Up and At ‘Em

Lately, it’s occurred to me
What a long, strange trip it’s been.
‘Truckin’- The Grateful Dead

“Doesn’t Dad weigh about,like ninety pounds now?”, my son Adam asked my daughter Rachelle from the outback in Australia where he has been working on a sheep ranch. He and Rachelle had been messaging, or whatever you call it, on Facebook.
“I told him that you had put on most of the weight you had lost on your trek in Nepal,” Rachelle informed me. “But I also said that you hadn’t speeded up any, either. Remember that last trip to Costco when we were grocery shopping and you walked into the freezer area to pick up some milk and eggs, I think it was. Do you remember the sloth in the movie ‘Zootopia’? I told him that you moved at exactly the same speed.”

Maybe some old injuries and illnesses have something to do with this present sad state of affairs. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the roads through the Himalayas are not paved at all. That was my first thought as we set out on our first morning of actual trekking. The previous night spent at the teahouse of the laughing-man-peeling-potatoes had been surprisingly pleasant and comfortable, with a large and delicious breakfast on outdoor tables overlooking a fast-moving river and a suspension bridge. It was the first of many that we would have to cross, so many that Ieven began to think of myself as a bow-legged, limping Indiana Jones. And across from this rushing river was a very large and ornate modern edifice. “What’s that?” I asked our host.
“Chinese government building,” came back the answer. Apparently these structures are now all over Nepal, as Chinese expansionism has not limited itself to Tibet. I couldn’t help thinking that Nepal could use its own version of Donald Trump and I pictured a large, orange-coiffed Nepalese with a golf club in his hand, tweeting out nightly about the need to build a wall and keep out the Chinese. Maybe he could even get the Chinese to build it, seeing as how they’d already had the experience a few thousand years ago.

Thank God, however, that I was finally away from Trump coverage twenty-four seven. We aimed to spend the night at a place called Ghermu. The first couple of hours were pleasant with vistas that reminded me of the Swiss Alps,but my mind jumped ahead to what could be considered as possible Terrors of the Trek. Such things as earthquakes, Yeti the Abominable Snowman and spending time twenty-four seven with your spouse.

I of course include my own company in this nightmare scenario. Was it only yesterday that my loving daughter remarked in the middle of a grocery-shopping expedition that “I can only take you in small doses, Dad.”

My mind was brought back to the moment by jeeps roaring by raising dust. Washing clothes could be a problem for us, I mused, but then almost immediately we passed by a woman doing laundry in a washtub with her feet, a cigarette stuck in the middle of her mouth and a big smile on her face. So that was good… I would not be stuck wearing dusty clothes throughout the next three weeks. I wondered if the North American media machine could get womenkind…oops… I meant humankind, adopting this new and very practical method of low-impact aerobics.

The village of Gherma was still several hours ahead and apparently there were lots of teahouses from which to choose, not just the one recommended in ‘Lonely Planet.’ We kept on walking, Brenda usually outpacing my limping, bow-legged gait. My arthritic knees made me feel like the crippled kid who couldn’t keep up in the Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tale ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin.’
O.K. … I’m showing my age with that particular turn of phrase.
I was walking like a special needs child.
One day down, eighteen more to go.

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Trek Take-Off

As we organized our backpacks in the Kathmandu Guest House the evening before the actual trek began, Brenda offered me plastic bags to keep my things organized. “You know, one for the heavier clothing, one for the laundry,” blah,blah,blah.
I thanked her and then threw everything willy-nilly into my backpack.

The thing is, I wasn’t even going to have to carry all this stuff by myself. Brenda had arranged for a porter to carry a share of our stock. “Come on,” I had protested at first,”we walked the whole Camino Santiago, 800 kilometres, me with blisters so bad until the two hundred kilometre mark that every step was agony,not to mention Machu Picchu, where I was Rachelle’s packhorse as well and now you want to go the British aristocrat route with some poor, what do they call them, sherpas, carrying everything ? Is the poor devil gonna have to call me Bwana Dave as well ?” Despite my well-earned reputation as a scoffer at all things millenial, I’m an egalitarian at heart. Brenda was used to my bellicose bluster after more than thirty years.Taking your spouse with a grain of salt helps make most anything a little more palatable. “Look,”she said, “the Camino is a summer trek. Lighter clothing. We’ve got a lot of heavier supplies this time around. We’re hiking up the Himalayas, reaching almost 5000 metres. And you’re almost sixty two years old.” She hadn’t quite finished. “And what about those arthritic knees that you’re always whining about?”

The porter’s name was Sunil and he was eighteen years old. The same age as our daughter, our youngest child. It didn’t seem that long ago that I was carrying her bag on Peru’s Machu Picchu trek.
Where, by gum, have the years gone ?
We were to leave by six a.m. the next morning. There was an A.T.M. at the exit to the Guest House and although it had been empty the night before departure, we were assured it would be stocked with hundreds of crisp new rupees by the next morning. Actually, we had arrived with plenty of American dollars, good as gold anywhere in the world we had always found, but our travel coordinator Chandra wanted to be paid in cash, as Visa always takes five percent from the merchants. Brenda was responsible for the money. “I organized the trip,” she responded when I mouthed my mild protests. She also claims I’m not wary enough of pickpockets, too much of a soft touch with beggars and not a hardnosed negotiator while haggling. But despite her usual sagacity with a dollar, Brenda seems to be a soft touch with Buddhists and Hindus. She takes a harder line with Christians and Muslims, and me. Must have something to do with past lives and karma working itself out. We had even tried to get a cash advance on our Visa card the day before, making the rounds of the banks. No luck. Every banker looked at us in bewilderment as we profferred our Visa, as incredulous as if we were offering them Canadian Tire money. Visa may be everywhere you want to be, except in Nepal. That Morgan Freeman is full of shit, man.

So it was back to the ATM that morning of departure. I inserted my debit card at 6:15 a.m. Nothing happened. There was a security guard standing nearby. “This machine worked a couple of days ago,” I informed him. “Do you know what’s going on?”
“They don’t bring the money until 8 a.m.” Wonderful. We were supposed to have put in the first hour of our bus ride by then.

Sunil still hadn’t arrived by 6:30. We put in a call to Chandra, who had hired the guy for us. “He’s on Nepal time,” was Chandra’s explanation.

When he showed up at 6:45 a.m. Sunil’s bloodshot eyes made it look like he had already spent his first day’s pay on some Nepalese celebratory liquor. No big deal. We wouldn’t be doing too much hiking this first day anyway. We hailed a taxi and while loading up either Sunil or the cabbie slammed the trunk on one of the backpacks’ clasps, leaving it inoperable. The sun hadn’t even come up yet and already we were departing late, short of cash, with a hungover porter and now a partially-disabled backpack. But if we were quick we could still catch our bus at the terminal by 7:00 a.m.

At 7:30 a.m. we were still seated on the bus in the terminal parking lot, going nowhere. We were joined by two other apparently lost souls. Brenda finished her second banana of the morning and looked over at the bus driver. “Where’s the garbage?” she asked. He merely looked out the window at the litter, a trash-strewn parking lot. “Oh, okay.”

After an hour-and-a-half wait sitting on a near-empty bus we started to see some action. The bus was almost full by the time we pulled out at 9 a.m. but the drive getting out of Kathmandu was agonizing. Apparently we weren’t the only bus leaving the city. The bus drive, while slow, was very civilized however, with a washroom break after an hour and a half and then a stop for lunch. The dal bhat buffet was very impressive and service was carried out with friendly smiles. The friendly smiles remained constant for the three week trek, but my gastro-intestinal system did not stay as cheery.

Seven hours later the bus pulled in to Bessarabi, its last stop. Not one of the tree ATMs was working. I asked our porter, Sunil, if any of the villages we would be hiking through in the next few days had any money machines. He shook his head, sadly. Well, no matter. We had been in worse predicaments and the universe had not yet pulled the plug on either of us. It was getting dark and it was supposed to be a three and a half hour walk to Bulbule, the village where we planned to spend the night before our first full day’s trek. We found four other hardy souls who were on the same mission and hired a jeep that started out on roads that would have been right at home in battle-scarred Afghanistan. A little more than an hour later we rolled out of our seats and I spotted a guest house right beside a suspension bridge and a woman who seemed anxious for our business. We were in no position to argue. I’d had enough for one day. Even if we were heading into the House of Horrors I wasn’t going any farther and Brenda realized that.
We shouldered our backpacks and made our way to the front door. Outside the kitchen there was a small man peeling potatoes and laughing non-stop.
Maybe he knew something we didn’t.

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Apparently the way to go for any wannabe writers are romance novels. They are the best sellers in modern day literature.
But for a guy whose first gift to his prospective wife was a tiny cactus plant, followed by a dozen plastic roses after the birth of our first-born, I don’t know if I have the right stuff for that line of literature. I’m still trying to find my niche.

But I have discovered that critics are everywhere. Usually in close proximity. My wife Brenda usually ranks # One on that list. She’s an irregular reader of my blogs, at the best of times. But she did read the latest; Stage One of our travels to Nepal.
“You’re always so negative. Why don’t you write about the good features, the great experiences of our trip. You sound like an embittered, grouchy, grumpy old man.”
Before snapping back in self-defense as I usually do, I decided to think about it for a little while.
“Yeah… so ?” I countered.
Or I could have come back with the line Jimmy Moore, my university hockey coach in the 1970s and as an old-school individual as one could find, used to give us when we’d come to him with complaints about everything from ice time to the amount of meal money on road trips. “As they say in Russia, Davey, tough shitsky !” he’d chortle.

I remember reading something Ernest Hemingway wrote about it being the writer’s job to always write the truth, and to report on what the weather was.
At least I usually get the weather component right, usually.

But to be truthful, there was still a lot of damage from the huge earthquake of two and a half years’ previous. A Nepalese named Chandra was the coordinator through which Brenda did our booking. “Tourism has only come back to about 40 % of the level before the earthquake,” he informed us. Chandra had started in the tourism business as a guide, had improved his English to a high level and decided he didn’t want to work for other people for the rest of his life. Other people would work for him. His booking us into the Kathmandu Guest House was an inspired choice. The staff was unfailingly friendly and the buffet breakfast had me returning for three or four fill-ups. There would be a lot of calories to burn off during a three week Himalayan trek.
That’s being positive, isn’t it ?

One cannot make a trip to Nepal without visiting the Royal Palace. It’s located in something called Durber Square and it had been badly damaged by the quake. Admission inside most buildings was not permitted throughout the period of renovation, leaving us with a sense of dissatisfaction.
Cracked or not, the architecture was superb. But even so, the kings or the ancient Hindus or whoever had done the designing to please the gods and goddesses had had the practical foresight to leave room for a sizeable market square. Someone had to pay the bills, after all.
This area was dubbed Grasshopper Square. Maybe the initial proprietor had been a fan of David Carradine and the t.v. show Kung Fu. But the salespeople within, whether they had any connection to grasshoppers or not, were relentless. When Brenda cast her discerning eye over a small statue of Buddha, the salesman was more than slightly encouraged.
“You want that Buddha? I give special price for you. Only $20.00”. My wife’s obvious lack of interest forced the poor soul to rein in his hopes as she turned her back and began her walk out of the overpriced square.
“One dollar?” was the last offer heard coming from the luckless vendor. Poor devil had overplayed his hand and karma was not cooperating.

Outside the square and into the streets scooters and motorbikes had taken over the streets, going in all directions at once and leaving little room for an entitled and arrogant Ottawa pedestrian. Joining us on foot were stray dogs and the odd sacred cow whose only pastureland was the occasional overturned garbage can. Somehow, someway, collisions seemed to be avoided until one motorcycle wheel ran up the back of my leg. Predictably enough, I received no sympathy from my travel-hardened wife. “You’ve got to watch and be careful,” she warned me, too late to do any good. “Thanks for the advice,” I grunted, limping quickly out of the way before any other motorcyclists decided to finish me off. I glared back at my ever-loving spouse. Everything happens so fast in an Asian city. One tiny, innocuous shove might do the job. No eye witness account would stand up in court.

Fortunately, both of us were able to make it back to the hotel unaided. Two, maybe three of those Nepal beers might help me recover from my trauma. Tomorrow morning, early, we would be catching a cab and then a bus which would take us off to, as the wrestling announcers of my youth used to say, parts unknown. “What time are we leaving tomorrow,” I asked the boss. My contribution to trip preparations usually amounted to grunting when Brenda asked if the itinerary met with my approval.
“Does that mean we miss that buffet breakfast tomorrow morning?” I inquired.

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On the Road to Nepal

One can sometimes have great, deep thoughts at elevated altitudes, which usually reveal themselves as nonsense once one returns to a lower, livable altitude.

That’s not really true in my case. At the beginning of our most-recent Asian excursion my feelings inclined more to irritation and annoyance.
“Make sure that you move around as much as you can during this fourteen hour flight between Toronto and Guong Zhou. That woman, Carol, who spoke about Nepal at Abbotsford House on Bank Street had a son who had been doing a lot of long, international flights and he died of something called deep vein thrombosis.”
“Jeezus Murphy,” I said to my wife, Brenda, after hearing this. “Good thing you never tried to make your living as a motivational speaker. You expect me to get on a plane where just one stage of the flight is fourteen hours after you tell me that!”
It was fourteen and one half hours to Guang Zhou, China from Toronto, a six hour wait in the airport in China and then finally a four and a half hour flight to Kathmandu. The worst part of the whole ‘experience’ is when I got on the plane in Toronto and found my seat. I was wedged in between two others, naturally. Which is when the second stage of my whining commenced.
“You know how I don’t even like flying anyway, and how claustrophobic I am.” I began to panic. I glanced about wildly. There was still time. “I’m getting the hell off.”
Brenda had been more fortunate. She had an aisle seat, right beside a Chinese woman with two children under the age of four. The younger one was already crawling all over the adjacent seats.
“Okay,” said Brenda, “We can trade, if that’s what you want. Are you ready to do some baby-sitting?”
Better that than screaming in anguish for the next several hours. I didn’t want to test the patience of China Southern Airlines. After all I read in the media about how the Chinese deal with dissidents.

Actually, I was very impressed, as it turned out. The flight attendants obviously knew that constant feeding would sooth the savage breast and even the little guy beside me, after taking one look at me, stayed on his best behaviour. Stage One of the trip was almost over; getting there. I never know what to expect with one of Brenda’s trips, except that you can bet I’ll get sick somewhere along the way.

At some point our three flights were over and the fun was supposed to start. Don’t think that I didn’t wonder what a sixty one year old man was doing going on an almost three week trek in the Himalayas , but reality and I have never had a close relationship anyway. The taxi ride from the airport on the outskirts of Kathmandu into the city centre was interesting to say the least. It was terrifying to say the most.
I’ve driven in many countries in Europe and rented a car for three memorable weeks in Turkey, but I’ve never seen anything like this. There were no lanes and seemingly no rules. Traffic weaved to and fro and missed each other going head on by centimetres. No one batted an eye. Most of the pedestrians, some of the bravest souls I could ever imagine, were wearing those surgical masks to make sure their lungs still functioned if they ever made it to their destination alive.
If they ever decided to give the world an enema, they’d make the injection in Kathmandu. We had a hotel booked. I was just dreading to see what Brenda had come up with this time.

A gem, as it turned out. The Kathmandu Guest House was the Garden of Eden. Adequate rooms, but an exquisite garden of an inner courtyard with engraved stones of famous former guests. The Beatles had their own stone and I imagined that their stay was a stop on their way to India, when they started the spiritual stage of their immortal careers.

I’ve been on a spiritual search for most of my very mortal career, but if you visit the Kathmandu Guest House I can’t guarantee a stone with my name on it.

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Goin’ Back to Houston

“I’ve been through hell and half of Texas.”
-Janis Joplin

“If I owned both hell and Texas, I’d rent out Texas and live in hell.”
-General Philip Sheridan, Union General during the Civil War commenting on the Texas countryside during the famous Union Army march from Georgia to the sea throughout the last months of the war

Like father, like daughter. Rachelle surprised me by deciding at literally the last minute to make Bishop’s University her choice for higher education for the next four years. I had made the same decision a mere forty two years earlier. Three weeks into her stay was the official Bishop’s Homecoming weekend. She e-mailed me with her cryptic message: “Homecoming was great. Too bad you missed it. There were a lot of senior citizens here you would have enjoyed talking to.”

No doubt. We could have enjoyed our warm milk and oatmeal but would have probably fallen asleep just before the pubs would be opening. Maybe next year…if I’m lucky!
The reason I had to pass up what could be my last Homecoming reunion was because of the unlikely event of a hockey tournament in Houston. Yes, that Houston, the city built on a floodplain and which was hit by six days and six nights of non-stop torrential downpour. “Has the arena floated away?” I asked my friend Jim who lives half the year in that Texan city and the other half a few streets from me in Ottawa. “Nope… they assure me the arena is in fine shape and the tournament is on,” came Jim’s reply. “I’ve also invited Nick and Chris and they’ve already booked their tickets.”
“Yeah, well, the last photos you showed me on your phone the highways looked like the Ottawa River.” Jim shrugged. “My wife Barb and I have booked a flight on United. And you have a spot on one of the teams that are in the tournament.”
Jim knew he had me there. It sounds absurd that a 61 year old man wants still another play session, but whenever an invitation is extended for an out -of-town tournament I start pacing around the kitchen table, figuring out how to juggle appointments, chores, dog-walking and any other commitment I may have in order to find room for another playdate. I believe psychologists label it the Peter Pan Syndrome.
United breaks guitars. That line became famous a couple of years ago when, I suppose, United Airlines broke the guitar of some musical dude. The first part of the trip would be easy. We were flying Air Canada to Washington D.C. and I was given permission by the woman at the check-in counter in Ottawa to just tape my two sticks to the strap of my hockey bag.
Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

Indeed. That full speed was easier done without the load of my hockey equipment and sticks which had not followed me onto the proper plane when we stopped over in Washington. No big deal, I was told at baggage recovery in Houston. “We’ll take your address and your equipment will be delivered to the house by nightfall.” Yeah, I thought. That’s what they told the guitar guy as well.

The rented car that Jim, Liz and I were driving from the Texas airport to their home in the Heights was stopped at a railway crossing. Jim was already in giddyup Texas mode. Despite the warning clanging of an approaching train Jim must have been a Pony Express driver in a past life. “Go, Barb, go,” he urged his wife on, who was fortunately at the wheel. Barb was made of saner stuff. She held her ground, indifferent to the impatient honking from behind. Jim’s impatience, however, had obviously inspired those foolhardy souls from the other side of the tracks. They obviously had a meeting to make, a bar to get to, or maybe just wanted to get back on the job, keeping the Texas economy great. Three cars made it through the flashing red lights, along with one plumbing truck, memorable to me because of the lettering on its side panel. ‘A flush beats a full house.’ Amazingly they also avoided the barrier arms which were now lowered. I had not observed a better job of turning and swerving- by- obstacles since I had last seen the Ottawa Senators hockey team race around pylons during an on-ice practice session. Toto, you’re not in Ottawa anymore. On each of the rail cars were written the words: No humping. No packing.
If any of you can figure that out, please let me know.

Perhaps because of the stress of our drive home, we stopped in at a bar to mend our shattered nerves. The sign outside read ‘The Hunky Dory. Steak, wine, whiskey.’
It was probably after my second beer that I made my way to the washroom. I was stopped in my tracks when I looked at the wording on the door which read, ‘Gays Restroom.’ Jesus, I thought to myself. Texas has come a long ways. Well, why not, I thought to myself. I’m as progressive as the next guy. I was pushing the door open but upon a second blinking of my eyes I was able to read the actual lettering of ‘Guys’ Washroom.’

Nick and Chris arrived the next day, their hockey gear with them. Luckily, my equipment was delivered the same day and so we were set to play. Chris wondered about my decision not to just walk on board the plane carrying my two sticks. “They’re so short, you could have just walked on board using them as canes,” he snickered, not entirely inaccurately. Thank God for teammates. They keep you humble.

So maybe the west was won, but not by me, and my team didn’t win the tournament either.. The week was over soon enough and once again it was time to fly, you guessed it, United, back to the Great White North. The flight from Houston to Washington, in these days of economical airlines, was not deemed long enough to serve anything but soft drinks, sodas to our American cousins. And I didn’t want to order a beer, having remembered what that did to my eyesight earlier on in my adventure. “I’ll have a Coke,” I advised the young flight attendant. (I understand that they’ve been called flight attendants for at least three decades now.) She seemed distracted by another customer. “Did you say a ginger ale?” she inquired again.
“No,” a Coke,” I reminded her mildly. I can be surprisingly patient at times. She nodded at me, smiled, and handed me a ginger ale.
My hockey sticks didn’t make it to the Ottawa airport that night either !

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Empty Nest

“I’ve always been crazy but it’s kept me from going insane.”
-Waylon Jennings

The sign in the Bed and Breakfast’s bathroom wall read:
Our aim is to keep the bathrooms clean.
Gentlemen: Stand closer. It’s shorter than you think.
Ladies: Please stay seated for the entire performance.

So it’s come to this. I’m now getting my best lines off of bathroom walls. And I’m thinking of stealing those lines and putting them up in our own bathroom when we start our own bed and breakfast business.

It’s called the Empty Nest Syndrome. The third and last of our spawn, the scrapings of the pot (she objects when I refer to her in that way) moved out almost three weeks ago. My wife Brenda and I helped her pack up her belongings and we temporarily piled them up by the front door. Our daughter Rachelle has never been known to pack one pair of shoes when four or five would do. She does excuse herself by saying that she hardly owns any dresses. But a couple of months ago one of my errands was to go to the dry cleaners and pick up what she would be wearing to the high school prom. I was in a hurry. “I’ve got a dress to pay for and pick up,” I told the polite young cashier. He looked at me, as if needing more information. I felt a sudden surge of… I don’t really know what. “Not my dress,” I hurriedly added. “But who cares anyway? It is 2017, after all.” Paraphrasing Justin Trudeau was the best I could do.

We still had to pack everything op and we had two choices: our 2004 Mazda 7 or our 2006 Toyota Corolla. Two imperfect choices, much like the decision to use arsenic or hemlock. The Toyota, although ultra-dependable would be packed to the gills, leaving few sightlines. The Mazda… well, it’s had three beginning drivers literally learn through the school of hard knocks on this unfortunate vehicle. My wife never agreed with the concept of paying others for Driver’s Education. “I’m a teacher, aren’t I,” she’d retort whenever I meekly opined that maybe a third party would be a safer choice for this particular life lesson. “And I can drive, can’t I? So it only makes sense…”

Of course. The result is that our Mazda 7 doesn’t look much better than the horseless carriage that the Beverly Hillbillies drove and Brenda doesn’t like to think of herself as Granny Clampett. There’s some rust on the sides, “Not too much,” I always say, and the front bumper is held together by wire. “You can hardly see it.” Just to make sure it’s a matching set there’s also a crack in the rear bumper. And it’s not really a case of looking like the Beast and driving like Beauty. We’ve had to pull over more than a few times. I’m on a first name basis with most of the CAA tow truck drivers in the Ottawa Valley district. I always protest when Brenda starts up again about selling it to the local bodywork shop that has seen so much of our business. Her take is that with only two drivers left for much of the time, who needs two cars?

So the Toyota is it. Squeezing everything in left only enough room for Rachelle and me. Brenda would have to say good-bye in the driveway. That’s fine with me; I don’t need an eight hour round trip of driving instructions anyway. When I came back it would to an empty nest.

A five bedroom nest. Brenda and I have actually run that type of business twice before, in two different locations while we both held full-time teaching jobs. We always enjoyed it, and unlike many, we never minded having strangers in the house. They often do a lot less damage than family members. But ironically, mornings could be more of a problem now than when we were working. I’ve usually got hockey, often late at night and which includes the mandatory obligation of having a post game beer, and Brenda likes the early morning workout classes at the gym. So I was thinking, couldn’t we just leave a note on the kitchen table saying…
Be back sometime. Do you mind making your own breakfast?

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The Grim Reaper

I’m not going to go all cosmic on you and say that I saw God during my recent Near Death Experience.
Well…okay. It wasn’t really a NDE. But driving myself to the hospital that Monday morning the pain was so bad that I was afraid I was going to die. Then it got even worse, and I was more afraid that I wasn’t going to die.

Really. Not that I see myself as that old guy in the Dos Equis beer commercial ‘The Most Interesting Man Alive’ or anything, but as my mother used to say when I was a kid,”David doesn’t get sick very often, but when he does he gets really sick.”

What tipped me off was when I started vomiting blood. At first I wrote it off as the cheap wine I had imbibed the night before, but when the blood started flowing from both ends I decided that I couldn’t ignore the red flags any longer. Sorry for the bad pun and the graphics, dear readers.

It was Monday morning and I naively figured that the usual weekend crowd of drunks, overdoses and knife fights would have already been bedded down or else shuffled off from whence they came. As I approached the Civic Hospital Emergency parking lot I cursed quietly to myself as I read the ‘Lot Full’ sign across the entrance. I turned the corner and joined the line on Ruskin Avenue as I waited for a parking spot to open up. I’m not the most patient man in the world, but a few whispered feverish prayers seemed to open up the blockade. I realize we all have our own opinion on that.The man at check-in (nurse ? office manager ? administrator?- people seem to be awfully sensitive about their job titles these days) of course asked me for my Health card and I felt very proud when I flipped through my wallet and produced it instantly. He gave me a funny look and passed it back. I had handed him my fishing license. “Never mind, sir,” the ‘administrator’ had seen plenty of doddering old men, confused by any query up to and including reciting their own name. “I’m in the system,” I said, trying to help him out. And then, “How long is the wait?” He leaned back in his chair. It was the first time I had seen him smile. “Hours,” was the answer. “Take a seat.” He gestured to the waiting room, crowded with suffering humanity, hardly a spare seat in sight.

I was very fortunate that two chairs became vacant as I shuffled over, carefully eyeing the proximity of the nearest restroom. I plunked myself down and put my reading material beside me. My wife had told me that she would be coming, but so would Christmas, I thought. An older gentleman (my age?) saw the empty spot and hurried over. “Excuse me, is that chair occupied?” he inquired.
“I’m dying,” I answered. I thought a little drama might scare him away.
“We all are,” he replied. “That’s not what I asked you. Can I sit here?”
Of course I obliged. Maybe he could save my seat until my wife arrived while I was running to the restroom every five minutes.Two of the cleaning staff were over in the corner.”The usual manic Monday,” one of them opined. “When will people learn not to come in to Emergency on Mondays or Fridays.” Like most of my life lessons, I had just learned it through bitter experience.

Inch by inch, life is a cinch. I eventually did get through to a doctor, who listened to my symptoms and then sent me for bloodwork and a CT scan. I was called back in afterwards and by the look he gave me I knew that the news could be better. Thirty one years of reading people’s body language had left me with more than just a pension.
“The good news is that it’s not cancer,” he began. “The bad news is that you’ll have to stay in awhile for us to give you some more tests.” I looked over at my wife, who had arrived before Christmas. We were then led over to a young Asian male, who looked no older than someone sitting in my Grade Eleven Comparative Religions class. He introduced himself as Dr. Song, and proceeded to ask me all the same questions I had just gone through with the other young doctor. I know kids today don’t talk to each other much anymore, but couldn’t he have just texted the information over?

And then the young guy surprised me with a sucker punch. “I was looking over your records. It seems as if your PSA counts are high.” Oh shit. Here we go again. Dr. Song wasn’t finished singing yet. “It’s problematic. It seems as if you don’t have cancer but you don’t not have cancer.” Lovely. No better place to be caught than in No Man’s Land. Even though I’m not Catholic my condition is like those of countless souls floating in Purgatory, not knowing whether my final resting place will be heaven or hell.

Dr. Song was starting to get on my nerves. “So I’ll be getting a room tonight, or at least a bed?”
“Uhh, no.” He looked over at the recliner in the small examining room. “You can stay here. And we’ll be able to give you your colonoscopy and endoscopy tomorrow.” Wonderful.

An hour-and-a-half later I was meeting with Dr. Song’s superior and I was let go for the night, with promises to fast and not even drink water after midnight nor before my two operations at 12:30 p.m. the next day. “But I can take Advil?” I pleaded. By now it was like mother’s milk to me. “No, just Tylenol. Advil can cause internal bleeding and your system does’t need anymore of that.”

The next day after my two operations the head surgeon heard that I hadn’t eaten in three days and told me that he wanted to keep me in for a couple of days for observation. By this time I had seen three doctors and two surgeons had a CT scan, bloodwork and two operations. As my wife loaded me into a wheelchair I couldn’t help but wonder if I was just becoming another burden to the Canadian taxpayer. My wife Brenda pushed me into yet another waiting area where the old boy beside me was noisily puking into a bucket. Oh well, I thought, what I cost the system now will soon be negated because I probably won’t be collecting my old-age pension for very long. That thought brightened me up enough that I felt hunger for the first time in three days and asked for something to eat. The nurse obliged, the service was speedy and after one bite she looked at me and said,”That’s good. You can go home now.”
Whaat ?
“The surgeon was concerned that you couldn’t eat. We were going to hook you up to intravenous. But now that you can eat, we don’t have to keep you.” So I was given the bum’s rush out the door, but at least my wife didn’t have to push me out in a wheelchair.

For several days I continued to live on Tylenol and the upside was that soft ice cream seemed to agree with me. Even though my illness was always at its worst in the morning the fact that I was male and sixty one years old allowed me to rule out pregnancy as the culprit.

I’m still waiting on my results. If I see any of you on the street, you better turn tail and get away from me as fast as you can… or else you’ll have to listen to another long story about the next phase of my treatment !

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