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Woody Allen Soothed Away My Fear…

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Bisexuality immediately doubles your chances for a date on Saturday night.”

Woody Allen

"Irrational Man" Premiere - The 68th Annual Cannes Film Festival

 

I’m going to take this notion of bi-sexuality one step further and tell you that one of the advantages of embarking on a career like Medical Laboratory Technology is that you get to choose from 5 or 6 or 7 different lab areas (dates) in which to work.

This is important. It changed my life.

Medical laboratories are usual divided up into departments like Haematology (study of blood cells), Chemistry (measuring our inner chemical makeup), Microbiology (determining the microbial cause of infectious disease), Histology (preparation and study of body tissues removed during surgery or autopsy), and Blood Banking (preparation and crossmatching of stored donor blood for transfusion).

Often it’s necessary to choose (or have chosen for you) a specific department to focus your career upon.

In my former life as a lab tech I dreaded being called into the hospital in the middle of the night to crossmatch blood needed for urgent transfusion. There was always a mutilated car crash victim, or a woman needing blood during a Caesarian Section delivery. STAT!

On my chilly drive or walk to the hospital I’d look up at the dark night sky and hope the stars aligned for a positive outcome to the danger that lay ahead in the Emergency Room.

It wasn’t because I hated getting out of the warm bed I loved (well, it kinda was!)…

… or detested the sight of pools of still steaming crimson blood on the floor beneath the patient’s bed, bones and organs exposed beneath torn tissue (well, it kinda was!)…

… or the anguish of a distraught family in a time of crisis (well, I really did hate that too)…

I actually liked the jumping-out-of-an-airplane injection of adrenaline that I felt when I strode purposefully into the ER and a bevy of medical personnel were focussed solely on resurrecting a ghastly situation. THAT was a rush…

But the real reason I hated emergency blood crossmatches was fear. I couldn’t sleep once I returned home afterwards.

I’d sweat bullets the rest of the night worrying that I might have made a crossmatching error and there would be an ashen-faced coagulated corpse awaiting my sleep-deprived arrival for the morning lab shift.

Even a tiny error in my technique… and I accidentally provided incompatible blood to a patient… could result in a major reaction from the vital fluid flowing into their arm that might kill the patient.

sticky blood clump

Red blood cells sticking together… do I transfuse this or not?

It was all about fear.

I was afraid… terrified that in my attempt to heal, I might terminate someone because my blurry eyes made a wee mistake looking down a microscope at 2:47 in the morning.

I had memories floating in my head. Fearful memories.

As a student technologist I almost killed an unborn baby.

All because of a simple arithmetic error I made in producing a test result on amniotic fluid that suggested an unborn infant’s lungs were sufficiently well developed to be birthed via C-section.

The astute surgeon called moments before making the first cut into a Mommy-To-Be‘s abdomen and uterus to confirm the test result I had provided.

Oops… sorry.

On second examination of my calculations, I had placed a decimal point in the wrong place… stop the surgery… NOW!!!!

In my honour, there should be a big congratulatory plaque erected in my training hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. I was the one who had made a near tragic error that resulted in a change to lab rules concerning oversight of student technologists by senior staff.

It seemed pretty obvious afterwards that life-and-death test results should be double-checked and not trusted to an 18 year-old student (and part-time McDonalds burger flipper) without an official lab certification yet.

My confidence levels were shaken down several anxious notches which was probably a good thing for a boy who evoked this comment from his Grade 2 teacher: “Larry needs to work on his superiority attitude.

These lab-related nightmares and flashbacks convinced me that I would never make a good Blood Bank technologist. You can all thank me for discovering this early on in my career.

I was far safer to humanity and myself in another less critical lab area like Microbiology where vaginal yeast infections were typically my greatest concern.

As unpleasant as it must be, no one needs an urgent blood transfusion for an itchy cooter, nobody dies from an irritated baby cannon.

Now where was I going with this?

AH, yes… It’s about fear.

I know that most of our fears are unwarranted. We all know this and yet we still worry.

fear

Fear is good and fear is bad.

Or as Glinda the Good Witch says: “And so, what the Munchkins want to know is, are you a Good Witch (Fear) or a Bad Witch (Fear)?”

Our job, if we choose to accept it, is to distinguish between the good fears to heed and back away from, and those that we should march boldly headfirst into the thick of.

Fear is one of the odd reasons I love doing things outside of the normal routine of day-to-day life.

Jumping in and swallowing experiences – any experience, wherever it may come from – is like losing your teenage virginity all over again, damned scary and… scary exciting… hopefully!

The inner fear, those bastard voices that try to make us literally and figuratively impotent are there but the delicious rewards make it all worthwhile.

The really important part about fear is being able to distinguish between true good fear that helps us survive and the bad fear that holds us back from the exciting fireworks of life and living.

More than 20 years ago I would never have been able to write this blog. The “old me” was crippled by the bad fear that I wasn’t interesting enough, or smart enough, or important enough to make my voice heard. It was about fear of what you might think of me.

Ten years ago, the “old me” was too self-conscious to speak or sing in front of even a small group of strangers without a prequel week of diarrhea and sleepless nights.

So, you might ask… am I fearless now?

Hmmmm. Nope. Not at all.

Some fears in life are unavoidable… the impending death or loss of a parent, a partner, a child, a treasured pet. Life’s inevitable trials.

I still wouldn’t want to be a Blood Bank technologist. “Accidentally” killing someone is a good fear for me to respect and one I’m best to avoid.

I still encounter lots of fears.

The only difference now is that I recognize these rogue “fear” weasels and the plastic knives they brandish. I simply accept them as part of my growth process.

Merely knowing that fear is usually unfounded allows me to press forward with more confidence and acceptance of myself and my foibles.

I know that when I face my fear, I end up in a different place than I began, and it’s usually a better place, a lovelier place than I thought before I faced the fear.

If this all sounds Woody Allen neurotic to you, that’s okay because… well, friend?… pining for approval is not the monster or boogie man under my bed anymore.

Adrenaline rush

READY? Ummmmm…. NOT a chance!!!!

 

Put On Your Kinky Boots Jian Ghomeshi

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Who are you doing this week Jian?

Watch where you put those hands Jian!

 

I’m not surprised often, but that morning I was pretty shocked.

And it wasn’t just that my left sock was black, the right navy blue.

Years ago I worked in a mid-sized medical lab at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Comox, on Vancouver Island. I went to my job one day, and returned home a little less naive at the end of my shift.

Entering the lab, I had to pass through the front waiting-room area. Chairs stood in rows where patients sat before being called into one of the smaller back rooms to have their blood taken or electrocardiogram leads laid out in a curving river across their chest.

A long narrow hallway led into the back of the lab past an open washup and sterilization area on the right, followed by the tiny pathologist’s office in the far right corner.

Each morning, I veered left at the pathologist’s office into my Microbiology department. It opened out with its warm incubators and cold fridges and counters layered high with multi-coloured petri dishes sprouting bacteria of all makes and models.

There was a familiar – almost sweet – but not totally unpleasant bacterial scent in the air. You probably know you’ve worked in a lab for a (too) long time when the putrid scents begin to develop an appeal…

Microbiology

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But really, it was the pathology office that held a magnetic lure.

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On many, if not most mornings, protruding from the IN-BOX screwed to the wall just outside the door there would be a long paper sheet or two loosely jutting up from the upper opening.

It was an invitation begging to be looked at.

These long sheets were dropped off by the local coroner from the previous night’s usually routine, or sometimes macabre adventures that resulted in a chilled body stretched out in the morgue downstairs.

The page was a request to the pathologist to carry out an autopsy on someone who had expired and where some explanation was needed. Tidy block writing described all of the important details of the poor wretch’s demise. The factual commentary outlined the circumstances of the death and the reason an autopsy was needed.

Most were straightforward and vanilla: suspected heart attacks, strokes, tumbles down stairs, drownings.

But one day … this day … a story unfolded in the coroner’s script that still stands out in my mind all of these years later. It was a sad little tale of sexual kink that ended tragically for one poor fellow.

morgue body

So why am I thinking about this now? I blame it on you Jian…

Well … Jian Ghomeshi, Canada’s premier radio show host, it’s thanks to you and your 50 Shades of Grey proclivities and adventures. The stories are popping up all over like a Whack-a-Mole board about your BDSM lifestyle and sexual recreations with choking and other maybe-not-so-fun stuff.

I’m no prude. What happens behind closed doors is all fun and good with me.

Most of the time.

I’m trying really hard not to judge you Jian so early on without more background detail. And it’s hard because I’ve always admired you and your considerable abilities to carry out wonderful interviews with both the famous and the common folk.

You are the epitome of cool, you have a great radio voice, a charming smile, and your questions are insightful and respectful, even if Billy Bob Thornton thought you were an asshole when really he was just looking at himself in the mirror.

Hearing the stories about Jian from increasingly numerous young women of beatings and forced chokings in a sexual context carried me back to the moments years earlier as I stood outside that pathologist office in Comox reading the coroner’s notes graphically detailing a young man’s death.

I had never heard the term before:

Autoerotic Asphyxiation

Wikipedia describes it as:

When you rob your brain of oxygen (asphyxia), you experience a high — euphoria, dizziness, and lowered inhibition — before you lose consciousness. To make their sexual experience more thrilling, autoerotic asphyxiators masturbate while strangling themselves with cords, ropes, scarves, and ties, or they suffocate by sealing their heads in plastic bags.

The vast majority don’t mean to kill themselves. They usually devise some kind of rescue mechanism to stop the asphyxiation once they’ve climaxed. But the fail-safe often fails. For example, they may tie a slip-knot or hang themselves from something that’s shorter than they are, so they can simply stand up to stop the strangulation. But they may get so weak and disoriented from lack of oxygen that they can’t pull out the knot or stand up, and they pass out and die.

The Wikipedia description almost perfectly outlines the coroner’s notes of the young man in the morgue fridge downstairs.

He was found hanging, a knotted rope circling his neck, porn magazines scattered open on the floor around him, a carrot protruding from his rectum. While standing on a small stepstool in order to get some tension around his neck, somehow the stool had slid away and out of his reach. He was found a couple of hours later – too late – by his wife when she returned from work.

North American statistics suggest this is a occurrence that repeats itself over 1,000 times each year.

My little naive mind was shaken and disturbed. It was an uncomfortable and sad feeling that stayed with me and lingered. It even still resides like a dormant virus in a tiny corner of my mind.

And so this week when I listened to the (alleged) stories arising about Jian, I felt that same sense of unsettled discomfort. It’s a lifestyle choice that is far beyond even my own internal kinky fantasy life.

50 Shades of Grey, like a good horror movie, transports many of us into a world of supposed make-believe that has some shock appeal perhaps solely because it is pretend. Fantasy and imagination can be a wonderful enriching part of our existences.

I’m just not sure I’m ready or want to disassemble my naivety and enter a place where “normal” people like Jian Ghomeshi (supposedly) roughly take their personal narcissistic enjoyment.

I’m still in recovery from one day in the Comox laboratory all those years back.

Are those your Kinky Boots Jian??

Are those your Kinky Boots Jian??

Become the “Master of Your Domain”

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the world owes me nothing

The world owes me nothing.

The world owes you nothing. Your mother owes you nothing. The lottery corporations and casinos especially owe you nothing.

Whatever freedom or flexibility or security you can gather in your world ultimately comes down to one thing. YOU!

I’ve almost retired from my job, oh, I think it’s six, no, 7 times now.

You would think I hate my job, but I don’t. For me, retirement is all about male ego and delusions of investing grandeur. It’s about dreaming.

In my little Walter Mitty mind, I’ve always been a supreme investor à la Warren Buffett and the way that one knows they’ve arrived through investing smarts, is by retiring from productive, human-helping, paid work. The important stuff.

…………….

I’ve never made a particularly good income in any job I’ve worked.

I delivered the Hamilton Spectator newspaper for years as a kid — made pennies, maybe a buck or two each week.

LARRY SPEC CARRIER TIFF

Yep … my first job …

At 15, I made a huge leap forward in income. I got a McJob — REALLY.

Starting in 1973, I flipped burgers at McDonald’s for 4 and a half years at a starting pay level of $1.55 per hour. A full 8 hour shift poured $12.40 into my bank account. It took a lot of late night shifts and weekends to pay $1,000 car insurance on top of college expenses.

But I was a good McDonald’s man; I was an All-Star McDonald’s man, and yes, there truly are such things.

McDonalds All-Star

After 4+ years of saturating myself a few times a week in beef fat and dehydrated onions, I concocted my last Big Mac, hugged my teen co-workers so long and walked out the door. Finishing pay rate?  $3.40 per hour.

I graduated from Mohawk College with a certified-sharp hypodermic needle in hand and headed north to begin work as a Medical Lab Technologist. My first professional position at Stanton Yellowknife Hospital in the chilly Northwest Territories  — $9.69 per hour.

I was rich … for almost a week.

Then I had to pay grown-ups bills like rent and heat and groceries. Have you checked the price of milk in Yellowknife? Alta 3.9 Beer and Black Tower wine are cheaper than their more nutritious counterparts which perhaps explains why I remember so little of my time in the NWT. If only I had figured a way to milk a caribou.

I’ve moved on to other lab jobs in small B.C. communities like William’s Lake and Comox and now in Penticton and Kelowna. I won’t tell you what my hourly pay rate is today because my co-workers who make $25 per hour would be right ticked off knowing that I make 8 times their take. That’s not true, but I like to think that I’m worth that much.

Suffice it to say, I make a reasonable wage for living a moderate North American middle-class lifestyle. No complaints but I’m a good many Ironman-length distances from the elite 1% so frequently bandied about in today’s news reports.

I’ve always thought I would be in the 1%. Or at least have a bank balance that pushed close to 8 figures. So why not?

…………….

The answer? I didn’t understand the 10,000 hour rule.

I was never going to strike it rich on the employment income side of the ledger, so I decided that investing what little I did earn was the fast track to untold wealth.

In my 20’s, I believed I could just waltz in, read a few magazine articles and books, and answer the phone when my broker-friend Rick called:

“Larry, buy as many shares of JuJube Inc. as you canIt’s a certain triple in 3 months“.

Soon, buckets of investing dollars would pour over me like runny No-Name catsup over steaming, fragrant French fries.

You’re not stupid. You know how that worked out. Broker-Rick got Rich, Client-Larry got broker.

But a LOT of people invest in just that fashion.

Over years, nay decades, I discovered that money was actually Heinz ketchup and flowed slowly. Cash needs a few wallops on the back-end until it begins to pour and some compounding momentum is gained. I learned that the best one to trust in making important investment decisions is myself.

Investment success is like masturbation, only YOU truly know what feels and works the best.

I had to read the investment books, re-read the books and then live the experience and learn from the experience. And continue learning from the experience.

Every minute. Every day. Every now. Over a period of years.

Blue Chip stock investing is the perfect thing for an easily distractible fella like me. I can apply myself for an hour or two, and then walk away for the rest of the day and come back to it refreshed… tomorrow.

Today,  I’ve finally spent the requisite 10,000 hours learning my investment chops. The learning will go on and maybe before I die I’ll gradually turn green and become Investment Yoda. But I doubt it.

give-me-all-your-money-you-will

Most of us spend most of our adult lives working, saving, and investing to find a lush oasis of financial security and a fountain of funds to make our days more pleasurable. For some it means monster homes and luxury vacations, for others it means freedom to serve and assist those in less fortunate circumstances.

We all want secure money for life and we’re all looking under every unturned rock to find it. There’s a multiplicity of ways to make, invest and keep money. But we each have to find one (or more) and then settle in faithfully for the 10,000-hour learning curve.

I found my niche and so I expect to keep getting rich slowly.

I might even retire on my 8th attempt.

Some believe that Jesus will save them. Or Allah. Or Buddha. Or Jehovah. Or a Lotto ticket.

Pray if you wish to a great higher power, but in the end, pick yourself up off the floor and make your luck happen.

You owe it to yourself.

Minion Dollars

I Almost Killed a Baby with Creativity

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Lab Data

It was not one of my prouder moments.

I’ve spent decades of my life running scientific tests on blood and urine and other ghastly body bits, and you can’t just wing it creatively when you’re dealing with someone’s life.

You’ve heard of creative accounting?

Well, I tried being creative once as a student in my hospital training as a lab tech.

I had a sample of amniotic fluid and was running a chemistry test called an L/S ratio to determine if a developing fetus’s lungs were sufficiently well developed to cope and breathe in the outside world.

amniocentesis1

The test involved a math calculation to come to the final answer. I did my figuring and sent the result off to the doctor.

The physician looked at the result — the baby’s lungs were good to go. The Mom was struggling with high blood pressure or something dangerous to her health like that so a C-section was scheduled in ASAP.

The surgeon was soon in the OR suite washing his hands thoroughly for the C-section that would get the little one out but, feeling some inexplicable niggling doubt, he decided to call the lab to confirm that the test result was correct.

The senior technologist in the lab department reviewed the result and looking at my calculations, discovered that I had put a decimal point in the wrong location. When corrected, it showed the baby’s lungs were far from ready for breathing outside the womb.

If the doctor hadn’t phoned to double-check the result, ten minutes later, I would have been responsible for killing a newborn.

My creative approach to lab testing was a MAJOR failure.

I made the BIG mistake, but what is really sad, is that the senior tech who was responsible for watching over me got into more shit than I did.

He trusted my skills and abilities based on what he had seen in the few weeks we had worked together, and didn’t double-check my work any longer. I had let him down.  Fatal mistake … well, almost.

Bottom line? Lab work doesn’t call for the creative right-brain to activate a whole lot.

………………………………………

I want to be the most creative person … EVerr (sounds like a line from a Taylor Swift song, I know).

Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Brian Wilson, Joni Mitchell, Andy Warhol, Michelangelo, stand aside.

lennon-mccartney

Earlier this year I took an online Songwriting course and now I’ve started another free course through the online presence of COURSERA on Creativity, Innovation, and Change via Penn State University.

If you’ve read any of my earlier posts, you’ve probably guessed by now that I am in awe of the inner workings of those who can paint, write, play music and find any number of ways to be creative and make things happen from nowhere, out of nothing.

Of course, it’s never from nothing — we have a huge mind bank of input from years of dirty-dancing with this world. Still, it feels like it’s new and spontaneous when we discover an inspired force bubbling to the surface like lava from the central core of the earth.

Ideas and creativity are all about taking what floats around us and mixing and matching to bring out a new concept … remember, it’s all about Idea Sex.

Creativity can be a challenge, and so most of us look around for a springboard of inspiration, sometimes in the great outdoors, sometimes in reading others’ stories, and often by just observing and absorbing what others around us are doing.

I have just such an inspirational person that I work around one day each week.

Cindy is a cool and enthusiastically-energetic lady. She gets the highest-endorphin high from conceptualizing. You talk to her and immediately you see the wheels churning.

She can’t turn her mind off. She lives her life in metaphor… how everything — both in the workplace and in her personal space — somehow relates to something else.

For all I know, she doesn’t sleep at night because of all the ideas flowing continuously like the Nile into one ear and out the other. She casts her net into the passing river and picks out the tasty fish-that-are-ideas swimming past.

canned-inspiration

Cindy is a bit like me (although she is far more attuned to details, I’m a big picture kind of guy, details usually drive me crazy) in that she works in a science-based profession, but really her mind works in a more free-flowing artistic sort of way.

She works in a job situation filled with IT problems and challenges. She has to find solutions quickly. A lab test result that warns of bad cardiac damage in a heart attack victim communicated a week after it’s done is next to useless. People will die or become much sicker without fast turnaround of lab tests. Cindy spends most of her weekday working two phone lines simultaneously, solving problem after problem.

Her’s is a much preferable use of creativity in the science world than I exhibited in my early student days.

Cindy lives in this headspace where she’s always perfectly located to get the message she wants when she needs it. You might call it coincidence, but I really believe it’s because she’s constantly ready to receive. She has a consciousness that is open and able to pick up what passes others by.

Modern day geniuses like Steve Jobs can absorb and synthesize ideas that make no connection in the typically unprepared.

………………………………………

So will I ever join the ranks of the super creative?

Probably not.

But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try and be enthused and motivated by the amazing capacity to see things “different“.

Think Different

I’m trying hard to shed the lab mindset that tends to see things in a black and white way and find meandering paths that have an undetermined and mysterious end.

I marvel at those who produce and imagine and synthesize, not spending their whole lives as spectators.

Our super-saturated world makes it so difficult to be creatively productive, to not just observe the TV, the video games, the professional sports, the theatre and dance productions, the Hollywood movies.

Where do we carve the moments in our days to be producers and not only consumers? It is tough. But surely we deserve  to breathe more reality into our once imaginary dreams — to make ourselves more than just bystanders..

The unknown can be scary and intimidating but it’s the uncharted roads that take us to places where ultimately, our hearts beat vigourously with the most profound intensity and satisfaction.

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Live to the Point of Tears”

                                                               Albert Camus

 

Take My Wife’s Pad … Please!

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Feminine pad

Feminine hygiene products were just about the furthest thing from my mind when I signed on to become a medical lab tech in the 1970’s.

I was fully prepared for thick, crimson blood in glass tubes and straw-coloured urine in clear plastic containers. I was even able to entertain the thought that I would deal with an occasional stinky stool sample in an AIRTIGHT container. The thought of any other sample types just never floated into my consciousness.

But hell, I’m flexible and can adjust on the fly just like you and everyone else out there, right?

Every field has its unusual somewhat surreal moments. Well, this is one of mine.

A few years back, a fellow female lab staff member asked me if I would come to the front desk of the laboratory. A male patient had asked to speak with a male employee — men in labs are a fairly uncommon commodity, don’t ask me why? — and as I was the only man on site that morning, I agreed to come and see what it was he needed.

E. coli urine sample

I replaced the plastic lid back onto the agar plate growing bright-pink E.coli bacteria colonies from a urine sample, set it back onto my desk and headed to the front of the lab.

I greeted a man in his mid-30’s. We shook hands and then I led him into the small pathologists’ office and pushed the door closed for privacy. Curious to know what was coming, I perched my backside onto the corner of the large wooden desk that rested next to the window.

-Good morning, I’m Larry Green, a lab technologist … what can I do for you today?

Well, I’m hoping you can do some lab tests that will tell me if my wife is having an affair.

SAY WHAT!!!??? I began to plot my escape…

Well Sir, I’m not sure I know of any lab test that can do that.

The man combed his fingers through his hair and nervously cleared his throat. Then he reached into the bottom of his coat pocket. He fished and fumbled around a bit before extracting a small white, tightly rolled-up bundle, and with a sad look in his eyes, held it out for me to see.

Interesting … looks like a marshmallow … or … oh no … a feminine hygiene PAD!

–I took this, my wife’s used tampon from the garbage basket at home. I’m pretty sure she’s been having sex with another man. Do you think that you can test the tampon for the presence of semen? I have to know if there’s something going on but I can’t bring myself to ask her directly. If you could find out if there’s another man’s sperm on this, I would know for sure.

Wife-Got-Caught-Cheating Cow

He outlined to me how he had been suspicious about an affair for some time, and explained in WAY WAY more detail than I needed about when he thought sexual escapades had occurred.

I tried my hardest not to appear stunned at the request and his story but I’m sure I must have looked gobsmacked.

Struck by the black humour of the situation, I had a brief moment of horror where I thought I might burst out laughing; wouldn’t that have been terrible? This was an obviously distressed fellow, and a bout of laughter on my part would have devastated him I’m sure.

My mind raced for an answer to the situation.

An infidelity lab test?

Did I look like Ann Landers? Or Dr. Oz or Phil?

Ummm, I’m sorry but I don’t think I can do anything to help you because it could result in legal action on either your’s or your wife’s part. You have some pretty grave concerns here. I think you might want to contact a lawyer and ask what you might do if you would like to pursue this further.

He thought about it.

He looked heartbroken and defeated, and probably felt pretty humiliated just having to explain the situation to a stranger. But he hesitantly agreed and said that he understood.  He slipped the biological “evidence” back into his pocket.

We shook hands again — I washed mine thoroughly as soon as he left — and I escorted him to the lab’s front door.

I last saw the poor shrunken man slip like a ghost through the doorway of the stairwell and disappear.

What would you do?

As he walked away, I began to think of what I would do in the same situation. How low can a person sink when they feel another is doing them an injustice?

I felt really badly for this guy. Not just because of what he thought his wife had done, but also because he had allowed himself to become a victim. Granted, human frailties are a part of what we are and, like it or not, we can’t just turn them off with a switch. Frailties? Yes, I have a few.

But this man didn’t own his own world. He was a slave to someone else’s actions and decisions. And instead of finding a way to deal head on with the pain he was feeling, he came to me looking for the answer.

He was like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. He wanted to spin free on the hillsides, his arms spread wide, singing to the open skies surrounding him.

But instead, he was crouching hidden in the dark corners of life, making himself a prisoner of the dictator inside his own head. He was his own cruel Nazi captor. There was nothing I could offer him that would let him out of his self-made cell.

A face-to-face talk with his wife or a sit-down chat with a counsellor would take him to a better place than a visit with a hapless, helpless lab tech like me.

julie-andrews-the-sound-of-music

I have a difficult time now each time I wander past the feminine hygiene aisle in the supermarket. These products may allow women to joyfully live through “Life’s ups and downs, cycles and changes” and to Have a Happy Period.

But the pretty pictures of butterflies and smiling young girls on the packaging just make me feel sad for the one sorrowful fellow I met who went through his own very difficult “period”.

Somehow, working with stinky stool samples never seemed as bad to me after that day.

And occasionally, just occasionally, when no one is watching, I just want to put down my culture plates, stand up and twirl carefree beside my desk.

 

WHEN I GROW UP … Sailing Away in Your Dreams …

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Ain’t never gonna happen –  growing up, that is.

They say that boys mature later than girls … well, we don’t truly mature … EVER!

I know I’m trying hard not to!

Most of us boys retain a big chunk of our childhood immaturity, especially when it comes to bodily-related things like farting, and sex.  Anyway, that’s not important here.

I want to talk to you about the childhood dreams we have for ourselves.

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It’s not far to never-never land, no reason to pretend
And if the wind is right you can find the joy of innocence again
Oh, the canvas can do miracles, just you wait and see
Believe me      

Christopher Cross- Sailing

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As youngsters, we lie half-awake in our beds, the hall light peeking in through the door cracked a hair.  Our little heads are filled with swirling thoughts and emotions and longings that we conjure up ourselves or are implanted into our heads by our parents, siblings, friends, and probably more often the media.

All of those influences jumble together and after blenderizing for a few years, out pours the smoothie that is us.

Boy Dreaming

As a 10 year-old I wanted – like so many many others – to be a doctor.

I’m not sure where the idea originated for me (it may have been playing doctor with Diane Dawson when we were 4 years old), but by the time I was in middle school, I was fascinated (academically only!) by illicit drugs and resuscitation and excitements of the medical variety. I wrote and pasted school projects together about heroin and other hard drug overdoses. I wanted to wear a cool white coat and save lives.

The idea that medicine might be a financial goldmine didn’t even seep under the door into my thinking, it was strictly the lure of blood and hard-pounding excitement.

And then in the early 1970’s along came a TV show called EMERGENCY!.

It chronicled two Los Angeles paramedics roaring around the California highways and freeways, saving hundreds of poor helpless souls with their blend of IV’s, and oxygen bottles and CPR. It was super-exciting, wet-dream stuff to a young pubescent boy.

There was nothing more I wanted than to jump into a red and white Paramedic vehicle that resembled a Good Humor ice cream truck but instead of ice cream delights it would be loaded with cases of bandages, and splints and stethoscopes and drawers and compartments filled with life-saving devices.

I would race to the scene of a car accident. Sirens and flashing lights ablaze.

Rivers of blood and broken, shattered limbs would be scattered across the freeway. I would jump out of the truck in my pristine white uniform and spring into frenzied activity like a superhero. The adrenaline rush would carry me from victim to victim as I diagnosed and miraculously saved each in turn. And look, when all is done, my uniform is still white and pristine.

Beautiful, sexy women and pets would fawn like fleas on a dog over my abilities to save lives, God’s power in my hands.

emergency!! TV Show

Yup, it was either a doctor or a paramedic.

So I became a medical lab technologist.

Huh, you ask? What happened?

The swirling dreams of childhood were just that as I adjusted to my personal perceived reality. In truth, I was a good, but fairly lazy student.

Becoming a doctor required a diligence and dedication to study and long working hours that I wasn’t prepared to commit. I wanted the dream, but only if I could attain it by sending in 2 cereal box tops and $1.49, whereupon I would receive my special MD certificate and stethoscope in the return mail. Easy peasy, but my own reality show was made of fewer fantasies and more real world truth … maybe I WAS into hard drugs!

The paramedic dream was dumped into the trash can when I realized that Canada offered no such training (at the time). I could be a “lowly” ambulance attendant and pick up fractured bodies discarded by the side of the road, but there would be no IV’s and electrical heart-shocking paddles, no heroic resuscitation efforts. It was just scoop ’em and deliver ’em to the real doctors who did the fun stuff.

What to do, what to do.

X-ray technology?  Black and white images shining through on light boxes? BORING!

Pharmacist? No paddles or IV’s there either. BORING AGAIN!!

LAB? Hmmm… there were needles and blood, and machines that had flashing lights and beeped. This could be it. It was almost being a doctor without 5 extra years of school and countless study hours.

Just two full years of college training and you had a certificate that gave you permission to poke needles into people and attach wires to read their heart beating. This was sounding better by the minute.

The pay rates kind of sucked but the counter-balance was that a lot of girls were enrolled in the course… instant dating material.

Blood, needles, machines, heart wires, girls, sex in hospital closets with nurses in white-starched uniforms …YES, this was it!

Nurse-Corset-

Sign me up! I wanna be a lab tech…

I signed on and before I could take another breath I was living the dream. I wore a white lab coat. I poked people with needles. I hooked wires to people’s chests. I was surrounded by cute girls. I was living the dream and living in the far north of Canada, saving lives of the miners and Inuit.

Working in a lab has given me a good life and I’ve had many wonderful moments. I’ve had a ton of laughs with some great colleagues.

But mostly, for me, it’s a job.

Like so many dreams, reality crashed the party.

  • Hours and hours looking down microscopes at drops of urine and blood.
  • Smearing smelly stool samples onto agar culture plates.
  • Call-backs in the middle of the night were adrenalin rushes for my junkie fixes but sending cross-matched blood to real blood-gushing patients had its stresses.
  • Analysis machines that flashed and beeped frequently broke down and were often uncooperative. I remembered how unmechanically-minded I truly was.
  • Hooking wires to the chests of 300 pound elderly ladies with gooey, fetid growth beneath their breasts was … well … EWWWW!

The chocolate cake that looks so good in the TV commercial ends up tasting like thick shortening and chemicals. The crisp, refreshing beer that attracts girls in bikinis by the harem-load tastes like every other beer minus the hotties. The car with leather heated seats that zooms and screeches around corners with a ferocious roar, breaks down on the side of the highway.

Not all dreams play out perfectly in real life.

Our dreams are like candy. They give us a sugar high that is elating. They sustain us when we feel crushed or low.

We’re mesmerized by dreams, and as Martha Stewart might say, “This is good”.

Whether fulfilled or not, life should be filled with dreams and wonder. Hope and promise are delights of the human spirit. Dreams refresh and inspire us to carry on through tough, painful times and are as important to us as Santa Claus is to Virginia.

To paraphrase a little,

dreams exist as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no dreams.

Yes Virginia, there are dreams.

And we are the dreamers, both as children and adults.

And I promise you, good reader, that as long as there are dreams to be dreamed, I’ll continue to let a dim shaft of light enter my bedroom. I’ll enjoy the endless swirling eddy of thoughts and emotions and longings that sustain me through the long night with a child’s openness and sense of wonder.

I ain’t never growing up!

Santa and Virginia

Death of an Everyday Senior

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I’ve mused here before about how I might like to die.

Surely, since we don’t seem to have the choice over whether we die, we should be able to exercise the choice of how we might die … it’s only fair, right?

A truly loving God would acquiesce and give us that much. Merely munching an apple offered by a snivelling snake shouldn’t take away all rights and freedoms, should it?

APPLE _,SNAKE AND BEAUTY

And so in the spirit of my despair over lack of choice, the following is a true-to-life little black-humour tale of :

HOW I’D PREFER not TO DIE.

About 10 years ago, in the small’ish lab in which I work on the 3rd floor of a medical building in downtown Penticton, it was approaching 5 p.m. and near closing time for the day. I was putting the last samples of patient urine and stool onto agar-culture plates to incubate and grow bacteria overnight. Yes, somebody really does have to do this!

In the front patient-section of the lab, an elderly gentleman – we’ll call him Mr. Jones – was stretched out long on a thin mattress-covered table in a small private alcove. Liz, one of the lab assistants, was placing little sticky electrodes across his bared chest so she could perform an ECG (electrocardiogram).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Even dogs can have an ECG done…

Penticton sports a mild climate – by Canadian standards – and mixed with sun and beaches this means that the city is full of retirees. End result? The lab performs a lot of ECG’s to check on the ticker health of local seniors.

In a turn that no one anticipated, suddenly, unexpectedly, Mr. Jones gasped weakly and went limp and unresponsive … cardiac arrest. His skin tones dissolved into an ashen grey and his mouth sagged open … breathing came to a halt along with his heart.

All the stops were pulled out to resuscitate him.

Within minutes, the lab was jammed with firefighters, ambulance paramedics, police, doctors, and 5 or 6 of us lab folks.

The poor fellow was hoisted unceremoniously off the ECG bed like a limp Muppet and laid out in the middle of the lab floor. People in white coats and various other uniforms pumped and suctioned and intubated and shocked his poor spiritless body, doggedly determined to save this life and and AND…BUT…

… MR. JONES DIED.

ekg-flatline

The frenetic movements and loud voices of the medics gradually stilled and bit-by-bit a calm settled over the room.

It was over … Mr. Jones was over. Nothing more to be done. Just take the body away and everyone could go home.

And so the firefighters departed … and then the doctors … and since it was now well past closing time, all the lab staff melted away as I had volunteered to hang around and lock up once Mr. Jones was packaged up and taken away.

And THEN, the police and paramedics started to leave…HUH…

But, what about Mr. Jones?“, I inquired.

He was still placidly laid out on the floor with tubes sticking out everywhere… plasticy grey-skinned but otherwise quite peaceful looking. He seemed content.

Well“, said the paramedics, “we only transport living patients to the hospital, and since he’s deceased, our job is done here“.  Off they went….

Police??

Well… the doctor was here and declared it a normal death, no criminal concerns, so we’re out of here too. Try calling the coroner to see what she wants done with him“.

…BUT BUT BUT…

Suddenly, the lab door closes. All is deathly quiet and Mr. Jones and I looked at each other (metaphorically, of course) with puzzlement. He might have even grinned ironically at me, but I think my mind was perhaps playing little games on me at this point.

After a moment of absorbing the situation, I finally phoned the coroner. I explained the full story to her in great detail, and then she broke out laughing (it’s a morbid world I live in!). There was no foul play involved and so she too determined that it didn’t involve her.

laughing-woman

Me-“oh yeah, so what do I do now, just cart Mr. Jones home to meet the family?

She suggested I call the man’s family at home to see if there was a funeral home that they would like me to call and have Mr. Jones picked up. Kind of like calling 1-800-GOT-JUNK for a pickup.

GREAT…I get to break the news to Mrs. Jones that she can put that dinner plate back in the cupboard because Mr. Jones ain’t coming home for his supper. They didn’t teach us this stuff in lab school.

My heart was beating fast and hard when I dialled the Jones’ home number…a man’s voice answered…

Hello, is this the Jones’ residence?

Yes, this is Dr. Jim Striker, Mr. and Mrs. Jones’ family doctor.

Umm, I was just calling to tell Mrs. Jones about an unfortunate event concerning her husband-

Yes, I know…my brother Mark was the Doc that attempted to revive Mr. Jones at the scene…he called me to let me know that Mr. Jones had passed, so I came to the family home to break the news.

WHEW, my heart started pumping again! Didn’t have to tell the wife the bad news after all.

Dr. Striker conferred with the bereaved widow for a few moments and then gave me the name of a local funeral home that could pick up Mr. Jones.

This little tale ends a short while later with my poor old new friend Mr. Jones rolling out the door of the lab in a zippered shiny black bag.

Funeral home body

And so the curtain falls and the movie ends?

Yes and No.

When Mr. Jones woke up early that morning, he didn’t turn over, tenderly kiss his wife’s cheek and think to himself,

“This is the day I will die. I’m going to wait until I’m surrounded by strangers and then croak”.

He may have had an inkling that because he wasn’t feeling very well that time was running short, but nothing as dramatic as pegging out in a 3rd floor medical laboratory. This would never have been in his plans as he pulled the door closed to his house a final time.

It doesn’t really matter if I die like Mr. Jones. There are far worse ways to reach the end, but Mr. Jones’ death is just the start of a message I took away from this event. It reminds me that, short of suicide, we don’t have the choice of where and when we’ll expire. The day arrives and it … just happens.

I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

Woody Allen

What matters more than how or where we die, is how we live. We have the capacity, no matter our lot, to find fulfillment in our days. It comes down to choice.

It’s complicated and it’s messy… but it’s simple, really.

Hope Flower