Sunday, 13 April 2014

Let's humanize Jim Flaherty, not lionize Him

I wonder if I'm the only person in Canada who is creeped out by all the fuss over the unfortunate demise of Jim Flaherty.

I cried a few tears when I heard he had passed, as I would for anyone who had been struck down so suddenly. Poor guy, I thought. Poor wife. Poor kids. For most people, that would be it, a funeral, a wake, some hugs and nice rembrances.

But the outpouring of grief is simply over the top for me. He was a politician, by all accounts, a nice guy, a person who liked to kiss the blarney stone more than his doctor might have allowed.

Jim Flaherty was a guy with a bad ticker who worked too hard, drank too much and didn't watch his cholesterol.

Yet somehow our country has been hurled into a weird ritual of national mourning that is bound to go on for weeks. Most of us didn't know Jim Flaherty and only saw him on budget day when he brought in a mixed bag of programs that a lot of us didn't agree with. There was more money for prisons under Flaherty, bad decisions on defence spending while cutting back on the human side of soldiering, the gutting of the CBC, excruciatingly oppressive energy and food costs, the loss of good jobs to McJobs. Well, I could go on.

All his drinking buddies in the Press Gallery lauded him for saving Canada from a depression, yet it still looks like a depression from where I'm sitting. Half my family is unemployed while the other half is under-employed. Oh yes, and he's making people my age work longer.

So forgive me for refusing to lionize the guy. He wasn't Jim Almighty; he was just a better than average finance minister whom people liked personally. He did good things for some people, other people not so much.

And while we're at it, let's not idolize somebody who died because he didn't take care of himself. He wasn't called to his job. God didn't send down tablets to him. He wasn't Moses or even Noah. He was a politician who had a bit of a God complex who stayed up too late, rode around in limos and private jets and ate and drank at the very best establishments.

Nobody asked him to stay on until the deficit was vanquished. He should have listened to his doctor, reduced his stress levels, and taken more time to smell the roses.

Now he can't and that, my friends, is a cautionary tale.

If you were Jim Flaherty standing at the pearly gates and St. Peter asked you if you have any regrets, what would you say?

I don't think anybody would wish they had spent more time as finance minister.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Dear Gallbladder: Let's work together to stop the hurt

Dear Gallbladder:

I've been thinking a lot about you over the last week whilst you were relentlessly stabbing me in the back. I'm disappointed in you. We've been through so much together; now is not the time to break up.

Of course, we might not have any choice. The doctor may issue a restraining order meaning that you and I will inevitably part ways. I will be alone and you will be in a glass jar someplace mothering all those baby crystals for time in memorial.

If this is the case, and we will know soon, I will accept my part in all of this. The drinking, the 2 a.m. smoked meat at Nate's, the T-bones on the barbecue. We've had some good times, haven't we?

I was the life of the party and you, well, you were the organ beneath my ribs.

I see now how selfish I've been. Putting my face in that pile of ribs was awesome, but I understand now what a sacrifice you made. Mixing up bile, spewing out stones, and I never even knew.

You suffered in silence while I bullied you. And for that, I will always been sorry.

You know I've tried to clean up my act over the past few years by eating healthy, watching my wine consumption and cutting back on bacon. But there is no real way to clear the history. You may have forgiven me, but you have certainly not forgotten my trespasses.

What was the final tipping point when you decided you'd had enough?

Was it the final yo-yo diet? Or did you just throw a little extra bile on the fire just for the hell of it?

Well, it worked. I've seen the light, or perhaps I should say, the light has seen me.

I promise to change, if you'll still have me and here's how I'm planning to do it.


  • No more diets. I'm having a garage sale and ending my relationship with 20 years worth of self-help books that didn't help me at all.
  • No more excessive drinking. I've sent back all the invitations to book launches, political conventions and weddings -- even funerals. Sorry Jim. There will be no long afternoon lunches or afternoons at the Brig where the food bill is only one third of the entire tab.
  • I will drink more coffee, swill more beet juice and eat more salmon. No more late night runs to the Quickie for Haagen Daz. I swear. Okay, I'll try.
  • Instead of sitting on my ass all day, I'll take up yoga and give you a little stretchy poo in the afternoon instead of watching The Chew.
  • I will get rid of all the friends that you don't like, the ones who mean you harm -- all those gurus who are making money off of people who believe they have the magic pill to weight loss. Now I know you are my personal trainer. Thanks to you, I lost eight pounds this week.
  • Finally, I will go into therapy. I've already made an appointment with the nutritionist who promises that she'll show us how to live together in harmony, naturally.
Finally, I want to thank you, gallbladder for all your years of valiant service. You've been swell and now you swell. I'm thinking of erecting a monument in the backyard in your honor, should you take the final walk down the Green Mile. The note will read,

Here lies my gallbladder
Long did she run.
Now she's hadder.
And I'm a bum.

I love you, gallbladder. I'm sorry I took you for granted. Come on, let's take the dogs out this afternoon. I'll buy you flowers. Let's work together to stop the hurt.

Your friend, Rosalita

Friday, 11 April 2014

Gallstones: Weight loss guranteed!

Great news!
I lost eight pounds in two weeks thanks to a combination of the Dr. Oz Two Week Rapid Weight Loss Program and a violent attack of gallstones caused by it. Truth be told, I abandoned the diet after a week and two trips to the ER and I'm now subsisting on instant oatmeal, dry toast, soup, tuna fish and avocado.
The searing back pain has gone, thank God. Now it only hurts when I walk, breath or laugh. Oh yes, and my poop is now resembling the sludge from the Exxon Valdez.
But I'm still here. In pain, but still here.
And I'm vowing to blow the lid off the ill effects of The DOTWRW and other diets that can nearly kill you without at least the following disclaimer: Can result in the following: unexpected weight loss, pain that equals that of child birth, and alien life forms spewing out your butt hole.
The good news is that I feel like I've come out the other side.
But: what to do to make sure this never happens again? Well, it seems Sherlock Holmes, 'is self, couldn't find an eating regime that will prevent another gallstone attack. Other than not following any eating regimes recommended by the Great and Powerful Oz.
I can't ask my doctor. I saw him in the grocery store yesterday and he, literally, ran out of the store when I greeted him.
There is no good consistent information. I suspect this is because everybody's triggers are different. Some people have gallbladder attacks from eating fatty food. Others from drinking. Still others from dieting.
It seems to be trial and error, like walking on a floor with disappearing tiles. Step on the wrong one and you're down on your ass.
So for now, I'm onto old people food.
Gruel. The early bird special.
Beets. Coffee. Cucumbers. These seem to be safe foods.
Steak, spice, anything with fat, alcohol, are all off limits.
Still, on the Eve of Easter, I am grateful that this is all it was. Could have been worse.
I could be like poor Jim Flaherty, a man whom, the day before he died, was telling his pal Mike Harris that he was looking forward to sailing across Lake Ontario.
That ship will sail.
What a shocker, poor Jim Flaherty, felled like a tiny sapling on the golf course, struck down in his prime by a stray bolt of lighting.
Poor bugger.
Didn't live long enough to make his nut or collect his old age pension.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

CTV Ottawa is now one big fat infomercial for Bell Fibe

I've been laid up all week with these damned gallstones and I've been watching more than my fair share of commercial television. Like most journos, I'm a news buff, so I always watch the afternoon news on CTV Ottawa.

It's been bad enough of late, having to put up with the commercials for Bell Fibe which run once a segment. I have Bell Fibe and I hate it. Hate it

As I've written in this space before, it cuts out leaving me staring at a blue screen saying the channel is not available. It does this all the time, especially when you're watching a gripping drama and come to the end. Then, all of a sudden, nothing.

If not for On Demand, I couldn't have told you how Dexter ended.

I've been tempted to ram the remote through the screen.

Anyway, I was absolutely shocked today to see that CTV will be running a segment promoting Bell Fibe for the next four Thursdays. In essence, without what should contain a "advertisement" crawler, it is an infomercial running in the newscast.

Some of the journalists who work there must be ready to barf. Bad enough most of the good ones have been packaged and replaced with hair extensions.

Okay, I realize that CTV Ottawa is a joke.

A lot of its content is local boosterism which is okay, but lately there has been more than enough stories under the banner "regional contact" which is basically a shill for cupcake shops, chip stands and businesses that are so small they used to be featured only in the local weeklies. Regional Contact is no longer the fine feature program that artfully told stories about creative artists working in the Ottawa Valley.

It was so popular that hundreds of viewers wrote in when CTV wanted it cancelled. I wonder whether anybody would send an email now.

Regional Contact has become one big informercial for businesses that are close enough to George Street for poor long-suffering Joel Haslam to take the bus.

Over at CTV Two it's worse. I've been told that businesses have to shell out $6,000 to be featured on that channel.

But this Bell blather is more than I can stomach. Maybe they'll do me a favor and make me upchuck and finally get rid of the gallstones once and for all. Hope springs eternal.

Look you bunch of corporate blue suits. I'm sorry you didn't get your local program levy. That was the CRTC's decision. Don't make us suffer.

If there isn't enough real advertisers to justify a full newscast, then cut the newscast down to a half hour. Don't punish intelligent viewers with this kind of drivel.

Max Keeping must be turning over in his bed.

Can't wait for the gallstones to pass.

Like Bell Fibe, I want to break free.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

I am patient, hear me roar

My mother spent over a year in the Toronto Hospital wasting away from a bowel blockage the doctors found only when they opened her up as a last resort. She died two weeks later of an infection. She was 67.
I wish I had been in Toronto to be her health advocate. but I was here, in Ottawa, busy rearing three small children and living my entitled lifestyle. I wasn't even there at the end -- I couldn't bear to be the one to pull the plug. Afterwards, my solid brother Gary, who cared for her in final days in London, Ontario, told me a story.
After her operation, she was left with a colostomy bag which she had to empty. It was a difficult miserable existence for Vera who by then was only 85 pounds. She soldiered on, of course; it's how women in our family are built.
She got out of bed one night and walked into the hospital bathroom to empty her bag and it broke. There was shit everywhere.
An orderly came in, cleaned her up, looked at her chart and said: "Boy, you're really ripping off OHIP aren't you?"
It was the ultimate humiliation for a woman whose health problems were not taken seriously. And the story is ingrained in my psyche. I have promised myself that I would never let the health care system treat me like a subhuman because I have a condition that is not glamorous or fundraised for.
And so it was I had my first real encounter with the health care system this week as my own health care advocate. I presented at the hospital ER once and was sent home without the doctor laying hands on me. I presented at the hospital a second time and was sent home with a diagnosis of gallstones, without being given an ultrasound which would have determined whether or not my gallbladder was in distress.
I left with no information about this disease and told to go to my family doctor who shrugged off my searing pain and gave me a script for a medication that wasn't even covered under my extended health plan. He also gave me no information and I was left wondering what the hell had happened to me.
This morning I got up and called Telehealth and had a long chat with one of their agents whom I believe is supposed to be a medical professional.
I grilled him, as any good journalist would about my condition and my options. (The government spends millions advertising options and I wanted some.)
He told me to go back to the ER if I had a fever or my eyes turned yellow. Otherwise, he said, get in the queue.
It's not likely the gallstones that have been ripping apart my insides are life-threatening, generally speaking. He also said I'd probably get the gallbladder taken out, which is the go-to solution for this disease. But he warned, it would be after I'd had an ultrasound, after the results were mailed to my doctor, after a specialist had a look.
Huh, I thought, I could have saved everybody time and money if the hospital had given me the ultrasound in the first place.
Enquiring minds want to know, so I spent the day googling the symptoms and bent the ear, virtually speaking, of a nice nurse I met on Facebook. And here is what I found out.
People who are at highest risk are women, who are twice as likely to have gallstones than men. Generally, those are risk have the following five factors. They are: Female, Full figure, Fair skinned, Forty and over and Fertile. I had all those markers except the last one.
But the big red flag is dieting.
Many people experience gallbladder attacks and develop stones while on a drastic low fat diet, as I was when my attack occurred. This makes gallbladder attacks a women's issue because, let's face it, if we have the markers, we are being urged by both the medical community and doctors to lose weight.
I am a yo-yo dieter, I'll admit it. I've tried for a decade to lose the weight I put on after menopause and so the quick and easy solutions that are on all the medical chat shows have appeal.
No one ever told me this could happen to me.
No doctor, no diet disclaimer, nobody.
And now that I'm in my fifth day of agonizing pain, I feel like an orphan patient. The hospital shrugs, the doctor laughs. Nowhere have I been able to find out about the process that I'm going through except from Facebook friends who have had the experience.
I don't know what to eat. I'm wary of easy solutions.
I don't know whether there will be surgery in my future.
How do I know what my triggers are, other than finding out when I'm writhing on the floor in agony?
Nobody is calling me back. The websites are imprecise. The doctor is unhelpful.
I stand corrected. There has been one person who has been helpful.
My pharmacist, Sam, who works at a tiny pharmacy on the corner, went to bat for me two days ago and convinced my doctor to give me a medication that would stop the "colic", those convulsions you get that are so painful.
He called my doctor to change the script and Doctor Ben agreed.
So yesterday, Sam gave me a new script which has ended my excruciating back pain and has let me go to the bathroom for the first time in days.
I'm still not over this ordeal, but with a few yoga exercises and Sam's magic pills, I'm getting there.
In the meantime, the dieting is over.
I've learned my lesson.
Better fat, fit and over forty than feeling like you're dying on the bathroom floor.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Monday morning at the ER: Gallstones

After my gut-wrenching experience at the ER Sunday night, with the determination my condition was not a heart attack, I returned home emboldened by the fact I simply had the flu. I wasn't going to die horrifically on the wrong end of a pair of paddles, I was just destined to languish with a supply of Peptol Bismol, green tea and soup.
But the pain got worse, like a knife in the back, made worse by lying for any length of time. So sleep came two hours at a time followed a level of pain which was excruciating.
By 3 a.m. the day after the first ER visit, on Monday morning, it was time to go back, to call the doctor on his diagnosis.
Gut pain is the worst because it can come from anywhere. It's always hard to nail down, so I wouldn't have blamed the original doctor except for the fact he didn't even palpitate my abdomen during my visit and only focused on the symptom of chest pain.
Before my visit, I scoured my usual Internet favorites: WebMD, the Mayo Clinic, some British sources which seem to be much more reliable. Wondered why I had to go to American and European sources for specific help. I knew I didn't have the flu; I wasn't throwing up, didn't have a fever nor diarrhea. It had to be one of two things: pancreatitis, which would be worse case or a gallbladder attack. And so, upon presenting myself at the ER the second time, I focused on my specific symptoms:  strong pain in the right upper abdomen and generalized pain around the band just under my breasts.
Thankfully, it was pretty quiet at the ER, just a few sad souls throwing up and looking miserable. I sat down with my bottle of water at admitting.
"You shouldn't drink water when you have abdomen pain," the triage nurse scolded.
Since when? That advice wasn't anywhere on the Internet. I suppose it's because I might face the scalpel in the morning depending on the nature of my abdominal crime.
I felt like saying: "you shouldn't have sent me home last night" but everybody knows smart mouthing the triage nurse will get you more time in the chair writhing in pain. So I smiled and asked her about her evening.
Just like the night before, I was seen quickly by a friendly nurse and blood collector. The ECG machine was on the fritz, with squiggly lines everywhere. The nurse and vampire chuckled but reassured me my heart was strong.
Then came the doctor who asked me a few questions and palpitated my abdomen. He said he'd come back as soon as the blood results were in.
The nurse came back and we had a chat. Or was she an intern? I couldn't tell.
Whomever she was, I told her that I'd been on the Dr. Oz Two Week Rapid Weight Loss diet for a week and started having symptoms when Scott rewarded me with a steak dinner.
"Well, that'll do it," she said. "Your gallbladder has been on a holiday and you just gave it some grease."
What I had done, unbeknownst to me, was woken the sleeping giant in my belly, the hobbyist who has been collecting precious stones over the years. It had become angry that I'd interrupted its vacation and was handing me a can of whoop-ass.
The result came back. Gallbladder it was.
The doc sent me home with a script for Percocet and told me to see my family doctor.
It did that yesterday. He gave me a requisition for an ultrasound and a script for medication which is not on my drug plan. Which would mean I would have to fork out $65 for pain meds.
I told the pharmaguy I'd rather chew off my arm than spend $65 when I had a drug plan for which I'm already paying $150. So I'm rationing the six pills of Percocet. It could be weeks until I get help for this damned condition.
Who knew?


A little aside. While I was cooling my heels on my little bed in the ER, I saw girl being brought into the observation area accompanied by a pair of cops and paramedics. She was handcuffed to the gurney and was talking trash to her protectors.
"Sorry in advance," said the male cop. "It's going to get a bit crazy in here."
Thank you, God, I said. A little action in the ER to make the time go faster.
Turns out the lady had been having a little fun with substances and was found by the super of her building faceplanted in the lobby without her pants.
You'd think the little waif, who had leaves in her hair when I saw her, would have been grateful to see the emergency crew.
Nuh uh.
She tried to punch out the female paramedic, so the cops were called.
By the time the group arrived at the hospital, the female paramedic was just about to throttle little Miss Roundheels. The paramedic had to leave the ER.
"Keep it down," said the little female cop. "Are you going to be quiet?"
"As long as she's not around," said the patient. "She needs to get into another profession. Not everybody gets the world handed to her on a platter."
Wise words.
I felt a little sad for her, to be honest.
Nobody really knows what's going on in her life, right?
Where the hell were her pants?
And paramedics don't get paid enough.


Friday, 4 April 2014

Dear taxpayer. Thank you for your letter. We misplaced it. Love Canada Post

As usual, I spent part of the morning pouring over the online want ads looking for a job.
Once in a great while, one jumps out for which I might actually be qualified. It's not often, given my lack of bilingualism and absence of a nuclear level security clearance.
But I'm not giving up.
I need to buy dog food.
One caught my eye this morning.
Canada Post was looking for a writer for its correspondence division. Ah, I thought. I can do that.
I spent some time working in the Prime Minister's Office answering correspondence back during the short term tenure of John Turner's government.
I'd been working as a writer in Pierre Trudeau's PMO, so the correspondence gig was a bit of a demotion. Instead of writing lofty briefing notes for MPs, I would be lending my ear to the gripes of a nation thoroughly pissed off at the Liberals, particularly Westerners who hated The National Energy Program and Trudeau's distain for the common people.
But in politics, sometimes a job is a job.
I must say, the Trudeau folks were interesting, fun and cool as compared to the
Turner lot, known forever in my mind as the Government of Grey Men in Old Man Pants because all his advisors wore their pants right under their nipples. They were also incompetent as hell compared to the well-oiled machine of the Trudeau government.
The correspondence job was a toughie.
It was also awesome.
It made me feel close to other Canadians, even the guy who sent a letter, in which he included a photo of himself jacking off. (Here's my contribution.) or the man who must have spent four hours making a pop up middle finger. He was the best.
I think I would be great at the Canada Post job. I can already see myself in the chair, opening up the email and watching hundreds of pieces of correspondence load, all of them about how pissed off Canadians are that Canada Post is taking away their home delivery, raising the stamp to one dollar, and generally NOT delivering the nation's mail on time.
I might even see my own emailed correspondence in the pile, the letter I wrote this week about the mailman who keeps leaving our gate open so my dogs can get killed on St. Laurent Blvd., the same guy who delivers mail to us addressed to the public school four blocks down, the same guy who gave my husband the finger the other day because he didn't appreciate the ice on our sidewalk after a snow fall.
What a prick.
I would write back to myself the following:

Dear Ms. Simpson

Thank you for your letter. The president of Canada Post would very much like to thank you for your comments and he has made a note of them. (Lie.) I have forwarded your concerns to our Vice-President of Mail Delivery (who is also losing his job). As you are aware, Canada Post is downsizing its delivery service to better and more efficiently serve Canadians (justification for squandering taxpayers' money in the past) and soon you will be able to have the opportunity of getting some exercise by walking your dog to your handy neighborhood communal postal box. The carrier in question will be on the unemployment line very soon so don't be too hard on him. If you don't like him, let your dog loose when he's in your yard and he will be sure to shut your gate in the future.

Thank you for contacting Canada Post.


name here.

p.s. I'm only fantasizing about this situation as I am not qualified to apply for this position. Apparently, you need to have a Master's Degree to be a correspondence writer for Canada Post, which is further evidence that the post office is squandering your tax dollars hiring an over-qualified person for an entry level position.