Category Archives: Health

Empathy and Kindness Personified

Photo from the film’s Facebook Page.

Kímmapiiyipitssini The Meaning of Empathy is the name of a documentary film we saw last night that tells the story of the opioid crisis ravaging the Kainai First Nation in Alberta. The film was made by Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers a young woman who comes from a Kainai community.

Kímmapiiyipitssini is the word for a Blackfoot teaching that says empathy and kindness are the keys to survival. And no one embodies that empathy and kindness more than Esther Tailfeathers who is a doctor on the Kainai First Nation. She is at the very heart of the film and will stop at nothing to help people deal with their deadly addictions. Her aim is to reduce harm to addicts in whatever way she can.

Esther listens to people tell their stories of addiction without any trace of judgment. She is literally empathy and kindness personified. Esther always remains encouraging and positive with her patients.

She collaborates with others in the community to train people to use naloxone kits. Naloxone is an antidote for fentanyl overdoses. Next, she introduces opioid replacement therapy despite the community’s resistance. Then Dr. Tailfeathers is instrumental in building a detox center that houses and supports a steady stream of addicts. In the film, we are given a window into the lives of some of these addicts who share their stories openly and honestly.

Image from the movie’s Facebook page.

I admired Esther Tailfeathers and the way she could connect with seniors living with the effects of their years at residential school, middle-aged folks who’d had traumatic experiences in foster homes as children, new mothers trying to kick their habit to get their babies back, and young men who had succumbed to peer pressure and started using drugs.

I admit that the in-depth look at the opioid epidemic in the film gave me a pretty bleak view of the chances for a healthy future for the Kainai First Nation but……. I was also left with a sliver of hope because with an amazing woman like Dr. Esther Tailfeathers as their champion a more positive outcome does seem possible for the Kainai.

Other posts……….

My Grandsons Teach Me About National Reconciliation Day

Acknowledgments are Important

Clean Water

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Filed under Canada, Health

Is Laughter Really The Best Medicine?

Laughter by Nanette Nacorda Catigbe

My younger son was about a year and a half old when I walked into our kitchen to find him sitting in a huge puddle of ketchup. He had emptied almost an entire plastic squeeze bottle of the stuff out onto the floor. I was just about to reprimand him when he looked up at me with his big brown eyes, smiled sweetly, and caroled, “Fries please!” My anger dissipated immediately and I burst out laughing.

Robert Provine, whose New York Times obituary credits him with creating the modern science of humor, once said laughter is the perfect way to deflect anger. If other people in a tense situation join in, the risk of confrontation will almost certainly dissipate. My husband is a master of this technique. He often uses his dry humor to ease the tension between us when we’ve had an argument.

In the movie Patch Adams Robin Williams played a doctor who used laughter as a way to heal his patients.

A Mayo Clinic report says laughter improves your immune system, stimulates heart and lung circulation, lowers blood pressure, can relieve pain, and reduces anxiety. Psychologists are finding that people who laugh have more hope, energy, creativity, and a deeper connection with other human beings. Remember that 1998 movie Patch Adams? Robin Williams plays the role of a real-life doctor who used laughter to heal his patients.

Laughter in Creases by Christina Carmel

I am fortunate to have good genes when it comes to laughter. My grandmothers both knew the value of a good laugh. My father’s mother had a witty one-liner for almost any situation. At my grandmother’s funeral, one of my cousins said, “When I think of grandma an image comes to mind of her whole body just shaking with laughter, her eyes brimming with tears and her teeth on the verge of falling out.  She is laughing at a funny comment, probably one she made herself. “ 

My maternal grandmother loved to laugh as well.  I can remember times when she and her daughters would start telling funny stories and get so carried away they simply couldn’t stop laughing. They would be holding their sides, tears streaming down their faces as they recalled some humorous incident from their family’s past. 

Neither of my grandmothers had easy lives. But I think they must have known as writer Madeleine L’Engle once said that a good laugh heals a lot of hurts.

Other posts………

 He Hasn’t Lost His Sense of Humour

Warms Your Heart and Makes You Laugh Out Loud

Start and End Happy

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Filed under Family, Health

Clean Water

Elders from the Lhoosk’uz Dené community tasting water from their new water treatment system (Photo source)

I was excited to read recently about a small Lhoosk’uz Dené community in northern British Columbia which finally has a steady supply of clean tap water. Village leaders approached the University of British Columbia to help them develop a water treatment system that uses a combination of ultraviolet light and chlorine disinfection to ensure the water in the community is safe enough to drink.

The innovative system is simple to operate and can be maintained and repaired without having to call in specialists from other places or pay for expensive parts. The community partnered with a team of scientists and engineers that use a collaborative, community-driven approach to develop practical drinking water solutions for rural Canadian communities. The new water system in the Lhoosk’uz Dené village ends a 14-year boil water advisory.

The good news story reminded me of an installation I saw at the Art Gallery of Ontario a few years ago by Ruth Cuthand. It was called Don’t Breathe, Don’t Drink.  The blue tarp on the table is the kind used for hastily constructed shacks people on one reserve had to move into when black mold was discovered in the drywall in their homes.

The glasses of water on the table contain plastic and beaded representations of the different kinds of bacteria and parasites found in the water on northern Canadian reserves that have boil water advisories. 

baby bottles boil water Don't Breathe Don't Drink

The artist put some of the bacteria-filled water into baby bottles to remind us that children may be drinking this contaminated water too. 

I am glad those kinds of problems are over for at least one Indigenous community. According to a government of Canada website as of today, there are still 32 communities in Canada with boil water advisories in effect. Let’s hope that innovative solutions like the one found for the Lhoosk’uz Dené community can be created for those 32 communities as well.

Other posts………

She Is Gripped By Terror

Blackwater- A Book That Connected With Me

Locked Away

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Filed under Canada, Health

Should There Be Mandatory Vaccinations for Long Term Care Workers?

In the latest update from the personal care home where my father is a resident, we were informed that visiting privileges would be expanded to include anyone who is two weeks past their second vaccination date. Previously only two designated family members could visit and now others will be able to visit as well, as long as they are fully vaccinated.

All visitors however will still need to wear masks and goggles, do a covid questionnaire, have their temperature taken before entering and stay six feet away from their loved ones.

Ironically another section of the same newsletter responded to numerous inquires from families about whether all the care aides who look after people in the personal care home have been fully vaccinated. The administrators of the home simply don’t know.

Vaccination is still voluntary according to the provincial government and employers cannot ask if a worker is vaccinated. They can offer on-site vaccinations, encourage employees to get vaccinated, and educate employees about vaccination, but they can’t terminate their employment if they aren’t vaccinated.

Image from an excellent Policy Options article about what needs to be done to improve compensation and working conditions for long term care workers.

I would be the last person to criticize long term care workers. Every day when I visit my father I see the vital and very challenging job they do. According to a Canadian Health Care Institute-funded research paper long term care workers are generally middle-aged women, with a high school diploma, who speak English as their second language.

They are paid on average in Canada $18.95 an hour and 25% of them work in more than one care facility for financial reasons because they can’t get enough hours at a single placement. This despite the fact experts recommend long term care facilities should have a lower patient to caregiver ratio than they currently do.

I understand that much needs to be done to improve long term care workers’ salaries and working conditions. We are not treating them fairly given the extremely important work they do. But is it fair to require them to be vaccinated?

A City News story earlier this month said Ontario is making vaccination mandatory for all long term care workers and British Columbia is considering it as well. Is it something Manitoba should consider too?

Other posts……….

A Realistic Look at Aging?

Growing Old is Not For Cowards

We Are Vaccinated But…………


Filed under Health, Retirement

10 Reasons Green Exercise Is Good For You

I have been a regular member of a gym for most of my adult life. Of course, since the pandemic started I have had to change my approach to fitness and almost all of my exercise takes place outdoors.

There are lots of advantages to what is known as green fitness although here in Manitoba it might have to be called white fitness for at least six months of the year.

What is green fitness?

Various sources define it as…….. exercise that takes place in a natural outdoor environment or the act of being physically active in a natural setting.

According to the experts, outdoor fitness has better results than indoor fitness when it comes to………

Restful sleep

Reduction of stress and anxiety

Sense of well- being

Cognitive performance

Cancer risk

Healthy blood pressure

Self- esteem

Bone strength

Healthy body weight


Looking at that long list of benefits I am wondering if I should ever go back to the gym even once the pandemic is over.

Other posts………….

Into the Wilds of Winnipeg

Hiking the Virgin

Walking on the Seine

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Filed under Health, Nature

Drawing on Past Experience To Quell Anger

Each year I choose a signature word. Acceptance is my 2021 word.  One goal I’ve set is learning to accept people who have beliefs different than mine.

I have to admit that kind of acceptance is a bit tough for me right now when it comes to people adamant about not getting vaccinated.  They make me angry because their choice could mean others will get sick and maybe even die, and their decision may ultimately prevent us from getting back to a normal life.

In a recent newspaper interview, pastor Kyle Penner suggested using friendship and positivity to convince folks who are vaccine- hesitant to change their mind. I agree. But if social media comments are any indication there are still many people who aren’t just vaccine- hesitant they are adamant their families won’t ever be vaccinated for COVID-19.  How do I accept that without getting angry? 

When my first child was born in 1979 I wasn’t able to receive extended maternity leave benefits from the school district I worked for

Luckily I have some experience to fall back on. Decades ago when I had my first child, I was angry at the school division I worked for because they didn’t have extended maternity leave benefits like other jurisdictions.  I was angry local churches didn’t recognize the leadership gifts of women and that few women held political office or higher executive positions in my area. I was angry inclusive language wasn’t standard in my local newspaper or my church constitution.  I learned from that experience being angry didn’t do much good. 

Instead, I had to try and accept there were many in my hometown who didn’t believe women were equal to men or deserving of the same opportunities and recognition. I had to try and understand people’s fear of change because I realized they were convinced women’s equality would negatively impact the way their families and communities operated. I had to try and understand that their ideas were grounded in uncompromising religious beliefs. I had to learn people didn’t want to be forced by a law to treat women equally, that it threatened particularly men’s feelings of power and importance. 

And so, instead of getting angry, and I will freely admit initially I did, I had to learn to accept people with differing views but at the same time try to be true to my own convictions in as non-confrontational and engaging a way as possible.  So, I wrote about women’s contributions, challenges and rights in my newspaper column, in other publications and in the curriculums I was asked to author.  I accepted invitations to speak in area churches about female leaders in the Bible even in churches that told me I couldn’t stand behind the pulpit because that was a spot reserved for men. I tried to be careful to always use inclusive language in my speaking, teaching and writing and I served on the teachers’ salary and benefits negotiating team engaging in a lengthy process to extend maternity leave. 

Photo by Phil Noble

I want to remember that experience when I’m angry at those who won’t accept the reality of the pandemic or the value and safety of vaccines. As people did at the start of the women’s movement many now feel their personal freedom, their religious beliefs and their ability to control societal change are being threatened.  I have to accept that and be true to my own personal convictions in as non-confrontational a way as possible. I have to continue to engage with everyone.  

At the beginning of the pandemic, I responded angrily to a social media post that refuted science. Someone called me out on my anger.  I’m glad they did. I erased my comment, apologized, and have tried to be more circumspect.  Anger can fuel change, but I think in the long run acceptance and engagement, and living your own truth as best you can, is healthiest and most effective. 

Other posts………

Why People Don’t Trust Scientists

The Tsunami and the Pandemic

And A Little Child Shall Lead Them


Filed under COVID-19 Diary, Health

Divine Healing?

In a sermon I gave last Sunday I talked about my visit to the St. Anne de Beaupre Church just outside of Quebec City. One of first things I noticed when I walked into the cathedral were these cases that stretched high up to the ceiling filled with crutches and canes and hearing aids and orthotic shoes.  They were items people had left at the church after experiencing a miraculous healing there.  

St. Anne de Beaupre Church

St. Anne de Beaupre is said to be the site of many divine healings. It began when the church was being constructed in 1658. One of its original builders had severe scoliosis and walked with a crutch.  By the time the church building was complete he was able to walk independently. Countless similar miracles are said to have happened to cathedral visitors.

A statue of the Virgin Mary and her parents Anne and Joachim inside St. Anne de Beaupre Cathedral. The church is named for Mary’s mother Anne.

I do know healing can seem almost miraculous. My father was a physician, and he has told me stories of patients who recovered their health against all odds.  But there can be a danger in the kind of belief in supernatural divine healing like people think has happened to them at Saint Anne’s.

Trusting in divine healing can prevent people from seeking the professional medical help they need. It can also have them put off taking the steps they should to be healthy, like quitting smoking, getting a vaccine, or exercising. It can also leave people disillusioned and bitter when God doesn’t provide the hoped for outcome.

This is not to say however that believing God is walking with you through a health crisis isn’t important. Research has shown that health outcomes can be impacted by a belief in the divine. Apparently people of faith are less stressed and anxious about their illnesses and are generally more hopeful about a positive outcome.

It seems that things work out best when medical science and religious faith walk hand in hand.

Other posts……….

Slow Medicine

Ten Ways We Can Try To Be Like Jesus During the Pandemic

Come Healing


Filed under Health, Religion

Sex Selective Abortion

Photo of Cathy Wagantall from her official website

The Sex Selective Abortion Act- Bill C-233 is currently being debated in Parliament. It was introduced by Conservative MP Cathy Wagantall. She wants to protect female babies from being aborted because of their gender.  If the bill passes doctors would be criminally charged for knowingly performing sex selective abortions. Polling shows most Canadians think sex selective abortion is unethical. I do too. But I don’t support the passage of Bill C-233. Here’s why. 

Bill C-233 would do nothing to curb sex selective abortion.  Women don’t have to tell their doctor why they want an abortion and if this bill passed they would be even more cautious about disclosing the fact their unborn child’s gender influenced their abortion decision. Doctors worried about criminal charges would hesitate to press patients for too much information about their abortion request.

Of course, decades of research has shown that making abortion illegal in a country does not cause a significant drop in the abortion rate. A recent Guttmacher Institute study found abortion rates are actually four times higher in low- income countries where abortion is prohibited than in high income countries where it is legal. If Bill C-233 passed it would do nothing to lower the already declining abortion rate in Canada. 

Secondly, twelve weeks gestation is the earliest the gender of an unborn child can be reliably determined.  90% of abortions in Canada take place before twelve weeks.  Clearly Bill C-233 is narrow and would do little to impact the larger issue Ms. Wagantall would really like to see addressed. 

Thirdly, based on the data I could find, sex selective abortions happen primarily in new immigrant families because people have brought ideas about gender preference to Canada from their home countries.  Rather than wasting time championing ineffective legislation, perhaps we should focus our efforts on better educating expectant parents from immigrant communities about the opportunities available to their unborn daughters in Canada. Research shows sex selective abortions all but disappear in second and third generation immigrant families.

In China sex selective abortion has created a gender imbalance that has resulted in major societal problems. Chinese families think a male child will be able to support them better in their old age and will bring more prestige to the family name. 

Photo I took of a grandmother and her grandson in Tiananmen Square Beijing

Banning sex selective abortions in China has proved ineffective at stopping them, but what has helped is increasing employment opportunities for women. In areas where a concentrated plan of affirmative action and greater pay equity has been implemented in industry and business spheres, sex selective abortions have been substantially reduced. When parents know their female children have an equal opportunity to support them financially and bring recognition to their family they don’t feel the need for sex selective abortions.  

I don’t know if Ms. Wagantall has been a passionate supporter of affirmative action and equal pay for women, but those might be areas where she could more productively focus her energies. We know economic and career concerns are reasons women often have abortions, so let’s do what we can to make sure women have every advantage. 

Even Erin O’Toole the Conservative Party Leader plans to vote against Bill C-233

Finally, I don’t support Bill C-233 because it contradicts the platform of the Conservative Party of which Ms. Wagantall is a member. That makes me wonder if she has proposed the bill primarily for political reasons to bolster the profile of a certain wing of her party. Conservative leader Erin O Toole has assured Canadians his party will not reopen the abortion debate. Yet here is a member of his party doing exactly that. 

It is sad sex selective abortions happen in Canada. There are constructive things we can do to address the problem. Passing Bill C-233 isn’t one of them. 

Other posts……..

Does a Female Finance Minister Make a Difference?

The Post Election Priorities of American Christians

A Spark of Light

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Filed under Canada, Health, Politics

Would You Want Your Child To Be A Doctor?

“Would you want one of your children to be a doctor?” That was a question I asked Jillian Horton last night when I attended the Winnipeg Free Press online book club. We were talking about Jillian’s book We Are All Perfectly Fine. It tells the story of Jillian’s medical career and raises serious questions about the demands we make on doctors.

Dr. Jillian Horton author of We Are All Perfectly Fine

In her book we read about how Jillian attended a retreat for doctors in New York, at a point in her career when she was feeling really burned out. Over the course of the retreat, Jillian along with the other doctors in attendance, opened up about the guilt and grief and fear they felt about not always meeting their patients’ needs and not always meeting their own expectations of themselves.

Dr. Horton who is a professor of internal medicine at the University of Manitoba says the current medical system fails doctors. Doctors need to experience compassion just like everyone else and they must take care of themselves if they want to be effective in helping their patients. Being a doctor is an emotional job and doctors need to be able to face those emotions and deal with them. Of course the pandemic has only exacerbated the emotional stress on doctors.

Doctor Jillian Horton at the Free Press online book club yesterday. Ben Sigurdson from the newspaper and Chris Hall from McNally Robinson Book Sellers were moderating the event.

So given all the problems and challenges Jillian sees in the medical profession I wondered if she would want one of her sons to be a doctor.

She told me many doctors discourage their children from entering the profession. She wouldn’t necessarily do that but she would want to be very sure her child was passionate and committed to the field of medicine and she would certainly warn them about the pitfalls and perils of the profession.

My Dad on the phone taking a medical call while we had supper

I grew up the child of a rural family doctor and the demands on my Dad were incredible. He was on call seven days a week. Often we didn’t see him for days. He was off to the hospital to do surgery before we woke up in the morning, frequently missed supper because his office hours ran late and he got up during the night to make house calls. The only place we knew Dad wouldn’t get called away because of a medical emergency was at our cottage at Moose Lake because there wasn’t a phone there.

I think watching how hard my Dad worked and the sacrifices he had to make in regards to our family life in order to fulfill his professional commitments probably influenced his four children in making the decision not to become doctors. I know Dad was highly respected and appreciated as a physician. At least on the surface he seemed to deal with the emotional aspects of the job, but it definitely impacted our family’s life.

I found Dr. Jillian Horton’s book interesting and eye-opening. I think those who read it will come to a greater understanding of the stresses faced by physicians and their families and will gain a greater appreciation for the work they do.

Alan Alda and Dr. Jillian Horton- photo from the University of Manitoba website

Note: Last night Jillian referred to a piece she wrote in the Los Angeles Times about how actor Alan Alda and the series MASH taught her the value of humour in medical practice. It is well worth the read.

Other posts………

Writing As A Healing Art

My Dad’s Medical Bag

Living at the Hospital

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Filed under Books, Health

My Aunt and Winnipeg’s Polio Hospital

My aunt with my parents at her nursing school graduation from the Misercordia Hospital in 1953

In a recent e-mail my Aunt Mary recalled the time in the early 1950s when she was training to be a nurse at the Misercordia Hospital in Winnipeg. A call for volunteer nurses went out from the King George Community Hospital where most of the city’s polio patients were in care. My aunt said the patients in iron lungs needed to be under vigilant survelience due to the need for frequent tracheostomy suctioning. The director of the nursing school at the Misercordia encouraged her students to volunteer at King George during the hours they weren’t on call at the Misercorida.

The Old King George Hospital

My aunt volunteered and was assigned to two young men, both from the area of southern Manitoba where she had been born and raised. The men were from a Mennonite background, as was my aunt, and so sometimes she spoke their common cultural language Low German with them, which she recalls often helped to lighten the mood of their serious situation.

My aunt says that Ted Braun, one of the men she cared for was engaged to be married, and his worried finance was a frequent visitor. She remembers how deeply appreciative the two men were of her care for them. My aunt’s memories of her time at the King George Hospital were triggered by a recent article in the Canadian Mennonite magazine written by Will Braun who was a nephew of Ted’s.

The King George Hospital site is now home to the Riverview Health Centre

I was curious about the King George Hospital where my aunt had volunteered but learned it had been torn down and was now the site of the Riverview Health Centre. My husband Dave and I decided to visit the site on our bicycles and discovered that the front archway of the old King George Hospital has been preserved on the site.

There was a fence around the archway so we weren’t able to get too close .

Dave managed to get shots of one of the plaques with his zoom lens and it told the story of the King George Hospital built in 1914. It was considered one of the best and most modern hospitals in the world for treating patients with communicable diseases like the Spanish flu and polio.

The old King George Hospital was torn down in 1999 to make room for a new addition to the Riverview Health Complex. I am glad they kept the archway as a reminder of the important role the former hospital played in the fight against polio. For many Manitobans, their families and the medical staff that cared for them the King George Hospital was the site of life-changing events. It will still have a special place in their hearts and minds as it does for my Aunt Mary.

Other posts………

My Polio Vaccines

The Pandemic Story Behind a 105 Year Old Photo


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Filed under Health, History, Winnipeg