One Iconic Bridge Comes Down – Others Have Been Built Up

In 1982 Roberta and I were married the same weekend that a now iconic movie came out. But that’s not the movie I want to talk about-I’ve said enough about that movie already*. However, that same year another movie was released that also became something of an legend. It was a fairly low budget piece about an Vietnam vet and Green Beret who runs afoul of a corrupt local sheriff, and in a haze resulting from what would now be called post traumatic stress, goes on a rampage piling up body bags filled with local law enforcement. The movie was First Blood, the actor was Sylvester Stallone and the character was John Rambo.

Kawkawa Bridge banner

A banner goes up on the Kawkawa Bridge marking the end of an icon.

So why do I bring this up? Well this week, in the town of Hope B.C. where the movie was shot, they are tearing down the bridge on which Rambo was first arrested by Sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy). It has been a tourist spot for nearly 30 years but the creosote coated timbers are finally becoming unsafe and an environmental hazard; so, down it comes.

In my opinion First Blood was the best of the Rambo movies for a couple of reasons. First, as much fun as some of the others were, First Blood is the only plot that is remotely probable. There are no fortresses to be taken down, no armies of trained soldiers, just a lot of local deputies and state troopers up against a man that the U.S. Military turned into a killing machine – a killing machine gone over the deep end.

The second reason I like the first Rambo over all the others is that it is the only one that comes close to properly addressing the real problem of the Vietnam vet and many veterans in general. What do you do with a person whose one life skill is the ability to end a life, in a variety of extremely effective ways? Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a very real injury that many vets face. Most of them don’t go on killing rampages in mountain towns but they are certainly just as dysfunctional in a society that has no use for them any longer.

Which makes the timing of this event in B.C. interesting; because as this bridge comes down Canadian troops are coming home, and many of them will be facing PTSD themselves. And what will their fate be? Will they get the help that they need to deal with the after effects of their ten year mission? I hope so; because historically the Canadian government, like so many in the western world, have spent most of their time trying to shift the blame for a soldier’s trauma to something other than combat. And that is a national shame.

Throughout our history it seems that Canadian soldiers serving overseas have won the respect and admiration of everyone except their own government; and it doesn’t seem to matter which party is in power. Through two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and now Afghanistan, local populations have come to love and cherish the memories of what our men and women in uniform have done for them. They fully comprehend the value of the sacrifice that has been made on their behalf by people with no reason to be there other than the cause of freedom. Meanwhile, back home, those same soldiers have to battle the government that sent them to war for the basic necessities of life, and for help to deal with the after effects of their time in service.

Some research suggests, but has not yet fully confirmed, that a contributing factor in PTSD can be an uncertainty about the value of the mission the soldier has just been through. When victory is clear and well defined, trauma is lessened; when the victory is less certain, symptoms of PTSD increase.

If that’s true then this might well be one of the toughest missions Canadian troops have ever faced. Unlike WW1 & WW2 the success of the Afghanistan mission is not so clear. The Taliban is still a clear and present danger and the future of community projects started by Canadians is uncertain. One hopes the Americans will be able to continue the work that we have started, keeping schools open and encouraging women to take control of their own destinies, but with the economic crisis currently being faced by the Obama government nothing is guaranteed.

What is certain however, is that like those who came before them, our troops have done their country proud. By all reports, many people are grateful for the efforts our men and women have made. A friend of mine who returned from Afghanistan just a few weeks ago tells many encouraging stories about the difference we have made in that country and the regret expressed by local people at the departure of our troops. Much of it is because the ill equipped troops that first arrived ten years ago (they actually were sent on a desert mission with green forest camouflage gear)  have since been properly re-equipped and given a wide range of modern, high-tech equipment and supplies enabling them to perform beyond expectations.

The support from home has also been encouraging. From the shipping of care packages to our bases in Kandahar and the famed ‘Highway of Heroes‘, Canadians have shown their troops the support they need as they continue to build bridges between Canada and struggling communities around the world.

Now let’s hope and pray that the Harper government will give them the tools they need to deal with their personal struggles as enthusiastically as they equipped them for combat.

Until next time… Shalom.


*No, I’m not naming it. Have fun figuring it out.

A Change of Perspective

My Bus.

My bus ride home. Not my bike though.

With my bike in the shop for a couple of days for a tune-up and new tires I’m riding the bus once again. Now, this is not a new experience, I ride the bus daily about 5 months a year; however, every time I ride the bus during cycling season I’m struck by how different everything looks.

When I’m on my bike my focus is, of course, on the traffic. I’m watching for where the cars are every minute because, for the most part, they aren’t looking for me. With one eye on traffic, the other eye is on the pavement ahead of me watching for potholes, sewer grates, broken glass etc. My Hardcase® tires are tough, but they aren’t impenetrable; they take a hit once in a while. As a result there isn’t a lot of time for taking in the surroundings when I’m rolling through traffic on my way to work.

On the bus however, it’s a different matter. With someone else doing the driving, I’m free to put on my headphones, call up a playlist on my phone and take in the world around me for 40 minutes. (Yeah, it takes that long. Longer than it takes me to cycle actually. But that’s another post. Back to the bus ride…)

This morning I noticed the new porch on the house on the corner where I broke my collarbone when I was 10 years old. I noticed the French announcement of the end of the school year at Paisley Road School where I went as a kid.  I noticed what a great soundtrack for the bus ride Jon Buller’s Hum Along makes. (BTW.. If you’re listening to headphones/ear buds while cycling you are asking to get hit by the traffic you can’t hear. Don’t do it!)  And I noticed that the Universe is continuing to taunt me unmercifully.

Why do I say that? Well, my doctor tells me part of the solution for my GI issues is to lay off the coffee! I know, it’s a painful change, but I must admit the pain in my gut has all but disappeared since I stopped drinking my favorite organic suspension. And what does the Universe do in response to this difficult transition in my life? It opens a new Planet Bean® right on my way to work!!  – (Thou know’st, the first time that we smell the air we wawl and cry. King Lear Act 4, scene 6) I’m truly convinced that from time to time the Universe does indeed have it in for me.

I noticed a lot of other things too; people, buildings, situations that would have otherwise stayed out of my line of sight had I been riding my bicycle. It was refreshing to look at the world I passed through every day from a different perspective.  Oh, and I noticed one more thing as well;  my opportunity to gain this new perspective was totally due to the fact I was no longer in control.

You see, when I’m riding I’m in the driver’s seat. I have things to do, details to manage; my focus is entirely on the destination, the route and the obstacles. But on the bus, those details are no longer my concern. Someone else is sweating the route, the traffic and the potholes affording me the opportunity to look around and enjoy the ride. And as this all unfolded around me I realized – you can’t gain a new perspective while your attention is focused on doing what you’ve always done.

I found myself wondering how many areas our lives is letting go of the reins a part of gaining a new perspective. Does a parent gain new insights into how their child thinks and functions when they step back and let the hockey coach do the interacting? Will letting a co-worker head the task force give an office manager a chance to see the bigger picture? How much more could we learn about who we are and what we do if we allowed others to take the lead?

I had a similar experience at Guelph Little Theatre this past month. Instead of getting down to the nitty-gritty of picking out all the sounds and music etc. for the One Acts Festival my role this time was more of a mentoring one. A very talented young woman named Amanda was in the trenches; my job was to familiarize her with the systems we employ and then let her do the job, stepping in only when she entered unfamiliar territory. I’ll admit it was hard to keep my hands out of things because doing the work is what I really enjoy. But that would have taught Amanda next to nothing. So I forced myself to step back and let her take the reins, stepping in only when she encountered something for which she had no experience.

The result was a chance to get a renewed perspective on how sound fits into the bigger picture. There were no new startling revelations, but there was a chance to reaquaint myself with aspects of the job that often get taken for granted and as a result sometimes get overlooked or short-changed. I was grateful for the experience and consider it one of the more rewarding things I’ve done at GLT.

I think the same holds true for our spiritual lives as well. Consider Psalm 55:22, “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”

Many of us are so tied up in trying to manage the details of our lives we never yield control long enough to look at things from God’s perspective. We ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?”, but is that really what we need to be asking? Is it possible that what we need to do is let go of the handlebars, let God drive and look at the world from the back of the bus? As long as we are focusing on trying to figure out what to do, our minds are too occupied to be able to gain any other perspective, especially God’s.

A good example is what I’ve been going through at my home church these past few months. Many of us prayed that the introduction of a new minister would be an opportunity for God to do something new at KPC. We coined the term Kortright 3.0 and looked forward to a new chapter in the life of the church. When Alex first showed up not much changed as he was still getting the lay of the land, but recently he has started to steer us in new directions. They are not great changes but they are different in many ways from what we are used to. And a predictable-but strange none the less-thing happened. We resisted!

Well, some of us anyway. Even though we had been praying for God to do something new, some of us still felt our skin crawl when the changes began to take place. It seems that we are resistant to change even when we ask for it! Why?

I think I know why.  Though some of us probably won’t admit it, the reason is because we aren’t really resisting the idea of change; what we are resisting is loss of control. We don’t want to let go because we aren’t all that comfortable letting someone else drive. But if we are to embrace what God is doing in our lives we need to let go and let someone else, namely Him, drive. Once we do then we can sit back, look at the situation without the burden of command, and gain a new perspective on things and eventually learn to enjoy the ride.

And when the time comes that God’s perspective has becomes ours, we’ll probably find He’s content to let us take the wheel once again.

Until next time… Shalom.

The Man in the Plastic Mask – Our Story Continues

Well, as I reported last time this was the day we were to spend down in Hamilton getting things ready for my radiation treatments. And for a few moments there, we wondered if we’d even make it.

On Monday Roberta called the Cancer Society to arrange for a volunteer driver to take us down for my three appointments today. The lady at the Society’s office told us that something would be arranged and that the volunteer driver would call my cell phone with the details sometime Wednesday night to make the arrangements for Thursday. Well, by 9 pm last night the driver still hadn’t called and since we were starting to get concerned Roberta started phoning around looking for a ‘plan B’. Unfortunately, she wasn’t too clear on the fact that the first option had appeared to have fallen through, and a lot of folks thought we had simply left asking far too late. Once that little detail was cleared up and folks realized that it was a last minute ‘plan B’ we were looking for, response became more favourable. Sorry Folks!

Anyway, a back-up plan was found; a lawyer friend of ours was willing to let us borrow one of their cars so that Roberta and I could drive down ourselves. Since no actual treatment was going to take place this time (once the treatments start I can’t drive home afterward – must have a driver) driving ourselves was an option.

About 15 minutes after we had gotten off the phone with our friends, the Cancer Society driver finally called. Turns out she had called before (the house number-not my cell phone) but because of confidentiality constraints was unable to leave a message on the machine. Apparently, and this came as a surprise to Roberta and I, a great many cancer patients never tell their families about the disease. They go through weeks and weeks of treatments without ever telling anyone they have cancer; not their co-workers, not their children, not even their spouses. For this reason, the Cancer Society volunteers are not allowed to leave a phone message in case they accidently blow their client’s cover. And since, for some reason, the office had not given the coordinator my cell phone number, we had no idea they had been trying to contact us.

Anyway, we got things sorted out with the volunteer driver and had just finished calling our lawyer friend back to let them know everything was on track when the phone rang again. This time it’s the coordinator of the volunteer drivers for the Cancer Society. While we were on the phone calling our friends (for the second time) he was telling our driver that her schedule for the next day was going to be disrupted because another volunteer was suddenly unavailable. He was calling us because we had happened to mention to the driver that we had a ‘plan B’ in place and he was calling to see if we could still use our back-up plan because he needed our driver to go to Toronto instead of Hamilton.

So, back on the phone to the lawyer-friend and this morning he picked us up at the house; we dropped him off at the office and then Roberta and I were on the road to Hamilton with an extra 20 minutes to spare. God Bless ‘em, I don’t ever want to hear any of you bad-mouthing lawyers again! Lol

The rest of the day was largely uneventful, going pretty much as planned except for one interesting little quirk at the surgeon’s office. We were just checking in with the surgeon’s secretary when he stepped into her office and asked us “Why are you here? I was not expecting to see you until after your radiation treatments were finished.” Turns out the resident at the hospital who told us to make an appointment with the good doctor for two weeks after the surgery was just following standard protocol and Dr. Gupta didn’t actually want to see us at all; he was expecting the Juravinski Centre to handle all the follow-up until after the radiation therapy was complete.

Oh well, no harm done. We did have a nice little chat with him and one of his residents and were happy to have him confirm once again that the 16mm tumour was fully contained in the tonsil and was of the P16 variety of the HP (Human Papillomavirus) type of cancer, a type which responds very well to the radiation treatments and is highly curable. Given the track record of this treatment with this type of cancer no chemo-therapy and no additional surgery should be needed once the radiation regimen is complete. Yay!

The rest of the day went smoothly; nice visit with the rad-techs at the Juravinski as they made the mould by pressing this warm net of plastic over my face (see pic –Sorry, that’s not me, it’s a file pic from web-site. Mine looks just like it though.)

Man in the Plastic mask - not me, file pic from web site

Man in the Plastic mask - not me, file pic from web site

A quick lunch at Tim’s up the street and then back to the clinic for a CT-scan that will be used to help plan my regimen of treatments and be used to aim one of the 11 Varian Linear Accelerators that will be used to administer the radiation treatments.

Well, that’s about it I guess except that I would like to make one observation.

Both Roberta and I have spent a lot of time on the phone and talking to various help care types in both Guelph and Hamilton since this whole thing started almost a year ago, and we have both noticed the same thing. Dealing with the various components of Hamilton Health Sciences has been an amazing experience. The difference between there and here in Guelph is almost like night and day.

Now I want o make it clear that I’m not talking about the people here! I am sure that the people here in Guelph are every bit as dedicated and caring as the folks in Hamilton are; rather I’m talking about the system each are asked to work under. In Guelph we have found it very much a bureaucratic, institutional system. Lots of answering machines, few call backs, overworked staff, and few volunteers resulting in a process that is designed to treat as many people as possible but with comparatively little human interaction.

The Hamilton Health Sciences setup, from our experience anyway, seems to be much better coordinated in a customer-service orientation. We call down there and talk to people within only a few steps through the computer phone system. Everyone we work with seems to be relaxed and un-hurried, their first priority appearing to be making sure we understand everything and we’re still at least marginally within our comfort zone before going on to the next step.

And the volunteers absolutely blew us away. From folks at the information desks guiding you from one part of the hospital maze to another, to the lovely woman going from waiting room to waiting room handing out coffee, tea and cookies (she even got Roberta some hot water she could use to revive her Tim Horton’s green tea), all of them were absolutely amazing. I have never had so relaxing and calming an experience in a hospital or clinic before.

Since we had the same experience at both St. Joseph’s and the Juravinski centre, either they are both reading the same play-book or Hamilton Health Services has set up a wider policy of treating people like people. Whichever it is, from where I was sitting; in the waiting room, in the Mould Room, in the CT scanning room, someone is doing something right in Hamilton.

Like I said, I really don’t believe it’s the people. I think it’s the system they are each asked to work under, one that is institutionally designed to get the job done, and another that seems designed to put patient comfort first. And if, as one friend has suggested, the difference is because both St. Joseph’s and the Juravinski are publically funded, but privately run, then give me the privately run system every time.

Looking Forward to a Day in Hamilton

JCC totebag

My JCC tote-bag. One souvenir I cold do without.

Okay. I’m back from the latest trip to the clinic in Hamilton and here’s what’s what.

They did in fact find the cancer – it was hiding in my right tonsil. Seems they got the sucker when they took my tonsil out. They were just going in for a look-see because they suspected it might be there, and lo and behold it was. However, since this was just your garden variety tonsillectomy (in case they were wrong I guess) they did not burn out as much of the surrounding area as they would have done if they knew for sure they were removing a cancerous-type tumor.  And since the cyst proved little pieces of this thing are floating around in my lymphatic system, we must not leave anything to chance; so…

On with the radiation therapy! (Oh joy) I head back down Thursday next (Dec. 9th for those of you keeping notes) and engage in a day full of fun and excitement.

1st up – a trip to the surgeon’s at 9:30 am. (or 9:50 am – can’t read my wife’s hand writing and neither can she.  Will have to make a phone call on this one Monday) to make sure the charred flesh in my throat is healing nicely. That’s right, we want to be sure that my throat has fully recovered from the last atrocity inflicted upon it before we subject it to another one.

2nd on the itinerary – The Man in the Plastic Mask – Act 1.  At 11:15 a.m. our healthy, medically certified, and CLEAN-SHAVEN  hero (me) arrives up at the Juravinski Cancer Centre to get a cast made of my face using a special plastic mold. This will be used to keep yours truly from twitching while these high-tech William Tells try to shoot a cancer laden apple off my head with an arrow made of radiation. If I flinch we might wind up with an outcome decidedly different from the opera. Ouch! (Yes, I’m mixing my theatrical allusions here but I really don’t care.)

3rd in line – Lunch.  Apparently it takes an hour and a half for the cast to harden; during which time I am invited to have lunch, take a walk, whatever, so long as I am back for the second act.

4th item – The man in the Plastic Mask – Act 2.  Once the cast has hardened we return to the clinic where a CAT-scan of me in the mask will be taken. This will in turn be used to plot out the course of my radiation therapy sessions and pin-point EXACTLY where those aforementioned radioactive arrows will intersect with my anatomy. Then the mask will be marked with the indelible ink targets, instead of my face.

That done I am set free to roam the earth until the actual radiation treatments begin about 2 weeks later (specifics to follow on Dec. 9th) I am told all will proceed without incident for the first few weeks of treatment, after which the side effects will kick in and I’ll wish my mother had never given my father his first kiss (or some other event that would have precluded my birth so as to avoid all this unpleasantness).

Well, that’s the sum total of the information I have for now. This should be more than enough for the prayerful, the genuinely concerned, and the just plain curious until we write the next chapter. See you Dec 10th.


Guelph Waste Management Now Includes Bomb Disposal

Has this ever happened to you? You’re surfin’ the net, trying to find the recipe for Glazed Turnips you saw on Canada AM, when you stumble across a recipe for a homemade bomb.

“Wow,” you think to yourself,  “is that ever cool! I wonder if they’re hard to make?”

Checking out the instructions you discover it’s much easier than you had previously imagined. Thinking this would make a great science experiment for the kids you’re homeschooling you downoad the pdf, print out the instructions and before you can say “homeland security” you’ve got a nifty little extreme-urban-renewal device complete with digital timer. Now what?

I mean it’s not like you intended to use it, right? You weren’t going to actually blow up anything were you?  Okay, for a moment you thought about your neighbour with the yappy little dog-wanna-be that barks at every bird, butterfly and snowflake that comes near it’s yard, but in reality you just built it to see if you could. Now you need to get rid of it. So what do you do? Where do you turn?

Well this year in Guelph, Ontario (and most other parts of the province I suspect) you need look no further than your brand new community phonebook from Bell Canada. I’ll admit, I’m not much of a phone book user these days, finding all the information I need on the web. In fact, I can’t even tell you exatly where ours is at home right now. However, when the new phone books arrived at the shop today, I took a few moments to flip through and check that they spelled my name right. (Oh Come on; don’t be like that! You do it too, you know you do.)

Right at the front of the book I noticed a rather large section on waste management, recycling and Guelph’s 3 bags-of-separation curb pick-up program. Now, let me say that I was somewhat impressed as it is the most thorough explaination of what goes where, when  and how that I think I’ve ever seen. There’s not only sections on what can go curbside in which colour of bag and what can’t; there is also a lengthy list of various corporations, businesses and organizations that will help you get rid of all the refuse of our overly consumptive lives that pose a threat to good ol’ Mother Nature and can’t be put curbside, including homemade bombs.

Section L8 Page 17 Guelph Phone Book

Section L8 Page 17

Yes friends, it surprised me too; but there it was, in Section L8 on page 17 of the Green Pages, complete with photo illustration (see pic at right) – a handy tip on what to do with Homeschool Science Experiment #235 –  drop it off at your Local Police Station!

And while you’re at it why don’t you take those unspent shotgun cartridges Uncle Fred left between the cushions of the sofa when he fell asleep after Thanksgiving dinner. Or better yet, if I may offer a suggestion, why not have your lawyer drop it off for you and avoid all those pesky questions I’m sure the officer on the front desk will have as you strive to be a greener citizen.

It certainly is good to know that all our bases are covered when it comes to Guelph’s Waste Management program. Why, even urban terrorists can do their part in creating a greener tomorrow. But then what else would you expect from a government as thorough and efficient as ours?

BTW.. did you also know there’s a line for reporting “bribes” on your income tax return?

Until next time…