Friday, September 28, 2012

Gone with the Wind

The weather was nice on Tuesday, warm and sunny, but fresh. I'd worked my derrière off for six days in a row and decided it was time to go zen out. So off I went to Sugar Beach. Once I got there, I discovered that the day that was fresh by my building was pretty windy when you got close to the lake. The water was downright choppy, even in the secluded area where another freighter loaded with sugar was docked.


I love this time of year by the lake. The heat of summer has dissipated, everyone has going back to work and school and there are very few people hanging out at the water in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. The beach is largely empty, the Muskoka chairs unoccupied under the pink umbrellas and somehow, this image triggers mood and imagination in a way that doesn't happen in the summer.


Even around lunchtime, the sun is so low in the sky that the water turns into nothing but sparkles. The size and shape and intensity of the sparkles vary depending on how calm or rough the water is and I never get tired of looking at it. Every move and wave and boat sailing through amazes and delights and is surely the most beautiful this view has ever been. I have approximately 572 photographs of the same view, all slightly different and if asked to choose the most beautiful, I wouldn't know how.

There’s a… I don't know what the word is in English, but in Danish paalandsvind is the word we use for wind that comes in from the sea towards land. Because I grew up in a country surrounded by the ocean and we seem to have words for wind in much the same way as the Inuit have words for snow. Paalandsvind gives you a strong smell of large water and it is the time when this freshwater lake smells most like the ocean. This kind of wind also makes for lovely choppy water and actual whitecaps on the normally fairly tranquil lake.

I close my eyes, breathe in the almost-salt air and listen to the waves hit the dockwall in front of me. This is the 'it' moment for me, the one where the smell and sounds of water and the wind in my hair brings me peace deeper and faster than anything else.

It's a good moment and it's a peaceful one, but mixed in with the sound of the waves is the deep thrum of the freighter unloading sugar. I decide to head further down the promenade, down towards the end where there are no buildings, no ships and on a day like today, probably no people. I pass the restaurant and I pass the new college campus and with every metre further down I move, the stronger the wind gets. Just past the last building is one of the students, eating his lunch surrounded by hopeful seagulls. Some stand still rocking slightly in the wind, others try to cross the path and the wind moves them in a diagonal line. Others still have figured out that the best option is to lie down, becoming harder to move without the spindly legs between their body and the ground.

I move carefully past them, not wanting to scare them into screeching even more than they already are. And as I do, some take flight and hang almost stationary in the wind right in front of me.

And a little bit further I go and there…

I am down as far as you can get before a fence separates this newly built area and a deserted wasteland of dirt, rock and weeds and I turn around and face the promenade and the wind. It is so strong that my solid power wheelchair that weighs at least 300 pounds, maybe more, rocks slightly in the wind, just like the seagulls do. The wind is shaking the branches of the maple trees that edge the promenade so strongly that the leaves whip against each other.

The wind is now so strong and unbuffeted by built structures that it pounds against my eardrums, creating a chorus of sounds when air hits my eardrums at great speed. All I can hear is the noise of the wind in the leaves and the noise of the wind itself. It drowns out the sound of the water, any sounds from people and I can no longer hear the screeches of the seagulls. There is just wind, wind, and more wind.

I sit there for while, letting the wind blow against my eardrums and through my mind, taking with it worry, stress, thoughts of what I should be doing in the next few days, thoughts of calls to make, any thoughts, really. I sit and look out onto the unruly water, sparkle upon sparkle, so close together and so vibrant that it is like a sea of silver spots being thrown against one another by a wind that leaps and jumps and rolls. It is a happy place, there is a sense of freedom and exhilaration as if the elements of water and air were celebrating. They are free of the heat and stillness of summer, free to dance. Dance alone and dance together and I am lucky to be right there when they do. 


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Using Technology to Improve Your Quality of Life: Apps for Arthritis and Chronic Pain

My last post for HealthCentral's Pain Awareness Month is about two new apps for people with chronic pain and arthritis. Very cool!

"One of the most frustrating aspects of living with RA and chronic pain is the unpredictable nature of these conditions. Keeping track of your symptoms, activities, triggers and treatment can help you identify patterns. Knowing what makes your symptoms worse or better is important when you live with a chronic condition. I often recommend to our users that they keep a symptom diary to identify patterns between activity and symptoms, but the traditional paper and pen approach can be a bit of a hassle. Recently, two apps have been released that aim to help you easily track what's going on in your body as it happens throughout the day."

You can read more about The Arthritis Foundation's Track+React and WebMD's Pain Coach here.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Dance with Words


When I lived with my parents, dinner was one of my favourite times of the day. Not because my mother is an excellent cook - although there is that - but because dinner was the time where we all sat down together, ate and talked. And it was the talking especially that made this time of day extra special. Because sooner or later a debate would start.

My parents taught both my sister and I the debate game and to this day, it remains one of our favorite sports. We can enter into a spirited debate about pretty much anything and frequently do, much to the amusement - and occasional frustration - of other people in the room. Someone will say something and before you know it, we're locked in a lively game of Pass the Word. Because this isn't just about exchanging opinions, it is also about passing the metaphorical talking stick back and forth so quickly that it becomes a bit of a blur. We jump into the conversation when someone else is talking because we learned - at our father’s knee in particular - that if you don't jump in, you'll never get a word in edgewise.

We learned to be quick in making our point because if you weren't, someone else would take the floor. And we learned to be quick because if you weren't, someone - usually my dad - would pointedly ask if we were playing golf or tennis. In the debate game, there was no greater crime than hogging the floor. A cooperative, collaborative effort was not just the name of the game, but highly prized and has created what The Boy once likened to a game of intergenerational volleyball with words. It's fast and furious, each person having a brief opportunity to say something and then the baton is passed to someone else. Usually, it looks as if they are jumping in and talking over you, taking the floor forcibly, but it's not really like that at all. Yes, someone starts talking, but the person who was talking first lets go the floor and passes it on, willingly giving over the space.

I’ve been thinking of this game in sports metaphors, but the more I thought, the more I realized that it's not exactly like that. This giving and letting go and collaborative weaving back and forth is not exactly a game. It's a dance. Look at a pair of dancers doing the quickstep or the jive and imagine that in words. That's what dinner was like at home.

I'm lucky that I've found friends who play with the same delight as we do. And I'm very lucky that I found a partner who does, as well. The Boy and I frequently play the debate game for no other reason than fun. He's even been known to pick a position just because he knows it gets me going. Not too long ago, we spent several late hours debating a particular issue. It was a wide-ranging and energetic (and occasionally a bit loud) exchange of words and by the time we went to bed, we still weren't done. Despite being in a location and state of undress that normally inspires a different kind of communication, we kept going. By the time we finally ran out of steam, it was 3 AM, he had called my point unnecessarily reductionist and I had called his intellectually lazy. If I were asked to pick favourite moments in our relationship, that one would be high on the list.

I may not be able to dance like they do on Dancing with the Stars, but thanks to my parents teaching me since I was a child, I can dance in another way. Every time The Boy and I debate this, that or the other thing, we trip the light fantastic.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Myths About Opiates and Addiction Affect Pain Management

This week, I wrote another post for HealthCentral's theme of living with pain for Pain Awareness Month. Since it is also National Recovery Month, I combined the two topics:

"You have the right to effective pain management. In fact, two years ago, the International Pain Summit in Montréal declared that it is a human right for all people to have access to pain management. In reality, many do not.

The Myths of Addiction and Pain Management
There is a myth in our society that taking painkillers means you're a bit of a wuss. We all understand that certain illnesses such as cancer can cause a great deal of pain and there is a great deal of support for terminal cancer patients getting the meds they need to deal with that. But non-cancer pain doesn't get the same kind of respect. In her recent post about opioid treatment for cancer and non-cancer pain, Karen Lee Richards speculates that this may be related to concerns about the risk of addiction. Concerns which thankfully now play less of a role in treating severe pain in people who are terminally ill. However, this brings me to the other myth in our society: that taking opioids for pain will automatically cause you to become addicted."

You can read the rest here

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Sugar Beach got its name not because the sand is as fine as sugar (although it might be), but because it's right next to the Redpath Sugar Refinery. Living this close to a sugar refinery means that if the wind is right, my neighbourhood smells like molasses. It means often seeing really big ships docked right there, loading off raw sugar from the Caribbean so that Redpath to do its thing. And it means often hearing the deep honk of a ship's horn coming through my window in the late afternoon as a ship prepares to leave. It makes me feel like I'm living close to the sea and you know how much I like that.

Despite having seen an awful lot of ships and heard an awful lot of horns, I have yet to see one actually arriving or departing. That changed last week when I hid down on the beach restoring my sanity. I'd been sitting with my eyes closed, absorbing the rays of the sun like a lizard when something made me look up and out over the lake. And that's when I saw this

I know that Lake Ontario is deep. I know it's part of the St.Lawrence Seaway. But it still a bit of a surprise to see a ship that large heading slowly but inexorably, more or less right towards you. It feels a little fraught with danger.

As it got closer, some nutter from Thunder Bay played a game of seemed ill-advised 


Eventually, he came to his senses and stayed put. When determining right-of-way, big wins.

The closer the ship got, the bigger it became. Maybe it was the contrast between the ship and the beach or maybe it was the contrast between the ship and a tiny little tugboats that hugged its sides


It was a sight to behold - an incredible exercise in precision. The beach continued being the beach, which included the Toronto punk band Billy Talent having their picture taken there on the right


When the ship had done as much as it could (or, I suppose, its captain had done as much as he could), the tugboats in a 90° turn and started pushing. Which explains how the ships get as close as they do to the dock.that was a sight to behold, to - these tiny little boats pushing a behemoth and actually moving it.

In the process, they churned up the water, making the seagulls very happy

And at the end, I saw something which put to shame Mr. Thunder Bay and his game of chicken. The only title I could think of for this photo is 'Cojones."


Friday, September 14, 2012

A Bite of Yellow

I've never met a plum I didn't like, but the yellow are my favorites. They remind me of a Danish plum sort called reinekloder. They have the same contrast of a very tart skin and a sweet flesh - wait, that sounded a bit cannibalistic - albeit a bit more watery than the Danish variety.

These little globes of sunshine are only available for about a month every summer. I miss them in the depths of winter and start looking forward to them before the height of summer. I feel about these yellow plums the way I feel about Ontario strawberries, but the strawberries now last from June well into September.

I had a bag of four yellow plums in my fridge for while and was spacing them out, wanting to extend this part of summer for as long as I could. It's been almost a month since the season for yellow plums ended and earlier this week, I realized I need to be careful about how much slowly I eat them or they might go bad. By this morning, there were two left. Now there’s one.

I took the other out of the fridge, holding it in my left hand as I moved to the sink, the cold seeping through my skin. I rinsed it under the warm water, taking the chill of the fridge off. Watching the drops of water dew the yellow skin, stripes of ripe and more-ripe flesh visible underneath, I couldn't feel my mouth gear up for the joy that is to come. I leaned in over the sink and took the first bite.

I feel the give of skin under my teeth with its accompanying tart flavour. Past the skin, I sink into the inside of the plum and the inside sinks into me. An inside that is so ripe it is almost liquid. I take a bite and then another, the mix of the sweet mush and the almost-crunch of the tart skin making my taste buds slightly confused, but very happy. The plum is so ripe I can suck out the pit after only a few bites and then I eat the rest of it, juices dripping down my hand. It is like eating liquid sunshine.

This is happiness.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Life Line

There are times when this stress hits you so hard that you have made a conscious decision to build a wall against it. The stress can be a physical flare, unmanageable pain or the life crap that has a habit of happening without your consent. For me right now, it is the life crap. There is a lot of it and I feel drained and angry. I have ideas for posts, but the thought of writing them is almost nauseating. I’ve forced myself to sit in front of my computer with a blank document and Dragon on and nothing has come, except the overwhelming need to walk away. From the computer, from everything I do, from my life, if only for a little while. More than anything, I want two months off. To rest, to write, to centre myself and to not think about the Shoulds.

And although I did buy my lottery tickets today, the chances of that happening are about the same as a rasher of bacon on the hoof flying past my fifth floor window.

So. The wall. Or perhaps it is not so much a wall, as the decision to focus on another facet. Instead of looking at the anger, the frustration and the pressure, to make that conscious choice to look for joy. To seek out beauty, a burst of laughter and to rest in a sense of peace, even if it's only for a moment.

To that end, I declare this blog a positive space only for the remainder of September. Maybe even longer. Barriers to accessibility, boneheaded politicians and other irritants will still be there, but I will choose to not deal with them. Instead of handing over my energy to people who will not be careful with it - and the news is not known for being careful with our tender hearts - I will isolate myself in a bubble and begin to fill it with joy.

Today's moment of joy was all because of Laurie. Swinging through Toronto en route to what sounds like a blissful retreat from the world, she allowed me to rant on about all the things that stress me out. She absorbed so much of what has pummeled me for rather a long time that I came out on the other side a little. Enough to realize I'm drowning and need to save myself.

The first tool is to practice finding something beautiful or joyful every day. Today, it is the gratitude I feel to my friend for reminding me that I know the way out of this. 

Thursday, September 06, 2012

5 Essentials to Coping with the Pain of RA

September is Pain Awareness Month in the US and HealthCentral writers are covering topics related to living with pain. This week, my contribution is about my go-to tricks to cope:

"Last week, I cried in the shower again.

It's been a long time since the pain was so bad that my only response upon waking was to cry. Between Humira beating down my RA and having learned well the intricate balance of the right blend of painkillers, my pain is usually pretty manageable. Sometimes high, sometimes less so, but rarely blinding anymore. But here we were again, the pain and I, dancing that old familiar dance. It took a few days before I came out on the other side of it, feeling bruised and fragile, but better. And when I did, I realized that I had automatically clicked into a well-established routine of coping with a high spike of pain. This routine has five essential components"

You can read the rest of the post here.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Strive to Include

I was going to take a break from writing about accessibility and barriers to same. There was enough of an inaccessibility flurry before my birthday, what with Winners and Metro, the LCBO and Buskerfest and to be honest, I'm tired. Tired of not being able to use stores and spaces the same way my able-bodied brethren can. Tired of having to fight for the right to pay for my purchases. So tired of coming up against not being welcome in so many places. It wears you down. So I decided that my birthday was going to be a turning point. I was going to take a break from this particular for a while and focus on the positive.

And then this thing happened. Get comfy. I am about to rant.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about revisiting the scenes of the inaccessibility crimes in two locations, Winners and Metro. I wrote about how Metro was having some problems related to barrier-free policies that would support their barrier-free design. More specifically, that the accessible checkouts - the only two with lowered pinpads which were supposed to be staffed at all times - had begun to often be closed. There was also the small matter of the pinpad at the pharmacy being completely inaccessible, likely even by Ontario Building Code standards and that's saying something.

In that post, I didn't mention a couple of other annoyances, among them access to the store. My original reason for writing about Metro and contacting them regarding lack of access was the new antitheft gate. The one that was very narrow and required people in wheelchairs to push it open with their bosom. This is also the antitheft gate that was subsequently widened. Furthermore, a policy was made to ensure that the bars on this date would be down during the day when there was more staff available to keep an eye on things. This policy, blessedly, is still in place, allowing full access by people using walkers, wheelchairs or scooters. Of which there is a much higher than average percentage in my neighbourhood, all of whom now have equal access to the store (at least during the day).

Until, that is, the Ontario summer fruits came on the market and the store placed a large display of peaches, pears, and the like in the area, partly blocking the antitheft gate. It is not a problem for me, but my wheelchair has a 16 inch base. Most wheelchairs for adults have an 18 inch base and scooters tend to be at least that wide, as well. They won't be able to pass through. Thus illustrating a point I make over and over again: you can create a perfectly barrier-free building, but if your staff isn’t trained to consider barriers to accessibility and places displays in front of gates, ramps, elevators and the like, you have accomplished nothing.

The pharmacy pinpad at Metro has also not been changed to an accessible one. I suspect this may be due to the manager to whom I spoke about this issue no longer working in the store.

And while we're on pinpads, here’s what happened to make me write this post. Yesterday, I went to Metro to buy some groceries. They’re getting new pinpads. Look like really good new pinpads. Fancy, solid ones. Wanna guess how they’re installed by the accessible checkouts?

Yup. Not lowered like the old ones were. Not detachable. Hence not accessible to many customers who use wheelchairs.

This should not have happened. I will almost - but only almost - accept the explanation about following the Ontario Building Code the first time I contact a company regarding barriers to accessibility. As I’ve mentioned before many, many times, the OBC assumes that people with disabilities are like everyone else, just sitting down. They do not make any allowances in height requirements for automatic door buttons pinpads and the like for the fact that disability may also - and often - affect mobility in one’s upper body.
However, when you have once before been contacted by a customer complaining about the lack of access in your stores, including the height of the pinpads AND you have once before met with that customer to review accessibility in a store AND have subsequently implemented design and policy changes to make that store more accessible, including lowering pinpads at accessible checkouts, you do not get to make the same mistake again less than two years later. Especially not when certain customer service regulations of the Accessibility for Ontarians withDisabilities Act came into effect in January 2012.

When you do so, you can no longer claim ignorance of the issues. When you do so, you can no longer say 'oops.' When you change your accessible pinpads to not being accessible, what you are doing is called purposeful exclusion.

Purposeful exclusion. Doesn’t sound nice, does it? Sounds positively discriminatory, doesn’t it?

Purposeful exclusion and discriminatory are two big concepts. Concepts that have a tendency to make people uncomfortable and squirmy. So let’s put them to the test, shall we? Substitute another group for disability and if it sounds discriminatory, it qualifies. 

What would you say if female customers couldn’t pay for prescriptions? Or if customers from a racial minority couldn’t enter the store? Yes, it’s squirmy, but it’s also unacceptable.

As a business, do you really want to purposefully exclude 15% of your customer base? A percentage which is only going to increase as the baby boomers age. A percentage which in this particular neighbourhood is probably much higher. Do you want to discriminate against that many of your customers when they are four other grocery chains in the same neighbourhood? It seems like an unusual approach to doing business. Consider this instead: become the grocery store that is the most accessible of them all. Give that 15% and their family and friends in the neighbourhood a reason to choose you over the competition.

Strive to be barrier-free. Aim to be inclusive. Not because it’s the law (although there is that). 

Because it’s the right thing to do.