Category Archives: Health

Golden Boy- A Novel That Reflects Reality in Tanzania

A novel I read during our time in Tanzania was Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan.

It is the story of a young albino man named Habo. Habo’s poor eyesight, something associated with being albino, means he hasn’t learned to read or write. His light eyes, yellow hair and white skin make him the target of his brothers’ cruelty, cause his father to abandon the family, and place his mother and sister in danger because poachers in Tanzania receive top dollar for the body parts of albino people that are thought to bring good luck. One of these poachers is after Habo.

Although I didn’t know it when I chose the book its story begins in a village near Arusha, a city we visited that is not far from where we were based during our time in Tanzania.

Eventually, Habo’s family is forced to leave Arusha and travels across the Serengeti (where we travelled on our safari) to stay with relatives in the city of Mwanza. When the threat from poachers becomes even more imminent there Habo decides to begin a journey all on his own to the city of Dar Salaam where things are not as dire for albino people.

His trip is dangerous and difficult but once there he is befriended by an elderly blind wood carver named Kweli and his life takes a gradual turn for the better.

Tara Sullivan – author of Golden Boy

Golden Boy was published in 2013 when the danger to albino people was at an all-time high in Tanzania. Since then an international outcry has resulted in new laws, stricter policing and a promise of more protection for albino children. However those in outlying villages remain in danger as this article points out.

When we visited the Step by Step Learning Centre in Arusha, the city where the novel character Habo initially lived, we met a young adult albino woman who had been in a horrible home situation where she was traumatized and abused before being adopted and taken in by a kind woman in Arusha who enrolled her at the school.

Her family had told her she was mentally challenged and would never learn to read or write but after being given time to heal from her trauma it turned out she was very intelligent and like Habo does in the book eventually became literate. She has now graduated from the Learning Centre and will be hired as a worker there.

I won’t use her name but it was lovely to see her smiling and looking so happy. She was confident enough to let me take her photo, something Dr Margaret Kenyi, the centre director approved of as well, since she thinks the story of albino children in Tanzania is one that needs to reach as wide an international audience as possible.

I always like to read a book set in a country I am travelling to. I had no idea when I chose Golden Boy just how appropriate and meaningful it would be.

Other posts……..

Freedom’s Child

Two Boys, Two Books, Two Sad Stories

Meeting the Street Children of Delhi

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Health Care Heroes

In his Christmas message to Canadians Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid special tribute to the healthcare professionals who continue to do their vital work during the holiday season when many others have time off from their jobs.

The importance of the prime minister recognizing those who work in health care had personal significance for me as I thought about my visits to my father in his nursing home during the Christmas season.

Dad conducting along while the staff as his nursing home sing carols for the residents

At the Christmas party on his ward, I watched as the staff sang carols for the residents, danced with them, hugged them and served them and their family members food.

Dad receiving his blessing from St. Nicholas

One took the role of St. Nicholas and gave a special blessing to each resident. Volunteer instrumentalists serenaded us, while the kitchen staff provided a beautiful array of party food.

Photo of Dad and me at the Christmas party on his ward

The social workers and recreation coordinators went around taking photos of all the residents with their family members who had come to the party.

Dad with three of his children last week

I had arranged to bring Dad to my place last Sunday for a small Christmas gathering of his Winnipeg children. The nursing home staff had made sure Dad was all ready for his outing, had been shaved and bathed, was dressed nicely, had taken his medications, and had his outdoor clothing on hand.

On Christmas Day and Christmas Eve when I visited Dad some of the staff had dressed in Christmas sweaters, and others wore Santa hats. The menu included a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings and the ward was decorated with a tree and wreaths and lights.

The ward was fully staffed on both Christmas Day and Christmas Eve and I realized all the people there had forfeited being with their own families to care for the family members of other people including my Dad.

Visiting Dad on Christmas Day

My Dad is in a ward for people with advanced dementia and the work is often challenging and difficult. But the staff are almost unfailingly kind and understanding and always welcoming to us as a family.

They definitely deserve special recognition not only at Christmas but all year round. They are certainly heroes in my eyes.

Other posts……….

Wraggling Along

Our Dad is Dancing

Dad’s Fern

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Filed under Family, Health, Holidays

Should I Have to Pay?

My husband Dave and I are going to Africa in January and need to take malaria medication for our travels. Dave was seeing his family physician on another matter recently and his doctor readily provided a prescription for the malaria medication as part of Dave’s appointment.

I phoned my doctor to get a similar prescription and she said I needed to come and see her in person to receive one. She also reminded me that it had been over a year since my last check up.

I called her receptionist and explained the situation. Could I have an appointment for a check up and receive my malaria prescription at the same time? “No problem,” the receptionist said.

However at my check up appointment on Friday my doctor said the malaria prescription would have to be dealt with in a separate appointment on its own, which could be carried out via the phone today, Monday.

I wasn’t sure why she couldn’t just write the prescription then and there, since she knows all about my health having been my physician for a decade, and…… I had given both her and the receptionist the heads up that I was coming in to get the malaria prescription. I asked my doctor about giving me a prescription immediately but she was firm. Another appointment would be required.

When I talked to the receptionist to book the phone appointment for the prescription she informed me that because that phone appointment was travel related I would be charged $50. I explained my husband’s doctor had not charged an extra fee. The receptionist said my doctor would. I told her I would think about the appointment and call her later.

Now I’m not sure what to do. I don’t begrudge my doctor the $50 if Manitoba Health will not reimburse her for our phone appointment because it’s travel related, although I don’t understand why the phone appointment is even necessary. My husband didn’t need one. And one would think Manitoba Health would want me to return home healthy so I don’t end up in the hospital costing them money later, so why wouldn’t they pay for the call? I will after all be paying for the medication myself.

But I can’t get the malaria medication without a doctor’s prescription. I am tempted to switch doctors to one who doesn’t charge for special services. I have been thinking of doing that anyway because my doctor’s clinic is almost an hour long bus ride from my home.

But of course finding a new family doctor in Winnipeg is often a challenging process which is why I have one so far from my home in the first place. She was the only one I could find taking new patients when I first moved to Winnipeg and I’d looked for months after my move.

I guess I will just have to pay the money to get the malaria medication prescription.

I am not even quite sure why I find this frustrating.

Maybe it’s because my husband and I are being treated differently in this situation for some reason. But of course I know many people experience discrimination in their medical care so I shouldn’t complain.

Now that I’ve vented to you about this I will go and call my doctor’s clinic to book my $50 phone appointment that will probably last for all of one minute. I’m just glad most of my health care expenses are covered in Manitoba. Maybe it’s good for me to find out just how expensive those services would be if I always had to pay for them.

Other posts………

Is Favouritism Just Another Kind of Discrimination?

I Wasn’t Planning to Read This Book

A Boy Named Tommy Douglas

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What’s Microchimerism and What Does It Have to Do With Christmas?

I learned about microchimerism for the first time in a sermon I read by Pastor Carol Penner given at First Mennonite Church in Vineland Ontario.

The Visitation by Raphael in the Prado in Madrid

Microchimerism occurs during pregnancy when cells from the mother are transferred to her fetus and………… this was something I never knew before…………… cells from the fetus are transferred to the mother.

In her sermon, Carol talked about how each of us has a unique DNA signature in all our cells. Our bodies can’t tolerate cells with someone else’s DNA which is why when people have organ transplants they have to take potent anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives to fool their bodies into accepting someone else’s cells.

But……. pregnancy is an amazing exception. A mother’s body not only tolerates the cells with foreign DNA that exist in the child growing in her uterus, she actually nurtures those cells and……….. her body does not destroy the baby’s cells with alien DNA that transfer into her body and remain there for the rest of her life.

Madonna del Parto by Piero della Francesca

The microchimeric cells that transfer from baby to mother don’t just sit in the mother’s body they grow and multiply and travel to many different places, especially to places where the mother’s body has been injured or damaged.

Scientists are discovering that if a woman gets cancer even decades after she has given birth, microchimerism cells from her child that remain in her body help fight cancer. This may explain why women who have been pregnant have a better prognosis when they get breast cancer.

Morning Star- photo by Kristyn Brown from her Modern Portrayal of Catholic Saints Project

But……….. and this was the most amazing thing for me……… the cell transfer from your child to you doesn’t happen when you give birth it happens in the very early stage of pregnancy.

So even if a woman loses a child that transfer of cells has already happened and the mother will carry the DNA of the child she lost for the rest of her life.

I had three lost pregnancies and even now forty years later, I find comfort in knowing that some cells from those children I never knew are still part of me and will be till I die.

Statue of a pregnant Mary I photographed in a cathedral in Evora Portugal

Carol Penner uses microchimerism in her sermon as an example of how amazing our created bodies are and how during pregnancy love is a two-way street between mother and child as they exchange cells that can nurture and heal. She thinks it is no accident that the Jesus of the Bible came into the world via the body of a pregnant woman.

I am reminded that during his life Jesus encouraged us to make love a two-way street running between God and us and our neighbour.

Other posts………

What If God Is Just a Stranger on a Bus?

She Was 13 Years Old

A Pregnant Mary and a Mary With Knives in Her Heart

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Filed under Health, Religion

Safe Injection Sites

Photo by Alex Koch on

Should we have safe injection sites for drug users in our province? The current Conservative government says they believe such sites aren’t effective and may produce unintended negative consequences for the community.

Instead, they want to pursue a recovery-oriented approach and are promising to create up to a thousand new beds in drug treatment centres. The Conservatives have yet to give a timeline for when this expansion will happen or reveal how much money they will commit to the initiative. 

The New Democratic Party has promised to open safe injection sites if they are elected next fall. They call on the government to establish a panel of experts on addictions to provide guidance on the best way to address the current drug crisis.  

The two major political parties are offering different views on how to handle the drug addiction wave that is at the heart of so many other problems in our province including homelessness, poverty, and crime. Who is right? 

An October 5th article in The Scientific American cites research that indicates safe injection sites around the world reduce the risk of overdose, death, and the spread of infectious diseases. They increase public safety because addicts aren’t shooting up in public places like parks and libraries.   Supervisors at injection sites have an opportunity to offer users counselling and encourage them to pursue long-term solutions to their addictions. 

A safe injection site in Vancouver- photo Vancouver Coastal Health

Manitoba’s Mental Health and Community Wellness Minister Sarah Guillemard disagrees. After visiting safe injection sites in Vancouver, she doesn’t think they are the best way to help those with addictions. 

Interestingly a Los Angeles Times reporter Anita Chabria who went to Vancouver in May to investigate the safe injection sites there came up with a different opinion.  The state of California was considering opening safe injection sites, so Chabria’s newspaper sent her to Vancouver to do the story.

Chabria says what she saw there left her convinced safe injection sites are necessary in order to prevent death and disease even though longer-term solutions must be found.  Chabria admits visiting the Vancouver injection sites was heartbreaking and gut-wrenching. 

Last year I watched a documentary called The Meaning of Empathy. It told the story of the opioid crisis ravaging the Kainai First Nation in Alberta. Esther Tailfeathers a doctor there believes both harm reduction methods and detox and treatment centres are necessary. 

A public demonstration in support of safe injection sites- photo by Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press

That’s also the view of Shohan Illsley executive director of the Manitoba Harm Reduction Network which held a round dance at a busy Winnipeg intersection last week to highlight the need for safe injection sites in Manitoba. She said the Conservative government’s plans for increased treatment beds at some point in the future are a good thing but they won’t save lives today. Last year over 400 Manitobans lost their lives to drug overdoses. 

In the United States, only 30% of the public believes safe injection sites are a good idea.  In Canada, the rate is closer to 60%.  Why the difference?  More Americans buy into the notion that drug use is a moral failing while more Canadians understand substance abuse is a disease often connected to inherited genetic factors. 

Photo by Nick Youngson

The Conservative government is to be commended for recognizing the need to address the addiction crisis in our province.  Hopefully, their plan to increase treatment spaces will be carried out in a timely, adequately-funded way. But it would seem the New Democratic Party also has a point when they say safe injection sites are needed in our province.  The funding of both approaches may be wisest if we want to save lives and change futures. 

Other posts……..

She Had A Baseball Bat

I Slept Right Through It

From the Ashes and Getting Fired


Filed under Health

Too Miraculous to Be True?

I was introduced to author Caroline Starr Rose when she invited me to be one of the writers she interviews regularly on her popular blog. The series called Straight From the Source features middle-grade historical fiction writers and asks them about their craft. You can read my interview here.

I am not sure how Caroline, a successful author with eight books to her name, heard about me. But I was certainly happy to learn about her, and have enjoyed following her blog. Her latest novel is called Miraculous. It came out in July of this year and I have just finished reading it.

Caroline chronicles the era of the travelling medicine show in Miraculous. The novel takes place in 1887. A con artist Dr Kingsbury has made a stop in Oakdale where he is pedalling a tonic he has concocted that he claims is sure to cure almost anything that ails people.

Kingsbury is accompanied by a 13-year-old boy named Jack who works for him and over the course of the novel discovers his employer is a fraud. Should he reveal what he knows? Jack also finds out that in the past when Dr Kingsbury’s assistants learned “too much” they mysteriously disappeared. What fate awaits Jack if he tells the truth?

Caroline tells her story through Jack’s voice but also from the point of view of various Oakdale residents- Cora a young woman ready for adventure who befriends Jack, Walter Ogden the local school teacher, Eloise Moore who runs a millinery shop in town and Silas Carey a man who has returned to Oakdale to make peace with a troubling experience he had there as a young man.

Image from the Museum of the Appalachia

Caroline is a stickler for historical authenticity and has based her character Dr Kingsbury on the real charlatans who took advantage of the fact that in the 1800s most rural communities didn’t have access to a doctor and didn’t have much medical knowledge. They were easily duped into believing the frauds who came pedalling their patent medicines.

But Caroline’s story has a modern application too. There are still people who try to trick the public into buying medications that don’t work.

I’ve been struggling with tinnitus lately and doing some research online. Of course, that means my social media has been flooded with offers for all kinds of cures- organic oils, hypnosis, earplugs, pills and supplements. When I was finally able to see an audiologist and told him about some of these treatments he dismissed them all with a wave of his hand. “There is no cure,” he said. “You just have to learn to live with it.”

Patent Medicine ad from the 1800s- from University of Miami library- Public Domain

In Miraculous Caroline uses an exciting story to bring alive a part of history that hasn’t often been addressed in books, especially books for young people. Her novel is not only entertaining but educational as well.

Other posts……….

The Architects Apprentice

Banning Books for Kids

Writing Historical Fiction


Filed under Books, Health

Art to Inspire

One of the things I love about my job at the Winnipeg Art Gallery is that I am always meeting new people and learning new things. That happened again this past week when I was asked to help out with our Art to Inspire program.

It was led by one of our Learning and Programs Coordinators Colleen Leduc who is an art educator and certified art therapist. She is so warm and inviting that everyone attending immediately felt at ease.

Photo from the Winnipeg Art Gallery website

Art to Inspire was designed and developed in consultation with the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba and the University of Manitoba College of Rehabilitation Sciences. Attendees typically come in pairs, a caregiver along with someone who has received an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis.

When I helped out on Wednesday we had mother-daughter pairs, husband and wife pairs, and a friend duo. We met in a window-lined sunny studio looking out over the gallery’s rooftop. We introduced ourselves, enjoyed tea and cookies and conversation and then went into the art gallery to sit in front of a trio of paintings and talk about them.

It was a lively discussion and although the paintings we were looking at were ones I’d viewed many times in my decade of working at the gallery, I learned new things and gained new perspectives from our discussion.

One of the paintings we discussed was Frederick Horsman Varley’s View From the Artist’s Bedroom Window, Jericho Beach 1929.

Later we returned to the studio and everyone was invited to make a watercolour painting. One of the artworks we viewed was from the perspective of someone looking out a window and so participants were invited to paint a window view as well. The work they produced was unique and amazing. People admired one another’s artwork and talked about it before heading home.

I discovered later that several other Winnipeg public places have been inspired by the Winnipeg Art Gallery and have designed similar programs of their own which are featured on the Discover and Explore page of the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba site.

Participants in the Journeys Through the Zoo program- Photo from the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba site

Tales along the Trail takes place at the Fort Whyte Nature Center, Journeys Through the Zoo at Assiniboine Park and Now and Then a Journey Through Time is at the Manitoba Museum.

I so enjoyed my afternoon with the lively and interesting group on Wednesday who not only had astute observations to offer about art but about politics, travel, history, life and family as well. I hope I’ll get to help with Art to Inspire again.

Other posts……….

Siloam Mission At the Winnipeg Art Gallery

Four Grandmothers

What Talent!

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Filed under Art, Health

Walking and Talking

I was riding my bike to the grocery store the other day and stopped to let some pedestrians cross the street. There were three groups of three people each and a man in the first group said, “Thanks for stopping. We are having a meeting and we might not have noticed you because we were so busy talking.”

Obviously, these folks worked together and they had decided to have a meeting while they walked.

I was curious about that and went online to learn more. Apparently, walking meetings are quite common these days. The idea really caught on during the pandemic when meeting outside was healthier and safer than meeting indoors.

Photo credit-Nicole Garris Lorey

Four different articles I read said research shows when colleagues discuss things at the same time as they walk they think more creatively, have more honest exchanges, are more focused and engaged, connect more closely with their colleagues, communicate better and get more accomplished than they would in a traditional sit-down meeting.

A couple of added benefits are that employees of companies that have walking meetings are more likely to report they like their job and, of course, there is always the added bonus of getting much-needed exercise at the same time as you work.

Photo from Ontario Tech University

A school administrator I know says he sometimes breaks his staff into groups to go for a walk and discuss things. I know some teachers who do that with their students too.

Apparently walking meetings ARE the future. I wish we would have had them when I was in the workforce but I think I’m going to suggest them for some committees I serve on now.

Other posts……….

I Love A Walking Holiday

Taking a Cowboy For a Walk

Walking the Skerwink Trail

MS Walk

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Too Late For Mom But She Would Be Happy

I was happy to read construction had begun on a new renal unit at the Steinbach Bethesda Hospital. Patients from the area will be able to receive kidney dialysis close to home.

My Mom had kidney dialysis for six years

My mother required dialysis for six years before she died, and my father faithfully shepherded her to more than a dozen appointments each month. 

When Mom was first diagnosed with kidney failure she and Dad were living in Steinbach and that meant three trips a week into Winnipeg to the St. Boniface Hospital where Mom had her treatments.

Mom was 81 and my dad was 79 when Mom’s dialysis began, and we children were very concerned about them travelling to the city through all kinds of weather year-round. Mom was so weak and tired after each treatment.  How much easier it would have been for her if she hadn’t needed to make the trip to Steinbach before she could rest.

I was living in Hong Kong at the time. My siblings were in Winnipeg, and all had demanding careers. We couldn’t help with driving and even if we had been available to be of assistance it was unlikely my fiercely independent father would have accepted help.

My Dad wanted to be at every appointment with Mom. A retired physician Dad knew all the nuances of Mom’s illness and was a walking encyclopedia of her medical history something that often came in handy when there were problems with Mom’s treatments. 

My Mom with three of her good Steinbach friends

Although we urged my parents to move to Winnipeg they refused. Steinbach had been their home for more than forty years and they had a huge network of friends there as well as a supportive church family, and all kinds of community involvements that were meaningful and life-giving for them. 

One of Mom’s goals when she began dialysis was to live long enough to attend the high school graduations of each of her grandchildren and she did.

Instead of planning to move, Dad began investigating whether a renal unit could be built in Steinbach. He had meetings with politicians, government health officials and the Bethesda Hospital where he had worked as a physician himself for decades.

Dad made it clear he would be willing to make a substantial financial contribution towards the establishment of a renal unit in Steinbach. But it was not to be. Various issues did not make a dialysis unit a possibility at the time.  

Dialysis extended Mom’s life so she was able to enjoy special moments like the celebration of her and Dad’s 60th wedding anniversary

So, Dad continued to drive Mom to Winnipeg, while we children continued to encourage them to move there. 

Mom with one of her grandsons in her new apartment in Winnipeg

Finally, four years later in 2010, they took ownership of a new apartment in a seniors’ complex built by the Mennonite Church in the Lindenwoods area of the city. As their family, we breathed a sigh of relief knowing Mom who was now 85 and Dad who was 82 would no longer be making all those trips to Winnipeg.

However, we recognized how hard it would be for them to start over in a new place, a new church, and a new community after living in Steinbach for so long. 

Mom passed away in 2013 after Dad had taken her to more than a thousand dialysis treatments. 

Although the renal unit at the Bethesda Hospital is coming too late to be of service to our family we are so glad other people will not have to experience the same thing our parents did.

The new unit will mean more than twenty patients will be able to receive their treatments close to home, allowing them to remain in the community where they have roots and friendship connections and a support network. 

A renal unit for Steinbach was something my parents dreamed of and put considerable effort into trying to establish. I know they would both be pleased that it is finally becoming a reality. 

Other posts………

Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore

My Mother’s Friends

Grace Mennonite Church

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Filed under Family, Health

Do I Like My New Fitness Tracker?

I bought a fitness tracker about a month ago and I am trying to decide whether I like it or not.

On the plus side……..

I wanted to be motivated to walk at least 10,000 steps a day and I think the tracker has inspired me to do that. Often at the end of the day if I am just a thousand or so steps short I will do a quick walk, sometimes even in the hallways of my condo building to bring me up to the 10,000 steps.

I’ve come to realize how many steps I can put in just doing things around the house and it’s good to be reminded that even getting up and moving around my home has benefits.

One feature I like about the fitness tracker is that it automatically records how many hours I sleep. I know I need to get more sleep to be really healthy and my tracker tells me each morning how many hours I’ve had which is good for me.

On the con side………

I don’t know how accurate my fitness tracker is because when I wear it and also carry my phone, say on a trip to the grocery store, the step tracker on my phone will record far more steps than the tracker on my wrist. Apparently different trackers can vary wildly in the number of steps they record.

Much of the technology of the tracker is beyond me. My fitness tracker offers other programs like receiving messages, recording workouts, taking your heart rate and measuring distance and calories burned but I can’t do all that yet. I have replaced my watch with my tracker and sometimes I can’t even figure out how to find the time or date on it.

I know to be really healthy I need to engage in a more intense exercise like cycling or lifting weights several times a week and sometimes I worry my fitness tracker lulls me into complacency about that.

The jury is still out on whether my fitness tracker was a good investment or not. I didn’t buy an expensive one so I won’t feel too guilty if I decide using it isn’t worthwhile. I will keep you posted.

Other posts………

10 Reasons Green Exercise Is Good For You

Exercise is a Celebration


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