Archives

The Kindness of Strangers

stranger-in-red-coat

Stranger in a red coat

A stranger in a bright red raincoat came up from behind me as I plodded across the busy intersection as fast as I could, but not fast enough — the light had already changed to red. ‘I’ll walk beside you’ she said, ‘They won’t want to hit both of us.’

My knee is mad at me so I use a walker. It helps, not only with my angry old-lady-with-walkerknee, but also with my old balance disorder, which has caused many falls through the years. (That’s why my knee is so upset.) The woman realized I was having a difficult time and decided to help a stranger. Why?

In my neighborhood, many shops have handicapped door operators which you push to open the door. Still, passersby who don’t realize that often stop on their way to pull a door open for me. My favorite morning breakfast stop has one, which occasionally isn’t operative yet if I arrive early. (The activator is above the door — I think the staff can’t reach it.) A favorite, tall fellow patron, Greg, will get up and switch it on if he sees me coming. Nice….but why?

door-operator

Handicapped Door operator

The other morning, Greg noticed my walker wheels were caked with what he thought was dog poop. He warned me about it, but I continued reading. I’m such a passionate reader, I didn’t even notice when he and his pal Garth wheeled my walker out the door, cleaned it so I wouldn’t have to deal with it later, and brought it back in. (I’m hoping they were wrong, that what they cleaned was actually ground up wet brown leaves which gather at the sidewalk cuts I have to use.) Why did they bother?

bus-driver

Bus drivers deal with some abusive riders

I regularly attend exercise classes at a community centre. I no longer drive. I use transit. How do bus drivers in this busy city who deal with mentally ill and abusive riders plus crazy traffic manage to stay so considerate? They wait until I’m seated before starting the bus. They patiently wait again for me to painfully rise and slowly back off the vehicle with my walker. (It was a bus driver who taught me that it’s the safest way to leave.)

This week I told a driver I wish I could sit on my walker on the bus. It’s higher and less painful to rise from. At my stop, she urged me to take the time to place it in a particular spot, set the brakes, and see if it would work. Not wanting to make her late, (they are on schedules) I told her I’d try it next time I rode a bus. Hey, it works. I hope I see her again so I can thank her. I’ve since used her idea twice. Why did an absolute stranger do this?

Then, the volunteer who sells coffee once a week at the center carries my coffee to a nearby table for me. It’s difficult for me to manage that and the walker — multitasking was never my thing. He says he’s not allowed to accept tips, I never ask him to do it, but he does it anyway. Why?

What makes so many strangers so kind? For one, I believe most people are inherently good. I also know that when I am kind to others, it gives ME a warm fuzzy. So it goes…..we give, we get. I am ever grateful to my wonderful caring family, to my friends, and especially those many strangers who are there for me. Warm hugs to you all!

chandra

My son’s beautiful wife Chandra who worked so very hard to plan a special 80th birthday party for me. She succeeded.

Advertisements

Facebook?

mom-pic-to-cropI’m a tough old broad. I don’t give up easily and I’ve always wanted to be more technologically knowledgeable. (I dare you say those two words in a row quickly.) I thought I wanted to know how to use Facebook like a lot of other people do. After all, anyone who IS anyone is on Facebook, right? So, once when my son visited, I cornered him to help me and he set me up.

However, all good things come to an end and that was all Rafi had time for on that visit. After he went home, I took advantage of a very patient young friend to become more computer literate and asked him to teach me how to actually use Facebook. He tried. He knew what he was doing. I learned a little. Whatever was I thinking?

At first it was thrilling. I suddenly heard from a few wonderful people out of my

funny worried lady again

How do they know???

distant past whom I hadn’t heard from in years. That was pleasurable, but also a little scary. How did they know so quickly I was on Facebook? I would feel better if I understood more about how these things really work.

There are the many emails I now receive telling me I have 28 or 35 new notifications, or this person and that person want to be my ‘friend’. I don’t know most of them. Why would they want to be my friend? If I didn’t know me would I want to be my friend? And are they even aware that they do? I wonder…. Then, how much time does it take to view 28 or 35 new notifications? And, can I spare all that time?

Girl-dizzy

All those colours and pop ups can make me dizzy.

I also get emails telling me someone or other has posted a new photo. If i know them, I do try to go see them. Sometimes I manage and sometimes I don’t. What I too often find are numerous advertisements, many of which pop up in boxes, and so much dizzy-making colour busyness and confusion that I find myself rapidly withdrawing. It’s a matter of self-preservation. I have a Vestibular Disorder. This kind of moving visual thing can be a trigger for dizziness.

Over all, I’ve discovered, after the initial joy in finding and touching base with treasured old friends again, Facebook can mercilessly gobble up your time as well. Yes, I am retired. Yes, I don’t work anymore. Still, there are things I need to do, or want to do, or find more interesting to do with my free time.

Have you seen my scarf?

This old body of mine demands more attention than it used to.

As an ancient personage, I have discovered everything takes longer than it used to and this old body of mine demands a lot more attention than it used to. So, the question is: Do I really have time for all this?

What is your experience with Facebook? I want to know if you use it and what you think.

Doctor-assisted suicide for Canada

Muriel black and white Kudos to Canada’s Supreme Court, which this week voted unanimously for doctor-assisted suicide. It seems they’ve given a reluctant Conservative government a year to put it in place. This is something I have wanted for myself for years and I heartily approve. Hurrah for Canada, the country that made Gay marriage legal, and now has passed another important act of compassion.

Normal people don’t move mountains, and Dr. Jack Kevorkian, crazy as he may have been, was a hero in my eyes. He assisted 120 people to die. To my friend who is writing about serial killers, that is what he considers Kevorkian was — a killer. Interesting….

Dr. Jack Kevorkian and his suicide machine

Dr. Jack Kevorkian and his suicide machine

People have strong feelings on this issue, and I will not argue. I just know how I feel, and lately, it has been front and center in my own life because a friend asked me to help him end his suffering. (And, this was not the first time I have been approached in this way — I don’t know why.)

“C” was a member of the organization I started 15 years ago for people with balance and dizziness disorders. When I first met him, I was sure the guy would kill himself at work, which sometimes required climbing ladders. He had Ataxia, which compromised his nervous system and his balance was severely affected even then. Fate sometimes plays cruel jokes on us, he had been a Tango dancing devotee.

His co-workers thought he drank. He let them think so. They would chuckle, and he would smile with them. But it was a charade — he didn’t drink — though if you saw him walking, you would certainly think so. He was determined to keep working until he was 65 so he could collect his pension. I was sure he wouldn’t make it….

No one fought harder than “C” to continue functioning, he attended Tai Chi classes, and regularly worked out at a gym. His arm muscles looked strong and powerful, but his illness was even more powerful. However, every step I thought he should take, he delayed. He drove longer than I thought he should. He walked without a cane longer than I thought he should — and he fell, again and again. When I felt he needed a walker, he finally gave in and bought a cane — and kept falling. When I thought he needed a wheelchair, he purchased a walker.

They must have known him well at the emergency department of his local hospital. Once, it was nine stitches to his scalp, another time it was twelve. Too often he sported ugly scrapes and bruises. I worried. He drove me nuts. It became too dangerous for him to live on his own. Long after I thought he should give up his apartment, he finally gave in. The falls, however, never stopped.

When things became more than he could bear, he asked me to help him end his life. I contacted “The Farewell Foundation”, an organization which helps people in his position as much as they are legally permitted to. They cannot provide anything for you, but they will stay with you when YOU, yourself, obtain or do whatever you decide on, until you are dead. I understood their position.

Sociologist Russel Ogden, founder of The Farewell Foundation

Sociologist Russel Ogden, founder of The Farewell Foundation

Things became more and more unbearable. He could no longer write. He could no longer speak clearly. He could no longer hear much. I met with him and the kind people from the organization. They warned me to be careful and told me of possible dire consequences. A woman who had helped someone spent over $100,000 in court, lost her passport and could no longer leave the country. My children live out of the country. I love them. I want to be able to visit them. I was scared.

We visited his doctor together. He was sympathetic, but not willing to help — too frightened to I assume. Again, we understood. I bought the most recent copy of “Final Exit”. I read it cover to cover. I marked and underlined everything I felt could be helpful, brought it to “C” and read those parts for him. We talked about the various options. However, as usual, everything he decided to do, he decided on too late.

The last fall I was aware of cost him an eye. They had to remove it. After that, he was permanently hospitalized. Things were now truly out of his hands. He again begged me to help. I was told if he chose not to eat in hospital, they wouldn’t be allowed to force him, and they are required to keep him comfortable. Did he understand? Was the information I was given correct? I’ll never know.

He then asked me to take him to Switzerland. He could no longer walk at all. I would not be physically capable of helping him make it. It was too late. In desperation, he asked me to get him a gun. He was no longer able to hold one or to shoot it. It broke my heart to watch his suffering. Can a caring person be relieved and glad when a friend dies? I was….

For “C” and the other person I knew who would have opted to end his life on his own terms had he been able to, I hope this new law will be enacted and be there for all who wish it. You need not agree…..

Oh dear! A Concussion?

Mom Scared SM I have a vestibular disorder. I have dealt with balance and dizziness issues for years. I have fallen many times. I listen to the news — I am interested in what happens when athletes suffer concussions. I know about these things. There are members of the organization I co-founded 15 years ago who deal with vestibular conditions because they’ve had concussions. You would think I’d know better….
I fell again recently. I went down like timber in the middle of the night and hit my forehead against a dresser with metal drawer pulls. Ouch! I was visiting friends. I didn’t want to disturb them so I said nothing — and did all the wrong things!

I fell down like timber in the middle of the night

I fell down like timber in the middle of the night


I dragged my aching body back into bed. The next morning, by pulling my hair down over it, I hid the large bump on my forehead which had blossomed into lovely shades of purple and blue. Clothing hid the bruises on my body and I claimed exhaustion and blamed the heat wave (it was 110 F. there) as an excuse to lay low. These are especially good friends and they let me call the shots. They spoil me and take care of all my needs/desires and I felt okay for the rest of my visit with them and noticed nothing.
After arriving back home, I felt unusually exhausted and unable to function. I’m organized — I made a list. It overwhelmed me — I’m not ordinarily easily overwhelmed. Friends called, but I was too weary to call them back (which was weird — I’m talkative) and sent out an email to a few at once saying I would call after I rested for a few days. A friend called back to ask if I had forgotten our book club meeting (at my place) the very next day. I had seen it on my calendar — it just hadn’t registered.
I had a concussion

I had a concussion

This friend knows about concussions. She recently had one herself. She suggested I see my doctor and I listened. My doctor confirmed that I did, indeed have a concussion and told me which steps to take, and especially to take it seriously.
“Muriel, I am interested in prevention,” she told me. “I want you to carefully think about it. Tell me exactly how it happened, why it happened, and what you can do to avoid it in the future.”
The brain, before and after a concussion

The brain, before and after a concussion


We discussed it together and I subsequently thought about it further after I got home and this is what I came up with.
#1 I was over-tired. I had risen at 4 a.m. the day before, then taken an all-day train from San Francisco to Los Angeles, arriving at about 9:00 p.m. Excited to see each other, my friends and I chatted awhile before I turned in. I awoke, as usual, sometime during the night to go to the bathroom, but was too tired to get up. If I ignore it, I hoped, perhaps I would fall back to sleep. It worked, but when I awoke the next time, it was a more urgent call for action. I moved too quickly.
#2 The bed I slept in is a sofa-bed. I’ve slept in it many times and it is lower than my own. Usually, I support myself with my hands when I get out of bed at home. I could not do that on the sofa bed. I needed to raise myself slowly and be sure of my footing before getting up. I was in a real hurry. I didn’t.
#3 The carpeting is plush and thick and soft — my own at home is not. I should have taken more time in turning towards where I was heading. I didn’t.
#4 In any case, I could have used my walking stick for support, no matter what. I didn’t. I jumped up, turned and keeled over.
“After the horse ran away, I locked the barn.” From that night on:
I did not put off the middle of the night trip to the washroom, so it would not feel so urgent.
I took my walking stick up to my bedroom each night and diligently used it for stability each time I got out of the low sofa bed and walked to the nearby washroom.
I turned slowly — as I should have in the first place.
It was too late to prevent the concussion this time, but I shall remember these steps in the future. And, I was extremely lucky. I’m okay now.

Live and Learn

Muriel from Blog

As time passes, I’ve had to change my mind on many issues — just one of which is wondering why otherwise intelligent people can throw money away on promises of unlikely cures. I didn’t understand, for instance, why people with cancer would pay thousands of dollars to go to some Mexican clinic to be given shots made of apricot pits. Did they really think it would work? Why, I thought, would they be so gullible as to believe charlatans and frauds who offer magical cures for whatever? (Thank goodness delicacy required me to keep my mouth shut on the subject at the time.)
You know I’ve dealt with dizziness, nausea and imbalance for years. Episodes in the past were awful, but less frequent. During the 1990s, they hit with a vengeance and tenacity I was unable to cope with. I, myself, became one of those “gullible” people. I now realize it is not so much gullibility as desperation.

The dizziness was so persistent, I was unable to cope

The dizziness was so persistent, I was unable to cope

I, who had flatly refused to take hormones, who questioned and refused just about every prescription any doctor tried to give me, suddenly accepted, bought, payed for, swallowed and did whatever my doctor or anyone else suggested might help. I wanted my life back!
Antivert didn’t help, so I tried SERC, then Dramamine, then, as recommended, I doubled the SERC. I tried a diuretic. I was willing! I was desperate! I was even ready to try inner ear surgery which causes deafness but “might” eliminate the dizziness. (I later did have that surgery, but whatever was causing the dizziness had by then also caused deafness in that ear, so there was nothing to lose.) It too did NOT cure the dizziness.
“We just got a brand new product in for nausea,” suggested my local pharmacist, who no longer had to ask my name. I bought it… It didn’t work.
“Have you tried acupuncture?” inquired a business associate over the phone.
“No, do you know someone?”
I didn’t know her, but I accepted her recommendation anyway.
“How about a holistic practitioner?” someone else proposed.
What’s his number?” I asked.
I was ready to try anything. If someone had promised the dizziness, imbalance and nausea would go away if I stood on my head and spit nickels, I’d have tried that too.

 Off-balance, dizzy and suffering with nausea, I would try anything


Off-balance, dizzy and suffering with nausea, I would try anything

As you can imagine, I wasn’t doing much cooking and jokingly threatened to turn my kitchen into a bedroom, but the shelves began to look more like a large medicine cabinet, lined with containers full of prescriptions and remedies that didn’t work. I thought I’d have to toss out some dishes just to make more space.
I popped pills, was poked by needles, swallowed vile-tasting, expensive Chinese herbs and solutions as directed, plus I obeyed and consumed nothing but cooked foods. My body had “too much dampness and too little energy”, and there was a heck of a lot of work to be done on my “spirituality”!
Finally, I came to the conclusion that what I definitely didn’t have enough of was — money, to pay for it all — I had become too ill to work.
Being desperate enough to grab at any solution myself, I learned an important lesson and was, once again, humbled. Vestibular disorders don’t kill you, but they can make you wish you were dead. So I now fully understand how others suffering from incurable and possibly life-threatening diseases can succumb to the hope held out by those bastards who prey on our vulnerabilities.
And, I’m still learning…..

Bragging Rights

Muriel from BlogI’ve been having a grand time reading books downloaded onto my e-reader from the Gutenberg Project website. As a history buff, I’m thoroughly enjoying “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” written in 1791. Franklin wrote with obvious pleasure about his many accomplishments, and who can blame him. 

“I shall a good deal gratify my own vanity,” said Franklin. “Indeed, I scarce ever heard or

Franklin was unabashedly proud of his accomplishments

Franklin was unabashedly proud of his accomplishments

saw the introductory words, “Without vanity I may say…” but some vain thing immediately follows.”

It made me think about some of the good stuff most of us accomplish in our own lives and, although nothing I’ve ever done compares with Franklin, perhaps it is okay to share some, especially since one was so recent, I am still basking in the pleasure of it.

This was a tax issue complicated by my having lived for years in the U.S. before returning to Canada, which resulted in some double taxation. After about a year of letters, phone calls and emails, I received an email just this week, which reads partly: “Muriel:  Good News.  It appears that our contact, —– has been able to negotiate an exemption for you as well as other clients in your situation with the CRA…..  He complimented you on your very thorough investigation noting that it was extremely helpful in amending the current policy, not only for you, but in general for all clients in the same circumstance.  Kudos to you!!!   ….

I know I'm right, blah, blah, blah....

I know I’m right, blah, blah, blah….

.”Since I’m neither an accountant nor a tax expert, you can imagine how pleased I am, especially knowing that I have, at the same time, helped others.

I’m also pleased with the fabulous little Book Club I started around 1997/98, which continues to enrich my own life so much. I’ve certainly gotten more out of it than anyone else possibly could.

We read, we discuss the books, and enjoy each other

We read, we discuss the books, and enjoy each other

Through the years, this little group of knowledgeable, well-read women has introduced me to authors and books I would never have read on my own. And besides we have a good time at it.

But here’s the biggie. I am extremely proud of having founded the BC Balance & Dizziness Disorders Society (BADD) in 1999, with the encouragement and support of my then wonderful otolaryngologist, Dr. Graham Bryce. BADD is dedicated to supporting people with balance, dizziness and all related vestibular issues, and we’ve managed to help hundreds of people who suffer with these debilitating conditions.

Tai Chi is now recognized in the medical literature as being helpful for the vestibular system

Tai Chi is now recognized in the medical literature as being helpful for the vestibular system

Soon afterwards, I saw Teruko Ueda performing Tai Chi and thought perhaps that would be a good thing for us dizzy folk to try. The “Tai Chi for Balance” class was started in 2000 and is thriving under Teruko’s gentle leadership. Now Tai Chi is recognized in medical literature as being helpful for people like us.

The “Vestibular Rehab exercise classes” we started continue to run and help people cope. BADD also created a DVD of these for people to use in their own homes if they don’t have access to a class in their own community. Hurrah for all of us. You can find BADD’s website at: http://www.balanceanddizziness.org

BADD created a DVD of Vestibular Rehab Exercises people can purchase and do in their own homes.

BADD created a DVD of Vestibular Rehab Exercises people can purchase and do in their own homes

So, you will understand why I so enjoyed the following article about BADD written by Canada’s well-known humourist Arthur Black. He is the only one I know who can write with humour about his experience with Benign Positional Paroxysmal Vertigo (BPPV) and, fortunately for him, finding the proper treatment for same.

Arthur Black, beloved Canadian humourist

Arthur Black, beloved Canadian humourist

(By the way, Arthur Black, a 3-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour and former host of CBC Radio’s “Basic Black”, etc., etc., has a new book out, “Fifty Shades of Black”. Just hearing the title made me laugh.)

Arthur Black's latest book, "Fifty Shades of Black", guaranteed to make you laugh.

Arthur Black’s latest book, “Fifty Shades of Black”, guaranteed to make you laugh.

Of Vertigo, Vanity and Volunteers

Reprinted with permission of the author, award-winning Canadian humourist Arthur Black

A couple of years ago, I suffered – briefly – from a condition called Benign Paroxysmal Position Vertigo – BPPV for short.

Dizzy spells, to put it even shorter.  If I got up too fast or turned my head too sharply or bent over quickly to pick something off the floor, my internal gyroscope went into overdrive and I lurched about like Ozzie Osbourne on New Year’s Eve.

You don’t get BPPV from bad dietary practices, using street drugs or hanging out at the Willie Pickton pig farm.  BPPV is an equal opportunity bushwhacker that nails vicars and villains alike.  Anyone can get it, at any age, at any time.  An attack comes when microscopic grains of calcium crystals floating about in your inner ear brush against tiny hairs therein.

This sends signals to your brain that you are falling down, or veering left or right.  Your brain attempts to get your body to compensate in 11 different directions all at once and, hey presto, you feel like you are going through the spin cycle in some galactic Maytag.

Happily, there is a procedure called the Epley Maneuver.  It’s a relatively simple manipulation of the head that any qualified ear, nose and throat specialist is trained to perform.  Basically, Doctor ENT takes your noggin and gives it a vigorous spin.  The idea is to shake up those calcium crystals in your ear and get them to settle down where they’re supposed to be, well away from the hairs.

Does it work?  An astonishing 85% of the time – providing you actually are suffering from BPPV.  If your vertigo is caused by something else (and there are several possibilities) then the Epley Maneuver won’t help.  My vertigo was cured in one visit and I wrote a magazine article about it.  End of story.  Not.

I get an email from one Muriel Kauffmann.  She is a spokeswoman for a group called BADD which stands for Balance and Dizziness Disorders Society.  As a former sufferer, she wants to know, would I consider coming to town and speaking to her group?  Well, sure.  Public speaking is what I do for a living.  I email her back with details of my speaking fee, my expenses expectations and my availability.

I get another email.  You don’t understand, writes Muriel.  We are a non-profit organization.  We don’t even have an executive.  Would I come and speak for free?

Hell, no.  I’m a professional.  I don’t give away my services.  Would you ask a surgeon to do a free appendectomy?  A lawyer to defend you in court, gratis?

You don’t understand, Muriel emails back.  She makes many passionate arguments, but what it boils down to is, what I don’t understand is that she is Muriel Kauffmann and she will not be denied.

When I arrive to deliver my (free) speech at St. Paul’s Church in Vancouver, the auditorium is not only sold out, there are people sitting in the aisles and a conga line of latecomers trailing out the door.

This is entirely Muriel Kauffmann’s doing.  She had dredged up every soul who ever suffered from vertigo in the entire British Columbia Lower Mainland and they are all here tonight.

And as almost happens when I abandon my narrow preconceptions and go with the flow, I learn amazing things and hear incredible tales.  I hear one sufferer tell how her doctor pooh-poohed the Epley Maneuver.  “It’s a hoax,” he assured her.  I hear of another vertigo victim who spent 10 years – ten years – as a prisoner inside her own house, terrified to face the world for fear she would fall on her face.

After a decade of self-exile, she went into the office of an ENT specialist in a wheelchair.  And walked out on her own two feet.

I hear stories infinitely more interesting – and harrowing – than my frail tale, but incredibly, my vertigo story – thanks entirely to Muriel Kauffmann – continues to snowball across the nation.

So far, I have been interviewed by two Vancouver newspapers, CKNW radio, the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Sun. I have yet to return calls to the Toronto Star, the Montreal Gazette and CBC radio’s national radio show, The Current.  I’ve got emails, cards and letters from BPPV sufferers from Joe Batt’s Arm to Buffalo to Baffin Bay.  I’ve written books that didn’t get one-tenth this attention.

Point of the story?  A metaphorical bouquet of roses to the Muriel Kauffmanns of the world who Get Things Done and Don’t Take No For an Answer.  Muriel’s a volunteer and like all volunteers she gives her time and her energy and her cunning, all for free.  Volunteers – bless ‘em – are the backbone and lifeblood of our communities.

Moral number two: count your blessings. If you got out of bed this morning and didn’t fall flat on your keister or do a 180-degree face plant into the wall, consider yourself lucky.

Award yourself an extra scoop of corn flakes.”

I am particularly proud of  mu children who love me despite my failings.                despite

I am particularly proud of my children who love me despite my failings.

Benjamin Franklin was certainly able to say he accomplished much in his lifetime. I’ve managed a few of my own that please me. I think being a parent and raising my children to be good, honest, decent, human beings is another accomplishment I am extremely proud of.  And, I am proud of them in particular, especially for their loving patience with me in all ways — especially regarding technology.

What about you? How about sharing some of your accomplishments here?