Category Archives: Health

A Book That Mirrors A News Story

Saturday’s Winnipeg Free Press had an article about a man who while suffering from schizophrenia murdered a fellow bus passenger. This happened nine years ago. The man who committed the murder has been receiving treatment ever since and the Criminal Code Review Board has now determined he can live on his own in the community. The comments people have made online about the article display varying attitudes towards mental health issues.  Many Free Press readers find the review board’s decision difficult to understand and are asking lots of questions. 

cageofstars-cvr-227x350If you want to read a book that addresses this very situation I would recommend Cage of Stars by Jacquelyn Mitchard.  Dave and I listened to an audio version of the novel many years ago and its story raised so many good questions that I put Cage of Stars on the list of books I studied with some of my highschool English classes. In Cage of Stars a schizophrenic man murders two young girls and after rehabilitation and medication he also returns to a regular life with his family and in society.

The parents of the murdered girls are devoutly religious and find it in their hearts to forgive the man who killed their daughters but their older sister simply cannot.  The story shows just how deeply everyone involved is effected, and helps the reader process and think through the many questions that can arise from such a situation. I think the book offers lots of alternative perspectives and could be a starting point for some excellent discussion. 

Other books that would be good for discussion……

Being Mortal

The Illegal

The Elegance of the Hedgehog


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Spacious Places in Hong Kong

During October a set of seven reflections I wrote were featured in Rejoice magazine. The theme of the issue was Faith in the City.  Here is one of my reflections.

rejoiceO God you have tested us. . . . Yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.

Psalm 66: 10-12

Read: Psalm 66: 1-12

Reflect: We moved to Hong Kong when the city was still reeling from the SARS epidemic. People had become virtual prisoners in their homes. Medical professionals who had risked their lives caring for SARS patients remained isolated from their own families. Businesses were recording millions in losses. Real estate prices had plummeted. Tourism had ground to a halt.

Students at teachers at our school during SARS

Students and teachers at our school during SARS

Schools, places of worship, restaurants, and concert halls had shut their doors. People in our Hong Kong church said SARS was a time when the faith of many was severely tested.   

Hong Kong street sweeper

Hong Kong street sweeper

Yet during the six years we lived in Hong Kong, we watched the city make a remarkable recovery. Expanded sanitation and security departments quickly restored its reputation as a clean, safe place. Slowly the tourism industry blossomed and the economy improved.


Chestnut vendors in Hong Kong

Schools, temples, churches and cultural venues reopened and people confidently returned to the routines of daily life.  

Verses 10-12 of Psalm 66 describe a time of severe testing for the community of God’s people. They have been through fire and water. They have been forced to bear heavy burdens. They have felt trapped. the many faces of hong kongPsalm 66 is a prayer of thanksgiving because God has delivered the people from their time of testing and led them to a place of spaciousness and calm.  

Cities, like the community of God’s people in Psalm 66, often go through times of testing. It may be a natural disaster, political unrest, or a medical emergency. The psalmist encourages people to remember to draw close to God as they go through hard times. God can lead them to a more peaceful place.

Other posts…….

Hong Kong Inspiration

Chestnuts Roasting in Hong Kong


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Filed under Health, Hong Kong, Religion

Harriet’s Story

marylou-and-harrietHarriet and I are the same age. She was our friendly hostess at the Lancaster Bed and Breakfast in Bonavista Newfoundland.  One morning she told me the story of a very difficult time for her family.  

When Harriet was five years old her mother was sent away  from their tiny community in Elliston down to St. John’s for almost a year. Her mother had been diagnosed with tuberculosis and rest and treatment in a sanatorium was the only way to battle the disease.  While her mother lived in a sanatorium Harriet’s father was left to cope with five small children.  Harriet’s mother gave birth to another baby while she was in the sanatorium but she couldn’t keep it there, so the little boy went to an orphanage till his mother was better.

Travel to St. John’s was too costly for their family so they didn’t see their mother that whole time.  They didn’t have a phone so the only communication they had with her was by letter and a regular radio broadcast they listened to where sanatorium patients could submit messages to be read to their families. 

colony-of-unrequited-dreamsI found Harriet’s story particularly interesting because I am currently reading The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnson and one of the characters in his Newfoundland novel also gets tuberculosis and spends time in a sanatorium. 

Nurse at the hospital with Oviloo

Nurse at the hospital with Oviloo

In a recent exhibit we had at the Winnipeg Art Gallery Inuit artist Ovillo Tunille used sculptures to tell the story of her stay in a TB sanatorium as a young child.

mom at ninette hospitalOne summer when she was in college my mother worked in a TB sanatorium in Ninette Manitoba. 

Harriet’s story is typical of the experience of thousands of families in Canada who were impacted by tuberculosis. 

Other posts…….

Hearing Naomi’s Story

A Terrifying Story Politely Told

A Titanic Story- Annie Funk

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Filed under Art, Books, Health, Newfoundland, WInnipeg Art Gallery

Walking for Connie 2016

ms walk team 2016On Sunday I joined this great group at The Forks for the MS Walk in memory of my cousin Connie who died of MS in 1997 . I’ve been doing this walk for five years ever since I moved back to Canada from Hong Kong.  Connie’s niece Caryn organizes our efforts each year. Our 2016 team was a little smaller than usual but it was good to get together with family and friends, visit and walk in the beautiful sunshine, and meet for lunch. Before our meal we drank a toast to Connie. Kudos to my amazing Uncle Dave, Connie’s Dad, who picked up the tab for lunch AND walked the whole route.  He is 90 years old! 

connie and me picking strawberries

My cousin Connie and I were born in the same year. That’s me on the left. It’s 1957 and Connie and I are off to pick peas from our Grandma’s garden in Gnadenthal, Manitoba. Connie and I were life long friends.  I’m glad that each year I can honor Connie’s memory by helping to raise awareness about the disease that ended the life of my gifted, brave and accomplished cousin. 

Other posts………

MS Walk -Whoop De Doo Clan 2014

Walking for Connie

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They Inspire Me

gym-room-pixabay - public domainI exercise at a YMCA five or six times a week.  It’s a great place to work out.  People of all sizes and shapes and nationalities and ages use the facilities.  I particularly admire the many octogenarians who show up everyday from a nearby seniors residence.  There is one man, tall, black and wiry, who sings hymns softly as he moves from one weight machine to the next.  There is a tiny Asian lady who can’t speak English but gives me a warm smile and an enthusiastic wave every morning.  There is another white haired woman who comes onto the exercise floor with her walker.  It isn’t easy for her to maneuver onto the seat of the recumbent bike or the rower but she has a system figured out and she manages independently.  One day I was rowing beside another elderly woman with a considerable stoop in her back.  We started chatting and she said, “My children have given up on me and so has my doctor.  They think I should be in a wheelchair.  But they can think what they want.  I’m not giving up on myself.” There’s a man with a shock of white hair who reads the Toronto Globe and Mail as he bikes and another  woman in her eighties who swims, walks and bikes everyday. There’s a First Nations man with a white cane and a grey ponytail who told me he’s keeping fit because his girlfriend likes him that way. 

If I don’t feel like exercising, all I have to do is look at the people twenty or so years my senior at the gym who show up everyday so they can stay as fit and healthy as possible.  I admire them. They inspire me.  

Other posts…….

What Will You Be Building?

Being Mortal

Sitting is the New Smoking

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Spotlight- Could Living to Work Be a Good Thing?

“I decided to work to live rather than live to work.”  I bumped into a former colleague recently who explained his decision to only teach half time with those words. He wanted to be more involved in his children’s lives and pursue some creative passions.  Should one live to work or work to live?  The answer seems obvious but maybe it isn’t.

I just saw the movie Spotlight.  It tells the story of a group of dedicated reporters at the Boston Globe who were the first to break the story of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.  In a city where the church had enormous power they worked doggedly overcoming one obstacle after another, to follow leads, interview victims and confront church officials. The movie shows how their personal lives suffered because of their dedication to the job. One reporter lives alone in a dingy apartment estranged from his wife. I read about another reporter portrayed in the film who said during the time he worked on the story his children came to resent how much he was away from home and were angry about it. One reporter knew her work on the story would jeopardize her relationship with her grandmother. 

SpotlightThe Boston Globe reporters did ‘live to work’ in order to break a very important story. They no doubt saved countless children from abuse that may have continued had they not made the scandal public and forced the church to become accountable.  It was a good thing they ‘lived to work’.  Would they say the sacrifice was worth it?  

There may be times when we need to  ‘live to work’ but in order to be happy and healthy we also need to have spaces in our lives when we ‘work to live.’   It’s a delicate balance. And I realize as I write this that many people in this world have no choice but to ‘live to work’ just to survive.  Having the choice is a gift. 

Other posts……..

Lean In

Getting Up Close and Personal with an Inventor

Mothers and Fathers and Kids


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Filed under Health, Movies, Religion

Being Mortal

I had heard great things about Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. being mortalGawande’s one focus is on how we meet the needs of the elderly, often putting them into institutions more like ‘hospitals’ than ‘homes.’  My father-in-law is in a nursing home and there isn’t a day goes by I don’t think about him there and wonder whether I would want to, or be able to, live in such a setting. My husband has already told me he couldn’t.

Dave and his Dad look at pictures of his great grandson on the computer

Dave and his Dad look at pictures of his great-grandson on the computer

The people who care for my father-in-law are kind professionals. The facility he lives in provides quality spiritual and personal care. But is it really best for all seniors to be housed together in institutional settings?  Gawande offers some ideas for change. He describes cooperatives where seniors pool their money to hire nurse managers, home repair people and meal services that make it possible for them to remain in their own homes.  Gawande tells stories about how interactions with animals and plants and children can improve quality of life for the elderly who are institutionalized. 

My Mom enjoys a boat ride on her last outing to our family cottage

My Mom enjoys a boat ride on her last outing to our family cottage

Gawande’s second focus is on end of life medical care for people of all ages.  He suggests that often in the medical profession’s fight against the diseases that eventually will terminate patients’ lives, their end of life experience is made painful and full of  complicated medical procedures instead of giving them just enough treatment to make it possible for them to enjoy the last days or months of life doing the things that are meaningful and important to them. 

Finally he looks at assisted suicide.  While he thinks this should be an option for people, he cautions that in some countries in which assisted suicide is legal there is no longer as much effort being put into quality palliative care for those who make other end of life choices. 

I found Being Mortal an interesting, thought-provoking read but might have preferred it had Gawande written three books instead of one.  Each issue he addresses is important and worthy of consideration.  As he left each topic to focus on another, I felt like I still wanted more- more ideas, more important questions asked and answered, more stories and more information.  

Other posts………

Teaching Our Children How To Die

What Next? Tubing?

He Hasn’t Lost His Sense of Humour

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