Friday, January 1, 2016


Six nights of fever and no sense yet of when it's going to end.

I woke up this morning completely drenched in sweat. It had been a rough night. Lots of chills, coughing, adjusting as the body went from fever to non-fever and back again to fever.

I was in emergency at Toronto General on Tuesday. Took a trip there in an ambulance. Never have gone to hospital in an ambulance before.

The ambulance was called because I felt extremely faint and exploded in sweat on Tuesday morning, a potential heart attack experience. But there was no heart attack.

In the ambulance on the way down to the hospital, the medics speculated that it might be pneumonia. I'd had a fever since Sunday. There was no obvious cause. They listened to my lungs, but the sounded clear.

They weren't. An x-ray at the hospital showed that. And blood tests proved there had been no cardiac event. Yay.

They gave me some antibiotics and sent me home. Not much has changed since. The fever still comes and goes. The nights are still horrible. I do feel the matter in my lungs shifting, but the quality of the experience is generally unchanged.

That was my first time back at TGH since I was there with Kate in late-September 2011, where they ran an ultrasound of her liver and confirmed something suspicious. The nurse said, "Don't worry, you fought the last round, and you will fight this too." Not what Kate wanted to hear.

There is no fighting metastasised breast cancer. It's a death sentence.

Pneumonia can be dangerous as well, especially to the old and the young. So I remain quarantined at home, accepting no visitors.

Buzi and I wish you a happy 2016.
- the boy in the bubble

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Everything I Think I Thought I Knew

Boxing Day. I've had over a dozen emails today trying to sell me stuff, but I'm all spent out. I lack for nothing. Everyone I love lacks for nothing.

Which doesn't mean we don't wish things were different. Yesterday was Christmas and we went through the motions. The kids woke up at my place, stockings stuff, presents under the tree. Daddy L came over, as did my parents. We swilled coffee and watched the kids pile up their gifts, then L took them away, heading for their third family gathering of the season.

On Christmas Eve, the kids were with me and we had a quiet evening together, only our second in the past two weeks. The kids had three days with Nana and Granddad and the rest of the time the schedule conspired to keep them with L. So it goes sometimes.

When they came to my house, they wanted to know who was coming for dinner. When I said, "No one," they said, "Good." We had a few hours, just us - and we watched some videos from the past. Christmas Eve 2007 started it, then we bounced all over.

It's a nostalgic time of the year, this. Hard not to be thinking about what all has past, what has been lost, what remains, and what position and spirit we should take into the future. That's what the title is supposed to represent: what I think I thought I knew. Every time you look backwards, the past seems to have shifted, what you felt certain about now brings doubt.

O. wanted his Gogos (see picture). He couldn't say way, except he wanted them. We found some in his room and these two tins in a storage bin marked "Owen's archives." At various points in the past, I've "cleaned" his room, removing items and toys from by-gone days.

But by-gone days are sometimes not by-gone. The Gogos were resurrected, and now he has a pocket full of the rarer ones (apparently), and I assume they offer him some comfort. Nothing wrong with that.

Comfort, in these days of nostalgia, is maybe as good as it gets.

My thoughts on looking back and seeing things anew wander lonely as a cloud, Wordsworth would say. But seriously, they make me reconsider many things. Did we have the right dreams? Did we have the right ambitions? Did we prosecute our ambitions in the right way? We had great times, there's no doubt. And some of this is survivor's guilt. Could we have had a different outcome? Was there a way to avoid the cancer, her death? I don't think so. And I wouldn't have done anything differently, but that doesn't mean I don't want to make changes and make the future different.

Not because the past was wrong, but because ... change or be crippled by boredom. Rearranging the past isn't a judgement of it; it's just interesting. Games for the mind. And the heart. And a way to keep the past with us. And a way to engage with Kate. What do you think, KO? What would you do different next time around?

Finally, I went to the cemetery today. I took at Christmas candle, tied a ribbon around it, and left it beside the white shell I'd placed on her bench quite some time ago. It's a candy cane kind of candle, and it's a red ribbon. It stands out in the grey of the cemetery, though not as much as if there were snow. I didn't stay long, and then I had a cry as I walked home. "Baby, I miss you," I said.

I do.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Don't Look Back

I had a dream last night, and I can only remember part of it, the bit where Kate kissed me.

We were having dinner out somewhere. No place I recognized. It was a nice place, dark interior, table for two, fancy spread, wine and candles.

She leaned across the table and kissed me.

Then the scene started over. I glanced around the place, took it all in, looked at her, recognized her, then she leaned across the table and kissed me.

I woke up shortly afterwards into a dreamy half-awareness. "That was Kate," I thought. "She kissed me." It felt good, but odd. I wanted to sink into sadness, but I couldn't. She kissed me!

Okay, honey. I get it. I will carry on.

I spent today going here and there, Christmas shopping, picking up this and that for the kids and others. Got some ice melter, being prepared for the winter that hasn't quite come yet.

The tree is up. There are even some presents under it.

It's a year since my surgery. This is the weekend I spend in the cardiac ward; Tuesday is the day I went home, but not home. I went to my parents apartment, because I was too weak to walk up the stairs to the front door.

I am so much more robust now.

I wonder if the dream repeated because she wanted to ensure I didn't miss it. The first time through I was just enjoying it. I don't think I was aware it was her, not fully. The second time through it registered in my conscious mind. I had that feeling of being with her.

I don't go looking for it, but I'm so happy when it happens.

Yesterday I took some pictures of Kate down in the house. Not because I want to forget (not at all, no, never), but because life moves in one direction, forward.

Being connected to Kate doesn't mean looking backwards. It doesn't mean being locked into the past. Somehow, new experiences happen. Like this dreamed dinner -- and kiss.

Don't Look Back is a Bob Dylan thing. It's the title of a film on Dylan's 1965 UK tour. But it's also something I've been contemplating a lot lately.

So, likely more on this later.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


For a long time after Kate died, I would notice the 23rd of the month. It was the day she died, of course, and every 23rd was some kind of anniversary.

I don't generally notice any more, but today I'm aware that the 23rd is coming. It's a six month anniversary. Three-and-a-half years.

Which doesn't mean anything in particular, except time is passing.

I could also say November is the anniversary of when she first started chemotherapy in 2010. It's also the anniversary of when we moved into this house in 2007.

It's also the anniversary of when we "locked in" as a couple in 2006.

Ten years ago ... well, we hadn't met yet.

One year ago ... I went to Toronto East General Hospital for an angiogram and learned I had three blocked arteries in my heart. That was Monday, November 24th. On Friday November 28th I went to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre to have stents implanted, but they decided surgery would be the better option, so on Thursday December 4th that's what happened. Triple by-pass.

Anniversaries. Ripples of history. So what?

I was in London, Ontario, this week for work, and went out for a snack with a colleague after an event. We went to a chain restaurant, and I ordered the chicken wing special. Ten wings and a beer. It was terrible, and I vow that it will be the last order of chicken wings I ever consume.

I put the order into my food/fitness app and discovered the wings alone contained over 1,400 calories and more than 1,800 mg of sodium. I cannot eat like that any more. I slept poorly. I felt like crap. Even the beer was unsatisfying.

I lay in bed in my hotel room that night talking to Kate. The same old question. How did I get here? What should I be doing with my life? Is this all there is?

The previous night I had watched The End of the Tour (2015) in my room, the movie about a Rolling Stone journalist interviewing David Foster Wallace over a weekend in 1995. The next morning I tried to explain the movie to my colleagues (both women). "It's a movie about loneliness," I said. "It's a movie about being an educated, white male in his thirties, with creative ambitions and anxieties."

It's boring. Very. But compelling, too. In a train wreck way? I'm still not sure. I wanted to watch it because it's about DFW, and I've read his work (about half of it, but not Infinite Jest), and some of it I find brilliant and some of it I find dull as dishwater. The movie was a bit of both, too, but with DFW you seem to need all of it in order to get any of it.

Maximalist, is the adjective used to describe his work.

"Sounds existentialist," my colleague said, after I'd described the movie. Sure. It's full of stuff to ponder. Not entertainment.

I slept pretty good after watching the movie, much better than I did after eating the chicken wings.

Now I'm home, done travelling, and starting to think about the holidays. I didn't have a tree last year, since I was so weak post-surgery. I feel happy anticipating this year's tree, but tired and anxious anticipating the holiday rush-rush-rush.

The near impossibility of experiencing "the real" seems to be at the heart of DFW's work. The film captures this, as palpable in his day-to-day life. We are always performing for others, and participating in social norms that limit rather than expand connection. But to be self-conscious of these processes is another barrier to whatever possibility the simple and direct can provide.

So "23", does it mean anything? Not really. But sharing it does. We're here, now, together.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Trigger Warnings

The kids are here. Naomi has a friend over, and they are upstairs in her room laughing their asses off. Naomi just came downstairs and picked up a photo album from 2008. Now the laughter has increased. Owen is up there somewhere too (his room). Much quieter.

Back in the day, Kate and I would bemoan, Why won't the kids go play in their rooms? They wanted to be close to us, always. Now they are in their rooms, and the laughter is soothing, but it triggers me, too.


There is no place on the calendar without them. It is five years since chemotherapy started, the first week of November. Four years since it started the second time, beginning of October. Three years since the first fall without her. Two years since, Does it ever get better? One year since I went for a little stress test and a few weeks later, open-heart surgery, triple by-pass.

Naomi has the right idea, reaching for 2008. What a year that was.

In the past 18 months, I've lost 14 cms off my middle. I've lost over 30 lbs. I went to see my GP last week and told him I'm getting younger and smaller. "Most people don't," he said.

Hey, I'm not most people.

I'm sticking to my diet, my exercises, my meds. On that front, all is going well.

And the kids are alright.

So what's the deal with the trigger warnings? Living with loss, I guess. It's perpetual.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Never Events

I don't post much any more about medical things, but two recent articles are more than worth noting.

One on "never events," things that should never happen:
The other on home care in Ontario, a report by the auditor general:
Was Kate the victim of a "never event"? No. But stupid things did happen. Just not a fatal error.

Kate was a client of home care services at the end, and it was a chaotic mess. It was by far the worst "client experience" of her 21-month journey through the health care system with cancer. I have written many things about this before.

Some things happened that never should have happened. Other things didn't happen that never should have been neglected.

Nothing the Auditor General has to say surprises me in the least.

Take a hard look at home care services? This language is immensely too weak.

Friday, September 25, 2015

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

Once I made a reference to Kate about this short story by Raymond Carver, the title story of his collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. She had never heard of it. I couldn't believe it. So I went and got the book and read it to her. It was a much more humorous story read aloud than I ever would have expected.

This morning, as I was waking up, I was having a hazy dream, and I realized Kate was talking to me. I was thinking, Oh, this bed is comfortable, and then there was Kate telling me that I didn't need to buy that bed for her. Even though she was verbally verbose and persuasive, I didn't need to give in to her. She could have done with a lesser bed.

I haven't had a dream with Kate in it for a while, so I was pleased to "see" her. I rolled over, and then rolled over again. I had to get up. The kids were here. Needed to make sure breakfast moved along. I went downstairs, poked around in the kitchen, thinking a bit about the dream. It was nice, wasn't it? Then I realized, I didn't buy that bed for Kate. I didn't buy that bed at all. She had bought that bed before we even met.

Last night wasn't my birthday, but we had birthday cake for me because my birthday is Sunday and the kids won't be with me that day. My mother came over. We had a quiet night and some triple chocolate fudge cake. Managed to do so without blowing my calorie count for the day.

The photograph above is one of my favorites. My birthday, 2007. One month after our wedding. When I looked it up to post here, I realized there was a second from the same sequence. Posted here now, too.

Those were the days. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.