20
Dec 18

* names and some details of clinical cases changed to protect privacy

Act One

 A Crisis of Identity

The number leapt out at me.  One hundred and three!

An incandescent flash of comprehension flooded my brain.

It was fourteen years ago.  I was standing beside the trauma bay bed, holding one of Jack’s tiny clenched fists in my hand as I gazed at his contorted face, his tongue thrusting rhythmically and his eyes rolled insistently upward.

His spasming body was submerged in a beehive of activity.  Medical personnel supplied critically needed oxygen, readied resuscitation equipment, and delivered intravenous medications and fluids.

Paramedics had crashed through the doors ten minutes earlier, wheeling Jack on a stretcher.  It had been a sleepy Monday morning in the ED to that point, the mundane chit-chat of nursing staff disturbed only by the raspy breathing and occasional seal-bark cough of a young boy with croup.  After dosing the young lad with dexamethasone and settling a misty mask of epinephrine over his face to ease his breathing, I sat in the doctors’ cubicle with my resident, killing time by quizzing her on the case we had just seen. Read the rest of this entry »

15
Dec 18

I was crushed.

“No can do”, said the ethics review board, mustering all of its collective wisdom.

Project cancelled.

Months of work down the tubes.  Long hours burning the midnight oil, precious time carved from what little remained outside of my clinical duties as a trainee in emergency medicine - time spent assembling the countless pieces crucial to a successful research project, combing through hundreds of journals for data to support its premise, devising recruitment and randomization strategies, tweaking study design, and most painfully, stuffing myself through a crash course on statistical analysis.

Some folks take to “stats” as if to the manner born, soaking in the language of data analysis like parched cacti greedily sucking in water.  I’m not one of those people. I was caught one morning, during a mandatory meeting to discuss research protocol design, between two colleagues endlessly debating the relative merits of the chi-square test versus Fisher’s Exact Test. It was excruciating, like being trapped in a migraine sandwich. Read the rest of this entry »

12
Dec 18

The Birds and the D’s

If ignorance was bliss, my fellow humans, we’d be permanent residents of Nirvana.

Because we will always be ignorant.

The Age of Enlightenment upended that dreary calculus, seemingly, by highlighting mankind’s powers of reason, transforming the intellectual and philosophical landscape of 18th century Europe and ushering in unprecedented discovery and inquiry.  “Sapere aude!” proclaimed Immanuel Kant, summing up the exuberance of that era: “Dare to be wise!”  Or, more loosely, "Dare to think for yourself!"

And on that foundation of reason we’ve built a towering edifice of science and knowledge - towering, that is, compared with what was known before.  As I’ve written elsewhere, every era finds us basking in an age of unprecedented enlightenment – until the rear-view mirror of history exposes it as an age of slightly less ignorance.  We scale mountains of knowledge and swim oceans of discovery - only to find mountains more magnificent to tackle and oceans more vast to explore. Read the rest of this entry »

4
Dec 18

The Birds and the Bees

Imagine, for a white-knuckled moment: you are hunkered down on a battlefield, commanding officer to a platoon of shell-shocked soldiers.  Ahead of you lies an open stretch of scrubby terrain peppered with concealed land mines, beyond that the safety of a sheltering bunker; behind you, hard on your heels, a swarm of enemy soldiers.  You have no choice but to go forward, to lead your squadron across that booby-trapped pasture, desperately hoping that your troops aren’t exploded to splatters and tatters of blood and gore.

But at the last second, as you’re about to order that gut-wrenching dash for refuge, you find in your rucksack a detailed map of those landmines.  Drenched with sweaty relief, you and your platoon pick your way quickly and safely across to that bunker. Read the rest of this entry »

18
Nov 18

Act One

 A Crisis of Identity

The number leapt out at me.  One hundred and three!

An incandescent flash of comprehension flooded my brain.

It was fourteen years ago.  I was standing beside the trauma bay bed, holding one of Jack’s tiny clenched fists in my hand as I gazed at his contorted face, his tongue thrusting rhythmically and his eyes rolled insistently upward.

His spasming body was submerged in a beehive of activity.  Medical personnel supplied critically needed oxygen, readied resuscitation equipment, and delivered intravenous medications and fluids.

Paramedics had crashed through the doors ten minutes earlier, wheeling Jack on a stretcher.  It had been a sleepy Monday morning in the ED to that point, the mundane chit-chat of nursing staff disturbed only by the raspy breathing and occasional seal-bark cough of a young boy with croup.  After dosing the young lad with dexamethasone and settling a misty mask of epinephrine over his face to ease his breathing, I sat in the doctors’ cubicle with my resident, killing time by quizzing her on the case we had just seen. Read the rest of this entry »

5
Jun 18

I’ve been keeping my head down a bit, lately.

My recent essay on guns and dead kids, cheerfully captioned Make America Grieve Again, wasn’t likely to generate much in the way of warm and fuzzies, I suppose.  I’ve taken a few shots since I blasted that dark bit of satire onto my blog.  Two shots, to be precise.  Which represents two-thirds of my usual audience - the other third being moi.

Since it’s been rather nice to have a following, no matter how tiny, after decades of muttering only to myself, I'd raise my head above the parapet to respond to my critics.  Maybe they’ll (please) come back.

“You should mind your own damn business,” was the gist of volley number one, courtesy of an American reader. (I took a stab at reproducing his comments verbatim but my keyboard caught fire in protest.)

Fair enough, I say.  My talents are few, and minding my own business isn’t one of them.  But I didn’t mean by any stretch to suggest that he and his countrymen are nothing but a gang of murderous nutcases, or that every street corner in the U.S. is bristling with weapons.  I know perfectly well that’s not true – I lived peaceably and pleasantly in America for years.  That piece I wrote was satire, people.

Read the rest of this entry »

26
May 18

The globe is staggering, reeling under the burden of more than 7 billion people.

We’ve figured out how to feed ‘em all, for the most part, but they’re wrecking the planet with carbon-spewing, globe-trotting, meat-eating recklessness.

And we keep replicating, like viruses, adding 360,000 souls to the teeming mass of humanity every twenty-four hours, with only 150,000 folks gracious enough to shuffle off this mortal coil each day to make room.  We’re not winning.

It’s not for lack of trying.

China fearlessly led the way with its infamous “one child” policy, but the People’s Republic is on the cusp of abandoning that approach after generating a slightly unworkable male:female ratio of 18,000:1, roughly – welcome to toxic masculinity.

We’ve introduced sex education to preschoolers and employed birth control methods up the wazoo.  Long gone are the primitive days of fending off pregnancy by optimistically hanging weasel testicles around one’s neck as foreplay:  the modern world is awash in oral contraceptives, IUDs, condoms, diaphragms, vasectomies, and tubal ligations; and if none of those suit, one always has abstinence as trusty backup, or the rhythm method, or the timing method, or the “running the neighbour’s son off with a shotgun” method – or, in a pinch, the Lorena Bobbitt method, for the aspiring surgeons among us. Read the rest of this entry »

5
Apr 18

Yesterday’s op-ed piece by Josh Gordon in the Vancouver Sun ("Speculation tax is essential for housing affordability") should be shredded and composted across the province as potent fertilizer to the spring growing season, so pure is the horse manure contained therein.  Bumper crops would be assured.

Mr. Gordon, assistant professor in the School of Public Policy at Simon Fraser University, attempts a robust defense of the tax, a wrong-headed initiative germinated in the first place by fellow luminaries at the University of B.C.  It makes one wonder whether the professors have been indulging overmuch in that famous B.C. bud. A short vacation from academic haze to the real world is overdue, I think.

The initial concerns and problems with the tax “have now been addressed”, claims Mr. Gordon, before he goes on to completely ignore the disproportionate effect of the speculation levy on fellow Canadians.  Out-of-province Canadians with vacation homes in B.C. will be still be on the hook for a one percent annual levy on the assessed value of their property:  for a $500,000 home, that means an extra five grand in taxes, each year, every year.

With fully 81% of British Columbians in support of the speculation tax it would seem to be a smash home-run as policy, a sure-fire political winner.

Maybe.  But just because something seems initially “popular” doesn’t make it right, or even popular.

It’s all in the framing, and the question put to British Columbians frames the tax, wrongly, as a “speculation” tax.  As B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson rightly pointed out in the legislature:

“A speculator is someone who buys a property solely to flip it. A speculator is someone who parks offshore money in our real estate, hoping to protect themselves from the turmoil in global markets. A speculator is someone who uses bare trusts to avoid paying property transfer taxes, thereby allowing multiple sales and resales with no change in title.A speculator is not someone who pays taxes here and owns a vacation cottage. These folk are not trying to capitalize on our out-of-control housing market.” Read the rest of this entry »

3
Mar 18

It’s hard being me.

Seriously.

I’m tired, weary of “checking my privilege”.

By dumb luck I’m rooted to this planet as an SWM, a straight white male, my mere existence offensive, by default sexist, homophobic, racist - a blight on society, judging by the relentless onslaught of social justice warrior (SJW) messaging.  The post-modern left, as author A.R. Devine explains, holds straight white males to be inferior humans "who should keep their mouths shut and know their place" - privileged, therefore scum.

And it’s hard on me.  We all want to be loved, after all.

The protracted battle of SJW v. SWM is not much of a contest these days. Imagine, for a terrifying moment,  Mike Tyson in his fearsome prime pounding on Stephen Hawking in his wheelchair, and you have accurately grasped the current tilt and tenor of this conflict.

Worse, I’m a married man, hence a wife-beater at heart.  That worthy insight arrived courtesy of Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s wondrously accomplished minister of foreign affairs, in an interview with liberal arts magazine The Walrus – published, in no small irony, on Valentine’s Day: “I’m a woman. I’m a wife. I’m a mother. One hundred years ago, I would’ve been beaten by my husband. That’s what happened to pretty much all women.” Read the rest of this entry »

17
Jan 18

Wrinkling my nose against the acrid smell of sweat clinging to his hockey uniform, I carefully probed the teenager's impressively swollen wrist.  I sent him off to the radiology department with his grandmother and turned my attention immediately to another patient in the endless emergency queue, completely forgetting to send a digital requisition for the needed X-rays.

The radiology technician, attempting to correct my omission, asked grandma which doctor had attended her grandson.  “I can’t remember,” she said, “But it was the short, handsome, Latino man.”

One out of three isn’t bad, I suppose:  I’m a card-carrying member of the pocket-doctor set, indisputably small.

Her generous assessment of my wrinkly mug as “handsome” was proof only that she had to be legally blind, surely beset by the densest of cataracts.  My vacation-acquired tan penetrated her milky lenses just enough for her to kindly bestow me with Brazilian or Puerto Rican heritage.

Ironically, though my roots are thoroughly Dutch, I'm endowed with the mercurial temper for which Latinos are famous (a most ignorant stereotype, let me hasten to stress, before level-headed Latin Americans launch irritable volleys of protest in my direction). Read the rest of this entry »