Bonjour les enfants!

Chateau Frontenac lit up at night

I write to you from la belle province. Oh, did I neglect to tell you I was heading off on vacation for a week? I must have, since I didn’t know myself. I packed so quickly and unexpectedly, I forgot to bring Grover along to star in my pictures. It hasn’t been the same without him, but I thought maybe I should travel without my stuffie.  It’s a small step toward adulthood.

French is a breeze. (Just joking.) I have mastered many of the words that are identical in French and English. For example, last night, watching the hockey game in French was quite a challenge–I have no idea what’s happening on the ice without the commentary–although I did consistently recognize the players’ names.

I’ve flown across the country and, despite my high-school French, I can barely understand anything anyone is saying. Quel surprise! J. is terribly disappointed in me. She was hoping I’d be her capable translator this trip, but thus far I have failed miserably. I’d have considerably more success if we could carry out our conversations in writing. I have decided that speaking a language I have not used in many years is nothing like riding a bike. I imagine I sound like a two year old with a language disability.

I ensured I learned the most important word before I left home. Turns out that “pardon” means “I’m sorry” or” Excuse me.” I know, I’m trying intently not to apologize so much, but I only made that promise when I was speaking in English. I feel like I have a lot more to apologize for here. I must apologize for not understanding what people are saying for me, for not understanding the rules of pedestrians on sidewalks, and many other things that separate us.

I have reached my quota of English conversation for today. It is a beautiful here and our itinerary is fierce, so I must get off my derriere and reenter this brave new world. Au revoir les adultes!

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Sometimes boundaries lapse, and that’s okay

Hospice room with woman in bed, younger woman reading to her, and dog with paws on bed

Months ago now, two PALS volunteers, one of whom happened to be a social worker, interviewed me to see if I too would make a suitable PALSie. Ms. Therapist went off script near the end and asked me how I’d contain my therapist self in this role of PALS volunteer. What a great question. I was stumped.

As a helper by profession, I find it hard to ignore that supportive instinct in other settings. The job of a PALS volunteer is not to be a therapist to the people we visit, many of whom I’ll meet only once. I must deliberately set internal boundaries to stop myself from becoming overly or inappropriately involved with these visitees.

Setting these boundaries is not easy, I’ll admit. During the interview, I acknowledged I’m not great at shutting off this supportive side of myself. I told the interviewers that I often avoid the potential altogether by not informing acquaintances that I’m a psychologist. Sometimes Knowledge of my profession alone may encourage people to seek my support inappropriately. I may have previously mentioned a fellow gym goer once seeking relationship advice while I was naked in the change room. Lesson learned? Once burned, twice clothed.

Because the role of the PALS volunteer is therapeutic by nature, I must be aware of maintaining my emotional boundaries at all times. This becomes harder as I get to know some of the residents in our assigned retirement home. In fact, I wavered last week during our regularly scheduled visit.

Have I mentioned that one wing of the residence Jelly and I visit is a hospice? Yes, people go there to die. As I was entering the building, I happened upon a woman I had met previously. She was leaving after visiting her mom, a hospice resident. This woman was obviously feeling emotional, but she stopped to greet Jelly and told me how much her mom had enjoyed the last PALS visit. She asked me to check in on her mom again that day.

According to the bounds of my role, I should have wished the daughter well at this point, but instead I said, “This [watching your mom die] must be hard.” I learned she’d been visiting daily and commended her for being such a good support to her ailing mom.

The daughter became teary, but I felt I had to acknowledge what she was going through. It felt better to risk making her cry than to ignore her impending loss. Boundary crossed. I didn’t hand her my business card (although I had one in my wallet) or mention that I’m a psychologist; I wished her well and off she went.

Sadly, I don’t know if I’ll see that woman or her mom again. The thing about a hospice is that people aren’t often there long. I did take Jelly to visit the mom, who looked all the more frail since we were last there. She was exhausted and politely declined our company. I respected her boundary and moved on.

All Jelly and I can do is show up and hope to provide comfort. Sometimes we are successful. If that involves crossing the occasional boundary, so be it.

It’s time to catch up on my filing

Variety of office supplies in small compartmentsYesterday, J. seemed intent on my eating the pomegranate she had lovingly prepared for me. She kept harping at me until I opened the fridge to find a gummy eyeball sitting atop my fruit. Trick and treat all in one bowl.

Soon J. is going to have considerably more time for practical jokes, since her retirement date is December 2. While we were away, J. mentioned that she’d miss buying work clothes, which she won’t have the same need for anymore. Although we barely shop when we’re away, J. often scores work attire, e.g., a blouse, a pair of shoes, to remind her of our trip.

Her revelation opened a discussion of other things J. would miss when she retired, and things I’ve missed since I’ve stopped working. Income isn’t the only thing people lose with retirement, and my losses are probably different from yours.

I wonder if J. will miss the esteem that comes from working well with others and receiving positive feedback on her contributions. I imagine she’ll miss the frequent contact with colleagues she respects and enjoys, and the easy access to lunch mates. She told me she’ll miss feeling that she’s making a difference since she’s devoted her work life to public service. I imagine some days she’ll miss the break from the stresses of home.

I’ve had a bit more time to realize that I most miss helping people. I miss trying to provide comfort to a new client even in that first call. I miss figuring out how I can best help that new client, or whether I can help at all. I miss those calls from former clients who want to reconnect, and my confidence that if I’ve helped before, I may be able to help again. I miss consulting with colleagues about clients that challenge me. Even more, I miss my colleagues’ consulting with me, and feeling like I might have valuable input.

I miss other mundane activities as well, like shopping for office supplies or for toys for the playroom (J.’s equivalent of work clothes, perhaps), depositing cheques at the bank, and other errands involved in running a business. I miss prepping my office for the arrival of a client, and even settling into my therapy room, which is bright and airy and welcoming. I miss buying and learning a new psychological test, which may seem odd to you if you are not a psychologist.

Since my basement desk has sat largely unused for four years now, J. will soon be using it for her wedding business. She’ll retreat downstairs when she has work to do. I’ll have to clear out the space for her. (My filing is long overdue, don’t you think?) It’s about time someone use this desk, yet I feel sad to relinquish it. I spent long hours writing reports there at one time.

Now I can’t even recall the last time I sat at that desk, since my report writing days ended with my leukemia. On second thought, I’ve never felt sad about giving up those reports, so enjoy the desk, J., it’s all yours. But you’ll have to scoot if any of my clients mysteriously reappear. Stranger things have happened. Take that eyeball, for example.

Sorry to hear about the Fitbit fitness failure

Two wrists with several fitness trackers on them

As I look out my window, all I can see is falling, blowing snow. It’s October 7. How do you feel, Calgarians? I feel cold, and I fear that winter is here. The forecast suggests this horror will be short lived, but I’ve never trusted Calgary meteorologists.

Have you been reading the health news this week? I have, of course. I need to keep abreast of critical research on the next superfood, and on losing 10 inches off my waist while eating pumpkin pie. Call it health porn, I just can’t help myself.

I was recently dismayed to learn that people are experiencing no health benefits, such as weight loss or lowered blood pressure, from their expensive electronic fitness trackers. All that money for naught. The people who are tracking are moving more, however. If a band on your wrist gets you off the couch, that’s a good thing, isn’t it, especially since sitting is the new smoking?

I’ve staunchly resisted the Fitbit movement, although you may disagree with my rationale. I have always been an active person–activity is my Prozac–so I didn’t feel I needed any external motivation to move more. In fact, I worried that, with a tracker, I’d push myself too hard on days that I’m not up to it. You know I’m a goal-oriented obsessive type.

I don’t need an electronic device to confirm that I need to be walked, more often, it turns out, than my aging dog. Until recently, I probably exceeded the target 10,000 steps per day during my morning outings with Jelly. I’m not boasting here; if I didn’t exhaust the little beast outdoors, she’d race around like a maniac all day indoors. Have you read Nancy Drew’s latest, The Case of the Missing Sock? I don’t have to read it to know it was Jelly.

When Jelly put a stop to our morning walks, I lost my built-in early-morning exercise, my pride in my accomplishment, and my spent dog. She’ll now let me take her to the park, some days walking farther than others, but she’s hit or miss on leash. Bassets are experts at digging in their heels.

When Jelly stopped walking, I did too, for a while. Then I relearned how to walk without a dog. (They say it’s like riding a bike.) I’m sure I used to do it, but I’ve had beasts for so long, I’d forgotten what it’s like to walk without someone to talk to. (I know, I know, she’s a dog, not a person.) This week, out of desperation, I walked back and forth to the gym twice. Unfortunately, the most direct route is through a very large parking lot. No wonder I don’t do this more often: the scenery is uninspired.

Although these fitness trackers have now been discredited by the research, I may have to invest in one after all. That’s me, always late to the party. If you’ve thrown your tracker aside in disgust after reading the same studies I did, or abandoned it long ago because you found its always wanting to sleep with you a little creepy, perhaps I could take yours off your hands. If I find I don’t need it, I’ll strap it to Jelly. Turns out she may need a little external motivation herself.

 

The challenges of travelling with freshly baked challah

You know that I am an avid baker, albeit with inconsistent results. Challah is the one item that I have mastered over many years of practice, and as such is a source of deep pride.

I’m not kidding when I say my challah is coveted far and wide. On two occasions now, I have transported my freshly baked bread across the country for family visits. This may seem simple enough: bake a loaf prior to departure, put it in a bag, and cart it on the plane with me.

Don’t be fooled, dear readers. Simple it’s not. Consider that the challah can’t be forgotten, confiscated, or squished anywhere along the way. All three are distinct possibilities, but J. is like an elephant on the forgetting front, so I leave that one to her.

The security screening folks at the airport take their jobs very seriously, for good reason. The first time I transported challah, the screener caught the lovely aroma and playfully threatened to confiscate my wares. One must be careful in a situation like this; one must not anger the security screener. (I have learned this from hours of watching Border Security.) Still, I refused; I was invested in getting my bread to Toronto intact.

The two security screeners I had last weekend were much sterner, so no joking with them. They did not appreciate how fragile the contents of my Grover reusable shopping bag were. (Of course I have a Grover reusable shopping bag. Don’t you?) Both screeners tried to place my heavy backpack on top of my Grover bag rather than beside it. I will admit I abruptly intervened, asserting that the contents of the bag were fragile. My insistence was effective if inappropriate, and the knapsack was moved clear of the baked goods.

I thought I was home free, until we got on the plane. J. and I decided that we could not safely store the challah under the seat in front of us because the lovely aroma would permeate the plane and the bread would never make it out alive. What if someone asked to taste my specialty? How could I say no? So we found space in the jam-packed overhead bin.

Travellers filling overhead bins on airplaneYou know how each and every traveller, except for me, is carrying on a suitcase of late. The last fellow to board, who happened to be seated by us, was no exception. He geared up to jam his heavy bag into the too-small remaining space in the overhead bin, the same one where J. had secured a safe spot for Grover et al. This fellow, large of stature and voice, bellowed: “Well, I’ll just put my bag beside Cookie Monster here.” Cookie Monster? Who was this guy, and how did he not know the difference between Grover and Cookie Monster? Had he never watched Sesame Street? J., who had the aisle seat, jumped up to avert potential disaster, and ensured this man’s bag was nowhere near ours.

Although the contents of the overhead bins may shift over the course of the flight, by the grace of God, the challah survived intact. I shudder to think what would have happened had I shown up empty handed.

The downside of my very own militant union

Workers marching on strike

I’ve told you many times that I revere my esteemed hematologist, Dr. Blood. She has kept me alive and well since my diagnosis with leukemia. I’d be long dead without her. This knowledgeable and dedicated physician has well earned my adulation.

During each of my hospital stays since I’ve been under her care, Dr. Blood has appeared on an as-needed basis just like a fairy godmother, consulting with the doctors charged with my care. She doesn’t interfere; she’s just hovering in the background if she’s needed, although she does add her two, five, or even ten cents’ worth if it’s warranted.

During my recent hospitalization, Dr. Blood visited me briefly for the first few days to make sure I was on track. She reviewed my file before she came and was always up to date on my condition and my care. Each day I peppered her with questions, and she always answered patiently and clearly. She even minimized the effort she expended overseeing my care, framing her visits as “social” and blaming them on her obsessive nature.

Over the course of my infection, my blood counts tanked. My white count fell within the normal range, which is atypical for me, my platelets, which had recently reached a safer higher level, began to fall, and my red blood count, which had, after months of iron supplementation, finally reached the normal range, dropped precipitously. Anemia, here we come, again.

I expected the dropping blood counts had something to do with my infection, but I wasn’t sure how. So, during one late-day visit, I asked the esteemed Dr. Blood to explain what was happening. She provided her interpretation in beautiful terms that even I, the concrete one, could understand.

“Think of your bone marrow as militant union workers, ” she said. “If conditions aren’t perfect, those workers will refuse to do their job.” Thus, my blood counts would be expected to drop while my body fought the widespread infection, and to rebound once my condition had improved. Makes sense, doesn’t it? No wonder I’d lost my appetite. My innermost innards were on strike!

The day I was to be discharged from hospital, my platelets were especially low. The resident discharging me wanted to top me up before he released me, but first he asked: “What would the esteemed Dr. Blood do?” J. and I knew exactly what Dr. Blood would do. She would say: “Big deal. Don’t play tackle football or get into any bar fights for a few days and you’ll be fine.” Upon hearing this, the resident sent me away with follow-up bloodwork to review with my doctors, just in case.

Yesterday I went for that bloodwork, and tomorrow I will review the results with Dr. Family. If my newfound voracious appetite is any indication of my internal strike status, I expect good news. Dr. Blood received a copy of this bloodwork as well, which of course she will review. If she has any concerns, she’ll alert me. That’s just the obsessive way she is. Takes one to know one.

 

The Ongoing Adventures of Super Grover

Super Grover continues to enjoy his vacation.

First he visits a working farm. The chicken looks a bit perplexed, and a little angry, don’t you think?

Super Grover photobombing chicken behind wire fence

Then Super Grover leads the way on a not-so-challenging hike in the rainforest and almost falls through the bridge. Thank goodness for his big fat head.

 

Super Grover poking head out of walkway in forest

The view at the end justifies the effort. Super Grover loves a good beach.

Super Grover hides behind dead tree trunk with ocean view in background

Finally, it’s time for a beer. I may not be able to drink but Super Grover can. And he wasn’t driving.

IMG_0386

(She was) Surprise(d)!

Some of you may know that today is Earth Day, but from hereon in, Earth Day will be your reminder that it’s J.’s birthday. Happy Birthday J.!

If you recall, two months ago I arranged for the perfect present for J., but I was worried I’d never be able to keep the secret. Well, I did it, thanks to the ongoing support of my secretive friends. J. had no idea. Unfortunately, to get to the happy ending, I must first remind you of our break in that now dates back a few months, and the loss of our jewelry. The easiest way for the Bad Guy to make off with our jewelry was to throw our jewelry boxes in my pillowcase and run out the door with them.

A few weeks after our break in, we happened upon the incredible Alberta Craft Council store in Edmonton, where we both spotted a gorgeous wooden box with two drawers. J. took a special interest in said box, fondling it and opening and closing the drawers. Her subtlety was not lost on me. Unfortunately, this box had already been sold.

So when we got home, I did a bit of internet searching and found the names of the woodworking artists who had crafted the box, Jean-Claude and Talar Prefontaine. I emailed to ask them if they could make a similar box for J. They happened to live in Calgary, so, unbeknownst to J., we discussed the box and the required date and they went to work.

In the meantime, J. and I had been purchasing little bits of jewelry here and there, not to replace what we’d lost but so we’d have something to wear if the occasion arose. We’d bought a few random adornments, storing them in a makeshift wooden box, but at some point a real jewelry box became necessary. J. saw some nice ones she wanted me to look at so off we went, although I did drag my heels a bit. When we got to the store, I convinced J. to buy the smaller and cheaper of two possibilities since a larger, emptier one would just remind J. of her losses. Can you believe I pulled that off without suspicion? Neither can I.

So this morning, on J.’s birthday, while she was in the shower, instead of falling back to sleep like I usually do, I raided my careful hiding place and transferred all J.’s jewelry into this beautiful piece of art. Then at approximately 6:58 a.m., the precise time for earring selection each morning, J. ambled over to the dresser only to discover her gift.

I kept the secret! She was surprised! It almost killed me to hold out but it was worth it. I think she likes it, but you’ll have to ask her. I may not have a lot of funds now that I’m not working, but I still have taste. You can judge for yourself.

jewelry box

(This is supposed to be a) Surprise!

Many, many moons ago, J and I were on vacation, and we stayed at an inn with a very fancy coffee machine. Push one button and a latte came out. This was years before the creation of those wasteful K-cup machines, the detritus of which are now occupying our landfills. The machine used real coffee beans, ground freshly for each cup, and real milk, steamed. The result was a hot, fresh latte.

J. loves her coffee. She has only one a day, but that one coffee wakes her up and gets her moving. Coffee is a critical part of her morning ritual. Knowing how tickled she was by this machine–she broke her one-cup rule while we were there–I decided to buy her one. It was an extravagant purchase, and trust me we are not extravagant people, but over the years it has saved us thousands of dollars in coffee shop visits. And this gift was the ultimate in self sacrifice because I don’t even drink coffee, except on special occasions.

Picture of Jura coffee machineNot only did I buy the machine, I got it into the house without J.’s realizing and set it up so she would wake up to it on our anniversary. I even tried to watch the instructional videos that came with it (that’s how old it is) so I could instruct her in making the perfect cup of coffee. I managed to pull all this off without J.’s knowing a thing.

This machine is J.’s baby. She won’t let anyone touch it; I have to put in an order with her if I want a coffee. She pouts when she can’t take it with her on vacation, and rejoices when she is reunited with it upon our return. In fact, she told me after she received it that I had reached the apex of gift giving with this gift and would never have to aspire to such heights again.

Now, if you know me and you know J., you realize the significance of “without J. knowing”. J. always knows everything. She’s got the mind of a detective. And I have a complete inability to lie without detection, so I can’t get anything past her, ever. Often I sabotage myself because I get so excited, I can’t hold the secret in. Or I think J.’s figured out my surprise from all the clues I’ve left, so I just tell her, when in fact she had absolutely no idea.

I’m telling you all this because I need your help badly. I have come up with the perfect birthday gift for J., but her birthday is not until late April. I will have to keep this secret for weeks. A certain amount of subterfuge will be needed in order for me to pull this off. I would tell you what the gift is, but unfortunately, J. follows my blog, and I can’t really ask her to skip any of my scintillating posts.

So, in the meantime, I desperately need your help. Could you please send along your best secret-keeping tips? The closer her birthday gets, the more desperate I’ll be. I need a strategy to get me through. Thanks for your help, yet again. I know I’m asking an awful lot of you guys lately.

An open letter to the Honourable (?) Premier Jim Prentice

Dear Jim:

Let’s dispense with the formalities, shall we? I’m not one to wade into political matters but I am terribly discouraged over your recent decision to put the new Calgary Cancer Centre on hold. I understand that in times of austerity there must be cutbacks, but this? The new building was slated to open in June 2020, and I was hoping to be at your side at the ribbon cutting ceremony. (God knows the Conservatives will still be in power in Alberta.)

crowded waiting roomI’ve written before about how overcrowded our current Cancer Centre is. There just isn’t enough room for all of us cancerous folk in this building, which forces some cancer care programs out to other sites in the city. Cancer patients are so cramped for space that we’re hanging from the rafters. Why, just last week, I was seated in a crowded alcove beside a chair with barely enough leg room to accommodate a Smurf. Thankfully, two of my ailing co-waiters brought their own chairs–wheelchairs, that is–and two others came alone, so no one had to sit on the floor.

Your job isn’t easy, Jim, especially since oil prices started tanking so soon after you took office. Have you considered nixing a few promised new schools instead of the Cancer Centre? I understand that suburban parents may be angry, but from my work I know that children are highly resilient. Sick adults, not so much. Maybe you guys could take a look at your own salaries and pensions and kick in a bit as well. And what’s that Heritage Trust Fund for if not a pressing project like this? You could always delay that darned south Calgary ring road, if you believe cancer trumps traffic.

Don’t get me wrong, Jim. I’m grateful for my free provincial health care and for your government’s willingness to cover the expense of my prohibitive cancer drugs. I know not all provinces provide such generous medical coverage. Still, I’m a bit upset that the drop in oil revenues has resulted in the delay of this essential building.

I also understand that Albertans aren’t so happy with the possibility of a provincial sales tax. (Does anyone ever welcome a tax hike?) Just so you know, I’m in the minority on this one; I welcome such a tax. I don’t have the time–too many medical appointments–or energy–that’s cancer for you!–or bucks–disability pension and all–to shop much anymore, so I doubt I’ll even notice it. Maybe you could earmark that revenue for this building.

Also, I’d welcome the redirection of my hospital parking fees to the building fund. I’ve been visiting the Cancer Centre quite a bit this month, and by month end, you’ll have earned close to $100 from me in parking costs. The inevitable appointment delays in an overcapacity building help me reach the absurd daily maximum at every visit. So feel free, Jim, to use the money I’m giving you toward the new building. You’re welcome.

Thank you for your kind attention to my concerns.

Sincerely in cancer,

Annie