Category Archives: Health

Does Your City Need A Butt Blitz?

Did you know that cigarette butts are responsible for around 40% of the litter in the Canadian cities? A recent CBC story describes a campaign the city of Hamilton has started to try to encourage smokers to discard their cigarette butts properly. New garbage receptacles with eye-catching designs placed in many strategic spots will hopefully mean more cigarettes get tossed into them rather than tossed onto roadways, sidewalks, and flowerbeds. Hamilton also hosted a ‘butt blitz’ this past April where volunteers combed the city picking up discarded cigarette butts. I think we might need a butt blitz here in Winnipeg too. Yesterday morning we went to a friendly coffee shop we like to frequent. Just before going inside I noticed all these cigarette butts near the curb in the coffee shop parking lot.  Yuck!  Not exactly the thing to whet your appetite for the tasty baking inside the coffee shop. When we got back home I photographed a couple of reminders like this in the flower beds outside our condo. The beds are planted and lovingly tended by a volunteer gardener in our building. She has had to pick endless cigarette butts out of the flower beds so each one is now adorned with one of these signs she has made.  

Not only are the butts unsightly they contain plastics that are not biodegradable and their chemicals can be harmful to birds who pick them up and ingest them, and also to marine life when the chemicals from the cigarettes seep into waterways. 

When I visited Lisbon a couple of years ago I thought it was terrible the way cigarette butts lined the beautiful cobblestone designs of the streets.  But we have a cigarette littering problem right here in Canada too and right here in Winnipeg.  There are laws against littering but they don’t seem to be working when it comes to cigarette butts. Perhaps Winnipeg can follow Hamilton’s lead and find ways to get cigarette litter out of our public places. 

Other posts………

Too Much Smoking

Cleaning Up My Neighborhood

Sitting is the New Smoking


Filed under Health, Nature, Winnipeg

My Polio Vaccines- Dad’s Treasures Part 6



One of the interesting treasures I found while helping my father downsize for a move was this copy of my polio vaccinations.  Currently, children are vaccinated for polio at ages two months, four months, 6-18 months and at ages 4-6.  So why did I receive only three vaccinations and all within a few months of each other when I was four years old?  

Dr. Jonas Salk administering a vaccine

That’s because the polio vaccine was only discovered by Jonas Salk in 1953, the year I was born.  The vaccine needed to be tested and it was only in April of 1955 that the government approved the administration of the vaccination to all six to nine-year-olds. I wasn’t old enough to get it then.

Polio epidemics had caused many deaths over the centuries. Just between 1949 and 1954 nearly 11,000 people in Canada were left paralyzed by polio. In 1953, the year I was born there were nearly 9,000 cases and some 500 deaths in Canada.

People with polio in iron lungs

The incidence of polio in Winnipeg was higher in 1953 than had been previously seen anywhere else in the world.  Close to a hundred people in the city were in iron lungs because their breathing muscles were paralyzed. The 1953 epidemic was the most serious the country had experienced since a national epidemic in 1918. 

By 1956 it was clear that children who had received the polio vaccine during the previous year were much less likely to get polio or experience paralysis than those who hadn’t been vaccinated.  Although not every province decided to go ahead with vaccinating more children, thankfully the province of Manitoba did as the official notice above indicates.

Photo from the Manitoba archives showing St. Matthews Church where I had my vaccinations

That’s why in 1957 at age four I received the potentially life-saving vaccine. My mother had to take me to the St. Matthew’s Church in Winnipeg for the shots.

This photo was taken at Easter in 1957 the year my sister and I had our first polio vaccinations

I imagine my sister who was sixteen months younger than I was also had the vaccinations. 

I just read recently that thanks largely to the efforts of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation polio is now on the verge of being eradicated throughout the world. 

Other posts…….

Vaccinations Aren’t Just For Babies

Another Shameful Chapter in Canadian History

My Mother’s Friends


Filed under Childhood, Health, Winnipeg

I Wasn’t Planning To Read This Book

I ordered the book Slow Medicine because someone recommended it for our church library and I am the church librarian. Before I put the book on the shelves I leafed through it and found myself stopping to read an intriguing account of how the author of the book Dr. Victoria Sweet saved a man’s life on a trek through Nepal by pulling a stubborn thorn out of his leg.  

I sat down and started the book from the beginning. I was totally drawn in by one interesting story after another about Dr. Sweet’s patients.  Victoria Sweet is a great believer in modern ‘fast medicine’ and appreciates the way new medical technologies and treatments save lives. But she wants to make the point that there is also a place for more measured, holistic, thoughtful, and simpler approaches to medicine. She calls it ‘slow medicine.’ 

Victoria basically walks us through her career as a physician in Slow Medicine and introduces us to the fascinating patients who taught her the importance of slow medicine- the value of listening to patients, observing them carefully, getting to know their families, histories and living situations, and being open to “out of the box” thinking. 

For example, she tells the story of a young boy who kept coming in with one ear infection after another.  It was only when she visited his farm home and realized he was swimming regularly in a stagnant pond containing animal waste that she understood why the ear infections kept recurring.  

Only after meeting a woman’s mother and discovering she had a rare skin disease at a fairly advanced stage was Dr. Sweet able to diagnose the daughter’s similar condition. Dr. Sweet says what made all the difference was the fact she stayed late at the hospital one night and met her patient’s mother who always only came to visit her daughter after finishing work. 

In another story, a man had terrible headaches.  Victoria took many, many hours to read carefully through the man’s mountain of medical records and eventually she found a clue in a previous doctor’s notes, that helped provide a remedy for the headaches.  

When a patient’s asthma seemed uncontrollable Victoria finally asked a respected Chinese healer to see her. Sure enough, the healer’s traditional medicines worked.  

I finished reading Slow Medicine in a park last Thursday. The perfect place to slowly savor its stories.

Slow Medicine makes the point that in a doctor’s haste to diagnose and treat he or she may not take the time to try different approaches, to find out about their patient’s home environment, to carefully go through their medical history and to really ‘see’ their patients and all the factors that might influence their condition.  

Victoria Sweet is an excellent writer and her book is NOTHING like a medical textbook.  It really is very interesting and engaging. I wasn’t planning to read this book but I’m glad I did. 

Other posts……..

Dad’s Medical Bag

Writing as a Healing Art

Being Mortal

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Health

Things Have Changed But Maybe Not Enough

Dad and his fellow interns at St. Boniface Hospital in the late 1950s

This is a photo of my Dad with the interns who worked together with him in 1959 at the St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg. There is only one woman in the photo and even her presence would have been highly unusual for the time. According to an article in Maclean’s magazine by 1970, only seven percent of physicians in Canada were women. In 1959 that percentage will have been much lower.  Presently around 40% of physicians in Canada are women.  Those numbers could change in the near future since nearly 60% of Canadian medical students are women.  

doctor-1490804643RfiAlthough approaching equality in numbers female physicians are not earning equal pay.  An article in the National Post looks at Ontario where female physicians only make 73 cents for every dollar male physicians earn. This is partly because the specialty medical fields that women tend to choose are the more poorly paid ones.  Some research shows that female physicians spend more time talking to their patients, consequently they see fewer patients and so get paid less. Also, men still assume the majority of the more highly paid leadership positions in medicine. 

It is great to see the gender gap closing when it comes to the number of female physicians in Canada. We need to continue to work at closing the wage gap too. 

Other posts……..

What a Difference

Why All These Old White Men?

What Happens When Women Take Power? 

Leave a comment

Filed under Health

Good News- Part 6

It’s true. 

Other good news stories here. 

Leave a comment

Filed under good news, Health

Pro Choice and Pro Life- What Might We Have in Common?

Demonstrators, one pro-choice, the other, pro-life, hold up signs during a protest in reaction to South Dakota’s new anti-abortion law, outside the Federal Court building in downtown Sioux Falls, S.D., Thursday. March 9, 2006. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

I’ve published a number of articles about my clearly pro-choice stance on the abortion issue. So I was pleased when a woman who defines herself as pro-life asked if I’d like to meet for a conversation.  As we talked I realized there were many things we agreed on. 

We both thought it troubling that politicians would use the situations of vulnerable women as a way to win points for their particular party.  We wished politicians of every affiliation could work together instead, to create the kind of conditions in our country that would mean fewer women would be in a situation where they would consider abortion.

It didn’t seem right to either of us that it was still primarily male politicians who make decisions about women’s reproductive health services. We talked about how women can end up with complete responsibility for their children if they decide not to have an abortion because some men neglect their financial and parental responsibilities to the children they father.

We both saw a need for good sex education in schools.  The media is filled with graphic sexual material and children need factual information presented in age-appropriate ways. I talked about how pediatricians who care for pregnant teens are often shocked at the lack of accurate information their patients have about sex.  The woman I was chatting with said she and her husband had been open and honest with their kids answering questions about sex and providing appropriate reading materials. But when her adolescent daughter came home after some health classes about reproduction and intimate relationships at school, the woman realized they had left out some important things in their family conversations.

We agreed that a solution to the abortion issue wouldn’t happen overnight and that we need to take incremental steps to try to decrease the number of abortions in Canada. I talked about how the state of Colorado had provided free confidential birth control to teens and had reduced their abortion rate by 42% as a result. My companion hadn’t heard about that and was duly impressed.

We both personally knew women who’d had abortions or had needed to make the tough decision about having one.  We agreed that hearing their stories had a major impact on our views about abortion.

We also agreed the actions of the more radical fringes of both the pro-choice and pro-life movements had probably hindered the process of the two factions trying to find common ground.  My companion talked about watching over-the-top celebrations marking the protection of abortion rights. She mentioned those who advocate for allowing abortion even during the last weeks of pregnancy.  I talked about people who stand outside abortion clinics terrorizing the women going inside and those who want to prevent rape victims from having abortions.

We both agreed marches where crowds gathered as a way to support their views on abortion might not be the best use of time and energy.  So many things need to be done to help women facing unwanted pregnancies. So many things need to be done to prevent unwanted pregnancies.  Shouldn’t people focus their time and energy on doing those things?

Although I call myself pro-choice, and the woman I was talking with calls herself pro-life we had numerous ideas about abortion that were actually quite similar. I wonder if other people in the two camps on the issue wouldn’t discover the same thing if they were to sit down and talk respectfully with one another? Neither of us changed our mind on where we stood on the abortion issue during our conversation but we did find common ground. 

1 Comment

Filed under Health

Good News- Part 4


mortality rate for infantsIt’s true.

Good News About Global Literacy

Good News About Global Poverty

Good News About The Environment

Leave a comment

Filed under good news, Health