A Week of Waiting Rooms

This past Sunday, September 6, 2009, my wonderful mother-in-law, Dawn Kenny, passed away. Last November this upbeat, energetic woman was diagnosed with an exceedingly rare form of cancer, cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer) at the age of 48. There has been no shortage of exclamations from friends and family: “It’s so unfair!” “How can it be?!” But rule #1 on the playground is life’s not fair.

Doug and I managed to get back to Ottawa before she died. Doug was in the oilfield when my father-in-law called to say Dawn had been moved to the ICU, and it was a frantic 24 hours trying to arrange flights, get Riker into the kennel, get Doug back home, and cancel our holiday plans (we were booked for a hiking trip in Oregon and Washington). Saturday the 29th we sat waiting for our flights from Rock Springs to Salt Lake, then SLC to Denver, then on to Ottawa in busy concourses filled with people, noise, and light. The whole time we were zombies, emotionally and physically exhausted, worried about what we’d find at the other end.

Sunday we went to the ICU at the Ottawa General (my first time in one) and spent hours in another kind of waiting room: this one with dim lights, chairs clustered together for anxious families, a tv droning in the background in an attempt to distract young children from the fact that a loved one had a 40% chance of leaving the unit alive.

By Tuesday we were up in the fifth floor waiting room – plush leather couches huddled in a small room just outside the oncology wing. There were magazines and newspapers people stared at but didn’t read. There was a desk with a solitary phone because cells were not allowed. From time to time tearful individuals went in to to use it, saying things like “We need to make arrangements.”

The following Sunday we were back in stiff airport chairs, hours after we’d gotten the 4:30am phone call. The wait was over.

This morning I walked the dog past the First Assembly of God Church and noticed they’d changed the sign out front from the last time I’d gone by. Appropriately, it said something along the lines of “Suffering is an education that should not be ignored.” In my short time on this planet, I’ve certainly learned a few things: it should hurt when someone you love dies; we are all capable of withstanding and overcoming great pain; and you really can’t appreciate life’s exquisite moments without sadness.

From Dawn in life, I learned about joy and joie de vivre. In death, she’s still teaching me.

KENNY-PAGNUTTI, Dawn Adele (nee Atkins) (July 10, 1960 – September 6, 2009) Dawn Adele Kenny (nee Atkins) did not live with moderation. She loved fully, laughed loudly, traveled extensively, and was happiest when surrounded by friends, family, good food and wine. Dawn was also an accomplished shopper – whether at snappy boutiques or garage sales – and collected everything from nutcrackers to tea pots to shoes. So much of what she bought or made (she painted, knit, crocheted and refinished furniture) went to loved ones, but she gave most generously of her time and enthusiasm, which she shared with many as a volunteer at local schools, Vintage Wings of Canada, and other places.

She will be remembered for her willingness to try new things (like hip hop dancing in her mid 40’s), her fondness for lipstick, and her seemingly boundless energy. Her sons, husband, sisters, parents, grandfather, nieces, nephews, cousins, in-laws (or outlaws as they were often called), friends and cats will all miss her.

In keeping with her personality and as per her wishes, a Funeral will not be held, but rather a celebration of life party will occur at a future date. Friends and family members will be invited and a notice will be sent out by email and posted in this newspaper. The family asks that no food or flowers be sent to the house. People are invited to give a donation in her name to the Canadian Cancer Society and can bring pink flowers when they attend the upcoming party. Thank you to the dedicated and caring staff at the Ottawa General Hospital’s fifth floor, ICU and Cancer Centre

The Metcalfe Genes and Training

For those of you who don’t know, my mother is a super-hero: she is an incredibly good researcher and advocate who can clearly and concisely get her point across on paper and in a meeting. Since I was a child, she has used her gift to right wrongs and keep people (like me) safe from corporate sloppiness, university bureaucracies, and plain old meanies.

I have been her apprentice all these years and – like a good grasshopper – have gone out in search of additional training. There was the summer I worked at McGill in the Donor Research programme, basically receiving training in sniffing out info on alumni. Then there was my work as a facilitator at the Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth at the University of British Columbia that taught me how to move difficult discussions along, listen to people without rolling my eyes, and ask probing questions to get at the root of the matter. (the second skill is probably the most useful one, btw!)

Well, the Metcalfe genes and training kicked into overdrive yesterday! Someone wrote a vicious (and hugely overblown) email about the Rock Springs Humane Society and had been circulating it for over a week before a caring supporter sent it to the director to give her a head’s up. Basically this alarmist email was trying to raise a mob to descend on our board meeting yesterday. We found out about the email the day before and by yesterday morning the director (my good friend) forwarded it to me. It was on.

Within a few minutes, I had compiled a table of all the people who had forwarded and received the email (at least in the ’email tree’ that had ended up with us). You see, the people had not thought to use the useful BCC function on their email accounts, and so all their names were in plain sight. Soon I had added their addresses and phone numbers, some of their ages, and some additional details – like place of work – to my table. It’s amazing what you can find out on the internet if you know where to look…

Then I set about responding to the email piece by piece. It turned into a three-page rebuttal. If all else fails, kill ’em with a logical, reasoned response. It’s a good thing I did, too, since the Rock Springs mayor, Tim Kaumo, had gotten wind of these accusations and came to the meeting yesterday. It was with more than a modicum of satisfaction that I gathered my document up and handed it to him.

I then briefly summarized the contents of my rebuttal to the board members and the dozen or so concerned citizens who had been roused by this email (or who had written it in the first place – that is still unclear!). While they did not show up bearing pitch forks, if we had been blindsided by this whole affair, things could have gotten very ugly.

In the end, though, while there were some heated discussions, I think we managed to squelch what could have been a huge blow-up. I, for one, walked away from the meeting feeling like some valid concerns had been raised, people were willing to be part of the solution (we even had a few people sign up to be volunteers!), and that most people present had conducted themselves in a reasonable manner. In addition, the mayor seems like a very approachable and animal-friendly sort of man, and is willing to work with us in the future for possible funding, etc.

It’s amazing what having a super-hero mom can teach you!

The votes are in: The Masked Avengers have won!

We are two days away from the American election and it’s getting pretty exciting.

The local middle schools here in Green River, WY have already held their mock elections, participating in the National Student/Parent Mock Election Day. The elections were pretty close, but the Republican McCain/Palin team won at both schools (161-103 at one and 145-120 at the other). I love what the local newspaper, the Green River Star, reported these sassy sixth-graders as saying about the election rumour-mills. One student, Alexander, said he had heard a rumour “that Obama is a terrorist and that he is going to make all white people his slaves if he is elected. He said people should focus on the facts and not rumours.” Another student, Erik, said he heard that “Palin has the IQ of a 2-year-old.”

It would be really interesting to know where these young voters have gotten their info: Fox News (the conservative, Rebublican mouthpiece); MSNBC (Democrat all the way); CNN (the “no bull, no bias” network); or perhaps parents, neighbours or their friendly neighbourhoud white supremacist group? Maybe they’re like me and watch Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show and The Colbert Report for their political news.

In any event, the idea behind the Mock Election Day is, of course, to start training pre-teens and teens to be civic-minded. Studies have shown that these sorts of initiatives mean youngsters are more likely to get out and vote for real when they reach the age of majority (but can’t yet drink alcohol, which I still think is very silly). Voter apathy is a real issue and Leonardo Di Caprio and friends have launched a video “Don’t Vote” to get through to US Citizens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhDRVKDcXQo

Then there is the more light-hearted side of things with Quebec comedy duo, The Masked Avengers, who just ‘punked’ Sarah Palin by pretending to be the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy (https://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/capress/081101/national/prankster_palin or to hear the conversation, go to https://ca.video.yahoo.com/watch/3842140/10491245). Palin was completely oblivious, but was actually quite diplomatic in the face of comments about hunting with Dick Cheney and the recent porn spoof of her in Hustler. But, as the pranksters said, she didn’t come across as all that intelligent.

She should feel like quite the celebrity, though, The Masked Avengers have similarly pranked Bill Gates, Britney Spears, and Sarkozy himself. Now Palin “the down-home, simple American” has more celebrity cachet to go along with her new $150,000 wardrobe.

Meanwhile back home in Canada…

There are definitely some interesting political happenings here in the US – what with the presidential race and all that… But in my book nothing beats good ol’ Canadian politico-cultural satire.

My dad – ever trawling the Web – forwarded this video to me. If you have ever lived in Quebec or another part of French-speaking Canada, or just like to make fun of Harper’s disconnect with much of Canada’s population, take a peek and be prepared to howl with laughter!

Culture en peril/Culture in Peril Video

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Human Slingshot

I am a little worried about what we’ll find in Rock Springs, but my more immediate fear is that the immigration officer at the border will reject us. If that happens, though, I have a plan: we’re going to slingshot across the border!

Doug and I were watching a show called Mythbusters on Discovery Channel last week. Each show, these wonderfully quirky scientists and engineers take an urban legend and try and prove or disprove it. The episode we happened across really fit our current situation: apparently one story in circulation is that people are being flung from Canada into the US using slingshots.

We thought this was absolutely hilarious. First of all, while the US offers many opportunities, who would give up universal health care in Canada to be shot across the border (where, I might add, you would need serious medical attention after being hurled 200 or so yards. And who wants to live in a country that still uses the imperial system with crazy measurements like yards?)?!

Anyway, the show’s experts dutifully constructed a slingshot of monstrous proportions and succeeded in launching a man-sized dummy a reasonable distance. It bears noting, however, that the dummy landed nowhere near the carefully placed mattress (hence the needed medical care). Also, I am sure with all the money being pumped into homeland security that its enforcers would surely notice if a group of people were constructing a slingshot so big it could be seen from space.

That there are enough people who believe in this slingshot idea that it made it on to Mythbusters is really frightening. Someone should tell these paranoid people that most Canadians are not willing to risk life and limb to go to the States. Maybe these folks should be focusing instead on building that big ol’ wall down along the Mexican border…

Crossing Over

The impending move to Wyoming is finally at hand.

We first found out about the posting for Doug’s new job back in early July, but it’s taken two months to get all the paperwork squared away and to convince them that we’d actually prefer to move sooner rather than later. Bouncing from family home to family home is not a long-term solution as far as we’re concerned…

Doug’s Work Visa application arrived last Friday after we’d gone away on a sanity-seeking mission in Merrickville, ON. We stopped watching the pot for one day and it finally boiled! Now we’ve launched into overdrive: the U-haul truck is booked (we’ll be towing our Mini Cooper behind it on a flat-bed trailer); the hotels en-route and at our destination are reserved; and we’ve set up new US dollar bank accounts. We knew that it would be a game of wait…..wait… now HURRY!

Now, I am a little worried that we’ll get down to the border at Sarnia, ON next Thursday and be turned away. Apparently how it works is we bring Doug’s Visa application and all our supporting paperwork there and then we’re interviewed by an immigration officer. Technically, he or she can reject us, but Doug assures me this is not likely.

Actually, Doug has had to reassure me a lot the past couple of days. Yesterday when I was trying to book us a hotel in Rock Springs, WY (where we’ll be living for the next 19 months or so) for a week, I discovered that many of the hotels were booked up for long-term stay. One of the reservation agents I spoke with who lives in RS says he’s had one fellow living in the hotel for SIX MONTHS! The agent told me that he was looking to rent an apartment and the cheapest he could find was $1000 for a “crappy loft” amd that housing prices were basically double what properties were worth. Sounds like another Fort McMoney (otherwise known as Fort McMurray in northern Alberta)!

As Doug reminds me, though, we are getting a a housing stipend (unknown amount at this point) from the company, and that should put us in a competitive position to rent a decent place for our time there. In fact, the company is going to reimburse us for our moving expenses, a 7-day stay in Rock Springs while we house-hunt, and will give us money for meals and household goods while we’re there. Mothers: tell your children to become mechanical engineers!!!

Ongoing Mysteries

Doug and I are still living day-to-day and week-to-week regarding the move to Wyoming. Everyone I’ve spoken with thinks it’s very strange we don’t know when we’re actually moving or where we’ll be living when we get down there. Me too!

I knew there would be a lot of hoops to jump through and headaches to contend with, but I think even I’m surprised by the piecemeal nature of the information, the amount of paperwork, and the number of different people handling Doug’s case. Just to name a few of our ‘handlers’: there’s Camille in Calgary; Holly in Texas; Trina in Wyoming; and half a dozen other people scattered across North America.

We do have some information: we know that Doug’s training begins in early October. He’ll spend one week in Houston and then go to Kellyville, Oklahoma for five days of driving training. I guess that’s where they’ll teach him how to drive the big truck 🙂 Then he’ll be in Rock Springs, WY for a few months of on-site training. Then back to Houston most likely for more in-class stuff. At least through all his back and forthing, I’ll be in one place!

We are really hoping to move down to Rock Springs in early September so we can get settled in before Doug goes off to his training (and so I can focus properly on the book again!). While we wait for more information, though, we’re doing everything possible to prepare. We’ve gathered most of our possessions at Doug’s parents’ place in Ottawa and we’re sorting through things ruthlessly.

To try and stay as sane as possible through all this, I am indulging in more than my fair share of escapism. On the literary front, I’m reading Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series from start to finish. Hard to think about moving when you’re engrossed in a murder-mystery or grossed out by descriptions of forensics.

I’m also watching a British television series on DVD based on Elizabeth George’s novels. It’s called The Inspector Lynley Mysteries and the acting is superb, as are the shots of the British countryside. Makes me want to go back for a visit!

Of course, in-between books and episodes I am trying to get a bit of work done. My brain feels like cotton these days, though – far too much uncertainty and niggling details to concentrate. I have, however, sent off a story idea to The Beaver, Canada’s history magazine. Hopefully they’ll like the idea and I’ll have something to keep me busy once the manuscript of the book is done!

Vancouver hammer incident another random act of violence

A few hours ago I received a disturbing message from one of my friends in Vancouver. Just after 10:30pm at Majestic, a popular gay nightspot on Davie St., a man came in brandishing a hammer. He injured several unsuspecting staff members and patrons. As my friend said, “there was blood everywhere.” Luckily, my friend was out of harm’s way. As I told him, this was one instance I was glad he smoked: he was outside having a cig while this was going on. From online media reports, it sounds like everyone went to the hospital to get checked out, and most required stitches. They should all – physically at least – recover quite quickly.

When I first learned of this attack, I was sure it was going to be an instance of targeted gay bashing as Vancouver Pride wound down. Now that the police reports have been issued, however, it appears as if it is ‘simply’ another random act of violence. According to Vancouver Police, after the man ran out of Majestic, he continued his rampage, hitting two women on the head with the hammer on a patio. He was eventually subdued by the women’s male companion, who tackled him, sustaining some injuries in the process. Other passerby helped to hold the man while police cuffed him, and now it looks as though the assailant has suffered from mental illness for some time.

On the one hand, I am deeply relieved this violence was not directed specifically at Vancouver’s gay population. On the other, we have all been gripped by the grizzly Greyhound bus incident the past few days, and this is just one more bizarre act of random violence to reckon with.

Now I am worried about a different sort of bashing. It has come to light that the Greyhound attacker immigrated to Canada from China four years ago. Vancouver Police identifited this recent “hammer man” as “Middle Eastern” and I worry that the ignorant among us Canadians will use these incidents as fodder for their prejudiced views.

Let us remember, then, the random act of violence that a group of white Canadians in Owen Sound, Ontario recently committed against an innocent black man. What local police believe began as a case of mistaken identity escalated into a heinous, life-threatening beating that they are saying was likely fueled by racism.

“If I had a hammer, I’d hammer out a warning. I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land.”

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.