Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Big Screen TV is Sucking Out My Brain

When we renovated our 40 year old house, we added a Man Room above our garage. This is nominally my home office. It was supposed to be place where I would read, reflect and practise my saxophone. Except I went out and bought a Big Screen TV. Now instead of improving myself, I am watching Seinfeld and The Office re-runs.

A few years ago I got hooked on a group of my favourite series; ER, The West Wing, NYPD Blue etc. One day I had the revelation that these shows had taken over my life and that I was actually scheduling things around them (including taping the shows if I wasn't going to be around). I also realized that I wasn't reading and as I had just recently started playing saxophone, I wasn't practising. In a rare moment of self control I resolved to not watch TV anymore except of course for hockey and football games. This I mostly kept until the BSTV came into my life.

My relationship with TV has been on and off. We got our first TV in 1961 or 62. It was a large black and white set which my parents actually bought used. We had an large antenna on our roof which in Victoria enabled us to get all 3 American Networks plus some Canadian channels. My parents actually exercised some restraint on what we watched. We watched very little during the day and my parents tended to only watch the CBC news and public affairs programs. And Hockey Night in Canada of course. This is at least what I remember.

Cable came to Victoria in 1965. Every other house on the street got cable. We didn't. Worse my principled parents took down the antenna so as to not be the only house on the street with one on their roof. We instead got rabbit ears. It was a dark time in my life. We could only get three channels. Consequently I missed most of TV during the 1960s; I am horrible at Trivial Pursuit Baby Boomer Edition.

We did finally get cable around 1970. Our TV was still black and white. One day my father came home from visiting a friend incredulous that on his friend's TV you could actually see the puck roll. We got a new TV. I believe it too was black and white but we did soon get a colour TV.

Even in the dark days without cable our TV had a place of honour in the living room. My parents set the agenda as to what we could watch which for the most part was whatever was on the CBC.

My wife and I when we got married both agreed to limit our TV exposure and as soon as we got a house, our TV went down into what we called our family room. Our living room became a sanctum where we entertained company or sometimes read when we didn't want to watch TV.

When we initially got our first vacation dacha, we decided there would be no TV, we would read and play board games. We soon broke down and bought a TV which we watched rented movies on plus whatever we could get on rabbit ears. A couple of years ago I finally got cable. I rationalized that people wouldn't come over to our house on Saturdays because they wanted to watch hockey. Plus I got internet.

Meanwhile at home, only having one TV lead to no shortage of conflicts especially at playoff time. When our children were younger, we watched slightly risque movies on my laptop in our bedroom so as not to corrupt our children (actually watching sex scenes with your adult children is kind of creepy too). Therefore I like to think that getting the second TV has increased the harmony in our household. Now I can watch TV sports, the History Channel, and of course Seinfeld reruns without any guilt or conflict. Except of course at the growing pile of books which I seem to buy faster than I can read them.

And my brain is slowly being sucked out.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

I love Christmas. I am not sure whether it is the presents, the time off or the knowledge that once again the days are going to get longer (even if we are still possibly looking at 4 more months of wintry weather).

I am off once again this Christmas. I have been fortunate most of my professional life in working in large departments with people who preferred to work Christmas in exchange for other parts of the season off, not to mention those with ex-wives and large mortgages who have to work.

The hospital where I now work, is only open for emergencies throughout the Christmas slow down which this year is from December 23 through January 3. Therefore we only have to provide 2 people every day and as we had more people available then were slots for them to work, I won the lottery (not necessarily the one I would like to win) and am enjoying an extended time off work.

One of the more interesting things about Christmas that fascinates me is how we are more or less shut down the health care system for almost 2 weeks and no one seems to suffer. Of course people still have heart attacks, trauma, appendicitis and babies but we seem to handle it all very well on a skeleton staff. I say this of course as someone who hardly ever works at Christmas but it seems true. We don't do much scheduled surgery over Christmas and sadly a lot of our work comes from complications of scheduled surgery.

Of course while at work just before Christmas I did find this article from the National Post which seems to contradict everything I just said. I could try to explain.

Merry Christmas and barring my own injury or illness, you won't be catching me near a hospital.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Some Heavy Reflections

As I posted earlier, I am now what we now call site leader which among other things means I get to referee disputes between the surgeons and us.

Around midnight I was roused from my mid-winter's nap by a phone call from the anaesthesiologist on call closely followed by the surgeon on call. It seemed my surgical friend wanted to do emergency surgery on a 600 pounder. There were a number of problems with this most important was that there was no ICU bed available. (My buddies in ICU are of course in no hurry to take on a patient who may be on a ventilator for weeks.) The other issue was that he did all his other emergencies before taking on this patient instead of doing it early in the evening when people are fresh and there is more help. In the surgeon's defense this was the classic internal medicine Friday afternoon dump whereby they sit on a patient with a clearly surgical problem until the weekend looms. The second call anaesthesiologist was pleading off citing having worked since 0700 and medical issues, leaving the night call person to deal with this horrendoplasty by herself. I figured that now that my sleep was totally disrupted and that the beers I had drank earlier in the evening had worn off, that the simplest solution was to come in myself and help. Plus there was the thrill of the chase; I have never done a patient that big.

I am not going into the details of the case but as we walked from the room where we had gone to see just what we were in for, I remarked to her, "I hope I never let myself go like that."

I thought about what I had discussed with one of the nurses earlier in the day. I was looking at the pile of Christmas candy that grateful patients had brought into the Pain Clinic (and the clinic before it) and I had remarked that with so much hunger in the world, why do we allow so much of our caloric production to be devoted to food that is so unhealthy and so largely unwanted. I realize world hunger is much more complicated than me simply giving up my Ferraro-Rochers but what a concept.

While trying to salvage my Saturday plans that had been turned on their heads by my late night/early morning adventure, I was thinking about the whole issue of obesity. I realize that obesity is again a relative thing; that by arbitrarily assigning a BMI to it we may over-estimate it; that moderately obese patients may actually live longer... etc, etc. The thing is that most of us agree that someone with say a BMI over 50 is probably obese and we are seeing more and more of these. It clearly is becoming a public health issue with its comorbidities of diabetes, sleep apnea and the like all of which we on the front lines have to deal with.

When well meaning politicians or public health people actually talk about doing something about obesity like for example limiting people's choices in the types and amounts of food available, there are howls of protest from the right wing press and their libertarian sometime fellow travelers. Nanny state is one term usually bandied about.

On the other hand, if we look at medicine prior to the first half of the 20th century, infectious diseases were the prime cause of death. Even before Pasteur and Koch public leaders recognized that certain measures could prevent the transmission of illness including things like clean water, clean food and on occasion quarantining people. We also developed things like mass vaccination before we even knew about bacteria virus, and immumoglobulins. All of these were in some way an infringement on individual freedoms such as they existed then. They were however for the most part effective.

So why for example do we tolerate a situation where a pack of Twinkies costs less than the equivalent amount of calories in fresh vegetables. I occasionally talk to patients in the Pain Clinic about eating healthy and the usual response is that they can't afford to. Why do we allow our fast food to become supersized? Remember when you could buy an 8 oz Coke or a 12 oz Coke? Remember when buying a soft drink was something you did once a week as treat?. Our hospital has given over half its cafeteria space to a Tim Horton's outlet. Tim Hortons sells mostly donuts but they do actually sell some healthy food. Our hospital's Tim Horton's however only sells donuts (and coffee). On any morning if I am standing in line about 1/3 of the people in line in front of me are wearing hospital gowns.

By way of disclosure, I have been fat all my life. I currently weigh over 50 lbs more than I did in University. I love food. I love a lot of food that is probably not that good for me. I love beer. Periodically my weight balloons and as my clothes get tight my appetite goes down. I have often wondered at what point does one actually lose his self respect and just start to enjoy the pleasure of food.
Perhaps my distaste for the super obese is similar to that of the alcoholic by the reformed alcoholic. I was looking around the room as we got the case underway and about one third of those in the room were less than svelte but I expect they all shared my distaste.

I hope I never end up like that.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

An Open Letter to Don Cherry

Dear Don,

I know you read my blog just like I never miss Coaches Corner. I have bought many of your Rock Em Sock Em Videos and both your books (I don't think I'll be getting your latest this Xmas) Unfortunately you have crossed the line and I not sure whether I will be able to watch you anymore.

Now you and I are the biggest Bruins fans in Canada. You came to the Bruins as coach following the Bruins' loss in the Stanley Cup finals. I wasn't initially too happy with you as coach, we all remember what happened that first season. I was even more sceptical when you traded Esposito. To the Rangers of all teams. But you started to get results, there were the two Stanley Cup appearances, and of course the heart-breaking game 7 overtime loss to Montreal. By the way I like the way you have always taken the fall for Don Marcotte. And of course we loved the way the Bruins played during those seasons, a true team that played hockey the way it was supposed to be played. And a team that has continued to play that way for 31 years after you left them.

I was delighted when you started appearing on Hockey Night in Canada which was at that time the lamest broadcast around. Finally somebody who would tell it like it is, criticize people and wasn't afraid of stepping on toes. Every hockey broadcaster in Canada owes you a debt of gratitude. I like the fact that unlike many ex-NHLers, you chose to come back to Canada. You could have stayed in the US, you married an American after all. I love your support for Canadian teams, including the way you stuck up for our World Junior Team. I also loved your support for our Women's hockey team right from the start.

Lately however you have betrayed your lunch pail roots. That was what we loved about you and Bruins their lunch pail work ethic, how hard they worked for everything. You have instead become a shill for the right wing elite. That's right the right wing elite. There is no left wing elite, Don. Your new conservative friends have always been in power, they have been the elite.

Part of your hagiography Don is your working class father. Well Don, I suspect your working class father was able to afford a house, maybe a car and was able to pay for your hockey equipment so that you could make a career of hockey. And you were probably able to have a pretty nice lifestyle on just one parents' salary. How many working class people can say that nowadays? That's right Don, working class lunch pail guys made a living income back then because they had things like unions and even some "liberal elite" politicians who gave a shzt about them.

Your conservative friends, Don have over the past 25 years conducted a war on the lunch pail guys. They have transferred much of the tax load onto them, allowed industries that employed them to close or leave the country and lately caused the economy to crash. Wages of the lunch pail guys have not kept up with the cost of living. And all those poor dead soldiers who bring you to tears every few weeks? Sent off to Afghanistan to prop up a corrupt government that oppresses women, Christians and ethnic minorities.

What really pisses me off Don, is your latest statements about cyclists. I ride a bike Don. I ride to work, I ride for pleasure, I ride for exercise. Lots of us Bruins fans do. But your new friends don't like cyclists or for that matter lunch pail guys who take the bus to work instead of driving. Now Don, I ride my bike for pleasure but when I go to work early every morning, I pass lots of lunch pail guys riding their bikes to construction sites and factories. They aren't riding for fun Don, they are riding because they had to decide between a car and a place to sleep at night. All they and I want Don, is to feel safe when we go out for a ride.

And those "left wing elites" Don? These are the guys who actually care about those lunch pail guys. Not like your new friend Rob Ford. I don't think they make a lunch pail big enough for him. Rob Ford isn't a lunch pail guy. He inherited his business and all his money. I suspect that after the Leafs are out of the playoffs he cheers for the Habs (maybe even before the Leafs are out). He even pulled a few dirty tricks, that even Scotty Bowman would have been ashamed to try, in order to get elected.

O yes Don. What do you do for a living? You work for the CBC. All of your new friends know that the CBC is a hotbed of the liberal elite. You make a pretty good living from those liberal elites, high 6 figures I heard. Not bad for a 12 minute broadcast.

So Don, why don't you stick to being a buffoonish caricature of yourself between the first and second intermissions and stay the hell out of politics. Because Don, at the hockey rink, left and right wings are positions you play, not positions you hold.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

And by the way I didn't used to play basketball

I am 6'5" (196 cm).

I was always the tallest kid in the class from kindergarten until Junior High. This meant I always got to sit at the back of the class, a habit I still have.

Nonetheless, I was and still am, incredibly uncoordinated and no matter what your size, games like basketball do require some degree of skill. Further most of my growth spurt occurred between Grade 10 and 11 by which time it was really too late to learn how to play basketball. I do remember my Grade 11 PE teacher /basketball coach looking interestedly at me at the beginning of the term. His interest lasted about 5 minutes.

Ice hockey and football, sports where my size would have been an advantage, I never really played.

Essentially all my size gets me is a lot of trouble finding clothes to fit (thank god for the LL Bean catalogue and I hope the Canadian $ stays near par) and a lot of knocks on the head.

What really gets me is how people have nothing better to say to me when we meet but, "Boy are you tall, did you play basketball?" This is not just outside the hospital but frequently in work situations. Now I am physician, a medical specialist, department head, and I have a lot of outside interests. So why is it that people feel necessary to start any discussion by discussing my height.

Other people have distinguishing physical features too. Imagine me starting a conversation, "Wow are those ever big, what are you a 38D?" This would no doubt earn me a trip to the medical director's office and a few weekends spent at sensitivity camp.

Actually I didn't really want to look at your junk

The male body is not really that attractive even for those inclined that way. Some men have faces which can be described as handsome, some men have taken care of their bodies in a way that I can respect. And then there are the other 95% of men.

Even in the most handsome well toned male, the genitalia cannot be described as visually pleasing. It is interesting that the male genitalia have not been subject to the same evolutionary pressures that have driven the breasts and buttocks in women.

Why am I writing this?

About a month ago I joined the local YMCA. This is by my count the seventh time I have joined a gym. Most of them I lasted for at least a year and I always had a good excuse for stopping going. There are of course certain visual insults one has to accept on joining any gym. These include the gym rats, the muscle-bound meatheads, and people wearing outfits they should never be wearing in public or committing crimes against spandex. And what I am going to write about below.

While the Y is an egalitarian organization, this particular Y offers an enhanced membership. This includes an adults only change room with a hot tub, TV, newspapers and a towel service. This costs $200 extra per year. I naturally went for that. No more children's birthday parties in the change room and no more awkwardness changing next to female children brought into men's change room by their dad. Not to mention not having to dry myself with the moldy towel I found in my gym bag.

Anyway I registered paid my fee and the nice lady at reception suggested I check out the members plus change room. I walk in there and what do I see but a rather large naked man sitting on the imitation leather armchairs in the room reading the paper. And air drying in contact with that imitation leather is what popular vernacular is now calling his junk.

I am maybe a little self conscious of my body, and I realize that a certain amount of nudity is necessary in a change room; while changing from street to exercise clothes, walking to and from the shower and of course in the shower. Towels are of course provided although the small towels we get are rarely enough on their own to cover up anything. Aside from that if you want to hang out with all the boys at the Y, you should be either in your workout clothes or your street clothes. Even draping yourself in multiple towel is better.

I would like to think that individual sunning his junk on the imitation leather chair was just an eccentric. Wrong. Just about every time I go there someone is baring it all. Some of them at least have the courtesy to at least sit on a towel.

Myself, after I shower, and soak in the hot tub, I am getting my clothes on post-haste and leaving with my eyes averted.