Monthly Archives: September 2019

Good Doctors are Wonderful!

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We walked in to see the new family doctor for the second time. It was wonderful! I really like this new family doctor we have. This doctor heard us out, made careful notes and immediately agreed it was time to start getting off all the extra blood pressure meds. We did not have to argue or plead.  We now have a plan to reduce the amlodipine by half for two weeks and then eliminate it completely for two weeks. If his blood pressure stays in a good range we can then try stopping the second of the three drugs, hydrochlorothiazide. If his blood pressure starts back up again, we go in and reevaluate. I can’t say how delighted I am because while the stroke was initially the worst part of all this, the side effects from the drugs have more recently become the worst part of his life.

The order of the reduction which the doctor recommended was different from the one I thought we should move in but we will follow the doctor’s advice since, well, he’s the doctor. He explained why he was recommending the order he did and it made sense. It was immediately apparent he knew a lot more than me. He explained why he thought we need to continue with the blood thinners for three more months and it made sense so we will do that too. Unlike the previous doctor, he told us the blood test results.

Getting rid of the atorvastatin last week has already made a remarkable improvement in our quality of life. It’s not fun living with horrific thigh and back cramps and terrible muscle pain. It’s so hard as a wife to see your husband suffer and be unable to do anything. I am very hopeful that getting rid of at least one of the blood pressure drugs will help with the lack of stamina, dizzy spells, swollen ankles, and getting spots before the eyes on standing. The dog will be happier too if we can begin to enjoy our regular long walks again without the having to stop to sit and rest. As a bonus, we are getting referred to a new neurologist who is not so authoritarian and patriarchal in his patient interactive style. We are assured this one will better suit our personalities. I have no doubt about the skill of the previous doctor but he obviously has real issues with patients who ask questions. What a pleasure to be teated as intelligent adult partners in our care whose opinions and words count.

A good doctor is worth his or her weight in gold. I think we have found a 24K one.

 

 

End of the Season

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Frost warnings are up tonight and the forecast for a few days from now keeps alternating between snow and rain. It has been a poor year due to the summer drought but a bit of rain and the last season frost holding off longer than usual gave the garden a teeny boost at the end.

In preparation for the possibility of frost, I picked my tomato plants clean of all tomatoes and moved them into the basement to finish ripening. I also pulled up the last of the onions, beets, carrots, and cucumbers. I dug up the potatoes and cleaned off the pepper plants. I cut the last of the herbs. The house is full of the smell of rosemary and thyme coming from the dehydrator.  We are eating sauces and salsa’s from fresh tomatoes. We are still enjoying the sweet pleasure of popping whole cherry tomatoes like candies.

The end of the garden season is always a combined relief and a time for sadness and reflection. The garden is a lot of work and while it is mostly pleasurable work, it is still work. It’s nice to have a break from it. I have made my notes for next spring and I collected and dried seeds for next year. Now is the time to get to those indoor chores that have been neglected. There are still plenty of preparations before the deep cold. After last of the produce was safe from the frost, I finally fixed a light switch that has been broken since July.

Life runs in cycles and seasons. Life is a cycle of blessings.

Thank you, Master of the Universe for allowing me to enjoy another full summer of gardening and the opportunity to enjoy food from my own garden, grown and prepared with my own hands.

Magic Garage Door Opener.

I did it! I am so proud. I researched and bought my very own automatic garage door opener with a battery back up. We needed one because I want to keep my truck in the garage in winter. Plus I was worried about getting the truck out in an emergency because it takes two people to do it. I also wanted a battery back up because out in our community power loss is fairly common. I picked the Chamberlain one because all the parts for it are readily available on Amazon and it has good reviews including a consumer report report. I picked a 1 3/4 horse power with battery back up because this old garage door is so heavy. I ended up actually buying the unit from Canadian Tire because their regular price is cheaper than Amazon and as a bonus it was on sale even cheaper.

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I had to make modified ceiling supports for my opener. Here I am drilling the holes before screwing one brace into place.

It wasn’t even very hard to do!

Chamberlain gave me a very detailed manual and all I had to do was carefully follow all instructions step by step as written. Admittedly, I had to go back and redo a few things where I didn’t read properly but it did finally all work. My personal tip is make sure you have the teeny tiny little master link joiner things for the track on correctly and make sure the floor is perfectly clean under your work area. If you do it wrong, the track opens at the master link and throws the three teeny tiny linker bit parts everywhere. Its really hard to find them on the floor even when it is clean and swept first. I also ordered an extra set from Amazon, just in case. Also make sure you know exactly what each part is for before you start. Everything is in the box for a reason. Make sure you know the reason before you start and it will go faster.

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Here I have attached the opener to the door and I am preparing to install the braces.

A friend of mine gave me a wonderful tip a few years ago. He said if you need a tool for a project, buy it. You will slowly accumulate tools over time with little extra expense. He was so right! For this project I needed many of my tools, like the skill saw, the variable speed drill, my two step ladders and my fancy socket set. For the garage door opener I got myself a reciprocating saw with a metal blade to cut the metal braces to fit. I have wanted one of those reciprocating saws forever.

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And my friend and neighbour came to inspect. (And return a nonvariable but more powerful drill of mine she borrowed.) The garage door opener worked correctly for the first time in her presence. She is my good luck charm.

(No company has ever given me any money or benefits from blogging about their products.)

My Answer to Uncertainty

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While we are on our doctor trip we paused at a store display of spring bulbs. I asked Hubby Dearest to pick a couple of bags to add to our garden. No surprise he picked daffodils. They are his favourite flower not least because he is a bit colour blind but yellow and orange are among the colours he sees well. They also bring back memories of his youth in Oregon where these daffodils bloom in the wild each spring. On one of our trips we drove slowly north up the coast from California to British Columbia and because of the pace we went at, we had weeks and weeks of enjoying wild daffodils.

His second pick was a bit of surprise. He’s never expressed a liking for crocuses. We did make a special point more than once to go find the wild Manitoba variety, a rare but gorgeous treat and the provincial flower.

“They are first through the snow in spring,” he replied. “I like that.”

It is supposed to rain tomorrow. You are supposed to give bulbs a good soaking after planting. The day was lovely, still, warm enough to work in a T shirt. I took great pleasure in planting the bulbs for us both. It was a great stress reliever. Maybe one of us won’t be around in spring to enjoy them but I am assuming we will be. And if one of us isn’t, it will be a nice reminder of the many wonderful things we did get to enjoy together. Everything else is out of our hands and beyond our control so there is no point worrying about it. The Master of the Universe has our back.

Stroke Recovery Update

IMG_7886We got so so news. The assessment required we drive two hours and fifteen minutes to Brandon. We left on a Sunday and he had a CT Monday morning and we saw the neurologist on Tuesday morning. We turned it into a camping trip with several lovely walks in the country enjoying the fall colours. Manitoba turns gold in September. We also had one of those strange summer day spells that often happen in September so the daily highs reached 30C (86F). Things are back down to more normal cool now but we enjoyed that brief return of summer. It was altogether a very nice interlude in spite of the stress but even so we were both feeling a lot of stress.

The artery in Dick’s neck is still open, “patent” as they say. However, the tear is not healing properly and has actually gotten a bit worse. The neurologist thinks maybe an accident he had in midsummer when he ended up with whiplash likely caused the increased damage but the blood thinners protected him from having another stroke. We are being referred to an interventionalist radiologist to see if he is a candidate for a stent. Dick and I are inclined to wait since these arteries will take 3 to 6 months to heal anyway and it is only just 3 months since it happened and five weeks since the whip lash. (Our dog was playing with another dog and both dogs smashed in to him nearly knocked him over. He later developed such horrific neck muscle spasms we were off to the ER where he was diagnosed after many tests with whiplash. The ER doctor thought the neck muscle spasms might be due to the atorvastatin (Lipitor) but said we should not stop taking it without the specialist saying so.) Plus the proposed stent is low but not zero risk itself and the standard is only put in a stent if the patient is symptomatic and Dick is not symptomatic.

Given the Canadian health care system, it will be at least several more months until he gets in to have a consult. Our friend across the street has an uncle who is on a waiting list for a consult about a stent. It was nine months ago that he was referred and he’s still waiting. Of course, the uncle is 86 and also has multiple health problems, diabetes and kidney failure and he’s likely to die soon anyway no matter what the doctors do for him so he would rank very low on the list for getting a stent. Dick’s situation might be considered more urgent and likely to save the system health care dollars so he might get higher in the que. Of course, if Dick has a massive stroke and dropped dead he’d really save the system a lot of money and being he is nearing 76 so who knows how long we will wait. The wait lists aren’t supposed to work that way but we all know they often do.

On the stroke symptoms front, Dick is doing remarkably well. The post stroke sudden fatigue is mostly gone which is a real blessing. The other nice thing is the specialist said we can stop the atorvastatin. He was put on atorvastatin not because he has high cholesterol, but because the drug supposedly has some anti-inflammatory properties that apparently help with post stroke brain healing. (I could not find any reference on that so I assume that is an off label use experienced physicians learn.) However, 20% of the population can’t tolerate atorvastatin and it has a lot of nasty side effects even in those who can and many doctors are questioning its usefulness. Dick was having to cope with terrible pain from near constant cramping of his muscles, especially his thighs, calves and back. I had extreme doubts about the atorvastatin given the side effects. We could not get the local doctors to listen to my concerns because they all deferred to the specialist and they would only change the meds if the specialist said it was okay and we had a specialist appointment in September. There is no way to get in sooner if it is a nonemergency. Put up and shut up and wait.

The neurologist got very angry with me. I asked him how long I should wait to hear about the referral before assuming the paperwork got lost (a fairly common event in Canada in my experience) and he got very angry and told me I had to trust him and if I didn’t trust him I was free to go find another neurologist. I got a lecture about the importance of trusting. That is a threat because there are very few neurologists in Manitoba and he’s the only one in our area. I was taken aback by him reacting to this simple administrative question as a gross personal insult. In order to try move things back to a more professional conversation, I let him finish his little lecture and then I told him I worked at Health Sciences Centre for more than a decade and my comment had nothing to do with him. This stuff happens even with the very best doctors. I am just trying to be proactive. He backed off and seemed mollified. I didn’t say this part but if I had been back at HSC with the authority I used to have, I would also have told him threatening a patient like that is unprofessional and he should consider taking a day off since he’s obviously been working too hard. If neurologists grew on trees out here, I probably would change doctors. Since he was really wonderful during the crisis, and he’s hard to replace, I am just going to assume he was having a bad day instead. Maybe one of his favourite patients died or something. I have no doubts about his skills as a neurologist but his office manner sure left a lot to be desired. Admittedly I can be grating and come on strong and I don’t automatically treat all doctors with the deference and respect some of them think they are due simply by virtue of being doctors so maybe I asked for it.

Anyway it is frustrating and disappointing to hear Dick is still walking around with a fragile artery that could blow and cause him a major stroke or kill him at any moment, or that it might just heal up and be fine given more time and there is no way to know what the truth is. I did not get a chance to ask about the other side effects he is having which I think are related to the three blood pressure meds. We got to discuss only the atorvastatin. We were rushed out of the office in under ten minutes after nearly an hour of waiting because Almighty Doctor was running behind. We did not get to hear the blood test results and the doctor did no physical exam. He just took our word that neurologically Dick is better. I realized that after we got to the parking lot and that bugged me a lot too.

I think the three meds my husband is on for his blood pressure are pulling my husband’s blood pressure down too low. Dick is having bouts of such low blood pressure he gets light headed and nearly faints. The monitor shows him occasionally dropping as low as 100/60. I think all the drugs he is on are having other effects as well such as he is really prone to dehydration with the tiniest amount of heat or exertion. Yet I lack the expertise to say, screw it, we’re changing the meds ourselves. We go back to our family doctor next week and I intend to bring that problem with the blood pressure meds up again. Granted all the bad side effects have been linked to atorvastatin in the literature I read on the drug so maybe getting rid of the atorvastatin is enough. That may be why the doctor simply refused to discuss the other meds. He could have said so if that is what he was thinking. We have one week to assess that for ourselves.

It is SO frustrating to me to think my husband is being over medicated and suffering side effects that are ruining his quality of life which he shouldn’t have to put up with when it might be each day is a precious gift to enjoy before he drops dead. On the other hand, I don’t want to do anything to make it more likely he drops dead. My retired nurse friend says I read too much and I should act stupid and slow around doctors. They treat you better when you act that way. She’s right, but can you see my eyes rolling so far back in my head I can see last May?

So that’s our latest update. Symptomatically Hubby Dearest is better. Artery healing wise he is a little bit worse. Nothing has changed except we are rid of one drug and he’s already had a remarkable improvement in how he feels even just two days off the atorvastatin. So we wait. I probably will have a lot to discuss with our family doctor next week. Hopefully I won’t be give a lecture about trusting doctors again.

 

My Lovely Fresh Air Intake.

In the north, we seal up our homes to stop cold drafts and save money on heating. All our windows and doors are tight with gaskets and levers designed to make them as impervious as it is possible to be in the cold north wind when the temperatures drop to -40C  (-40F). One of the unfortunate consequences of our eternal quest to keep out the cold is the air in the house gets stale. I suppose we could just open a window when it does, but then you have the cold draft, you have to recall when to open and when to close. Canadians generally get around this nuisance by installing a fresh air intake from the outside into our furnace intake.

After we got all the new windows installed, I noticed three new problems.

1) My allergies acted up when the house was closed. I am especially allergic to house dust and dust mites. While I am not allergic to my cat and dog, they certainly contribute to the dust in the place.

2) Our new windows were constantly wet with condensation whenever the house was closed up. Even with a dehumidifier running, the windows got so wet they just dripped and I was left with puddles to mop up on the window sills. When it got really cold, the neighbours watching our house complained of ice build up on our screen doors.

3) When we went to bed, I could often smell a funny sooty odour, an old soot smell, which would immediately go away if I opened the bedroom window a crack. We were creating a negative pressure situation in our tiny house and air was coming in where it could, including down the old wood stove chimney.

And then there was the radon issue. We bought one of those radon kits from Amazon to test our tiny house. The kits are really easy to do. You order the inexpensive little kit, put the detector in a main floor bedroom and leave it for a few months. You ship it off to the manufacture and about a month later you get a report back. Our little house came back at 176 becquerels per cubic metre. By Canadian standards anything under 200 is considered safe and about 200 you should consider minor mitigation and above 500 is serious business and you should move out until it is fixed. The best way to increase your radon is to have your house in a negative pressure situation. The radon gas gets sucked in. If you house doesn’t get into a negative pressure state, the radon mostly stays in the ground where it belongs. Now technically 176 becquerels per cubic metre is “safe” but there really is no safe minimum when it comes to radon. Less is always better. Another reason to be concerned about that soot smell.

It’s September now, and necessary to keep the house closed up at night because the temperatures are dropping to near freezing. We are not yet using the furnace because the house holds enough heat from the daytime and from cooking to be warm overnight. We started having that nasty musty smell and the soot smell return overnight and the windows were wet each morning with condensation.

Last fall, we had a furnace guy come in to add ducts so some heat went into the basement. He pointed out we had no fresh air intake and he said it would make the air stale and cause our windows to fog up. He offered to add one for us for $850. We were about to head south for the winter so we said we’d get back to him in the spring. We left a bunch of messages and he never called back. His company had a big contract installing new houses on a nearby reserve and he was too busy with that to accommodate us. (This is common in a rural setting.)

In the meantime, I was busy researching fresh air intakes. Most of the pages about fresh air intakes are about selling you a particular type but I did learn how they function. The majority of them work by having little electric fans that kick in when the furnace goes on. They have a filter inside and flaps and such, many that need maintenance. Because our house is so very small, we needed something that would work when I ran the kitchen fan or the bathroom fan even if the furnace did not come on. Running the bathroom fan is enough to create that negative air pressure. There are barometric additions to the fancier fresh air intake that keep the air pressure even no matter what. They were more expensive, much more. We also use electric heat and we don’t have a central air conditioner so a lot of stuff about code just does not even apply. While we don’t have a wood stove hooked up due to insurance issues, we do want to be able to hook it up again and use it if we were to have one of those infamous multiday blizzards with a prolonged power outage that are a once every ten year event out here in the boonies. We will really need a passive system if such a blizzard happens.

During my search, I found a relatively cheap made in Canada solution. It was ingeniously simple in design and struck me right away as so very sensible. The company is called Plusaire. It’s not the right system for all houses. It does not have a heat recovery capacity. Therefore, it does slightly increase heating costs. Because of that, in our insane drive to decarbonize the planet, that means it does not meet “code” in Ontario. I calculated how much time it would require to pay off the incredibly expensive 100% heat recovery units out there versus the increased heating cost this little lovely would likely cost me. I should live so long! The Plusaire unit needs no maintenance, filters, has almost no moving parts and there’s nothing to break down. We heat with “green” hydro electric power and I don’t believe in this whole decarbonization nonsense in any case. I decided screw the Ontario code. I don’t live in Ontario and this unit suits our needs and our lifestyle in our 480 square foot (not up to code but grandfathered in) house perfectly. I ordered it. Your  mileage may vary.

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Work in progress connecting our Plusaire fresh air intake. (That was not the final placement of the ducting.)

Installation was actually easy. The unit came with an installation kit and instructions. I was able to install it myself after a few questions for another furnace guy who was also too busy to do the install but happy to share advice over a beer I bought him while we had a game of pool. (He won, barely. This is another way things often work in a small town.) I bought and learned to use tin snips. I read up on how to properly use the flexible ducts the unit came with. I broke the task into five steps. 1) Cut a hole through the wall of the house to install the outside intake. (Hubby dearest assisted.) 2) Mount the unit. (Hubby dearest provided some superior male intellect for me because I am just not strong enough to hold up the box and put in the screws.)  3) Install the big connector to the intake vent. 4) Install the little connector to the warm air output vent. 5) Tighten up all the flexible duct work, make sure there are no kinks and sags, put in supports, cut off excess in the flexible duct work, and use the provided roll of aluminum tape on all the places the directions said to. By spreading it all out over five days, it wasn’t quite so daunting. It’s a good thing I don’t try to get paid by the hour because I spent about three hours each day, mostly contemplating the best way to do it and double checking the instructions and rereading on line blogs. I will need to fiddle with the damper as the seasons change. I wrote the details of that right on the metal box in permanent felt pen just in case I lose the paper with the instructions.

After the first day when fresh air was now coming into the basement, I noticed an immediate improvement in the smell down there. The musty odour I was accustomed to was gone. After I got the connection made to the furnace intake, the freshness went through the entire house even with the duct work still sagging and kinked. We no longer need to leave the bedroom window open a crack overnight to keep the soot smell (and the radon) away. And best of all, our problem with the dehumidifier running constantly and still waking up to find the windows and the screen doors fogged up is gone, completely gone. Will this continue through to -40C when the furnace runs a lot? We’ll see. Will we lose so much heat with this passive system without heat recovery that we decide not to keep using it? Maybe. We’ll find out soon enough. Because when you live in Manitoba…

EPISODE 16: WINTER IS COMING | The Rambling Ramblers

A Small Miracle of Nature

It’s September and summer is over. The days are nice enough often reaching highs of 22C (72F) but the nights are cool now averaging about 7C (45F). This means it’s too cold to swim and so the pool has been dismantled and stowed for next year. I let the chlorine levels drop to zero before draining the pool into our little wet meadow. As I expected, the ground is still so dry all of it was absorbed into the ground and a lot going to the poor thirsty trees. As expected the pool left us a neat looking crop circle my husband loves. One less thing to mow, I guess.

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Anyway while we were doing the dismantling we paused and glanced at the pond my husband created a few years ago and we were overjoyed to see a miracle. A wee little woodfrog has emerged!

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She’s just the cutest little thing. (The frog is too young to decide the gender but I like to think it’s a girl.) For scale those leaves she’s sitting on are about 2.5 cm (1 in) long. She’s only just popped out her hind feet. We did have a male frog in our little pond this year. He serenaded us for about three weeks off and on. We never saw a lady frog so we assumed his forlorn calling was unanswered. We were wrong. A quick check in our Reptiles and Amphibians of Manitoba book and yes, it is a baby wood frog. How nice to know the lonesome calling of that male frog was answered. Wood frogs eat insects and invertebrates and they like snails and slugs. Our pond certainly has enough snails in it. We assumed that was what he was eating when he was not calling for a lady. Each frog has a range of about 64 square metres (77 square feet). Our yard and little pond could easily support that male and maybe a lady frog or two.

We saw no frog eggs even though we looked. Our pond produces large numbers of dragonflies. If we find mosquito larvae in our rain barrels we pump them out into our pond and by the next day not one will be left. Dragonflies regularly visit and we have seen little dragonfly larvae shed their larval skins and climb out to fly off. Dragonflies and their larvae are such ferocious predators we assumed even if there were frog eggs none of the baby frogs could possible survive. The females will lay eggs in masses of up to 3000 eggs that they attach to plants. Maybe there were just so many little pollywogs that the dragon flies couldn’t eat them all. Maybe this one was lucky. Maybe she wasn’t just lucky but also smarter or faster than the rest. Sometimes it’s so very nice to find out we were wrong in our assumptions.

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