mortality blues


For a month I’ve had a numb right armpit. For two days I’ve had intermittent shooting pains in my right arm and shoulder with occasional weakness in my writing hand. These S&S are at least “go-for-a-check-up” worthy, but it’s all sort of been happening in the middle of relocating to a new town and starting a new school and not having a doctor. Plus a conventional wish to ignore the Reaper’s sweet lullaby, basically.

Last night my hand suddenly lost strength and I dropped my novel into the bathwater, where I was floating and reading at 11pm. Live from my life, it’s Saturday night!

“Motherfucker,” I said. Because although  I am Just a Student Nurse, I know that sudden weakness + shooting pains + general malaise = probably bad.

So I drank a double whisky-lemonade and fell into bed with my sleeping mask on (this thing works wonders). I slept shallowly, right arm aching, dreaming of monsters that tunnel and creep beneath the earth’s surface.

This town does not have a walk-in clinic that is open on Sundays. Be damned if I am going to the emergency room to be counted among the sinus infected, the drunk, the generally queasy, and other time wasters. My MS/ALS/Stage IV cancer can be diagnosed tomorrow when the walk-in clinic reopens for business.

the ethical thing is rarely the juicy thing


I won’t be writing about nursing here anymore. I have so many stories, just from clinical classes alone (the equivalent of riding baby slides at the waterpark), but I’ll zip my lip I suppose. Maybe I will write generally about school-y things, maybe not even that. Basically I now live in a tiny town, and there are enough identifying details on here to “out” affected parties, and while I love lying about shit (ie fiction writing) I am probably not good enough to consistently invent parallel realities where the innocent are protected and I don’t violate the many confidentiality thingies health care workers have to sign all the time.

Back to standard programming of existential whingeing and talking about food. Is that what I usually write about? I don’t know anymore.

moon illusions


It happens fast. The days are already very short. Darkness is now falling when just a month ago I would have still been on the beach.

Last week’s harvest moon rose in the east, powder-white and ghostly, at the same time the sun was setting in the west. Maybe you saw this, too.

These celestial bodies rarely have the chance to look at each other head-on. It was a beautiful effect. Not for the first time I wished our sky was cluttered with a few more suns and moons. The “24-hour clock” as we know it seems so staid. Imagine a life divided into several dawns, several evenings. Imagine 3 chances to catch the sunset. The party would never stop!

Other heavenly events…
Rumour had it that the northern lights would be making an appearance this far south. My husband told me at bed time. Once my head hits the pillow is an unreliable time to try and motivate me. Once fully reclined I tend to ignore stimuli.

“The northern lights? Here? What’s your source?” I asked.

“A guy at the mill.”

R works at a mill now. Once I become a nurse, we will officially be a couple from the 1970s.

“I have always wanted to see the aurora borealis, my entire life,” I told R. “I want to name a daughter Aurora.”

“Will you set the alarm for midnight to go outside and look?” he asked.

“Fuck that,” I said, deep in pillows.

When I woke up in the prosaic morning I was filled with regret. While I could not find any news reports confirming that the sky above Port Alberni had undulated green and pink, like a celestial lava lamp, I was disheartened by my own laziness. I have wanted to see the northern lights ever since they last oozed this far south. To my knowledge, this was in my childhood:

One winter’s morning I woke up to the usual alarm clock (a whistling tea kettle and the smell of Players Unfiltered). When I plodded into the kitchen my father informed me that he had been up half the night watching the northern lights fill the sky. It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, he reported happily. I would have been amazed, he bet.

“Why didn’t you wake me up,” I whined.

“It was late,” he responded. “You need your rest!”

Needed my rest! For stupid pointless school. For stupid pointless life, where nothing was ever different.

I recall that the furnace wasn’t working again, that morning. I ate breakfast in a housecoat and gumboots while my dad smoked, drank tea, and looked out the window.

Dancing lights in the sky would have gone far in helping me believe the world held some nice surprises.

Once I saw a crazy moon though. My memory is unreliable, but it seemed to fill the sky as it rose over the horizon. This was one time that I was summoned from bed. My mother woke me up, still wearing her coat. “Get your jacket on,” she said, her hands still cold from being outside. As she’d been driving home from choir practice (she played the organ at church on Sundays), she’d been amazed at the moon in the sky. “You have to see it. Let’s go,” she said.
It was only us in the car. I don’t know why she did not wake my brothers. We drove up a steep hill, the dead-end road that lead to the neighborhood’s reservoir. The moon filled half the sky, a vast cratered orb as large as a colliding world. It was no longer just the moon, a thing in the sky. It was dusty, orange-colored, and alien.

What makes this incident memorable is not so much the moon, the appearance of which must have some normal explanation and was probably not a phenomenon at all. My mother’s enthusiasm was unusual, and her desire to show me something. Normally she dismissed most things as a waste of time.

It was like this, honestly. Except larger.

What is this called? When does it happen?

a picture


Looking at certain places – rundown, abandoned – you usually wouldn’t think about their heydays. When they first opened for business, when they were shiny, and occupied, and promised something…it’s difficult to imagine when you’re looking at tumbled walls and mossy brick.

Going back even further, do you ever think of the ground being broken and the effort that went into pouring the concrete and building up the walls? Landscaping and paths? How men got out of bed every day and this was their employment? And they were focused on the building: how could they have believed it, if you had told them it would never work, or rather that it was only temporary? That in 50 years weeds would be growing through the concrete, the city unwilling to lay out the money to even pull it down and start over with something new. They would not have bothered believing it because there was so much work to do. It’s hard to see over the tasks set out in front of you.

There’s a photograph of my grandma in New Westminster when she was young. When was it? Sometime in the 1950s. She had not been married long. It’s a black-and-white photo that make her lips, hair and eyes stand out darkly against her white raincoast complexion. Beside her is her sister-in-law Lilly, polar opposite, a big blonde farmgirl from Walley. Their husbands were brothers. Lilly and my uncle were hosting my grandparents who were in the city for medical reasons.They would never travel otherwise. They were there so my grandfather could be seen at the new Crease clinic at Essondale hospital (later Riverview).

The Crease clinic, founded by Dr. Arthur Crease, director of Mental Hygeine and Psychiatry, was designed “to treat mental ailments in the same fashion as physical illness.” Revolutionary at the time in a society that still employed words like insane and defective, and where compulsory sterilization legislation was still in effect. At that time, crazy people did not get better, they got worse or just made do on the fringes, or were buttoned up into hospitals, or became alcoholics for relief. I wonder if my grandfather knew the word “schizophrenia” yet. I wonder if he knew that word or a variation of it, or whether he just thought something wasn’t right. I wonder if other people told him to get help or if he suggested it first.

In the picture she’s wearing a locket. I still have that locket. It pleases me to see it in the photo, gleaming blandly in the sunlight of a day 60 years past. The 10 k gold is etched with a pattern not bothered with in such cheap jewelry these days. The necklace looks the same except now the gold has turned a little bit green. It has lasted; buildings and people have not. The Crease clinic is just a shuttered relic on the vast asylum grounds, noted for its haunted-looking architecture and impressive arboreum. The X-Files and other moody shows have shot scenes there.

My grandma had no patience for photographs. She wouldn’t ever explain who people were in albums. She hated being reminded of things. This picture wouldn’t matter, her standing with my big-happy-blonde aunty. She would only snort, “Look at that face,” feeling superior to the girl in the photo, who still had so many trials ahead of her. The girl twisting her lips into a screwy, bleak smile, a concession to the camera’s expectation. I can’t even rightfully call the girl in the photograph my grandma; it is too proprietary, she is so young. I did not exist for her to have any knowledge of, in that picture. The future is not there, in photographs.

Walking around the grounds of Riverview is a lesson in claustrophobia. Not for the sweeping lawns and excellent views of Colony Farm meadows and the Fraser River. But the buildings’ attractive brick architecture and tall, barred windows summon-to-mind words like asylum, detainment, and trapped. What if you were never deemed ‘cured’? It was up to others to decide. How permanent the walls must have felt around the inhabitants. The hallways so long, but no exits. Now the buildings on the Riverview grounds have all been decommissioned, a process begun in the 70s until the final treatment centre closed in the recent-2000s. The Ministry of Housing is now responsible for the buildings. The Victorian structures have been left to rot in the rain. Even concrete and brick will fall apart when care isn’t taken.

For some people the past is like a path that falls away under your heels as you move forward, eyes straight ahead. Forward leads to substance, somewhere solid to plant your feet; behind you is a chasm where photos, memories, stories flutter away like confetti.

In the photo Lilly grins, turning away from the business at hand to summon the brilliant smile that still lives today, bolstered by dentures and Botox treatments. An older Lilly with this same smile is captured in photos from my wedding last year. My gran never made it. Maybe there is something to happiness, and always keeping a reserve of it. Happiness can be a fuck-you, and fuck-you is the healthiest response to things that are out to hurt you. Like life itself.

port alberni


Hello blog,

How ya doing, ugly? Funny how when life is most eventful, you sit dormant and boring. Maybe it’s because I (still) do not have the Internet at home, so when I do get access, I am all busy looking up homework-related stuff and Google-stalking folks* and paying the VISA bill, rushing to do it all in the hour or so of wi-fi granted by the purchase of a cup of coffee.


I am leaving Vancouver. Beautiful, beautiful Vancouver. Land of bike lanes, hairy armpits on girls, open-late cafes, many sexy libraries, and the murmuring sea. I am moving to Port Alberni. THE DEVIL, YOU SAY?! But my husband has a new job there. In fact, R. has lived there the past 2 months, while I finish out Semester 2 in bachelorette squalor in the old apartment. I can transfer neatly into the Nursing program offered over there. Tuition is even half the price as in the city! There is really no reason not to go. We are already gone, basically.


When you Google “Port Alberni” the first results that show up: it was recently decided to be the Worst Place in Canada to Live. However, since the same deciders said some unpopped boil of an Edmonton suburb is the Best Place to Live, I say nuts to them. (Nervous sweat.)

Port Alberni is pretty bad, though. The downtown is all boarded up and there’s no bicycle infrastructure and there is not one, not one vegetarian restaurant, and there is a pervasive funny smell courtesy of the institution from which we’ll derive our bread-and-margarine (paper mill).

But I’m only going to say it this once, about the dumpiness. I told my husband we must break the habit of negatively framing the facts of our existence.


*I’m looking your way, Nikola Tesla

field notes


I realize in this uniform I feel like nothing. Isn’t that the opposite intended effect of uniforms? Yet I also feel like a machine as long as I am in this off-tone green, surgical green. Efficient, faceless, a carrier of nosocomial infections.

We call patients ‘clients.’ Clients often want me to tell them something I don’t know yet. 

Nursing school evokes olden days of purity or effacement. Short nails, no nailpolish or else, hair back, no make up. 

My pet peeve is workers without name tags. Even now I’m still catching on who is a care aide, an LPN, an RN. God forbid you mix them up. Wear your nametag! 

‘Luanne, I need to change mr x’s fentanyl patch. Can you come to the narcotics cupboard with me?’

‘Actually, my name is Eileen,’ she answered, addressing a detail of my query but not the point which was a patient In pain. She went back to her task. Well fuck, Eileen, whats MY name? Bet you care less. Oh right, I have a name tag. I look like a crazed Muppet on It but my name and rank…annoying student….is plain.

Antineoplastic drugs work by a nonselective killing mechanism. They are excreted in shit and spit.  Gloves and a gown and a mask must be worn by healthcare workers when providing petsonal care of such clients to avoid damaging our own DNA.

I pictute bone cancer like the muck that grows on rocks in stagnant water. I picture it creeping like a ghost ship through blood.

for better or nurse. bleh heh heh.


Level II Nursing draws to a close. Just three more final exams and 1 month of clinical practice. Hmm, put like that it doesn’t seem like ‘drawing to a close.’ Anyhow. Things are very different these days, compared to my old schlubby ways. I have short clean fingernails, a watch on my wrist for the first time in this life, a head full of knowledge, and… soon…the license to use it. Funny what knowledge will do to you, how learning can change you.