Category Archives: Life

The Olympian in the Bathroom

Sometimes the unexpected happens – like yesterday when I was chatting with the business owner across the hall from our office. One of her clients was there and had just slipped off to use the facilities. She looked at me and then nodded towards her client’s bag that was resting on the chair. “There are two Olympic medals in there.”

“What do you mean?” It’s not every day you hear that phrase.

“There are two Olympic medals in that bag. Right now.”

“You mean, like, from PyeongChang?”

“Yup.”

“Does that mean there’s an Olympian in the bathroom?” I was still focused on the medals, but able to figure out that if there were two Olympic medals in that bag, that there must be an Olympian nearby.  She told me who it was – and since I didn’t ask the Olympian if I could write about her, I’ll respect her privacy. Sorry.

The Olympian appeared and I became star struck and said idiotic things like, “Do you think the gold medals are really made out of gold?” *  (This is why I should never meet important people – especially when I’m unprepared.) So, the business owner said to the Olympian, “Can we see your medals again? I was just telling Kate about them.” The Olympian pulls them out and puts them in my hands. They are as big as saucers and very heavy. Like 5 lbs heavy, maybe more. And I’m looking at them and I am in awe of what this woman has accomplished. And every other athlete who competes at an international level outside of big-league sports.

That night at dinner, I told my kids about my experience and what a thrill it was to hold these medals. My daughter said, “Why is it such a big deal? You didn’t win those medals.”

“Because I can appreciate the amount of training, effort, and sacrifices this woman made to get to where she is. Her medals are symbols of her achievements.”

“Well, what’s she doing with them in her bag, walking around the city?”

Yeesh. My kids and practical questions. I didn’t know the answer – I didn’t feel it was appropriate for me to ask that question. Instead, I just took them in, asked the Olympian about the venue, the event, and life during the two weeks they were there and admired her tenacity and drive that led her to the top of her sport.

 

* This is quite possibly the dumbest question I could have asked. I was holding the medal and feeling its weight when I said it. At $1300/oz. a 5 lb medal would cost approximately C$104,000. -however, I did find out that  each gold medal contains 6 grams of gold.

 

Writing Around A Concussion

From a writing perspective, I have been silent and unproductive over the past year, although it’s been particularly bad for the past 6 months. This is due to experiencing Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS) from a concussion I received FIVE years ago.

In 2012 I fell while skiing (and yes, I was wearing a helmet) giving myself a nasty bump on the head. For the next few weeks, I did the bare minimum — which, when you have three kids, is still significant. I off-loaded laundry to the kids (which they still do to this day) and made simple meals, and took a lot of naps, outsourced carpooling, etc.

I couldn’t work. I’m a writer and consultant during my day job but had to pretty much stop for six months. During the first three months I couldn’t look at a computer screen without feeling nauseous, but perhaps even scarier was that I couldn’t form sentences in my head. It’s a bit of a problem for a writer.

On top of all that, I began experiencing migraines. I’d had two in my life before the fall. As I started getting back into an exercise routine, I noticed that each time I exercised I got a migraine within 24 hours. Concussion protocol is to stop anything that gives you symptoms for at least a week, better two, and then try again at a lower level.

Over the next four years, although I slowly improved physically and was able to get back to a normal exercise routine, I still suffered from migraines. I figured it was just “that time in my life” as my mother told me that my grandmother had suffered from migraines during menopause.

I tried everything to get rid of them and lead a more normal life. I saw a neurologist who prescribed all kinds of medication to prevent them from coming on or make them less severe. Nothing worked except the medication to alleviate the pain once I had one. I saw a physiotherapist (several, actually), acupuncturist, cranial-sacral therapist, massage therapist, my family doctor, a nurse-practitioner who put me on hormone cream, my gynecologist, a naturopath and finally a sports psychologist. At least you can’t say I’m suffering without doing anything about it!

Each of these professionals, while good at what they do, felt that there was nothing more they could do and that my migraines were no longer concussion-related. It was discouraging because I knew they were a result of the concussion and that there was still something wrong with my brain.

The migraines are debilitating. When I get them and can’t stop them, they last at least 5 hours and then it takes me another day to recover from the episode.

By early 2016, I was having migraines that lasted for three weeks. A dull pain that rotated around my head, never staying in one place very long, just enough to make me lose my concentration and patience with anyone who crossed my path.

A friend of mine is a doctor and she told me that one of her patients who also had continuous migraines took gluten out of her diet and later turned out to be celiac. Maybe I should give it a go. As much as I love my sweets and bread, I was ready to try anything.

Lo and behold, for about three months I was headache-free! I felt amazing! I exercised, I was patient, happy, pain-free! I could write and concentrate!…..and then, they came back.

I had started tracking the migraines in a journal and noted that I seemed to get them after exercise – again! I felt like I was right back to the beginning of my concussion journey four years earlier. I stopped exercising. I cut out dairy. The headaches went away. But, it wasn’t really a way to live. Plus, I couldn’t understand the diet-concussion connection. It didn’t make any sense to me.

The worst was, when I told people that it all went back to the concussion, most people would look at me with disbelief or disdain like I didn’t know what I was talking about. It makes you feel stupid —  like you aren’t diagnosing your own symptoms properly.

I got progressively worse through the fall of 2016. I could eat very little without triggering a migraine, I couldn’t exercise, I couldn’t even drown my sorrows….and I couldn’t write. Producing articles was painful, there was something about the thought process that wasn’t working for me.

Finally, through friends and referrals, I found a health professional who actually looks at the brain damage as opposed to just the symptoms. I was encouraged when one of the referrers acknowledged that I wasn’t making it all up, but that my concussion hadn’t been treated properly at the time of the trauma and that’s why the symptoms had come back. The thing I’ve noticed about concussions is that all the health professionals treat what they are best at, but no one puts it all together and goes back to the original source of the symptoms. I was checked for a hematoma and nerve damage, the physiotherapists treated my skeletal and muscular issues, the neurologist just wants to give me meds to deal with the pain instead of addressing why I get the pain in the first place. No one seemed to think that brain damage was an issue, although by definition, that’s what a concussion is.

The health professional I’m currently seeing says there is absolutely a brain-gut link – what you eat will affect how you feel, and he’s given me the studies to back up the claims.

It’s a slow process and given my experience with professionals from both the alternative medical track and the traditional medical track, I’m not holding my breath, but I’ve started to notice very small improvements – for one thing, writing is becoming easier again.

 

Jesse the blind dog

 

As Harris passed Jesse, she faced the wall across from the goat and sheep pens, her nose about six inches away from it, wagging her tail. Harris just looked down at her, then followed Tom. “What’s with your dog?”
Tom looked at Jesse, wagging her tail, staring at the wall.
“Come on Jess! Over here!” Jesse looked in Tom’s direction and the bounded towards him, tongue flopping about. “Slow down girl!” He put his hands out to stop her, but she crashed into his legs anyway. He patted her and she whimpered, while he grunted, since she’d crashed straight into Tom’s shin. “She was born with congenital cataracts. She’s been blind since she was two.”

So then you would be her seeing-eye…family?”

“Pretty much. Generally she copes well on her own, it’s just she’s still not very good at judging distances, so she tends to crash into things. Like my legs.” Now Jesse was staying close to Tom’s side. “There’s not a lot of gray matter in there either.”

Excerpt from A Vintage Year

Why bother making things up when life can bring you interesting ideas? One of the minor characters in my book is a blind black labrador named Jesse. We humans don’t often come across handicapped animals, especially dogs all that often. In fact, normally it’s the other way around and they look after us.

One of my friends had a dog that was born with congenital cataracts and gradually lost her sight starting at the age of 2. The vet told the family that he could operate but that they would just grow back. The dog was happy and managed pretty darn well without sight for the rest of her life. It was funny watching her sometimes, wagging her tail, staring at a wall. If you didn’t know she was blind, you kind of looked at her like she maybe didn’t have all her marbles. She adjusted to her lack of sight very well, comfortable going for walks even in the city. You had to tell her where the sidewalk curbs were, but other than that, she coped just fine.

She was a great dog with a gentle temper who led a long and happy life. She died not too long ago of old age.