Hodge-Podge and Little Things

“Eclectic yet classic with a playful bohemian twist is how I would describe my style” – Alice Temperley   

I will borrow Alice’s quote posted above to kick off this little write up.  It’s five o’clock in the morning and I’ve been awake since 4:30.  It is not uncommon for me to wake up once or twice a night but that is generally to deal with one of those aging things (increased nightly urination bouts) or to reposition from an uncomfortable position.  However I generally get back to sleep quickly.  I am not one to toss and turn for a long time before I get out of bed.  I find it mentally frustrating and that is what was happening tonight.

The sky is still dark and one of the things about living 3500 feet above sea level is longer sun days.  Usually, this time of year morning light comes early.  However we are 6 weeks into the summer solstice and have begun the slow crawl towards the fall equinox so later sun rises can be expected.  I’ve been up almost an hour and the blue is (actually a little grey) just starting to appear in the sky.  May be an overcast day, I haven’t checked the weather yet.

Two potential culprits to be awake this early: 1. my chronophysiology needs adjusting or 2. the tautness of my shoulders are at a level of discomfort that is counterproductive to restful sleep.  Years ago, when I was doing some sleep therapy, I often had to explain chronophysiology to my patients and how it impacted their circadian rhythm.

This changes as we age and often we have to adjust our body clock.  It’s like a personal leap year, adding an extra day to realign time.  Very few people function on the traditional 24 hour clock we are so use to.  Some are on an 18 or 20 hour system, others a 22 hour system but very few people actually have a body clock that matches up to our traditional concept of a 24 hour day.  Every now and then we have to reset that clock which may mean a change in sleeping patterns for a night or two.  Just a scientific tidbit however I don’t want to bore you with science so lets to get to the meat of my early morning tirade. It is now 6AM and the sky is bright enough that I could probably turn off my computer desk lamp if I wanted but I might still stumble on the keyboard so I’ll keep it on.

The second options is my shoulders.  The rotator cuffs in my shoulders are so shredded from years of misuse that I almost have Popeye arms.  I have tendons that are bunched up more around my elbows and forearms than my shoulders.  I notice this more when I have a lot of running around to do and have to transfer my wheelchair in and out of my car repeatedly.  The video below should help you understand what I mean by transferring my wheelchair into my car and the impact on, primarily, my left shoulder.

The parents of a 19 year old wheelchair user had asked me if I could teach their son how to go about learning techniques so he could get his drivers licence (another small thing, try and find a driving program that has hand-controlled cars).  So I had a friend help me make a short YouTube video on one way to load your chair into your car (I don’t use a transfer board).  The more things we learn to do for ourselves the less dependent we are on others.  However the more transfers I make into my car the more my shoulder reacts.  That is the one this morning with shoulders/arms very taunt and feeling like what I imagine an out of tune piano chord would feel like.  Continue reading

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Chapter 1 – Part 2, The Foundation

Let It Come
Lying alone in your solitary bed,
The arrival of death you do not dread,
You’ve lived a different but confusing life,
Accepting pleasure and the occasional strife,
And had such joy with your now dead wife.

You are alone and feeling ready,
Your soul is clean and your mind is steady,
You have behind you so many years,
Death does nothing to raise your fears,
For your passing on there will be tears.

Those who love know it’s time,
Awaiting fate to ring its chime,
So let the Reaper creep down the hall,
You have no fear of him at all,
From life’s sweet breast you now must fall.

Terry Wiens – March 2005

I began this chapter with what I consider to be my introduction to the outside world based on my first personal experience to the Calgary Stampede at age 12.  That age was really my coming out in the world.  Prior to that my existence had mainly been in a protected medical environment focused on physical development with little thought to cognitive development.  All of those developmental milestones we have come to understand following the introduction of Dr. Spock (and for the trekkie fans this is Dr. Spock, not Mr. Spock) theory’s of childhood development were unintentionally nurtured in a garden tended by nurses.

I raise this due to the fact that the blossoming of my limbic system took place in a very control environment, an institution for polio survivors known as the Alberta Children’s Hospital.  My adolescent years, that period in your development where logic and respect for consequences, are based on the recognition of risk factors took place in a protected environment.  I never had to look at risk factors since they were managed by others.  Something as simple as teaching your child not to bolt across the street before looking both ways was, in fact, introducing risk management concepts to the foundations of belief.  These were seeds never planted in a hospital environment.

My adventures as a twelve year old was like taking a newly opened flower from the greenhouse then dumping it in the wilds to let nature have its way.  You went from nurture to nature quickly with a very distorted concept of risk.  Risk, for me, was epitomized by a surgical suite, not a behavioural action.  I had no concept of personal risk formed by childhood memories.  My understanding of risk came much later in life based on action and consequences.

That brings me to the second concept I wanted to discuss today, memories.  Needless to say growing up in a hospital memories take on a very different look.  I recently read a study regarding early memories and what they are calling “childhood amnesia“.  I can relate to that due to the large holes of time I have in my own memory banks.  I also differentiate between childhood “realizations” and memories.  To me a memory is something that is very clear in my mind and generally triggered by some tactile or olfactory reaction.

A memory is an event.  A realization, on the other hand, is the culmination of a variety of memories that contribute to a belief system.

My one memory of pleasure was as a two year old “walking” through a path of snow higher than I was to get to the outhouse (no indoor plumbing then).  I suspect I hold onto that particular memory because it is the one memory of actually walking before I contracted polio.

I have very few memories of the 1953 move to Winnipeg or much of the four years spend  following that move.  I do have a vivid memory of my spinal tap.  I was just a month past my third birthday.  I can even smell the antiseptic nature of the examination room.  They say memories created by tragedy are the ones we retain the most but also the one’s we tend to modify the most.

I recall how dim and dreary the hospital hallway was despite a warm sunny June day outside.  Olive green was a popular hospital colour back then and those are the colours I remember.  I was put on a rigid wooden examination table padded with the usual Naugahyde covering of the day with cotton stuffing by my mother who was then asked to leave the room.  The nurse, after removing my clothing, brought out a rectangular green, crisp sheet to cover me. It was stiff with starch, cool against the skin and hemmed all the way around with a three by three hemmed square in the middle.

The doctor had laid me on my stomach.  I was crying, in part, because I felt like shit and, in part, because my mother had left the room. I laid there, sobbing, feeling the coolness of this sheet being spread over me. A nurse was holding my hand attempting to comfort me while I stared, through misty vision, at a cold sterile tray holding a large syringe, some gauze and a bottle rubbing alcohol although I had no idea what they were. The crisp sheet was placed over me with the open square over the small of my back and I felt a coldness being rubbed over that area. I saw the doctor’s hand reach for the syringe while he told me to be very still. Continue reading

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The Awakening

Alphabet of Despair

Abandoned by friends,
Abandoned by wife,
Abandoned by children,
Abandoned by life.

Betrayed by his feelings,
Betrayed by his drive,
Betrayed by his body,
Betrayed can’t survive.

Captured by torture,
Captured by loss,
Captured by drugs,
Captured by sauce.

Destroyed by his blindness,
Destroyed by his lust,
Destroyed by his ignorance,
Destroyed he is dust.

Ended by sorrow,
Ended by grief,
Ended by loneliness,
Ended life brief.

Terry Wiens – March 2005

CONFESSION – When you have two cups of water in the pot and it’s boiling while you are Googling how to get the buffering agent out of prescription analgesics you start to realize what depression is.   That’s the moment of awareness that successful suicides miss.  I’m not sure if I was lucky, insightful or too stubborn to succumb.  That’s how deeply I was mired in my depression while maintaining the facade that everything was fine.  I was teetering on that balance beam of other people perspectives while trying to live my life based on their expectations of what I should be.

The short-term pain of accepting a truth is much better than the long term pain of believing an illusion

The truth will change your path…or kill you, your choice

I had become so adept at fooling people about my own feelings I was now convincing myself that what I was doing was “normal”.  I couldn’t see the truth let alone accept it.  It took a combination of events and the recognition of a good friend to really shake me out of the illusion I was living.  I was one cocktail of prescriptions away from accepting the illusion.

I have a lifetime of compartmentalizing myself to make things work for whatever situation I was in.  I had never really put the sum of all my parts together into one package.  I have had that idea floating in the distance mist of my beliefs for many years but it was always one of those periphery types of things.  When you tried to look directly at it, it wasn’t there.  A prime example of this was Allan and Terry.

All the years I worked in psychiatry I used my middle name, Allan.  The only place Allan really existed was in my career as a mental health therapist and came into existence in 1976.  At the end of each work day Terry reemerged.  People that knew me in those days could attest to the difference between Allan and Terry.  I had nicely split those two entities and it worked well for me for many years.  This may sound a little esoteric however Allan had always walked on crutches and was never encumbered with access issues.  He was accepted for a whole world of different reasons.  He ceased to exist in 1990 but there were ghosts of his insights buried in the clippings of my belief system. Continue reading

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Memory’s of the Poster Child – Chapter 1

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom” – Aristotle

Black and white picture of the television cowboy hero, the Cisco Kid

The Stampede brought a lot of famous television cowboys to the Alberta Children’s Hospital

We were children.  We weren’t crippled, handicapped or disabled kids, we were children.  Simple as that.  Yes we lived in a hospital (or institution), whatever descriptor you want to use, but we were children first.  We spend the year attending school in the hospital, we were all scouts, cubs, guides or brownies.  We did arts and crafts weekly, had the movies brought in and as we became teenager we had Saturday night dances in the solarium.  We did all of this while being children first.

Morning physio or after school physio was like attending before school athletics or after school activities like the school band practice but we were children first.  When summer hit many of us got to go to our familial homes but just as many stayed in the hospital for further surgeries or services particularly if you were a rural kid.  Traveling back and forth for physio or some out-patient (not that there were out-patient programs back then) was next to impossible so you stayed in the hospital.  Cities were not designed for the disabled let alone small town Alberta (or Canada for that matter).

WW2 veterans began the push for inclusivity (of a sorts) as a way for them to reenter society.  A form of the community activism these veterans had fought a war for and the polio kids would eventually reaped the benefits of.  The vast number of polio survivors would just add to the demand.

As school wound down in June plans for the summer would begin.  The week of the Calgary Stampede was the highlight of the summer.  It began on Parade Day.  It was a simpler time, less regulations and more direct involvement.  This was a time when it was quite acceptable to load the kids from the Children’s Hospital onto the back of a flatbed truck (beds and all) then drive us slowly down 17th Avenue, north on 11th Street and eventually parked in front of the Calgary Armoury.  The canvas walled tarps would be removed and we would enjoy the Parade.  It wasn’t until years later that I began to realize the symbolism of almost being a Parade exhibit without actually being in the Parade.

The following week would be filled with visit from Stampede dignitaries.  The royalty of the TV series westerns.  And, in some cases, was actual royalty.  The importance of being visited by Queen Elizabeth (1959) and having my picture taken with her was lost on a 9 year old who had a similar picture taken with the Cisco Kid the year before.  I was more excited over the anticipated visit of the television western star Marshall Bat Masterson.  I didn’t even know who Bing Crosby was when he came around.  My focus was the Roy Roger’s, Gene Audrey, Wild Bill Hickok or the Lone Ranger.  These were the characters we watched on the limited amount of black and white TV time we had.

These were the hero’s of our times.  So it is no wonder when you look back at the influence of TV that you really begin to understand how deeply the concept of the gun culture is buried in the psyche of every baby-boomer.  The Walt Disney classic “Old Yeller” brought tears to millions when the family gun is used to shoot the beloved pet.  But these were our hero’s and in the hospital we waited with baited breath to see which “cowboy” would show up during Stampede. Continue reading

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Redefining Social Justice – Part 2, Knowing Your Place is Not Knowing your Role

“Never fry bacon wearing a tank top on while sitting in a wheelchair” – Ancient Chinese Proverb

I have always considered myself a political “centrist”.  There isn’t a political party that hasn’t presented a few platform I agree with and others I don’t.  But that is alright, that is what makes me a centrist and that is what democracy is about.  The one ideology I adhere to is my commitment to social justice.  My role and my place are consistent on that one.  I may not always agree with someones beliefs but I will always defend their right to express it as long as it doesn’t involve violence.  If it can’t be settled in a peaceful means, even if that involves agreeing to disagree, then it’s a form of fascism and we are starting to see too much of that in this new evolving political environment.

A common theme among my centrist friends is the diversity of their background and they have all lived in different areas of our great country.  They have moved around enough to recognize the wide range of cultures in Canada.  That type of diversity breeds centrists, it is hard to get locked into one ideology when you have experienced so many others.  It’s much easier to become entrenched with only one way to do something when you have never been more than 200 KM away from your roots.

I was born in Manitoba, grew up in Calgary, have lived and worked in Toronto, Vancouver as well as Vancouver Island.  I lived and partied in Montreal for a year before I had to admit that my lack of French would keep me from ever finding work so it was off to Toronto.  Each and every time I gravitated back to Calgary.  Now I am back in Calgary and I am becoming increasingly aware of the shrinking centre.  I believe (and this belief is re-enforced by my like-minded peers) that one’s commitment to being a centrist is directly proportional to their experience and exposure to other areas of Canada.

Without purposely trying to insult anyone, while firmly hammering the message home, anyone who believes all of Canada is alike probably has someone wiping the drool off their lower lip.  Canada is a vast and diverse country.  Each area is unique while having it’s own issues that require solutions tailored to that culture.  This is what makes centrists so important in our community.  They relate to solutions and not ideology.

Over the last fifteen years I’ve come to the conclusion that the centre isn’t really shrinking but has more to do with the right and left swinging so far in their own directions that the centre is stretched tighter than a Mae West face lift.  And we have political parties that feed on that.

Picture of Guy Fox mask with caption

Why is it so much easier to choose ignorance rather than accept fact…

Remaining uninformed on details allows the justification of personal ideologies over what is best for society as a whole.  We have a political system that has sunk to the point where politicians think they are speaking for the people while being advised by a bureaucratic buffer zone.  A bureaucracy that is more about self preservation than citizen representation.  And since it has little direct impact on many of these life’s it is more comfortable to remain uninformed.

When you throw in a new demographic that really doesn’t understand civics, the erosion of democracy begins.  When a bureaucracy will spend $15,000 on an appeal to keep a family from receiving $2000 in speech therapy for their special needs child, that’s not democracy, that’s not social justice, that’s a bureaucrats control issue.  The centrists I know tend to be more focused on social justice than bureaucratic control while many on the fringe prefer not to know.

Social justice is not something that is just given, it has to be fought for and defended continually.  That absence of knowledge or worse, the desire not to know, makes social justice (and by extension democracy) very difficult to maintain.  One gets tired of fighting and thats where allies come in.  The maintenance of social justice requires informed allies otherwise you just become a “special interest case” and you become “white noise“.  Continue reading

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Redefining Social Justice – Part 1 Convergence

“When you are fighting for social justice, one of my biggest pet peeves is speaking out of ignorance” – Eva Longoria 

I have spend a life-time as an activist and an advocate for social justice.  In that time I have also worked, maintained a career, raised a family and accomplished all of this with a life-long disability.  I am one of many baby-boomer polio survivors.  Next to the WW2 veterans, the polio survivors were probably the largest disabled group to integrate back into the community.

What makes this extraordinary is that it occurred spontaneously driven solely by an ingrained sense of social justice held by so many that had fought in the wars for democracy.  The policies and regulations that promoted inclusion didn’t really start until the activists of the 70’s and 80’s pushed for them.  Prior to 1972, the same year the Alberta government finally repealed their Draconian Sexual Sterilization Act, those who didn’t assimilate faced a life time of institutionalization.  The activism generated by the anti-Vietnam war movements changed all of that.

So to many of my generation, this isn’t ancient history, it is personal experiences.  It wasn’t until I read a fascinating set of articles by Arti Patel and Maham Abedi focused on Generation Z that I really took a hard look at the changing faces of activism.  The days of the activists like Robin Cavendish are now history and we have a new tool box that many of my generation don’t understand but are second nature to Gen Z members.  Activists of times gone by now have to assume the mantle of mentors for the committed of today.

I did see this coming but ignored it.  Twenty years ago, in 1998 actually, Global New Vancouver introduced a new news function, instant feedback to news stories through e-mails.  The beginnings of a community based social media program and the same time Generation Z kids were entering kindergarten.  These seemingly innocuous events would have a ripple effect that is being felt today. Continue reading

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The Baron’s of the Badlands

“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self” – May Sarton

I love good writers, poets and story tellers so to be able to open with a quote by May Sarton (also an outspoken activists on gay rights years before its time) is a good omen.  I can’t take anymore media coverage regarding #ChildrenInCages, I now need to tune out the world news and maybe just do some writing.

Here it is, 5:30AM, I’m wide awake, out of bed so it’s time to hit the keyboard.  We just past the summer equinox and the sun should be out however it is stuck behind a thick blanket of clouds and the occasional downpour.  There is a pleasant aroma to summer rains on the prairies but they are also harbinger of severe lightening and wind storms.  We need the rain, we don’t need the lightening or accompanying winds.  Right now there is a light rain with a gentle wind so I have my balcony door open to enjoy the aroma.  As I write I also watch as the two black squirrels in the alleyway begin their daily back and forth along the power lines.

Last week I watched the season finale of “Into the Badlands” and felt a small tinge of loneliness.  That loneliness comes from the realization that a void of time will now exist which will need to be filled with something.  It may not sound like much to many of you but every four or five hours I have to get out of my wheelchair for awhile, hence my recliner.  Rather than sit there and stare at nothingness I watch certain TV programs.  I tend to favour shows like Into the Badlands because, like Game of Thrones, it uses fantasy to reflect some realities of life.  So in keeping with the theme of my last post, “The Fiefdom of Bureaucracy“, I would like to continue by using the theme of the Badlands.

I completed my resettlement quest this week and, despite the shortage of master healers in the fiefdom of Calgary, I was able to find a good one I hope.  Portent signs for that hope include her Irish heritage.  I have an affection for many things Irish.  It began with my fascination with druids and their impact on the Irish culture.  That dates back to 750 AD (their history, not my affection).  The Irish Druid played a major role in the development of medicine, laws and early democracy so Dr. Kelly has some favourable heritage qualities.  For those interested I would suggest giving “Táin Bó Cúailnge” a read for an interesting background.

The philosophy of The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids

The philosophy of The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids

My love and fascination for the Irish druid aside a couple of other positive omens were, she is considerably younger than myself so it should be safe to assume she will be my doctor for what is left of my life.  That’s important.  She is also mature (and insightful) enough to understand the importance of being a prefecture for the new initiates of the medical profession.  This was also the role of Doc Cloud, Ankara and Vitania, all healer/teachers in the Badlands.  During my introductory meeting with Doctor Kelly she acknowledged the up-to-date influence of the symbiotic relationship a teaching environment creates.  She is quite open to new ideas and procedures introduced by her initiates .

Her clinic is part of the Alberta Health care system’s adoption of the “Primary Health Care” team approach.  She may be my primary health care provider but it is just as likely for me to see one of her “clerks”, “residents” or “interns”.  All fit a role in the health care environment.  Having grown up in the health care system and then working for fifteen years in the system I know enough about how it works to have some appreciation for this approach.

This same approach is used for the training of healers in the series I opened with “Into the Badlands” but a major component of that health care approach is the poppy fields, which is what helps keep the Baron’s wealthy but I will get back to that. Continue reading

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