On Sept. 4, Labour Day, I turned 64. I booked the week off as vacation and looked for last-minute cancellations at campgrounds. I prefer to camp once families have taken their kids home to prepare for school — not that I have anything against kids playing, but the noise doesn’t help me relax.
I need to relax. I have two major issues in my life, and quiet helps me to think them through. I found a suitable campground on northern Vancouver Island. Rather, Malcolm Island is a dot on the ocean in Queen Charlotte Strait, a short ferry ride from Port McNeill. The island’s town is Sointula, settled by Finnish folks way back when. I’d been there previously as a Times Colonist reporter, but I don’t remember the story. The campground, Bere Point, is run by the regional district and overlooks the strait where humpback and orca frequent. I was hoping to see whales in the wild, but would settle for a few hours spent on a beach. The ocean has ways of massaging worries away.
My goal was to spend three nights tent camping. Previously I’d managed two nights before yearning for a warm, soft bed got the best of me. This time, I had the right mindset. What I didn’t count on was the chilly weather. I had checked the weather before departure, and thought the overnight temps would be in the mid ‘teens (60F-ish). Turns out they were in single digits, in the 40s F. Good thing I packed extra blankets.
The young, fluffy guy Pete didn’t feel the cold as much as 13-year-old Gemma. Once covered, she slept through the night. The blanket was still over her in the early dawn when we arose. Pete wiggled and flopped on me through the night, heaving deep sighs over whatever was going on in his juvenile brain.
I understood how he might be wrestling with worries. I, too, had to process a couple issues and, starting out, I didn’t really have any answers.
The first is how to help my new friend Mary, a 74-year-old woman I met in hospital last year. I spent two nights in the ICU with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) before being transferred to a ward for observation. Mary was in the bed by the window, I was in the bed by the door. I’m changing her name to Mary to protect her identity. Even though I wasn’t in the mood to talk, we got talking and soon found a mutual love of dogs and horses. We also have issues with older sisters. Mary said she had a brain injury from a childhood fall. She has trouble making sense of things like clocks on the wall. What are they saying? What time is it? Mary has trouble orienting to time and place. It may be the brain injury or a form of dementia. Possibly both.
Why was Mary in hospital? I was never really sure. She spoke of running from a domestic situation. Her “landlord” got drunk frequently and verbally abused her. One night she grabbed a kitchen knife and fled to her car. The guy called police and said Mary was suicidal. She was put in the hospital psych ward briefly and then transferred to a ward. She was there weeks, maybe months. She told me the hospital was giving her shelter. She wanted to leave but had nowhere to go. Her friend who she called her (adopted) “sister” was trying to find housing. This friend had already retrieved some of Mary’s things from her prior home but had been able to take Mary’s dog. The dog seemed to be treated well, but the loss caused Mary significant heartache. I can imagine.
Mary spoke so highly of this friend. Turns out the friend had power of attorney giving her access to Mary’s finances. Not that Mary has much other than a monthly pension cheque, but I don’t really know. The friend was trying to find housing for Mary but everything was so expensive.
I went to visit Mary in hospital a couple times over the next few weeks. I gave her a book, Ride the Rising Wind, a biography of a woman who rode her horse from Montreal to Vancouver in the 1940s. Mary couldn’t read it. Turns out she has cataracts that cloud her vision. I thought about taking her out for a drive, but the journalist in me wondered if I’d be threatening the arrangement she had with the hospital. I knew I didn’t know everything. So I was stuck in a dilemma of what to do. I let the relationship lapse for a few months. But I felt so guilty.
A couple weeks ago, I tried to find Mary again. I was in hospital visiting my brother after his knee surgery. I called Mary’s cell and she said was living in a townhouse. She gave the address but she mixed up the numbers and it took me awhile to find her.
Her friend had “forgotten” she owned this unit. The friend had owned it for 20 years. Mary is living there with a roommate, a man in his 30s who rents the other bedroom. The rest is shared space. I thought it odd that the friend would be so insensitive to Mary’s history that she would insist she co-habit with a guy. Really?
Mary’s car sits in the parking lot. She knows her limitations and won’t drive again. She hasn’t been behind the wheel since the night she was taken to hospital. On the day I visited Mary, she was running out of food. Food normally arrived in boxes dropped at the door. Mary had been unable to reach her friend in some time and her pantry was running bare.
Mary has no access to a interact banking or credit card. She has trouble understanding how the washing machine or oven work.
“I call and she doesn’t answer,” Mary said of her friend. And then she told me again what a wonderful friend she was.
I took Mary to my place and fed her a sandwich. She met my dogs.
“Can I be your roommate?” she asked.
“No,” I said. Boundaries, and I don’t have a second bedroom. But mainly the fact that I need space to recharge so I can be around people. Still, I felt guilty.
I took Mary to the row housing and began searching out the government branch that handles powers of attorney. I needed to report that Yvonne was running out of food, living with a male roommate she barely knows and desperately lonely. Where is this friend and why isn’t she looking after Mary?
As it turned out, I was witness to the deterioration of the relationship between Mary and her friend. While Mary still reverts to her friend as a sister, it’s clear the woman who holds power of attorney over Mary’s affairs wants very little to do with her. Mary received a full-page note, written in caps, detailing the friends disappointment in Mary and how she’s not doing enough to help herself. It was awful to read.
Mary was upset that she’d made her friend angry at her.
“Isn’t it you who should be angry!” I said.
In a tiny voice, she said, “I am.”
I took a photo of the note. Mary told me not to share it, but I did. I sent it to the government in hopes someone would step in and help Mary. I also set about trying to find services who would deliver food, do a health check and check on her daily.
Mary made an eye appointment for herself and I drove her there. She got referred to a surgeon and a date was set for cataract surgery. I asked if Mary had a doctor and, luckily, she does. I made her an appointment. It’s five days prior to the surgery. I’ll be taking here there and making notes because Mary will forget what was said.
I also called the seniors abuse line, and reported the situation to them. They said they’ll send out a social worker to see Mary. I’m hoping that leads to a realistic view of Mary’s predicament. Even though Mary doesn’t want to return to hospital, I know that’s the best place for her right now. Her upper arms are the size of my wrist. She’s cold even on the hottest days. She nibbles on bread and little else. She’s sad and lonely.
I’ll see Mary this afternoon. I’m taking my dogs with me. We’ll cheer her up. I’m telling her that I’m working the phone to get her help, and to hang in there. I also want the power of attorney taken from this “sister” and placed with a civil servant who will do the job properly.
This morning I’m getting a call from a government official who wants to talk about my report to them. I really need someone to move on this. Mary is fading by the day. She needs to be put in a seniors home where she can be fed, housed and get some social interaction.
The other issue I have on the go is the tendonitis I have in my wrists, the result of a workplace injury. I’ve been lifting too heavy a weight. I’m one of three women (ages 60, 64 and 74) who start work at 6 am, picking boxes for the retail store. Some of these boxes weigh 50 lbs. Some might be more. Nobody bothered to check the weights until I reported my injury.
The managers are angry with me, and as I sat in the quiet of the off-grid campground I tried to figure out why they’re reacting like this. Isn’t it ME who is injured, just from doing my job? The only thing I can conclude is they know the process more than me, and my reporting will highlight flaws and they’ll get in some shit. I’m intelligent, articulate and believable. I think that something about me has them worried. I conclude that I need to know more about this process. My new neighbour tells me he’s been through it. I plan to ask him for details. Mainly, I need to know that if my wrists are fucked (my other one is starting to go), then what happens to me? Do I lose my job because I can’t used my hands? I need more information.
So these two issues were in my thoughts over my time at camp. I followed my usual eating plan in hopes of keeping my glucose numbers in check. My endo last week said they were “ecstatic” with my progress. Praise always motivates me.
In the night, I heard the alarm on my phone. My glucose went low. Odd. The next night, I knocked off a unit on the nighttime insulin. I went low again. WEIRD! The next night I knocked off another unit. I went low again. I got home yesterday evening and injected the nighttime insulin, figuring that this amount — two units below “normal” — wouldn’t be enough. Everything would return to how it was before, right?
I went low.
The quiet time in woods by the ocean had a calming effect my body.I’m now at a record low amount for nighttime insulin. And just now, the alarm sounded that my daytime amount is excessive. I’ll have to drop that tomorrow.
Maybe it’s temporary, but maybe it’s not. Remember those spikes I had while exercising? Remember how paying attention to each footstep, each breath and my surroundings STOPPED those spikes?
Those exercise-induced spikes haven’t returned. The change was permanent. And maybe this is a new beginning, too. A little time in the quiet, nurturing woods and by a healing ocean can work wonders.