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Thursday, 26 September 2013

All Things Great and Small

The wonderful thing about elder siblings is that no matter how old you get, they will always be older and wiser.

My elder sister threw away my pacifier when I was four. She, for some odd reason, thought I was too old to walk around sucking on a pacifier. I still have not forgiven her or recovered from the emotional scars.

She also decided soon after that I was too old for training wheels so she taught me how to ride without. All I remember of my biking lessons is, my sister helping me onto her bike and promising to never let go. (Her bike was too big for me, with my feet just reaching the pedals.) She did keep her word most of time, even helping me climb down which I couldn't do on my own. There were however times when I pedalled too fast for her and she could not keep up. (At least that's what I like to imagine!) One such biking lesson ended with me ramming into our neighbour's car just as she was opening the door to step out. Our neighbour was furious. My parents made me visit her apartment to apologize which I hated because she was a big lady and I was terrified of her.

I did eventually learn how to bike. My father removed the training wheels from my bike and hey, presto, I had a two-wheeler that I could mount and dismount on my own.

My bike was tiny but then at four-years of age, I was tiny. We lived in an diplomatic enclave in Beijing, China and I would ride around independently. My pride knew no bounds. I was riding to visit a friend (an elderly lady who allowed me to believe that I was teaching her how to read) when a tiny toy poodle decided to chase me. Have you ever noticed how tiny dogs have the loudest barks? I was terrified and started riding in circles screaming hysterically. The dog was as smart as me, and kept running in circles after me. A tiny dog barking furiously, chasing a tiny girl, screaming hysterically; must have been very entertaining because soon there was a large group of people gathered around. Diplomats from different countries; of different colours, sizes, and religions all found me equally hilarious. Not one stepped forward to rescue me.

If it hadn't been for my big sister I would still be pedalling that tiny bike in circles screaming wildly while everyone laughed. Also, I miss my pacifier - it would have stopped the hysterical screaming!

In our convent school, we were taught a hymn thanking God for all things; big and small. But I only thank Him for my big sister; small, barking dogs do not feature in my thanks.

All things bright and beautiful
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The great God made them all.

Cecil Frances, 1848




Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Anosognosiatic Taliban and Company

"Those with severe mental illness often have a symptom called anosognosia - a lack of awareness that they are actually sick. Treatment is "forced" on them because they don't have the capacity to make a rational decision."

Read this in a opinion piece by Andre Picard in the Globe and Mail today. It made me think of something else I read in the paper yesterday - a statement by a Taliban spokesman explaining the bomb blasts killing so many in a church in Peshawar, Pakistan as a step towards removing all non- Muslims from Pakistan. My reaction yesterday on reading his statement was that they (the Taliban) should then remove themselves since their actions go against the tenets of Islam but now reading this article, I think I am a step closer to understanding the Taliban - they are severally mentally insane and they don't know it.  They fall in the same medical category as people who due to mental illness are dangerous to others and have to be treated. There are unfortunate incidents when mentally sick people hurt or kill innocents. With the Taliban and other similar fanatic groups, it is a case of group insanity - like-minded individuals congregating together.

If only there was some way, to gather them all in one place and administer treatment!

"The Freedom to be Sick and the Right to be Well" by Andre Picard, Globe and Mail, 24th Sep'2013.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Language of Cancer

I am sceptical about the language people use to talk of cancer. "Fight" , "war" , "survivor"  makes it sound as if people who die of cancer have somehow failed. They did not "fight" enough, or win the "war". It suggests that they lacked the courage to stay the course and "survive".

There are a few too many people with cancer in my mother's family; many of whom did not "survive". All of them were unique and wonderful in their own way. They did not lack "courage" or just lay down and choose to die.

Many years ago, I read some where, that there are no "winners in a war: all are losers." ( Some one forgot to memo Bush, Obama and all the crazy fanatics out there!) Perhaps, we should consider rethinking the language we use for cancer. Stop thinking in terms of "winning" and "losing".

I know cancer feels like a battle with the endless surgeries, treatments, tests, and doctor visits but the people who die from it, have already lost it all. Why further indignify their struggle by implying that they were "losers"? Their loved ones have enough to struggle with without the nagging doubt that perhaps, if my father/ mother/ brother/ sister/ son/ daughter had only " fought" harder.

Cancer brings so much anguish for both the family and the person diagnosed; there is no need to add more pressure by insisting that one must be a brave soldier and try to "win".

Thursday, 19 September 2013


I went for a walk this morning. It took me over an hour (We will not go into how much over an hour!) to walk 2km despite finally taking the muscle relaxant and the painkiller. I did think of cutting the walk short but it was so beautiful outside that inspite of all the strange looks from the other people on the path, I kept crawling along.

I feel lucky that I was able to enjoy the outdoors. I am not cooped up inside some office or unable to get out on my own because of poor health. What a joy it is not to be dependent on other peoples' kindness just to eat and go to the loo! What must it be like to always be dependent on other people to take out the time to attend to your basic needs? How small must it make you feel to always be indebted to others for bathing you, changing you, feeding you ?

I know that in the following days, I will regain my strength quite quickly but what if that was not the case and I knew instead that I will only get weaker and more dependent. We take so much in life for granted when really, nothing is for certain. Our health, independence, our loved ones are all enormous blessings to be grateful for with each and every breath.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Questions of Trust

So much in our lives is based on something as fragile as trust.

Each time, we send our kids to school; we trust that the school staff will take care of them. Each time, we lay down on a surgical table; we place our trust in the hospital staff. Even a trip to the doctor, taking pills for commonplace ailments; we place trust in the doctor, the pharmacist and the pharmaceutical company who manufactured the pill we are popping. Driving down the road, we almost unconsciously trust that the other people on the street will follow the rules and behave in an expected manner. Each time, we eat out; we trust that the staff produced the food in a somewhat hygienic manner. Even our everyday interactions are founded on basic trust. I trust that the green grocer will not try to fleece me. I trust that other people will not cut in line in front of me and generally they do not. Our personal relationships, are governed by trust. I implicitly believe that my friends and family genuinely care about me.

But once in a while, someone along the chain breaks our  trust. The odd fellow who cut ahead, or a friend whose words hurt, the motorist who did not stop at the red light or the kid who ran onto the road and for a bit, our composure is shaken. We feel cheated: find ourselves thrown off balance by that breach of trust until we dust ourselves off and continue like before.

However, they are some individuals who are oddly suspicious. They never eat at pot lucks. ( God knows how the food was prepared!) They have strange conspiracy theories about everything from drinking water to toilet paper to world politics. Everyone is out to get them and all surfaces must be disinfected and hands sanitized a million times a day. A walk in the park might result in tick fever and Lyme disease, a neighbour might be a pervert, the kid selling candy might have poisoned it - all of which I agree are valid possibilities but not considerations most of us spend our time obsessing over. I am no psychologist and have no idea why some people are more suspicious than others but can't help but wonder at the reason.

Also, interesting to note that some societies are marked by a complete breakdown of trust. Out there, when you drive down the road, you know that no one will follow the rules. You know that everyone is out trying to watch out for themselves and you have to as well. Adjusting to life in such a reality means being suspicious all the time of everyone. What happens to the brain when it always feels threatened? What happens when you always have to be vigilant? Do your personal relationships also suffer from suspicion and fear? Do you spend time agonizing over whether your loved ones actually love you or is it all a sham, a lie?

What happens to society as a whole after decades of living with a lack of trust in everyone around you? When might is right becomes the only rule of law and citizens know better than to trust the government then what happens to the characters of the people in that society, both as individuals and as a whole? How fast can you walk, constantly looking over your shoulder? What kind of progress can a country make when there is no harmony within?

I have no answers, just a whole lot of questions leading nowhere. Wait, let me just check over my shoulder, after all in today's world; you never know who might be listening in. :-) 

Friday, 13 September 2013

Life from the Hazy Side

It's funny how time slows down while lying in a hospital bed. The tap in the sink has been dripping all night; a consistent reminder of water being wasted and time ticking by.

It's also funny how in hospital your only job is to rest. You would think that with nothing to do but rest, time would never pass but yet it does. It's passing measured by the nurse checking your vitals, taking your blood pressure, replacing the saline solution and giving you painkillers. Being in hospital makes me think that perhaps I have always just been a lazy bum waiting for her moment. I love lying around. It's perfectly wonderful. A nice break from constantly rushing around.

The doctor and nurses are amazing; kind and efficient. Feel sorry for them. They have so much to do. Perhaps they also need a bed, a couple of shots and hydromorphone pump to see life from the hazy side.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Drawing Lines

"A full-time teacher who wears a hijab would receive help to make the transition." Really, Ms Marois?

I don't wear a hijab, nor have ever worn one nor do I have any intentions of ever wearing one. In fact to be be honest, I find women who choose to cover their hair a bit irritating, just like I find women who dress provocatively similarly annoying. I also find myself peeved by men who jog shirtless in public. I am cranky, eccentric and opinionated but even I realize that neither I nor anyone else has the right to demand that other people dress to suit any individual's sensibilities other than their own.

Out of consideration for other people, one should observe personal hygiene but how you dress is a personal decision. Should we also ban people from wearing hats and toques to fight the cold during winter and sun hats during the summer? Perhaps we should consider the implications of six-year-old girls wearing tiaras as well?

My other question is, why only provide "help" to full-time teachers? Is it alright to wear the hijab if you teach part-time? Where would Ms. Marois (our Quebec Premier) like to draw the line?

Friday, 6 September 2013

Unsung Heros

I went for a run this morning. Even though I say this with no small amount of pride however I do not want to mislead anyone into picturing me as some sort of great athelet because as always, barely into the first kilometer, I was already tantruming in my own head. This time the internal argument took the line of - why bother running when only next week I will be laid up again post- surgery and it will again take months to rebuilt my strength so why bother with this torture right now? I don't know how other people's inner dialogues go but mine always have plenty of back and forth and this time the rebuttal was a firm one- go into the procedure stronger and you will come out stronger. So I trudged on, all the time arguing with myself and then someone flew past me - a baby pink top, grey shorts, sensible running shoes and a full head of grey. Judging by the back of her legs, I would say that the lady must easily have been in her seventies and I thought - wow, I hope I can run like her at that age which was closely followed by - wow, I wish I could run like her at my age!

People like her, are an inspiration for a person like me. Every so often, I am jolted by something some one said or did. A few months back, I met a ninety-year-old who volunteers at my children's school preparing the kids' snacks. In order to have the snacks ready in time, she and her friends are there early each morning. When I praised her enthusiasm and spirit; she responded, "it's our time to give back." I couldn't help but think of the elderly of our community who I often hear complaining about how other people don't do enough for them.

Then, there was a eight-year-old who I overhead telling her elder sister, " I choose to keep only the good memories!" I was floored. Here was a child who has been through more trials than most but she "chooses" to keep a positive attitude. True wisdom from an eight-year-old!

These are my heros. Not the people who climb Mount Everest ( though I do appreciate the determination and grit ), or walk the moon but people who we live amongst - normal people who have great spirit and positivity. People who focus more on giving back than taking; people who "choose" to stay positive no matter what life throws at them. At the end of the day, life is precious and beautiful but you know what they say about beauty - it lies in the eyes of the beholder.