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.


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.


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.