Month: April 2021

At last -The long Sought Money Tree?

Never having been much of a whiz-kid when it comes to math or numbers adding up to more than 10, I hesitate to venture into the realm of high finance and talk about big money.

I mean big as in more than trillions of dollars. Remember – should you feel tempted to follow my line of thought – I’m the guy who needs a kindly and very understanding accountant to help me fill in my name and address on my annual income tax return.

So, here is my problem: Flushed into the spotlight by proudly repeated announcements, our federal Liberal government has discovered another trillion dollars – or two – in a dark and dusty corner of the Treasury to bind the grievous wounds being wrought by COVID-19.

Then, even as we try to imagine what a trillion dollars would look like stacked in never-ending piles of Loonies teetering in the COVID cyclone, our provincial government bounces onto centre stage to show us what real spending looks like.

On the West Coast, we still cling to the NEW Democratic Party’s hope that the constant repetition of NEW will make it so. The Liberal Party is similar. The repeated mantra would convince us that to be LIBERAL means you are automatically kind and caring.  NEW and LIBERAL – on the big stage of Canadian politics – have become frayed over time.

But I’m getting a little carried away here, complaining when I suppose I should just be thankful that we have people running things for us –

provincially and federally – who know where to put their hands on trillions, or even larger bundles, of ready cash to buy what we need.

Then, I stir in my comfortable pew, and I am disturbed wondering why for decades, Canada has been seeking solutions to the problem of homelessness and the myriad of mental health problems that flow in its wake.

Has the money been there, saved but held in reserve for more deserving causes than homelessness and failing mental health? Will the ever rising tide of the homeless ever benefit from such easy access to “money tree” benefits or decades from now will governments’ (that’s “we, the people”)At Last still be staking them to gussied-up old motel rooms and declaring the homeless problem solved.

Just asking. As always, your views will be welcomed. Be polite.

The First Clean Hands

When Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, a 19th century medical doctor, published his research on the cause of high death rates in the maternity ward of a Vienna hospital it was rejected by his peers.

For decades the most knowledgeable men of medicine had held the belief that disease, when it broke out beyond normal boundaries into epidemic and pandemic proportions, was airborne.

Their belief seemed well-founded. Sewage disposal wasn’t even a dream of the future and garbage dumps were anywhere in a village or growing city. Anywhere close at hand – including residential streets.

In the mid-1800s in Victoria, BC – now a city of gardens and scenic beauties – septic tanks drained body waste away from stately homes and into open ditches where it hopefully seeped away; and the main garbage dump was in the now picturesque Inner Harbour where the stately Empress Hotel stands today.

The combined odours were so evilly toxic that nearby church services were sometimes abbreviated or cancelled.

Vienna – and anywhere else in the world where populations were growing faster than people could handle change – the belief was firm in the minds of the men of medicine that any air that smelled so bad must be the cause of annual waves of infection that swept away thousands. 

So, when Dr. Semmelweis announced his findings that the 13 to 18 per cent death rate among new mothers and their newborn babies was caused by physicians who, having recently performed post-mortems on infected cadavers, had carried the deadly germs to mother and child, he was ridiculed, not believed.

His proposed solution that starting immediately all doctors wash their hands and scrub them clean before going near a mother and newborn baby were thought to be a scare tactic and ridiculous.

So, the good doctors of central Europe didn’t listen. Not for a while anyway. It was some months after his first warnings and appeals for cleanliness that it was grudgingly noted the maternal mortality rate had dropped to one or two per cent from an 18 per cent high. Grudgingly, the medical fraternity was at least, and at last, paying attention.

Unfortunately, Semmelweis was dead before he could savour his triumph. He was beset with ill health in his final years, some say created by critical pressure when he first advanced his findings. Others say it was public pressure with a touch of racism because of his Jewish lineage that brought on a mental breakdown that resulted in him being declared insane and confined to an asylum in 1865 and where he died at 47.

Years later, after his theories about the spread of germs and the use of antiseptics were implemented as required health care practice, he was revered in the world of medicine.

Last week, I brought readers part of the story of Dr. John Snow – another maternity specialist of basically the same era as Dr. Semmelweis – who experienced a similar rejection of his findings that a killer cholera plague in London could be traced to a single source – “the Broad Street pump” in Soho.

He, too, was derided and attacked from the pulpit by the Reverend Henry Whitehead who challenged Snow’s claim that the Broad Street pump was the sole source of the cholera scourge. “Not so,” shouted Whitehead, “the outbreak was caused not by tainted water, but by God’s intervention.”

To his credit, he did admit later that maybe Snow got it right on cholera as did Semmelweis on the mystery of “childbed fever” half a world away.

Both deserve their posthumous honours and deserved remembrance.And thank you to readers who jogged my memory on Dr.Semmelweis

Stay on Course; Believe the Science

We have lived through worse times.Through times when death counts were in the tens of thousands and the medical profession and advanced community of scientists of the day dismissed as fable a lone medical doctor’s claim that contaminated drinking water was the killer.

All a long time ago, you will hasten to say. We have long left behind bizarre challenges to medical treatments with proven track records against diseases which once contracted were fatal.

We have advanced beyond those primitive times haven’t we? I mean if our leading minds in science and medical research assure us that after extensive research and testing a new drug can halt and end fatal invasions of human bodies, we believe and welcome them.

Don’t we? Surely we have progressed from the day in 1848 when a British obstetrician named John Snow advanced his belief that that cholera, the deadliest disease in the world he lived in, had its origin in drinking water.

The medical world in general scoffed at Snow’s published theory holding fast to its long held belief that cholera was airborne and inhaled from the “miasma in the atmosphere.” All major cities functioned without running water and modern sewage disposal. “Miasma” was an ever present presence; just something “nasty” in the air people learned to live – or die with.

It was 1854 before Dr.Snow began to win converts and the medical profession and science world listened. Readers can follow his trail from first stirring of belief to full discovery and vindication with a search for  – John Snow and the Broad Street Pump the story of a dedicated medic on whose foundations our public health system is built on.

In quick order a few days ago Dr.John Snow’s 2021 public health replacements issued two major statements.One was an updated report on the death toll “of the thousands of people who have lost their lives in B.C. due to a toxic illicit drug supply….”

While patiently waiting for Dr.Bonnie Henry’s disciplined attempts to first halt the COVID 19 invasion then send it packing – as I believe she and her team will before summer ends – we  must look again at the last four words in the preceeding paragraph.

Dr. Richard Stanwick, a familiar Island Health officer for Island Health, used the best read page in Victoria’s Times-Colonist (letters to the editor) to carefully detail what he and his team were fighting: “Despite significant advances and ground breaking efforts ….there is still more work to be done to address the illicit drug poisoning crisis. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition often rooted from childhood trauma…….”

Dr.Stanwick’s appeal was to the government to move solution of the “death by poisoned drugs” problem a few rungs up the “priority ladder’. He asked reader’s of the editor’s mail – and anyone who should perchance stumble across my thoughts while wandering the Internet to: “As members of your community, as local leaders, as neighbours, as family and friends, to create space for respectful dialogue around substance abuse….We all need connection, compassion and dignity.”

I add a little Shakespeare :  “The quality of mercy is not strain’d/ It droppeth as the gentle  rain from heaven/Upon the place beneath/It is twice bless’d: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes….”

Public Health Defenders

So, you’re getting a little tired of these COVID-19 restrictions? Can’t go where you want, when you want and, most importantly, with whom you want? Life is hard, dressing up as an amateur bank robber just to pick up a litre of milk – or something more substantial to briefly brighten drudge-driven days.

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day,” Shakespeare wrote on one of his down days, probably after being informed by his government of the day of another new restriction on his conduct in public.

Has any other generation ever suffered such prolonged interference and interruption in its daily life as we poor souls have suffered through 2020 and ‘21? It’s permissible to answer “yes” even if you’re too young to remember “the bad old days” that old codgers of my age insist on remembering.

Memories of the Great Depression that we old folk lived through as children and teenagers take us back to less than happy times that I can assure you were desperately real. We were often ragged in clothes, sometimes very hungry, and it lasted for years.

Health care was provided by parents, neighbours, a district nurse, or a family doctor who charged cash for each visit but often settled for something bartered or a promise to pay next visit. Or never, because cash was hard to come by.

Public health was in its infancy when I was in mine. It was public health doctors, nurses, scientists and thinkers who, sometimes forcefully, shepherded us to better times. My left arm still has the vaccination marks from my first shots in the early rounds of the fight to conquer smallpox.

Victory didn’t come overnight but come it did after years of vaccinations. Smallpox, once a frightening scourge and killer, was brought under control. In the long haul of history, humankind has steadily and positively expanded its knowledge of the body and mind, what keeps it functioning and what threatens its vital spark. And medical research and application have provided us with a way of life so long denied millions who have lived and suffered and died in plagues once thought incurable.

We are fortunate to be living where we are, whether by the random choice of birth or a wise earlier family decision to seek that elusive better way of life. It is unfortunate that in the search, we have lost the appreciation of what we have; that however long we may live, it will not be long enough to always remember it’s what we put into life and living that counts far more than what we take out.

Back in 1902, Sir William Osler, physician and man of letters (1849-1919), writing in The Montreal Medical Journal (1902), cautioned critics of new medical procedures designed to eliminate or control what had been uncontrollable for centuries. Remember, he wrote, “the greater the ignorance, the greater the dogmatism.”

And listen to the frontline workers in public health. They are on our side; they always have been. Make sure you get your shots.

“They Simply Pass Him By…”

I always ask: “Will we never learn?” And, quickly move on to happier memories, remembering the good times and skimming quickly over the times when our personal or community decisions were unwise and coldly indifferent.

Indifference – perhaps the greatest evil act we can ever commit against a neighbour, workmate, friend or partner who, in need of nothing more than friendship, finds indifference.

It’s been a fairly constant theme of mine to remember times in history when mankind, in general, did unbelievably cruel things in the name or religion or politics and continued to repeat these cruelties over the centuries.

I happen to be scribbling these few words on Friday, April 2 – Good Friday. A good day in the Christian celebration book for a few thoughts on “indifference,” the theme of many First World War poems from the pen of Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy.

Read it thoughtfully even if a non-Christian in belief: “When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree. They drove great nails through hands and feet and made a Calvary. They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep, for those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

“When Jesus came to Birmingham they simply passed Him by. They never hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die. For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain. They only just passed down the street and left Him in the rain.

“Still Jesus cried: ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And, still it rained the wintry rain that drenched Him through and through. The crowds went home, and left the streets without a soul to see. And Jesus crouched against a wall and cried for Calvary.”

It is from Studdert-Kennedy’s “Unutterable Beauty” collection and worth remembering the next time you are fortunate enough to be asked for help – and are able to respond.