Saturday, July 29, 2006

What is it you do, exactly?

Sharing a lunch table in the hospital cafeteria I fell into agreeable conversation with a member of the chaplaincy staff. After discussion of matters metaphysical he said he'd always thought that it was rather a waste, having a physician giving anesthetics. I mean, all it is is a needle, right?

I stared at him, pale and slack-jawed. He might as well have said that, since planes now have an auto-pilot feature, we don't really need the pilot.

A great many people honestly believe that an anesthetic is like Disney's "Sleeping Beauty": a masked figure approaches with a sharp needle, and you disappear into oblivion, sleeping decorously for however long it takes to perform the miracle of surgery, at which point you are awakened by the surgeon (with a kiss?) and ushered back to bed.

It was a teachable moment. I gave him the laundry list of the procedures that follow the needle, of which he has been blissfully unaware, being unconscious.

If you were undergoing let's say, bowel surgery of any magnitude this is how I'd occupy my time while you slept:

Inject a muscle relaxant to paralyze you so I can place a sealed, leakproof plastic breathing tube into your trachea; tape your eyelids closed to prevent accidental injury or dry eyes; run a thin plastic tube through one nostril down into your stomach to keep it empty; supervise placing a catheter into your bladder to measure kidney function and keep the bladder out of the surgeon's way; start you on a calculated rate and depth of machine-controlled breathing with a predetermined mix of oxygen, maybe nitrous oxide, and anesthetic vapour; check all your vital signs (monitors placed before anesthesia include cardiogram, automatic blood-pressure monitor, pulse oximeter to make sure you have a nice high level of oxygen in your blood); drape a hot-air blanket over your upper torso and run a temperature probe into your nostril; start another, wide-bore intravenous as backup; find your internal jugular vein and ease in a long, wide-bore catheter to serve as a fuel gauge.

While I'm doing all this the OR nurses are removing your backless gown (yes, you'll be undressed for your operation, shocking though it is), getting you safely positioned and strapped securely to the table so that you won't fall off if the surgeon asks for head-down or sideways tilt.

Once the surgery's under way, it's my job to anticipate what the surgeon's going to do next, and tweak the anesthesia mix, or adjust the i/v to compensate. I don't get to sit down much. I stroll round the room checking on blood loss, watch your vital signs on one of the two monitor screens at my right side, and document a lot. The nurses and I will generate reams of paper that will form part of your hospital record, a souvenir of the day.

Towards the end of surgery I give you medication to help control pain after you're awake, and adjust the anesthetic so that you'll awaken at just the right time. We have a long schedule today, and any delays mean it will start to back up.

Oh, and if you're in fragile health I might start your anesthetic with an epidural, so that no pain stimuli get to the unconscious brain, and you'll have good pain control afterwards.

And you don't want a physician--or in the States, possibly a seasoned nurse anesthetist--looking after you?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Like and Go

Sharp intake of breath. I'm standing in the lineup for Via, in Toronto, and behind me a couple of youngsters are chatting away. "Like" occurs with the regularity of automatic rifle fire, as deadly to normal speech as a stammer; I want to look away, wring my hands. Is it because, increasingly, communication is mediated by screens rather than face-to-face?

Someone has also dinned it into young women not to raise the voice at the end of a statement. ("I'm thinking of applying for that new job? The pay's so much better? And I won't have that long commute?") The new "thing" is to lower the voice at the end of a sentence so that it loses all musicality and becomes a rasp between clenched teeth. It's hard to listen to.

One of the most beautiful voices around is that of Shelagh Rogers, on CBC radio. Smooth, sexy, melodious, with a hint of mischief and a wicked laugh. She sounds as though she's having an intimate tete-a-tete with an imagined bedmate. For a while Massena, NY, had a woman announcer with the sultriest voice imaginable too--though she was unremarkable to look at, like a nightingale. But male listeners would obsess about her.

The human voice is a powerful instrument. I'm so much in awe of what a good actor can do with it, and what a turn-on a beautiful voice can be. I hate to see it wasted.

Actualizing interpersonal communication

Susannah, my younger daughter, lives in England; her day-to-day work involves getting to grips with the political double-speak of Parliament and gently teasing it out into language.

There is an old Chinese legend about a pen that wrote truth, no matter what the writer set down. (Example: a lover writes "I never want to see you again, you loser." Which the pen interprets as: "I was hurt by what you did, but I love and miss you.")

So frustrated is Susannah at times that I fear she'll dash down on paper what was really intended. "We have absolutely no intention of abolishing old age security" becomes: "We are looking for ways to abolish the old age pension and get away with it."

Her latest and funniest take on the ancient art of verbal subterfuge may be viewed at

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Voyeur

I don't know about you, but I love trolling real estate ads--even though I'm beautifully housed in my little golden palace here in Ingleside. Just nosy, I suspect. is a standout for house-hunters in this particular corner of England. There isn't anything on this side of the pond to compare with its professionalism. That aside, it's fascinating to see how they live over there. With a few exceptions they're all decor-challenged, with bad ceramic tile in the kitchens and a penchant for lavender bedrooms; dank bathrooms nobody would want to spend any time in and nasty crimson fitted carpet (so as not to show bloodstains?).

You can spot the rental sales; debris everywhere, including--in one house--rumpled clothes strewn on the bed, all kinds of tat in the corners and greasy frypans piled on the stove. A rich lode for house stagers, but I'm not sure if they've arrived there yet. I suppose if I rented and didn't want to be thrown out by a new owner, or if I really disliked my landlord, I'd play it that way too.

But check the prices and be grateful. There's an abject, chicken-house style shack for sale; it has one and a half rooms, no yard and is accessible for only 44 weeks a year, for which they hope to get the equivalent of $80,000. I'm thinking of dismantling my bungalow, shipping it over there and selling it for half a million.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Bear with me.

Now it can be told: the good news--I won in the Heart and Stroke Lottery! Before you reach for the phone I have to tell you the bad news: they left four zeros off the cheque. Sorry, guys.

I have just come back from more Adirondack camping. From the moment you check in you're cautioned about not encouraging the bears--even asked to sign a waiver confirming that you've had the Bear Riot Act read to you and that you understand that you can be ejected if you encourage the bears in any way (suggestive leers? scanty clothing?)

Well, it's been over thirty years now since I first dragged my two older children there, in what was a very lucky chance find. I've returned several times every year since--and never seen a bear apart from the ones slumming it at the Long Lake town dump. I began to suspect a tourist come-on, and was the only camper around who didn't have a near-death bear story to share. Kind friends were even offering to pour their old bacon grease round my campsite to up the ante.

It finally happened; I had my nose deep in a book (familiar Gill posture) when one apparently walked right by me. A group of bystanders hollered frantically to get my attention, and hustled me up the hill where I spotted it, a nice young teenage bear with a lovely pelt. For all I know it could have been making free with my campsite while I slept, especially the times I go early in the year, when I'm sometimes one of the two or perhaps three campers there.

I still think the human is the more dangerous animal.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


BTW, I have three tickets for the Heart and Stroke lottery, to be drawn on July 6th.
One of them will win a million dollars. So handy.
It's already all spoken for.
Stand by for further updates.


I've just got back from a couple of weeks' camping in my favourite place of all time, in the Adirondacks. The storm that flooded out New Jersey and parts of New York including the Susquehanna at Binghamton (couldn't have happened to a nicer place) blew in sixty-mile-an-hour winds and three and a half inches of rain.

I slept in the van, fully expecting both tents to have blown away in the night; came the dawn, both were still standing--and the dome tent was bone dry! I've got to write to Coleman; it's the same tent that came through Katrina last year without shipping any water, though the floor rocked like a water-bed from the lake underneath it.

I spent three days sorting, washing, drying and repacking wet gear. How a young woman sailed single-handed, the "wrong" way round the world, sleeping in one-hour catnaps for six months is a mystery to me. A hot shower and a washing machine must look like heaven after that.

But I had a good time anyway; there is some magic about the mountains. Wrinkles disappear, lines soften, scars fade, sickness heals and worries shrink to manageable proportions.

What's not to like about loons on the lake at night; stars like dust; inky, lampless darkness and deep stillness? Fireflies in the trees, a warm lake to swim in and good friends at the campfire; the smell of woodsmoke, bacon and coffee...

There were four ravens on a tear, screaming like barmaids being assaulted. They live on site 102, and terrorize the neighbourhood at 7am, campers struggling out of bed, disoriented and blurry-eyed, "What the hell was that?"

Bliss. Just as soon as everything's dry and my yard chores are done, I'm going back.