Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Doctor is in

It’s bad luck to start choking on a bite of hamburger during what’s supposed to be a pleasant dining experience at your senior living facility.

But it’s very good luck to be sitting next to Dr. Henry Heimlich.

Today Patty Ris, 87, is alive – and thankful. And Dr. Heimlich, who is 96 years old and lives in the same Cincinnati seniors building as Ms Ris, finally understands what tens of thousands of others have already experienced: How it feels to rescue someone using the Heimlich manoeuvre.

The dining room’s maître d’ points out that the technique is actually quite a physical feat for someone who is not exactly young and spry. He also noted that staff would normally prevent residents from trying to administer first aid on one of their own in a medical emergency. “But I noticed it was Dr. Heimlich and he was doing the manoeuvre,” he told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “I stepped back and let Dr. Heimlich continue on.”

What does the retired surgeon have to say about the unexpected turn of events? “I sort of felt wonderful about it, having saved that girl,” he told the reporter. (Side note: Is it not adorable that he refers to an 87-year-old woman as a “girl”? If he were any younger, we wouldn’t give him a pass on that one…)

“I knew it was working all over the world,” he added. “I just felt a satisfaction.”

According to some reports, this may not actually have been the first time Heimlich used his own lifesaving technique. But if that’s the case, it’s certainly slipped this doc’s mind by now. You can forgive him; the guy is, after all, almost 100 years old.

And if his memory isn’t perfect, his heart certainly makes up for it.


Take care when you eat. Chances are, Dr. Heimlich isn’t sitting beside you. ( Broadley)

Flower Power

It’s my favourite time of year. There’s no longer any trace of snow, ice or general subzero misery. Just last week, the mornings finally warmed up enough for us all to leave our hats at home – even mittens, if we were feeling reckless. Yet it’s not yet so oven-stuffy hot that we want to peel off our skin. The grass is a vibrant green, not the hue of dead swamp that it will surely have taken on by the end of July.

Oh, and those spring flowers. I love them: the way they look, the way they smell, the way they wave jovially at me whenever I walk by.

Last week, a friend’s much-admired flowerbed became the backdrop for a few spontaneous Kodak moments. As she tells it, two passing ladies were so enchanted with her front garden that they arranged themselves into various poses on her property, sitting on one of her rocks and even lying on her grass, while they snapped photographs of each other.

My friend wasn’t perturbed. In fact, she took care to stay indoors so she wouldn’t disrupt them. Gardens are conduits for spreading beauty and joy.

It reminded me of a spring afternoon years ago, at my first house, where my new husband and I had carefully nurtured a front yard jam-packed with perennials. The outgoing little girl who lived across the street was celebrating her first communion in the Catholic tradition. She was outfitted in a showy white dress and her parents had hired a professional photographer. But instead of posing for pictures in front of her house, the precocious child dragged the photographer across to our front garden, preferring our blossomy backdrop to her own plain yard.

Flowers lift spirits. Sharing flowers lifts them higher.


Bitter Pill

A pill that lowers your empathy for others – not real, right? Strictly science fiction, right?

Wrong. It’s very real. And chances are, you already have it in your medicine cabinet at home.

In a crazier-than-Hollywood finding, researchers at Ohio State University have announced that acetaminophen – that’s the active ingredient in Tylenol – doesn’t just dampen your own feelings of pain. It actually seems to reduce your empathy for the pain that other people are feeling.

That applies to both pain in the physical sense, as in, “Boy, that stubbed toe sure smarts!”, as well as emotional suffering, as in, “Boy, I sure could use a hug!”

In their experiment, the researchers gave acetaminophen to half the participants, while the other half got a placebo. After waiting for the drugs (or pretend drugs) to kick in, the two groups listened to different scenarios in which a person experienced some kind of pain: a cringeworthy knife cut, for instance, or the loss of a parent. The participants were asked to rate how much pain they thought the person was feeling.

Weirdly, the group on acetaminophen seemed rather numb to the suffering of others. On average, compared to the group on placebo, they tended to rate the pain lower on a scale of 1 to 10.

The researchers describe it as a decrease in empathy.

“Empathy is important,” the study’s senior author points out in a news release. “If you are having an argument with your spouse and you just took acetaminophen, this research suggests you might be less understanding of what you did to hurt your spouse’s feelings.”

He went on to say that if we want our loved ones to care about us, we should keep all their medications hidden away.

Okay, I’m not serious about that last part. But it’s certainly a thought-provoking experiment. Now, if they could just discover a pill that has the opposite effect…


Imagine a pill that makes you sweeter… for me, it would be gourmet jelly beans. (Photo by Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee /

Disaster Relief

If you hadn’t heard much about Fort McMurray before, you know it well now. This region of western Canada has been under siege from spreading, uncontrolled forest fires – and it’s been in news all over the world. The stats are shocking. More than 80,000 people have been displaced from their homes, some initially to oilsands work camps up north because they had nowhere else to go. Many folks drove out of the city using sidewalks or wrong-way lanes just to put a bit more distance between their vehicles and the flying sparks of fire. Tragically, two people were killed in a road accident while trying to leave the city. About 1,600 buildings – mostly people’s houses – burned to the ground. Insurers say they’ve never seen a level of damage like this before – over 9 billion dollars’ worth, by one estimate. The narrative changes daily. As of Sunday, fire covered 161,000 hectares. That’s almost half the size of Long Island, New York.

Evacuees are telling stories that will make you cry: Pets lost to the fires. Family heirlooms and precious photos, gone forever. An iPhone security video of a living room becoming destroyed by flames and smoke. The homeowner watched it happen, live, soon after escaping with his wife.

But, of course, there are stories of compassion as well. So many touching accounts of people reaching out to those in need.

Like the group of Syrian refugees who leapt into rescue mode, collecting donations despite having almost nothing themselves, and telling media: “It’s not easy to lose everything… We can understand them more than anyone in Canada.”

Or the volunteer who retrieved dozens of stranded pets from abandoned houses – including a family’s cherished puppy and pet rabbit mere moments before their home caught fire. (He would have located the house much faster, had the street signs not melted.)

Or the sweet video created by caring students at Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation School, in Loon Lake, Saskatchewan, who wanted to send messages of support so the disaster victims would know they’re not alone.

And, of course, we’ve seen the rise of countless fundraising campaigns all over the country, giving every one of us an opportunity to help.

My heart goes out to all those who are displaced or struggling with devastating losses right now. But my heart is also gladdened to know how much it matters to everyone else.

forest-fire Jaeger

Here’s to the Doorbuilders

Do you ever have one of those moments when you’re utterly humbled by the unselfish acts of others?

Yeah, me too.

Last Friday, I gave up part of my afternoon to collect information on wheelchair access and legislation. This was unpaid work. I’m helping an administrator to comply with the law. Full disclosure: My husband, a wheelchair user, stands to benefit from increased accessibility at this venue.

Here in Ontario, we’re in a years-long process of phasing in legislation that will strengthen the rights protection of people with disabilities. It’s a funny sort of situation, because these rights are already protected – have been for decades, in fact, under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

It’s just that no one seems to know about it.

When people with disabilities go shopping, eat at restaurants, go to the theatre, their rights are routinely violated. They can’t browse in a store, say, because a huge promotional display for maxipads is blocking the aisle. Only people who can stand up can squeeze past. Or they’re told they can’t have a table inside a café, even though there are empty tables available, because their wheelchair would be in the way. Or they’re told they can’t sit anywhere but in the very back row of the theatre. Think this never happens in the 21st century? In fact, all these things have happened to our family in recent memory.

Most of the time, it’s unintentional. And by that I mean that the shopkeepers or eatery owners who don’t treat all their patrons equally are completely clueless that they’re breaking the law.

That’s where the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) comes in. While human rights legislation gives a sort of general guideline – “hey, it’s uncool to discriminate and stuff” – the AODA explains exactly how one must go about providing fair and equitable service to people with disabilities.

This was all very useful in my research last Friday. If I’ve done the job right, the next time my husband patronizes this facility, he will (fingers crossed) be treated fairly. But hopefully this work  will also benefit the many others who come after him. And that’s the critical part. Why should these future customers have to experience the humiliation we did, just because they happen to have a disability?

This wasn’t a brief exercise by any means. I got a bit antsy. The other work I’d hoped to complete that day went on hold. Plus I had friends coming over in a few hours, and there was still vacuuming to be done, laundry to be folded, dinner to be started.

In fact, by the time I hit the Send button and looked at the clock, I admit I was mildly resentful of the time I’d devoted to this.

But then I did a reality check. And I was instantly humbled.

How can I complain about giving up an hour or two of my time to look up some laws? The only reason we have rights legislation and landmark court decisions in the first place is because other people, much more tenacious and persistent than me, have devoted hours, days, even years of their time. Not to mention sweat and tears. Possibly even blood. I can’t rule that out.

So, shut my mouth.

Every time we refer to legislation to prove our right to participate in Canadian society, it’s because steadfast advocates have dedicated themselves to fighting for these laws. They’ve fought for enforcement, too, and for awareness.

They’ve done it not just for themselves, but for all those who come after.

We owe them immense gratitude. And the least I can do is blog about it. So for all the David Lepofskys and the Barbara Turnbulls, and all the others who have made sacrifices to make a difference, we’re indebted to you.

And as for all those who don’t consider themselves longtime accessibility advocates… you know what? If you’ve ever made an effort to make a person with a disability feel welcome at your place of business, your restaurant or your theatre, then that matters a whole lot, too.

Milton Berle said: “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” I’m grateful to everyone who makes that first cut into the wall.


Photo by John Kawasa /