Sunday, August 31, 2008

xbcd



This was on Lisa's site, in honour of me and the Wookie, in case you haven't read it. Too funny. The cartoon is from a regular internet series called xbcd

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Luna Moth Caterpillar

The luna moth is a remarkable creature. I posted earlier about finding adult moths this summer but this morning on a 20 kilometre ride, I found a luna moth caterpillar. In northern climes such as Nova Scotia we are lucky to get one generation in a summer. In more southern climes, like Texas, they have 2, sometimes 3 generations in the longer summer season. The caterpillar I found today would have been an egg in late June, a first instar by mid July, and this morning it was in its final instar. Instar simply means stage of development as a larva. After some research on the net I was able to determine that because of its orangy/brown colour and its behaviour (it was on the ground trying to get across the path rather than in a tree eating leaves) that it was in its final instar and was probably close to cocooning, insomuch as these things cocoon. They don't make an elaborate cocoon; they simply wrap themselves in leaves using a little bit of silk to hold down the edges. If this was in Texas, the caterpillar would spend a couple of weeks wrapped up like a cabbage roll before it would become an adult moth. But because we're in a northern clime, it may be asleep til the spring. I have to check with the local museum about how to keep it over the winter, but from what I've read, I may be able to make a hammock for it to be suspended over a little bit of water, and the whole contraption placed in the fridge.


It is approximately 3 inches long, 4 when it's on the move, and it's as thick as my thumb. Its rear end has a couple of unusal markings on it, kind of like eyes, to fool predators.
I have named it Fred. Pretty, eh?
By this evening it had shown no interest in eating but I figured it was too close to cocooning anyway. I was right as by this evening, it was tightly wrapped up in some birch leaves I had provided for it. The brown spot on the leaf is right over the curled body, and you can just barely make out a little white silk just below and to the right of the spot.
What is so remarkable about this creature (actually, every creature I have come across) is how they know how to do everyting they do. It's not like they have a little handbook and even if they did they couldn't read it. They have no parent to teach them anything as the parents die before they even hatch from the egg. They are solitary creatures, so have no peers on which to rely for instruction. They are little robots that run on chemicals. Chemicals tell them when to start to shed their skin as they morph from one instar to the next. Chemicals tell them what to eat. UV light sets off chemical reactions or stops them so they know when it's day or night and they act accordingly. Chemicals tell them that it's getting cold and time to wrap up in a leaf so they drop to the forest floor to look for appropriate leaf litter.

As adults, chemicals tell the males where the females are and off they go. Chemicals tell the females to emit those pheromones and wait for a male. Chemicals indicate which leaves on which to lay eggs and sometimes, if death is imminent the female lays eggs willy/nilly, whether they've been fertilized or not.

As caterpillars these creatures are eating machines. During metamorphosis the digestive system is...well...digested, so to speak, and the adults have no mouth parts. All of their energy comes from stored fat that lasts them about a week, if they're lucky and not eaten by a bat or owl. Or caught by a curious collector.

Many species of moth have similar lifestyles, though lifestyle implies a choice. These creatures don't have a choice. They appear to be simple little flying things that annoy a few of us from time to time on the front porch, feed many birds and other animals higher up on the food chain, and sometimes take our breath away.

But it is their apparent simplicity that makes them so remarkable. Simpler and better living through chemicals.

S.
Added Aug. 31:
I was lucky enough to have found someone on the net to help me with this project. Her page on these moths is a valuable resource for anyone else interested in reading more: http://www.kiva.net/~daylight/moth.html
Liz has recommended an outdoor cage which I will construct and take pics of to show you before Fred goes back outside for the fall and winter.

Added September 1:
Liz has written me to correct something:

"Actually, they do make a real cocoon - it's not accurate to say they just wrap themselves in leaves with silk to hold down the edges. The cocoon is thinner than those of most saturniids, but it's completely there (wait a couple of weeks and you can pull the leaves off and see it). (Don't change the cocoon's orientation to the ground until the caterpillar has finished spinning the inside part - they spin the outside with an "out" end, and then spin the inside with an "out" end too, and then pupate with their head pointing towards the "out" ends, so when they need to hatch they can get out. If the cocoon is re-oriented halfway through the process, the larva may put the inside "out" end at the wrong end, and then have trouble escaping as a moth. It should take about a week to be completely done spinning and safe to move around.)"

How cool is that?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Carnival of MS Bloggers

The most recent edition of Carnival of MS bloggers is up at Brass and Ivory. A very well done effort if I do say so, of which Harry Houdini would be proud. Go check out Illusions.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Law of Unintended Consequences



The "law of unintended consequences" (also called the "law of unforeseen consequences") states that any purposeful action will produce some unintended consequences. This maxim is not a scientific law; it is more in line with Murphy's law.


Taken from wikipedia's page on Unintended Consequence.

Wikipedia gives a number of examples of this law, but I like to think of my own. The father who punishes his son for a wrong-doing doesn't expect that his son will turn around and take out his frustration on a younger sibling or by kicking the dog. It happens, it is unintended and it is a direct result of the father's intended action.

There are also good unintended consequences though we tend to look at those occasions as "serendipity", sometimes coincidence. For example, 15 years ago I was laid off from a job in another city. I was being replaced by a computer in 6 months. During that time I had to learn this new system. 3 months after I had left my job, I was able to secure another one (which has evolved into my current position) because I knew this particular computer system. The purposeful action of learning a particular computer system that was replacing me (I could have left at any point after the layoff notice) led me to the unintended consequence of landing another job.

Similarly, what we decide to do with information will have its own unintended consequences. I began this blog for a number of reasons. First, I have a story to tell and continue to be told. Second, I wanted to be a writer when I was a teenager, so this has become an outlet for that desire. Third, while I will not attend self help groups, I consider my fellow MS bloggers my own self help group and I want to contribute as much as I take. Fourth, I read everything I am able to about MS, auto-immune disease in general, and neurology. I need help with the processing of some of this information and have sources I can go to on line for further clarification or for personal stories of drug treatment and what to expect. These are the main reasons I began this blog.

After writing for a couple of months I began to think that maybe someone, somewhere, is going to read something I may have written that will be a starting point for them to unlock the puzzle of MS. If that happens it will be an unintended consequence, but one for which I'll be very happy. Are there MS researchers reading our blogs? Who knows? At least some in the pharmaceutical industry are reading Lisa's blog, so that's a start. And maybe some drug rep who reads Lisa's blog, will read an entry that sparks an idea, that sparks an action, etc.....

S.

Rehab



"Researchers from the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Melbourne, Australia have shown that an individualized rehabilitation program reduces disability in persons with MS compared to no intervention.
Analysis of data from 98 patients (treatment n=48, control n=50) showed reduced disability in the treatment group, with statistically significant differences in some of the post-treatment scores for the two groups ( p<.001). In the treated group 70.8% improved, compared with 13% of the controls. Significantly more patients in the control group deteriorated over the study period (58.7% versus 16.7%: p<.001)."

Taken from the MS Society of Canada wesite, www.mssociety.ca, July 7th, 2008.

This is interesting. I've been asking why not? for years and now I have proof that we should be doing rehabilitation therapy rather than just occupational therapy.

A related article details how a joystick, like one from a computer game can help with rehab post stroke. Again, why not for MS patients?

I have posted about this subject before, most recently last winter when I learned more about neural plasticity and regeneration. Incredible results have been achieved with stroke victims. I believe the same may hold true for those of us with MS.

S.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Out Damn Spot!

When I was taking grade 12 English in high school, the latter part of the year was devoted to studying Shakespeare's King Lear. It was like studying Greek to me. And not being of Greek descent, it was rather difficult. In fact, after being a straight A student my entire life to that point, I was very frustrated at not being able to understand the language or the meaning of Shakespeare. The only test I ever flunked was the test on King Lear. And I was the only one in the class to fail it. The teacher did give me props for giving him a "nice bell curve" though.

Turns out my dad wasn't too good at Shakespeare, either. At university he studied engineering, but of course had to take an elective English course as well, which he recalls wasn't his idea of a good time.

When I got to university, conicidentally the same one my father attended, I chose to take sociology rather than English. I had had enough of trying to figure out what authors were alluding to. However, by my third year, I needed more electives to fulfill my degree requirements and I ended up taking a first year English course from a legendary prof, sometimes referred to as Snapper. I was heavily involved with campus radio at the time and he asked me to produce a radio play our class was going to write based on Gulliver's Travels. That was a blast. He also had us divided into groups to come up with a board game based on Beowulf. That was a lot of fun, too.

Strangely enough I ended up taking more English courses, including 20th Century American and British Lit from my own Dr. Phil and a drama seminar from Snapper. Snapper was so-called because of his extremely dry and quick wit. In the drama seminar we studied a number of plays dating from ancient Greek and Roman times to the 19th centruy. I admit I was lost during much of the seminar, just not able to see through to the deeper meaning of most of the plays. I guess I was too linear in my thinking at the time as my abstract thinking has improved with time.

I don't recall which Shakespeare play we looked at in that class, but the same week we were studying it, a Garfield cartoon appeared in the Sunday comics that made it all clear to me. I've done a brief inernet search and can't find the exact strip but the punchline was "Things are not always as they appear to be".

I had a brilliant moment of clarity. Suddenly, Othello, which I had seen at Neptune Theatre in Halifax in Grade 9, King Lear from Grade 12 and now my university Shakespeare play made complete sense. I took the comic strip to Snapper's office and placed it before him. "This is it, isn't it? This is what it's all about!" You'd think I had just won a Nobel Prize or Olympic medal, I was so proud. Snapper read the strip, nodded, and said, "That about sums it up".

Since then I have enjoyed a few Shakespeare plays, live, and movie versions. After watching Mel Gibson's Hamlet, I asked my mother to make me a cape like the one Mel wore in the movie. I wear it a couple of times a year on chilly fall and spring evenings with a huge, gorgeous, Scottish brooch on the shoulder to hold it in place.

Several years ago I was tutoring a friend's younger sister. This girl was extremely bright but was having difficulty in written communication. We were working on her writing skills for her English course in which they were studying Romeo and Juliet. She was able to identify scenes and acts to illustrate points her teacher had made, something I could never have done in a million years. While working with her, I let her in on the secret to Shakespeare.

Remember Three's Company? Every single episode revolved around a misunderstanding of some sort where things were never what they appeared to be.

My dad's father, my grandfather, gave my mother a copy of Shakespeare's complete works. It's a 100 year old, leather-bound book that now sits on my shelf. I rarely open it as I still find the language tedious to read and the internet makes it so much easier to look up a reference.

The whole point of this post, inspired by Linda at Brain Cheese, is that like Shakespeare's plays, MS offers up as its theme "Things are not always as they appear to be". Some of us are walking, talking, biking illusions. We have MS but don't appear to have anything wrong at all. Some of us have mental deficits that have resulted in having to retire from the workforce early. Some of us have physical deficits that belie the mental acuity we have maintained.

Looking at an MRI filled with lesions of the brain, one may conclude a severe disability. Or one lesion may lead to the conclusion of no disability or even symptoms. But we know that presence and number of lesions don't always correspond to disability. And that's why MS is an illusion, a Shakespeare play. We have lesions we want to be rid of, no matter the amount of damage they do. And that's why, like Lady MacBeth, our universal cry is "Out damn spot!"

S.
Picture is the Great Red Spot on Jupiter from www.aerospaceweb.org

Monday, August 25, 2008

Busy Vacation So Far

I've had a very busy couple of days. After our work on the digger logs Saturday, I was MCing a big concert just outside of the city. It was an opportunity to take Cranky Baby with me and take some more pictures. The first one is with a couple of the Road Dawgs who were helping out at the concert. The guy holding Cranky Baby was immediately smitten.
Before any of the bands took to the stage I gave Cranky Baby a chance to feel like a rock star.

Some of us in the VIP tent acting like idiots.
On Sunday morning the Wookie and I did a 14 k bike ride on part of the Salt Marsh Trail from Lawrencetown Beach. Part of the trail goes through dense woods, then right through the marsh. The weather has wreaked havoc with the trail in the exposed Marsh areas, with two hurricanes in 6 years being the worst offenders. We don't usually have hurricanes in this part of the world. Hurricane Noel last November and hurricane Juan several years before were unusual events that have changed a lot of the landscape of the city. I will write further about the trail at a later date and post pictures. We also ran into a trail warden who warned us about increased sightings of poison ivy.

After the ride, we went to a wildlife rescue facility that was having an open house. Then off to Mom and Dad's for supper. I finally convinced Dad to pose with Cranky Baby on the Alien Landing Pad. Of course Dad didn't want his face in the picture.
This morning I was off to Palooka's Gym to take some shots of Cranky Baby working out. The gym is owned by a friend and patron of the MS Society.
So as you can see my vacation has been jam-packed so far. And it will continue with more meetings and appointments planned. Actually, later this week I'll be seeing my wonderful family doctor to get final results of all the tests and images that have been taken of the inside of my body (MRI, ultra-sound, blood). I suspect I'll be getting the all clear as I've been feeling 100 % since the surgery and riding 20 k at a time on the bike would indicate that I'm ok.

I wanted to write a post about heat, humidity, and MS, but I'm sweating too much so it'll have to wait for cooler weather. Suffice to say that on these muggy days, I like to ride my bike near the ocean. Or just sit in it.

S.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Digger Logs

Yesterday morning at 9 , 4 of us from the Sackville Rivers Association went to a spot on the Little Sackville River to do maintenance on a digger log. Digger logs are installed at several points on a river for a number of reasons. I've explained before about how we're trying to restore the natural meandering of the river. Installing the logs allows us to divert the flow of the river ever so slightly. It is placed at an angle, opposite to the one before it. In the first picture, looking upstream, the water will be mostly coming to the right of the log (on the left of the picture).So now we have to place deflector rocks on the upstream side of the log and dig out the rocks and stuff from the downstream side of the log. Deflector rocks help hold down the log and deflect ice off it. As chunks of ice move down river, they should slide right over the rocks rather than into the log. They also help deflect some flow of the river. Removing rocks and stuff from the downstream side of the logs creates a pool for the fish to rest as they move upstream.

This particular rock that I dug out is all sharp and raggedy. It's not a natural river rock, which would be smooth with rounded edges. It came directly from a quarry and ended up in the river either during construction in the neighbourhood or someone brought it in. More likely the former. There's a tiny white spot on the rock that reveals a vein of quartz. Whether a rock is smooth or not we'll use it.

So after shovelling two tons of rock and debris from the river, I sat down in the middle and just hand picked the rocks, throwing them to the appropriate areas. Behind me you can see a line of rocks that define the downstream side of the pool. You can also see my bug net in the background just in case I came across something interesting.
Another picture looking upstream. On the right side of the picture you can see how we built up the rocks a little bit. On the left side of the picture you can see where the water is flowing more quickly over the log. The quicker flowing water will churn up the bottom of the pool and help make it a little deeper plus it will help oxygenate the water. We placed rocks at the downstream side of the pool to help define it and to also concentrate the flow of water. We also started to fashion a trench to the bottom of the pool.
In the last picture you can see the "gurgling" water flowing over the log. On the right you can see a lone rock. We dug out a little bit of debris from around this rock located in the middle of the pool. That's to offer some protection to the fish as there isn't really a place to hide from predators in the pool.
We're not done yet. But the basic structure is there. Our fearless leader, Walter, said that if you remove the rocks from a river you remove the singing of the water. Or something like that. It was rather profound, for Walter. Anyway, we're just rearranging them to make the water sing a little louder.

S.

As always, click on the pictures to get a closer look.

Friday, August 22, 2008

My Huckleberry Finn Adventure

Yesterday after work I raced home, jumped into my biking gear, threw the bike on the car, and drove to one of the trails outside of the city. I wanted to start biking by 4 so I could get 20 kilometres under my belt, so to speak (if I wore a belt). The weather has been absolutely magnificent and is supposed to continue to be wonderful through the weekend and I want to squeeze every last ounce of summer out of every hour of daylight that I possibly can. We had such a wet summer for the most part, I and most Nova Scotians feel somewhat cheated.

On the trail I came across a plethora (love that word) of bugs. I even managed to inhale two small gnats of some sort as I was speeding along. I also had a head on collision with an enormous dragonfly. They have compound eyes and fly better than helicopters but they can't avoid me? I did have a few dragonflies tease me, too. As I'm rolling along the trail they would get in front of me like we were in a race. After about 50 metres or so they veer upwards and get behind me, then pass me at a greater speed. I can almost hear them saying "Nyah nyah nyah" as they jet by me. Show offs.

There were all kinds of caterpillars out crossing the trail, too. Most that I spotted were off the Tussock variety that I blogged about a week and a half ago. There were also a few smooth skinned fat ones that I will stop to inspect next time I'm out. The one pictured below is very much like the Tussock moths, but it had no hairs (the "tussock part of the creature) sticking up like a punk rocker. It was more of a preppy caterpillar. Lovely colours and a few spots, too.


After about 10 kilometres, I got off the trail, crossed the highway, and went to a wharf at the ocean that I have only ever seen from afar. There were 4 people fishing so I figured it was as good a spot as any to take a snack break and see what these folks were up to. Two older gentlemen and a younger couple were catching mackerel. The fish were practically jumping out of the ocean and into their bucket on the dock. I chatted with the four of them for several minutes just amazed at how easy it was to catch these fish. I was also quite surprised at pretty they are. They've got wonderful, swirly, greenish lines on their sides and a brilliant silver belly. I'm afraid my picture doesn't really do them justice.

They they asked me if I had a plastic bag with me to take some home. I have almost everything else in my bike pack for specimen collecting, so I checked to see if I had a baggie big enough for a couple of fish. Nope. But we found one on the dock wrapped around a sign post. I grabbed that one and we put two fish in it. They wanted me to take more, but as I was only feeding myself that night I declined. They also quizzed me on my ride and my bike. I also told them I'd be talking about this adventure on the radio tomorrow(today) but we agreed I'd just refer to them as the Fishers of the Bay as we didn't want to give away their most excellent fishing spot. I finished eating my apple, had some water, said thanks for supper and was off again.

The ride home went a little faster than the ride out. I felt like I was 6 years old racing home with my catch or like Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer. I had the wind behind me and fish in my pack that needed cleaning. I came across a toad on the trail that wouldn't let me catch him and more deer tracks than you can shake a stick at. It was a really good ride. Once home, I had to clean the fish, which I have done before, but had somehow forgotten how much I dislike that chore. Yuck. Anyway, I managed to get enough meat to satisfy my protein requirement as per my diet. Lemon and dill added and into the frypan. Yum.

I'm planning on a shorter ride after work today but I don't expect to be lucky enough to have someone catch my supper for me.

S.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cranky Baby and Chickens

Picture from Wikipedia.

Here's Cranky Baby stating her mission:

I'm still waiting for Ed to send me the pics from his Las Vegas trip but he assures me they're good. In the meantime, I took a few more of Cranky Baby with some co-workers. Below is Rod, who administers the Children's Trust Fund. This fund is our company charity set up to help kids and their families with expenses not covered by any other government or insurance plan. For example, fencing a yard for the family of an autistic child, or extra medical equipment deemed as therapeutic but not covered by insurance.
And here's Pat, our receptionist. She's a living doll herself, easy to laugh (especially at my antics), and she's also got a wonderful singing voice. I've heard her sing with her church choir. And except for this picture, I don't think I've ever seen her pout.
And just because I thought this was funny, a pic of a van towing a trailer filled with cages of....chickens. There are boxes and pet carriers, too, and I'm sure they've got chickens in them as well. Seeing this on the outskirts of the city , I figured these folks aren't just taking the birds for a drive but are probably headed to one of the many agricultural exhibitions happening this time of year
They aren't the typical egg laying or fryer variety as a couple are quite fluffy and pretty (for chickens). But they did remind me of how the Wookie and I met.

The Wookie and I first met online on one of those dating sites. I was getting pretty tired of guys with young kids as I don't have children and don't want them. I was also looking for someone with a similar background to mine, at least a university degree, and a curious nature. I specified on my profile that I wasn't interested in someone who was still driving a mini-van (that indicates smaller kids) but if their kids were old enough to vote that was OK. And I also had a question for any prospects. Why did the chicken cross the Mobius strip?

The Wookie didn't get the answer right, but he was one of the few who attempted to answer the question and the only one who knew what a Mobius strip is. If you are a fan of M.C. Escher or are a mathmetician you would know what this thing is. So basically, it was a litmus test to see if a guy knew what it was or was curious enough to look it up. The Wookie passed the test.

So why did the chicken cross the Mobius strip? To get to the same side.

S.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Simon Whitfield

Picture from Harry magazine.

I've been enjoying watching a lot of the Olympics. And I was really looking forward to catching the men's triathlon. Sadly, it didn't actually start until 10 last night so I was able to watch only the first few minutes before sleep took me.

Since 2000 I have been aware of a young man by the name of Simon Whitfield. He was the gold medalist in Men's Triathlon in Sydney at the tender age of 25. A series of unfortunate events led to a poorer showing in 2004, but last night (or today, depending on where you are) Simon won silver for Canada. Yay!!

I have always been a fan of multi-event sports like heptathlon, decathlon, and the trithalon. In my wildest dreams, I'm participating in the trithalon. I'm afraid I don't like running, though, and I can't so much more than a mean dog paddle in the water, but put me on a bike and I can go for miles it seems. And I love to watch the event.

Simon Whitfield was asked to be an ambassador for the MS Society of Canada in 2001. And he agreed. The reason he was asked? His uncle had been living with MS since 1980.

“He is incredible,” said Mr. Whitfield, who de-
scribes his uncle as one of the most inspiring people he
has ever known. “Coping with his MS, he runs an
Olympic triathlon everyday. Any hardship or obstacle
I face, pales in comparison.”

Even though I'm not an elite athlete, I like to imagine myself as one. And yesterday, on the way back from a mere 15 k ride, for the last half kilometre, I pretended I was finishing the triathlon. I won gold, by the way.

S.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Insurance



Lisa from Brass and Ivory posed a question in her comments section to me about my experiences with health care and insurance in Canada. Because we have universal health care in this country we often don't think about what an illness can do to families financially. This is much more evident in the US but it does affect Canadians as well.

My mother was quite ill when she was pregnant with me. I wasn't a very good guest apparently. As a result of not being able to keep anything down and the threat of miscarriage a few times, when mom went into labour, the specialists were called in to help with the delivery and to care for what they thought was to be a tiny baby. The minute I was born, they wheeled the incubator out of the room and the specialists all started to leave. Mom asked where everyone was going. She was told they weren't needed as I was big and healthy (and screaming), at 7 pounds, 14 ounces.

My father is fond of reminding me it took them 3 years to pay for my birth because of the precautions needed and the specialists required to be there. I never understood that statement until I was a teenager and learned about our health care system. Canada has only had universal health care since the mid '60s (I was born in '63). Yes, they had insurance, but that only covers so much. My parents have been adamant over the years that I have insurance for everything, and I do.

I have been a consumer of health care since before I was born. All the usual childhood diseases, tonsils came out at 10, occasional trips to emergency for sprains, stitches, etc., regular doctor visits (they now call them "well woman" visits instead of paps), irregular doctor visits for severe colds or flus, MS onset and diagnosis and most recently my surgery for ovarian cysts (I can't imagine the costs associated with that whole experience).

If I added the costs of my health care together, I'm sure I'd be at the million dollar mark by now. But it has basically only cost me parking. And the occasional over the counter medicine.

When the MS diagnosis came along, I signed up for the Avonex drug study. For the duration of the study, the drug company, Avonex was going to cover the costs associated with the study: MRIs, blood work, etc. That was for almost two years. Then after the study, my insurance at work covered the prescription. But it would only do so for two years. This was in the midst of lobbying the various provincial governments to cover the enormous expense of the DMDs. Nova Scotia came on board with the plan around that time along with New Brunswick a few years later and eventually Newfoundland and Labrador. The rest of the country had already covered the drugs.

I get my prescription for Avonex filled every three months. I call the hospital pharmacy, give them my ID number and go pick it up the next day. They send me a bill for $9.54 for "dispensing fees" or some such thing and that's it. So for about $40 a year and parking I get Avonex. In September it will be 9 years that I've been on this drug. Since diagnosis I haven't missed any work because of MS. I have worked full time for the past 8 years (I was part time for several years before that), volunteered, and in general contributed to society (and to the government coffers).

A lot of folks complain about the government's take of income tax. I understand their frustration as I used to be one of them. But not now. I know why I pay taxes and my health is to show for it. I also sock away as much money as I can for retirement because I know that my retirement may one day be forced on me because of the MS.

I have repeatedly said over the years that I am one lucky duck. Not everyone can say that. Some folks may not be working full time or have full health coverage for other prescriptions or they may not be working at all. They may not be living where they want because of financial strains. Maybe they were the sole breadwinner before disability and can now no longer afford to look after their families the way they had been. Whatever the case, even in Canada, getting sick can cause great financial hardship, though it may not be because of the cost of the actual health care.

The Wookie moved to Canada from southern California when he was a teenager. His father (now semi retired) became a professor at one of the universities here. A few years after they had moved here, the Wookie's youngest brother was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Sadly, it was discovered too late and he passed away, but not before undergoing surgery and treatment. Both parents were working professionals but admitted that if they had still been in the US, the brother's medical care would have bankrupted them.

We have wonderful care in this country, wonderful doctors, and wonderful facilities. We also have problems with our medical system that we're trying to work out. The biggest complaint people have is wait times for tests or to see specialists. If your condition is emergent you will be seen and assessed quickly. If it turns out that you don't need emergent treatment, well, you'll wait...

Over the past several years I have watched walk-in medical clinics open up to help ease the strain on emergency departments. There is a shortage of family doctors and as a result, longer waits to see one even if you have one. That's part of what was driving folks to the EDs. The other part is that many people aren't proactive enough with their health, engaging in risky behaviour, not following doctors' advice , that sort of thing. The government and our doctors are not responsible for our health. We are. And we have to educate ourselves about...ourselves. We must become more knowledgeable about our health, we must lead healthier lives, and we must not take for granted the great things we already have.

S.

PS:Lisa, I guess I could have contributed to the Carnival this week after all. Hope that answers some of what you were wondering about.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Interview


Over the years I've had a chance to interview a number of professional singers and musicians, sometimes live on air and sometimes taped to air later. I usually have some time to prepare for an interview, though not always. If I don't have time to do some research, I feel like I'm floundering.

I am a "go to" person for the local office of the MS Society so when the newspaper or TV folks want a quote or soundbite from someone with MS, they often go to me. I love it when someone is prepared with questions for me and when I don't have to explain the basics of MS. One of the best interviews I ever gave was to a TV reporter who has since become an instructor of media studies at a local college. (She also happens to be the wife of a former colleague. We see each other about once a year at social gatherings.)

Yesterday, I was interviewed by a young woman from a communications company that is doing the PR for an upcoming campaign by the MS Society of Canada, and I happen to be the spokesperson for this campaign in Halifax. This woman was prepared and what a treat to speak with someone who had done their homework. She knew what I did for a living and she had discovered my blog. She googled me. A very simple thing to do. Very basic research, really, but it made the interview that much easier for me.

She had one question for me at the beginning. After finding my blog she asked: Who or what is the Wookie?

That cracked me up, as it did the Wookie when I told him later. I explained that the Wookie is my boyfriend/partner/whatever-they're-calling-them these days. The reason for the nickname is that he is the hairiest guy I've ever dated. Not the hairiest I've ever met, but the hairiest I've dated. "And he doesn't mind being called the Wookie?" Well, no, he knows he's hairy.

That set the tone for the rest of interview. I talked for half an hour about living with MS from diagnosis to now. 10 years condensed into half an hour.

One of the questions she asked me had to do with what I would ask researchers or government. Well, when I have questions to ask researchers I ask them. I send e-mails to the MS clinic staff
when I need something explained to me, I talk to pharmacy students when I need someone to research and explain certain brain chemistries to me (students love to do this stuff), I even send e-mails to the researchers themselves on occasion. As to what I would ask government, I do that, too, though not as often. I ask them to support initiatives for the disabled, but asking government to spend more money on research is like shaking your fist at God. Ineffective. So I leave those questions to lobbyists.

But the surprising thing I came away with from the interview was my feeling that researchers really have to concentrate on the more progressive forms of MS. Right now I have a wonderful life with MS. I have gained more than I have lost with MS. I truly feel that way. But I am also aware that most people aren't as lucky as I am. I am also aware that I may not always feel this way. Even now, some days I get pissed off at MS. But I am more pissed off at what MS is doing to my friends and their families. We need to find a way to combat the more severe forms of MS. I am living a very good life with what I've got right now. And if this is the worst I experience I will consider myself truly blessed. Some of my virtual and real life friends aren't so lucky or blessed. It is for them that I do what I do. It certainly isn't for the money or the glory.

S.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Red Faced



My recent fall (actually, more like tipping) with my bike led to a certain amount of embarrassment, which the Wookie and I discussed the other night. In 3 years I can't recall the Wookie ever being embarrassed about anything, the man is so even-keeled, but he mentioned the fall the two of us took on our 3rd or 4th date. Of course, because it was mortifying (for me), it bears repeating here.

A local non-profit organization shows movies on the wall of a very large building on the city waterfront in the summertime on Friday nights. People bring lawn chairs, blankets, munchies etc., make a donation and watch a movie. Kind of like a Drive-in but more a walk in. My station is usually a sponsor of one of the movies and I was going to be the "presenter" this particular night. It was the Blues Brothers (I love that movie) and invited the Wookie to come with me. I had another event to attend the next day so we weren't going to stay for the whole movie, but the organizers gave us front row seats to use anyway.

At the appointed time I got up front and welcomed everyone to the show. I pulled on a fedora and shades and did my little shtick, getting a few people up front to sing the Rawhide theme for prizes and then sat down next to the Wookie. The few chairs provided by the organizer were plastic lawn chairs that resembled Adirondack chairs. About 45 minutes into the movie I shifted in my seat and the next thing I know, with a loud crack both the Wookie and I are on our backs looking at the stars instead of the movie, our feet in the air. I don't know how, but both chairs broke at the same time.

I didn't move for a few seconds, trying to comprehend what just happened,when suddenly there were a dozen faces hovering over mine, people asking if we're ok. I started to giggle as did the Wookie and then most everyone else. People helped us up, we all picked up the debris from the broken chairs, and then sat off to the side for a few minutes. We had to leave anyway, so I found the organizer, thanked him for his hospitality, apologized for breaking the chairs, and we left.

Thank the gods, it was dark, because with my embarrassment I'm sure my face could probably have been used as a search light.

S.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bug Update

Time for a little bug update...first, a picture of the mounted luna moths with a great self portrait reflected in the glass.

Next, the mounted cecropia I found in June with a clear wing moth to the left, an unidentified gray moth at the top, and the white one is actually a species of tiger moth. Sadly, it's quite small and when it went to sleep its wings were folded. I'm hoping to get another to put on its back with its wings spread so the underside will be visible and you'll be able to see why it's called a tiger moth.

Today, the Wookie and I did a 24 k ride on the St. Margaret's Bay Trail. We went as far as the Ingramport River. It's a beautiful trail that we hadn't been on for a year due to the many rocky areas. Since last year its been resurfaced so it was a much better ride. I'm pleased to say I didn't forget to unclip my feet once! Yay! We also saw lots of bugs, a snake , and a shrew or a mouse making a mad dash to cross the trail. It got a third of the way across and dashed back into the bushes as we were almost on top of it. I picked up a very tired bumble bee off the trail so it wouldn't be run over and after a few seconds she decided to fly off, seemingly recovered. We also found a very common caterpillar, though I'd never photographed one before or identified it. I'm pleased to say it's a Tussock moth caterpillar. There are several hundred species of them in the world so I'm not sure which one this is. It may be the Rusty Tussock moth.
(By the way, that's our old logo for the station I work at. We're still classic hits, kind of, and the dot is gone...it's back to being a "point". And our new tag line is "We play anything.")

The other interesting caterpillar we came across was a species of wooly bear, but one I'd never seen before. It had the most gorgeous sable coloured hair with very light blue spots on its body segments. I suspect it's a species of tiger moth (as most wooly bears appear to be) but I'm not sure which one.

I have about 5-8 more moths to mount and hopefully will get to them in the next week or so.

On the butt front, so to speak, I have a huge bruise and two other smaller ones on my butt and hip. No pictures, sorry, and my right lower leg looks like it had a run in with several coffee tables. Thankfully nothing was broken and I had no pain riding today.

Back to work tomorrow after several days off and I can guarantee it's going to be busy. Hope the place didn't fall apart while I was out exploring...

S.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

As Easy as Falling Off a Bike


Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com

Tuesday and Wednesday involved loads and loads of laundry, including the seldom done drapes, curtains, bedspread, etc...vacuuming, sweeping, and steam cleaning the tiled floors (yeah, I got one of those nifty "as seen on TV" doohickeys). About the only thing I didn't touch was windows. I even had a friend over for lunch on one of those days.

So with all the chores out of the way, I had two days to do "me stuff". Like ride my bike. And fall off my bike.

I have several wonderful bruises now to show my ineptitude as a user of new clip in pedals. For two years I have heard people extoll the virtues of these pedals. There are cleats on your bike shoes that lock onto or into these pedals. They make pedalling much more efficient as you can actually pull up on the pedal as well as push down, and that also works out a few other muscles while you're riding. I had a chance to try them out on a stationary bike a couple of weeks ago and was quite impressed. The main fear I (and apparently everyone else) had, was getting out of the pedals when coming to a stop. I have watched the Wookie a couple of times almost tip over when he forgot to unclip at a stop. But I was assured that it was easy to come undone. I even tried to undo myself a few times and realized that it is really easy to unclip. So I bought new bike shoes and the pedals, and had them installed on Wednesday.

The problem is not the unclipping. It is
remembering to unclip that is the problem.

Thursday I got on my bike at the start of a local trail at a fairly early hour, so as to avoid any undue embarrassment if I did fall. After 3 kilometres as I was approaching the end of the trail, and quite proud of myself for not having to stop on the two hills or when I approached a group of army folks on a march, I thought it was a good time to stop and take a drink of water. There was a woman ahead of me and as I came closer to her and slowed down, she turned around and said hello. I was almost at a complete stop and said "Hi" while applying the brakes fully. Apparently, I can't speak, apply brakes and unclip at the same time. The left foot was unclipped but I was leaning to the right...

And ended up lying on my right side, with the bike on top of me. the woman ran around to the right side of me and attempted to help me up, but my right foot was still clipped on to the pedal. I told her to let me get untangled from the bike first and then I could get up. She stood back and I managed to get out from underneath the bike. All of this happened in full view of anyone and everyone who was driving by the entrance to the trail, including an older couple who were approaching the trail for their daily constitutional. They stopped to ask if I was hurt and I slapped my butt and said I was lucky to have padding to protect me. As they carried on their walk, the woman who had attempted to help me asked if I was injured at all. To which I replied, "Only my pride" and we both laughed hysterically.

I told the woman I had deliberately chosen that hour and that trail so as to avoid any witnesses to my inexperience with the new pedals. The best laid plans....

My butt hurts.

On the Cranky Baby side of things, my friend Ed is on his way to a convention in Vegas. I spoke with him yesterday and he asked to take CB with him. I just got word from CB's mom that she can go. So by the end of next week I'll have some new pics of Cranky Baby's road trip to the "strip". What happens in Vegas will definitely not stay in Vegas. This time, anyway.

S.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Jumping Spider



We had a long weekend in Canada. It started raining on Thursday last week and hasn't stopped yet. Well, actually, the sun came out yesterday morning for about 5 minutes and again in the late afternoon for a short time, but in between we had thunder and lightening and all manner of signs of the apocalypse.

I have just finished a 7 day stretch of work and am looking forward to this week off. Of course I have a billion things to get done that I haven't been able to do because of time and tiredness. And I want to get back on the bike as it's been over a week since the bike tour and I'm starting to get antsy.

Speaking of ants....After supper last night the Wookie and I sat outside for an hour during one of the breaks in the weather. We were accompanied by a few little ants and would have to brush them off from time to time. There were also a few aphids, not really doing anything at all, and a whole slew of flying beetles and moths around the patio.

At one point we discovered a little jumping spider on the table between the two chairs we were occupying. So we followed its progress from one end to the other as it jumped from slat to slat. These are tiny spiders no bigger than a centimetre (or less than half an inch) and this one was no bigger than a quarter of an inch long. The Wookie tried to capture an ant to feed it but was unsuccessful. I, on the other hand, put an aphid in front of it. Success! It was quite amusing, really, to watch this little spider stalk the even littler aphid, then quickly jump on it and devour it. Sounds pretty sadistic, I know, but actually aphids are simply put on this earth to annoy rose gardeners and feed other insects and spiders.

I tried another tactic with the spider as well. I got an aphid to crawl on my fingernail and then I offered it to the spider. Again, success. It quickly jumped on my fingernail, grabbed the aphid and jumped off again. Of course, the Wookie and I were laughing like idiots about this whole series of events. We were both quite amazed and amused. Turns out the spider was probably famished as jumping spiders normally hide away when it rains (I mentioned the DAYS of rain we've had) and come out when it's sunny or during the day.

I hand fed a jumping spider! I know I have probably lost a few of you because of the "ick" factor of spiders. And some of you who stayed with me are still going "ick". I'm not a big fan of spiders. I certainly appreciate what they do but generally speaking the bigger and hairier they are, the less I want to look at them. I like to look at the littler ones, like the jumping spiders or the crab spiders.

It really wasn't an extraordinary feat of bravery to hand feed this tiny one. But it sure was fun! I'll continue to do it knowing that I can. And I got a blog post out of it.

S.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Simple, eh? Part 2

I started to respond to a couple of comments on my last post but it got too long. So, instead, another post:

Contrary to what we heard in the 60s, space is not the final frontier; our brains are the final frontier. We just don't know enough about those 3 pounds of tissue yet.

The term white matter derives from the apparent colour of myelin, different from gray matter in that gray matter has no myelin. Gray matter is the thinking part of our brain, fondly referred to by Hercule Poirot in all those Agatha Christie who-dun-its. The reason everyone's MS is so different is because the white matter in our brains is wired slightly differently for everyone. While there are general centres pretty much the same for everyone, the connections to and from those centres are different. White matter is the connective wiring between those centres and the rest of the brain. As we grow and are exposed to different environmental factors (nutrition, illness, and experiences) that wiring becomes slightly different for everyone. And MS is generally a disease of the white matter.

There is a line of thought that MS may be a couple of different diseases, but the general consensus is that it is a disease of degrees. Just as some people with pneumonia have different degrees of symptoms and responses to medication, so it is with MS. It is the degrees of difference that makes it all that much harder to figure out the puzzle. And that also makes it harder for the non-MS public to understand.

I have said before, the best thing we can do for our MS is to provide the optimal environment for our brains through exercise, nutrition, and mental stimulation. For some of us, that involves physiotherapy, yoga , biking, walks, sudoku, painting, playing a musical instrument, or vitamin supplements.

Our previous health may have an impact on our MS, there's no doubt. There is also no doubt that our physical world impacts our mental world and that in turn affects our physical world. One of those vicious circle things. And remember, too, that everyone's perception is slightly different. What I consider a nuisance, another might find debilitating. What I consider painful, another may find only a minor ache. That's why my MS is different from yours.

MS is a disease that causes a complex reaction in the CNS. But I feel that it is a simple disease. MS is, in simple terms, destruction of myelin. It is the subsequent result of that destruction that makes MS seem more complex. Figure out what destroys the myelin, and you have figured out what causes MS. Then you can figure out how to stop the destruction. Simple, eh?


S.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Simple, eh?



One person I met at the MS Bike Tour is from Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Site, and home to the Bluenose, which graces most Canadian dimes. This guy's name is Larry and he has MS. He also has the largest bike tour team, I suspect in the world, but at least in Atlantic Canada. Larry is somewhat like myself in that he NEEDS to know what causes MS. He spends a lot of time researching MS and has drawn a few conclusions about the cause, but nothing that can be substantiated at this point in time.

Larry has a specific idea about the cause of MS, and while it may have a bit of merit for some people it doesn't hold for all people with MS. And therein lies the biggest problem for solving this puzzle.

When a plane is flying, there are a number of people responsible for keep it in the air. Pilots, ground crews, maintenance crews, air traffic controllers, meteorologists, and flight attendants to name just a few. If one person fails at their job, there are a handful of other folks or machines there to catch the mistake - usually. (For a truly seat-gripping story, check out the Gimli Glider. It is a perfect example of back-up systems and back-up people all failing at their jobs.)

Just like flying planes, our bodies have back-up systems and compensatory ones to keep us working. The human body is an amazing organism. Our brains are the most complex part of our bodies. We have back up systems, to compensate for when things go wrong, or we have ways of adapting to a physical change, and we also have healing mechanisms. If we go blind, other senses become heightened, not because of some instantaneous change in our sensory abilities but because of the increased use of them. As Lisa would tell you, practice makes perfect - or at least makes it a little better. So lack of eyesight is compensated for by improved hearing. Similarly, if you lose the ability to feel (say with your fingers, as happened to me) you become more visually vigilant in assessing your surroundings in order to avoid dangers or accidents.

The very fact that people recover from debilitating events like stroke is proof that the human brain has compensatory abilities. A stroke is the death of brain cells and we know that once something dies that's the end of the road. Yet, people recover abilities that should have been lost forever. That's because the brain cells have the ability to make new connections and go around the dead parts.

So we have backup systems and compensatory ones. Plus we have our own "ground crews" in our brain trying to repair damage. How amazing is that?

If we lack the appropriate amount of calcium in our diet, the body takes it from our bones and teeth. Once a month and during pregnancy, many women "crave" certain nutrients and will ingest copious amounts of whatever it is they are craving (my ex used to come home with a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips once a month and just say "Eat these" because my behaviour -PMS- indicated my body's salt reserve was low). Our bodies tell us when there is something amiss, whether it's a nutrient imbalance or damage to our skin or our hair falling out in fistfulls. Sometimes it's fairly easy to fix what ever's wrong. (Rickets is almost unheard of in the developing world because of the addition of Vitamin D to milk. Simple solution.) But in the case of MS it's not easy to fix.

MS involves the most complex system in the human body, the Central Nervous System. A "perfect storm" of events is what leads to MS: genetics and environment (at least that's how we understand it right now). We can't just add a single nutrient or chemical to our diets to prevent this disease. We also can't just take one away because all nutrients and chemicals in our bodies have multiple roles, similar to back-up or compensatory roles. So what's a researcher to do?

As in the investigation of the Gimli Glider, a number of systems have to be examined. Our immune system has to be looked at, as it affects the CNS. The CNS has to be examined as it affects the immune system. The lymphatic system has to be examined as it affects the immune system. Our digestive system must be examined as that is how we get the nutrients needed for the other systems. You get the idea.

Because of the apparent complexity of MS, the solution should also be complex. Notice I say apparent. Looks can be deceiving or as Shakepeare was fond of pointing out, "Things are not always as they appear ". I believe that once we have examined the role of all the systems in MS, it will be an elegant, simple cause leading to an equally elegant, simple solution. I believe that Larry is on the right track, looking for one specific cause. And it doesn't hurt to have more people looking into this, each with their own idea.

S.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Odds and Sods

So here I am...been on the busy side this week and it's not over yet. Work is go go go as it's the height of vacation season and we're a little short staffed so am working all weekend. My reward is next Tuesday to Friday off. Yay! I am planning a number of things while on a mini vacation that I know I will not accomplish. I've been trying to get laundry done but the gods are conspiring against me. I have a brand new floor steam cleaner that I'm anxious to try out and the dust bunnies are threatening to take over if I don't do something about them soon. As well I have a few more insects to mount and display. And I still have to get to my thank you notes.

On a bright note, I received a very generous donation from my employer for my efforts with the Bike Tour. I was surprised and pleased of course. They offer donations in kind to various charities that mostly involve air time for the non profit sector so an actual substantial monetary contribution was very welcome. I suspect the COO was the one responsible and I've always loved Dave anyway, but that just makes me love him even more.

This happens to be the 60th anniversay of the MS Society in Canada and they are kicking off a new campaign very soon, End MS. A big media launch is expected in September and as I am usually the "go-to" person for media, at least for the Atlantic Division of the MS Society, they've asked me to be the End MS spokesperson for Halifax.

On the bug front, a co-worker asked me to identify a bug he came across this week and I was happy to oblige. He brought it in for me the next day and as it is a great specimen it will make it to the wall of fame in my apartment (and to the blog in the very near future).

The heat and humidity this past week has been almost unbearable (at least for me). I've been coming home from work and then crashing for a 1-2 hour nap before supper, which then makes me kind of cranky and unable to put two sentences together. And because of my workload this week, recovery from last weekend's bike tour, and the heat, I've been unable to ride my bike. But next week I'll be able to get out for rides early in the morning...yay!

Went to see Mongol the other night at the theatre. Haven't been able to get to a movie in ages but actually planned for this one as I knew the Wookie really waned to see it, and so did I. It's about the early life of Ghengis Khan and the visuals were stunning. We so very rarely get to see the countryside of Eurasia and it really is gorgeous scenery. I didn't find it particulary violent. The only thing about the movie that bothered me was the use of breeds of horses that weren't around in 1200 AD. If you don't know too much about horses it won't bother you. There was history, action, and a love story all wrapped around and I recommend it.

Next week I'll have time to blog a little more. I am researching a couple of things to blog about so will have time to get my thoughts together. See you soon!

S.