto tax payer public safety services.

The first time Calgary burnt

In 1886 Calgary was almost destroyed due to fire and lack of services. This opened the door for written standards and a demand for sandstone buildings. That’s part of our history. Whenever we undo part of our public safety system we move backwards. My message to City Council, we don’t need management by crisis. We need proactive planning, not reactive knee-jerk actions based purely on optics.

Calgary is full of some beautiful old wooden construction. Take a walk through the Inglewood-Ramsey area, as an example. We cannot afford to threaten areas like that as a means to save money. Nine million dollars removed from an already over taxed public service is the crux of my opening quote. We want fire and water as good servants, not masters of disaster. Let’s work as a community and get away from that silo management style. Keep our fire department strong, show out fire fighters and first responders that you have their backs, not their wallets.

Return to Sender

“A lesson learnt and not shared is destined to become a lesson lost on wasted time” – Terry Wiens (2019)

I stopped writing about six weeks ago thinking my publishing days were over. In part because one just gets tired of writing the same thing over and over by finding different words but also in part that most people just weren’t getting the message. For over forty years I have tackled the issue of “access” from every conceivable angle, ramps to curb cuts, alternative formats to audible signage and then a light went on. Access wasn’t the real issue, access was simply a tool.

The real issue lay in building an inclusive community, access was a way to ensure everyone in a community could be part of that community. The disabled activists of the 70’s and 80’s had spend years defining “accessible” as physical. In todays world accessibility is simply one tool to an “inclusive” community that is welcoming to everybody. You can put all the ramps into a library you want but that doesn’t mean it is accessible to someone with a visual disability. So now we have to undo terminology that took thirty years to establish and for me, I’m tired, that is the battle for the new generation. Time to step back and let the next generation take over.

This kind of re-enforces my reasons for stepping back. In the midst of file purging I came across some of articles from my day as a columnist with the Alderlea Magazine. They served as a physical reminder of how long and hard I had been beating this drum while questioning if it was all worth it. As a polio survivor I have dedicated much of my life fighting for disability rights and community inclusion while identifying it as access. I don’t want to get involved with an old process using new language. Words are important but they keep changing. It is difficult to walk away from what had been a big purpose in my life but at some point we all have to accept certain realities.

Historically, for half of my life, I was considered a “non” citizen. Even the right to vote for anyone with a disability was based on the whim of the voting poll manager up to the mid 70’s. There was no Charter in those days so there were no regulatory protections. I could be refused a job interview based purely on me identifying my use of crutches. I could also be refused rental units based purely on my disability so we have made some major moves forward but the world of disability has changed. So it is time to step back.

With that said I have also returned to Calgary to retire in. Calgary has always been my “comfort city” and has always been where I identify as home. So it is nice to be back home. What I find disheartening since my return is how fracture and divisive Calgary has become. I love this city and it tears me up to see how the city is tearing itself apart. So I may stop pushing access (“inclusion”) ands start speaking out on Calgary issues. I want this city, and believe it can be, to get back to the days where it was a city full of people who were proud of Calgary. Right now I am seeing fractured and polarized citizens that want to keep blaming others for issues rather than being part of the solution to keep Calgary the welcoming city it use to be. For now…

Life Long Memories
As I look back down my path of life,
The up’s and downs, rewards and strife,
What have I learnt? I ask my soul,
Was I helpful or was I drool?
Did I do right by all my friends?
Who will gather when my life ends?
Have I left my son a legacy clean?
Have I left him foes, spiteful and mean?
The questions we ask as we move through the years,
Reflections of memories, love, joy, and tears,
Memories that make us what we are today,
The love we have gathered from all those that stay,
The joys of experience of a lifetime abound,
The tears we have shed for those all around,
We are what we do; we are what we’ve made,
Hold onto your memories, let them not fade.

-Terry Wiens May 2006

The Influence of Youth

Racism is a refuge for the ignorant. It seeks to divide and to destroy. It is the enemy of freedom, and deserves to be met head-on and stamped out.” – Pierre Berton

After all of the news regarding the Alabama legislation today to redefine abortion, the White House basically flipping off the Congress by refusing access to documents, ignoring the oversight role of Congress and the list goes on America teeters on the brink of a new monarchy. I don’t know what else to call it but when the Judiciary Chairman, Jerry Nadler, refers to President Trump as “King” one can no longer ignore the red flags of a silent coup being conducted “inside” the White House.

I find it astounding that we have sat back as long as we have watching democracy slip away from our American friends while filling provincial governments with that same type of populism. I reflect back on the influence of the mentors I have had contribute to my believes and find this complacency among the electorate to be just about unbelievable. But it is and it has past the state of being believable. The re-emergence of racism, the erosion of rights, the rewriting of history and a demographic polarization that favours those sipping their mint julep on the back deck while others have to boil their water so their children can safely drink.

In 1973, on my way to Montreal from Vancouver, I stopped for a couple of days to see my brother in Ottawa. He was there on his air traffic controller training. This was a time period when “beer parlours were just that, beer parlour”. If you wanted a cocktail or high-ball you went to the lounge. We had been in the beer parlour but I had a craving for a shot of sherry so I went upstairs to the lounge.

The Chateau Laurier was and is a very upscale hotel in Ottawa which is often reflected in the quality of their customers. I was blown away when I walked in and stumbled upon Pierre Berton quietly reading in a corner while sipping his glass of wine. He was in Ottawa promoting his newest book “Drifting Home” and quietly relaxing over a glass of wine. Now I didn’t know him but as an activist I knew who he was. Being a brash young activist who lacked some of the social skills that come with maturity I approached him and offered to buy him a drink. He was very polite and accepted.

Alberta Wheelchair Sports team outfit, off to Montreal

We spend about a half hour discussing (more me asking him the occasional question and absorbing his wisdom) on a wide range of social issues. I was 23 and had just left a hotbed of activism Vancouver. Since my crutches were very obvious we open the discussion around polio and disabilities. We talked about wheelchair sports, my college days at Mount Royal College in Calgary, navigating a world not really designed for accessibility.

When I mentioned coming from Alberta and my activities as an activist be praised Alberta for finally having repealed the Alberta Sexual Sterilization Act (1972). He gave me a lesson on the importance of a democracy and how it affects everybody, not just the elite which made laws like that one very discriminatory. To be discussing something like discrimination with a man of Berton’s stature made me feel like a kid on his first trip to Disneyland. My chest pumped out a little when he praised my activism accomplishments to that point. Things I didn’t really recognize as accomplishments but he stressed the importance of citizen engagement and the role it plays in protecting democracy. This was a point in my development where the term “citizen engagement” was a brand new concept to me but I soaked it up like a sponge in a bucket of water.

Of course as a young guy engaged in activist and the civil rights movement being very important to me I was just soaking up the dialogue Mr. Berton was spreading on me. This 45 minutes of mesmerizing conversation ended with him explaining the connection between the Alberta repeal and the recent American Supreme Court decision “Wade vs Roe”, something I had never really heard of. Having been involved with the anti-Vietnam protests in during my Vancouver days I was well aware of the civil rights movement but had yet to engage in the pro-life or women’s movement. That came later when I returned to Calgary and eventually became involved with the United Nurses of Alberta.

This renew attack on the protection of women provided by “Wade vs Roe” decision is not restricted to America. Canadians are also encouraging threats by voting in populist governments in Canada. I can now reflect on the history of how we have arrived to where we are and realize how important casual contacts were in my past. Trump has taken America almost back to the very reason they are a Republic, escape from a monarchy (King George the third) and if Wade vs Roe gets overturned, almost fifty years later, it will reverse so many ideals women fought so hard to achieve.

Meanwhile in Alberta we have a new government who are already eroding an Education Act that was recently amended to offer further protection to threatened students. With the protection GSA’s offered students and a government rewriting legislation taking away a teachers right to practice confidentiality I am left wondering just how protected we really are.

After finishing our drinks we both went our own way. I never ran into him again but certainly was aware of his activities. It just recently that I have begun to understand the impact of those fleeting moments I have had experienced with so many positive role models. Pass me my fiddle Nero said…  

A War is Raging

“Racism is still with us. But it is up to us to prepare our children for what they have to meet, and, hopefully, we shall overcome” – Rosa Parks

It is telling when I have to leave a link explaining who Rosa Parks is but, what to me is recent history, seems to be buried deep in the sands of time to younger generations. The tragedy of yet another hate motivated shooting at the California Synagogue on the last day of Passover has raised the spectre of Rosa Parks words in my mind.

What prompted me to speak out was the tweet of one of Calgary’s new generation of influencers, Jason Ribeiro. Jason’s tweet was referencing a two day old Globe and Mail report on the growth of hate groups in Canada. I believe Jason may have been referencing one of the victims, Lori Kaye as a member of the “Greatest Generation” (Silent Generation), that group of people who took a stand against fascism by standing up to it in World War 2. The generation that spawned the “baby-boomers”.

I have gotten to know Jason through my own involvement with social media. I am one of those baby-boomers who thrives in this new world using it extensively. As I have indicated before, living in a wheelchair limits one’s retirement activity however I have always been committed to life long learning and social media does the trick. Rather than spending hours on the golf course, hiking in the Kananaskis or kayaking down the Bow River I spend hours in front of my computer. That’s how I was introduced to Jason. I believe we are like minded in our belief around change and without a doubt Jason is pushing for change by advancing Calgary’s status in the world of industry.

I recently met Jason face to face and discovered he was much younger than I had thought (that an easier way of saying how old of a fart I am). There is a forty year span between the two of us. I believe we are both true activist with the best of the community at heart but I have 40 years of history on him. Jason is non-stop dealing with the issues of today from commerce to diversity. I consider myself an encyclopedia of activism history which brings me back to the Rosa Parks quote I started with. Hopefully I can use my experiences to provide some insights so Jason doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

One of the down sides of social media is the generational divide it has created between the baby-boomers and the Millenials. Most baby-boomers have reached that point in their life they worked so hard to attain, a positive retirement, something they have accomplished using 80’s thinking. Technology has changed the way people advance in todays society however to most baby-boomers social media is about checking their Facebook page for the newest pictures of their grandchildren, doing their banking or booking vacations.

Many of them still enjoy the feel of the local newspaper in their hand with their morning coffee. They have worked hard to reach the comfort of their “bubble zone” and the challenges of the new world is disturbing. Change is difficult for anyone but the discomfort of change can be avoided if one tunes out the negativity going on around them. One cannot slight them for that however it has certainly polarized the community. Their avoidance of that negativity is like putting fertilizer on already fertile ground for the growth of hate and bigotry. Recognition of that growth is expressed in the hopefulness of Jason’s tweet however Twitter is a messaging technique that is as useful to most baby-boomers as street maps are to a herd of cattle. To me that is a major problem: how do we live up to Rosa Parks quote when we are no longer communicating? How do we prepare our children (not saying Jason is a child but I am old enough to be his father) when we are using different communication tools? As baby-boomers I am of the belief that we have a responsibility to be mentors to the generations behind us.

I have had over 60 years of personal experience of living with the gains begun by the likes of Rosa Parks and I believe I have a responsibility to share those. I have 45 years of experience playing the game by the rules laid out by a system of advocacy that was based on educate, participate, coordinate and anticipate while most of what I received was placate. I spend 40 years in that choir but as the generational chasm widens that choir has become tone deaf. They are still waging a war with paper while not knowing the technology of today.

I don’t want my legacy to be tons of reports buried in some bureaucrats filing cabinet (and yes they are that old that they are still paper files and not digitized) with no action really happening except for the breeze created by the pats on the head. The “In Unison” is over 20 years old and continues to collect dust in some filing cabinet while government continue build bureaucracy’s that can meet regularly to “strategize”. The time for strategizing should be over and we should be deep into action. So now I use the tools of today and focus my energy by sharing the knowledge I have gained over fifty years with the Jason’s of the world.

In closing to those who see social media as “just another fad” there is a scary reality to it. Something as simple as a TV show like Supergirl develops plots and storylines based on fear and bigotry. This season has been focused on the distrust and hate of those that are different. Now it is an analogy but the message is there. The CW TV series has a Twitter following of over 684,000 people with a demographic viewing audience between 18 and 40 (last season over 2.36 million viewers). That is a lot of influence. The ripple effect of social media is wide and can be very insidious when responsible people don’t help put it in context. Bigot’s are not born, they are nurtured. We all have a part to play in support of Jason’s tweet posted above. Mine is now to help bridge that generational divide as a way to keep the hate war from raging on. Where is your role in this?

That’s my Monday morning rant so let the week begin. Again in cheap self promotion if you like what your reading hit the donate button. Dignity doesn’t pay the bills but when enough people make something as small as a $3 donation it can go a long way to filling the pantry or wheelchair maintenance. Those supports you think are there are a myth…

Have a good one…

When Will We Learn, a Life Lesson

” A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots” – Marcus Garvey

I must admit this current measles outbreak has me a little concerned. What has me even more concerned is how quickly people forget the past and from what I have observed history seems to get lost after about one generation. Measles had been considered eradicated in North America in 2000 and here we are in 2019 with the largest epidemic since CDC declared it gone. History didn’t begin in 2000 and I have my own life lessons to recall. As a polio survivor (before the vaccine was even heard of) I was a very young child and I have a few very vivid memories which help me keep perspective these days. I want to share one so no kid ever has to go through this again.

Day 1 – The Spinal Tap

It was just a month following my third birthday.  I had been exhibiting signs of the flu for almost ten days and was getting increasingly sicker.  My mom had taken me to the doctor twice and each time been told if was just the flu. I was that little boy and I was three years old. I have very few memories of ever having walked but that day is one of the few.  I had started walking down the hallway between from my bedroom (a bedroom shared with two siblings) to the kitchen.  I was whimpering and telling my mother that I didn’t feel well when I collapsed.  I couldn’t get back up and I felt like crap. That was the last time I ever remember walking without crutches.

This particular day also holds one of the most vivid memories I have involving the early days of my adventures with polio.  My mom came running out of the kitchen to see what the problem was.  My siblings, both younger, were down for their nap.  At that time in my family I had one 6-year-old brother, a younger sister and an even younger brother.  Mom had three of us at that point less than three years old so it was no easy task to run off with a sick child.  My dad was at work. He was a streetcar driver in Winnipeg so one couldn’t just walk off the job.

I don’t know for sure but I suspect my aunt came over to take care of the other kids while my mother took me to the hospital.  She had called our family doctor and made arrangements to meet him at the hospital thereby eliminating the step of having to go through emergency.  After all there was a major polio epidemic happening in Winnipeg in 1953 so there was no sense in playing around with the idea of flu anymore.  I was only one of over 2300 reported cases in Manitoba in 1953.

Bar chart showing number of polio cases per province from 1927 to 1962

Winnipeg can be a very hot city in the summer and this was July 1 so it just compounded my fever. I remember being carried into the hospital hallway and feeling how cool it was compared to outside.  We wound up in some hallway somewhere.  I can still almost smell the antiseptic in the air. I was feverish but the hospital hallway was cool.  The floor was dark forest green linoleum and the walls were dull beige.  There were no windows so the hallways were rather dull and shadowed.  It was mid-afternoon so the lights hadn’t been turned on yet.  It is that same type of optic effect you experience when you drive from a sunny highway into a short tunnel.  It’s not really dark but it is not as bright as it was.  This was kind of nice because I do remember a headache and light sensitivity so the dullness was appreciated.

A nurse in a starched white uniform took me from my mother and carried me down to an examination room.  The nurse had removed my clothes and laid me on the exam table wearing only my underwear.  The exam table had dark brown Naugahyde upholstery and felt cool to my feverish skin.  There was a small table beside it with a silver metal tray on top of it covered with what appeared to be a towel.  I was sobbing more than crying and the nurse was doing her best to keep me calm.  I didn’t know where my mother had gone.  The nurse had also taken my temperature rectally using the thermometers’ that use to have mercury inside them.

When the doctor entered she mumbled a few things to him that were beyond the comprehension of a 3-year-old.  While he removed the cover from the metal tray next to the examination table the nurse unfolded a very starched and stiff green sheet.  It had a nicely stitched open square right in the middle which she positioned over the small of my back.  It really held little interest for me except it was cool to the skin when she placed it over me.  She had also position me so I was facing the wall on my side with my back to the doctor.  I had no idea what was going on but I did keep asking for my mother.

I had no idea what a spinal tap, medically known as a lumbar puncture, was or even that it was about to happen.  I do remember how cool it felt when the doctor used a gauze strip to wipe a red antiseptic over the lower part of my spine.  I later discovered it was called Mercurochrome and I would see a lot of that red stain in the next fifteen years.  At the time it just felt good because it was cool and I was quite feverish. I wasn’t quite sure why at that moment and I probably didn’t really give it much thought however the nurse leaned over, pushing her body against my upper torso, pinning me to the examination table and just started telling me to relax.  In that instant it felt like someone had driven a railroad spike into the small of my back.  I’m not sure what a railroad spike would really feel like but this pain just took me out of this world and into a realm I would wish on no one.  I screamed!

A picture of a large bore spinal syringe needle
1953 Large bore spinal tap needle

This was 1953.  The idea of flexible needles was still sometime in the future.  These were still the day where nurses carried little files and sharpened their needles.  All I know was that I had just been stabbed in the back with the equivalent of a railroad spike.  It probably didn’t last as long as I though however in my mind it went on forever while the nurse kept me from squirming with her body weight.  They had to drain as much spinal fluid as possible in order to get as much as the virus as they could.

I know my mother still talks about how she could hear me screaming from her seat at the other end of the hall.  She was in tears and there was nothing she could do about it.  I never did make it home that day while the person that had been never left that table.  I now mark July 1 as the birthday of the person I am today.  The person who was born May 31, 1950 ceased to be on that table.  Polio does that.

In closing this segment, no child should have to go through these things when a simple vaccination could help avoid. In 2017 the World Health Organization reported 110,000 deaths of children internationally due to measles. After a 20 year absence in North America how many deaths become acceptable because people have forgotten their history.

As usual if you liked what you read or found this to be a worthwhile life lesson then feel free to hit the donate button on the sidebar. Donations buy more food than dignity does and when it comes to my life lessons dignity is nice but it doesn’t pay the bills. Have a good one and please don’t ever underestimate your history…