Septuagenarian Hobbit Has Ultrasound

My hobbit attitude is getting out of hand. I could say it’s the weather that’s making me a stay-at-home. And my age. My muscles are prone to spasm and never more than when there is a windchill of -30 C (-20F). So much of January, I’ve been hunkered down indoors, reading my Christmas books and watching my Christmas DVDs. I’ve even eschewed tai chi classes in favour of moving the furniture and practicing in the living room. But yesterday I had to go out.

I had an appointment for an ultrasound of my right breast. I first mentioned my oncologist’s concern about my right breast in The Cure for Fear   Evidently, right breast felt that left breast had got altogether too much attention in the past and had started acting out.

When I wrote The Cure for Fear, I was convinced that I would know the scope of the disaster the next day. As it turned out, I didn’t. First the results got delayed. Word-processing of results is no longer done in-house. It’s moved off shore or something. Possibly there is a “typing” factory in South Asia. So my first appointment got cancelled. Then I made the trip to Streetsville, an hour away, to be told that the doctor had had an emergency and wasn’t there. But, not to worry, said his assistant. The results were okay. When I finally got to see the doctor, two weeks later, he was distracted. I tried to ask a question and he said, “Can’t you see I’m reading?”


I waited silently.

There was, apparently, a little party going on in my right breast: a swollen lymph node, a cyst and a small lump, all nicely lined up at 10 o’clock. After careful examination, Dr. ____ gave me the choice of having a biopsy right away or a further ultrasound in 3 months. Breaking my silence, I said, “Depends on what you mean by right away. I’ll be away the rest of December.” And so, it came to pass that I ended up with this appointment at the end of January. (How is that 3 months, anyway?)

First thing I did when I got home from the oncologist was fish out the reports from 15 years ago when left breast was getting all the attention. There I read that a small benign lump had been detected in my right breast at 11 o’clock. I hied myself off to my G.P., report in hand. I was careful not to speak while he was reading. Could be, he said. Might be the same lump lurking there all these years. Couldn’t be sure. Sure enough to get my hyper-vigilant, worrier off the case. I flew off to Brussels where I very nearly forgot it.

Yesterday, I arrived at the hospital early. Just as well since I had to drive nearly to the top of the parking garage. Like many others, I feel that I am a co-owner of this garage its tariff is so steep. Since I was so early, I decided to wipe the side windows, which I could barely see through for the dirty salt residue that had been whipped up off the highway. I wet paper towel with windshield washer fluid and wiped them down. Don’t try it. I seem to have forgotten everything I ever knew about driving in a Canadian winter. When I came out to drive home 2 hours and $12 later, the windows were covered with dirty swirls through which I could not see at all.

I’m used to the check-in procedure here now, having checked in at least once a year since the year of the left breast. I even manage to find the ultrasound waiting room, and get myself into one of those nice gowns that tie in the back. It’s inconvenient to have to carry my clothes and my long winter coat, which sit next to me while I wait. And wait. And wait.

No problem. Someone is texting me pictures and CP 24 is on the television set. It’s true that I am a little unsettled by the fact that everyone who comes in after me is immediately whisked out of there for their test. The announcer on the news channel tells me that Dufferin County has declared a state of emergency and closed all its roads. Whoa! That’s north of here but still, has the weather changed that much since I came in? Then “Code Blue in Cardiology. Code Blue in Cardiology”. Then there’s the mayor on the screen, looking like a candidate for a Code Blue himself and being served with papers alleging that he engineered a jail house beat-down. Not that Mayor Ford gets much airtime because Justin Bieber is back in town surrendering to police on a charge of assault. I tear myself away from all this hair-raising excitement. No one else waiting. Four people, presumably ultrasound technicians, are chatting away in front of computers. And I’ve been left here in limbo? It’s like a really bad dream I once had.

Finally, we get down to the task at hand, with apologies because they are so busy. ???? The good news is that the gel is warm these days. It takes a long while. It is clear that the cyst is alive and well, if cysts can be said to be well, but deep breathing helps with pain. This is taking much longer than usual. At last, the technician says, “Why are you here?” For one moment, I think “Wasting taxpayer’s money.. do you think we are going to pay for this?” But I explain about right breast’s recent party mode. “Well, I see the cyst but I can’t find anything else,” she says and tosses me a towel.  She’s just broken the sacred code of technician silence. “Oh, thank you, thank you. You’re so kind to tell me,” I cry, only just restraining myself from throwing my arms around her.

So that’s the end for now. Mr Death isn’t knocking on the door for this green-eyed girl just yet.

The Septuagenarian Hobbit Gets a Parking Lesson

Oh, stop trying to make me hate you, Toronto. You’ve already got sub-zero temperatures, vicious storms and week-long power outages going for you. Why did you have send the SUV woman to give me parking advice?

I was in the under-ground parking garage at Mountain Equipment Co-op, still jet-lagged from my return from Brussels, but putting a good face on it and taking advantage of a break in the weather to return a faulty product. I had already paid for parking at the wonderfully old-fashioned booth. The attendant was happily gossiping with a friend. There were many empty spaces. I was taking the opportunity to change the carpet floor mats to the rubber winter ones, when a woman in a beige SUV pulled up behind me.

“I realize it’s hard to see the lines,” she said, “but you are parked so that no-one can use the next spot.”

I could just barely discern a yellow line when I looked down. It was covered with salt and dirt.

“Thank you so much for telling me,” I replied. “But try not to get hysterical. I’m leaving immediately.”

“I’m not hysterical…”

No, just really, really annoyingly self-righteous and hidebound and so very, very puritanical, typically Torontonian, indeed typically North American.

While I was thanking her again for rendering my day more pleasant, I was remembering how cars on my brother’s one-way street in Brussels were often parked facing the wrong direction. No tickets. No outraged neigbours. Oh, carry me back!

I’ll hate myself for saying this later, but at least our mayor is a little looser.

(I know that’s an allusion, but I figure you’ve all heard about Rob Ford.)

Toronto’s Mayor, Rob Ford: view from Etobicoke

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAIllustration by Richard Johnson on front page of National Post, Sat. Nov. 9, 2013

I live in Etobicoke (sounds like Etobicoe), Mayor Ford’s home territory, one of the suburbs of Toronto that were unceremoniously mashed together some years ago by the reigning provincial government. Etobicoke is the west end of the mega city and Scarborough, where I brought up my children, lies in the east end. To the north lies North York, wouldn’t you know. There are diverse other subdivisions and tucked up in the south and centre, right against the lake is the old city of Toronto.

It is easy enough to find its centre, Queen and Yonge, the old city hall, red, Victorian with its tall clock tower, where certain courts hold forth and across the way, the present city hall with its clam shell and two curving towers of unequal height.

When it comes to Etobicoke, there is no there there. I mean there is no centre, I can see, but I do not see it as Mayor Ford sees it. I’ve heard rumours that there is a town hall where Etobicoke used to actually determine its own fate, but in the seven years I’ve lived here, I’ve never figured out where it is. I haven’t needed to.

Herein lies the rub. The people here are alienated I hear. They are sick of being pushed around by those uppity “elites” (please tell me it isn’t true that some say e-lights), those gravy train wasters from the city centre. That’s why they embraced their native son, Rob Ford, who had pledged to stop the gravy train, reduce spending, privatize garbage collection and put a subway in every burg.

Unhappily, he was unable to discover enough waste to trim the spending significantly, although he has put some of the waste management in private hands. His project to extend subways into hinterlands, which very likely cannot produce ridership to support it, will entail a tax rise.

But that’s not why you know about him.

You know him as our crack smoking, gangster associating, drunk driving, lewd talking mayor. You may have heard about him first last May when Gawker reported that it had  seen a video of him smoking crack. Our Toronto Star reported that it had also seen the video, which was for sale.  The entire summer was taken up with speculation, along with jokes on late shows and denial by the mayor. Meanwhile one of the guys the mayor was pictured arm in arm with was shot and killed. A police investigation ensued. Houses were raided in Operation Traveller. Arrests were made. Gradually, these arrests moved into Mayor Ford’s circle and heavily redacted documents were released. Media outlets went to court and this week a judge released a much fuller version of the documents.

Mayor Ford, who stubbornly denied all allegations, has taken to public admissions that get worse and worse. Yes, he may have smoked crack once while in a drunken stupour. Yes, he may have been badly inebriated at a street festival and on St Patrick’s Day. Yes, he may have driven drunk once in a while. Yes, he has bought illegal drugs in the last two years. Today he may have reached a nadir -let us hope- when he used sexual explicit language while refuting a claim a woman had made. But wait, he was back out there at the media scrum apologizing for that, wifey by his side.

No, he will not resign. No, he will not take a leave of absence. He charged at Councillor Minan-Wong, yesterday during a council meeting, with evident intent, only to be stopped by brother, Doug Ford, also a councillor and, ordinarily, as rude as the mayor.

Oh, make it stop! Make it stop!

Apparently, Ford’s policies still have the support of 40% of voters, but candidates with the same platform are already lining up for the mayor’s race in 2014. Only 20% still support Rob Ford himself. They are probably my neighbours. They are decent, forgiving folk who are careful with their garbage.

I didn’t vote for him. I’m one of those “elites” in his mind. I dislike many things about him personally and our politics are different. Initially, I felt a good deal of schadenfruede and even laughed. I’m not concerned about Toronto being mocked and vilified on the world stage. It’s a big city, all grown up. It can take care of itself. And I love a Greek tragedy as much as anyone, but NOT IN SLOW MOTION.