Monday, December 13, 2010

Finally An Update

So I have been amazingly busy since I last wrote. Schoolwork will do that to you. However, the semester is winding down and I have time actually sit and write (or type) something other than an Economics paper.

I also have a new reader who has been nagging me for something new for awhile now, so Erin, quit bugging me.

I have to admit that the past few months have been great for my mind, but not my waist. I am hungry all the time. I can only attribute that to the amount of knowledge my brain is trying to process. It uses up a lot of fuel, you know, and I am craving carbs like nobody’s business. I remember being like this in university. Anyway, the point is that the more I do mentally, the hungrier I get. That’s one of the more interesting side effects of school.

A less interesting side effect, is the fatigue. I have begun taking amantadine once or twice a week to battle the fatigue that hits me. I’m good for most of the day, except on a couple of really heavy days. Our classes range from an hour to two hours long, and sitting all that time, sometimes in the dark while watching a powerpoint lesson, can just drain me of the energy needed to sit up straight. I have to admit to having availed myself of the couches scattered around the building for a rest. But I’m not the only one.

Around October, I realized that I was not going to get through accounting without some back up. It just wasn’t sinking in, so I, and several others, actually, requested a tutor. Sadly, they were swamped with those requests and it was several weeks before one of my classmates and I managed to snag one. She’s great and we’re both back on track. I had begun to think that maybe I shouldn’t concentrate on accounting my second year, which was my plan from the beginning. The whole point of going back to school to begin with, anyway. But, as I mentioned, I’m back on track. And who knew bank reconciliations could be so much fun? They’re like big puzzles.

Economics was an absolute blast. The instructor we had was so good, that the subject I dreaded the most has turned out to be the one I learned the most from and enjoyed the most. I actually pay attention to the business news now and read that section of the paper.

Marketing has been interesting, usually. I did take marketing in university (when dinosaurs roamed the planet), and having worked in media, especially promotions and advertising, has been an advantage for me. I had actually thought about a career in marketing 25 years ago, but never pursued that line. If I did follow that path today, it would be in research.

I was also in a computer course. Those of you who know me, know that I am technologically inept. Yes, I can e-mail, and I write a blog online, and I can download my pictures, but I really didn’t understand all that I was doing. I still don’t understand it all, but I have a better idea of what this process is. And my confidence level in my computing abilities has gone up 100%. For one of my Economics projects, I had the Wookie video an interview I did with a farmer about the economics of farming. The Wookie downloaded the video and I edited the thing myself. I threw in titles and script and even had a few outtakes at the end. I impressed the crap outta myself with that one. I’m throwing stuff on thumb drives, using tabs properly, and all the usual stuff folks take for granted who do this on a regular basis. Next semester we get into spreadsheets and databases (woo hoo!).

The Communications course I am taking has to be the least interesting of the bunch. I am learning a few things as far as grammar goes (I can tell the difference between infinitive phrases and verb phrases for instance), but so far I am not really getting too much out of this one. Maybe things will heat up in January. I hope so.

That leaves math, one of my strongest subjects. But now, all that algebra I learned in high school has a real life application. It only took 30 years to discover what that application is. But at least I now know it. Our instructor is really good and is also a grad of my alma matter, albeit 10 years before me.

So that’s life on the academic front. On the home front, the Wookie has been really good. On my busier days, he gets dinner ready. And the poor man has had to listen to me go on ad nauseum about all subjects until I work out what I’m trying to understand. Which has led to the discovery that if I can talk it out, I can understand it better. Who knew? Apparently, the Wookie. He was the one who brought it to my attention.

I have also discovered that the dollar store reading glasses are great. Turns out, not only am I near sighted, but need stronger bifocals than what I have on my lenses now. Which leads me to the question, “If I’m near sighted, why can’t I read the numbers in my math book or the nutritional labels on cans?” One of life’s paradoxes I guess.

On the MS front, things are well, except for the fatigue, but I’ve already discussed that. I have had a few people ask me about the subject of CCSVI and I try to enlighten them about what the theory is and why the MS Society hasn’t jumped all over it the way a number of people want them to. Again, I will say, there is no SCIENTIFIC evidence yet to support the theory that narrowing of the neck veins has anything to do with MS. There are current studies under way to determine if there is a connection. If one is found, the MS Society of Canada and the National MS Society in the US will look closer at possible clinical trials. In the meantime, some people will continue to have good, bad, and indifferent results with the treatment. Remember, too, folks, I have been on Avonex for 11 years, with only one attack in all that time. Avonex is working for me, so if it ain’t broke, as they say, don’t fix it. I will not undergo an experimental treatment that in my mind, makes little sense to the mechanics of MS. Remember, too, that I am part of an ongoing study, where my blood is tested regularly to examine the role my personal biology plays in the effectiveness of Avonex. I have also been recently informed that a follow up study is soon to get under way of those of us in the initial CHAMPS study for Avonex to see how it’s working long term.

I was saddened, but not surprised, to learn of the death of a Canadian man who underwent the treatment for CCSVI, then received a stent to keep his veins open, which probably led to his passing. I abhor the fact that this disease can make some people so desperate for a treatment they risk their lives. This simply reinforces my feeling that we must continue to raise funds for research and treatment, we must continue to educate the public about this disease, and we must continue to take care of those less physically able than ourselves. I urge any and all MS patients and their loved ones to continue to spread the word about MS, to take any opportunity to educate others about MS, and to keep the faith - we will end MS.

S.

PS: Next time, I’ll post some pics.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Another Adventure

Last Sunday morning, the Wookie and I joined 4 other volunteers from the Sackville Rivers Association to do a species survey of a brook in the Sackville watershed. It involved driving to a spot on the highway, about 10 k from Sackville, hiking about a kilometre into the woods, donning insulated chest waders, and insulated gloves, then elctro-fishing a section of the brook. Colin led the way with the electro-fishing zapper (I'm afraid I don't know the technical name for it), Will was right beside him to scoop anything that surfaced, and Gwen and I took up the rear with a net across the width of the brook to catch anything that got by Colin or Will. It took an hour to travel up stream a few hundred metres. Phew!

The zapper emits an electrical field that once a fish enters results in it getting a stun. Cool. The zapper is quite the device, really, and apparently quite expensive. The TD Bank gave us $10,000 to go towards its purchase - thanks TD Bank! Anyway, we were able to scoop up the stunned fish and put them in a bucket for identification and measurement after we got to the lake from which the brook emerges. We caught a couple of trout, several small mouth bass (which we don't like - they're an invasive species in this watershed), and many eels.



All the info we gather on these types of outings help us determine what part of the watershed perhaps needs human intervention in the form of clean up, un-straightening of the flow of water (remember, we want it to meander, not flow in a straight line), and placement of digger logs and sills (to better oxygenate the water and provide shelter and cooler spots for the fish). It also can give us an idea of the fish species population. And all this information can help us to get funding for various projects.

Small mouth bass are aggressive fish and will destroy other populations. It's not a good sign when you find them. Finding a few trout today was a good sign, though, and the eel population is quite good, too. Colin's field of study concentrated on the American eel, an amazing animal few people understand. Eels hatch in the Sargasso Sea. They find their way all over North and Central America where they enter bodies of fresh water. Once they reach maturity (4-20 years), they swim down stream to the ocean, and back to the Sargasso Sea where they spawn and die.




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And we even found a couple of frogs (accidently zapped while we were electro-fishing). After a few seconds they were ok and they swam off to a safer place. On the hike back to the highway, the Wookie pointed out what he thought was a frog on the side of the very mucky and puddle covered road. Against my better judgement, I decided to go the route he was taking so I could see the frog. I was back in my sneakers by this point in time, carrying the chest waders and other gear we had used in the field. One wrong step and my left foot landed in a puddle of muck, leaves, and water. But I did get to see the creature identified as a frog, even though it turned out to be a toad. All in all it was a good adventure.

S.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Learning Has Begun

Almost two weeks into my return to school and I finally have a few moments to post an entry. I am so impressed with the whole process that the Nova Scotia Community College has arranged; they have made it so easy to get through the usual red tape that this sort of thing involves. Although, as I think about it now, the efficient use of information technology is probably what has made the process simpler to navigate, even for those of us who are technologically challenged.

The campus I am attending is about a half hour drive away from where I live. It is situated in Dartmouth, along the waterfront, with a phenomenal view of the harbour and Halifax on the other side. If you're outside at noon, you can hear the firing of the noon cannon from the Halifax Citadel. On foggy days, you can hear the harbour fog horns signaling to the sea going ships. I can also see Theodore Tugboat tied up at a dock directly across the harbour (for those of you with small children, you may be aware of this children's TV character). The grounds themselves are attractive, with walking paths and lots of greenery.

Parking is at a premium and as the college is trying to get "green" certification, they are not really doing too much about it. There are shuttle buses available from a couple of parking lots off site which definitely assists those of us with a finite amount of available energy for walking.

So far, the staff I've met have been warm, welcoming, and helpful. This applies to teaching staff and maintenance personnel alike. I already knew a couple of the instructors and I have run into a few other people I knew from other parts of my life, including a gal who works at the local coffee shop, a former MS Society employee, and a former co-worker. A funny thing happened on the second day when a young man, Shane, sat next to me in class. As we were talking I realized he is the son of a man with whom I attended junior high school and recently renewed my acquaintance. I also ran into a young woman I had mentored at the radio station a couple of years ago, Jessica. She is now in the paralegal program at the college.

I am not the oldest student in my class, but close to it. I wasn't feeling old until I met Shane on day two. And then yesterday, when our marketing instructor asked for an example of an aggressive salesman, I volunteered "Herb Tarlick". The silence was deafening. Not one student in the class was familiar with this character from WKRP in Cincinnati. At least the instructor knew who I was talking about.

The one class I was dreading was economics. However, the instructor is energetic, interesting, charismatic, and he just loves teaching. he also appears to be a fan (or at least has read) Malcolm Gladwell, whose books I have consumed in the past year. I am now looking forward to this class.

I was doing math homework last night and it was like I was back in grade 10. I loved doing it. A blank piece of paper, a pencil, and a calculator, and I was in my glory. Some of it was a little difficult as I couldn't recall a few basic things about fractions, but I managed to complete it. The Wookie assisted me in recalling those basics this evening and the light went on above my head. I love that feeling.

I will take my camera to school tomorrow so I can post some pictures on the weekend. This is going to be fun.

S.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Back to School As a 47 Year Old

At a recent river restoration outing (we were clearing river rocks and silt from below a digger log to form a deeper pool for the fish), I was speaking with a fellow volunteer about going back to school. He was saying that it can be a difficult thing to be in a classroom again after so much time. Not for me, I don't think. My mother took courses all the time I was in school, and when I was 13 she began a degree program. (I used to go with her to classes and labs when I was off from school myself) She finished a 4 year program in 3 years by taking courses during the summer. A little over 20 years ago, my dad took a computer course at the local technical university (I got him a lunch box, crayons, an eraser, and other "supplies" as a joke). Over the years, I have taken the odd course (Russian being one of them) and while some of it was a little tedious, I enjoyed the majority of my time in class.

Several years ago, I became a volunteer tutor with a literacy group, tutoring adults (mostly at the GED level) in a one on one situation. The best part of that was watching the light bulb go on above their heads when they had that "aha!" moment - math was especially fun. I'm looking forward to my own "aha!" moments. And when speaking with my fellow river volunteer, I told him I was looking forward to feeding off the energy of my fellow classmates. Kids in their early 20s have so much energy and excitement, especially in a learning environment, that I suspect it will be a tremendous motivator and aid for me.

I was speaking with the mayor of Halifax a little while ago and telling him about going back to school. He also took some courses recently and said it's a different experience when you're a grown-up. I told him (and my folks) it'll be easier for me in one way, as I don't have two teenagers, and all that angst, as a distraction.

Yesterday, I went to get my school ID and parking pass, and then went to sign all the official papers with the government agency who are aiding my return to school. I have had the example of lifelong learning all of my 47 years. I have the support of the Wookie and my folks and friends. I even have some support from the government. I'm ready for school! Now to survive the arrival of hurricane Earl overnight tonight.

S.

Friday, August 20, 2010

School and Learnin' Stuff

The summer is beginning to wind down and the kids are getting ready for back to school. Me, too. I start at the community college September 7th now that everything is settled. I finally got confirmation of funding this week and am doing the last few things required of me by the government. It has been a long drawn out process with a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth (mostly on my part, but I'm sure a little bit on theirs, too).

The gig at the radio station didn't work out as was becoming quite apparent in my last two weeks there. I gave them my notice after they hired someone else. Just as well, to be honest, as these folks were not to be trusted. There was such a culture of defeat in that office, with folks working for just above minimum wage, and the lack of communication between departments, I'm surprised they are still in business. They do have the worst reputation in the business and now I know why.

So this week, I have been "supervising" the installation of new windows on the first floor. The building is keeping me busy.

The Wookie and I went to his step sister's wedding two weeks ago. It was absolutely wonderful, in a spectacular location, and the bride and groom were just gorgeous and beaming. The two of them will make a great tag team, as both are med students with an interest in global health issues and a penchant for travel. I have said that I suspect the new Mrs. Doc will one day head the WHO (I don't know Mr. Doc as well, but imagine he'll be right up there with her). And the Wookie's half sister, who was the maid of honour, did her job perfectly, looking like a million bucks at the same time. I'm not sure what the maid of honour's plans are for the future, as she has had an interest in criminology in the recent past, but I haven't spoken with her about it for a while. (I will probably refer to her as Miss CSI until informed otherwise)

The bugs are alive and well in the neighbourhood. I have found a good number of creepy crawlies around, sometimes taking them inside for a photo shoot, then back to the wilds of the garden. A chartreuse crab spider has taken up residence in a tall white flower that smells like lily of the valley. I discovered it by accident as I leaned over to smell the newly opened blossoms and it insolently reared up on two sets of back legs with the two sets of front legs raised in an offensive position. OK, it was really defensive, but these spiders are so small, I laugh every time they do this, and imagine it's an act of bravado rather than instinct (like they could really fight off a predator as large as myself - confidence is everything I guess).

On the CCSVI front, my former boss is scheduled to go to Mexico for the treatment. The Nova Scotia government, taking a cue from other provinces has said it's interested in partly funding clinical trials if the federal government steps in. The Wookie and I are at a slight disagreement over this recent announcement, but it's more about semantics. The message I got was that the province is interested in clinical trials of the procedure, whereas he got the message that the government is interested in research in the broad sense. I do not want to see trials of the procedure until it's been demonstrated that a clear and defined link exists between CCSVI and MS.

That opinion will make me unpopular with all the folks who are demanding government action. Even Dr. Zamboni has been telling folks to wait for more research before going for the procedure. But as I have explained to people ad nauseum, if I thought there was anything to this treatment I would have had it already. I will not rely on anecdotal evidence to dictate medical treatment of any condition I may have and I cannot support others in seeking out this treatment. I do not wish anyone any harm and hope that they can gain some relief.

Here's a question to ponder: how many people are disabled by the thought of MS? There are some folks out there, who, when given the diagnosis of a chronic disabling condition, sit down and give up. Over time, depression leads to inactivity, which leads to fatigue, which leads to disability. They essentially give up on life in general and allow others to look after them. This topic has been on my mind for a while. I have met folks over the years who love to play the "poor me" card. I'd love to know how many of those folks are going for the "liberation" treatment instead of living a healthy lifestyle (that includes movement).

CCSVI may be a red herring. Or it may be the key to it all. Whatever it turns out to be, further research is on the agenda. I'm just sad that folks are so desperate they are jumping on this bandwagon like the "vaccines cause autism" lobby did. Even in the face of scientific evidence to the contrary, that group continued to believe what they believed. I'm afraid that this is what may happen to the believers in this group.

S.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Pictures (Finally!)

As promised, some pics:

First a mosquito larva at 10 times magnification:


Now a little stag beetle (of which there are many species and sizes). The pinchers are actually used for wrestling other male stag beetles, if it comes to that. Generally, though, they're more for show than anything, as a stag beetle with smaller pinchers will cede to the one with the larger pinchers. This pic is also 10 times magnification and is lit from the bottom so you get a better idea of the shape of it.


From one of my CSI: Bug files is this wing of a small fly that had fallen prey to a spider. As I was moving it around under the microscope lens, light was being refracted most beautifully.


And finally, a couple of pictures of the team (without me, I'm afraid - I had already been riding for an hour when the rest of them got to the start). See why we took home the Best Dressed title?



I'm still working, though only for another week. I have paid my tuition, so officially, I'm a student again. In another week or so I'll get my class schedule, photo id, books etc. and then enter the land of the learning.

Oy vey.

S.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Here I Am!

Where to start?

I am in the land of the living, I've just not had a lot of time on my hands of late.

First of all, I am now employed (temporarily) for another radio station (country and western!!) in town. This may or may not be permanent. I can't get into details at the moment, but suffice to say, it was like getting on the bike again. It all came back to me fairly quickly.

Secondly, I had two falls from my bike, 3 weeks apart, same body part injured both times. Of course it was when I was at a complete stop and couldn't get out of my clips fast enough, so the damage done was minimal (my pride suffered a greater bruising than my knee - though there was blood; the little kid watching me clean up the scrape asked me to show him my other boo boos). I took the bike in for servicing and had them loosen and grease the pedal clips and lo and behold a week later, I came to a sudden stop when my derailleur caught my spokes, and I was able to easily hop off the bike. So back to the shop it went for fixing and that meant I had a couple of days more where I wasn't training.

In between all this falling, scraping, and working, I was trying to do some last minute fund raising for the bike tour. I finally hit the $3000 mark (and change) and our team, the Cycledelics was third runner up for team total and individual average. I also was in charge of securing a sponsor for our shirts and I called on my philanthropist friend, Mickey MacDonald, of Micco Corp or Inc or Ltd (I'm not sure which it is). He's a former firefighter and our theme was firefighting, so......Anyway, his company made up our shirts and we took home the Best Dressed Award. We even had a real fireman on our team and he brought a hose to he tour that we dragged to the banquet for our grand entrance. We all had little fire helmets on, too. Pics are coming.

Day one of the bike tour was pretty good, though by 11:30, it was 30 degrees(Celsius, for my American friends) and with only 6 kilometres left to bike I had to pack it in. A shower and a short nap later and I was wandering around in my jammies until the banquet when we all changed into our firefighting gear again.

Day two was bad. I woke feeling like I'd been hit by a truck and my eyes were so puffy I looked like I had been crying all night. I got on the bike to ride it from the storage area to the cafeteria for breakfast and I knew after one bump I wouldn't get one kilometre on the thing, my inner thighs and but were sooooooooooooooooooooooo sore. I made the executive decision to skip riding on the second day, so loaded my bike into someone's van and got a ride to the halfway point to meet up with the team. There were support vehicles going up and down the road constantly so I had no fear of being left somewhere to fend for myself. I eventually got a ride back to the end where I cheered on folks arriving by bike as they crossed the finish line. The heavens had opened up and the wind had picked up so everyone was soaked and frozen. Just as well I wasn't riding. Between the wind and rain and the butt spasms, I might have just curled up on the side of the road waiting for the end to come. Everyone else on the team managed to do both days, but there were a few other folks like me who bowed out of riding on the second day. Over 400 riders, about 75 volunteers, and $330,000 raised. I'd say it was a success.

In the past 6 weeks there have been a couple of more news stories about CCSVI. I will not comment right now, but will in a future post.

The bug hunting has continued, though not as regularly as before, and I do have pics. I'm working on another CSI: Bugs episode, too. Those pics are coming, too.

And in between all this stuff is the building I'm managing....

That's all I have time for right now. I'll be back to regular posting real soon. I promise.

S.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

3 Billion Rides

Sometimes the most bizarre thoughts will pop into my head. Which is probably no surprise to anyone. I realize that most people have weird ideas from time to time; they can't be original thoughts, either. Very few of those left in the world, I suspect.

I once heard or read that the human heart has the capacity for only so many beats. In an average 80 year lifespan it will beat about 3 billion times. Does that mean if you exercise a lot and increase your rate of heartbeats, you'll die sooner? Exercise strengthens the heart, so your resting heartrate will be lower, so the number of heartbeats will even out in the end (I think that's how it would work).

When you live with a diagnosis of MS and one of your symptoms is fatigue, you learn to pace yourself in your day to day activities. Come to think of it, sometimes week to week or month to month. You don't do laundry on the same day that you shop for groceries, for example.

So after Sunday's 21 k bike ride, I was thinking, "What if I have a finite number of long bike rides in me?" Say, 100. Do I get more and more fatigued with each ride until I've reached the finite number and can't ride any more?

Like I said at the beginning, bizarre thought. However, after mulling it over, I think I've rationalized it to this: Each ride will build my physical strength. The exercise is good for both body and brain (increased oxygenation, better circulation of nutrients). My eating habits have improved, so my nutrition is better, and my overall health is improving. And I know that if my overall health is good, my brain is better able to deal with the MS. So if I hit a wall from fatigue, taking a day or 3 or 4 off is not going to set me back. I can get back on the bike and do a couple of shorter rides, then a big one again. After all, marathon runners don't run a marathon every day for training.

I suspect a day will come when a genetic test will determine what number of heartbeats a person is predetermined to have. A full screening at birth will tell us if we are destined to live to 100 or 25. 10 years ago the average lifespan for a person with cystic fibrosis was 18 years. Today it is 35 (last year I met a CF patient who was 40). We will be able to determine and treat conditions in order to extend lifespans; actually, we already do that to a degree. If we are diagnosed with a treatable disease, we take medicines or alter our lifestyle to enable us to not be as affected by our disease. But a day will come when we find out at birth (if not prenatally).

So how many long bike rides do I have in me? Ask me when I'm 80.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Porcupine Crossing

Gas stations are great places to find bugs. They have these really big lights that are on at night attracting all sort of insect. Yesterday morning I raided the local station and retrieved a polyphemus and an azalea sphinx. Just beautiful specimens - which are now napping in my freezer until tomorrow when I will preserve them for posterity (actually, for my own amusement and study). Pics in the very near future, dear reader.

Today, the Wookie and I went on a 21 k ride, half on a trail, the other half back to the car on the highway. On the trail, I nearly ran over a porcupine that hadn't looked both ways before attempting to cross. It waddled off into the trees while I stopped to get my camera. I managed a few shots of it in the tree. These adorable animals have poor eyesight and not great hearing; they don't really need those senses too much anyway, what with all the sharp pointy things sticking out of their fur. Anyway, I had to get a pic for Lisa (I think), who last year was disappointed that I hadn't posted a pic of the one crossing a street that I had stopped for.



We left the trail just short of the end as I could see the ocean down a drive that crossed the trail and wanted to be next to the water. It was about 2k on that road to the main highway, then 9 more to the car. I took a couple of pics of the beach on one side, and pics of a fresh water marsh on the other side of the road. The marsh had several pitcher plants and a few clumps of blue flag irises. I had noticed both plants along the trail as well, though not as many pitcher plants (they are a protected species).




All in all it was a good ride, lots of sweat dripping everywhere and a few drops of rain from time to time to tease us. I was wishing the skies would just open up to cool us down. Then off to mom and dad's to wish a dad a Happy Pappy Day. He was happy with the gifts, of course. "Don't be spending your money on me" is a quote to be ignored.

S.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I'm Here!!

I have been amazingly lax the past few weeks as far as the blog goes. You should go make yourself a cup of tea before you sit down to read the rest of this post.

I really have put the push on for getting donations for the Bike Tour since I don't have the support of a "work" network this time 'round. So that's been keeping me hopping. Though I did have one really good experience at the grocery store last week. A man in line in front of me commented on the bike tour jacket I wear and asked if I did the bike tour. Turns out he had been invited to participate with some friends but is unable to do so. I told him he could help out just the same by sponsoring me. So he found a bank machine to get some money to give me. I took down his name and address of course so he can get a tax receipt, but while waiting at the bank machine I told him I felt like I was shaking him down. He laughed, gave me 20 bucks and next year he may bike with my team instead of his friend's.

I have been in "serious" training for the tour as well. I have made a few short but heavy duty rides, lots of hills to work the legs. I am very pleased with my progress, getting up these hills with fewer stops, increasing my kilometres per hour average, and generally building strength in my legs. I have also fallen off the bike twice in the past 3 weeks, both times (as usual, actually) when I was coming to a stop. Last Sunday I'm afraid the spill I took drew a little more blood than usual, and two little boys watched intently as I administered my own first aid. The older of the two had questions for me about my "boo boo" and asked me to show him my other ones (after he showed me his). They were too cute for words and their mother pointed out the fact that I had a first aid kit with me which she informed them is always a good idea when going on a long bike ride. Come to think of it, it's a good idea for me to always have a first aid kit....I had to replenish my first aid supplies after the ride.

I took my bike in yesterday for its 1000k tune up. When the guy working at the shop saw me, I just showed him my bandaged knee and he said, "Again?". They put a new chain on the bike and tuned it up for me, as well, they have checked my pedal clips and hopefully loosened them (that's why I fall - can't get unclipped fast enough).

A couple of weeks ago, the majority of Canadian MS Walks were held. The Wookie, Margo, Marc, and I walked as a team, going 8 kilometres by foot. I had hoped to have a team picture to show you by now, but don't so you'll just have to wait. It was definitely fun and good to catch up with a number of people including the Sackville Kinsmen Club who are holding their car show again this year and asked me to set my bike up again. That's on the 27th.

About a week ago, one of the local tv stations ran a story about a local woman who is trying to raise money so she can go overseas and get the "liberation" treatment. Don't get me started. but what irked me was that she yanked her team from the MS Walk in protest of the fact that the MS Society is not lobbying the government to pay for this procedure. That angered me more than anything else I've heard recently. The MS Society of Canada along with the NMSS in the US has designated 2.4 millions dollars to study CCSVI and the link it appears to have with MS (this was announced just last week). It will not be funding surgical procedures at this point because we don't know if there is a link between the two. Depending on the outcome of these initial studies, then perhaps the "liberation" procedure itself will be studied.

The media still hasn't caught on to the fact that the theory behind CCSVI is that a build up of iron in the brain because of closed off veins is what causes MS. If there are iron deposits in the brain it would take more than half an hour to clear them from the brain, but half an hour seems to be the length of time between having the procedure performed and noticing a difference in MS symptoms.

So why do some people report miraculous results from this procedure? There are a number of factors at play including the Placebo Effect, not to mention improved circulation of blood in the brain. We all know that improving the circulation of blood in the brain is going to be good for you. My thoughts about miraculous improvements all involve improving oxygenation and toxin removal (by toxin, I mean cellular byproducts like waste). So until the folks who have had the procedure done can show measured reduction in MS symptoms over a period of time, I stand by my idea that this treatment is not an effectual one. Not for MS, anyway. It may be an effectual treatment for a vascular condition that many people without MS have. I would love to have this treatment proven to be an effective one for MS. But you must show me the scientific evidence first.

A couple of days ago, I was one of three people on a panel for a presentation to a group of health professionals about what it's like to be a research participant. It was part of a series of lunch hour sessions set up for health workers in the Capital District Health Association (which covers all of Halifax and surrounding areas). It was teleconferenced to other sites as well in 4 or 5 other hospitals. Most of the questions had to do with how we felt as "guinea pigs", why we agreed to be in a clinical study and our likes and dislikes about the experience. All three of us were quite positive about our feelings and how we were treated. Learning why we participated was important for these folks to hear as it helps them determine how to ask future participants to be in studies. It was a very cool experience for me as I had never really given any thought to other participants' reasons for being in a study, only mine; I'm curious, I need to know stuff (which they thought was funny). One panelist was given a drug in a different form that was being measured to see if it was more effective or just as effective as it's regular form. The other panelist was in a similar type study. In my case, in my first trial, this was one of the first disease modifying drugs (the other being Copaxone) for MS. Plus, I was in a Phase 3 trial which had the chance of me being on a placebo. The other studies have involved the course of my MS or looking for genetic markers, so have involved MRIs and blood work (both now a walk in the park for me).

And finally, on the bug front, it's almost SUMMERTIME!! Which means warmer evenings and lots of night time bugs. Like june bugs, face down on the pavement trying to drill their way to China. Or carrion beetles searching for meals. Or moths beating themselves against the building under the security lights - picture me below the lights after dark with my net in hand just waiting for them to get within reach. I retrieved a beautiful hawk moth last night which spent the day in my freezer. Taking a nap. In a couple of days I'll take him out, photograph him and preserve him. Pictures will be up before too long of my latest finds.

I promise not to be so lax from now on. Really.

S.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Hip Hop as Intellectual Stimulation and More CSI:Bugs

Today on CSI:Bugs we have two cases. The first involves an apparent accidental overdose - of pollen. I first spotted this beetle in a tulip trying to escape up the sides of the flower. When I went back a few minutes later with the camera, it was gone. But a third inspection a day later revealed the creature(or one like it) had returned to the tulip and died there. The flower was now a crime scene.

I removed the body for closer inspection (of course) and found a very pretty substance covering most of the insect:



At 60 X magnification, the substance appears to be pollen:

As there was no evidence of use of force (no broken legs or antennae), it was concluded that the beetle died after covering itself in pollen (perhaps interfering with the animal's ability to fly) and then was trapped in the closing petals of the flower at night. Unable to find a warmer spot it froze to death (it has the same appearance of bugs I have deliberately frozen - for scientific seasons). Not really an overdose of pollen, but if it hadn't returned it might have lived.

The second case is still an ongoing investigation. In the front of the building we have a plastic container that holds a garden hose and nozzles for the hose. I open it up on a regular basis and have on more than one occasion removed some wasp, bee, or other bug from inside. Today, a mother paper wasp was in there tending to her nest. She had already made 12-14 hexagonal cells and placed a number of eggs in them and was preparing to make more. Not wanting to be stung this summer while retrieving gardening tools, I gently nudged the mother out (luckily she was woozy from the cold) and removed the under-construction nest:



At 60 X magnification:


I toyed with the idea of raising these babies on my own, but soon realized in a few weeks I will have about 10 hungry larvae demanding bits of caterpillar and other insects for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What I will do instead is watch the eggs until they hatch into larvae, take some pics and then release them next to an ant hill. This will be a bit of an experiment to see if the ants will take them. The paper wasp secretes a substance on the stalk of the nest (the stalk is the bit that attaches the nest to a structure from which it hangs) and sometimes on the cells. It is apparently an ant deterrent and protects the larvae from being carried away when the mom's not around. If the ants aren't interested in them, then we'll know that the stuff works. If the ants carry them away, then it means that the substance must be regularly applied.

Since I have kidnapped the larvae, and none are dead yet, then the case is ongoing.

Cool, eh?

On a completely different topic, I received an e-mail from my high school friend, Welli. She's a married mom of two teenage boys and she recently started taking hip hop dance classes. She told me it's one of the most intellectually stimulating things she's done in a few years. On the surface that might seem a bit bizarre to hear. After all, Welli is one of the most intelligent people I've ever known and she has a career that required a great deal of education. As well, a lot of hip hop music is lost on our generation (actually, every generation has its own types of music lost on others). So why is this type of dancing so intellectually stimulating?
Welli says learning the steps and routines has been a workout for her mind. And that's the key. I have been extolling the virtues of stimulating your mind while you exercise. Simply going through the motions is not enough to maintain or improve brain fitness. Your brain thrives on novel experiences; that's why I tell you to change up your exercise routine, take different routes on your runs or rides or walks, listen to different music or books or radio stations while you do it (not while riding a bike though, that's not safe), even mixing up the exercises you do. Lately, I have been stepping up onto and over the boulders that line one of the paths I regularly walk. This takes concentration and making judgments about where to put my feet at the same time that it is using different muscle sets than just walking. I am also climbing and walking along benches and hanging from monkey bars on my walks. It is the new, different or novel things that our brain pays attention to and those are the things that increase the number of neurons. That is brain fitness. And that is why a hip hop class can be an intellectual stimulator.

Thanks, Welli.

S.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

CSI:Bugs

I have been negligent of late, not keeping everyone up to speed on what's going on. Thing is, I'm spending a lot of time just waiting for people. Waiting for the gov't to decide if they'll support me while I go to school. Waiting for people to show up for appointments to view an apartment. Waiting for service people to show up to service a broken appliance. Etc.

I could write about my experiences as the female Schneider (a reference to One Day at a Time), but I know that might get me into trouble. Let's just say that when this part of my life is done, I'll be able to write a couple of books about human behaviour. It's interesting and aggravating at the same time and I'll leave it at that.

A couple of weeks ago, I began riding my bike in earnest in preparation for the MS Bike Tour in July. As you know, I've been doing a lot of walking and hiking (and now, biking), yet when the Wookie came out with me on the weekend for a bike ride (after not truly exercising for months) he whizzed past me like there was no tomorrow, leaving me in his dust. On Sunday, I was in tears at the end of our short (7k) ride, frustrated because I was so tired and the Wookie was just fine. My legs were weak, had been the day before as well. Anyway, I pulled it together and we did a nice 10k ride the next day. Lucky for me, my meltdowns are few and far between.

I have been outside a lot, scouting for bugs of course, and being rewarded. Some of them I rush inside to go under the microscope, while others (like the ants) I leave outside and mess with their tiny minds. I find a line of ants, and try to rub out the scent trail, then watch them try to figure out how to get home again. They always do, after a moment's hesitation. Or I push a little sand into one of their entrances and watch them clean it out.

Then there are the dead bugs I find. That got me thinking about CSI:Bugs. This june bug met an interesting end:


It's missing it's head! Wait, there it is, 15 feet away and 3 feet off the ground. Seriously, it's on the top of the lamp pillar in front of the building.


Not having the capacity to do DNA analysis, I will never solve this particular murder. I do suspect it was at the hand of a human, though, as the bug was not eaten. Here's how I think it went down: the bug was flying around the entrance to the building, attracted by the light. A tenant comes along and walks into its flight path causing a reflexive swat by the tenant. The swat is so fast it results in the decapitation of the june bug. Now picture all that in slow motion with the appropriate "Ewwww" and "Gross" as the tenant hits the bug and the accompanying clicking sound as the hard shelled body hits the front walkway and the head hits the cement light pillar.

Oh! And I have begun my fundraising for the bike tour. The link to contribute is on the right.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bug P*rn

Sadly, the mystery has not been solved about those vein like things on the underside of my june bug. They may be fungal in origin according to the curator of zoology at the local museum, but he would need a look see at the animal itself. That isn't possible as I set the critter free the next morning.

I did take some pictures today, though of some lady bugs (ahem) doing it.



Nothing like having the word p*rn in your blog post title to drive up readership....

S.

Friday, May 14, 2010

What Is This?

video

Click on the video to see the underside of a june bug as its muscles contract. I don't know what the vein-like structure is, but I do have an enquery in to the local museum.

Here it is the middle of May and we're seeing these bugs already. We've had an extraordinary spring for this part of the world and gardens are in full swing. Most folks I've talked to feel we're 2-3 weeks ahead of normal as far as plants and wildlife go.

It's been a rather hectic two weeks. Last weekend of course, in Canada, we have the MS Carnation Campaign plus it was Mother's Day (hi Mom!). I've been out biking to get ready for the bike tour in July and the MS Walk is at the end of this month. And I'm trying to get things straightened away with he government so I can return to school in the fall...whew.

Anyway, I hope to be back to regularly scheduled posts about bugs, bikes, and brains in the next few weeks. The Wookie and I did attend a lecture last night about Genetics and MS (just more reason for my mother to feel guilty). On Sunday, my Mom and I are guest speakers at a monthly meeting of the local CWL(Catholic Women's League). We'll be talking about MS and how it's affected us, our relationship, and how we've coped (or not).

See ya' soon!

S.

PS: Hey Steve - thanks for buying two bunches of carnations for your love goddess.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ladder Clean Up

Today was the annual clean out of the fish ladder at Heffler's Mill. I've blogged about this before, but will refresh your memory. The fish ladder was built to aid fish, like salmon and eels, get upstream. The ladder runs next to a falls on the Sackville River and every year at this time, the Sackville Rivers Association cleans out the debris that accumulates over the winter in the rungs of the ladder and in the holding cage at the top. The holding cage is kept open all winter and closed over the summer and fall to allow us to count the number and species of fish traveling through. (We also are able to catch a few female salmon, while they are in the holding cage, that we send to a fish hatchery about an hour away.)

I can help clean out dead leaves, branches, and rocks that get caught in the top and sides of the cage, but I leave the shoveling of the rocks at the bottom of the cage and rungs to younger folks. That's when I usually go on a coffee run for the group of us. So there's not a lot I can do, physically, except sometimes empty buckets of rocks into the main part of the river.

The best part of the exercise, for me, is discovering the creatures that live at the bottom of the cage, normally on the river bottom. First though, pictures of the fish ladder rungs at capacity, and then after we block the water from entering:




I discovered a tangled mass of roots from some long dead plant or shrub that had been washed into the cage. In this mass were the usual suspects, like wormy insect nymphs, rocks, and stones, but also something I was unaware of until today. Pea or fingernail clams!! Tiny little things, freshwater, and food for fish and leeches. Cool.



One of the other volunteers found an insect nymph that would scare the hardiest of Alien hunters, if they were any larger than they are. Take a look at it to see if you can figure out what this nymph will be in another month or two (hint: the eyes and legs are the only thing that remain the same in the adult and the nymph)


If you said "dragonfly" you'd be right. The eyes are really the giveaway.

And while sitting on the edge of the empty holding cage, I spied a worm like creature at the bottom in the muck....a closer look revealed a leech. I took it out for an even closer look and pictures, of course. It stretched out to about the length of my thumb:



Because we had a relatively mild winter, there wasn't as much debris in the holding cage as in previous years. Actually, last year we had to delay the cleaning because the water level was extremely high and the river flow was too fast.

We had several young women join us today, newcomers to the organization, and really hard workers. Hopefully they had as much fun as I did.

S.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Northern Lights



My property manager, Adena, has a brother living in the northern reaches of Canada. He's a professional photographer and is possibly unaware I have two of his photos hanging on my wall that Adena gave me. I have been keeping track of his and his wife's adventures up north via Adena. The most recent included a picture of the Northern Lights. The reason I really like this one is that it isn't the typical curtain of lights you see in pictures, though those are lovely, too. This one is beautiful, yet haunting. I feel slightly uneasy at the loneliness it portrays.

Rye gave me permission to post his photo of the old gold mine head shaft. It was taken in the early part of April.

S.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dear Miss Macaulay....



Birmingham
Dec 27/18

Dear Miss Macaulay:
I will thank your nice Xmas stocking I received. I was very pleased to get the present. Everything came in so handy. I had a very happy Xmas time. I hope you had the same. I am in the 1st Southern General Hospital with the misfortune of having one leg off at the knee but expect to be in Canada in about a month or so. Many more thanks for the presents and a Happy New Year to you.
Yours truly.
Private L. J. G--------

So reads a letter from a Canadian soldier from his hospital stay during the first world war. I have a small collection of postcards and other paper ephemera and one of those items was an envelope with a postal stamp on it indicating it was from a wounded soldier (I had never looked inside the envelope before yesterday so just discovered the letter). The other envelope displays a postal mark with a great war slogan on it: Food will win the war. Don't waste it.

And I also have another letter from a soldier during the second world war who indicates that he'd pay 5 bucks for a hamburger.

The first letter from Private L. G. is so ordinary until he states matter-of-factly that he's lost a leg. The letter could have been written last Christmas by a wounded soldier in Afghanistan or Iraq. I imagine there are plenty of those letters that were written and sadly continue to be written.

I don't know the relationship between the private and the Miss Macaulay he wrote to. Was her Christmas stocking a generic gift to be delivered to a wounded soldier by the Red Cross(women knit socks for soldiers as part of the war efforts at home)? Was it a gift from a potential girlfriend or perhaps a family friend? It would take a lot of detective work on my part to figure out both parties involved, especially the private as his handwriting makes it difficult to decipher his last name. But I may take on the project over the summer.





Two pictures of Max and his twin brother. The first taken in 1928 or so. Aren't they the sweetest kids? The second picture is from May or June, 1942, when Max's brother returned home for the first time after having survived the U-boat torpedoing of the ship he was on. Max is the one in uniform.

And the last picture is Max acting as a gunner. We are coming up to the anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic, May 3rd. I'll head to the Halifax waterfront to attend the ceremonies (actually, I think it's at Point Pleasant Park which is at the mouth of the harbour and where a large monument is installed to remember our war dead). Wherever it may be, I'll be there.



S.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Barn Door's Open

In the late 50s a Greek doctor began treating patients who had peptic ulcers with antibiotics. But it wasn't until the early 80s that an Australian pair of researchers began their studies of Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria that appeared to cause ulcers. It took 15 years, but by 1997, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta (and other academic and medical institutions) were spreading the word about the link between the bacteria and ulcers. The use of antibiotics soon became a standard treatment for ulcers.

So, here we have an idea in the 1950s, unproven to work, or, at the very least, do no harm. For a number of reasons, the Greek doctor did not or was unable to conduct accepted scientific studies. So the idea languished for 25 years until the Australians began their research. And without the research that backed up the idea, the medical community would not get on board.

Now, in the 21st century we have a new idea about multiple sclerosis, CCSVI. And the uproar this idea has caused is unnecessary if folks would stop to think about it for a minute. It is an idea, unproven to work, or, at the very least, do no harm. Yes, it's a very interesting idea. It may have merit. It may add to our collective knowledge of multiple sclerosis, but without scientifically based research, it is not a treatment.

One misconception about diagnosing CCSVI is that it's a simple thing to do. It's not. It requires an ultrasound technician trained specifically to detect 5 factors in determining whether or not someone has the condition. The process takes an hour and a half and at least 2 of those 5 factors must be present for diagnosis. It's not like getting an ultrasound of your baby when you're pregnant.

The early numbers from a survey of 500 people in the US, half of whom have MS, half that don't, show that at most, 63% of the MS folks have CCSVI, and 25% of the non-MS folks have it. We cannot say that CCSVI causes MS unless 100% of MS patients have CCSVI, that CCSVI preceded the onset of MS symptoms, and a host of other conditions are met, not to mention, that those without MS who have CCSVI do develop MS.

Some more interesting stuff is coming out of the American Academy of Neurology meetings going on in Toronto this week. Nearly 50% of those treated in Dr. Zamboni's initial group of 65 patients have had to have the "liberation procedure" repeated. Many of those initial patients were on disease modifying drugs prior to the procedure. The initial trial was not blinded, there was no control group, and the sample size was small.

I have objected to people jumping the gun on this possible treatment for all of those reasons (and more, if truth be told). And even Dr. Zamboni is urging caution to MS patients, telling them to wait until the treatment is thoroughly tested. Kinda late now, Doctor, with people spending thousands of dollars traveling to countries where they can be scanned and have the procedure done.

S.

Check out Science Based Medicine. Steve Gorski has an excellent article on the Greek doctor I mention above. And it's a cool site.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fishing Trip

In the summer of '84, after my 21st birthday, my friend (and sometimes commenter on this blog) Steve, came to visit me for a weekend. Steve's a macho kind of dude, who, in university, could have passed for Father Guido Sarducci from Saturday Night Live.

I put him on my sofa bed which he ended up sharing with my two kittens. He called them Garfield and Nermal, though they resembled neither fictional cat. He told me after the first night, he rolled one way, heard a meow, so rolled the other way, and heard another meow. He didn't move for the rest of the night for fear of squishing one. Macho dude....heh...big ol softie is what he was....and still is.

On the Saturday of the weekend, Steve and I joined my friend Glen for a day of fishing. Glen, the boy scout, had boots and gear for all three of us so we set out for a popular river in the area. It was hot, of course, and fishing in boots is not nearly so dry as fishing in chest waders, so pretty soon, both Steve and I had bootfuls of water, which actually kept us from really noticing the heat. As well, Steve, macho-big-city-guy from Toronto, had never been fishing (or even in rubber boots I think), lost his footing a couple of times and fell up to his waist in the water. So he finally just walked into the deepest part of the river and dunked himself. Fishing hat and all.



I don't know how long we were on the river. We came to a tree with a rope swing and Steve and Glen tried it a few times to throw themselves into the river. By the time we were ready to call it a day, we were exhausted, hungry, and soaked. Glen caught 11 fish (and threw them all back), I caught one, and poor Steve caught none. But we had a blast.



Driving home, I offered to make us some grilled cheese sandwiches for supper and the guys wanted to hit the liquor store for some beer as well. Glen drove us to the store and Steve and I walked in, soaking from head to toe, our feet sloshing water in the rubber boots with every step. Quite the sight. Glen dropped off Steve and I at my place, went home to get changed, then returned for supper. I made a load of sandwiches, we each popped a can of beer, the guys sat on the couch, and I sat on the floor. We ate and had a beer and the next thing I know it was 2 hours later, the guys asleep, each at one end of the couch and I had fallen asleep on the floor, and only 3 or 4 cans of beer actually consumed. My laughter woke the two guys. It was only about 9 o'clock on a Saturday evening and the three of us called it a night.

Fishing is hard work.

S.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Joker



Finally...the bugs are out and about, flying around. And two nights ago, I came across a moth I'd never seen before. The picture doesn't quite do it justice, as it was the prettiest green, lichen coloured, that makes the perfect camouflage on lichen covered trees. I believe it is a feralia jocosa - The Joker Sallow - but if it isn't, it is one of Feralias. There are at least 5 or 6 that have very similar colours and patterns.



I let it go today and rescued another brown moth that had become trapped in the lobby. And so my nightly forays around the building have begun!

S.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

June 29th, 1984



I don't frighten easily. At least, scary movies generally don't bother me (The Exorcist is my favourite movie), scary TV shows don't bother me (the Wookie won't watch Medium at home alone), and I once planned to spend a night at a supposed "haunted" location with a couple of other university students until they chickened out (Google Mary Ellen Spook for details on the paranormal experiences at our planned destination). But I got a bit of a fright on my 21st birthday.

On my 21st birthday I was living in a small town, working for a small radio station, at my first job after graduating from university the month before. By chance, my very first boyfriend, Glen, lived in this town and we had become friends a few years after we had dated. Actually, his whole family kind of adopted me when I moved there.

But on my 21st birthday, my parents were living overseas and my then-boyfriend and I had broken up the week before. I wasn't exactly feeling like celebrating, but Glen insisted we do something for my birthday. So he picked me up at 6 when I was off the air and we drove across the Canso Causeway to pick up some lobster, then on to a beach in Saint Francis Harbour, close to where Glen and his family owned some land and a cottage. It was about a half hour drive from the town.

Glen was a boy scout and a scout leader so had packed the car with everything we needed. We had pots to cook the lobster in, rolls and butter, knives, forks and nut crackers to open the crustaceans once cooked, tons of paper towels and he even had a birthday cake. We arrived at the beach and dragged everything to a spit of land about a half mile from the car. On this spit of land was a copse of trees with a clearing in the centre and a camp fire area. We filled a pot with sea water, built a fire and put the water on to boil. Even at the end of June, it still took about an hour for the pot to come to a boil (the water is still close to freezing in the Canso Strait at the end of June). Eventually, the water boiled, we dumped in the lobster and within half an hour were eating the meat and rolls until we were almost stuffed.

We were there for a couple of hours and after the meal the two of us lay down in the sand to digest the feast, both of us with our heads on logs and our legs stretched before us. We were about 6 feet apart, the fire lighting the clearing as the sunlight had by this time completely disappeared, our tummies full, and the two of us quite relaxed and getting sleepy; my eyes were closed. A sound came from the trees; Glen spoke," What was that?" "A squirrel," I said.

After a few minutes, another sound from the trees, and again Glen spoke,"What is it?" "It's you trying to scare me by throwing rocks in the woods and making me think it's a bear or something," I replied. Then the two of us laughed. I had caught him.

A few more minutes passed in almost silence, the fire crackling. Another, bigger sound from the trees. "OK, it's not funny anymore"' Glen said, slightly scared and annoyed. "Look at me, Glen"' I said. "Do I look like I've moved a muscle in the past half hour?" My hands were folded on my tummy, I was laying on the sand, my head resting on a log. "Are you serious?" he asked. "Glen, I didn't throw anything into the trees, so it was either you or some other creature." We looked at each other, jumped up simultaneously, and began to throw all our gear into a couple of garbage bags to take back to the car.

That took all of 15 seconds to do and then I asked Glen where the flashlight was. He stopped dead. "In the car."

The man was a boy scout and leader. He packed everything you could think of for a lobster dinner, even getting birthday cake, plus he had thought of a great place for the meal: half a mile from the car with those really awkward round beach stones to break your ankles on as you climb over them. But he didn't bring the flashlight.

We were hearing more noises from the trees so had to act quickly. "Grab me some branches that have lots of twigs still on 'em," I told him as I rummaged for the paper towels. "The fire will give us some light until we get a certain distance away, then we'll just light one of these babies and run for as long as it stays lit," I said, wrapping paper towel around some of the twiggy branches.

Fear is kind of like chicken pox, contagious, though thankfully, not itchy. Glen's obvious fear of the noises in the dark was starting to freak me out. We began to run from the camp fire and the clearing in the trees with a couple of garbage bags in tow, banging around since they contained pots and utensils. We got so far and then stopped because we couldn't see. We lit one of my torches and then ran like crazy until it flamed out and we had to drop it. We lit the next one and ran like crazy until that one flamed out. We had one left and I wasn't sure it was going to get us back to the car in time or if we were going to be eaten by a bear. The third torch was lit and we double timed it, slipping on those round beach rocks, cursing as we went, clanging our garbage bags. As the third torch flamed out the two of us turned around to see how far we had come and in unison we screamed. There behind us we could see the still-burning embers of the torches, spaced at intervals like the devil's footprints leading back to the camp fire. Then we faced in the direction of the car and tried to make it out. Just barely could we see where it was. We ran, tripping and clanging, not even thinking that if anything had been chasing us, it would have been long since scared away by the noise and the torches.

We made it to the car, threw everything into the back, jumped into the front, and locked the doors. Glen started the car and we drove out of there like we were being chased by the devil himself. A few miles down the road we relaxed a little bit and started to giggle. By the time we got back to my place it was full body laughter. We finally settled on raccoon or squirrel or skunk as the creature that had made the sound in the trees.

We had a piece of birthday cake. And the following spring, I was a reader at Glen's wedding. I never told his wife, Sylvie, about my 21st birthday and I don't know if Glen ever did, but it was one of the funniest I've ever experienced.

Glen and Sylvie went on to have 5 or 6 kids.....I honestly lost track. Really nice folks, really nice family. But I suspect they always leave on a night light. I do.

S.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What's New?

3 weeks ago I began my new part time job: that of resident manager of the building I live in. I handle rental inquiries and any problems the residents may have. It's a perfect fit as I am planning to return to school this fall.

I wasn't having much luck in finding employment in the PR field so decided to go back to being a student. As a life long learner anyway, this isn't such a stretch. My mom went to university in her thirties so I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, except this apple is 10 years older than the tree was when she went back to school. I'm sure my mom won't like being referred to as a tree so I'll end the analogy.

I've been accepted by a local community college for the business administration program and I have to admit to being rather excited about it. This time around (attending a post secondary institution) I'll have none of that late teenage angst saddling my psyche and interfering with study. I'll not be trying to find myself, as I've done that and think I'm cool. I'll have no peer pressure to sucuumb to as there will be few peers, mostly young adults. In actuality, my peers will be the teachers.

In high school I tutored elementary age children whose first language was not English. They wanted to learn, to do better in school, but not for themselves. They were there because their parents deemed it necessary. That was sometimes hard for them because on those beautiful afternoons they wanted to be outside playing. It was hard on me as well because it was difficult to keep them focused. So I had to invent games that involved physical activity in combination with math and English. 15 years ago I was involved with a non profit literacy agency as a tutor and as a member of the board of directors. I enjoyed tutoring, mostly because my adult students really wanted to be there. They weren't learning because of their parents but because they wanted to improve their lives or their children's lives. I fed off that desire to learn.

There's something intrinsically exciting about learning a new concept or how to solve an algebraic equation (ok, for me it is exciting) or suddenly understanding something which has had you perplexed for a while. (The day I understand the concept of time travel the entire world will know as the biggest light bulb on the planet will be visible above my head.) So I am excited about attending a school where the students are young adults who want to learn something to better their lives or to enable them to become contributing members of society. I will feed off that desire.

My folks and the Wookie are excited for me, too. I'm just waiting for some final paper work to go through before everything is set. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Last week was Brain Awareness Week. Were you aware of that? On the Monday, I was at a local hospital as part of a "brain fair" with other organizations involved in brain health. Of course I was there as a representative of the MS Society, speaking with anyone interested in getting more information. Earlier in the day, the new MEG machine had been unveiled. That's magnetoencephalograph - a machine that can measure the magnetic fields around the brain produced by electrical activity in the brain. It's the only one in Canada and I got to take a peek at it (they were giving tours). It will be used for clinical and experimental applications and when combined with MRI pictures can give an even more accurate image of the brain. It's a very cool machine that doesn't require you to be immobile; you can read, watch videos, move your body (as long as you stay seated with your head hooked up and in the machine), and if you need to scratch your nose, no problem. Halifax is fast becoming what Montreal was in the 40s and 50s when the Montreal Neurological Institute was the brain centre of the world. We have some of the most amazing work going on here these days.

We had several days of spring like weather last week. I saw my first bugs of the season, including a very sleepy wasp that wasn't sure which way was up. An iris bloomed outside the front door which had me in a panic as they don't normally come out til May. I found out later, it's an "early" iris, so not one of the kind that we see around Mother's Day. but still, it was a pleasant addition to the scenery around the building. One of the residents has already begun to dig in her garden, which means that I won't be far behind. And the bike will come out of the bike barn a little more regularly. Sadly, I fell behind in the 52 WBC when I accepted the resident manager job as I had to move across the hall (into the model suite) and all that entailed. I also have had to deal with an aggravated sciatic nerve (I think). Since my diagnosis, about once a year or so I have some left hip pain. It arose when I was walking funny, trying to compensate for leaning when my right side was almost useless. Luckily I've only had a couple of sleepless nights. I was speaking with a friend last night who's currently on disability because of his sciatica.

Anyway, as you can tell, it's been a rather busy month. As I get into a new routine I'll be writing more regularly. There's lots to talk about.

S.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Max's Wife




My friend Max was a sailor with he Merchant Navy until 1952. For 12 years he traveled the world delivering goods ranging from popcorn for India to sea salt for Japan. (I asked about the sea salt, since Japan is an island surrounded by a salty ocean. He said that the sea salt was cheaper to be collected and processed in the middle east than Japan.)

But then Max left the Merchant Navy and signed up with the regular army. He was eventually sent to Germany which was enjoying a boon in industry and agriculture, mainly due to the Marshall Plan. Of course NATO was a young organization with a large contingent of soldiers in Germany, including Canadians, and Max was among them. The German citizens were encouraged to befriend the soldiers living among them, and the soldiers were, in turn, encouraged to befriend the citizens. Many soldiers brought toys and candy for the German children. Max gave some candy to one child who invited him to her home for supper with her family. He had to decline the invitation for that evening but asked to come the next night. It was agreed, and the next night he was having supper with that family. The family included a very pretty 18 year old girl named Krystal...who eventually became Mrs. Max.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Rant

The most recent findings related to the whole Zamboni theory come from the USA. While I don't have the exact number of participants in this study at my fingertips (a quick search on Google will turn up the study I'm sure), up to 63% of MS patients tested were found to have the vein occlusion Dr. Zamboni described. Many supporters of the vascular theory are now proclaiming victory saying that this proves Zamboni's case. It doesn't. It adds weight to it, but falls far short of proof of anything.

This study also revealed that up to 25% of non MS participants had the same vein occlusions. That's the part that I found interesting. 25%! These people will now have to be followed (or at least should be) to see if they develop MS as a result of their occlusions.

The two populations must be examined to determine the differences between them and why one group has MS and the other doesn't.

The reality is that both Zamboni's study and the follow up American study add to the whole puzzle that is MS. But they neither prove nor disprove anything.

Did you know that the medical MS field has known about Zamboni and his theory for a couple of years? If it was such a great idea why didn't they jump on board earlier? The simple reason is that Zamboni's research isn't enough. Other people have to replicate his findings.

Trevis Gleason is a blogger for whom I have a great deal of respect. He is much more eloquent than I and much more diplomatic. On a post a couple of weeks ago, I responded with my opinion about Zamboni. Another poster didn't like what I had to say about Zamboni's theory and research and rather than fight on someone else's blog, I'm going to state my case on MY blog.

I said that Zamboni's research was sloppy. To be fair, it was more the presentation of his research that I found sloppy. I had more questions after the airing of the W5 episode he was featured on than I could find answers for. How many participants did he screen for the venal occlusion before he settled on 65? Did he have any control subjects? How many required a second operation to treat the occlusions? Did he do animal studies first? Those are just a few of the questions I had.

I said that Zamboni was unethical in treating his wife. My critic said Zamboni didn't treat his wife, that a colleague did. If Zamboni included his wife in the study, whoever physically treated the woman is irrelevant. She was under Zamboni's treatment and therefore was treated by him. That is unethical. At least, in Canada and the United States it is unethical to treat a family member.

As you can probably tell, I'm still hot under the collar about all this. Why? False hope. I have encountered more people in the past couple of months who are talking about the "cure" for MS. They don't realize this is not a cure. It is an experimental treatment at best, and a waste of money and time (for those willing to spend their savings on travel to a foreign country and an operation) at worst.

Yes, I believe research into Zamboni's theory should continue. But as I've told a number of folks, don't put all your eggs in this one basket. It will be years before we know if this is the cure.

Years ago, it was theorized that MS was caused by Epstein Barr virus, the virus that causes mononucleosis, the kissing disease. Up to 95% of the entire world's population has had exposure to this virus and would test positive for it if given the blood test. Measles affects 30-40 million people a year and many more milliion have been vaccinated or have had the disease and would test positive for it. Measles has also been a suspect in the pathogenesis of MS. My point is that there are more likely suspects than the vascular theory.

And please stop believing that neurologists and Big Pharma are conspiring to keep us from finding a cure. That's just not happening.

S.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

One Day at a Time




I've been missing in action for a little while, but for good reason. I managed to shake my cold and get moving again, unlike a number of people I've encountered recently. This was a doozy of a bug that resulted in pneumonia for one acquaintance and several friends missing several days of work. Anyway, I'm back to my old self (I think), ranting and raving at some stupid politicians' behaviour and the conspiracy theorists out there who think that neurologists and big pharma have it in for Dr. Zamboni and his new theory of MS.

There is some interesting information on the Zamboni front and the latest study figures. 62.9% is far from proof but that's all I'll say at this point. I'm working on another post to address that in the next day or two.

This post is about what I'll be doing over the next couple of years.

Last fall, my friend, and resident manager of the building I live in, asked me if I was interested in becoming the superintendent. I wasn't at that point, thinking full time employment was just around the corner. Since a job hasn't materialized I started to look at various government programs I could take advantage of, and am in the process of applying for one and navigating the various agencies that exist for people like me. It's looking good right now, and I should be attending community college in the fall to study business administration (concentrating on accounting). At the same time, my friend offered me the super position again but as a job share with another woman. Perfect fit. In exchange for handling the tenants and showing the building to prospective tenants (and a few other duties) I get a break on my rent. The other woman I'd job share with will handle all the cleaning around the building. So I'm quite happy about this. Going to school and a part time gig is a pretty good deal.

So I've been fairly occupied for the last two weeks trying to get everything all set up (there is a move required, but just across the hall). One friend asked me if I'd wear a tool belt ala Schneider from One Day at a Time. I don't think so. But I do know how to use a plunger....

S.
PS: Keep this info under your hat until Friday when we tell the rest of the building.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cold and Flu Season and Max




Like a lot of folks this time of year, I have had a cold. Just your normal run of the mill head cold that started with a sore throat, then progressed to a cough and finally into my sinuses. I still have it a week and a half later, though there have been definite improvements. The first two days I spent in bed (mostly), taking it easy. In fact I even missed a home game of the Halifax Rainmen, for which we have season tickets. I didn't go for any walks for a couple of days, but even when I began my exercise regime again, it was like I had been down for a year. I only did short walks at first (and just as well as it was minus 20 degrees with a wind chill some mornings) but by last Friday I was back to my normal walking distance. And it pooped me out like I had just run a marathon.

I did a couple of more walks over the weekend but I'm still kind of weak. This morning, I did a short walk, came home, and then biked around the neighbourhood for 30 minutes. I have another bike ride to do this week to make up for last week (remember I'm doing the 52 Week Biking Challenge) and happily my legs weren't as shaky as last month. But, man, this cold has knocked me for a loop.

During the first 7 years of my life with MS, I didn't get so much as the sniffles. But for the past 5 years I have had to put up with one ear infection the likes of which I haven't experienced since I was 10 with tonsillitis, a bout of laryngitis, a couple of colds, and I think one bout with a flu (even though I've been getting flu shots for several years). I haven't felt so weak in.....actually, I don't think I've ever felt this weak before.

Is this MS? Or is it.......gulp......age? Sadly, I have to admit it's probably the aging process. And maybe it was a harder hitting cold than others I've had. Other people I've talked to have remarked how their cold seemed to drag on forever. Whatever. It's working its way through me.

There's a local coffee shop in my neighbourhood that I frequent and since the fall I have gotten to know one of the regulars, Max. Max is almost 85, retired, and a world war 2 vet. He was in the merchant marines during the war and joined the regular army in the 50s. I have been getting some great stories out of him. He grew up in foster homes but had a bad case of wanderlust as he ran away a couple of times before he was able to sign up with the merchant navy. I don't believe he had a hard time in the homes, just that he wanted to go places. He had a twin brother who died 5 years after the war because of injuries sustained during the war. He had two other sets of twin siblings (out of 15 children in that family, 6 were twins). Max told me that his father was only ever home long enough to get his mother pregnant, then took off again. Max and his twin ended up being raised together in foster homes and both joined the merchant navy. Max's brother was on a ship that was sunk by a German U-boat in the Caribbean in 1942. Accounts aren't quite clear as to the number of men on the boat, 36 or 37, but only one was a casualty of that sinking. That sailor's name is on the monument in Point Pleasant Park in Halifax. Here's what Max told me about the sinking as relayed by his brother when he got back to Halifax:

"All the men (except one) made it into the lifeboats. As they were sitting there contemplating what they were to do next, a German U-boot surfaced right next to them. The hatch opened and the captain came out to speak to their captain. He asked if they had water. They did. He asked if they had food. They did. He then gave them their bearings, latitude and longitude, pointed them in a direction and said they'd get to land if they rowed that way. Then he was gone into the sub and the machine itself disappeared into the sea.

The men rowed and three days later they saw land. They had arrived at the Turks and Caicos islands and a few days later, they were picked up by a passing American ship enroute from Curacao to Halifax."

Cool story. And Max showed me a picture of (most of) the men taken at a gathering in Nova Scotia when they arrived. His brother was only 17.

Max's brother later went on to take part in the Murmansk convoys. And Max himself sailed on Norweigan ships aiding those convoys.

My next Max story is about how he met his wife. That's cool, too....

S.