Archives for category: Health

xmas1987In 1987 I stood in for a tree when my sisters and our parents celebrated Christmas together for the last time in their tiny apartment. In 1988 Father died of an aneurism, in 1990 Mother died in her sleep, in 2002 Tanis (necklace) died of a stroke and in 2016 Enid (bow) died from Alzheimer’s disease. We all have to go some time and I think of them with love. One thing I know for sure is that neither you nor I want to die of or see anyone else die of Alzheimer’s, like Enid. Here’s what I do to score little victories that bring back one memory at a time:

1. Don’t panic if you are out shopping and can’t remember where you parked you car, have just jumped into the driver’s seat and can’t remember where you are going, or have gone down the basement to get something but can’t remember what. Pause, take a deep breath, keep quiet and tell yourself everything is going to be OK. The information is still inside and you can get it back. Then go over in your mind what you can remember doing just before you got blocked. Wait patiently until the missing information pops back.

2. After having a scare like this, I spend time just taking extra care of my memory. It needs to be exercised just as much as any part of the body. I do regular basic home exercises, if nothing else such as swimming is available. They make blood flow to my head and nourish my brain cells.

3. Practice and rehearsing are the keys. Before education was reformed in the sixties, children were taught ‘by rote’ in school. They had to memorize and recite poems and lessons. Before the days of TV, people put on recitals and concerts where poems as well as music were performed. Anyone who has read Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi knows how the river captains had to stretch their minds to an amazing capacity to accommodate mounds of changing, life-saving information. I know a pianist who glows to talk about how her memory has grown with each long performance piece she commits to it.

4. On the scale of my life, I have at least learned to go grocery shopping without a list and not forget anything. It is a big satisfaction! I make the list at home and then use a mnemonic, such as memorizing the first letter of each item on my list and reciting it to myself a few times. If I forget something in the store, I pause and try to remember it — or else do without!

5. The memory game or puzzle I like best is Sudoku. My performance on it indicates what shape my memory and ability to focus are in. After not having done it for months, I unloaded it for free on my ipad and found I had relapsed to the ‘easy’ level whereas I used to be at ‘difficult.’ I’m doing a few puzzles each day to try to climb back up again. A bit of pigheadedness probably helps fight off the Alzheimer Scrooge too.

Happy Preparing for Your Memorable, Unforgettable Family Christmas Holiday Time!




Heroes don’t exist everywhere, everyday but they can spring up anywhere, anytime. One of them could even be  you. Eighteen hundred grade-ten students learned this lesson last week at a joyous assembly in a Pittsburgh school auditorium. Two of their classmates, 15-year-old Parker and Walter, had played real-life roles of  survivor and hero in a fateful disastrous instant in October.

The Fateful Event

  • The two best friends were sitting side by side on a bleacher in the local skate park on a Saturday morning. Suddenly Parker turned to Walter and said, “My heart stopped.” When he dropped his phone and collapsed onto the concrete below Walter knew he wasn’t joking.
  • He screamed his head off for help from bystanders and a call was made to 911. Walter told the dispatcher Parker’s nose and lips were blue and the dispatcher said he needed CPR right away. Walter said, “I can do that. I learned it in health class last year.”
  • For 10 minutes he gave Parker CPR and kept talking to him until the police and emergency workers arrived and took over. With Parker on a stretcher and Walter in a panic, the ambulance carried them off.
  • En route Walter phoned his father who rushed to join him at the hospital. Parker was induced into a coma and airlifted to a trauma center. Walter wanted to go with his friend but a nurse convinced him he had done all he could. His father dropped him off at his mother’s to find consolation.
  • With the help of surgery to attach an AED (automated electronic defibrillator), and rest, Parker recovered and was back at school within weeks. His heart is strong; the cause of his cardiac arrest is unknown. He looks forward to resuming playing soccer.

The Commendation

  • Emergency workers and police at the scene and doctors and nurses at the hospital showered praise on Walter for his presence of mind under pressure and trying circumstances.
  • Teacher John Valvala who had taught him CPR was “thrilled” by what Walter had done, thanked and congratulated him.
  • The chief of the Allegheny County Police department saw this as a chance to show heart and strengthen community. It could be used to inspire other teenagers to play the important bystander role which is as vital as any other to a patient’s survival.
  • He announced in January that Walter would receive a Citizen Service Award. The commendation ceremony would be at the school in co-operation with everyone else who had been involved.
  • This event would attract the attention of the community through the media. It was a rare opportunity to put the police in a good light, pointing out what people do that is right, not just what they do that is wrong.
  • The St. Clair hospital announced it would give Walter a Health Hero Award at the same ceremony.

The Heroic Drama & Inspiration

  • It was an exceedingly happy, inspiring occasion. A roar of thunderous applause and cheers went up from the student body and family members as police and doctors presented the awards and shoulder patches.
  • Parker and Walter modestly thanked everyone else, from friends to GoFund donors, in their speeches.
  • Audience happiness got noisier with each inspiring speech aimed at them. It was deafening when the three personal wellness (health) teachers were called up on stage.
  • Police superintendent Coleman McDonough said Walter’s extraordinary act “changed his life forever and changed all of us. One person who is here wouldn’t be.”
  • “It is important for all of you to see one of your peers being honored. It was a service rendered to the citizens of the county. His actions are a credit to himself and all citizens,” McDonough said.
  • Surgeon Kevin Friend said he had been inspired to go into medicine after a classmate saved his life by applying the Heimlich maneuver. He choked on a hot dog he was eating while exerting himself as the anchor man in a school tug of war contest. Ironically, up until then he didn’t like the boy who saved  him  — they had a crush on the same girl.
  • Assistant principal Lesnett got the last round of applause as he challenged the students to  “Be alert. A moment can make a difference. You can make a difference. Don’t just let things happen.”

Follow-up for Walter

  • I had a front seat at this milestone event for our family. We have been fractured by divorce proceedings for four years. This proud happy occasion brought both sides together unexpectedly.
  • Stepbrother Derek joked with brother Robert (both older than Walter), “You and I are just ‘the other brothers’ now”.
  • Father Leslie said, “I think I deserve a little bit of the credit here. I always told my boys to listen to what their teachers said.”
  • Two years ago Walter started an entertaining YouTube channel of videos about “whatever interests me.” It has a growing following among his peers. His ambition is to become an actor or film director. He is a good enough student to take any direction he chooses.  But, most of all, he wants to  make people laugh.
  • Thank you, Walter. You have succeeded.

FeedingEnidSo this is what it had come to and, as always when we were together, the moment was sweet. The only game my sister, Enid (I call her ‘E’) and I could still play was my putting food into her mouth as she sat up in bed. It was a lucky thing I had come at the supper hour when she was awake and there was something we could do. 

  • When I was born, Enid Mary was twenty-eight months old and took her responsibilities of loving her living baby doll very seriously. She rocked my cradle, hushed my cries and poked me in the cheek (just a teeny bit) to make me smile. As we grew, E was always there to wipe my nose, dry my tears when I hurt myself falling, and pull up my saggy pants which had been hers.
  • This was the first time in seven months I had come to see her at Providence Healthcare. It is a long drive and I only go when I have other compelling things to do in the city of Toronto. She is always there.
  • After the visit I phoned my niece, Anne, to tell her we had a good time but I was shocked to see how E’s condition had deteriorated. Anne is very devoted to her mother, visits regularly and maintains close contact with the hospital personnel.
  • She said the Alzheimer’s was taking its expected, inexorable course of slow regression to infancy. Just after my last visit Enid had abruptly stopped walking, stopped responding, and continued to stop talking. The next step would be she would forget how to swallow.
  • In fact, it was time for us to start thinking about end-of-life arrangements. She was very glad I had called because she wanted me to read the online literature and tell her what I thought. Enid had said, some 18 years ago when the illness was first detected, she didn’t want any unnatural interventions.
  • When a patient can no longer swallow, nurses need to know whether the family wants them to start using intravenous feeding, or insert feeding tubes in the throat. If the patient stops breathing, does the family want them to administer CPR? What about rushing them off in an ambulance to another hospital for intensive care?
  • As I read the literature I thought about Enid’s eyes and what I could divine from their expression. I think she is fearful and bewildered. She is pleading for someone to understand that she has always been a very good girl and is still striving to do her best. How could she possibly do any better when somebody has been stealthily stealing her brains? Could you?
  • None of these questions has a good yes or no answer. You might gain an hour of life for prolonged setbacks and trauma. The literature is most clear and positive when it says the patient must be treated with comfort and dignity and I couldn’t agree more with that.
  • Those are the qualities of life E provided for me when I was a newborn and that is exactly the stage towards which she is regressing now. I read, “Capacity to feel frightened or at peace, loved or lonely, and sad or secure remains. The most helpful interventions are those which ease discomfort and provide meaningful connections to family and loved ones.”
  • Some few months on, I dread to think, I may find myself living in a poorer world, deprived of Enid. She is my compelling reason now to go to Toronto to stroke her forehead, lay my hand on hers, tell the world in her eyes that I love her and sing her a lullaby.
  • I pray she will die naturally in her sleep with comfort and dignity after suffering her prolonged tragic fate so courageously. She will always be my hero.

Margaret Kell Virany is an Ottawa-area author of memoirs based on the raw emotions of love and adventure found in generations of her lively, devout family. Right now she is usually glued to her computer loom, working on a novel about the journey of a 60-year marriage. On June 4th she will be at the Media Club of Ottawa‘s table under the tent at Prose in the Park. Try not to miss this stimulating, free, open-air book event. Impeccable, aristocratic host William tenHolder of Café Wim fame, and MCO president June Coxon who has written about Ernie, the most worthy cat ever, will be at the table with Margaret.

An Alzheimer patient gets a visit from her sister.Last week two elderly cousins of a writing colleague of mine got into their car, turned on the engine and suffocated themselves with carbon monoxide. She had been diagnosed with mesothelioma and he with Alzheimer’s disease and they wanted to die without burdening anyone.The comments on my colleague’s blog expressed horror and sympathy. Despite this, some also echoed his optimistic suggestion they had acted bravely, selflessly and died peacefully.
This picture and story about my sister, Enid Mary McDiarmid, are my comment on that tragedy. For several years I’ve traveled periodically to the Providence Healthcare facility in Toronto, 350 miles away, to sit with her and share hugs. Every time I go, I feel lucky and happy she is still here to be loved. I’m thankful for the staff and volunteers who give her the best care, and for the Ontario taxpayers who foot the bill.
Enid Mary isn’t part of Woman History Month, and her teaching career didn’t make her famous, but she had an impact on the daily social life of the country, the continent and beyond.

In the grade nine classroom of Cochrane High School in 1944 she sat behind a boy with a brush cut who had a crush on her. Enid Mary was pretty and he was the school hockey team’s star. One day he felt close enough to her to ask for help on a serious problem. He couldn’t stand his name, Miles, was sick of being teased and wanted to be called ‘Timmy’ instead. The next Saturday, when the Hearst, ON. team came to play hockey and Miles broke away down the length of the arena, Enid Mary had all the girls up on their feet waving their arms and cheering, “Come on Timmy! Come on Timmy!” at the top of their lungs.

Next time the teacher called out ‘Miles’ for the attendance record, and he sat mutely with his arms folded stubbornly, Enid put up her hand and said, “I think he wants to be called Timmy”. She and other girls clamored for their own hockey team and, when they got it, Timmy lent her his stick and she became pretty good at tearing off down the ice and shooting for the net, too!

Today Tim Horton’s is a major food-service chain with 3,665 restaurants in Canada, 869 in the United States, and 56 in the Persian Gulf region It was founded by the National Hockey League star but his partner assumed control of the company after Horton died in an automobile accident in 1974. The franchises spread rapidly and eventually overtook McDonald’s as Canada’s largest food service operator.

Enid Mary (Enid prefers her double name) has deteriorated as her Alzheimer’s disease progresses. She uses a walker and barely speaks. However, when I ask the attendant to tell her, “Your sister, Margaret, is here!” she accepts the idea and gives me a big hug — the same reassuring one I’ve gotten from her ever since I was born two years after she was. The attendant says she’s very nice and wanders around a large area but is sometimes confused. Her expression is vacant but she still knows who she is and how to behave towards others. When Tom and I arrived last time, she was sitting with a gentleman patient at a round table eating supper. She arched her eyebrows at seeing strangers sit down beside her, but was aware she was eating and we weren’t. She ripped her paper serviette into neat pieces and gave us one each as a substitute plate. Then she offered us some of her fish, her peas and her potatoes. We had to refuse every item before she felt comfortable eating in front of us. When a bird alit on a branch outside the window, she became excited and pointed it out to us. She was most distressed when the elderly gentleman had a coughing fit.

My sister is still a role model and has lessons to teach us about the life of a person living and dying from Alzheimer’s.

Besides, life just wouldn’t be the same if the millions of people who line up each day to buy ‘timbits’ with their coffee had to ask for ‘milesbits’ instead.

Read more of this family’s story in A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void or Kathleen’s Cariole Ride. This week Canada’s e-books joined most other countries of the world as a seller of digital e-books. Personally, I’m very pleased because I had some gift certificates to use up! Here’s the link:

Happy Reading and Writing from CozyBookBasics!