Friday, May 5, 2017

She Didn't Have to be This Way.

Twenty-five-and-bit years ago I carried My Darling Bride across the threshold. If you’ve never met me, I’m not a 6’4” 275 pound hulk; I’m average height, and about 165 lbs. For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health…

Remember that last part.

Around a year after that blessed event, M.D.B. noticed something wasn’t quite right. In spite of running after 2 kids all day, keeping house and working, she was gaining weight inexplicably. It wasn’t like she was lounging on the couch eating bon-bons all day. I did the groceries then (still do), so I know what was in the house. And we ate the same food, in fact, I usually had seconds. 

Also remember that last part.

Something in her metabolism was off.

A trip (or three) to her Doctor to dig into the problem yielded nothing but frustration. He declared her depressed and prescribed happy pills.

That was it for Doctor 1.

The weight kept rising.

I got her in to see my Doctor, who started fresh. She did some tests, changed her diet, and monitored her for diabetes and other such stuff. After one round of tests, she contacted M.D.B. at work and cautioned her that her iron was dangerously low, and she shouldn’t drive. More tests were ordered. Maybe we were getting somewhere. However, before anything was diagnosed, Doctor 2 announced she was pulling up stakes and moving to another city.

By now her face was changing colour and she was developing a pronounced ‘hump’ on her upper back. The scale kept climbing and the extra weight was taking its toll on her knees so she started to use a cane. She once fell straight down from a small step stool and broke her foot in 3 places.

Enter Doctor 3. He decided that her now football sized knees were not arthritic, all she had to do was lose weight. He prescribed a diet clinic, but nothing for her pain. At the diet clinic (Doctor 4) she was prescribed a very high protein/ low carb diet. She gained more weight. During this period her knee gave out one time, she fell 2 feet from a crouching position, and broke her leg.

Sometime around this point, at her Fathers 75th birthday party, she used her Mother’s glucose meter and the reading came back off the scale. Tests from Doctor 3 confirmed Diabetes. Here is a new diet. Not much different than our current diet at the time (remember that?). And here is a bunch of meds, but nothing for pain.

More weight was gained and she was deemed ‘morbidly obese’. In spite of our insistence that it was something metabolic, not diet related, Doctor 3 was convinced all she had to do was eat less. But she eats less than me.

Because of her weight, diabetes and moderately high blood pressure, Doctor 3 refers us to Doctor 5, a Cardiologist, to monitor for heart disease.

In between visits to Doctor 5, M.D.B.’s knee gives out and she falls. A bruise develops on her leg, which progresses into an open sore about the size of a quarter. Doctor 3 prescribes antibiotics, but nothing for the pain and inflammation and refuses to send her to an Ortho for her knees. 

By the time she next visits Doctor 5 a number of weeks later, she’s had several rounds of antibiotics and the open wound is now the size of a toonie. Doctor 5 is aghast and has her immediately admitted to the hospital for wound care. Doctor 6 excises the wound, and she spends a few days on intravenous antibiotics. They both send sternly worded letters to Doctor 3. Doctor’s 5 & 6 probably saved her leg, if not her life. 

In the meantime Doctor 5 sends her to a Sleep Clinic (Doctor 7) and a CPAP machine is soon ensconced in our bedroom.

Back to Doctor 3, which by the way, is also an Ordained Minister. This time, M.D.B. in the wheelchair she uses part time. He tries to sell us his book, still refuses to give her anything for the pain, again denies requests to see someone for her knees, and wants her to consider bariatric surgery. Her knees are the size of footballs and she eats less than me, dammit. It’s not her diet!

She has a hump between her shoulders, both knees are so bad she can’t walk without a cane, and often uses a wheelchair, has cellulitis on both legs, her face is purple and she has sleep apnea. 

We found another Doctor. 

Doctor 8 heard our tale of her woe, and decided to start fresh. A large battery of tests were ordered, medications adjusted (still nothing for pain) and follow ups planned. Then he suddenly retired to care for his terminally ill wife.  

Our file is taken over by a Nurse Practitioner in the same office, but for purposes of this essay, he shall be Doctor 9. More tests. A routine Pap smear shows abnormalities. Off to the Gyno, Doctor 10.

Doctor 10 finds unusual thickening of the uterus. It has to come out, but not until she loses weight.

Doctor 9 orders x-rays on her knees and sends in a referral to an Orthopaedic Surgeon, Doctor 11

Doctor 11 says yes, she needs new knees, but there is a long wait. In the meantime, she gets cortisone. Still no pain meds.

There is a long backlog for knees in our town, so Doctor 9 sends us out of town to see an Arthritis Specialist, Doctor 12. 

Doctor 12 thinks she might have Lupus, orders a bunch of tests. The tests come back negative, so 12 refers us to 13, a Dermatologist.

Doctor 13 says she has Lupus and that the tests were wrong, and orders retests. Same results.

Doctor 13 refers us to Doctor 14, an Internist. 

Doctor 14 orders a fresh battery of tests. He finds something. He finds a high level of Cortisol, the steroid associated with stress. Normal levels are around 40, hers is around 400. The fight-or-flight chemical. Her body was retaining every calorie to be used for mortal combat or to flee in fear. 

Cushing’s Disease.

Wikipedia defines Cushing’s as,”… a collection of signs and symptoms due to prolonged exposure to cortisol. Signs and symptoms may include high blood pressure, abdominal obesity but with thin arms and legs, reddish stretch marks, a round red face, a fat lump between the shoulders, weak muscles, weak bones, acne, and fragile skin that heals poorly.”

Doctor 14 sends us to an Endocrinologist, Doctor 15. 

Doctor 15 works in a clinic with a team of Specialists including 13 & 14. There is also a Phycologist (16), Diabetic Specialist N.P (17), Kinesiologist (18), and Dietician (19)

Doctor 15 sends her for a fresh round of testing, including some special tests, and an MRI. They find a tiny 3 mm tumour on her Pituitary gland.  

Three milimeters.

Doctor 15 orders surgery to remove the tiny tumour. They will go up though her nose and cut it out. This requires an Ear Nose Throat Doctor (20) and a Neurosurgeon (21)

That surgery was a year ago this month and was a success. Her Cortisol levels dropped by half overnight. Recovery was long and rough, though. There was severe Steroid withdrawal. The Cortisol masked her real pain and dulled her other senses. Her sense of smell and taste were now hyperactive. Just the smell of food made her nauseous and she couldn’t eat. Mild steroid replacement was prescribed and that relived the withdrawal. But she was in absolute agony, her knees crunched when she walked and she couldn’t take more than a few steps without aid. Pain relievers were finally prescribed! (this is more than 20 years in!) At The Boris Clinic, Doctor 15 and his team (16, 17, 18 & 19) worked closely with us over the next several months to get M.D.B. back to her old self. Because her case was so complex, we came from out of town, and she needed my assistance to get about they went out of their way to schedule us appointments at least on the same day, if not back to back. Sometimes the other Specialists would seek us out just to chat, even if we didn’t have an appointment. We can’t say enough good things about them.

A year later, the ‘hump’ is gone, the weight is melting off, the cellulitis is clear, her colour is normal, her hair is regrowing in the right spots and her Diabetes is gone. Her last two A1C blood tests came back normal even though she hasn’t been on meds for 6 months. Her sleep apnea is also better and Doctor 5, the Cardiologist, has released her as a patient because the rest of her cardiac symptoms are gone. 

A tiny, 3mm tumor.

The diagnosis and cure came too late for her knees though, they are shot. Doctor 11 has had her on his list for over a year by now.

Doctor 10 still wants to remove her lady parts, but she can’t lose enough weight because she can’t walk. So he is still on hold.

Doctor 9 (remember him? The Doctor that’s not a Doctor.) pokes Doctor 11 to try to get a move on her knees. Doctor 11 won’t even return his calls. Her pain is acute, and she has developed a new pain in her abdomen. Doctor 9 (the one who got the ball rolling to end the Cushing’s) goes into action again.

He tracks down several joint-replacement Specialists within an hour drive and we get into one nearby within a few weeks.

Doctor 22 takes one look at her x-rays and the very next day we have a date for replacement only a few months away. New knee on the horizon!

Doctor 9 also refers her to a Pain Management Doctor (23!). He takes one look at her file and decides to forgo the formalities and head straight to the good stuff. She now has some relief. She’s not pain free, but she can manage.

By now Doctor 9 knows we are both frustrated and proactive. He sends M.D.B. for an ultra sound on her abdomen. While I’m watching, the Technician keeps going back to the same spot. The ultra sound reveals a fist sized mass on her kidney. Benign masses are often associated with Cushing’s.

So, Doctor 9 orders an emergency CT Scan sends us to an Urologist. Doctor 24 reviews the CT and determines the mass is on the Adrenal Gland, and orders an MRI for a better look. The MRI confirms the mass is likely calcified adrenalin.  But he works on Kidneys and related stuff. 

Yesterday he tells us he’s referring us to another clinic.

We meet Doctor 25 soon we hope.

Thank goodness Doctor 9 (the Doctor that's not a Doctor) believes us. 

If Doctor 1 or Doctor 3 had only believed us more than 20 years ago.

She didn’t have to be this way.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Are You Being Served...Politely?

It happened to me again today.

I say again because it's happened many times before, and with increasing regularity.

It's happened to you too, I'll bet.

Rude store clerks.

Now, to be clear I'm not saying , "Go f*&# yourself", rude.

I'm saying, "You, Mr. Customer, are inconveniencing me", rude.

I stopped for gas and the dude behind the counter couldn't be bothered to stop jabbering on his cell phone long enough to even ask if I wanted to use any of my collected points. He just kept blah blah blahing away and merely motioned to me when it was an appropriate time to swipe my cards.

Had I been a regular customer at this establishment, I would have made a note to his Manager.

But it's happened before, and more frequently.

Gas Bars, Corner Stores, the Buck Store... a lot of places, come to think of it. 

I know what it's like to serve a customer. I drove a Taxi and had a cell phone long before call display. If it rang when I had a customer, I either didn't answer it, or told the caller I'd call back. It's the same now.

So I am adopting a new strategy: if I come into your establishment, and you are too rude to put the phone down, I'll wait. If you motion to me to input anything, I'll say, "I'll wait until your not too busy to serve, me, the guy who is giving you money for your service and making it possible for you to jabber away on that $200 smart phone."

Then I won't go back if I can help it.


Friday, May 2, 2014


As you all know, I've been involved with Capital Works Infrastructure (fancy words for roads, sewers, watermains) for many years.

I've been to many meetings where contract interpretation is all about how you hold the page.

I've taken courses in contract law to teach me how to hold the page.

We were at a meeting today where the people who wrote the page couldn't demonstrate how to hold it.

This time, it wasn't involving work, it was involving home...and Zoning Bylaws.

Zoning Bylaws are those laws that you don't know affect you until they affect you.

In one breath we were told it met the Bylaw, and the next breath, it didn't, but the Bylaw need to be amended.

In the next sentence, it was an addition, and it wasn't.

As far as I'm concerned,  it either fits or doesn't fit, pass/fail, or what ever you want to use for black vs. white. 

And the person making the argument for the pass was the person who signed the fail. 

I'm confused, but then I only have a College Diploma and many years experience.

Forgive my confusion...


I can't go into more detail, but yes, it is in regards to The Little Patch Of Grass.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Circumstances Beyond My Control...

Ever have one of those days?

I woke up this morning to -20C temperatures. Not unusual this winter. I work outside. I dress for it.

I packed my lunch, my thermos of coffee and my cup to go and headed out the door into the cold darkness of 6:00 a.m. to start my 60km, 45 minute trek to work. Also not unusual.

About 6:30 and past 1/2 way, circumstances beyond my control began.

My car started to bog down, and by the time I made it from the left lane on the highway to the right shoulder, it stalled.  Otto V. Dub is 13 years old and has more than 450,000 km on the ticker, the odd breakdown can be expected. I have the auto club, so I'm prepared.

The Auto Club answered quickly, and was eager to send me rescue. The lady on the phone was a little confused about my location at first, but after 3 tries she seemed to have me locked in. There is a jog between the north and south bound legs of the highway I am near. I'm just past the northbound exit. The south bound exit is 7km behind me. The phone lady tells me a truck is on it's way, and will be with me somewhere between now and 7:15 a.m.

Unbeknownst to me, whilst I was on the phone arranging my tow, more circumstances beyond my control were unfolding about 2 km ahead of me on the highway.

Transport truck, 3 cars, rollover, fuel spill.

Their day just got a whole lot worse than mine (radio reports that injuries were minor, thank goodness)

I see the traffic slow to a stop, and the radio keeps me informed of what's going on up ahead. I know I'm going to be  here a while now, so I go into action. I kill the hazard lights (not needed now) to spare the battery. To keep the heated seat (worth every penny!) active I cycle the ignition, 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off timed to the traffic reports.  I dig into my work bag and break out my spare gloves, spare socks, snow pants and thermos. Spare gloves into my coat to keep them warm, spare socks between the heated seat and my seat for the same reason.

Next traffic report states that the highway is now closed. Tie up behind me is now 10km. Time to change socks, gloves and have another coffee. Circumstances beyond my control.

This just in...the on ramps in the area are now closed. Circumstances beyond my control.

Repeat calisthenics. Preserve coffee supply.

I repeat this cycle as required until the phone rings at 7:45. It's the Tow Truck Driver. He can't find me. Dispatch sent him to the southbound exit, 7 kms behind me, and he is now stuck in traffic too. He can't use an alternate because the on ramps are closed, remember? And every other driver is clogging the city streets trying to get around the mess.

Circumstances beyond my control.

Just after 8:00 I called the Auto Club back to see if it was them or the Driver that messed up. It was the Auto Club. I told her I was a dissatisfied customer at the moment. Or words to that effect.

Minus 20 Celsius remember?

Had I been less prepared, hypothermia would have set in and I would be in need of an ambulance by now.

At 9:00 a.m. I call the Tow Truck Driver back to see how stuck he is. He is 2 km behind me now. Any minute.

At 9:30 a.m. the truck finally arrives, which is a very welcome relief.

Relief being the key word. Empty thermos = full bladder.

Just 5 minutes shy of 3 hours on the side of the road in freezing temps, in circumstances beyond my control.

As the Boy Scouts say, "Be Prepared"

...and you think swimming in cold water has adverse effects on the male anatomy?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

You think that's cold?

The following entry was inspired by Lorraine Sommerfeld's Motherlode column posted Dec 30th, 2013

It was March Nineteen-Eighty-Something when 3 Soldiers left Brantford for Meaford in a 1951 2 1/2 ton 10 wheel drive Command Post, converted to use as a Supply Vehicle.

I was driving, my best friend in the middle, and another Supply Tech in the co-drivers seat.

It took 3 persons to operate that truck as the transmission leaked so badly you had to add fluid on the fly. A case of fluid under the seat, and a trap door in the floor to access the tranny filler.

We were in shirt sleeves.

North of Guelph the weather started to turn. Rain, then sleet. The vacuum operated wipers failed, and had to be operated manually via the little levers inside. I needed every inch of the 3 foot diameter steering wheel to keep that beast under us, so it was the guy in the middle who had to operate the wipers.

The defrost and heat didn’t work, so the 3rd guy used a squeegee to keep the windshield clean on the inside.
Somewhere near Arthur a spray of fluid (I won’t say beer) covered my glasses. When I took them off my glasses broke in the middle.

On a downhill run.

Buddy One fished my spare pair out from my parka pocket.

Near Owen Sound, it had turned into a full force Bruce Blizzard. Buddy 2 on the outside started to shiver badly. It was another 30 – 45 minutes to Range Rd Diner at the bottom of 7 Mile Hill. When we got there, Buddy 2 was hauled into the ambulance and treated for hypothermia. Buddy 1 left to join his Gun Crew.

That left me alone to get that overgrown wagon up the hill, with no wipers or heat.

 I did the only thing I could do, backed up a full concession, pulled my balaclava down over my face, took a swig of rum, opened the windshield up, kicked in the 10 wheel drive, said a Hail Mary (and I’m not even Catholic) and let her rip.

They said that when I broke the gate at the check point at the top, all 10 wheels were spinning and they could see the icicles on my glasses and mustache.

That, my friends, was cold.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Little Patch of Grass...UPDATED

There exists a little patch of grass outside the south windows of Our Humble Castle.

Not very big, about 40 feet by about 60 feet.

A cedar tree on the corner of that little patch of grass that was no bigger than our toddler's were when we moved in 20 years ago.

Not ours, but looks like ours.

It belongs to The Duplex around the corner, and because of the lot configuration and building locations, looks like a side yard for both our properties.

When we moved into Our Humble Castle, the sunlight reflecting off the snow covering that little patch of grass warmed our home, our plants, our pets and our hearts.

Still does.

When the snow melted, it became apparent that no one was going to mow that little patch of grass, so I did. The then Owner of The Duplex was an Absentee Landlord, as have all the others have been since. (seven, by our count) Some of them maintained that little patch of grass, some did not.  Over the years, I've mowed that little patch of grass and cleared the walks for some of the Absentee Landlord's.

Sometimes because they asked.

Sometimes because I had to.

I entered into Gentleman's Agreements with some owners, maintaining that little patch of grass in exchange for use of it when Canada Day parties got large.

A few years ago, a tenant of The Duplex planted some nice flowering shrubs along the edge of that little patch of grass, close to the street. They didn't look like they were going to make it that first summer, so I watered them along with my own flowers and plants.

It makes for a nice little corner; flowering shrubs, that cedar tree is over my eaves now, and a blue spruce we planted our first spring here (it had been our Christmas tree the year before) is about 25 feet high now.

In May of this year, The Duplex was purchased by yet another Absentee Landlord. He immediately got into a disagreement with one of the current Tenants (a nice, quiet guy) who served notice and moved out. When Thing 2 was looking for a place to live, she applied and when the Absentee Landlord found out we were her parents, he signed her right up.

He told me when we signed the lease that he was going to make an addition to the rear of The Duplex next year, and that was fine.

What he didn't disclose was a plan to erect a whole new structure on that little patch of grass.

Not fine.

The implications of this new building on Our Humble Castle would be tremendous. I did calculations and made drawings that demonstrated that it would block our sunlight for 6 months a year, leaving us in a dungeon. There are also many engineering problems involving soil conditions, water tables, sewers and foundations.

But mostly it's the sunlight, or proposed lack thereof.

M.D.B. spends a lot of time at a table beside one of those windows, sewing and crafting. Preparing dinner. Visiting with friends. Watching the world on that street. What would she do if there was no sunlight?

There would be no more scenes of the dog and cat curled up in the same warm patch on a February afternoon.

Dark and stark for about half the year.

The Absentee Landlord of The Duplex needs variances and approvals for his plan, and at a meeting in July, he got told by The City to go back and try again. His plans weren't complete.

So now he's trying again, with virtually the same plan..

We will be at that meeting again, fighting to keep our sunlight...

...and a little patch of grass.

 I'm fighting for the right to mow someone else's lawn?

Well the City turned the Absentee Landlord of The Duplex down.

So the little patch of grass is safe.

For now.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Unwritten Instructions

Holy poop!

Has it really been 6 months?


Time flies when your having fun...working on a classic travel trailer, fixing cars, having Grandchildren, working overtime, etc.

O.K. Some of those excuses were lame, but all true.

This one is for the gear-heads among you...and the people who love them.

If any of you have worked on a vehicle built since 1970, you know that some of the jobs that were simple in the past have become much more complicated.

Changing the fuel pump on a 1960's era 292 CID  GMC motor took 2 wrenches and 10 minutes...changing the fuel pump on most newer vehicles involves removing the fuel tank.

Changing a fuel filter was 2 hose clamps... now it may be in the tank.

Changing the air filter on an old car involved removing a wing nut.

I changed an air filter last week.

The instructions (if I had some) would have read, "Un-clip 2 clips on Air Box, loosen air plenum clamps, remove lower hose, remove air box housing, replace filter. Re-install in reverse." They would not likely have pointed out that you have to disconnect or remove 3 sensors, loosen throttle cable assembly, and skin at least one knuckle getting the breather hose out.

Sure there are how to books, with written instructions, diagrams and photo's of smiley people doing work on their own vehicles with clean hands and no effort.

...and they are all wrong.

I have used those books in the past, and used the internet in the present, and almost all of the resources I have found leave out some important steps.

Last week, I started a tune up on Geri R. Buick, our 2004 Rendezvous. At 230,000 km she still had the factory plugs and wires. I say started because like with most front wheel drive V6's, the front three spark plugs and wires are easy to get to.  When it came time to get at the back three, I relied on past experience to get me through.

I tried from the top first. I could touch one wire. There was nothing I could easily remove to get at anything else.

I tried from the bottom next. Same result, same wire.

I put everything away and decided to do some research and get it done this weekend. (It was cold out)

So I consulted the internet. "It's easy", they all said...
  1. Remove air intake hose (and the 3 sensors, skinning at least one knuckle. See above)
  2. Remove upper torque link bolts
  3. Chock wheels
  4. Shift into neutral
  5. Use a ratchet strap to roll engine forward
  6. Taa Daa, Bippity-Boppity-Boo and Bobs' your Uncle! You can change the plugs and wires! They will practically fall out! 
  7. Ha! We fooled you!
  Here are the missing steps...
  1. Remove upper radiator hose
  2. Spill coolant on everything nearby
  3. Perform steps 1 thru 5 above
  4. Attempt to get your hands around, over, or beside distributor assembly
  5. Number all 6 plug wires before removing distributor assembly
  6. Unplug 4 control plugs to distributor assembly
  7. Disconnect alternator to give yourself enough room to get at rear mounting bracket nuts
  8. Remove distributor assembly nuts and bolts using 2 different size wrenches
  9. Consider removing wiper drive arms to get distributor assembly out
  10. Wiggle and twist distributor assembly until it breaks free of the 2 inch long studs on the rear
  11. You may now access the rear spark plugs and wires, Mortal.
Three spark plugs and wires...4 hours

Here are some more of  what I call, "Unwritten Instructions."

1990's Windstar # 1,3 & 5 Spark Plug Removal:
  1. Remove radio antenna (I kid you not) 
  2. Remove wiper blades
  3. Remove cowl cover
  4. Remove heater duct
  5. Remove spark plug wires and plugs
1988 Sunbird Starter Removal:
  1. Remove passenger side front wheel 
  2. Reach though steering opening to remove starter bolts
  3. Remove heater blower. 
  4. Pull starter out and up through top (The starter is on the other side of the car, you just can't get it out that side)
2000's Jetta Starter Removal:
  1. Remove Auxiliary Fuse Panel
  2. Remove Battery
  3. Remove Battery Box (rear starter mounting bolts are under the battery)
1980 GM X-Body Clutch Removal:
  1. Remove engine (it's easier than pulling the trans-axle)
1990's Caravan #5 Spark Plug Removal:
  1. Can't be done 
These are only a sample of what I have encountered.

I hope these tips help you in your quest to perform simple (!) auto maintenance, and if you have any tips to pass along, feel free.

To think, I once wanted to be a mechanic.