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So it’s pretty redundant to even bother rattling on about how messed up our medical system is, however, I had an experience recently that really takes the cake.

I could feel it coming on, and I tried to stave, fight, fend it off with cranberry juice and the most powerful herbs I could get my hands on, but alas, no dice. I woke up with a raging UTI. Urinary Tract Infection. (TMI? If so, then don’t read on.)

I had to go to work, but had to get it sorted, so thought I’d drop by the walk-in clinic at the old “Friendly Pharmacy.” Full. Waiting room was packed. Plan B. I drive to the hospital and check in with the lovely triage nurse (highly unusual that she was in fact lovely, because most of the time they seem to be angry and bitter at the sight of you). “It’s going to be at least a 4 hour wait, maybe you should try another walk-in clinic?” and she goes out of her way to photocopy a list of them for me. Kind soul.

I thought, “Ah, screw it, I’ll manage…ignore it, it will go away…” but my body was not having it and I found myself driving to the new and improved Sherwood Drug Mart. I get there, the waiting room is also jammed, but I resign myself to the wait, take a number and sit down thinking, “Settle in, there’s at least 20 people ahead of you here…You’d better start enjoying the ‘Doodle Bops’ or whatever the hell this kids tv shit is on the tube cuz you’re gonna be a while…”

Much to my surprise, I realize the doorway to the Doctor’s office is practically a revolving one. They call someone in, someone comes out, and it’s moving fast. Each person exits with a ‘script in hand and a clear sense of relief. Anyway, it being PEI, of course I run into an old acquaintance, and we do the whole chits and chats thing, “Oh, what are you up to these days? Where ya workin’? You like it? Good. How was your summer?” Shootin’ the breeze, neither one of us going anywhere near the reason why we’re both waiting here.

I stare at other people reading their books and magazines, watch the 3 year olds play with that toy that’s in EVERY waiting room – the colourful wires attached to a board with little beads you can shuffle back and forth and up and around all the loopdy doops – and finally hear my name. “Cynthia Dennis – number 33.”

So here comes the gross part. The receptionist, guides me to the washroom, hands me a plastic cup, removes the top, writes my name on it, “Cynthia” and instructs me to leave a small sample, and simply set it on the back of the toilet seat, with the top off when I’m finished. “Geez, I guess I could’ve figured out where to leave it, judging by the fact that there are at least 5 or 6 other exposed (top left off) samples arranged on the back of the toilet from your other slew of patients…” I think to myself in disbelief. Then before she ‘leaves me to it’, she takes one of the tester dipstick strips from a box on the shelf and drops it into one of the said bottles of piss. How goddamn disgusting and unprofessional is this whole business anyway?

What if I was some kind of crazy/creepy person (I can comfortably assure you I’m not the latter) and wanted to screw up the samples? I could mix them together, read the other names (and then thought, I hope my old acquaintance in the waiting room doesn’t get to come in here and see “Cynthia” written on my bottle…our relationship is merely a cordial one, and this kind of intimacy would move it to a strange level for sure) or what if I lost my balance, or moved the wrong way and tipped the precariously placed piss pots (ha!) everywhere. So many things are and could go wrong with this whole operation.

Anyway, less than 3 minutes later, the Dr. comes into my waiting room, asks me what’s up, (I’m not at all confident, judging by their ship shoddy system, that’s he’s actually had the results of my dipstick relayed to him) I tell him I have a UTI, he says, “Have you had this before?/What did you take last time?/Did it work?” then writes me a prescription. As appalled as I was at the whole thing, in this case it was exactly what I needed; I know what’s wrong with me, just give me the drugs. But I can’t help thinking about this, and tutt tutting at how utterly ridiculous it is.

Like I said, there are a million things we can nitpick about when it comes to how we care for ourselves and each other, it pains me to even lift a corner on it, but like I also said, this just seems to be a touch over the top. Is this really what we’re doing, folks? We’re all ok with this? At least the pharmacy was just a few steps away. How convenient.


Words are simultaneously the most powerful yet most overrated tool we use. My sister taught me that.

Time after time I’ve tried to write about my sister and expound upon the endless gifts she’s given me in this go around, and with each attempt I feel less and less able to do it justice.  But I’ll give this one a go. Melissa is “mentally challenged.” That was as far as we ever went with trying to label, or compartmentalize her. It’s a broad term, I know, but I’ve come to realize that most of her challenges in this life are very much in line with those who are “Autistic,” so that’s how I describe it in an effort to give it some specific context for those of us who prefer the neat and tidy.

Melissa spoke gibberish, or her own language (whether it was gibberish or not is questionable) until she was about 5 years old, but once she started to talk the way we talk, she was off to the races. She was constantly in your ear, nattering away about something or other. Not only would she invent her own little hilarious words, i.e. calling my father “David Earl Wiggador” instead of Dad, or even “David Earl Dennis”, but she would get stuck on these words and repeat them over and over and over again. She knew when she was doing it too because she’d be sitting in her room repeating a phrase for her own amusement and would then announce, “I sound like a broken record in here!” My heart melts with the memory. She’s just so damn precious.

Something changed over the years in the way Melissa approached language. My guess is that being in the middle of an excitable, gregarious family, where everyone has a habit of talking too much, and blathering on about everything, somewhere in her development she chose to keep silent. She hardly says, “Boo” anymore to anyone. Slowly, but surely, she just sort of abandoned this method of communicating. Mom told me that she once asked her, “How come you don’t answer people when they ask you a question?” “I don’t want to say the wrong thing,” she surprisingly, and wisely responded. And another time Dad made a similar inquiry about why she wasn’t speaking, “I choose not to,” she said. I don’t think anyone in my family is a dope, we’ve all got some brains behind us, but man, she’s the one with the wisdom, no doubt about that.

Often times we’ll be sitting around the kitchen table, carrying on about nothing, and she accompanies us, calmly observing and obviously surmising. She has this thing she does when one of us gets too excited, and she’ll take her thumb and slowly move it in a circle, like when you take your hand next to your head and do the “cuckoo” motion to poke fun at someone, and we know that’s her subtle way of saying “here we go again with all your silly words…” Every now and then, just when you think she’s checked out of the conversation, she’ll pipe up and shock you by finishing your sentence. Just her way of letting us know that she knows.

Sometimes I think I love Melissa too much. And then I think “Man, if this is what it’s like to have kids, I’m in trouble…” How does your heart not burst? She is this absolutely pure and innocent being, with no agenda, no dramas, no nothing but love to give and lessons to quietly, silently, slowly teach the rest of us chatterboxes. I used to strive to help her communicate the way the rest of us do, spending time with her, trying to “help” her to fit in to our molds, but I’ve quit wasting energy on any of those endeavors. Melissa comes to me in my dreams. In the other dimension, she speaks to me with clarity and ease, often guiding me along by advising me of things that no one else can. She has her way of communicating with the world, and as I grow and figure a few things out, the easier it is for me to stop trying to teach her things from my book, and start taking a few notes from hers.

Words are overrated. It’s so funny to me that all my life I’ve had this love affair with language, it’s something that’s always come soo easily to me, and one of the biggest things this glorious angel, Melissa is here to show me is that words are one of lowest forms of communication that exists. The sooner I get it that I need to shut my mouth and keep listening to my heart, and my instincts, the sooner I will hear the stuff that’s really being exchanged along the airwaves.

Melissa colours instead.

Something about the way

he holds his hands makes me

think he’s afraid to live life.

The idea is nice.

But there’s a difference

between what your brain

likes and what makes your

heart beat.

I used to spend a little bit of time making jewelry. I took some classes at a studio in Toronto, soldered some metal I’m proud of, and learned some stuff about myself while I was at it.

I was really into my hobby back then, most likely because I was going through such a strange chapter of struggling to fit in to a law firm on Bay St., and trying to make a bad relationship work, it was something that just made me feel like me, and I loved how it forced me to concentrate on one thing at a time. When you’re filing, you’re filing, when you’re hammering, you’re hammering, one step after another while you build the beautiful thing. A simple, steady process. A lovely, much needed metaphor.

Strangely enough, one of my most cherished memories of my time in that space has nothing to do with the metal, but it was how it facilitated a chance encounter with a special individual who used to frequent the shop that accompanied the studio.  I was passing by one afternoon to pick up one of my works of art, and this woman, homeless perhaps, “mentally challenged” for certain, comes in from the cold to strike up a conversation with my teacher and say hello to the resident pup. I can tell straight away this is a familiar exchange, and I so loved how my teacher apparently made this “less fortunate” woman feel so respected.  She gave her the time of day, engaged in her mundane small talk, and listened, earnestly, to her disjointed stories and sentences.

The woman asked my teacher if she would buy her a piece of pizza. I was getting ready to walk in that direction, and sensed that their conversation might not otherwise have a neat and easy conclusion, so I offered to help her out with lunch instead. I can’t really recall many other details other than it was absolutely freezing out as her and I made our way down College St. together, and that rather than me doing some sort of good deed, she was the one helping me out. Her muddled narration ended up sticking with me all these years later. She was explaining some of her daily challenges, and somewhere in the middle of it all, she turned and looked right into my eyes, right into my heart, and said, “I don’t know how Jesus made me so strong, but he did.” It was alarmingly coherent, and profound; unexpected to say the least from how I initially sized up the situation. Felt like something I needed to hear.

What I love about this sort of mismatched combination of recollections is the comfort I take in what I learned from it all. Trust the process. In order to create something shiny and beautiful, you have to hold only one tool at a time (I, decidedly, had a habit of holding many…), and be willing to invest hours in attention to detail. More importantly, it was the gift I was given of seeing the blinding sparkle of the unexpected treasures. Sometimes the things, the people if you will, that aren’t so polished are the ones that are actually the strongest, and are deeply and truly the most wonderful.

September 2010
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