Category Archives: Health

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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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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Between Two Kingdoms

The two kingdoms in the title of Between Two Kingdoms – A Memoir of a Life Interrupted are the kingdoms of the living and the dead. Author Suleika Jaouad continues to walk the fine line between those two kingdoms because at age 22 she was diagnosed with cancer. During her ensuing three years of treatments that included chemotherapy, radiation and a bone marrow transplant Suleika contributed a column about her experiences to the New York Times.

Many people wrote to her after reading her column, and once her cancer was in remission she set out on a road trip to visit some of them. She chose people who had dealt with cancer or some other life-altering event and hoped she could glean wisdom from them about how to live her life between the two kingdoms- a place where she feels we all live to some extent, but a place that is particularly difficult to navigate for people who have stared death in the face.

The last eight chapters of the book chronicle Suleika’s road trip and are very engaging. She meets such interesting people. Ned is a poet and English teacher at a posh girl’s boarding school. Erin is a survivalist who is preparing for the end of the world with her family. Katherine is dealing with the grief over her son’s suicide as well as her own cancer diagnosis. JR and Kit live close to the earth and spend their time exploring their talents and passions. Lil’ GQ is an inmate on death row. These people as well as many others Suleika meets, each teach her something about life between the two kingdoms.

While the last third of the book is fascinating the first two-thirds is a heavy read as Suleika chronicles her cancer diagnosis and treatment in agonizing detail and we discover how it impacted her relationships and career and day to day existence. I had to give myself generous breaks while reading.

I saw an interview with author Suleika Jaouad on Sunday Morning on CBS and that’s what got me interested in the book. Suleika’s long time partner is Jon Baptiste, a musician I have enjoyed watching on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Prior to the pandemic, Jon appeared every night on the talk show as the leader of the in-house band Stay Human.

We all walk the line between the kingdom of our present life and the kingdom of our inevitable death. Between Two Kingdoms offers insight into how to do that in the best way we can.

Other books I’ve written about…….

Olive Again

The Tree Of Life

American Dirt

The Pull of the Stars

Did Jesus Have A Wife?

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Why People Don’t Trust Scientists

This T-shirt was one of the gifts I put into my eight-year-old grandson’s Christmas stocking.

As the T-shirt says, although science seems like magic because of the miraculous things it helps us to discover…… SCIENCE IS REAL.

So why is it some people don’t think science is real? Why don’t they believe in science or trust scientists? We have seen evidence of that during the pandemic when some political leaders and some members of the general public refuse to accept the validity of what scientists are telling them. They still refuse to believe that COVID-19 is dangerous. They refuse to stay at home, refuse to wear a mask, some even refuse a vaccination. They just don’t believe that scientists who have dedicated their lives to studying viruses might know more than they do.

Photo by Chokniti Khongchum on

I decided to do some research to find out why some people are so skeptical of science. I found out that………..

  1. Education makes a difference. The more people know about science and scientists the more they tend to believe them. A Pew Research project found that the higher your level of education the more likely you are to have faith in science.
  2. Politics makes a difference. The more conservative your political views the less likely you are to believe scientific truths. In the United States, for example, 54% of Democrats are confident scientists and their findings should be used as tools when determining public policy. Only 31% of Republicans feel that way.
  3. Religious beliefs make a difference. A major research study published in 2018 found that the more religious you are the more likely you are to have a negative attitude towards science and a lower level of scientific literacy.
  4. Social Media use makes a difference. Before the rise of the internet, our information came from scientific experts interviewed on mainstream media or we looked in an encyclopedia for what scientific experts had written. Now the internet allows anyone to publish incorrect scientific information and anyone in the world can read it. Having so many unqualified scientists providing incorrect scientific information damages people’s trust in science.

So what do we need to do to increase the public trust in scientists and science?

  1. Encourage and support quality science instruction in our schools and universities and make the study of science mandatory.
  2. Take science off the ballot by having all political parties support scientific endeavors.
  3. Promote the idea that science and faith can exist in harmony. Faith leaders and institutions have a big role to play in this.
  4. Regulate and fact- check the scientific information on the internet.

It was heartening to learn as I looked for reasons why some people don’t trust science, to find that research shows every year more and more people say they DO trust science and believe science and scientists benefit society.

Other posts…………

Galileo’s Grocery List

The Woman Who Loves Giraffes

Where Are the Women?

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The Pull of the Stars

I read Emma Donoghue’s new book The Pull of the Stars in one fell swoop over a period of three days during which I neglected many other things I should have been doing.

You probably know Emma Donoghue from her best selling book Room in which almost all the action takes place in a small space where a kidnapped woman and her son are being held hostage. In The Pull of the Stars almost all the action once again takes place in one small space, a cramped maternity ward with only three beds in a Dublin Hospital during the height of the 1918 flu pandemic.

The graphic and troubling scenes in Room were not for the faint of heart and neither are many of the scenes in The Pull of the Stars, although ‘faint of heart’ would be no way to describe our heroine Julia who is the day nurse on the maternity ward. The other two key characters in the story are Julia’s plucky and endearing volunteer aide Bridget and Dr Kathleen Lynne the only female doctor in the hospital who is as savvy a political fighter as she is a medical expert. 

Emma answers questions from the audience at an author event at McNally Robinson several years ago where I had the opportunity to meet her in person. 

The research Emma Donoghue must have done to write this book is astonishing. It is rich with historical and medical detail and although I am not an expert in either field, I was riveted by the graphic picture Donoghue paints of the time, a picture that makes the reader ever so grateful to be living through a pandemic in the present.

The various patients on Julia’s ward over a three day period give us heartbreaking insight into what women’s lives were like just after the turn of the century and the fact that Julia’s brother Tim is a recently returned World War I veteran helps us see what a devastating impact the war had on so many people. 

I would not give this book to a pregnant woman but other than that I can highly recommend it for everyone. Despite the dark period in history it brings to life Pull of the Stars is a story of warmth and caring and courage that ultimately inspires the reader to feel grateful and hopeful.  

Other posts……….

Lessons From a Nude Man

Three Likes and Three Dislikes

Did Jesus Have a Wife?


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We have a coat tree we inherited from my Dad when he made his most recent move into assisted living. We are using one of its hooks for our mask collection. Each evening we put the masks we wore during the day into the laundry basket and after I do a load of laundry I hang the freshly washed masks back up there. The coat tree stands by the front door so we are reminded to grab a new mask whenever we leave our condo. 

For me wearing a mask indoors when I am with other folks just makes sense. I admit I make exceptions, and I forget sometimes, but I am trying. I don’t feel at all like my personal freedom is being infringed upon when a business or organization requires that I wear a mask. They aren’t asking me to do something unethical or harmful. They are just following the most current scientific research that says mask-wearing is helpful. If there is any chance my wearing a mask can prevent another person from getting COVID 19 I don’t mind doing it.

I follow some Facebook threads where people have suggested that masks are at best useless and at worst harmful and so I spent a couple of hours yesterday evening trying to find proof of that online. Any articles with credible sources had been written several months ago. If there are blog readers who can direct me to those kinds of current sources I’d be interested in learning more. 

I have an acquaintance who is an expert in the field of pandemics and is currently doing research for a national health organization. He tells me the rate at which scientists around the world are learning new things and collaborating with one another about COVID-19 is unprecedented. In a given week he may give lectures and consult with colleagues in a half dozen countries and every morning his inbox is flooded with new scientific articles about COVID-19.

Scientists are learning new things every day about a disease they initially knew little about, which is why the suggested protocol around mask-wearing has changed and may change again in the future. It is because of ongoing research that we know we don’t really need to wipe our groceries down with disinfectant anymore and that kids can have fun on playground equipment again and that it is much safer to meet with others outdoors rather than indoors.

We all wear seatbelts and try to follow highway speed limits because research has shown that can save lives. We don’t let people text on their phones and drive because research has shown it can save lives. We don’t let people smoke in public buildings because research has shown banning indoor smoking can save lives. We didn’t always have those rules but then we learned something new and now we do. I think about mask-wearing in the same way.

Photo by Anna Shvets

I am not sure why wearing a mask has become such a political issue but I know it has, and there are lots of people who really feel their personal freedom and personal rights are being challenged by any mask-wearing mandate for them or their children. I am trying hard to be considerate of that point of view and would be happy to hear from blog readers who can provide information or insight that would help me understand it better.

Other posts…………

Typhoid Mary- Pandemic Lessons From an Irish Cook 

This Generation’s Condom

Dave Makes a Mask


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Graduation Photo- Dad’s Treasures

dad's graduating class

The 1959 medical school graduating class from the University of Manitoba. My Dad Paul Peters is sitting the farthest right in the front row right beside his good friend Al Propp who would later join Dad’s practice in Steinbach.

When I went to visit my Dad last week he was looking through a book assembled in 2009 for the 50th anniversary of his medical school graduating class from the University of Manitoba in 1959.  It included this photo taken at the gala celebration staged for the graduation.  What struck me most about the photo was that only one woman graduated in 1959. Now, some sixty years later nearly 60% of family physicians in Canada under the age of 40 are women. A growing body of research shows that female physicians care for their patients in ways that leave them more satisfied and with better health outcomes.  I wonder how that lone woman felt in that sea of men in 1959.  She was a pioneer.  

Dad was a much-beloved and respected family physician in Steinbach for more than four decades and by the time he retired from the profession, he did have several female colleagues. 

mom and dad at dad's graduation

Mom and Dad ready to head for Dad’s graduation party. My mother was all dressed up and looked so glamorous to my five-year-old eyes.

I was five years old at the time of my Dad’s graduation and I still remember the beautiful dress my mother wore to the party where the photo above was taken.  She and Dad had been living on the proverbial shoestring to get Dad through school.  Dad worked all kinds of part-time jobs as a train porter and a cab driver while he studied.  Mom helped bring in money by running a boarding house for university students, doing the cooking, cleaning and laundry for them, all the while caring for her three children plus another little girl, the daughter of a nurse who was single parenting and needed child care.  Although Mom isn’t in the graduation class photo she was an invaluable partner in my Dad’s achievement in 1959. 

Other posts about my Dad’s treasures…….

A Cowbell

The Fern

A Tender Photo?

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Typhoid Mary- Pandemic Lessons From an Irish Cook

What can we learn from a household cook who lived a century and a half ago?  Turns out quite a lot.

Mary Mallon was born in Ireland in 1869 and emigrated to the United States in 1883 or 1884. She worked as a cook for various wealthy American families and twenty-two people in those homes contracted typhoid fever. Turns out Mary was a carrier of typhoid fever but had no outward symptoms.  Scientists think she may have been responsible for 3000 cases of typhoid fever in New York.  

Mary Mallon when she was initially hospitalized before being sent into isolation

Mary did not want to be tested for typhoid fever or follow any of the protocols recommended by health officials at the time.  Since she did not feel ill she refused to believe she could be carrying a disease. Eventually, police officers forced Mary to submit to tests that proved she was a carrier, she was admitted to hospital and subsequently removed to a cottage on an island near New York in 1907  for two years. Feeling lonely, isolated, and sad at not being able to work Mary tried suing the health department but to no avail.

A new health commissioner finally agreed to free Mary if she promised not to work as a cook where she could contaminate food with typhoid fever, but she ignored that condition, changed her name and went right back to her cooking work this time in a maternity hospital where she passed on the disease to at least 25 people including doctors and nurses. Two died.  

Poster showing how Mary infected people with typhoid in the late 1800s.

She was then returned to the island where she had previously been quarantined and remained there till her death in 1938. Mary was maligned by the press and given the moniker Typhoid Mary. Historians think Mary was a victim in many ways herself, a poor housemaid without an education, who just didn’t understand what was happening to her. It was wrong to have stigmatized her. 

I listened to Mary’s story on a podcast called Throughline which looks at events from the past that can help us understand the present. Mary’s story raises lots of good questions.

An editorial cartoon stigmatizing Mary. Notice her breaking skulls into the pan.

How will we react to people who have COVID-19 or we suspect are carriers or sources of the disease?  Are we stigmatizing them or ridiculing them in any way? Mary was given a hurtful nickname. Think about the way some Asian people have been stigmatized and mistreated because of the virus. Think about the way President Trump calls COVID-19 Kung Flu.  

Does forcing people to live in isolation raise ethical concerns? Mary felt so lonely and purposeless in isolation on her island. Think about the way our most elderly citizens have been impacted by the extreme isolation many have been forced to maintain.

What do we still have to learn about COVID-19 and will we be accepting of the fact that protocols will change as scientists learn more? Before Mary’s case, no one knew that you could carry typhoid fever and be asymptomatic. Think about all the new things we have learned about COVID-19 since the virus was first detected. Are we ready to accept the changes that each new discovery will bring or will we rail against them? Think about the way people have defied the advice to wear masks. I’ve been reading rants on Facebook that belittle the scientific community assuming they should have known everything about COVID-19 when it began. Some critics think scientists aren’t to be trusted because they are changing their advice based on the new things they learn. 

We need to learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.- Albert Einstein

Other posts………..

Victoria Beach- A Checkered Past

Lessons From the Sydney Opera House

Another Shameful Chapter in Canadian History

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Insight and Wisdom From My Daughter-in-Law

My daughter-in-law Dr Karen Leis was on CBC News yesterday offering some important perspectives on sending Canadian children back to school in September.  Karen is the Saskatchewan representative on the Canadian Paediatric Society Board of Directors.

children sitting on brown chairs inside the classroom

Photo by Arthur Krijgsman on

It is still more than two months before schools will start their fall semesters and Karen reminds us two months in the COVID world is a long, long time. There is always new data coming out that may provide additional insights into how COVID-19 relates to children.

 Karen says what we have learned so far is that children around the world have not been as negatively affected by the coronavirus as adults. In Canada, they account for less than one per cent of hospitalizations and there have been no deaths. Researchers will continue to discover more about if and how children may be transmitting the virus asymptomatically as well as symptomatically. 

Dr Karen Leis is the Saskatchewan representative on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Paediatric Society

Karen says the Canadian Paediatric Society is asking governments to carefully consider the balance between the need for public health measures to combat COVID-19 with the risks that social isolation can present for children. While Karen was careful to point out that some children have thrived in isolation with their families she has also seen patients with anxiety, moodiness, behaviour problems and sleep issues related to the current crisis. She reminds us that for some at-risk children school is their safe space where they have relationships with adults they can trust.

Not all parents will feel comfortable sending their children to school in the fall, particularly children who may have chronic illnesses and families will need to make those decisions, perhaps in consultation with their health care provider. 

school children in taiwan channel news asia photo

Karen was asked about children using masks in her radio interview and she said while they are recommended for children over two years of age for short periods in specific situations, masks may not be as effective for children as adults because children tend to touch their masks more and adjust them more frequently. Masks also hinder children from seeing other people’s facial expressions and those expressions play a key role in effective communication. 

In her radio interview, Karen emphasized that governments need to consult teachers as they plan for school re-opening and must make sure schools are provided with the resources they require to implement health guidelines. 

Karen is a fine example of how dedicated health care providers are working hard to learn all they can about COVID-19 and offer the best advice possible to the public.  I’m very proud of her.  

Other posts………….

An Important Letter

Watch Schools and Daycares for Signs of Reopening

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A Scary Visit to the Doctor and Seeing My Former Editor in Print Again

green crest clinicI went to the doctor for the first time since the pandemic hit.  In the fall I decided to be inoculated for shingles. You need two injections not more than six months apart and my six-month deadline was up.  I called my doctor. She said despite COVID-19  it was important for me to get the second injection.

My doctor only works one day a week now. She wouldn’t be at the clinic again for seven days. She recommended I arrange for my shot with the clinic doctor who could see me at the earliest possible date. I called the receptionist. An appointment was available the very next day. 

off to see the doctorI biked the 15 km. to the clinic. The clinic door was locked and I called to say I had arrived and was standing outside.  A receptionist in a mask came to let me into the waiting room that had always been packed with patients on my previous visits. It was now dark and empty, the chairs stacked.  

Only one patient and one doctor are in the clinic at a time. I had to sanitize my hands and would have had to put on one of their masks but I was already wearing my own.  The doctor, dressed in full PPE was efficient and pleasant.  After she had administered my shot I asked about coming in for a regular check-up and she said they wouldn’t be doing those in the near future.  

My clinic visit had me thinking about lots of things.  If only one doctor is at the clinic, out of I’m guessing the more than half a dozen who usually work there, what are all the other doctors doing? If so many people aren’t going to the doctor the way they normally do how are they getting treated for the concerns that usually bring them to the doctor?  Are things like high blood pressure, asthma, arthritis, diabetes, migraines, high cholesterol, and a host of other illnesses just not being detected or treated.  What are the implications of that long term? 

I checked and the cancer screening clinic where I had the routine mammogram my doctor ordered after my last check-up, has been closed since March 19th. How many possible cases of breast cancer will go undetected because of COVID-19? A look at the Cancer Care Manitoba site informs me that routine checks for cervical cancer and colon cancer have also been suspended.  That’s just plain scary. 

I’m protected against shingles now but my visit to the doctor is leaving me feeling vulnerable and worried about my own health and the health of other Manitobans. 

And speaking of frightening medical news Canadian writer Stewart Thompson had a recent article in the New York Times predicting it might take till 2036 to find a reliable vaccine for COVID-19. Just for reference the shingles vaccine I got needed to be tested for six years before it was approved. We may have to look for other solutions than a vaccine to deal with COVID-19. 

madeline on the pianoIf you haven’t already done so check out COVID and the City the 24 stories the Winnipeg Free Press published last night.  They give an amazing window into a day in the life of a city dealing with COVID.  The 7 pm. story called Play It Again Sal is about piano teacher Madeline Hildebrand. I wrote previously about attending a virtual concert Madeline gave in my post-Brew Pub in the Livingroom And Concert Hall in the Bedroom. 

The first story, in COVID and the City, the midnight one, called Pick a Seat, Any Seat is about riding public transit during COVID-19.  It was written by Grant Burr. I am a columnist for the regional newspaper The Carillon and Grant, who has won any number of national awards for his editorials, was my editor at the paper from 2013-2019. Grant is now working for the Winnipeg Free Press. I’ve always admired Grant’s writing and it was nice to see him in print again. 

Other posts…………

600 Million Moments

The Path of Life

A Century is Only a Spoke

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