Saturday, 30 November 2013

10,000 Hits

At some point over the last couple of weeks, I reached 10,000 hits on my blog, almost exactly two years since I posted my first.  My first post was about Kate's Stage IV breast cancer diagnosis and, somewhat coincidentally the post that put me over the 10,000 mark was also about Kate's health

I'm curious about why reaching this milestone took so long.  Kate's, two blogs (Jim's Girl Family History Blog and  Kate Has Cancer) for example, took far less time to reach and surpass 10,000.  Kate has argued that her blogs are directed at specific audiences or communities (i.e. genealogists and cancer patients) where mine is more general in nature, which is a good point.  Some other issues I recognize:

  • I have to admit that in reading over my previous posts, the writing is not always great.  In part, this is because I am a bit of an impatient self-editor.  I just wrote the damn thing, why the hell would I now want to go read it? 
  • my blog page is  not very visually stimulating (another topic I blogged about, but I never really did anything about, in part because I'm not terribly good at technology);  
  • I have also been a bit of an inconsistent blogger.  Struggling with depression and anxiety certainly drains a person of motivation, and coping with Kate's cancer takes a lot of time;
  • I'm not great at the self-marketing thing.  I post links to my blog on Facebook and that's about it.  To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what else I can do.  I understand that reading other blogs and leaving comments there can generate traffic, but I haven't found a lot of blogs I enjoy and so only follow maybe three religiously and one of those only in the past month or so.)
  • And, maybe, if I set my ego aside, I'm just not terribly interesting.   Gulp.
In any case - and although this post may bely the following words - I'm not all about the page hits anymore.  I was once, but I keep coming back to why I started the blog:  to keep my mind from decaying while I was off work and to slow the erosion of my writing skills.  Having said all that, I am somewhat motivated to improve the overall quality of my writing and my blog.  So, hopefully, slowly I will be able to address some of the points I list above.  I read part of a book recently about craftsmanship.  One of the author's principal arguments was that craftsmanship is too often associated with manual pursuits when it can in fact be attached to any work.  The defining characteristic of craft, he argues, is that people undertake the work for the sake of the work alone and strive continuously for mastery as an end in and of itself.  So, I will continue to write this blog in that spirit.


In general, when I re-read my blog posts, usually months after I wrote them, I am not very happy with the result.  Some, though, were fun to write and had some meaning for me.  Here are my five favourites:

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Retail Blues

I really don't like shopping.  I don't like the crowds; I don't like waiting in lines and, maybe most importantly I feel like most stores take my business for granted.  Why else would they hire inattentive, rude and often useless employees?  A case to illustrate my point:  just a couple of nights ago I went to a local Shopper's Drug Mart to pick up a couple of things.  I brought my items to the cash where two twenty-somethings were manning the tills and the guy "serving" me (as opposed to "servicing" me, which would be a whole different and weird ball of wax) barely acknowledged my presence and kept riveted to his vapid faux-blonde colleague's banal chatter:  "This restaurant is, like, called the Farm Team something?  It's in the Glebe?"

He tried multiple times to scan the items without looking, contributing the odd, pithy nugget to the conversation:  "Really?  Like, what kinda food do they serve?"  Finally, everything rung up, he glanced at the screen and deigned the briefest glance in my direction:  "$9.56" and held his hand out while redirecting his attention to his ditsy colleague.  I left the store shaking my head, wishing this was an isolated incident.  I remember a similar situation at our Loblaws, two young lads speaking to each other, right past me and my then nine-year-old girl about some "bitch" one or the other of them picked up at some party.  I really wanted to complain to a manager about that one, but alas, I was in too much of a hurry.

So many stores don't bother to educate or train their staff in the products they sell.  Canadian Tire, at least outside its automotive department, is particularly bad.  I remember buying a wheelbarrow there once, one with two wheels, and asked the pimply adolescent serving me what the benefit of two wheels might be - more a test than because I didn't know - and he looked at me like I had asked to solve Fermat's last theorem.  To make me think even darker thoughts, I got home and found that the two boxes the wheelbarrow came in contained parts for two completely different products.  And don't get me started about the big sporting goods stores - when they try to offer advice, especially with shoes, it's usually wrong.

I have many other pet peeves, but I don't want to be entirely negative.  Lee Valley Tools, which I have raved about in a previous post,  is good example.  Knowledgeable and friendly staff, the company stands behind the products it sells with a generous return policy.  Twice in the past year I've actually had a staff member try to talk me out of buying their products:  the first a tool sharpening jig and the second an after-market mitre gauge for my table saw ("well, if you're going to buy it, try it for a couple of weeks and if you don't think it was worth it, bring it back.")

Also, recently we had a great experience with Kiddy Kobbler here in Ottawa.  While we waited for someone to help us, we browsed the shop and picked out a number of running shoes - for actual running - that our daughter, Lena, might like to try.  Finally, someone came to help us.  A delightful young woman with rainbow coloured hair first measured Lena's feet and listened as we explained what we needed.  She went off to the back and came back with three or four shoeboxes.  None of the shoes were the ones Lena was particularly interested in so we asked if we try on the other two pairs.  The sales rep grudgingly agreed, though she commented, politely, that she was pretty sure they wouldn't suit Lena's needs because they would likely be two wide and wouldn't perform well give the size and shape of Lena's feet.  Sure enough Lena didn't find either pair very comfortable, but she found a very comfortable shoe among the options originally brought.  In a later Facebook exchange with the store's owner/manager, he explained that his staff are trained extensively on the products they sell and on how to "read" kids' feet and they are always evaluating customer feedback to help decide which products to carry or discontinue.

Anyway, this has been on mind in part because Christmas shopping season is upon us - crowds will be getting larger, parking lots will be getting crammed, stress will be getting higher and frustration will be boiling over and I just wish something would make it all more pleasant.  Would love to hear your own exceptional adventures with retail - positive or not.

Well, into the breach and all that....Happy Shopping everyone.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Kate's Ongoing Health Adventures

A couple of weeks ago, on a Saturday evening, Kate and her mom returned from a trip.  I picked them up at the train station and both were tired, but in good spirits.  Sunday morning, Kate started feeling a little under the weather - vomiting, chills and coughing.  By Wednesday evening, she was delirious, incoherent and clearly hypoxic with blue-tinged lips and eyelids.  She had brought our ten-year-old daughter to bed and fallen asleep beside her.  I woke her up and we moved to the adjacent bedroom, where I tried speaking with her.  She was making absolutely no sense and was having trouble answering simple arithmetic questions.  Then she realized she had taken a double dose of the medication she is taking for issues related to her cancer, including an opiate for pain.

I was very concerned, and Lena was terrified despite Kate's slurred assurances that she would be fine.  Finally, Lena and I insisted on taking her to the hospital.  When we arrived we went directly to ER nurse's station.  I could sense a bit of hostility from the triage nurse and could imagine her thinking "They came to the ER for a cold?".  The nurse took Kate's vitals and I could see the concern sweep over her face - her heart was racing, her blood pressure was very low and her oxygen saturation was at a scary 75%.  She told us that Kate likely had an infection that had gone septic (entered her bloodstream).  Seeing how terrified Lena was, she suggested we stay in the waiting room while Kate was brought back to be hooked up to oxygen and fluids.  Once that was done, Kate would look a bit better and hopefully be more lucid.  Then I could bring Lena back to see her mom in a better state and that would calm her down.  This was the first of many acts of kindness we would experience that night.

Indeed, we brought Lena back and she kissed her mom and had a few words with her and she heard the doctor, Dr. Caytak, tell me that Kate had pneumonia that likely went septic but that she was being treated with powerful antibiotics and fluids and would be fine.  Eventually, the nurses and doctors convinced me to take our daughter to my in-laws, which I did.

When I returned to the hospital about an hour later, I walked into Kate's room and she seemed to be sleeping fitfully.  A few minutes later, a doctor from Medical Oncology came in wanting to examine her.  He tried waking her up, first calling her name, then gently shaking her.  She would not awaken.  The doctor became more insistent:  yelling in her ear, shaking her vigourously, jabbing her sharply in her feet with his pen and pressing very hard on her finger nail with his pen and finally shining his penlight into her eyes.  He told me:  "This is very concerning" and rushed out to consult with the ER doctor.  Dr. Caytak showed up, staying in the doorway looking from Kate to the monitor that was tracking her vital signs.   Then all hell broke loose.

The doctor yelled, "She's going into respiratory collapse!" and he called to an orderly to come bring her to the Resuscitation Area.  The orderly sauntered toward the room and the doctor yelled "Hurry!  Hurry!"  The orderly ran in and rushed her down the hall towards resuscitation and every doctor and nurse on the floor exited right behind them.

"Hysterical" isn't a very flattering word to describe someone's state of mind, but that's exactly what I was.  In that moment I thought my wife was going to die.  I was sobbing and begging for her to live, for the doctors and nurses to save her life.  I couldn't get my head around being without her.  I couldn't imagine how I would tell our beautiful, sweet little girl, who just an hour earlier heard the doctor say "She'll be fine", that her mommy passed away.

A nurse named Dan came out and started to try to talk me down, explaining that they were getting ready to intubate her and put her on a respirator and that she was surrounded by a very professional team that was well trained and equipped to deal with the situation.  He spent maybe five minutes with me, but I'll never forget him and the enormous gratitude I felt for him giving me that faint bit of hope.

Several minutes later, the medical oncologist, Dr. Holmes, I believe, came out to say that as they were preparing to intubate her, Kate awoke from her slumber (wondering, she would later tell me, what the hell was going on and why was everyone standing around her like that) and was talking.  I was able to see her, still sobbing, and eventually they returned her to her room. 

I don't remember who explained to me what had happened or when they told me, but here's the story:  When Dr. Caytak returned with Dr. Holmes to Kate's room and witnessed his failed attempts to arouse her from her sleep he saw that her blood pressure and respiratory rate were dropping - essentially they feared she was about to stop being able to breath on her own.  They explained that her septic infection lowered her blood pressure and respiratory rates to an already low level.  Then someone realized that among the drugs she had doubled up on in her delirium was a long-lasting opiate called dilauded and when that started kicking in, her vitals started declining even more.  Once they realized this, they were able to counteract the effects with an anti-narcotic medication called Narcan and her vital signs stabilized.

The next several hours were very stressful:  her blood pressure and respiratory rate remained low and here heart rate fast, but they were stable and eventually began to improve. Kate was eventually moved to a part of the hospital called the Acute Monitoring Area, where her vital signs could be monitored continuously.  After a day or so there, she was released to the General Medicine ward and was eventually released the Saturday after we first took her to the hospital.  Unfortunately, the day after she was released, she was feeling worse and had to be readmitted.  Finally, just yesterday, eight days after we rushed her to the hospital, she was again discharged, hopefully for good this time.  Though her recovery from the pneumonia will likely be long, she is feeling much better than she did even two days ago. 

As an added bonus, now that she's home again, she can work on all the dishes and laundry that have piled up for the last eight days.


So many people to thank.  I was really impressed by the care Kate and I got at the hospital.  I don't know the name of the triage nurse who saw her first, but she along with the Nurse-in-Charge, Bonnie, got Kate in to see a doctor right away and showed tremendous compassion towards one very scared little girl.  I cannot say enough about Drs. Caytak of the ER, Holmes of Medical Oncology, Sun of General Medicine.  Kate's nurse that first night in Emergent Care, Anny, was just the type of person who should be in health care:  professional, empathetic and very, very kind and just a quality human being.  I really can't thank her enough.  Also, Dan, who I talk about above, who had to deal with me at what had to be the scariest moment of my life.

Kate had the help of so many doctors, nurses, orderlies, respiratory therapists and physiotherapists over the next several days that I can't possibly mention them all here, but am grateful to everyone in Emergent Care, the Acute Monitoring Area, the General Medicine Ward and the Lung Disease Ward.  Also many thanks to all the doctors from Medical Oncology who treated her after she was admitted the second time, notably Dr. Foeschl and Dr. Condan.


Finally, I can't thank enough all the friends and family who visited Kate or called or encouraged her via Facebook and for supporting me and Lena.

Though I complain a lot about suburbia, Kate, Lena and I have among the best neighbours in the world.  I especially want to thank Barb, who cooked for Lena and me, who visited Kate in the hospital and who picked Kate up at the hospital and drove her home so she could spend a few hours with her family on her birthday.  I also want to thank Pam for, among many other things, looking after the dog so I could spend more time at the hospital with Kate.