A STROKE OF LUCK (Conclusion)

6 ̶ Waiting for Godot

I felt perfectly capable of driving myself around. But I found myself caught up in an absurdist drama. Like the characters in Samuel Beckett’s play, I found myself alienated from normal society, searching for an elusive character who might have been named Godot.

The main preoccupation of Beckett’s characters was waiting. Waiting for something meaningful to happen. Waiting. And suffering. And questioning why they were waiting. Waiting for Godot to turn up.

I initiated a series of phone calls in pursuit of (a) a Pre-Driving Screen and (b) a Stroke Prevention Clinic. All doctors and health pros with whom I had talked led me to believe that by merely asking for a Pre-Driving Screen, I would be granted one. But no one was now prepared to talk to me. I left messages and got no call-backs. Dr. S. sent me an appointment for a Stroke Prevention Clinic for May 18 and promptly cancelled. I had no way of contacting her. As for C., the occupational therapist who would administer the Pre-Driving Screen, she did call me and set an appointment for July 27.

When I asked for the appointment to be moved up to early June, I was stonewalled. Only a doctor could change the date. But I could not contact Dr. S.   So I tried contacting Dr. E., who had discharged me from St. Joe’s after an interview lasting less than two minutes, but she was unavailable. Telephone numbers I found for her got no responses. Searches of the Internet showed that she was an esteemed member of the medical profession with many degrees and several offices. Finally, finally, I found a number that worked. An accommodating receptionist promised to get back to me.

And Dr. E.’s receptionist did get back to me. She said that policy dictated that I had to wait three months after my stroke incident to apply for a Pre-Driving Screen. My stroke occurred April 26. So I could apply on July 27 at the earliest. Interestingly, Dr. S. had rescheduled the Stroke Prevention Clinic for that same date, July 27, not May 18. Was that when the policy changed?

Why did it take weeks to inform me of this policy? Perhaps it was a new policy, dreamed up by Kafka, played out by seekers after Godot, and administered by the medical bureaucracy.

Franz Kafka, the writer and philosopher, believed he lived in an absurd world. One morning he woke up and found himself turning into an insect. At first his family found this situation strange. Not absurd, but strange. The more he looked and behaved like an insect (sometimes described as a housefly), the less strange it seemed to his family. Why was this was happening to him? Everyone else treated the situation as normal. Which is absurd.

By July 27, I detected a growing compassion for houseflies. Which is absurd.

Meanwhile, I concentrated of getting healthy. I ate sparingly, exercised regularly, kept my mind occupied, and attended two weekly online sessions, eacn an hour long, conducted by speech therapist K.   Sessions included memory components and solving logical puzzles. We both noted steady improvement.

Meanwhile, I waited. I read novels. I recovered my facility with tough crypograms. I started solving challenging crosswords. I watched tv. I took long rambles. I kept digital photo albums of wildflowers. I watched tv. A lot of tv. I started writing again. I read non-fiction books. I bummed rides to town to keep appointments, to pick up prescriptions, and to replenish food supplies. I wrote. I watched tv. Lots and lots of tv. I counted the days to July 27.   The summer slipped by. And slipped. And slipped.

As July 27 crept up, I read the fine print in my instructions. I learned that if even if I passed the Pre-Driving Screen, it could take MTO a month to reinstate my licence. Damn. I still had no idea what a Stroke Prevention Clinic was, but I assumed it would be a group session with fellow stroke victims where we would be advised how to prevent recurrences. No such luck.

July 27 arrived. I bummed a ride to Thunder Bay. I reported to occupational therapist C. for an hour-long Pre-Driving Screen. My first attempt had occurred within a week of my stroke and I was pretty hazy on the details. I had, you will recall, failed the Screen. My memory was rudely refreshed. The Pre-Driving Screen is a battery of tests on my cognitive awareness and visual perception. Alright. Whatever. I was up for it.

The first series of tests were pretty simple. In fact, I scored 29 out of 30. I had to draw a clock face and draw the hands pointing to twenty after 2, link five letters and numbers to create a trail, replicate a parallelogram, name pictures of three animals (none of which, I might add, I have ever seen in real life), memorize a short list of single-digit numbers, recite them backwards, name as many words beginning with the letter “S” as I could in 60 seconds (yes, some tests were timed), recite a sentence verbatim, tap the table whenever I heard the letter “A” in a sequence of random letters, start at the number 90 and subtract 7 from the total until told to stop, identify the commonality of three named objects (e.g., all veggies), and name my birth date as well as the current date and location of the tests I was doing.

I had to remember five words and repeat them. They were repeated twice. C. emphasized that I would be asked to recall them later in the session.

The visual perception tests were tough. First, I had to draw a trail by linking letters and numbers, starting by linking letter A to number 1. However, there were not five letters and numbers. There were 19 letters and numbers. This was a timed test. The whole page with covered with 38 separate items, all scattered like a dog’s breakfast. I got lost once and took a while to recover. I failed that test.

C. allowed our daughter Laura to observe my performance, and she said later that she despaired of passing the tests herself, and she’s an excellent driver. C. said the Screen is designed to “screen out” drivers who are likely to fail a road test. Laura still has her driver’s licence. I still don’t.

Meanwhile, I forgot about the five words I was cautioned to recall later.

 

There were four categories of pictured objects, all abstract, and becoming more abstract as the tests unfolded. One category required visual discrimination, another judging spatial relationships, another relying on visual memory, and the fourth on making visual closures.

To test visual discrimination, I was shown, for example, a circle. C. turned the page. Then I had to count the number of circles I could distinguish in a mish-mash of geometric designs.

To judge spatial relationships, I was shown a design, and then, in a page of four designs with variations on the first design, I had to pick out the correct one. For example, if the original design looked with an old-fashioned tv aerial, then the four variations had the aerial with portions of the vertical and horizontal lines missing or even running in different directions. Only one had a configuration resembling the original aerial. I was ready to swear off tv.

To rely on visual memory, I might be shown four drawings of a duck. Each was tilted differently on the page. I was told to imagine the duck’s bills pointing all in the same direction. However, one duck had been reversed. I had to select that duck. To make it more interesting, in some cases I had to imagine the one image that was also upside down. I could have cheerfully strangled that duck.

In making visual closures, I was shown a totally abstract figure. It might resemble a wasp, for example, with light and dark parts and incorporating geometric shapes. Then in a line below was a series of four figures, each resembling the original but with crucial parts missing. Obviously someone had stepped on the wasp, mashed it down good. I had to imagine which figure was the original wasp. I could sympathize with Humpty-Dumpty. I could have used all the king’s men at that point, not to mention a GPS and Gorilla Glue.

Then came the pièce de résistance. The delayed recall test. I had to recall the five words I had forgotten about. I immediately named four of the five words ̶ truck, banana, violin, and green. I was pretty proud of myself. C. prompted me with a clue to the fifth word. She said “furniture” and I replied “desk”. Why she prompted me, I don’t know; she had already deducted it from my score. Ask me five years from now and I will recall those five words. Truck, banana, violin, desk, and green. With my luck, they’ll change the list.

She totalled my scores. I had passed with points to spare. That was the good news. Then the bad news. MTO would take six weeks to complete the paperwork. Meanwhile, I was warned not to drive, on penalty of a $10,000 fine.

When’s the last time you’ve heard of anyone getting a $10,000 fine for a driving offence? I should be able to kill a few bureaucrats for that price.

The Stroke Prevention Clinic took an hour, and it was not about stroke prevention. It wasn’t even a clinic. It was a debriefing on my hospital experience and recovery. Dr. Z., my family doctor, back in July, had already explained that stuff since no one else was prepared to do it. Two doctors, Dr. J. and Dr. S., weighed in on the debriefing. No one commented on or verified the speech therapy program I was doing twice a week. Other than some cursory questions on whether I was exercising properly, eating properly, and back to reading and writing, nothing was either verified or prescribed.   I was given some pamphlets. Dr. S. filled out a form for the MTO bureaucrats. I was released.

I was free. Lucky me. I was free to wait another six weeks.

Lucky me. And I do mean that sincerely.

It could have gone worse.

And I know about waiting. Nothing to it.

Just ask the seekers after Godot. Godot, by the way, never did turn up.

But don’t ask Kafka.   Kafka will just raise more questions.

And his questions can drive you crazy.

Posted in WRITING | 4 Comments

A STROKE OF LUCK (5 OF 6 Chapters)

5 ̶ Rehab

I was ushered to an empty bed in 3 North, Room 335-S3-3. My two new companions were enjoying their suppers in beds facing the eastern windows. And I mean they were ENJOYING them. If fact, two or three times a day, Peter (my name for him) would make a comment to the effect “My God, this food is delicious!”

As for me, I would pick out what looked most edible. I didn’t suffer because I had no appetite.

Most of my days consisted of waiting for my next appointments. I had two or three a day, each less than an hour long. I soon learned the floor plan of Level 3 North so that no one had to escort me to my appointments. Until then I waited. Until I knew what time I was having an appointment and where I was destined to keep that appointment, I waited. Other than that, it was a matter of waiting. And also waiting. And, as far as I could determine, a multitude of other patients spent most of their time waiting. And, at the risk of repeating myself, I too waited. And waited.

I entered St. Joe’s at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 3. Starting on Thursday, I kept appointments with two different physiotherapists, an occupational therapist, and a speech therapist. Apparently I put quite a burden on the staff because in juggling my schedule, they kept assigning me different times to show up and in the case of one staff member, after keeping three or four appointments, either cancelled further appointments or just failed to show up. They were all nice people but apparently just working with very limited resources and tight schedules.

My schedule, such as it was, was free all weekend. Between Friday afternoon and Monday morning, I was expected to just wait. And between spells of waiting, I was expected to wait some more. During my first full day at St. Joe’s, I started plotting to go home. In consulting all staff responsible for my schedule, I learned that there was a doctor assigned to me, a Dr. E.

Meanwhile, I was given free rein to wander all over the hospital. I kept my civilian clothes in a bureau. I had a faded blue institutional uniform ̶ pyjama shirt and pants ̶   so I blended with other patients. I didn’t stand out from the multitude of other patients, so I kept pestering staff to allow me to see the mysterious Dr. E. I was not prepared to wait around all weekend doing nothing but waiting and I said so. Sometime about mid-day Friday, Dr. E. showed up. I was already dressed in my civvies. I was ready to leave ̶ I don’t know if they could have held me back.

 

Dr. E. breezed in and interrogated me about stuff she surely knew. What was my age? When did I have the stroke? How long had I been in St. Joe’s. She scribbled quick notes. It was all over in two minutes. I just had to sign out for the weekend. If it had not been for my persistence, I might still be waiting. And waiting.

Waiting for things to happen, I learned to use my Samsung tablet. I learned to download apps so that I could watch streamed programming on CBC and CNN. The rehab centre provided a free Internet service for which I will be eternally grateful. A couple of times I located a couple of tv sets that were not occupied, but otherwise there was a tiny tv set placed in an awkward position over my bed that I refrained from using in consideration of my roommates. I used it only at 10:00 p.m. to watch CBC’s The National.

I also read a lot. I started one novel from the Level 3 North library and switched to another novel that I borrowed from Laura. Reading was a laborious process. I often had to start over a sentence and sometimes even a paragraph to grasp the full meaning. But I was reading. I never saw anyone else reading.

Physiotherapy consisted of walking exercises in a long, very long, corridor (dodging patients, and up and down a flight of stairs once), and some sessions on a treadmill or a stationary bike. And standing on one foot.

Occupational therapy involved some tests of strength (isometric exercises) and some simple cognitive tests such as drawing a clock face and inserting hands to indicate a time (e.g., 10 after 2), which I failed spectacularly, and making an outline map out of numbers and letters (which took me an inordinate amount of time). I later learned that I was taking a Pre-Driving Screen, and had failed 4 out of 5 categories. My next Screen is now scheduled for July 27.

Speech therapy consisted mainly of memory exercises, such as listing synonyms, naming categories of pictured objects, and learning certain mnemonic tricks. In my opinion, I excelled that that.

Every day I looked forward to visitations from son Rob and daughter Laura and sister Susanne (spouse Olga had no way to visit from Greenstone but we had daily phone talks). My roommates were two nonagenarians, recovering from strokes. Both received daily visitations from family. Peter, 90 years old, long retired, enjoyed witty exchanges with staff. Pater (my nickname), 97 years old, was still recovering his speech faculty, but I was learning to interpret his sounds. He proved to be quite cheery and loquacious.

Every day in Room 335-S3-3, I thanked my lucky stroke. I learned of other patients from Greenstone not so lucky as me. A few days before, one of them had suffered a stroke, and while waiting for the air ambulance, he suffered a second stroke. He was now confined to a wheelchair.

My visit home to our country home in Greenstone was a godsend. Rob returned me to St. Joe’s after suppertime on Sunday. Starting Monday, Susanne and I planned excursions outside the rehab centre after therapy sessions. I signed myself out. She taught me how to catch buses and to read the schedules. And we walked. My, how we walked! Miles and miles. I kept that information from the physio staff to avoid their disappointment. One night we gorged on real food at Swiss Chalet served with real iced tea. Another night we gorged on tasty fake food from concessions at Silver City CinePlex washed down with a carbonated drink.

Rehab staff now often implied that I was ready to go home. One speech therapist arranged for me use the Telemedicine videoconference system to participate in online sessions from home. I pestered the staff about the mysterious Dr. E. until I learned she had okayed my release.

On Friday afternoon, May 12, I said my goodbyes, packed my bags, and waited for Rob to pick me up. I was given meds for three days. I was free to do anything except drive.

Posted in WRITING | 1 Comment

A STROKE OF LUCK (4 of 6 Chapters)

4 ̶ Memorable Moments

On that first Saturday night, long after I had retired, a party erupted in my room. The festivities endured the rest of the night, all the next day, all Sunday night, and tapered off on Monday morning.

The new residents of our semi-private room numbered somewhat less than two dozen and never more than four. The patient, a guy, had some heart-related problem, so periodically a nurse turned up to hook him up on a pulse and blood pressure machine and performed other functions behind the drawn curtains. I will say this: the newcomers were friendly, and when they moved to another room (apparently to give me a break), they offered the paid-up television subscription for me to use up.

On Monday evening, a nice old lady moved in. Every five minutes, without pause, she offered some variation of “I want to go home” and “I shouldn’t be here” and “Why are they keeping me here?” Every time, a member of her numerous family would explain that she would have to stay until her assessment was complete. At one point, when everyone had stepped out of the room, she wheeled herself to my bedside and borrowed my cell phone: she wanted to call someone to take her home. I dialed a number for her. A nurse appeared and gently removed the phone from her grasp. She was a nice old lady, had been driving her own car up till a month ago, living alone in her own house, and had just turned 100 years old.

The next day, Tuesday, her family arranged for her to transfer to a room closer to the nurses’ station. I checked on her on Wednesday and she seemed fine and I wondered why they were keeping her here. At that time I was ready myself for a lift home.

My most memorable procedure was the MRT scan.   I was wheeled into a half-dark chamber which seemed to double as a laundry room. The technician asked me to sit on a level surface, swing my legs over, and watch that I didn’t knock my brains out when I inserted by head and shoulders into the huge machine. I was locked in. The gurney or whatever slid noiselessly into a tubular arrangement, an emergency signal button was placed in one hand, and the technician left.

I now know what it feels like to be prepped for cremation. I couldn’t move at all. Then the noises started. Very mysterious, very creepy, very ominous noises, varying in intensity. A series of clicks and rumbles and creaks and staccato hammerings. After ten or fifteen minutes I felt myself dozing off as I waited for the burners to kick in.

The technician returned to extract me from the vault. The gurney slid out. But the gurney hung up. The locking mechanism wouldn’t release me. “Darn,” said the techie, “I’ve been meaning to fix that.” After another ten minutes he did fix that. That’s the sole reason I am around today to recall a special Robins treat.

I mentioned that I was less than thrilled with the hospital menu. Not finding myself lashed to a bed or a gurney, on the last day I ventured outside the ward to find some real food.   I found myself in a single long, very long, corridor into which other wards discharged. I found a staircase and descended. Another long, very long, corridor seemed to lead to places where the action was. I eventually emerged into another long, medium long, corridor that served as the hospital lobby. Drawn to tantalizing scents, I joined a lineup at Robins. I ordered a café mocha and a glazed doughnut.   The Robins mocha did not hold a candle to a Timmy’s mocha. But the doughnut, ah, the doughnut . . . !

Now, back to Level 3 North of St. Joseph’s Care Group . . .

Posted in WRITING | 2 Comments

A STROKE OF LUCK (3 of 6 Chapters)

3  ̶  Recovery

 It was probably on Monday, May 1, that I was wheeled into a department where I began therapy. The speech therapy was really basic stuff. The neurologist would say four or five words and ask me to repeat them. Every time, I got two or three of them without fail. The physiotherapist would ask me to stand on one foot for a whole minute. I never managed that ̶ that was really tough. She asked me to go for a walk, turn a couple of corners, climb one flight of stairs, and return. That was a piece of cake. I was ready to do somersaults.

What about procedures performed on me? The first record in my chart, dated Saturday, April 29, described my first diagnostic procedure. It was a heart ultrasound, technically called a Carotid Doppler Imaging, ordered by Dr. B. Technically, it was Greek and Latin jumbled up hopelessly with some plain English.

“Peak systolic velocity right internal carotid artery is 62 cm/s, CCA 67 cm/c with a ratio 0.92.” I plainly understood the words “peak”, “is” and “a”.

Apparently, there was no urgency in scheduling further diagnostic procedures because next came an MRI Head Scan on Tuesday, May 2. Apparently I agreed to that scheduling because I did not register a complaint. Dr. S. ordered the Magnetic Resonance Imaging. One line in the full page description stands out: “Skull base reveals no abnormality.” Apparently the procedure did not shrink my head. That was good news. I think.

On the same day, Dr. S. ordered a Carotid Angiography. I remember being told they were taking an angiogram ̶-“gram” meaning “picture”, and “angio” meaning “of ankles”. Everyone knows what an angiogram is. One line in the description stands out: “The cervical, petrous, cavernous, and supraclinoid ICA is patent, without stenosis, aneurysm, dissection, or thrombosis.”

Which I interpret to mean I have a distended cervix, somewhat petrified; however, a super clinician with patented scalpels with cut out the aneurysm or thrombosis located in my chest (sternum). All good news. As far as I could tell.

Nobody made an effort at any time to inform me of a diagnosis or a prognosis, but on my prompting, a nurse would suggest everything was looking good.   Doctors remained aloof.

The chart that Dr. Z. shared with me had further details of angiographic findings, including “the midline structures are essentially unremarkable”, suggesting that I have not gained an ounce of weight about the waist.

That is true. Over two weeks I lost some ten pounds, thanks to a diet of alleged foodstuffs unrelieved by taste or texture. Thanks for that. I mean that sincerely. I did not need the ten pounds.

In my chart, under the heading of Discharge Diagnosis, the first notation was “new onset of atrial fibrlillation”. I had heard vaguely about “a-fib”. Further notations indicate I had both a CT scan of my head and an echocardiogram but no abnormalities were detected. These procedures were not dated in the chart.

The Discharge Diagnosis did note that I was doing well even though I still had difficulties expressing myself and “had a visual field defect that was improving”. I did indeed have difficulty finding the right words, and Dr. B. had pointed out that my peripheral vision on my right side was impaired. Still, my ability to read had improved quickly as well as my ability to solve simply math problems, such as 3 + 5 – 2. I still believe the right answer is 4 if you divide my age by 19.

Conclusion: “He would benefit from a short interval of time at 3 North.”

I was leaving the regional hospital acute care. That’s what I gathered from the buzz from medical personnel from Monday onward. I fondly believed I was well enough to go home.

By Wednesday, I had resigned myself to moving to a rehabilitation facility. A paramedic and an escort drove me to St. Joseph’s Care Group on North Algoma. I arrived in Ward 3 North in time for supper. But no one offered me supper. I was relieved.

Posted in WRITING | 1 Comment

A STROKE OF LUCK (2 of 6 Chapters)

2  ̶   The Hospital

By 6:00 that Friday evening I was sprawled in a hospital bed, fully clothed, in the emergency ward, hooked up to monitors for pulse and blood pressure. The attending doctor, Dr. L., had to determine if my condition was serious enough to ship me to the Regional Health Sciences Centre in Thunder Bay. Our son and the doctor amused themselves by watching my fluttering heart rate. The doctor reached a decision: he called in the air ambulance helicopter.

Nothing else was happening. After several hours, I suggest Rob go home to supper. Periodically, someone, either a nurse or the doctor, checked my progress. Foul weather was delaying the ambulance. About four in the morning on Saturday, someone announced its arrival. Two paramedics bundled me up in a stretcher, ensured the parka did not leave exposed flesh. Dr. L., still available, escorted me to the helicopter. It was a comfort to know Dr. L. had stuck around. He’s been attending members of our family at various times for close to fifty years.

It took about a quarter hour for the pilot to rev the engine to prepare for lift off. One paramedic accompanied me, the other sat with the pilot in the cockpit (if that’s what you call the enclosed cabin with all the controls and instruments). The sound and vibration increased in intensity

We left the lights of Geraldton behind us. I was awakened by the lights of Thunder Bay as we cleared for landing on the pad beside the regional hospital. I was whisked through subterranean passages to a room on Level 3. I had a semi-private room all for myself. I checked the time ̶ 6:00 a.m. I still wore my original clothes. I slept and dozed. Was not offered breakfast. Was not offered lunch. Finally someone offered me a glass of juice and a biscuit. I thought this was my new prescribed diet. I took my usual meds although I skipped my daily 81 mg aspirin. (I suspected the aspirin had something to do with my condition.) Nurses checked my pulse and blood pressure regularly.

I had my phone with me, so I was able to advise Olga and Rob and daughter Laura and sister Susanne that I was actually in the city. That was news to them.

I lived in that hospital room from Saturday to Wedneday. Memory does not permit me to detail my exact schedule. Somewhere around Monday or Tuesday I decided I needed a shower. A nurse pointed out the facility, built into the washroom next door. I stripped, spent ages trying to turn the water on, then gave up. I dressed in my dirty clothes and waited for someone to instruct me. I got my shower and clean clothes.

 At some point a nurse suggested I switch my apparel to the open-backed nightshirt supplied to patients. Naw. I wore regular clothes night and day. Day and night.

After long periods of nothing happening, I was whisked away by wheelchair or by gurney to take tests. God bless the porters, the volunteers who do the whisking. A porter would wheel me through mysterious passages and abandoned me in some subterranean chamber. Eventually somebody claimed my body and put me through an esoteric procedure. And eventually the porter reappeared and replanted me in my bed.

I saw doctors on different occasions for a few minutes. A Dr. B. (supposedly overseeing my recovery) saw me and in a matter of minutes confirmed that I had suffered a stroke and he ordered sundry tests. A Dr. S. waved a sheaf of documents at me and ordered me to sign or suffer dire, unspecified consequences. That’s when I lost my driver’s licence. Another doctor, who does not appear in my medical chart, checked that I was following some vague regimen and was responding to instructions. He was a garrulous, friendly old chap who answered any questions I posed. A different nurse was assigned to me during every twelve-hour shift; I regret not recording their names so that I can now thank them.   They became friends. Dr. B. showed up one more time for a few seconds and gave me a simple test: Hold up your right arm. I responded with alacrity and he chortled. Apparently I had held up my left arm. I don’t think doctors should be allowed to chortle. On the last day, Wednesday, I was allowed to choose which blood thinner pill I preferred.

Meanwhile, Laura and Rob and Susanne paid visits at least once a day, along with a few other friends who had heard of my misfortune and came to commiserate. I made daily reports to Olga by phone. Overhearing their chatter, I settled on the blood thinner I wanted ̶ Xarelto ̶ and also chose a supplementary pill to control my blood pressure ̶  Coversil ̶ that I need take only once a day. It’s nice to have choices. Several medical personnel assured me that, having had a mild stroke from which I was making a rapid recovery, I would be back driving within a month. They had not yet heard the bad news from Dr. E. In fact, I didn’t even know there was a Dr. E.

Speaking of doctors, I never did get the straight goods from any doctor until I finally got an appointment with my family doctor, Dr. Z., in the first week of July.

Yes, two-and-a-half-months after the incident, I finally saw my chart.   I asked for a print-out.   It was an eye-opener.

Posted in WRITING | 4 Comments

A STROKE OF LUCK (6 Chapters)

A weak spot . . .

1 ̶ The Incident

I am now officially a senior.

I knew I was getting older, but in my mind, I was never there yet.

Until recently, I could read a blue streak, write a decent paragraph, solve a mess of cryptograms without cheating, rake up a yardful of dead leaves, and power-walk three kilometres in my bare feet on sharp stones. (Okay, there’s one little white lie in there.) Several weeks ago, that all changed. They have yanked my driver’s licence.   I have to bum rides. Now I’m a senior.

What happened?

I’ll tell you what happened. I never saw it coming. I had a stroke.

On Wednesday, April 26, after Olga and I finished supper, I retired upstairs to watch tv. I often left Olga alone, sometimes for hours, as I worked on the computer or watched a program. All of a sudden I felt different. I couldn’t adjust the set. It was too much of an effort. When I got up, I found I couldn’t walk properly. I couldn;t speak. Over the course of an hour and a half, I fell several times as my legs failed to support me. I managed to climb to the third storey with intention of turning off my computer, but I couldn’t find the switch. My right arm lost all feeling; it became detached from my trunk. I couldn’t find my right arm. I left the computer and the lights on as I collapsed down one flight of stairs. My legs wouldn’t work; I couldn’t grasp the handrail because I had lost the one arm.

Somehow, I still don’t know how, I switched off most lights. Feeling returned to my right arm. I edged down one more set of stairs. It felt too far to trudge to the living room to let Olga know I had problem ̶ not that I could speak anyway. I ducked into the bedroom.

I stripped down to the flesh. I had to clean up. Somewhere en route I had voided my bowels. I sponged myself off, tucked the dirty laundry in the washer. I slept very well.

Next morning, I felt pretty normal, but Olga sensed something was wrong. There were evidences of my accidental discharges.   I could speak but I couldn’t articulate what had happened to me. All day we weathered ice-storm conditions, so even if I felt like frolicking, I couldn’t. We rarely have visitors, for we live in the country. My memory of that day is hazy, but I must have read and watched tv.

Next day, Friday, Olga was getting really worried about me. I myself knew that something extraordinary had occurred. She suggested I go to the Emergency. I didn’t think it wise to drive myself, 30 minutes away, and Olga no longer drives. Finally I found words to describe my condition. I had been trying for a day and a half to find the words. I blurted them out: “Heart attack!”, I said.  The wrong words, as it turned out.

I couldn’t find the word “stroke” in my vocabulary. I called our son, Rob, who had finished his work week. He lives three hours away. He had some errands to run but he came as quickly as he could. I took along an overnight bag and my meds.

The weather was still miserable.

Some journeys take forever . . .

Posted in LIFE AS IT HAPPENS, WRITING | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

THE BEARDMORE RELICS

The Discovery

In July, 1934, Ted Eliot, a high school teacher and writer, was traveling by train from Longlac to Port Arthur. When the train stopped in the bush just south of Beardmore, Ontario, to pick up a prospector, Eliot chatted with him. Eddie Dodd told him about some “French armour or Indian relics” he had found on his claim.

Thus began a saga which is still unfolding.

In September, 1937, the Royal Ontario Museum sent an academic to examine the site of the discovery. ROM had already authenticated the artifacts as genuine Viking relics. Dr. T.F. McIlwraith made an inspection that may have lasted an hour or two. He found Eddie Dodd to be a credible witness.

A controversy erupted, reported in the national media. Dodd’s credibility was vigorously attacked. Another “owner” of the relics stepped up, claiming that Dodd had stolen them from the house he rented to Dodd in Port Arthur. Academics and researchers leapt into the fray.

In the 1940’s, the controversy died down, only to erupt in 1956 when Maclean’s Magazine and the Toronto Globe and Mail revived it.

In 1966 ROM issued a booklet titled The Beardmore Relics: Hoax or History? It reviewed the history and the controversy, and stated that “opinion leans strongly towards the view that it was a hoax”.

However, the last paragraph also allows “the possibility that Norsemen did reach the central area of North America”. It goes on to say, “Perhaps some day unequivocal evidence will be uncovered to support that theory. At present, there is none.”

The Re-Discovery

None had reported visiting the site since the 1930’s.

There were few clues in the historical record to guide Lavoie in his search. At different times, he enlisted people to conduct a grid search pattern. One clue was the fact that Dodd had a cabin in the vicinity. Robert Coté, who had been a key person in the search, reported the ruins of a cabin he had found while hunting. It proved to be Dodd’s cabin.

On November 17th, Lavoie came upon a promising location. It was not the foot of a rocky “knoll” which Dodd had always described as the site of his workings. It was the foot of a small cliff in a long sloping hill.

Lavoie immediately contacted Coté, and together they examined the site. Coté, a prospector, agreed that the site conformed to all available evidence.

In a rather feeble effort to provide some protection for the site, Lavoie staked a claim that day that encompassed the cabin and the site.

Lavoie made some moves to encourage a modern, full-scale archaeological examination of the site, and received little to no encouragement.

Today the relics supposedly repose in the Royal Ontario Museum. When Lavoie asked to see them many years ago, no one knew where they were, exactly. In the case of the sword, it had apparently been co-opted to serve in a generic exhibit of Viking artifacts. No one knew where, exactly.

The Last Re-Discovery

In the summer of 1999, a huge fire swept through the forest east of Lake Nipigon, burning some 30,000 hectares. It wiped out the vegetative landmarks in the area where Dodd claimed he had found the relics.

In the fall of 2009, Lavoie set out to re-discover the site. Using notes he had kept on the searches in 1990, he narrowed down the prospective area. One major clue was a mileage marker on the CN railway. The Kinghorn Subdivision line was slated for demolition, and in 2010, that marker likely disappeared.

The area has re-vegetated with thickly packed bushes and saplings. With the assistance of friend Dave Alcorn, Lavoie cut a trail towards Dodd’s pit and trenches, and with a lot of figuring and a little luck, hit them dead on. Back in 1990, no one had traveled the bush taking GPS readings.

The entrance to the trail is disguised in order to discourage curiosity-seekers. Lavoie’s goal remains the same: a proper archaeological examination of the site in order to determine if the relics once reposed there. Or not.

Replicas of the Beardmore relics are, at this writing, in the custody of the Municipality of Greenstone.

Posted in GREENSTONE, LOCAL HISTORY | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

WE OLD RELICS

I have lost a great many gray hairs, and I do not regret one of them.

I am proud of every one. RIP.

This rumination comes to mind because yesterday I addressed a class of student teachers at Lakehead U. Young men and women ̶ kids, really ̶ just starting out. I do not envy them at all. Little do they know what lies ahead. Mind you, most of what lies ahead is good, as it was for me. Yet, if you asked me to re-live my life, I would run screaming in the opposite direction. Been there, done that. It was good, much of it was fun, but I have earned the right to be my age.

Fifty-five years ago I attended Lakehead Teachers’ College, and yesterday I went back for the first time. I had to be directed there because they have changed the name. Now it’s the Bora Laskin Building. I don’t remember him as a teacher. But, he must have done something right to be so honoured.

The prof who invited me, Walter Epp, is teaching geography ̶ or rather, teaching how to teach geography ̶ and exposes his students to as many geography-related experiences as he can. Last year he sent a group of students up to my home on Wildgoose Lake to pick my brains on being a writer and historian and a wanna-be geographer. Walter admires my historical-geographical novel, The Beardmore Relics, and it was, I believe assigned reading in one of his courses.

In the hour I had, Walter asked me to first reminisce about my attending the first graduating class at Lakehead Teachers’ College. Well, I didn’t say much ̶ I had a lot of ground to cover ̶ but I did mention that when I was attending Queen’s U to upgrade my certificate, I aspired to be a geographer. However, the labs were formidable, absorbing a huge block of a student’s time and energy, so I chose something easy ̶ English Literature. I have never regretted it.

I had 50-some slides in a PowerPoint presentation. I reviewed the history of The (historic) Beardmore Relics, starting with their discovery by a weekend prospector near the community of Beardmore in the early ’30s. I showed how, as a relatively young teacher, on my weekends in the fall of 1990, I set out to re-discover the discovery site, and succeeded. Then, after the great fire of ’99, when some 30,000 hectares of bush was wiped out between Macdiarmid, Beardmore, and Lake Nipigon, and all the vegetative landmarks had disappeared, I set out in the fall of 2009 to re-discover the site of my re-discovery of the discovery site.

In the next post, The Beardmore Relics, I recount all that stuff.

I segued into slides I took while researching The (literary) Beardmore Relics, focusing on locations in the novel that showcase the grand geographical and historical features of Lake Nipigon and the Beardmore region.

Foundations of the old Northern Empire mill, July 2009.

After the presentation, there was the obligatory applause. But I had to wonder what the students were really thinking. When I was in their shoes ̶ and I was, fifty-five years ago ̶ I too was addressed by some old fogies fifty-five years older than me, and some of those were my teachers (though I still don’t recall Bora Laskin).

I can still recall some of my thoughts from that long-ago time: I can’t believe that guy was once my age. What went wrong? And how much of what he is telling us can we really believe? How much is fake news (okay, we didn’t even know the term “fake news”, but we thought it). This old geezer is telling me he was recently sailing on the sixth Great Lake and canoeing and hiking and scrambling up a mountain in wild country and that he knows how to deter a charging black bear and . . . Aw, this is all an elaborate hoax by our beloved Professor. Are they late with that bell again?

As you can imagine, my presentation was a typical educational experience.

Still, I enjoyed it. I am a born teacher and a life-long student.

As I was leaving the Bora Laskin Building, I looked for some familiar landmarks. There’s a library in the extension (we had to use the university’s central library). The auditorium where we met regularly to hear old fogies speak, was locked. I couldn’t spot the entrance to the gymnasium, but a student I asked said it is still there.

The flower bed is gone where I buried an empty vodka bottle. But that’s another story.

Book cover, representing a view of Bish Bay on Lake Nipigon.

Posted in LOCAL HISTORY, MY EXCURSIONS | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

THE LAST RIDE

Olga & Miko, Valentine's Day 2017

Olga & Miko, Valentine’s Day 2017

Two days ago, I took Miko for his last ride.

Our little Shih Tzu mixed loves a car ride. Usually, when Olga and I leave home for a quick trip to town, we leave Miko in a baby pen. We can’t let him roam the house because he will attack the portal we left from. He has already chewed and clawed a good portion of the cedar door and the frame through which he has seen us disappear.

When we return, there is always an enthusiastic welcome.

We acquired Miko four years ago from our granddaughter, Heather. Heather acquired him in Sudbury, where she was living at the time. When she visited us at Wildgoose Lake, Olga acquired him. We had recently lost our own dog, Shiloh, when her hips collapsed. And Olga had always wanted a lap dog.

Miko wasn’t a lap dog.   Miko’s first owner was a senior in Sudbury, and when he entered a seniors’ residence, he had to surrender Miko. Miko never forgave him, apparently, for he was a tough animal to warm up to. He frequently bit us. Nearly took off Olga’s big toe once. When Heather visited the next time, he bit her.

We understood his trauma. We caressed him, indulged him with special treats, let him sleep with us. Over the months, he warmed up to us, bit us less often.

We have a habit of acquiring rescue pets. We still have our cat,Trouble, after many years ̶ she grew up wild in the Dorion bush, fed occasionally by animal-lovers Penny and Doug. We later acquired Bushcat when son Rob found him half-starved roaming the nearby bush. Miko was our rescue dog.

These last few months, Miko became a true lap dog. Loved jumping into our laps. Loved visitors. Loved our cats. Almost never snapped at us.

When we travelled to TBay, three hours away, we took Miko for a ride. Sometimes to the vet. Sometimes to the groomer.   Sometimes just to keep us company. We certainly couldn’t leave him penned up in the house overnight. Miko loved those rides. Especially with Olga along. He was Olga’s dog. Olga called him my dog because if I left home for a day or more, he pined for me. Whimpered, wouldn’t eat.

We were never sure of Miko’s age. We thought he was age seven when we acquired him. Heather later revised that to nine. And just the other day, to age twelve. Go figure.

For several weeks now, Miko has been ailing. Off his feed. Lackadaisical. Sometimes not eating a bite for a whole day. Urinating wherever he felt like. Dropping sticky gifts on the carpet. For a year we’ve known he suffers from kidney stones, often resulting in his leaving bloody patches. Medication hasn’t helped much, and surgery is beyond our means.

For the last while, he will not stay on our bed at night. Jumps off, curls up on the floor. Sometimes hides under the bed. In daytime, likes to lie down in cramped places, under a table or kitchen chair. It is our experience with pets that they often isolate themselves when they feel the end is near. Shiloh dragged herself into the nearby bush, wouldn’t return to the house. Had to lift her into the car for her last ride to the vet.

Lately, Miko has had his fine moments. Snatches up a toy and invites us to play. Never growls if disturbed. Never dreams of snapping at us. When we receive a visitor, he arouses from his lethargy and cavorts.

Four days ago, Olga said it was time. I made arrangements with the vet.

Two days ago, I told Miko, “Going for a ride.”

He leapt up. He toddled upstairs like a young puppy. He followed me out the door, tail wagging. He waded through the knee-deep snow (his knees, mind you) although I was prepared to pick him up. He joyfully ensconced himself in the back-seat hammock. He never really complained that Olga wasn’t coming along. He was going for a ride.

It wasn’t a ride that Olga was prepared to take. If I could have skipped it, I would’ve.

Three hours later, I left Miko at the vet’s.

Gave him our last caresses. Collected his collar and tags. Miko was happy enough. Maybe he thought he was going to be groomed.

Yes, we’ve shed a few tears. I’m crying now.

But we are collecting Miko a week from today. Bringing him home in a sand-coloured urn. When the ground thaws, we’ll find a sandy spot for him.

Give him one last caress.

He’ll be so happy.

Heather & Miko in happier times

Heather & Miko in happier times

Posted in GREENSTONE, LIFE AS IT HAPPENS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A RUPTURE LOOKING FOR A WATER CROSSING TO HAPPEN

Creelman Creek in the fall, looking towards Wildgoose Lake . . .

Creelman Creek in the fall, looking towards Wildgoose Lake . . .

How safe is a 60-year-old natural gas pipeline when it’s converted to carry heavy crude?

The short answer: not very.

That was the consensus of the public meeting last night at Geraldton’s Community Centre. Common Voice Northwest invited everyone to comment on a serious issue. Of course, everyone turned out. Everyone that counted. Nine or ten of us.

CVNW is an intervenor in the proposed Energy East (aka TransCanada Pipelines aka TransCanada Corporation) pipeline. The proposal is to take an ancient natural gas pipeline that runs 1900 kilometres across Northern Ontario and through the Ottawa valley and to repurpose the unused or underused sections of it to carry diluted bitumen.

What is diluted bitumen? It’s the stuff that the Alberta tar sands wants to ship out of the province as fast and conveniently as it can because it doesn’t want to deal with it (i.e., refine it on site). Dilbit is the most horrible toxic sludge you can imagine. Compared to it, fentanyl is lemonade.

CVNW is the creature of NOMA ̶   Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association. CVNA has hired KBM Resources Group to conduct meetings in communities along the TCPL corridor. Last night, the facilitator, Steve, made it clear that neither KBM nor CVNW is taking sides. Nor are they defending any aspects of the Energy East proposal. Nor are they equipped to answer anyone’s questions about the multitudinous questionable aspects of the proposal. They are simply gathering information.

And CVNW, as an intervenor (an official input-er ̶ if there is such a word ̶ of the review process). Their expenses are underwritten by Energy East. And CVNW, via KBM, will pass on the gathered information to the big guns that call the shots on whether Energy East gets approval to proceed.

Steve wanted two types of information. One, identify which water crossings are significant. That’s the label, “significant”. If a rupture should occur at or close to a water crossing in the proposed converted pipeline, how sensitive is the spot to environmental damage?

In the detailed proposal that I examined two years ago (and I suspect that little has changed since), Energy East had identified not a single “significant” water crossing in Northern Ontario. I guess somebody told them that they had to do better. I guess they now believe they should get some information. CVNW is stepping up.

The consensus of the meeting last night: every water crossing is significant. I know. That is not news. If you’ve been following the news lately, you know that in every public meeting, Energy East is being advised that every water crossing in Northern Ontario (and they are thousands of them) is significant.

Supposedly, Energy East will monitor these crossings more closely than other spots in the pipeline. How good are their proposed leak-detection-and-response systems? Not very. Check out my article, How Energy East’s Pipeline Could Contaminate Beardmore, the Blackwater River, and Lake Nipigon Without Hardly Trying ( http://bit.ly/2jfIqpw ) .

Two, rank nineteen (yes, nineteen) areas of environmental sensitivity at water crossings you are familiar with.

Back to the first classification of info. I identified Creelman Creek as a significant water crossing. It is two kilometres from our home on Wildgoose Lake. The creek is not big, but it is significant. You can wade across it in many places, but still, a rupture where the pipeline crosses it could have major consequences. Given the poor record of current and proposed leak-detection-and-response systems, it could have catastrophic consequences.

The first consequence: our drilled well is replenished with water that runs in the geological formation where the rupture would occur.

Other consequences: Creelman Creek drains into Wildgoose Lake, where our home is. There are hundreds of other camps and residences on Wildgoose Lake, some of which have wells, others of which draw water from the lake.

We have a great sport fishery. We host a multitude of waterfowl in season. We are home to countless wildlife that depend on water (moose, beavers, otters). We enjoy many water-based recreational activities. And our water helps replenish the Great Lakes. Yes, the waters of Creelman Creek and Wildgoose Lake drain westward into other lakes and rivers, run through Lake Nipigon, and on into Lake Superior.

142b-beaver-lodge

In this region through which the converted pipeline would run, there are thousands of water crossings and wetlands (muskegs may be classed as wetlands). Water in our region (whatever its location) does one of three things: it evaporates, it recirculates in soil and living species, or it finds its way into the Atlantic Ocean (via the Great Lakes) or the Arctic Ocean, via James and Hudson Bays.

Dilbit kills whatever it touches.

Another thing: this converted pipeline will leak. Even Energy East admits that. What it hopes to accomplish is to mitigate the damage. Small hope.

With regard to the second classification of information: the consensus of the meeting last night was that the most sensitive area would be a community’s water intake downstream of a rupture. Much farther down the list of nineteen sensitivities were caribou calving areas and habitats of rare plants. Remember, we were asked to identify sensitive areas that we knew of. There might have been fourteen or more areas that were sensitive that we knew nothing about, from personal knowledge. Perhaps the experts should be consulted.

As I said before, everybody in Greenstone had a chance to comment on Energy East’s proposal. By everybody, I mean the nine or ten of us who attended the meeting. So we commented on behalf of everybody in Greenstone. Well, on behalf of at least half of Greenstone . . . because there’s a meeting in Longlac tonight.

Having said all this, am I against the Energy East proposal? The short answer is yes.

Am I against a pipeline that would carry heavy crude across this region to a refinery in the east? Not necessarily.

My first condition for approval would be using an existing utility corridor. That, apparently, is no problem. Dig up the old natural gas pipeline and recycle the metal. Second, a new proposal should be based on a brand new pipeline constructed to the highest standards. Not, I’m afraid, according to current industry standards. Those kinds of pipelines leak regularly. The new standards should incorporate what is known about almost 100%-leak-proof pipeline material and advanced leak-detection-and-response systems and 24/7 eyeball surveillance.

This technology does exist now. Yes, it is expensive. But, we think our environment is priceless. We like it the way it is. We’ll take a pass on the dilbit cocktail.

The next time you meet an Energy East official, ask him or her about stainless steel pipelines, and pipeline pigs (you could look it up), and drone inspections.

He or she will say, But that’s way too expensive!

And you will say . . .

Creelman Creek in winter . . .

Creelman Creek in winter . . .

Posted in WRITING | 2 Comments