Tuesday, March 30, 2021

checking in

I am sorting through the packed boxes of family photographs, partly inspired by my new fourth cousin Lesley, and partly because it had to be done anyway. And the more I look at the family back to the twenties in New York and England, the more I marvel that I exist at all. Here, my mother's small family of restrained Victorians, rooted in the British soil for centuries and poor as church mice, sipping tea, sitting decorously in deck chairs on the occasional beach. There, my father's huge family - my grandmother had ten siblings, though she only spoke to some of them, and my grandfather six - of boisterous immigrant Jews, noshing, arguing, climbing inexorably upwards with cleverness and very hard work. 

And yet Sylvia and Gordin fell in love and stayed together for four decades, not without great struggle. A tribute to them both. Now that I know more of the family story, I see more in the photographs - a bunch from the summer of 1958, for example, our family reunited after two years of separation and anguish, I see how tentative is the happiness on our faces. I see much that makes me sad - my British grandparents' wedding picture, so young and serious, my stunning grandmother marrying the wrong man simply to get away from her harridan of a mother; and much - my toddler father's pugnacious face, my American grandmother's scowl - that makes me laugh. 

A few of the hundreds or even thousands, including some I've never seen.

Yesterday, I spoke to my psychologist, once my psychoanalyst. How fortunate I am to have this woman in my life. I lay on her couch for a few years, and once I graduated, so to speak, have continued to consult her regularly. Last year I called her during an excruciatingly difficult crisis with a tenant and later in the year with nothing particular going on, just to check in. And yesterday also. There's always something valuable that comes up, a nugget. She's only nine years older than I but I think of her as the mother I never had - someone who understands and cares and sees me clearly. A gift of the greatest value.

She told me she's retiring next February. I will call her more often this year, to stuff myself with her calm wisdom before she vanishes. Thanks to the gods for pushing her into my path. 

It's going to be seventeen degrees today; Jannette is coming later and we'll do more pruning. As I'm doing now, at my desk - pruning the photographs that tell the stories. 

Watched a doc about the extraordinary, marvellous David Attenborough last night. A lucky man who began young to do what he loved and was very good at and has continued to do his entire life, while making a positive difference to life on our planet. A mitzvah. In the midst of this #$% pandemic, which is getting worse all around us, so many mitzvahs.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Alice Neel, Alan Turing, and the beaver

First, have a wonderful Passover, those of you who celebrate!

Next, I just received a kind note from a writer about "Loose Woman": It’s one of the best memoirs I’ve read; you had me hooked from the beginning and kept me in suspense all the way through as I asked myself, “How is she going to turn herself around?” It’s a wonderful story of transformation and redemption. It lifted my spirits and made me feel that anything IS possible.

Thank you! "How is she going to turn herself around?" sounds like the Ever Given in the Suez Canal. And I did feel like a giant immobile barge sometimes.

We had a heavenly week; now it's grey but still mild, does not feel like March. The birds are happy - a great deal of chatter. A big item in the papers the other day was that one entrance to the Royal York subway stop in western Toronto had to be shut because there was a beaver inside. Apparently the stop is between two waterways and somehow the beaver wandered off track. There are coyotes in Cabbagetown, photographed on front lawns and in the Necropolis; people are warned to keep small pets inside, especially as it's mating season. 

How I love that in the middle of this vast city, we need to be aware of the sexual habits of coyotes and the itinerary of the beaver. Take that, civilization.

Was nearly in tears Thursday morning wrestling with the internet and Rogers. I learned someone had created a fake Instagram account in my name and was asking people for money; when I tried frantically to change my password, my computer disconnected and I had to call Rogers, with two classes to teach on Zoom that day. So on a glorious sunny morning when I'd intended to get outside, I was dealing with some weirdo on Instagram and the lumbering behemoth Rogers. It got done, tho'.

In the hot sun of the afternoon, between classes, I rode to the heart of downtown, Queen and Bay, to deliver this year's income tax information to my friend John. Riding in the sun was just like old times, a hint of normalcy. But not yet. 

And more normalcy - on Friday I did Gina's Zoom line dancing class for the first time in over a month. I am still not strong but much better. And then I watched a film about an exhibit at the Met in New York, a retrospective of Alice Neel, dear friend of my parents in the late forties, described in the exhibition as "one of the great American artists of the twentieth century." I went to meet her in 1981, a few years before she died; must write about that encounter. She was a tough woman, brave, fascinating. Wish I could see the exhibition. As the curators took us through it virtually, I looked for Alice's portrait of my father that my brother and I sold years ago, but I don't think Dad is there. Andy Warhol is, though. 

And then a piano lesson, painful but a start. Life returns to the old bones. I lost a month or two there, but will now reignite my energetic self. Soon. 

The Brits have put Alan Turing on their 50 pound note: the man who saved the world with his genius and then was essentially tortured because he was gay. The most vile injustice. I wish there were life after death, so Alice, who struggled for years to make enough to survive and was denigrated as a mere "portrait painter," could see her paintings treasured; so Turing could see the country that treated him so poorly honour him now.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

celebrating the Brits

Tomorrow will be 19 degrees. It's just bizarre. We're all walking around bewildered but happy but bewildered. Don't pack away those boots, folks; winter will return. Says the true Canuck. 

Fragile today and did little, my arm sore but otherwise doing well, no major side effects, though I've taken several Tylenol to make sure that's so. Just a bit achey and no energy, but then I've been like that for weeks. A little concerned - I felt clever taking a Tylenol before getting the shot, but now I read this is not a good idea, might blunt the effect of the vaccine, they don't know. Hey ho. Let's hope not. 

More correspondence with my fourth cousin Lesley in France - what a treasure! Her great-great grandfather William and my great-great grandmother Martha were siblings in the early 1800's in Northamptonshire. She has sent me all kinds of dates and information about my great-grandmother Mary Leadbeater née Campion. And then she sent this - a newspaper article from 1937 featuring my 13-year old mother Sylvia, in the photo on the left, winning the high jump competition for under 14's at Towcester Grammar School. She cleared 4 feet. I pity her rivals: she was six feet tall by the age of 12.   All legs as you can see.

I spent more than two decades researching the Ashkenazi side of the family, 51% of my genes: the Jewish Shakespeare, the fabulously rich, interesting world of Jewish Russia, the Lower East Side, the Yiddish theatre. My mother asked plaintively if I'd ever write about the Brits. Well, Mum, that time may be coming, backed by Lesley's wealth of knowledge. A world of blacksmiths, boot-makers, corset makers, and a great-grandfather on the Leadbeater side, a "rags, bones, and bottles" man who collected junk and second-hand clothes in a horse-drawn cart. A kindred spirit for me, the queen of second-hand. 

Extraordinary that last week I'd just started watching the BBC series "Escape to the Country" regularly, once I finally found it - it's on at 1 p.m. daily on CBC. So delicious, people wanting to move from towns to gorgeous country villages and 17th century houses. A new addiction, a new connection to my British/northern Germanic 49%. 

I'll plunge in to the Brit stories when I get my energy back, Mum, I promise. Any day now. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

One and done!

How blessed is this: a warm spring day, riding my new white bike HiHoSilver to a drugstore 15 minutes away on Bloor Street, walking in, instantly getting the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, riding home. Couldn't be easier. Second dose in a few months. 

As I've written here many times, my father was a scientist, a biologist and researcher. One of his greatest moments of pride was the discovery of the Salk polio vaccine in 1956. That took years of testing and research, while countless people, including my father, were infected with the virus. The fact that several vaccines were produced in the same year as a vile virus appeared - nothing short of miraculous. Dad would have been extremely proud. Thank God for medical science. 

The warm weather, while so welcome, is really a cause for concern. It should not be 16 degrees for days on end in mid-March. There has been snow in May in Toronto, and that may still arrive. But I do find it hard to object. Pruned the honeysuckle, the phlox, the clematis. The daff shoots are up and ready to bloom. Never has spring felt more welcome, after a year of being shut in. 

On the other hand, I do not feel like writing. Anything. Except this blog, and to my new relative in France, my fourth cousin Lesley, about our shared Leadbeater ancestors going back to great-great grandparents in Northamptonshire. 

Another reason I appreciate the AstraZeneca vaccine - it was developed in Oxford. My parents met in Oxford in November 1944. The fact that a Jewish soldier boy from New York City and a young British code cracker born in a nearby village actually met, let alone connected and continued to correspond, let alone eventually ended up on the same side of the Atlantic and produced a magnificent girl child - ahem - well, thank you, Oxford. Must be something in the air. 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

finding new family

Heavenly spring weather! It'll go back and forth, hot and cold, for the next while, tho' I don't remember a mid-March this warm. Pruning yesterday, more pruning today, getting the garden cleaned up and ready to burst into life. Deeply grateful for all this Vitamin D soaking in - I'm sitting on the little south-facing deck outside my office, and I feel great. Definitely better every day.

The most wonderful thing: an email out of the blue from a British woman doing genealogical research - she was looking for information on her distant relative Percy Harold Leadbeater, my grandfather, and found my website and blog. She read and loved my Beatles book - "I still love Paul best too!" she wrote - has ordered "Loose Woman," and wrote to say we're fourth cousins. A kindred spirit who now lives in France! Before, I had only two relatives on the British side, my two cousins in Washington. Now another bunch of family possibly opens up. A huge advantage of a website and blog and writing about your life, my friends. 

Had a long Skype with my beloved Lynn in Provence today, getting caught up with family, friends, Netflix, reading, health. The greatest gift, after our children — old friends. And new friends, of course. As always, I marvel that someone I met at just 17 is still a most delightful best friend more than 50 years, and a lot of life, and thousands of kilometres in distance, later.

Have not been quoting praise for the book for some time, so will do that today, if you don't mind. Got a nice email from Bronwyn Drainie, Canadian broadcasting royalty, who said, "I read LOOSE WOMAN with great enjoyment - an amazing story told with honesty and wit."

And handsome talented actor Allan Gray with whom I appeared in many shows, wrote, I loved your book - have recommended it to several people. I was mightily impressed with your writing skills. I found it thoroughly enjoyable. 

Thank you, readers! Today I read in the NYT about something called BookTok, young people posting about books they like on TikTok, boosting sales to enormous heights, and once more I felt 100 years old. As I often do; more and more, I find myself listening to something inane on the radio, saying, "Oh fuck off," and turning it off. Turning into a grumpy old person. Nothing wrong with that. We're smart!

Yesterday a CNFC webinar on interviewing skills with the fascinating Denise Ryan. How I love learning something valuable while sitting in my kitchen. 

And that's it. Healing, feeling the body grow stronger, life returning to normal, plus spring. Blessings not singly but in battalions.

Friday, March 19, 2021

vaccine booking

Gina sent a link this morning to Rexall drugstores which are doing AstraZeneca vaccinations of younger people; the province is still doing only 80 and up and 60-65.  I entered my name immediately; it said I would hear sometime in the future and that this was no guarantee of getting the vaccine.

Ten minutes ago I got an email giving me possible time slots starting next Monday. I chose next Tuesday at 11.10. Filled out the health form and that's it. It's booked at a drugstore about 12 blocks from here. 

I can't believe it! Immediately I began to worry. I'm still recuperating from both appendicitis and antibiotics, stomach still in upheaval and low energy; should I wait? And of course it's the weekend, my doctor's office closed till Monday. Dr. Google to the rescue: it told me there should be no problem. Antibiotics are about bacteria, and vaccines are about viruses. My nurse friend Cathy had an adverse reaction to that vaccine, said she felt terrible the day after, so I'll leave Wednesday open. 

But I'm thrilled. Yes, I'd prefer the Pfizer, not because of blood clots, because it's more effective. But this one is fine. I'll be able to walk into the world feeling safer. Not a lot safer, but much more than now.

What a surprise! My son, incidentally, was afraid he'd been infected by a friend, but happily he was not.  

Otherwise, I've just been hoping to get better, to get my energy back. I'm cold all the time, checked Dr. Google - maybe I'm anemic. So it was steak for dinner tonight, and since it was a nice dinner with onions and mushrooms and new potatoes, I drank my first glass of wine in weeks. Maybe a mistake, but - life is returning. It's about time!

Friend Patsy sent this, hints from long ago to help my healing. 

I'm doing almost all of this, thanks, tho' no long journeys, no gymnastics, no gentle rocking. How human beings have not changed - amazing, no? 

And I sent this to my ex-husband; it made me think of both him and his father. He wrote back, "I scored 100%." The one that really made me laugh was "Look, horses." That's my mother. Only it'd be, "Look, Beth, look. Are you looking? Look at those horses! Aren't they marvellous! Did you look?" 


Tuesday, March 16, 2021

in praise of books and fires and moving right along

Taught a make up class to finish the U of T term today - last week's class cancelled for obvious reasons. Once again, it gives me enormous pleasure to witness writers gain courage and craft, to hear their words flow, their ideas and truths. Once again I'm grateful to have work I love that pays at least some of the bills and is useful. At least, I think it's useful, to help free a torrent of feelings, memories, and thoughts, and turn them into story. 

Sitting in my office this Tuesday afternoon reminded me where I was that time last week, lying frightened and in pain in a hospital bed, hooked up to a drip and waiting for an operation. And yet one day later I walked out of there and went home. It really is an amazing story - one I'll tackle soon when I get a bit of energy back. Happily I finished the course of antibiotics today. They were enormous horse pills - I had to smash them with a hammer and eat the bits with a spoon, and they wreaked havoc with my innards. Perhaps now things will settle down.

My son was supposed to come over tomorrow to have dinner and watch the segments I've taped of Stanley Tucci in Italy. But a friend of his who visited him recently got in touch to say his roommate was showing symptoms. Here's the chain - the roommate, Sam's friend, Sam, and then me. So Sam is waiting for his friend's test results to come back, his own life in limbo. It's still out there, lurking, terrifying. Son of a bitch. 

It's cold. A friend wrote that I must have low blood pressure because I'm always cold - I do have low bp, is that why? Sitting now in front of my fire, such a boon companion. Even better - two books I had on hold came in to the library today, both by friends: Kerry Clare's "Waiting for a star to fall" and Julia Zarankin's "Field notes of an unintentional birder." 

So now, an occasional TV show or blog post aside, I have my next days and evenings booked in a most pleasant way - sitting by the fire with two fine books, while waiting for my poor old body to fix itself. 

Monday, March 15, 2021

onward and upward

Ken just called: No post since Friday, is all well? Yes, thank you, all is well. I won't be at Gina's line dancing this morning, maybe by Wednesday. But I will be teaching today at 12.30, another class tomorrow, and another Thursday, make up classes for the ones missed last week. Sitting in a chair listening to stories: my idea of heaven. 

As is this house. One of the questions they asked in Emerg was, "Do you feel safe at home?" What a good question, if one with no relevance to me. "Absolutely," I replied, though I could have gone on, except when a toilet explodes out of the wall and floods the house, as happened last year. Or when termites chew through the walls and ceiling. Or or or ... But yes, mostly very safe. Lucky once more. 

Two jays at the feeder - big aggressive greedy birds, gradations of blue, lovely to look at.  

When I got home from hospital last Wednesday, I started to chronicle madly — blog, email (came back to 185 new emails), an essay about it all, I was pretty hyper. I thought I'd bounce back into gear. But it's not happening. Friday afternoon it was warm and sunny, my gardening friend Jannette came, and I went out to prune with her — one of my favourite days of the year, the first time in the garden beginning to deal with winter damage and prepare for new growth. But I didn't last long, just couldn't do it. Anna, Thomas, and Eli came to visit Saturday, and though it's joy to watch Thomas and Eli play cards and Monopoly — merciless, both of them — still, by the time they left, I was beat. Trying not to overdo it, but also not to under-do it so my body turns to mush.

I watched 15 minutes of the Grammys last night before turning it off. Ye gods. I like to keep up with what's going on, and Trevor Noah is terrific, but ... what's with the claws, ladies? The ridiculous dresses, the giant absurd things hanging around necks, the stripper pole dancing? Despair. This is music? Billie Eilish, muttering, half-asleep, standing on a car with nails five inches long? 

I am old, I am old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers etc. 

Did however listen yesterday with the greatest pleasure to Eleanor interview the amazing Lydia Millet, an American writer raised in Toronto who credits Canada with her relative sanity. It was like being at dinner with two of the most interesting women on earth. Thank you, CBC. 

And so, one year into this endless murderous pandemic that continues to test us all, on into a new week. Yes, thank you. I feel very safe at home. 

Friday, March 12, 2021

baseline ambulatory, and how

So many thoughts. I'd say this experience was life-changing except my friends would laugh because I've said that before, a few times. But then, a life can keep changing, can't it?

I cry a lot. Today I met Ruth for a very slow walk, mostly a sit on a bench in the sunny park, and as I saw her approach in the distance, I was overcome: there she is, my dear friend, such a vibrant person, 81-years old and just had her first vaccine! There's so much to celebrate, especially now, as the vaccine slowly arrives and so does spring. 

It still seems miraculous to me that I'm not dead, and it's not everyone who can say that and mean it. I thought a ruptured appendix meant death, but apparently not, at least, not for everyone. I've always been grateful to be alive, but now I've felt the wings brush close, so the breath in my lungs means even more. Plus I spent time surrounded by hundreds of sick people. If anything makes you grateful to be "baseline ambulatory," as the hospital concluded I was, it's that.

Many lovely things. Just after I wrote that second post of praise for the efficient and skilled medical team at St. Mike's, I got an email from a blog follower I've never met, who's a nurse. She told me my first post had made her sad and so she was very happy to read the second. She told me my letters to the nurses would indeed be read and would mean a great deal. They were mailed today. Doing things like this makes me even more glad to be a writer.

I realized about this experience - among many realizations - that in my solitary world, I'm queen. Queen Elizabeth of Cabbagetown. I reign in my house, over my classes, decisions, moi moi moi. Suddenly I was alone in a war-torn environment, in pain, frightened, one pawn among thousands. Nobody is treated better or worse in a hospital, as it should be. My neighbour in Emerg who did not stop chatting with herself was treated with infinite patience and compassion, as was I. Now I'm back to reigning supreme, but with a different perspective. Not quite so supreme.

And another thing: humour. A sense of humour - what evolutionary purpose does it serve? Bonding the tribespeople? I'm sure there are a ton of academic theories about this. Funny. What a miracle funny is. Could we live without it? I think of the moment when I lifted the warming cover and saw that egg with its smiley coffee stain, and my roommate and I laughed and laughed. It felt like we'd both been fighting a battle, not with each other but with life, and had stopped for a hug. Which of course we're not allowed. 

Speaking of funny, my son came over yesterday with food he'd bought - all I want is the plainest fare and he brought baked salmon and scalloped potatoes, so good. My insides are really feeling the powerful medicine; I just went to get probiotics. Monique came over with soup, Jean-Marc has offered turkey. And just now, friends of Sam's left on my doorstep a bag of dinner from his restaurant Round the Horn: lasagna, garlic bread, salad, and a little parcel of gummy bears for dessert. 

So, blessings, no? Wouldn't you be a bit weepy too?

Early this morning, I made coffee and toast and brought it up to bed with the paper, my computer and phone. My bedroom faces east so the morning sun shines in, not on the bed but on the north wall. I sat in bed, and for the first time in many years, I did not open the paper immediately or turn on the machines. I looked at my wall — my mother's teddy bear, my aunt's, my own, the vintage-y record player Lani gave me, Macca, Matisse, and Colette always looking at me. I drank and ate. My life has been the fable of the hare and the tortoise. I've been a speedy hare forever. 

Maybe I'll learn to slow down. Maybe now I have no choice.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

completely different take on St. Mike's

Waking this morning after a perfect night's sleep in a soft bed in a dark quiet private room, I realized I needed to say this immediately: St. Mike's may be a very old inner city hospital with lots of problems, but with me, they did their job extremely well. Despite the misfires, lack of communication chief among them, the fact is that I walked in there Monday afternoon very sick and in extreme pain. And I walked out of there on Wednesday afternoon filled with antibiotics and painkillers and very much on the road to recovery. 

It took them two days to choose and carry out the best possible solution for my medical issue. In all the chaos, a raft of nurses hooked me up to drips, kept them dripping, and made me better in two days. 

Today I'm going to spend time writing to people - to the kind nurses Eva and Gowri on the Gyn floor and especially to Julietta, whom I met for five minutes, fell in love with, and didn't say goodbye to in my haste to escape. I need to say thank you to the kindest people on the planet. They will be too busy to read letters, but I will write them.

What I see today, thinking back, is professionals doing their jobs in the most difficult of situations - overcrowding, noise, decaying infrastructure, terrified sick people, and now pandemic, complications we can't even imagine. I may laugh at it, but somehow, in a hospital with thousands of patients, that late breakfast tray was ordered and arrived for me. It was not pretty, but it arrived. That's the miracle. I could not see it at the time, but now I see that ridiculous egg as a symbol of something extraordinary: a world of people at work to make their patients better. 

To be home and not sick and in pain matters most in the world, my friends. If that is where and how you are, give thanks. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

in which Beth muses about some miracles of modern medicine

Well, my blog friends, because we're dealing with the queen of story here, you're waiting for the appendix story, aren't you? It won't surprise you to know there is one. As follows:

The hospital ordeal started at 4 on Monday afternoon, when I couldn't stand the pain any more and finally headed to Emerg - at St. Mike's, a huge old downtown hospital, not the best choice, I saw later, but I'd visited Wayson there often and he loved it. (Later I remembered it was the people he'd loved, not the hospital, and he was right.) It was a long process to be seen, to wait for the scan, to be scanned - being slid into the big white machine just like in the movies - waiting for the diagnosis - "acute perforated appendicitis with significant inflammation." 

Frightening. They said they needed to keep me in because the condition needed to be monitored, and at 1 a.m. took me up to a room. 

The next day they prepared me for surgery - shunts in both arms, an antibiotic drip, no food or drink for hours. Twice, because they said they didn't have a place in surgery yet for me. At first the operation was to be at midnight Tuesday, then they said I could drink and eat until midnight Tuesday b/c it'd be sometime on Wednesday.

I spent Tuesday in bed, hooked up to the drip and filled with pain killers, cancelling my life - two classes, a piano lesson - letting family, friends, and colleagues know where I was and dreading an operation. When I headed to Emerg I'd not expected to stay - what was I @$#@ thinking? - so the only practical thing I'd brought was my cell phone charger. I'd forgotten my reading glasses. Stuck in bed in hospital with no reading glasses! Sam offered to buy some and bring them, and Tuesday afternoon he did. They wouldn't let him in, but this bag of goodies appeared on my bed. Including a notebook and pens and card from Ben. Almost cured me right there.

By end of Tuesday I still had no idea what was planned for me. More fasting overnight. This morning I was a hag with hair sticking out in all directions, had not brushed my teeth for days, was a total mess. Mostly in hospital, especially if you didn't plan to be there, it's the helplessness, waiting, like a child, for the grownups to tell you what's going to happen to you. It's such a shock, coming from your actual life to that. You're in control of nothing, least of all your own body. Your time. Nothing. No sleep possible unless you're one of those miracle sleepers which I emphatically am not, the hospital nightmare of noise and - well, you know - BEEPS! Not knowing what day it was or for me even if it WAS day, since my sweet roommate Danielle had the window side of the room, and her privacy curtain kept out all light to my side - until we became friends and pushed it aside quite a bit. The gowns, the pokes and prods, the food, my god, even the worst jokes couldn't do justice to this food. But I was grateful to get it because much of the time I wasn't allowed to eat, which for me is suffering. I eat every two hours no matter what. Last night the nurse said, we have sandwiches. Yes! She brought me an egg salad sandwich on squishy white bread, one of the best things I've ever eaten, especially as I was about to enter another fast. 

At 10 this morning I called my nurse in tears with still no idea what was happening, and she said she'd call the doctor. Who actually appeared an hour later. She apologized for the lack of communication. No kidding, I said. 

We've decided your appendix is so perforated that we possibly couldn't even remove it, and anyway the surrounding area is so inflamed that surgery would be dangerous, we might damage something. But you are responding well to antibiotics. So we're going to prescribe a course of heavy duty oral antibiotics, and do some more blood work to be sure you're getting better. If it seems to be working, you can go home maybe even tomorrow.

You mean I can eat and drink? I asked breathlessly, taking a sip of water. I'm going home tomorrow? Oh sweet Jesus. I didn't understand a thing, really. Wouldn't this just happen again if they didn't take it out? Apparently, probably not. 

So I waited for my antibiotic. They took some blood and ordered me a late breakfast, which came about an hour later. The nurse told me it wouldn't be much because the kitchen was overloaded and this was late. There was brown water that I think was coffee and juice and a muffin and yogurt. And then I lifted the black warming cover off the plate to find this delicacy. Smile by coffee stain. 

When I told Ruth this story, she said, Are you sure it wasn't a balsamic reduction?

It was good to laugh, even though it hurt. Danielle also laughed, though it hurt her too, after a hysterectomy. I know, I know, it was kind of them to rustle up something for me.

Then they told me I had to change rooms. Rolling down pushed on a bed, clutching my belongings and clothes in plastic bags, to the Gastro floor. When I arrived Monday they didn't have room there so I was on gynaecology. I'd wondered about that. I was settling into my new bed in a four-bed room with three very ill neighbours when my new nurse appeared with the face of an angel, an actual angel - Julietta, a Filipina. Welcome Mrs. Kaplan! she cried, beaming, as if I was the first face she'd seen that day. She explained how things work here, got me settled, brought me ice water in a cup with a top and a straw - a miraculous invention for people lying in bed, the straw, I guess they don't believe in them in gynaecology. It was the first time in at least a week that I began to relax a bit, since I knew what was happening and where I was. Lunch arrived, don't ask, and shortly afterward, a brisk woman. 

You can pack your things, she said. You're cleared to go now.


The blood test showed your white cell count is nearly back to normal, you're ambulatory and able to eat, the antibiotics are working. So here's a prescription for them and for extra-strength Tylenol. Go home and finish the course there. Any questions?

Where's the exit? LOL. No, no questions. Was I hallucinating?

I couldn't hug her b/c Covid, and also brisk, but what blessed words. I called John who lives just down Queen Street and had offered to drive me home. He'd pick me up out front, call when I got there.

A final issue - I still had shunts in both arms, had to wait for someone to come take them out. A nurse did and then said, You need to be signed out by your nurse and she's on break, but she'll be back in around half an hour.

Half an hour?! What if I just leave? I said.

You need your paperwork, she said.

Here it is, I have it, I said, and showed her the prescription, the diagnosis, the follow up. She was reluctant but she let me go. I power-walked as fast as someone who hasn't slept or eaten much and is still sore and feeling frail and carrying plastic bags of possessions including a card from her grandson could power-walk to the Queen St. entrance and called John. We stopped at my local Shoppers to leave the prescription; Robin went to pick it up for me later. John came in to the house with me. When I walked into my living room a few hours ago, I began to sob so hard, I couldn't stand. 

I feel I've just spent time in the seventh circle of hell. But also heaven, where there are healers, helpers, so many kind good people, those nurses, how can we praise them enough, what they do to comfort, I'm weeping again. Some of them are the best people on earth. But St. Mike's serves the roughest part of town with a huge marginalized population who have no doctor and go for health care there. And of course an old building already in very poor shape, an entire health system not in the best shape, is now dealing with a disastrous pandemic. The place was filthy and chaotic, everyone run off their feet. I didn't see the Covid floor or floors, they're sealed off. But God, the extent of human suffering I did see, and with a physical backdrop of neglect and dirt. It shocked me. 

While I was lying in bed, I thought, I eat healthily and keep myself fit and don't smoke - and the most useless part of my body is the part that got me! This is why Wayson always said, when things are going badly, look behind you. When things are going well, look behind you. 

I was hit hard by something behind me. Ironically, perhaps the fact that I ignored it for so long the fucking thing shredded maybe saved me from an operation. It's good, of course, that it didn't kill me first. I won't ignore pain again. DO NOT IGNORE PAIN. 

How lucky can you be, to be seventy and have only ever been in hospital for babies and an afternoon parathyroid operation, and to visit sick people. So very much time in hospitals with my mother and Aunt Do. You know that I often mention feeling grateful for various things. But never have I felt so grateful as right now, to be home, to be healing. To be home. To be healing. 

On the other hand, to show you the extent of my pettiness, after my hot bath I felt bloated so weighed myself. In two days I gained seven pounds! And not from the balsamic reduction! That was one hell of an egg salad sandwich. My friend Cathy the nurse who helped guide me the entire time by text wrote, "Your body is fighting an infection honey so your immune system is in overdrive producing all those great and wonderful fluid systems that have to rush in to do the job....  very common, don't worry."

And I won't. Who gives a shit about that? Health, my friends. Do what you can to hang onto it, though I know sometimes it's out of your hands.

There are lots of other stories, but that's it for now. Be well. I mean that as an order: BE WELL. 

Tomorrow it will be 18 degrees. Now that's a miracle.

PS. Sorry, readers, but in case you haven't heard enough about the appendix, Gretchen just sent this. It's almost exactly my case except that she was obviously in a swanky US hospital where doctors actually came to, like, talk to her. Also, probably windows. But otherwise, more or less the same case. Good to feel part of a trend and understand the science now!


Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Mystery solved.

 Dear blog friends. Here is the news. I am in hospital with acute appendicitis, operation tomorrow I hope. I am in good hands. More anon.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Oprah, beautiful young people, sick old people

It's been a long time since I've been this sick. It's the kind of state where nothing else matters, just getting through. Advil is getting me through. I'm now waiting for my doctor's office to open at 9, hope to see her or someone there later today. Lynn just wrote reassuringly that stomach cancer affects mostly men, not healthy women with a good diet. Jean-Marc came over yesterday with a bag of supplies - soup, dahl, freshly made trail mix. The face of kindness, that man. I love my friends. I think I will have to cancel the class I teach at noon today but have left it up in the air for now. 

I'm sorry, this must be very dull, this self-pitying litany. But it's all I'm capable of. Oh, though I did watch Oprah last night. I think those are two very nice young people, and gorgeous too, both of them. The Palace did not come off well. But as always, Americans are entirely uninterested in history or context. British civilization is many centuries old; of course there are traditions incomprehensible to people from newer cultures that specialize in breaking boundaries. I thought the interview must have been torture for Harry, not just British but royal, raised with a list of do's and don'ts a mile long - surely the greatest don't is about airing dirty family linen in public. I understand Meghan trying to clear the air, but I wondered at what cost to Harry, to his relations with his family. They certainly won't be easier to mend now. I felt for him. 

Stay healthy. Sending love. 

PS Just spoke to my doctor's office. She can give me a telephone appointment on Wednesday afternoon. Or else I should call the after hours clinic tonight. I said, there are other illnesses besides Covid - it's shocking that there isn't a single doctor available to see patients. She said, We have a protocol we have to follow.

Yes. Protocol. That's exactly what the Oprah interview was about, that led Meghan to madness. 

Jean-Marc tells me his doctor's office will see people; if your own doctor isn't available you can see someone else. My doctor isn't even in town, is not answering emails. I've a prescription that needs to be renewed and she's unavailable. It's a clinic with 3 family doctors, none available. I feel abandoned by my doctor. What about people with sick children? The receptionist said I should go to Emerg. Just where a sick 70-year old wants to be, sitting in Emerg with Mr. and Mrs. Covid. 

Later. Okay, I have an appointment at a walk-in clinic tmw morning. Jean-Marc is making me a salad. Robin will do a run to Shoppers. The sun is coming out. And my friend and student Brad has a wonderful essay in today's Globe - he wrote it for our class. Enjoy. Now to get ready to teach. As Shania Twain says, I clean up good. I hope. 


And more good news - my Covid test was negative. Not a surprise, but welcome nonetheless.

And my new friend Trevor just wrote from Denmark, "If you can cycle 10 blocks for a Covid test you’re not at death’s door." TRUE!

Sunday, March 7, 2021


Thanks to all the friends writing in alarm about my health posts. Last night was pretty nightmarish; with quite acute gut pain keeping me awake, I had images of exploding appendix, God knows what. And of course it's the weekend, my doctor's office is closed. 

So this morning I called Telehealth Ontario. Within minutes, a nurse called me, asked a bunch of questions, and said she'd get in touch with the on call doctor at my health clinic. Five minutes later my phone rang and a cheery doctor answered. 

The conclusion is that though not in great shape, I'm not at imminent risk of death, I can wait to call my own doctor tmw. But, she said, you need to have a Covid test asap. I went online and instantly made a booking for 12.30 today at a Covid clinic ten blocks from here.  I'll ride my bike there.

I am so impressed - this level of organization and service in the midst of a pandemic!

Onward. And for today's laugh, a glimpse of my life.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

E.coli? Existential ennui of the gut?

Recovery continues. I got dressed, that's big. Actually went for a walkabout with Ruth and did a load of laundry, then had to lie down. It's 5.15 and I'm drinking tea not wine, so you know I'm still not back to normal. Chris thinks it's an e.coli infection, but though I've had stomach cramps, aches, and a bit of fever, I haven't had any of the other symptoms, and anyway, how would I get it when I eat only what's in my fridge and wash my hands all the time?

Mystery. Anyway, what's important is that it's ebbing slowly. 


Luckily, I have work to do. I'm one of the four long list readers for the CNFC competition, so have 47 two- to three-thousand word essays to read and mark from Poor to Excellent - many more of the former than the latter, but what pleasure when a stellar one beams out from the pile. This is work I enjoy and can do lying down - win/win. 

Tried to remember what I watched last night, could think of nothing, had to fish last week's TV Guide out of the recycling bin. Oh yes! I tried a doc called Colorado on PBS, gorgeous scenery but a weird off-putting soundtrack - no. A movie that's been receiving great reviews called First Cow, which turned out to be dark, monosyllabic, and glacial - not for me. The Nature of Things showed the second part of the polar bear series, incredible footage of a mother bear and her cubs - I had the sound off and was reading and then looked up and she was swimming in what looked like the vast ocean, water everywhere, with the two small ones paddling valiantly behind her. I couldn't bear it - where was she going? Surely those cubs wouldn't make it. Had to change channels. 

If anyone saw the show, please let me know - why was she risking her cubs like that? I know, it's our fault. It haunted me during the night. 

And Bill Maher, who was less surly than usual - maybe he's been reprimanded for being an asshole. In any case, interesting guests and speakers, as always, some I agree with and some not, as it should be. 

The pleasure of the day - donating the gift received from my editing client to Encampment Support Network, which provides the many homeless encampments in this city with food, warm clothes, tents. And here I sit bitching about a sore stomach. 

The Dems, by dint of hard work and compromise, got their huge bill passed. And immediately, though even Bernie spoke in favour, Twitter was flooded with far lefties complaining it isn't good enough. The first rule of writing workshops: force yourself to say something good before you leap in to criticize. My daughter still cannot say a good word about Joe Biden. But she will. 


Because then I remember - this is Anna we're talking about. LOL. 

Friday, March 5, 2021


Better, definitely better. What a weird thing. Yesterday, my stomach was so sore, particularly painful and tender on the right side, I thought I might have appendicitis, on top of some kind of flu. Thank God, there were no Zoom meetings, no classes or responsibilities. Spent the day in bed with devices, New Yorker, and books and the evening watching two episodes of "Little Dorrit" on my computer, another terrific British series - Charles Dickens, how many plot lines and rich characters can you dream up and make work? 

Today I woke up to conjunctivitis in one eye, which is stinging and red, but fewer aches. It is passing. Could I be luckier? I picked up a virus somehow - how? How did I get the flu when I got a flu shot in the fall and have been handwashing, distancing, and masking along with everyone else? 

But it's not the big one. When I think what could have been, at this time when the hospitals are overloaded ... Nightmare.

People have been wonderfully kind. Sam walked across town, nearly 10 k., to deliver chicken soup and fresh bread. Gina brought me tangelos and eggs, with a gift of dark chocolate truffles. This morning Jean-Marc pushed today's Globe through my mail slot. Others have written or called to ask what I need. 

Perhaps periodically it's good to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, to remember how lucky we are to be functional and walking and working and getting on with life. I want to get back to that state, but not yet. I'll get up for a bit but mostly stay in bed and drink soup and count my many, many blessings. 

PS As if to reinforce how fortunate I am, a former student and editing client just wrote. After taking my course some years ago, she asked if I'd help her write a book about life with her son who has significant handicaps. We worked together, and her marvellous book came out.

She just wrote that she has been able to sell it to various organizations; it has done really well, and she has e-transferred me a chunk of money as a thank you gift! How amazing is that? I am going to donate it to an organization that supports the homeless in Toronto, in her name. 


Thursday, March 4, 2021

stayin' alive

Last night I did have a temperature. Took my last sleeping pill and slept. Today whatever it is is there but not overwhelming. I'm in bed with tea and toast, the newspaper, the new New Yorker, a second book from the library - Citizen, by Claudia Rankine - with Actress by Anne Enright waiting. I've asked a neighbour to get tangelos for me from No Frills. There's nothing as good as tangelos.

Forgot to mention an interesting encounter yesterday - with a director/actor/theatre teacher from the Bay area who loved my Jewish Shakespeare and wanted to discuss it. We talked via Zoom for an hour. I didn't realize how much info is still stuffed in my head about the Yiddish theatre; it all came spouting out. He thinks the story of these volcanic personalities at the turn of the last century, the importance of theatre, the battles about ethics and personality that ended with thousands demonstrating in the streets, would make a fantastic TV series or film. I've long thought so.  

I know I'm sick when I have tea for breakfast. But I'll live. How the @#$@ did I get a flu bug, with constant mask wearing, distancing, hand washing? A careless moment. Lucky it wasn't worse.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

a little bit sick and scared

This is scary. My body aches, my head aches. I'm going upstairs to take my temperature and get into bed. This morning I was only mildly uncomfortable; I did Gina's line dancing and arranged to go for a walk with Annie, later cancelled. It was a gorgeous day of bright sun. Robin my tree trimmer came and cut my willow's hair; she's all shorn now. I wanted to prune the clematis in the sun but gave up. 

Tonight I sat by my fire and started to watch a documentary about a day in the life of the planet, with amazing footage. I read one of the three library books I went to get today, three holds that of course all came in at once. I skimmed and finished The War of Art which has some good points but is just too jocky and macho - creating art as a battle, a war, phooey. 

But now it's 9 p.m. I ache and I'm going to bed, and it's scary. It feels like 'flu. I'm sure it's a little dose of 'flu. Cross your fingers for me. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

"In and Of Itself" with Derek DelGaudio: highly recommended

I've had a headache and mild sore throat for a few days. Paranoia stalks. It must be a cold - there's no fever, and it hasn't gotten worse. But these days, anything is cause for alarm. Except for the miracle - there were two emails this morning telling me that Sunnyside Hospital, in the far north of the city, had set up an online registry for the vaccine for Toronto residents 70 and older. I logged in immediately and was accepted into the system. There's no guarantee this will lead to a vaccination, they wrote back, but at least something is moving in our glacial system. I felt guilty taking the place of someone older and more at risk, but thought - if I get the vaccine, I can be useful to family and friends. 

The days flow by, one into another: teaching, writing, cooking, eating, walking, looking out the window, watching television in the evening. The other night, the film Irresistible, written and directed by my beloved Jon Stewart, a satire on the American political system, a bit lame but heartfelt, he can do no wrong in my book. Last night, the truly extraordinary In and Of Itself, a one man show with the amazing Derek DelGaudio. I had no idea what to expect, had simply read praise, and was startled at every turn - it's deeply moving autobiography, incredible magic tricks, it's therapy and Buddhist mysticism - like nothing you've ever seen, don't miss it.

One of my main tasks is keeping myself awake in the long dark cold evenings. Now that I'm getting up a bit earlier and have a long busy day with wine at dinner, I'm ready to curl up and snooze at 7, but need four more hours of activity. It's winter, we should be hibernating. But we are not bears. 

I watched a bit of the Golden Globes Sunday. Re the magnificent Jane Fonda: I'll have whatever she's having! (Except for the surgery.) What an admirable 83-year old woman. While watching, I saw a most horrifying thing: there's now a credit card for children called GoHenry. They pretend it's to teach children about money, but it shows small children gleefully checking their balance and how much they have left to spend. Can you imagine? Turned my stomach. Criminal. Like the ads that show cars screeching along city streets, speeding on highways, smashing through underbrush - should be illegal. Okay, your rant for today. 

Two nice things follow. The Leguin quote is the subtext of my Beatles book All My Loving. Cheers.