The Precipice of Aging

The Precipice

For sixty years they had been wed,
In thirteen seconds they would be dead,
She is frail and oh so ill,
But to live without her he has no will.

Perching on the precipice high,
Holding her close with a smile they will die.

The love they have shared for all of these years,
Keeps them together shedding their tears,
He’s watched her strength drain from the illness inside,
But living without her he cannot abide.

Perching on the precipice high,
In love’s embrace they soon will both die.

He wrapped her warmly in her hand knitted shawl,
Then walked her slowly to the elevator stall,
From the fourth to the twelve the lift it did rise,
Then one flight of stairs to reach their demise.

Perching on the precipice high,
Hand in hand from a fall they will die.

Arm in arm to the edge they do walk,
Holding a gaze that held silent talk,
Just one final kiss that tasted so sweet,
To their death they did plunge on the dark silent street.

Lying all broken from precipice high,
Their love has transcended as their bodies do die.

Terry Wiens – Jan 2005

Summer is flying by faster than the speed I am able to get things done.  Life is like that, at 20 we think there is lots of time then all of a sudden fifty years has flown by and we start to realize how many of our agenda items are still waiting for our attention.  I have too many things left on my agenda that I have continually put off for time management sake.  What that “putting off” has taught me is that using time management as an excuse to avoid dealing with agenda items in the here and now leads to “crisis management” later in life.

As someone who has spend his life believing he was a social justice warrior I come down hard on myself when I see something I “put on the back-burner” having reach a crisis proportion.  Life can be crazy that way, we wait until we reach a crisis point and are forced to confront those issues we “tabled”.  We are now in the midst of that crisis and it has nothing to do with opioid’s.

The crisis I am referring to is the rising homelessness and suicide rates confronting the current generation of seniors.  I could provide an endless list of articles, news stories, reports and studies but I shouldn’t have to.  People just have to step outside their personal silo’s and open their eyes.  It’s all around us.  We shouldn’t have to be reading news headlines like those surrounding the Wettlaufer case or cases like Fran Flann (an 82 year old discharged from a Vancouver hospital to a homeless shelter) for us to recognize the crisis.  This has been going on for years.  We shouldn’t need private studies like the recent BC Seniors Poverty Report Card to understand the aging crisis.Continue reading “The Precipice of Aging”

Frame of Reference

I dozed off in my recliner last night, it’s a very comfortable chair, easy to doze off in but in bad need of some maintenance.  I woke up around 4:30 this morning and gave some thought to moving into the bedroom.  After glancing at my watch I just pulled the blanket up and went back to sleep.  By the time I would have dragged my butt into my wheelchair and moved to the bed I would have been too awake to really sleep but not awake enough to get up completely.  Woke up around 7 feeling great which gave me about an hour and a half of extra time.

For frame of reference, (had to get it in here somewhere) my old bed is just that, my OLD bed, most of the comfort disappeared years ago so it can take a little longer to roll my way out in the AM.  The recliner is proving to be a much more far reaching investment than I thought at the time of purchase.  Anyway I digress, so now I have my usual daily chores done (yes even at our age we have chores) and almost a free two extra hours.  It is raining and blowing like crazy out there so good time for some tunes and writing.   I have lots of ideas percolating so here’s one.  I will try and stay focused.

I have spend fifty years developing a career (which was very diversified), living in cities in every part of Canada, raising a family, paying taxes, doing things associated with ebb and flow of life but the one constant has always been my activism.  I have been involved in some form of community activism since the late 60’s and I continue that involvement to this day.  The issues may change (some even come back) but there will always be issues.  I’ve known a lot of very good advocates in my time so it is something I understand.  It has been my experience that the best advocates were those who could best find a middle ground, a solution where nobody had to lose.  In the last twenty years that middle ground has certainly shrunk.Continue reading “Frame of Reference”

Living in the Shadows

Shining the light on the dark recesses of the political mind!
Shining the light on the dark recesses of the political mind!

Franklin D. Roosevelt is credited with the saying “there is nothing to fear but fear itself”.   That statement was part of his inauguration speech in 1933.  And yet today we have a government that campaigns on fear and prejudice rather than good policy and the protection of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

And they do this by hiding it behind the argument of the #niqab, a face covering.  In reality what they are “covering” is their own dislike for the Charter both in and outside of Canada.  Jason Kenney is on record as blaming the UN Human Rights Convention as an impediment to stripping citizenship from others.

There is a certain irony in the timing of FDR’s quote regarding fear.  As I said it was during his inaugural speech in 1933, the same year the Republic of Germany introduced the “Malicious Practices Act“.  This piece of legislation also encouraged citizens to report on their neighbours.  The German government of the day used the Malicious Practices Act and a campaign of fear to whip the citizenry into a flurry of hate.   The introduction of this barbaric and racist piece of legislation was quickly followed up with a public relations campaign designed to demonize Jews, gays, communists and socialists.  Between March and April of that year over 10,000 victims were arrested, many of them just disappeared, after being reported by their neighbour.Continue reading “Living in the Shadows”

Day of Fast

CONFESSIONS– Today is a confession day and it is also a day of fasting.  I am not fasting for religious reasons or for protest reasons.  I am fasting out of necessity.  It saddens me to say it but that has become the new way of life for too many seniors in this country.  Despite numerous calls from other levels of government as well as community groups the Canadian government continues to ignore the need for a national seniors strategy.

The Canadian Medical Association has also launched a campaign in an attempt to get the federal government to at least begin a dialogue on establishing a strategy to no avail.  For details on that visit the Demand a Plan website and have your voice heard.  I find this particularly distressing since seniors now represent the fastest growing demographic to commit suicide.

I have spend the last two weeks running from pillar to post looking for some programs designed to help senior and, in particular, seniors living with a lifetime disability.  And all I hear is that my monthly income is to high.   For the record when everything is added up I have a before tax pension of $1674 per month but my monthly living costs (strictly controlled) is closer to $2000.

Accessible housing is very difficult to find and my current rent is now $890 per month.  The additional costs of wheelchair living, utilities, prescriptions, transportation (restricting my driving to less than 500 km/month = one tank of gas), groceries, telephone, etc add up quickly.  The one good thing is being debt free and no credit cards.  My car was paid off in 2012 so it’s only maintenance and insurance costs.  That still provides more freedom than public transit which isn’t always accessible.Continue reading “Day of Fast”

School’s Back In

School opened this week for most kids in BC and my grandson attended his first day.  It was 24 years ago that my son, the taller of the two, entered his first day of school.  It was the same year BC Education introduced a number of changes to how school worked.  One of the changes was duel entry.  Basically any child who turned five before the end of April began classes in January.  Anyone turning five after the end of April would start in September.  It didn’t really make any sense at the time and it was abandoned quickly (I believe it only lasted the one season).

twenty-five years after his dad started my grandson attended his first day of school
twenty-five years after his dad started my grandson attended his first day of school

Another big news event at the time was the disappearance of Michael Dunahee.  Michael was a four year old who just disappeared from a playground in the city of Victoria.

Needless to say there were a lot of concerned parents on the Island.  After all if a child could disappear right off a public playground and completely disappear ON AN ISLAND then parents had to be hyper vigilant.Continue reading “School’s Back In”

Re-imagining Healthcare

Confession, I must admit I was a little rattled to read about the health care costs being unsustainable with the advancing tsunami of seniors, not only on the horizon but lapping up the beach.  And let me tell you I can’t create a scarier picture than some all-inclusive resort filled with beaches of 70 year olds in Speedos.

I think, (therefor I am…to quote the Moody Blues) for the first time in my life I can actually say I come from a place of innocence.  I grew up in a time when health care was health CARE not health administration.

There is nothing more challenging than doing what everyone else says you can't as long as you can deal with the consequences!
There is nothing more challenging than doing what everyone else says you can’t as long as you can deal with the consequences!

I grew up in a time when nursing was a “calling” not a profession.  I grew up in a time when nursing students studied in hospitals and, in exchange for room and board (sometimes a stipend), they provided an inexpensive labour force.  And I say that with the greatest of respect.

I have never formerly studied healthcare but I have grown up in it.  By the time I was sixteen I had logged close to eight years in the Children’s Hospital.  My last discharge from the Children’s Hospital was in 1966 and straight into the hippy era of anti-war activism.  But that’s fodder for another day.  Suffice it to say I made a “positive transition” to “independent living” almost ten years before they even became concepts.Continue reading “Re-imagining Healthcare”

Life is a Beach!

I am sure everyone has heard the saying “Life is a beach” which is really a derivative of a much negative saying.  But somewhere along the line someone took the negativity out of the “life is a bitch” originating statement and turned it into a more positive.  I think that is a good thing.  My belief is that personal growth based on change is dependent on taking potentially negative situations and turning them into positive learning experiences.  Healthy change and personal growth is about moving forward with positivity.  The “life is a beach” saying is one of those examples.

Life is a beach folks enjoy the sand
Life is a beach folks enjoy the sand

I speak to many people regularly about positivity.  It is one of the ways I promote change.  What saddens me is that so many need to have this explained to them.  I often wonder what jaded them in the first place.

Anyway I like the beach analogy in many ways.  There is a certain irony in comparing my life to a beach but I do.  After all beaches are never very wheelchair friendly but a good beach certainly does look good.  But then the world isn’t really designed for wheelchairs so now is not the time to start getting picky.  Besides the view nothing can compare to the scent of a faint breeze carrying the freshness of the water and wafting gently across you.  Nothing is more calming.  Like change calmness often belies the vibrancy and business of what is really going on under the gentle waters.

I do have some favourite beaches I have discovered over my life time.  Like a good memory, I revisit them whenever the opportunity arises.  In fact I am in the process of moving back to Vancouver Island and will be able to see one of my favourite beach, Rathtrevor.  I love checking out the sand and watching the water ripple over the shore, carrying some sand away while often bringing new particles closer to the shoreline.  That is how change happens on a beach and I enjoy returning to my favourite beaches to see what has changed.  It is the subtle changes I like to look for.

As a promoter of change I liken myself to a grain of sand.  As a single grain of sand one will never push much change until you surround yourself with other grains, then you have a beach.  And as the saying goes “life is a beach” and that beach can stand up to the water trying to wash it away.  If it wasn’t for all of those other grains of sand surrounding you you would simply become a rock cluttered water way.  Nothing pretty about that.

In my earlier days, I think it is fair to say, I was more like a grain of sand on a piece of sand paper.  Rough, abrasive and not use to the finer aspects of change.  I just wore away at things.  That also wore away at me until I began to surround myself with other grains of sand who were more refined.  I was able to take the idealism of my youth and polish it with the wisdom of my maturity.  I became part of the beach.

Now life is like a beach in so many ways.  The lapping water does take some of those grains away with each splash.  Many of the grains of sand were people on my beach thirty years ago.  A number of them have been washed out to sea to find a new beach but new grains have shown up to take their place which is why life, like a beach, is continual change.  Every time you revisit it something has changed and you need to be ready for it.  It may be subtle but a change has occurred, that is the way of life and nature.  You need to open up for it rather than resist it, as long as it is positive.

Don’t try to hold back those grains of sands that are being washed out with the tide.  Enjoy those grains that surround you and keep the beach looking good.  By opening yourself to the change happening around you you will discover that “life is a beach” which is so much more enjoyable than living your “life is a bitch” philosophy.  Are you open for change?

Polio Diaries – Episode 4

Poster children like veterans should be more than photo ops!
Poster children like veterans should be more than photo ops!

I am going to switch gears today to discuss supportive alliances.  Polio survivors have had numerous alliances over the years and often the survivors were not even aware of them.  One of those alliances was in the form of the Canadian Paraplegic Association and by extension Canadian veterans.  Although formed to support returning WWII veterans with spinal cord injuries the Canadian Paraplegic Association became a major voice for polio survivors.

Prior to World War II there were few survivors of spinal cord injury (SCI); virtually all died shortly after injury.  Veterans who managed to survive the tragedy of combat during WWII returned to Canada to find a country with little to offer people with disabilities, except to perhaps languish in a veteran’s hospital or ill equipped nursing home.  The same changes attributed to the longevity of polio survivors also contributed to the successful survival of these vets.  Advancements in health care and technology.

The Canadian Paraplegic Association came about following World War II due to the high numbers of spinal cord injuries returning as veterans.  A group of veterans decided to take matters into their own hands to advocate for better conditions and opportunities for vets with spinal cord injuries.  In 1947 Harold Ballard offered free office space in the Toronto Maple Leaf Gardens to a group of veterans and the CPA was born.

Once the CPA had their foot in the door they began to become a voice for a wide range of individuals dealing with paraplegia and polio was one of those groups.  The connection between veterans and polio survivors was born shortly after the Korean War and the introduction of the polio vaccine.  That connection became a relationship that has existed for over 60 years so when I read about the federal government denying any “social contract” with vets I knew I had to speak up.

Social contracts are not new to the Government of Canada and denial of them is not new to the Conservative Party.  Paul Martin Senior, was the Liberal Minister for National Health and Welfare from 1946 to 1957.  He was also a polio survivor from 1907.  He spearheaded the introduction of the polio vaccine and sat as the honourary chair of the day for the March of Dimes.  His government entered into a “social contract” with polio survivors telling them they would never have to worry about supports from a monetary perspective.  In 1957 the Progressive Conservative under the leadership of Diefenbaker took power and began to back off from that agreement almost immediately.

This social contract was renewed and extended to survivors of the thalidomide debacle of the early 60’s.  Even though this drug had been pulled off the market in Europe and other countries due to birth defects the PC government of the day in Canada refused to act.  When the Liberals came back to power in 1963 they took up the cause and offered support to all of the babies who had been affected by this inaction by reopening the concept of the social contract.  There is a history of social contracts in Canada and sadly there is a history of the Conservative governments backing away from them.

There is a strong connection between Canadian veterans and polio survivors.  Most of todays polio survivors are children of veterans.  Most baby-boomers are.  My father was a veteran and support from the Canadian Legion played a big part of the financial support my father received due to their polio fund.  There is a strong connection between veterans and polio survivors which I will never forget.

So when I read how this government denies any social contract exists with our veterans I get angry.  When I see a $4 million ad telling Canadians really nothing except to promote the Conservative government I get angry.  This government can waste 4 million in tax dollars while shutting down veterans centre and eroding services to veterans makes me angry.  As someone who has spend a lifetime fighting for the rights of polio survivors I cannot sit back and let this go unchallenged.

I know how the issues facing veterans are dividing them.  This seems to be what this government does.  They use a very divisive approach which turns people against each other and I am seeing this in the veterans community.  I have also seen this approach work well with members of the community living with disabilities.  After all it is quite frightening to think you are biting the hand that feeds you.  With that said, when you are invited for a meal and upon arrival you are placed in the kitchen and given the scraps the hand isn’t really feeding you.

I will always support vets because they were always there for me.  They were always there for our country.  My dad, my uncles and so many others did not go to war because it was a hobby.  They went to fight for freedom and democracy.  We are now faced with the slow erosion of everything they fought, died and suffered for.  I cannot in good conscience sit back passively and let this type of behaviour continue.

I know @PatStogran  is trying to get one million followers on his Twitter account to show that Canadian believe in our vets.  Pat Stogran is continuing his battle for the rights of veterans and I would plead with everyone who reads my polio diaries to show your support by signing up to follow him.  After all if this government can deny our veterans what they deserve then why did we send them off to fight for democracy?

Just one man’s opinion!


Polio Diaries, Episode 3

Polio unit
The numbers were so high they required dormitories.

1953 saw the last of the major polio epidemics in North America.  In Canada that resulted in almost 9000 cases with over 500 deaths.  That was an 18% mortality rate and that figure climbs as high as 30% for adults.  The mortality rate isn’t as high anymore where polio still exists but then medicine has come a long way and the development of  antibiotics has made a major contribution.

Many of the deaths in those days were attributed more to infection than the actual polio.  In todays society the mortality rate should be zero.  With the vaccine there is absolutely no excuse for people to have to suffer the loss of loved ones due to the devastating disease.

The 1953 polio epidemic happened in the early days of penicillin.  In June 1942 there was just enough US penicillin available to treat ten patients.  Although it had been around many years it wasn’t until 1945 that mass production was started for the use of the general public.  Sulpha drugs were the antibiotic of choice then and they created a wide range of other issues.

As I had indicated earlier the high number of polio cases required dormitories, not hospital wards.  The numbers were just to high.  The sudden jump in numbers put huge strains on limited resources and many people just didn’t get treated.  This was also before the time of socialized medicine in Canada so it was a user pay process.

Following my initial diagnosis I spend almost a year in the King George Hospital.  By the time my fourth birthday came around I had spend a quarter of my early life in a hospital.  By the time I turned 16 that percentage had doubled but that is a story for later.

I never experienced any surgery in Winnipeg, that didn’t begin until my family moved us to Calgary.  In fact the move to Calgary was because the Junior Red Cross Crippled Children’s Hospital (now evolved into the Alberta Children’s Hospital) was offering free treatment to child survivors of polio.  It was to obtain treatment for me that my parents decided to uproot the family in 1957 and head for Calgary.  Again a tale for another time.  I did experience the treatment of the day in Winnipeg.  That involved stretching out the affected limbs to keep the tendons from contracting.

You could spend six months or longer in these
You could spend six months or longer in polio splints

That was either done with splints, a body frame or casting.  It was all dependent on the severity of the contractions going on.  And that was related to how much of the virus they were able to drain off from the spinal tap.  In my case it started with casting.  I don’t remember the cast very well but I can still feel the acrid taste of the ether in the back of my throat.  I also remember the gauze mask and I am reminded of it every time I use a strainer with cheese cloth.  The was the anesthetic of the day and it wasn’t uncommon to be accompanied with vomit.  I only have one memory of that and it is mainly olfactory but very vivid.

My parents were able to take me home for Christmas that year but on an out-patient basis and with casts on both legs.  My mother was seven months pregnant at the time with who was to be the fifth addition to the family.  That brother would be almost three months old by the time I came home again.  My only memory of that Christmas was my father carrying me home from a function down the street and him being sick.  My mom recently told me that I had asked him if he was breathing that “terrible smell” but in reality is was too much Christmas cheer.

Following my three day Christmas vacation I was returned to the King George.  It was shortly after my return that the hospital began to slowly practice the Sister Kenny approach to polio rehabilitation.  This approach revolutionized the approach to treating polio.  It also contributed to my aversion to the smell of wet wool to this day.  I will save that topic for my next little entry.

Let me close this one with a couple of quick thoughts.  First, I DO NOT have polio.  I live with the results of polio.  Polio is a virus that runs its course and then it is finished.  As a polio survivor you deal with the consequences of the virus which can be very diverse (from walking with a limp to living in an iron lung).  Telling me I have polio is like telling someone with an acquired disability due to a car accident that they live with the car accident.  They don’t, they live with the results and it is called paraplegia.  And second, in 1994 the North and South America’s were declared polio free by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.  Twenty years later this is no longer true.

There is no reason for children or adults to have to live with the threat of this devastating disease again.  Not when such a simple approach, the polio vaccine, exists.  As a polio survivor I don’t ever want to see the rise of this disease again.  I realize the avoidance of vaccines is a growing movement however every time someone refuses to vaccinate their child, they don’t only threaten their child’s health but they threaten the health of every child in the community.

Just one man’s opinion!



Independence Requires Freedom of Expression

I am not a journalist.  I am not a reporter.  I don’t work in the news industry.  Now that I have set the table I am a person who can look past a thirty second sound byte, check a few facts from different sources and make an informed opinion.  I am not constrained by the rules and regulations that the mainstream media (MSM) purports to adhere to.  I use the term purport because if you compare the ethical parameters used by different news agencies you will notice some extreme differences.

I think it is the marketing gene in me so I make a habit of checking a news story from the perspective of at least three MSM sources and often as many as six including international.  It is interesting to see how the biases come through when a group of people are using the same information.  However it can be understood when you look at how journalist who were once respected bend to ethical standards in order to make the news rather than report it.  I believe a prime example of this was when Mike Duffy criticized journalism schools, in particular the University of Kings College, for teaching Noam Chomsky and encouraging critical thinking.  God forbid people should use critical thinking.  Why bother with critical thinking when blind adherence to an ideology is so much easier!

Setting yourself apart, origin of picture unknown
Setting yourself apart, origin of picture unknown

One of the main problems with the use of critical thinking is that it can alienate one from people.  Our society has taken a direction where facts and truth are inconveniences.  They upset people.  They make people look beyond their backyard forcing them to recognize issues that upset them.  People who adopt critical thinking as a lifestyle rather than just a tool to use at work often find themselves quickly losing friends and acquaintances.  Acquaintances I can understand, it’s the loss of friends that can become disheartening but that is when critical thinking has to kick in.

If you are losing friends because of your search for truth then the friendship was really shallow to begin with.  Being informed and being popular do not necessarily mix.  They should but it has been my experience that it results the same way when mixing oil and vinegar.  Initially the mixture goes fine but after a few minutes they separate and you are back to the oil floating on top of the vinegar.

One of the necessities to using critical thinking effectively is the need to have enough information to use the skill properly.  It is easy to say the oil will float on the vinegar but it takes more knowledge to understand why that happens.  If you do not know that the oil is denser than vinegar you have no idea why this happens.  Operating on limited information is one of the reasons an ideology can be so effective.  Keeping the masses dumbed down is an effective way to suppress freedom of expression.  Freedom of expression without facts is nothing more the ideological rhetoric.  People don’t even question it because it means fact checking.

Then there is another layer of information.  Knowing that the oil is denser than vinegar does not necessarily give you all of the answers.  Discovering that the density affects the weight of the oil or vinegar goes a long way in understanding why the oil floats on top of the water.  People are much more comfortable just accepting something because they recall hearing that somewhere.  They don’t really want to take the time to find the details to substantiate the message.  Oil floats, it’s a given but when asked why most people can only supply limited reason as to why.  They have given up on critical thinking and that mind set is a contributor to the abandonment of freedom of expression.

Having grown up with a physical disability I spend the first sixteen years of my life dependent, not on my parents ideology, but on the ideology of society.  That is what happens when you grow up in an institution like a children’s hospital.  To enter the real world and break away from that dependence requires a bit of a creative rebel.

When you live in a world that wasn’t designed for people outside the norm you either become innovative or dependent.  Being dependent is easy but not always fulfilling.  Being independent requires innovative and solutions base problem solving abilities.  The essence of innovation is critical thinking.  It has become second nature to me.  I have no problems expressing my beliefs even when it does alienates me.  I had a choice, I could chose to alienate myself because society said I was disabled or I can alienate myself by challenging peoples belief.  Deciding to be truly independent means challenging other peoples belief.  When you challenge peoples belief you are not always be popular but you will be well informed.

So as I began by saying, I am not a journalist or a reporter.  However I am a person who believes strongly in freedom of expression.  I believe any true democracy is dependent on freedom of expression (in conjunction with a number of other freedoms).  Critical thinking is a major contributor in differentiating between expression and rhetoric.  It’s the difference between thinking for ourselves or riding on the band wagon of the ideology of others.

Just one man’s opinion!