Sunday, November 30, 2008

Yay Me !

I don't write about work as it would soon take over this blog and that's not what this is about. But I do have to toot my own horn because...well...I just have to toot my own horn.

Much like TV ratings, here are radio ratings. And "The Book", as the ratings report is called, came out on Thursday. The station I am on has been a bit of a workhorse, regularly coming in 3rd or 4th. We have been slow and steady and maintain a spot that keeps the competition from snagging the top spots where our sister stations sit. (There is a strategy in ratings that resembles football games, with blocking and diversion a big part of it.) Individual day parts, morning, midday, afternoon drive, and evenings sometimes differ from the overall standing, but usually not by much.

Well, Kool FM is a solid third. Solid, meaning we are far enough ahead of fourth, there's little for us to worry about from a competing company at this point in time. The big surprise was the gains we made in different demos that has resulted in some day parts being Number 1 in some pretty important demos. Specifically my show! Yay me!

I was accepting congratulations from the sales department long before I'd seen the actual numbers with my own eyes, not really knowing what was going on. The sales department see the Book first as they are the ones out in the field selling the stations to advertisers. So when the sales team are shaking your hand, slapping you on the back, and literally doing cartwheels in the hallways, you know you "done good".

It was all very exciting - and a little overwhelming. It hadn't really sunk in until Friday afternoon when I was over at my friends' Kathy and Jane's. Kathy asked how work was going. I managed to do a little football touchdown victory dance to demonstrate.

The thing is, the great results our company achieved can't be broken down to one specific department. A radio station is comprised of programming (my boss is the programmer), creative (they write commercials and promotional bits), production (who produce everything that goes on air), news, the jocks(short for disc jockeys, though we are called on air personalities now), promotions (who work with the programmers to come up with fun stuff to do on the radio for contests and public service events), sales, and a myriad of other support departments, like the engineers who keep us on the air and fix the things I break.

The building I work in houses two different radio companies. Long story short, we had a limited management agreement, the first of its kind in Canada, that had to be OKed by the federal government before it went into play. It was an experiment of sorts that worked really well, but for a number of different reasons the government decided to put an end to it. So my company will be moving out in the next six months. Currently, there are around 100 people who work for the two companies, plus a number of part timers. There are bound to be personality conflicts. And there are, though for the most part, everyone gets along quite well. Our staff parties over the past 10 years have involved both companies and this year's Christmas party will be the last of its kind.

Previous to our combining forces 10 years ago, we were competitors. After we part ways, we will be competitors again, but not in the same sense. We are not competing for the same audience but for a share of the advertising dollars out there.

I have no formal training in radio or business (my degree is a BSc in psychology), so the past 25 years have been a real learning experience for me. The past 10 years has been a wonderful example of cooperation and camaraderie.

How does this all tie in with MS? You knew it would. Much like "it takes a village to raise a child" or "it takes a village to make a successful radio station", it takes a village to live well with MS. I have a wonderful programmer who easily says yes to ideas I might have and has given me freer reign with my presentation. I have a wonderful team of doctors who guide my care and listen to my ideas about treatment and answer my questions. I have a sales team who toot my horn to clients and parents who cheer me on and toot my horn, too. I have a creative team and production staff who know what I'm capable of and direct me in doing it, just as my friends (especially the Wookie) have faith in what I can do.

I also have faith in what I can do, despite the fact that I wonder sometimes if I'm good enough to do it. But when the boss and co-workers say "Good job" or my medical team say "Whatever you're doing, keep doing it - it's working" or my friends and family cheer me on, I know I'm doing something right and life is good. We need to depend on other people just as they need to depend on us. It's all about cooperation and camaraderie.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


When I was 2 and a half my folks and I lived in Montreal in a tall apartment building. It had an outdoor pool and even a kiddie pool. My mother figured since we would be swimming that she had better take a CPR course. So she did. By the time I turned 3 it was summer and she and I spent a lot of time in the pools.

One day in particular, I was splashing in the kiddie pool with my life vest on (I wasn't drowning on Mom's watch). I desperately wanted to get into the big pool but wasn't allowed on my own. Mom was sitting on the side in a lounge chair. I clearly remember thinking about how to get into the big pool without getting caught. I waited for my mom's eyes to be averted elsewhere and then ran like a bat out of hell.

I remember the feeling of complete freedom as I sailed through the air. It was the most amazing experience so far in my short life. I hit the water and went straight down and then straight back up again through all the bubbles. I recall looking up from underwater to the blue sky through all the bubbles, amazed at the sight and exhilarated as I surfaced. I bobbed like a cork, giggling like a fool I imagine. And then pandemonium as the adults present realized I had escaped the kiddie pool and was in the DEEP end of the adult pool.

With a life vest on.

I don't remember what happened after that and I'm not sure my mom does either as her heart would have been in her throat and the adrenaline would have been pumping. I just remember the feelings I had through the whole experience. 42 years later, I can recall the joy I felt, the absolute freedom as I sailed through the air and came back up through all the bubbles.

I also remember knowing that there would be consequences, but I did it anyway.

This time of year, a lot of demands are put on us. Or we put them on ourselves. Holiday stresses are nasty. Parties to attend, baking and cleaning to be done, shopping to do, entertaining the relatives or co-workers you'd rather not see. And if you live in a snowy part of the world, you have to contend with travel delays because of the weather. It's a tough time of year to deal with all those things and a chronic illness, too. So make a plan.

Easier said than done, I know. But by planning as much as you can, it's easier to deal with the problems that pop up. Rest as much as you need to and rememeber that YOU decide what you want and can do.

You can say damn the consequences, jump into the deep end, and enjoy the experience. Just be prepared for the fallout.


Friday, November 28, 2008

The Brain that Changes Itself

As a kid I wanted to be a doctor. For years, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said "A doctor". How I ended up on the radio instead is another post. But I have been fascinated with brains since I was a kid and attended Wilder Penfield Elementary School. Dr. Penfield was the father of modern neurosurgery (I have written a post about him earlier) who pioneered surgical treatment for epilepsy.

In January 1998, I was diagnosed with MS. I couldn't use the right side of my body, tie my shoes, cut my meat. Until feeling started to come back I didn't dare drive as my right foot wasn't dependable. I absorbed everything I could about MS and sparked my interest in neurology (again).
I recovered, though not completely. Every year when I saw my neurologist, he would comment that there was improvement. (At this point in time, I'm at about 97%)

Improvement in my brain? So, was the myelin repairing itself or had my brain rewired how I did certain tasks? Probably the former, but over the past 11 years, there has been a great interest in the latter. The whole science of neurology has to be re-written. The brain is not a machine, hardwired to do what it does. It's more like a lump of play-doh and everything we do and think affects it, leaves an impression, so to speak.

Why is this exciting to me? Or why should it be exciting to anyone? Simply, it means we can change how our brains work.

Dr. Norman Doidge is a neuroscientist, who's written one of the most important books in the field of neurology in the past decade. "The Brain That Changes Itself" should be on your reading list, if you haven't read it already. Last night on the national broadcasting TV station, CBC, a program about his ideas was aired and he was the narrator. (He's also been featured on PBS in the States) A couple of the neuroscientists he interviewed I had already heard of or read their books, so it wasn't all new information to me, but it was still very exciting for me to watch. To see theories put into action gives me hope for rehabilitation of many illnesses or injuries. Including MS.

MS damages the myelin in the CNS. With time and progression of the disease, MS can damage the actual nerves. Until we can stop MS, we'll have to just work with what we've got and maybe rewire our brains. I'm trying.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Less Tolerant

More curious. Less patient. More learned. Less tolerant. Hmmmm...less patient and tolerant are almost the same thing. Happier. Better physical shape.

I've been thinking about Trevis' question. How has MS shaped you? Those things listed above are the first things that came to mind. I have always been one to dislike stupidity, which has nothing to do with education and everything to do with "horse sense". I've done stupid things in my life, so it's not that I don't get the fact that sometimes people do stupid things. But people who don't learn from their stupid mistakes are the people I dislike. And as I age, I become even less tolerant of certain people. I have even gone so far as to eliminate relationships with some people. The ones who drag me down with negative thinking. The ones who repeat their mistakes and wonder why they get the same outcome. The ones who whine and complain without doing anything to make a change for the better. The ones who say they want to change but then don't take action. The ones who complain about what an organization hasn't done for them, but who make no effort to contribute to that organization.

Over the years, I have recognized my intolerance. So, in an effort to improve myself, I will give people a second chance. It's easy to do really, but I also let the person know that I'm giving them a second chance. If they are complainers, I will offer assistance in determining the problem they are having. Having identified the problem, I will offer a possible solution, or give them references to people that can offer a solution. And I tell them that the next time they tell me about the same problem I also want to hear what they did about it or I won't listen to them.

(There's a difference between a "bitch" session and complaining. I recognize the difference. The "bitch" session is simply a chance to air a grievance and get support and validation for the negative feelings. I've found that the person doing the "bitching" usually comes to an understanding of the problem and even may find a solution to it.)

I am in better physical shape than before MS hit. I renewed my interest in neurology so have read a great deal more about the subject. I have met some truly interesting and inspiring people that I would never had met. And I do far fewer stupid things.

But the biggest change is my increased intolerance for stupidity. Life is too short and I only have so many spoons, to borrow a phrase from Kim at Sunshine and Moonlight. I am not wasting my spoons on negative people when I could be out hunting bugs, raising funds for MS research, or reading a good book, or hiking with the Wookie.

All that being said, I am all about education. There are no stupid questions. If you are asking a question, that shows a desire for knowledge, which in itself is a sign of intelligence. I really like it when a co-worker or friend asks me something about MS or to identify a bug they found in their cupboard, or who sang a certain song and from what year.

Some may consider me a little on the arrogant side. Or a lot. Once they get to know me, though, they realize I'm really not arrogant. I just know where to get the answers. I've had a few people comment that I am "brave" for living my life the way I do. I don't believe I am brave so much as stubborn. But I won't be antagonizing polar bears any time soon. That's just stupid.


Halifax Explosion

Taken from the shore of the Bedford Basin, you can just make out the two bridges that connect Halifax and Dartmouth. The closer bridge is right over a part of the Halifax Harbour called The Narrows, the site of the Halifax Explosion.

In December 1917, World War 1 was in full swing. Halifax was the launch point for any European bound war or supply ship. The harbour was filled with vessels of all shapes and sizes, sailors roamed the streets and army personnel arrived by the train load to get to the war front.

On the morning of December 6th, a regular work and school day, the Imo, a Norweigan relief ship, and the Mont Blanc, a French munitions ship, fully loaded, collided in the harbour at the narrowest point (called the Narrows). Fire broke out on the Mont Blanc and attracted the attention of those on shore who were going about their business. Only those on board the Mont Blanc knew the immediate danger the city was in and a few tried to put out the fire but eventually just jumped off the ship. Those on shore couldn't know what was about to happen.

People went to the windows of their home or stopped in the street to watch the fire. About 20 minutes after the collision an explosion occured and time stood still for a moment.

2000 people were killed, 9,000 injured, hundreds blinded by breaking glass. A tsunami flollowed the blast, and since it was winter many stoves and lamps were tipped over and fires spread quickly, destroying homes already weakened by the blast. A tsunami followed the explosion washing many victims into the harbour.

Rescue and recovery began immediately, of course, with med students and nurses being called on to look after the wounded. Military personnel assisted the civilians and within a few hours of the blast, aid was on its way from all points west and north. Men had to clear the railway tracks and repair them quickly so supplies and people could get through. And then Mother Nature dealt her own blow with a major blizzard dumping more than a foot of snow on the already incapacitated city. At least the blizzard helped to contain, if not extinguish, the fires.

Because it was war time, a lot of military personnel were able to help, though a lot of personnel were overseas at the same time. Civilian doctors and nurses were in short supply. The calls that went out for assistance were not unanswered. By later in the afternoon, people and supplies began arriving from across the country and by the next day they arrived from Boston.

The large number of eye injuries led to a greater understanding of treatment and with the recently formed Canadian National institute for the Blind, significant advances in the treatment of eye injuries were observed. Halifax became well known for its care for the blind. A Boston surgeon who had arrived to help noted the lack of coordinated pediatric care and that led him to pioneer pediatric surgery.

Every year on December 6th at 9:06, the bells at the memorial in the north end of the city ring out to mark the anniversary. And every year, since 1971, the people of Nova Scotia send a Christmas tree to the people of Boston to say thank you. Every year, when the tree is cut down the local media is there to document it. It is sent to Boston and set up on the Boston Common, lit up for the season.

The tree was selected, cut down last Sunday, and on Monday it was shipped to Boston. On December 4th starting at 6 PM the official tree lighting ceremony will be held. Singer Brian MacKnight will be performing along wih a Nova Scotian blues phenom by the name of Garrett Mason. If you like blues music, I guarantee you'll be blown away by Garrett. So if you're in Boston plan on attending the ceremony. Enjoy the performers and the tree. But most of all, feel the love. Oh, and thank you!



We got hit with two winter storms last week. Friday we received about a foot of snow, so Saturday I had to dig myself out to get to a remote broadcast. Yesterday I helped to dig out 3 other cars in the parking lot. I knew that I wouldn't get for a hike so the exercise was good for me.

The forecast for the rest of the week is for a warming trend and rain. Normally in Halifax we get snow, followed within hours by rain so we rarely get much accumulation. It's strange to see it all there for more than a day.

The picture is of my garden, now completely under snow. All the creepy crawlies should be asleep under there. And you can also make out a bit of my blackberry cane. It's been there a couple of years now, and I'm hoping for berries this coming summer.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Do Stem Cells Grow Stems?

Picture from Wikipedia.

A report came out earlier this week that I have been mulling over and trying to figure out. Actually, the report itself isn't difficult to understand and it's fairly exciting. First read the report:

From Stuart Wong, of the MS Society:

· An experimental treatment offered at a clinic in Israel may alter the
natural course of primary progressive multiple sclerosis and lead to some
recovery of function in some patients.
· Early data from about 25 patients suggests that the "mesenchymal" stem
cell treatment can repair existing damage to the nerve cells. Mesenchymal
cells exist in one's own bone marrow and can turn into heart tissue, bone,
cartilage and nerve cells.

· The procedure involves removing mesenchymal stem cells from a patient,
culturing them and preparing them for infusion. The cells are then injected
back into the patient either directly into the blood, the spinal fluid or

Key messages related to this story are as follows:

· The ease of isolation and culturing mesenchymal stem cells makes them
attractive for investigation as a potential therapy. However, further work
and results are required to further our understanding of the abilities of
mesenchymal cells in relation to MS.

· Dr. Mark Freedman, an Ottawa researcher with expertise in bone marrow stem
cell treatments is planning an international meeting on mesenchymal stem
cell treatments and hopes to eventually begin a clinical trial in Canada.

· The MS Society of Canada will be watching these developments very
carefully and will post new information on when available.

Me again. Dr. Freedman spoke at a meeting I attended a few years ago discussing his ongoing experiment with bone marrow transplants for MS patients. What he said is best summed up as follows (this is in response to a question about the experiment found on the MS Society website):
It is true that no patient thus far has had either a relapse or evidence of new MRI lesions and all seem to have remained fairly static with regards to their EDSS going out now 5 years plus, but it is highly unlikely for this treatment to become mainstream for MS. Not only is the whole treatment costly and risky but it is still considered to be experimental. In a highly selected group of patients it might become a consideration.
As to how it will enlighten us about MS, it is important to first understand what is unique about these patients. By the time we make a diagnosis, most patients have had their illness for some time, so figuring out what ‘kick-starts’ the disease is near impossible. In order to do this, we must look at a time when the disease begins. This is what we were intending to do in our patients after wiping out the old immune system and watching the new one renew, presumably with the disease. In effect, we did not believe that the treatment would completely stop the disease. However, watching the immune system re-develop in patients may give us a clue as to what may have gone wrong to begin with. We are comparing some of the immune aspects prior to the transplant with those afterwards to see what changes take place that might account for the well-being of patients following the treatments. We also recognize today that inflammation can be both good and bad. In MS, especially the patients enrolling in this study, it is clear that there is an imbalance of inflammation with the ‘bad’ type dominating. The transplant procedure wipes out both types, but upon recovery, the immune system seems to only be capable of ‘good’ inflammation. Understanding how to identify this type of inflammation may be key to earlier less toxic types of treatment.

Me again. Dr. Freedman said (at the meeting) that in essence the experiment has been a failure since none of the patients has had a redevelopment of MS and the objective was to observe the pathogenesis of the disease, to see how it develops. The good thing to come out of this experiment is the apparent halt of MS in these patients.
I have been looking for a few days and sending e-mails to MS professionals to find out exactly what the Israeli researchers have done that is different from what Dr. Freedman is doing. And that is where I have stalled. It's easier to find instructions on building a nuclear device than it is to find out what the Israeli team has done. I am confident that once Dr. Freedman finds out, the rest of us will know soon afterwards.

It is another piece of the puzzle. It's times like these, though, that I wish I had become a brain surgeon like I wanted when I was little. Then I think I'd understand all this stuff better and I might even have a little pull with the medical community.

Did you know it was a couple of Canadians who pioneered the field of stem cells?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Jack's Lake

I broke in the new boots today with a quick hike to Jack's Lake. I'm glad I went up there as the 2 inches of rain we got yesterday left the ground very soft; perfect to see the deer tracks:

This bridge was in better shape last year but still uncrossable. Now it's in even worse shape. I haven't found the trail that picks up on the other side yet, but it's only a matter of time.

About 100 feet to the right I took a few wonderful shots of the lake and the sunset. I was standing in the same spot I was in a few months ago where I found the leeches in the water's edge.

And the boots are muddy now, but my tootsies are dry.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wet Woods

So the past couple of weeks have found me hiking close to home and out in the garden prepping it for winter. I found several signs of life under the leaves, including two of the fattest earthworms I've ever seen. Only managed to get one of them, though. There were several species of beetle, grub, and caterpillar like worms hanging out, too.

On our longer hikes on the weekend, we don't cover a lot of ground, as it is rough going and wet and muddy. Yesterday we were out for almost 3 hours, slogging through muck and over rocky terrain (we generally follow a road or power line path), but we still only managed to cover 6 kilometres. It's a good workout mind you and as long as the weather is fairly mild (quite surprising for this time of year) we can continue on our treks.

I discovered a pink lichen yesterday I'd never seen before. The red tinged lichen is common, but the pink was a surprise.
We are never very far from civilization, so there's no real fear of becoming lost. We have encountered a number of deer tracks on our hikes the past couple of weeks but no actual critters. The hiking boots I have are not waterproof, so that will be my next large purchase. I don't mind getting my feet wet and mucky, but if I want to put on the boots the next day, it's quite gross. The leather needs time to dry out. And I think I should buy myself a bunch of black socks as my usual white athletic ones are now permanently splotched with mud stains and dye from the leather of my boots.
While on our hike yesterday, I was thinking about snowshoes. We don't get enough snow in Halifax to warrant wearing them for a hike around the city. But out where the Wookie lives, with all the logging and hunting trails, they might be a good purchase. We'll see. It poured last night so the woods are really soggy today and the hiking would be even rougher and wetter than yesterday. And my boots are still soaked. So it's off to Chapters instead and a movie at Mom and Dad's. Hellboy 2 it will be.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Environmental Factors in MS

I started to write a response to Merelyme's comment on my last post, but quickly realized it needed a post of its own. Her comment first: So people can get MS from environmental agents?

An environmental agent can be anything in the person's environment:an acquired virus, a chemical agent, an immunization, not enough sunlight, noisy neighbours, or a combination of those things. It is currently thought that a person's genetic make-up, coupled with an environmental factor is what triggers the auto immune response that we know as MS. For example: if you are born with MS genes and you are exposed to a certain virus as a child and you happen to live in the Northern hemisphere, then you get MS. However, if you don't have the genetic factor, then the virus and lack of sunlight do nothing more than leave you pale.

We don't know if this is how MS works, but it's a current theory. We also can't identify all the genetic factors involved. A few genes have been implicated, but nothing has been proven at this point and we haven't identified all the genes involved. It is a sometimes very complex disease because we don't know the whys and hows. But to put it simply, we have a weakness in our blood brain barrier (which may be genetic in nature or a result of environmental factors) that allows something into our CNS that shouldn't be there. The body's response to that "something", whether it's a virus or chemical we are exposed to, is to turn on itself, and eventually when abnormal body function is observed, the response is called MS.

Some researchers are working on the blood brain barrier, either to see why it's been weakened or to see if it can be strengthened. Some researchers are working on myelin repair and regeneration, and still others are looking at the complex chemical reactions that occur on the cellular level to reduce inflammation.

There is also some research into nutrition. Our food is what we would consider an environmental factor as well.

In answer to your question, at this point in time, no we don't "get" MS from the environment, at least not in the same way we get the flu or measles. The environment possibly contributes to our getting MS, but on its own the environment is not responsible (we think). Our environment is too big and too varied to pin it down at this point.

You can think of it this way. Let's say that an illness develops in all kinds of people around the world. They all live in different communities, some in China, some in Africa, some in North America. they all eat different food. Some have had measles and other childhood illnesses. Some haven't had even a case of the sniffles. But what they all have in common is they all have pet rabbits. So the logical conclusion is that they've all been infected with the illness by their rabbits. So researchers start examining the rabbits and discover a previously unobserved species of flea that only lives on rabbits. The rabbits scratch the flea bites and infected skin is shed into the air and is touched by the rabbit owners, who in turn develop the illness. Now the researchers can look at methods of eliminating the fleas, or treating the flea bites so the animals don't scratch and shed infected skin, or they can kill all the rabbits, thus eliminating the food source of the fleas causing the fleas to die off. But researchers also discover that some people who own rabbits that are infected with fleas don't get the illness. By examining those people, the researchers may be able to discover if these people have a natural immunity to the illness or perhaps an immune system better equipped to handle exposure to the infectious agent. Then they may be able to develop a vaccine or physical improvement to the humans' bodies to avoid the illness.

If you're still with me at this point, consider this: in the story of MS, we just haven't discovered what we all have in common. We're not all women. We're not all living in the extreme Northern or Southern hemispheres. We're not all of Northern European heritage. But we all have pet rabbits that are making us sick. We just don't know what our pet rabbit looks like.

hope this helps!

The picture at the top is from The Velveteen Rabbit.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Medicine of War

Picture from Wikipedia.

War. What's it good for? Absolutely nothing. Or so the song tells us.

But there is something it is good for. Medical advancement.

During World War 1, horrendous facial injuries had to be treated. Plastic surgery, as a field of medicine, came into being. Not the plastic surgery of today where people want Angelina Jolie lips or Dolly Parton mammaries. But reconstructive plastic surgery, to replace noses, cheek bones, repair hideous burns. Although physicians had attempted to treat deformities and injuries prior to WW1, it was war that really made this area expand into what we know it as today. It developed as a result of needing to improve the function of soldiers and to also give them some semblance of normalcy.

The field of psychiatry received a boost as a result of the high incidence of "shell shock", what we commonly refer to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder today. We know now that you need not be in a war to suffer from PTSD. But it was another of the contributions to medicine from WW 1. Triage, as we know it today, was formalized during WW 1. Sulfa drugs were used extensively until the advent of penicillan during WW 2. The Korea Conflict saw the first use of helicopters to transfer wounded and the beginning of the use of an artificial kidney machine.

Most recently, with the conflict in the Middle East, a rise in the incidence of head injuries and amputations has occurred. Because of quick assessment, first aid treatment, and transport, more of these injured soldiers are surviving than ever before. Stateside, however, treatment must be continued. And this is where medical advances are being made. Injured soldiers must be given proper and timely treatment to get them back to a civilian life or a return to the military. Developments in prosthetics, rehabilitation, and psychiatry meant for military personnel will trickle down to the civilian population. Current studies by the U.S. government into alternative treatments will also prove to be a benefit. And most recently was announced a study into the incidence of MS among the military population since the first Gulf War (it is suspected that chemical warfare may have contributed to the number of MS cases).

I do not expect to find THE cause of MS from the oil fields of Kuwait. But it may give us an insight into the pathogenesis of the disease. And as you know, I am collecting more pieces of this puzzle.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Lest We Forget

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
— Lt.-Col. John McCrae

For a country with only 7 million people, Canada suffered great losses during World War 1. 67,000. Place names like Vimy Ridge, Ypres, and Passchendale are synonymous with sacrifice.

When WW2 broke out, Canada was expected to take responsibility for defending North America (!) but of course sent many soldiers to Europe and Asia as well. Dieppe, Normandy, Sicily, and Hong Kong are just a few of the places where more sacrifices were made.

The Korean Conflict was the next military action in which Canadians took part. With the Vietnam war, Canada was officially neutral, though the country continued trade with the US that enabled the war effort, probably engaged in espionage for the US, but also gave refuge to many draft dodgers. A number of Canadians enlisted with the US military, and over 100 were killed.

Today there are Canadians serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we continue to rack up the numbers of those who make the ultimate sacrifice.

I have had the fortune of meeting and knowing veterans of all these military conflicts. I have had the fortune of hearing previously untold stories about those military experiences. And every Remembrance Day I pause to think of the men and women who sacrificed their lives, their families, and their careers so that others could live in a democracy. I cry at the services I attend, the commercials I see on TV that remind us of the sacrifices, and the articles I read about the soldiers and their families. I also bawl like a baby when I hear the sounds of a bugle.

I have family members, living and passed on, who have participated in the military. I don't like the idea of anyone going to war but I understand. I understood when my great Uncle Willie said he was pissed off that his merchant mariner friends and compatriots were being torpedoed by U-boats in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I think I understand my cousin's reasoning behind not hunting, even though he was a crack shot for the Canadian army. I understand my friend's fear for her son when he was sent to the Middle East even though she raised him and her other children without toy weapons so as to foster a "peaceful life philosophy".

I understand there are people who think it is all right to hate someone for the colour of their skin, religion, sexual orientation, or their disability. I understand that there are some who do not believe in basic human rights for all people. I understand that had I lived during Hitler's time and in his country I might have been one of those sterilized or worse because of my MS.

I understand why countries feel they have to go to war. I will support those individuals who want to make a difference in the lives of those who are oppressed, though I may not support their government's policies. And I will continue with my efforts to fight oppression and inequality here at home by making my voice heard for those who can't speak.

Tomorrow as I stand at the Remembrance Day ceremony, probably bundled up from the cold, I will be thinking about all those men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice and those that still are giving.


John McCrae was a Canadian physician serving during World War 1 when he wrote In Flanders Fields. He died in January 1918 from pneumonia.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Money, Research, Recruitment

It's been a rather hectic few days in my brain. Bear with me while I fill you in on a few thoughts.

When Michael J. Fox revealed he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, one of the statements he made was that support of research into Parkinson's was also support for MS, Alzheimer's, and other illnesses affecting the brain. So true. Every little nugget of info we can learn about the brain helps us in our understanding of MS. It is dysfunction that enables us to discover how the brain works. We have learned what happens when certain structures of the brain are damaged or destroyed by injury. We just haven't learned how to always effectively repair that damage or in the case of many diseases, prevent the trauma in the first place. MS is contributing to our knowledge of how the brain is supposed to work.

Recently an initiative was announced by the Canadian federal government.
From the MS Society of Canada's website:

"During the federal election campaign, the Conservative Party of Canada pledged to work with Canada’s major neurological charities and to provide $15 million for a four-year study of neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

“With the re-election of a Conservative government on October 14, the MS Society looks forward to working with the federal government to ensure the study proceeds as soon as possible,” said Yves Savoie, president and chief executive officer of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. “People affected by MS and by other diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord need a comprehensive brain strategy, and this study will be a good first step.”

The health, social and economic burden of brain disorders is enormous, Mr. Savoie noted. A 2002 report by the World Bank, the World Health Organization and Harvard School of Public Health found that, when considered in terms of death and disability, the current burden of brain disorders outweighs that of cancer and cardiovascular conditions combined."

Last night I attended a retirement dinner to celebrate the work of Dr. Jock Murray. Dr. Murray was the driving force behind the establishment of Atlantic Canada's first MS Clinic. He developed the Medical Humanities program at the region's medical school and is a big proponent of using the arts to aid in the education of medical students. I could go on forever listing this man's accomplishments, but trust me when I say that he is one of the finest and most respected of teachers and clinicians in this country, if not on the international scene.

One of the things Dr. Murray has encouraged for his patients is to find a way to express their experiences, either through activities or pursuit of hobbies. One patient spoke last night and told how she came to write a book about her experience. I know of other patients who draw or paint. Some patients become very involved with self help groups or chapters. Others write journals or take photographs, others become politically active. Some of us immerse ourselves in research.

The MS Society of Canada has also initiated a fund raising and recruitment campaign called End MS. One of last night's speakers, Yves Savoie no less, stated that 90% of the research into MS in Canada is funded by the MS Society. The proposed four year study will aid the government in determining where the focus of neurological disease research should be. Some of the more cynical of us are saying, "Enough with the studies! Get on with funding research!" I hear you, I really do, because I just want to throw money at researchers, too, and say "Solve this already!" However, the mandate of the MS Society is to not only be a leader in the search for the cause and a cure for MS, but to also aid those already afflicted with MS. Their money goes to research, support, and services. But in order to get government dollars we have to jump through their hoops. By getting support from government, the MS Society will be able to do even more for people already suffering from MS. We also need to attract doctors and researchers to the field of MS. As people like Dr. Murray retire, we need to fill in their slots at the clinics and in the labs. And that is one of the aims of the End MS campaign.

If you're still with my seemingly unconnected thoughts, here it is in a nutshell: All of our experiences, expressed artistically or concretely, contribute to our knowledge of MS, how the brain is supposed to function, how we want it to function. The government wants to know about our experiences and what we need. The MS Society is continuing its mandates while looking for other sources of funding and trying to recruit new talent to the field.

And that's why it takes so long to get funding on a large scale. You and I know what the cost of having MS is to an individual and their family. Now the government wants to know details so they can determine the best places to put their money. I'm preaching to the choir, I know. However, perhaps a new choir member will read something one of has written, be inspired, and find a solution.

Here's hoping.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

From Zebra to Ass

When I began writing this blog it was after having read a number of medical web blogs. Wow...doctors and nurses blogging! Where do they get the time? And then I thought, if they can do it, so can I. But without as much medical-ese.
So I began this journey. After a short time I discovered a whole MS Blogger community out there. And it keeps growing. Which is kind of a good news, bad news sort of thing.

So here it is, a year later, and I'm still at it. That got me to thinking about what has happened over the past year. Are we any closer to a cause or cure for MS? Have we at least added more ammo to the arsenal? Have I accomplished anything worthwhile? Did I make anybody snort coffee on their keyboard?

This blog details my journey through a life with MS. It's unique but universal at the same time. I have something to say. I can't (and won't) force anyone to read it, or even agree with it. But it is mine, so it doesn't matter if you agree or not. These are my experiences, my perceptions. I enjoy going back over some older posts and can actually "see" my thought process in action. Much as I can "see" the thought processes, growth, and understanding of other bloggers who are on the same journey. I live vicariously through their light bulb moments.

I am not a Pollyanna. I am a positive thinker and behaver, though I have my contrary moments, like everyone. I dislike complaining, whining, and railing. I like action. DO something. Or at least TRY to do something. Stop criticizing the system, the doctors, your family, or the politicians. Make a point, make a stand and take action. E-mail your politicians, your family, or friends, asking them to help you take action. Every chance I get to speak with a politician, I let it be known that I am a person with MS and healthcare is my priority. What are they doing to help me and others with MS? And I sometimes hit 'em up for a donation to the MS Bike Tour.
I think my blog reflects those ideas. Sometimes I'm an amateur entomolgist (trying to encourage folks to not squish so many bugs), sometimes I'm a cyclist and hiker(trying to encourage physical activity as a way to improve my and other's health), sometimes I'm a brain trying to figure mine out. And sometimes I'm an ass.

One of my favourite authors growing up was the Western writer Zane Grey. My all time fave of his stories was Tappan's Burro. I have a soft spot for these creatures.

Which brings me to the point of this blog entry. What takes a year to gestate? A donkey. Donkeys are noble animals, smart, strong, and affectionate, especially if you have treats in your pocket. Kind of like me, really, especially if you have treats in your pocket. This week marks my first "blogiversary". One year of percolating produces an ass. That's me. Or more accurately, my blog.

Monday, November 3, 2008


I have one of the busiest weeks planned this week and it started yesterday. I was co-hosting a fundraiser for the a local senior's home. What's interesting about this particular home is that it is not just one building. It has a number of buildings in the neighbourhood. Some are for independent living, some have a few services available for the residents and some are "this" close to full service. In the main building is a hair salon, a drug store, a pub (of sorts) and a gym. There are regular activities in the various "meeting rooms" and concerts for the residents and there seems to be a continuous stream of cubs and brownies going in to entertain the older folks.

Most of the people living in these residences are elderly. But there are a few younger disabled people in there, too. I know a couple of women my age, with MS, who are residents of one of these homes. If I end up in one of these residences at least I know they'll take pretty good care of me.

The fundraiser was an afternoon of sampling chocolate in all forms - in cake, mousse (no sign of Sarah Palin), petits fours, ice cream, icings, as a dip, covering cookies, with meringues...When asked if I would co-host this event my response was OH YEAH. Because they feed me at these things. I have no shame. I'll work for my supper. Ahhhhh....I only gained a half pound.

It was definitely fun. And I didn't have to make supper last night. I had chocolate.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

My Zebra

At the age of 34 I had a relatively unremarkable medical history. Typical childhood diseases, mono as a teenager in university, normal checkups at my yearly physicals. So when I went to my doctor in January of '98 with gradual weakening on my right side, I figured I had a pinched nerve in my neck and told my doc that. She conducted a neuro exam and said she wanted me to see a neurologist. She'd get back to me, but if it got worse, I was to come see her again. In the meantime she sent me for an x-ray of my neck, as a pinched nerved or something out of sorts in my neck was still a possibility.

I had the x-ray the next day but the day after that I was worse. Back to the doc I went and she sent me straight to the hospital where I was diagnosed with probable MS at the end of the day. Time from onset of symptoms to diagnosis was 6 days.

My mother is politically active, behind the scenes. So over the years people have commented to her that I probably got my quick diagnosis because of her connections. She denied it, as she had nothing to do with it, and explains that I was very lucky.

I didn't have a thick medical file to begin with, no other major or chronic illnesses, no exposure to dangerous chemicals or the like at my job, and I had an excellent rapport with my doctor. I went to see her once a year for my physical and that was pretty much it.

A couple of years ago, I was facilitating a talk given by one of the neurologists about treatments of MS. One of the questions from the audience was "Why does it take so long for some people to get a diagnosis?"

In a nutshell, a few things are at work. First, presentation. We all know (or we should know) that each individual symptom in and of itself could indicate any number of things wrong. Vertigo? Inner ear infection. Tingling in your arm? You slept on it funny or it's a pinched nerve.

Second, our medical history may have nothing in it to indicate a predisposition to neurological events. No one in my family had MS.

Third, our medical history may be jam-packed with other chronic illnesses such as allergies, cancer, chronic infections, diabetes. Other illnesses are likely to be investigated first, before MS, as you have a history of them. Doctors are taught that "when you hear hoof beats, look for the horse, not the zebra". MS is a zebra. I had only horses in my medical history.

Fourth, cost and eliminating the obvious. Working up a lab for an inner ear infection is going to cost a lot less than an MRI for a tumour or MS. If the lab comes up negative, ear infection can be eliminated from the list of differentials.

Fifth, our own ignorance. How many times, pre-MS, have we attributed our symptoms to other benign illnesses? If we have a couple of days of vertigo we think we must have a flu or inner ear infection and it goes away. Tingling in our arm? We slept on it funny and after a couple of days it goes away. And those symptoms may have been days, weeks, or even months or years apart. So do we associate one with the other? Nope. It's not until reflection after diagnosis that we can recall symptoms that may have been indicators of MS. I recalled being at the movies a few months before my diagnosis and experiencing tingling in the fingertips of my right hand. That symptom lasted a couple of days, then went away, forgotten until two years after my diagnosis when I was thinking about any possible symptoms I had long before my diagnosis.

A study was released this week that indicated that people who were obese, smoked, or had other physical or mental health conditions took one to 10 years longer to be diagnosed with MS than those without those conditions. The more medical problems someone with MS had, the more severe the disease became by the time they were diagnosed.

The results of the study are not surprising. What is interesting, though, is the level of disability reached for those whose diagnosis was delayed. One could hypothesize that early diagnosis and early treatment might delay disability, which is the point of the disease modifying drugs.

The lessons to be learned from all this info? Take responsibility for your own health care. That means eat right, sleep right, and exercise; take care of your body, know your body. Learn what you can about any other conditions you may have. Develop a good relationship with your doctor.

Once you are diagnosed with MS, you still have continued responsibility for your own health care. Not all symptoms are MS related. We still get the flu, cancer, arthritis, or Parkinson's. Just because you are the proud owner of a zebra, there's still the potential for a herd of horses to be hanging around.