Happy Strokeversary, Dad

Eight years ago today, I was waiting for my dad to die. Hoping, praying, and pleading that he wouldn’t, but waiting for that phone call all the same. 

It was early in the morning, and 16 year old me was getting ready for school. Something felt ‘off’; not immediately, but the feeling was gaining traction steadily. I went into my parent’s bedroom to say good morning, and my dad was sitting on the edge of the bed. His head was in his hands, and he was clearly agitated. Asking him what was wrong, he made some brusque reply, clearly not wanting me to worry, but also clearly worried about his well-being. He stood up, momentarily paced, and literally ran downstairs to shower. Looking back, I know he was trying to attach himself to some feeling of normalcy to distract himself from the multitude of sensations he was experiencing. 

I looked at my mom: “he’s having a stroke.”

She knew it too. She called 911 immediately. 

I had recently completed my lifeguard training. There are two situations taught in lifeguard training where, unless you’re a doctor with a plethora of medical resources at your disposal, you’re truly fucked (besides calling 911 and treating for shock). Those two situations are heart attacks and strokes. 

I ran after my dad and tried to convince him to sit down so I could treat him for shock before the ambulance arrived. He refused. I remember sitting on a chair in the living room, looking at my mom and saying, “he won’t let me help him.” We looked at each other for a brief moment, but that moment expressed every fear we had. I can’t quite summarize that instant. My mom ran after my dad. 

Madness. That’s how my dad describes how he felt from the moment he woke up that morning. We wouldn’t have the conversation about how he felt that morning for months because he lost most of his ability to speak. After what seemed an eternity, the ambulance arrived, and my little sister and I were left to our own devices.

 My sister was 13, and being the protective person I am, I tried to maintain my composure for her sake. What do you do after you see your parents at one of the most vulnerable moments of their lives? Anna and I just looked at each other, and commenced our longest Sims marathon to date (12 hours straight, if you’re curious). When I look back on this day, I think of three things: helplessness, endless hours of waiting, and playing The Sims.

Eventually, Anna and I learned that Dad was still alive, but even learning this offered little comfort. How would Dad be able to recover from a stroke, if at all? At the time he was in his early 40s. Would his age help him? Mom was a stay-at-home mom…how would Dad be able to continue working? There were so many questions, so little information, and no answers. 

I was re-introduced to my dad approximately three days later. I say re-introduced because outwardly, his personality had almost completely changed. Dad had great difficulty formulating his thoughts and pronouncing words. He also lost his ability to read. It was incredibly hard for him to communicate, but he still looked the same: no physical effects were present that most people associate with stroke victims. I can’t quite describe what it’s like to meet a man with the body of your dad, but the “scrambled brain” (his words) of a stroke victim. Towards the end of my visit, however, I realized there was one thing my dad hadn’t lost: his sense of humour. He was making fun of his inability to pronounce certain words by quoting the movie Highlander.

We were told my dad’s recovery process would take years. Although we knew it, it was a hard truth. Dad had to relearn speech, writing, and reading; his brain basically had to rewire itself with skills that most of us take for granted on a daily basis. As a journalist by trade, this was incredibly frustrating for him. My family was quickly surrounded by those who truly cared about our wellbeing, and we will be forever indebted to those people (believe it or not, some people will disappear when they hear the words ‘stroke victim’). 

The recovery process did indeed take years. However, thanks to recent efforts to reduce the impact of strokes by Alberta Health Services, my dad got incredibly quick care. He made a recovery that is quite literally miraculous. If you were to meet my dad today, you would not be able to tell that he had a stroke. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is. 

Eight years later, my dad regularly makes stroke jokes about his “fried noodle”. Not only has he relearned the skills and abilities he lost, he regularly uses them to promote stroke awareness. Literally one year post-stroke, he was advocating to improve the provincial stroke response strategy. He speaks about strokes. He wrote a feature in the Edmonton Journal about strokes (thanks PressReader for cutting me out of the family photograph). He also has his own blog where he writes about brain health and stroke awareness. My dad’s latest blog post is incredibly uplifting and indicative of his positive attitude post-stroke; go check it out. 

Today is indeed a celebration. Happy Strokeversary, Dad. You’re truly an inspiration. 

20170911_181606

Advertisements

A Love Letter to Books, the Present, and Myself

My entire adult life, I’ve consistently asked myself one question: where will I be one year from now?

This question leads to a string of follow-up questions: where will I be five years from now? Will I fulfill all of the goals I’ve set for myself? Will my goals change?

Will I fail?

Asking myself that final question, my brain immediately retreats under the comfort of my past accomplishments mixed with the utter denial that failure is possible. However, I then get hit with the reminder that failure is indeed possible, and that I have personally failed many times. I’ve failed as a sister, daughter, friend, student, and in many other capacities as well. I’ve failed to write a blog for the past few months, and have failed to even keep to my initial goal of writing two posts per month. We all fail, and failure is inevitable.

The thing is though, without failing, we are unable to fully understand the importance and excitement of fulfilling our goals. Goal setting can be a very scary prospect because it means that we are acknowledging that we wish to accomplish something, and that we may or may not accomplish it.

I have always been dedicated to goal setting, and I believe this practice has helped me earn a lot of the success I’ve experienced. Excluding the past year of my life, it has been fairly straightforward for me to set goals: they almost always involved school. However, upon the completion of my Master’s degree—and knowing I’m not interesting in pursuing a PhD—I realized that my main source of goal setting and fulfillment was now a chapter of my past.

This realization lead to a tumultuous and at times excruciating process of extracting myself from a formalized education system and into what is often terrifyingly described as “the real world”. Trying to pursue a career in my field has been difficult, as I’ve touched on in past blog posts. Living far away from my family and friends in Alberta was extremely hard right after my schooling was done. I was depressed for several months even as those close to me cheered me on, repeating that ambiguous statement that soon things will get better. To this sentiment, I kept telling myself that success was not happening fast enough. This is not to say I didn’t appreciate encouragement from my friends and family; this is to say that I did not know how to live in a world where I didn’t know where I would be a year from now. Hell, I didn’t even know where I would be in a month or two at the time.

My parents kept telling me to enjoy the present. They promised they wouldn’t let me starve or get evicted, knowing that I was searching for jobs every day. However, I found that I could not accept the present. I was hell-bent on hating the position that I found myself in. As you might imagine, this became tiring. Yet, I didn’t care: the present fucking sucked and no one could make me like it.

Books ended up saving me from my constant state of negativity. I started reading with renewed vigor, trying to provide myself with some sort of escapism. I first escaped to rural Sweden with Stieg Larsson’s thriller The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I continued to read my way through other faraway locales such as Paris and England. What had started out as escapism eventually (over the course of several months) led me to appreciate my own present, and gave me the perspective that I am an actor in my own story. Along with reading, starting my current job, making new friends, and rediscovering yoga continued to help me appreciate the value of the present.

I now try to seek out opportunities to appreciate the present as much as possible. I continue to be inspired by books, and have coincidentally (?) read many books recently that use the present/notion of time as a major theme. These books include A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett, Room by Emma Donoghue, The High Mountains of Portugal The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel, The Shack by Wm. Paul Young, and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I highly recommend all of these books, and would love to hear your thoughts on them if you’ve read them.

I am proud to say that I’m now more comfortable living in the present, and am more able to appreciate the opportunities that the present affords me. I’ve learned to create more manageable goals that strike a balance between keeping me motivating and not threatening my ability to appreciate my life right now. While I am far from figuring this whole adult thing out, I finally feel like I’m taking control of the pen and writing my next chapter.

My Complicated Relationship with Food

This weekend, one of my best friends from high school is getting married! I’m also incredibly excited because I am one of her two maids of honour (couldn’t break up a trio of high school best friends!).

Big events involving food, however, are often sources of fear for me. Having had anaphylactic food allergies for my entire life, weddings, graduations, and parties are all synonymous with that big question: will I be able to eat anything? And if that question seemed anti-climactic to you, I will have you know I am an extreme foodie and would probably weigh six hundred pounds if I didn’t have my food allergies.

On a more serious note, this question is an important one. The risk of eating anywhere—but particularly at large events—can be increased by so many factors, including carelessness, honest mistakes, and misunderstandings. Personally, I find choosing to eat anywhere outside of my home rests on the amount of trust I am able to place in the people making the food. However, I never fully trust anyone; I’ve had too many close calls.

I’ve had allergy attacks in strange places: the tallest building in China, rural Peru at 4000 meters of elevation (no they don’t have 24/7 emergency rooms and yes the elevation makes it hard to breathe to begin with), a corn maze, and my own kitchen (sadly true on more than one occasion). Although the locales, circumstances, and the severity of reactions change, the emotional burden remains fairly consistent. Being in my twenties I have developed a system of monitoring my physical symptoms, but emotionally staring death in the face is never an easy thing. While allergy attacks can become severe quickly, especially if you have anaphylaxis, I often feel like time slows down. The back of my throat starts swelling; then if my entire throat begins to swell I know I need to reach for my Epi-Pen and call an ambulance. I continuously swallow in order to judge how worried I need to be about the quick arrival of the paramedics. All the while, at the back of my mind I know that I can die within minutes.

This may sound dramatic to you, but it is my reality. Recently, my fellow maid of honor in the upcoming wedding has been diagnosed with celiac disease. Although celiac disease and allergies affect bodies very differently, living with celiac and allergies is very similar. With her recent diagnosis, my friend has been experiencing frustration with those who do not understand her condition, along with frustration at coping with her food restrictions. Hearing her experiences makes me reconsider how I cope with my food allergies. While I’m pretty used to receiving comments such as “wow, having allergies must really suck” or “wow, so what do you even eat?”, they continue to be difficult to respond to. Yes, having allergies sucks, but I’ve learned to live with them. Yes, I do eat food besides lettuce.

Luckily, understanding and tolerance of food restrictions has grown significantly in recent years. I am very fortunate to have friends (like my friend getting married this upcoming weekend) who are extremely careful with my allergies. I am also very fortunate to live in a country that understands the importance of universal healthcare, thereby giving me the ability to acquire an Epi-Pen for significantly less than $600 (a cruel act of capitalism my allergy brethren in the United States are currently facing).

I thought this blog post would be particularly fitting for October; Thanksgiving is next weekend, and Halloween will soon be upon us. If you know someone with a food restriction, please be mindful of that. If you have sincere questions about a person’s dietary needs, just ask. If—Heaven forbid—someone has a reaction, call the ambulance immediately. Also, a bonus to calling the ambulance is that you will get to see attractive paramedics: my favourite part (although I always look like complete shit by the time paramedics arrive when I have allergy attacks; lack of oxygen will do that to a girl).

Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and happy (safe) eating!

That Time I Accidentally Met Prince Harry

This past May—you guessed it—I accidentally met Prince Harry.

I was walking to school to clean out my locker, which for some reason was the only day I was able to do so. I could see some people gathering at Queen’s Park (the Ontario legislature- see the picture above) but brushed it off as one of the many protests that regularly occur there. After talking to a couple of the admin ladies, I was told that Prince Harry was on his way to meet with some officials in order to promote the Invictus Games (note: the Games are basically the Olympics for retired and previously injured military personnel, and will be taking place in Toronto next summer).

Naturally, I had to see if I could get a glimpse of my future husband. As many of my friends and family know, I often seem to find myself in circumstances in which I see famous people. I have no idea why this happens to me, but I am definitely not complaining about it.

As I readied myself for what I was hoping would be a short stakeout, I did one of my favourite things: people-watched. Someone had brought their baby in hopes of getting it blessed with the prince’s lips. Women of all ages were hoping HRH would fall in love with them at first sight. The majority of people were (unsurprisingly) hardcore royalists. As excited as I was about seeing Prince Harry, I am not necessarily a royalist. Fully realizing this in such a setting made me question why I was therefore so excited to see Prince Harry.

Canada has the United Kingdom to thank for many of the things we might assume are inherently ‘Canadian’: our court system and governmental system, to name a couple of examples. Traditions that have been passed down for centuries from our English friends across the pond have no doubt influenced Canada in ways we probably can’t even fully realize. Personally, I can’t help but question how necessary the English monarchy are for Canada’s future (aside from my future marriage to Prince Harry). While they are not government decision-makers, the monarchy does continue to be incredibly and significantly symbolic. I didn’t understand the extent of how important the monarchy continues to be as figureheads until I was waiting for Prince Harry to arrive: and let me tell you, royalists would probably give up their firstborn child to catch a glimpse of a royal.

Continuing to ponder Canadian identity, I had to think of my move to Toronto last year. After driving across Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and being fortunate enough to visit Quebec last summer, I felt much stronger in my identity as a Canadian. Prior to this adventure, I felt much stronger in my Albertan identity as opposed to my Canadian identity.

Canada is a large country with a diverse population, which is one of the most beautiful things about Canada. However, the vastness of Canada also means that it is often cheaper to travel abroad rather than travel to a different part of Canada, which is quite unfortunate. I think it makes sense that we identify more intimately with the geographical location where we spend most of our time, but after this past year, I’m of the opinion that Canadians—myself included—need to start investing more time into our Canadian identities as both individuals and united citizens.

Long story short, I realized that I was excited to see Prince Harry because I am a major history nerd. I may or may not be slightly obsessed with medieval English history. However, this obsession doesn’t stem from some sort of romantic notion of a prince sweeping a princess off her feet. Being the criminology geek that I am, I love this period of history because of the political deviance: the brutal and regularly bloody political deviance of the monarchy (and other nobles) that used every tool they had to maintain and gain power.

To summarize: I was excited to see Prince Harry because to me, he is a direct connection to the centuries of intricate medieval politics that I so love. And another reason for my excitement might be that I find him attractive.

I ended up getting an amazing selfie with Prince Harry; he came right up to me (which doesn’t always happen with public figures, in my experience) and it resulted in one of my favourite pictures ever. He was incredibly sweet, and joked around a bit with me. A British newspaper then interviewed me on my experience meeting HRH, since he did take the time to talk to me. I haven’t been able to find the article yet, unfortunately. However, the journalist took my information, so I rest easy knowing that Prince Harry has the ability to find me once he realizes I am his dream girl.

20160917_180908

For those of you who are familiar with my facial expressions, you can tell how excited I am in this picture!

P.S. I apologize for how long it’s been since my last post; my parents’ visit coupled with starting a new job has resulted in a tad bit of craziness. Now that I’m in the swing of things, I plan to continue with weekly blog installments! Meanwhile, I’ll be over here questioning my life decisions over a cup of tea.