Thursday, September 21, 2006

back to school

I am aware that my blogs all over the place - birds to headaches to pirates... this reflects my life. I swing between topics, between passions, between jobs and crises. I'm constantly coming up with new projects - many of which fall by the wayside as new ones take their place.

It was partly because of this swinging, this tendency to have too many irons in my weak fire, that I decided to narrow my focus for the next couple of years.

Each September, as leaves turn gold and red, the breeze chilly, I would turn envious of the students going back to school. Even in my university years, I never got over the thrill of starting a fresh notebook - knowing it would fill with ideas and knowledge. I loved that sense of a new beginning.

I thought I had had my fill of school when I finished in 2000. But every fall I would be looking at university programs, considering schools to apply for. I did LSAT trial tests, I studied course outlines...

And so I'm back. Last week I started the masters program in Conflict Studies at Saint Paul University here in Ottawa. It's exciting to be back in school, even though I am at times overwhelmed by the amount of reading I have to wade though. Conflict studies is not, as I sometimes joke, about learning how to box or fight. It's a bit of a misnomer really - what I'm doing is studying conflict resolution. This is a new field and there still aren't many texts, so a lot of our reading is cobbled together from various sources. But it's exciting to be in a field that is still developing - and developing with a sense of urgency as international conflicts affect everyone in the global village.

It looks like it's going to be a really interesting fall - not just for the class work, but also for the classmates I'm studying with. There is a soldier from Tanzania who was highly trained in the military but had a change of heart while stationed at a refugee camp - he realized that war is what had made these people homeless and displaced. There is a girl from Burundi who wants to understand how two groups of people (Tutsi and Hutu) who have so much in common could grow to hate each other so much. There is also a beautiful girl from Somalia and a young man from Ukraine - both of whom want to apply their studies to conflicts in their own countries. The Canadians come from a wide variety of backgrounds - sociology, psychology, political science and humanities.

At St. Paul's I am surrounded by professors and students who are all interested in resolving conflict and bringing solutions for peace to their sphere of influence, however small. As much as I might moan about my readings and assignments in the coming months, I really don't think I could ask for a better place to be.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Avast maties!


International Talk Like a Pirate Day it be. Ye wenches and landlubbers, all hands on deck.

Be ye lustin' to spout stories of yer bucanneerin' fame? Boast o' yer booty? Well me hearties, today is the day.

Raise yer mug o' grog and drink to the wealth o' the seas, the beauty of wenches and the victuals in yer galleys.

But avast, perhaps ye be in need of some instructioning. Refer to this here site for hearty tips from hearty men.

Or ye jezebels, ye might tire o' knot-tyin. Then tis time to knit. Make straight fer

And me handsom' laddies out there... how'd you like to scrape the barnacles off of me rudder?

More on


Thursday, September 14, 2006

at least it's better than the alternatives

So I have apparently experienced my first migraine. As I explained to the TeleHealth nurse over the phone, then to the triage nurse in the ER, then to the first nurse to see me after waiting over an hour, then to the two doctors who subsequently saw me - what started as a headache in the early evening turned into excruciating pain which woke me around 1 a.m.

In the next half hour, I think I took 800mg of Advil - 400 of which was liquid gels. But steel claws were gripping my temples and the pain went all the way to my toes. Dizziness, nausea, difficulty breathing, tingling sensation... I had the works.

I woke V around 1:30 and that's when he phoned TeleHealth. I felt like I was dying, but the nurse still made me give my address, postal code, telephone number, date of birth, etc before asking about my symptoms. She recommended I go to an emergency. "Do you understand my recommendation?" she asked.

"Yes," I breathed.

"Will you go to the emergency?"


I thought I would throw up or pass out on the drive there, but the cool breeze from a window open onto a rainy night helped a little. There was still a vice grip on my head and now my right arm and leg had started twitching and shaking. By the time we got to emergency, my right hand felt like it was asleep (and it hasn't completely woken up since).

Emergency wards are such dreary places. Not at all the drama of tv's ER. A nonplussed triage nurse took my blood pressure and temperature, asked me a few questions and told me I was "textbook". Whatever that means.

The room was large and harshly lit. Most of the rows of chairs had curved bars between each seat which prevented lying down. But after an elderly couple left, V and I were able to get the only 4 seats without where I could lie my shuddering body down with my head on his lap. Fear Factor was playing loudly from the tv suspended from the ceiling. Doors opened and closed, people walked or shuffled by. We waited.

It was about 4:00 a.m. by the time they called me into a small examination room. So close to another room, I heard every detail of the complaint from the woman in the room next to mine. She had come in because she was concerned by a blood pressure reading of 175 and likely waited as long as I did only to get told that in the emergency ward they really aren't going to do anything for you if it's still under 210.

The 800 mg of Advil were finally taking some effect and my headache came in waves instead of the unbearable pressure. I was expecting to be similarly dismissed. As usually happens when I start to recover after complaining a great deal, I feel sheepish and almost guilty that the pain is no longer so severe, my symptoms no longer intense.

But the first nurse to see, a young man with a non-hurried, gentle manner, listened carefully and then fetched me a hot blanket to try and stop my shaking. Another 20 minutes or so later - which I spent lying on a too-short exam table in a narrow room with cold bare walls around and neon lights above - a young female doctor came in. Immediately she asked if I would like the lights dimmed. Thank you!

I was starting to feel like a warped record, but she listened carefully, asked quite a few questions, checked my reflexes, my neck, my head, sensation in my hands, my grip, etc... She seemed uncertain so she fetched the attending. He was a short man with a huge grey beard and closely cropped grey hair (by this time I was finally opening my eyes). He checked my balance, my eyes, my hands, etc. I was impressed with the concern both he and the young woman still hovering nearby showed.

They consulted with each other and after awhile the young doctor came back to tell me I was free to go. It is not uncommon for women in their 30s to start developing migraines. Now I just need to figure out the triggers. What sucks is that besides trying to guess the triggers, there is little I can do. But still, I was relieved with this diagnosis since it was better than the other possibilities they had been checking for - like a stroke or meningitis.

We got home around 5:30 in the morning. If it was summer, the sun would have been coming up. The headache was fading and pure fatigue was taking its place. V deserves a medal for sitting up all night with me - and still getting up for work in the morning.

As for me, I'm just laying low today. My mind is dulled with sleepiness and the lingering ache between my temples. Outside it's a grey, cold rainy day. If I can stay awake I will try to make a dent in the masses of reading I now have as a grad student...