Monday, November 29, 2010

Back from the Dentist

A few hours ago I returned from my third visit to the office of Dr. Tom, the man who during the original consultation reduced my anxiety about seeing a dentist again after an unavoidable ten years' absence; and now...

I've got back the full function of two previously cracked teeth!! I can properly CHEW again and need no longer be wary every time I've a mouthful of food.

Dr. Tom is such an artist that those seriously cracked teeth have been rebuilt, as comparable as possible to my original whole teeth.

I've a suspicion too that Dr. Tom included a wee bit more dental work than what I was charged. At my last visit, which was to fix cracked tooth number one, some gentle drilling was done to the complementary upper molar.

But ouch!...

The total bill for the three visits, which occurred over a two-week period, is $572.40; and it all falls within the same Visa payment period, in December no less.

For that reason and another, I've postponed until late January my visit to the hygienist.

Then that will be it. I'll have not only whole teeth, but sparkling, professionally clean ones.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Relativity of Small Things

Alternative title: Go through your cupboards; improve another's quality of life.

...I am fresh out of having a bubble bath; sprinkled myself with body splash; treated my feet and hands with lotion; and dressed myself in my stay-at-home flannel pants, a blouse and a sweater.

At 7:30 this morning, I ate a homemade mix of oatmeal, sesame seeds, almonds, (barley?), and other goodies I can't identify. After cooking (nuking) it, I topped the mix with brown sugar. Just now, I had a banana. A pear sits in the fruit bowl for later.

Yesterday, as I prepared to go out for a walk, I considered my footwear options. Would it be the winter hiking boots? The Doc Martens? Or the Sauconys? I went for the boots, having previously chosen and slipped on one of several pairs of warm thick socks. (How lovely to have options! And how wonderful to put years of aching cold wet feet behind me!)

Then I donned a black wool London Fog coat, the second of two London Fog coats now in my wardrobe. I completed my outdoor outfit with a hat, scarf and glove set.

Every one of the items italicized above were given to me by friends; in one case, my son.

The list goes on of course. My kitchen today is unrecognizable from that of one year ago. Thanks to Cowichan Valley Recycle/ReUseIt and the friends I've met through that wonderful online group (1156 members!), my kitchen has pots, a cast iron frying pan, an egg poacher, a steamer, a small food processor, an electric can opener, a wooden block of high quality knives, a coffee bean grinder and a lovely red apron for the 'cook'. There's likely more I can't remember.

Then as recently as last Friday, my kitchen cupboards acquired spices. Since spices tend not to be a nutritional requirement, I'd been going without them. As I remarked to the friend who delivered the spices and so many other items that day, all with my special needs in mind: at least if your food is bland you've less incentive to eat much!

The point of this post is to drive home the importance of the small stuff. What may seem insignificant to one person can make a significant difference to the life of another. Because of the generosity of friends, new and old, and a wonderful online community, the quality of my life has steadily improved despite my significantly low income.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mountain Manny & Daphne-of-the-Forest

Once upon a time, about thirteen years ago, Daphne-of-the-Forest and her younger brother, Mountain Manny, spent six months together on Mountain Manny's 160 acres on the north slope of the Granby River in Grand Forks, building a house. A house to become a home that is not on anyone's radar; a house that is completely 'off the grid'.

The road to the house winds ever upward for two kilometers before reaching the building site. A very short stroll takes one to a magnificent view, which overlooks the entire north end of the Granby River Valley.

He gives dimensions and approximates what he wants. She draws plans; they collaborate until satisfied with a general layout.

They lug a generator, tools and lumber Mountain Manny personally milled from windblown trees salvaged elsewhere on his property up to the building site. Then the work begins. Borrowed surveying equipment is brought to use. The area is cleared and sauna tubes with steel reinforcement are poured... so does the rain! After a full twelve hours, the foundation is done.

Whilst Mountain Manny is working for the Man during the day, Daphne-of-the-Forest doffs her clothing, with the exception of her steel-toed boots and a sun hat, to rake two yards of gravel to back-fill around the sauna tubes.

What a tan she has! She loses weight; she is very fit; she is happy; she is 46 years young.

The building progresses at a rate in conjunction with Mountain Manny's daytime work and left-over energy from same... which is considerable.

A crew of friends come in on a Saturday to raise the walls! Up, up, up they go. Lots of beer drinking and pats on the back for the rest of the day.

Mountain Manny's adopted son, Joseph, arrives for a stay and is quickly put to work helping raise the roof. Daphne-of-the-Forest is making best-use-of-wood and she cuts all pieces to exact measurements as requested by Mountain Manny.

When it is time to check if Mountain Manny and Daphne-of-the-Forest have built a true and square building, they are amazed, pleased and proud to note they are only 1/8th of an inch off overall.

Adopted son departs, leaving Mountain Manny and Daphne-of-the-Forest to assemble, cut and install a tin roof. Mountain Manny attaches himself to a makeshift safety harness while Daphne-of-the-Forest (using a special blade in a hand-held skill saw) cuts and passes the over length pieces up to Mountain Manny.

The basic structure complete, 'tis then time for Daphne-of-the-Forest to return to her little shack in the woods on Vancouver Island. Mountain Manny drives her home. The picture is the two of them - beaming - upon their arrival.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Interest Rate Policy Increasing Poverty Among Seniors

According to a new report, the number of seniors living in poverty soared almost 25 percent between the years 2007 and 2008.

Women have been the most affected. Up to 80 percent, suggests the report.

Daphne and I are, or soon will be, counted among those women.

At 60 years of age we don't yet officially qualify as seniors. However, with the Bank of Canada having kept interest rates ridiculously low over the past several years, we will be among the poverty statistics for seniors in future reports. Many of our friends already are or soon will be.

We are the women who worked for decades in low-paying 'female' jobs while child-rearing. We are the women who, out of our low incomes, scrimped and saved knowing that nothing was sure for tomorrow.

Now we are punished for saving because of an interest rate policy that values consumption, debt and a head-in-the-sand mentality over thrift, responsibility and the urge to maintain self-reliance.

The following is an excerpt from one woman's story. It could be duplicated many times over, by many other women:

I am tired. I have been working since I was 14. When I retire at 65, I’m going to have this little tiny government handout. It won’t matter how resourceful I’ve been. There’s no financial reward for that...

I am one of the working poor. The reward for that is more poorness. It's, "Sorry lady, you did a really good job. You raised those kids. You were only on Welfare for eleven months. Good for you, good for you - here are your pennies" (p47).

When will the Bank of Canada stop its insane interest rate policy? The result has been consumer interest rates so low that they don't even keep up with inflation. No surprise, then, that the people most dependent on hard-earned savings, largely senior women, are falling behind.

[Cross-posted at Challenging the Commonplace]

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Silver Lining

A few days ago I wrote Over the Edge, where I lamented the rather large outlay of cash to remedy some fallen trees on my property after a fierce windstorm.

There IS an upside to this story and it is that two special friends, who read the post came with offers of both money, food and, of all things, an electric chainsaw! My heartfelt thanks to both of these thoughtful friends.

The other good news is that the trees did not fall on the house. No damage was done, except to my carefully tended moss gardens, which will recover in full once the debris is removed. And the faller bucked up the good parts of the trees so that I have regained at least half the cost of the clean up in next year's firewood. My neighbour is pleased, as one of the downed trees was threatening to fall on his property, more than likely to land square in the middle of his man-made pond, holding 25 year old Koi.

My finances will improve. I have already worked out a new budget to take into account the shortfall.

Time will take care of my sad heart at the loss of the trees.

Growing Up in a Labelled World

Another post from Challenging the Commonplace that needs to come over here. It was originally written on May 31st, 2008.


I write this in response to the paper "Framing Disease," by Robert Aronowitz, and to the associated commentaries and rejoinder, which appear in the July 2008 issue of Social Science and Medicine. I would like to relate that SSM discussion to a personal account of how labelling and exposure to someone who sought labelling affected me from a very young age...

I was raised on psychobabble. My mother, rejecting one psychiatrist after another and likely still doing so, had gone through 14 of them when last I spoke with her, which was 15 years ago. I learned at my mother's knee what 'psychiatrist' meant, and the psychological jargon of the day, such as 'nervous breakdown' and 'emotionally disturbed'. In this respect I was set up to absorb doubts about my own emotional health, particularly given that life was hell at home.

Thing is, I knew better than anyone that my mother was not sick. She was egocentric, manipulative and cruel, i.e., her personality deviated negatively from the norm. For the burgeoning field of psychiatry, this made my mother an excellent candidate. For her, being labelled played into her egocentricity, which was why she sought out psychiatrists in the first place. My mother became addicted to psychiatry.

Thus made aware, by the age of five, that a harsh childhood could result in psychological damage, I swore to myself on a particular day that my mother would not destroy me, that I would protect myself, my yet-to-be-formed identity, against damage.

I've always called this my "promise day." On that day, as my mother stood before me screaming down abuse, I looked up at her and said to myself: "You won't kill me, you won't kill me, you won't kill me."

The repetition was to pound the resolve into me, to make it stick. I understood "me" to be my identity, not my body. The "won't" represented my determination that my mother would not succeed in transforming me into her own ideal. I understood I was in a triple danger, hence the repetition of three: of being imminently threatened, of my future identity being threatened, and of my future self being the subject of psychiatrists. To be the latter was to be like my mother, something to avoid at all costs. It was my mental health I was swearing to protect, although I didn't use or know that term. (I don't think in the 50s it was in fashion yet.)

For fifty years more, I resisted mental illness labelling. Then came the 18 months around the time I wrote my story, formed WISE (a former group and national movement of low-income women), and ran the project for and published the book Policies of Exclusion, Poverty and Health: Stories from the front. My mental illness buy-in is evident from the first lines of my story, that of Chris in the book.

I regret my lapse and acceptance of the label and have since rejected it. The bare facts of the story stand on their own; the labelling does nothing but add salve to the mental health industry.

The pressure to accept mental illness labelling was enormous, not least because a good friend, my only friend at that time, was using it and applying it to me. With so much to deal with - an escalating slide into poverty and imminent homelessness - I was in too weakened a state to keep the promise to my 5-yr-old self. It didn't help that funding for the project was more likely if the lead researcher accepted the lingo, rather than not. I was being pressured to do so.

I do not blame my friend. The temptation to diagnose, and in the language of current 'wisdom', is hard to resist. She was right that I was distraught almost out of my mind. But the sickness wasn't in me. It was all around me. My distraught reactions were my healthy body's desperate attempts to warn me of a looming threat, of living in circumstances that risked my survival.


I suspect that the unquestioned adoption of mental illness labels has grown. My story is but a single example. But it seems to me that a whole generation has grown up with mental illness labels as part of everyday discourse. Now, if one simply accepts a label, all sorts of things can happen.

People living on very low income have learned that exposing ourselves to the mental health industry and accepting a label can mean the difference between getting a housing subsidy and not, between getting employment assistance and not; listen to the story of Anna for an example of just a dilemma.

For criminals, accepting a mental illness label can mean time spent in a psychiatric hospital rather than in jail. For overworked, stressed employees it can mean dispensation for time off.

More people are reported experiencing mental illness. I interpret this as either more people are getting labelled with mental disorders or more people are experiencing distress. Given the ascendancy of the mental health industry and the power dynamics of neo-liberalism, globalization and market capitalism, likely both are at play. But rather than look to causes (over-zealous labelling; manmade sociocultural, socioeconomic and physical environmental conditions threatening people's health), we focus on the individual.

It's the blame-the-victim approach; and the victims, who rarely come from outside the run-of-the-mill commons, being immersed in this society and absorbing its messages, eventually come to accept the blame. They do so by adopting sickness labels and by converting into feelings of shame the stigma imposed by the elite classes and adopted by society's wannabes.

Meanings - Belonging, Home, Community

This is a reprise of a post written May 21, 2008 on Challenging the Commonplace, one of our political blogs,  long before economicus ridiculous launched January 1, 2010.

The post belongs here, as will become evident to readers.


I filled out a survey yesterday on community meaning. For each question, respondents were to give the first answer which came to mind. Along with questions about the respondents' understanding of various concepts, including belonging, home and community, was this question, the last one:

When do you most feel a sense of community?

Here was my response:
It has been a very long time. I'm 57 yrs old now and the last time I felt a sense of community was at the age of 14. Then, I was in an environment in which to be and express who I am was permissible; it was the first time in my life I'd experienced that. Unfortunately, it lasted for only 11 months, after which I had to leave that community. When I think of belonging, I think of home, and that's the place I associate with the latter.

I went for a walk after completing that survey and began reflecting on my answers. I soon realized that underlying my sense of the meaning of belonging, home and community was a single, uncomplicated idea: acceptance.

It was nothing so robust or overt as welcoming. Just acceptance, manifested in an environment in which everyone adopts a live-and-let-live attitude and respect for difference.

In that place, I was FREE TO BE ME, without pigeonholing or labelling.

Actually, the latter isn't quite right. ALL of the residents at that place were labelled, which meant that we ended up undistinguished from one another. That is, being labelled made us all equal - at least in each other's eyes, which was all that mattered to us.

You see, that place was Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital, which doesn't exist anymore. In the 60's, that location on Lakeshore Blvd. in Toronto was nicely referred to as a 'mental institution', not so nicely, a 'looney bin'. I'd more describe it as a warehouse for undesirables and strays, people who society was happy to throw away.

Given the horror of that place, how could I possibly recall it to mind whenever triggered to think of home or belonging or community?

It's because the patients were expected to have an emotional life and were licensed to exhibit eccentric behaviour. We were permitted to be normal, as judged by our own standards.

The relief to be who we were was enormous, and the sense of freedom intoxicating. Never before or since have I felt anything like that degree of acceptance; and with it, the freedom to stretch my faculties, explore who I was and who I could potentially be. It was mind expanding in the best sense of that term.

As bad as most of these institutions were, including LPH, they got some things right. For LPH, it was its failure to psychiatrically treat certain of its residents - to leave us alone. Its failure to treat summed up, in a word, acceptance of us just the way we were.

Curious about LPH? For a start, check out this site.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Interest Rate Policy Punishes Most Vulnerable

The Bank of Canada's interest rate policy punishes saving and rewards debt. As does the federal government when it bails out "too big to fail" corporations and industries and rescues banks from the results of their rash decisions.

Such policies punish those people who scrimp and save, who put off buying today so they'll be able to live tomorrow. Many of these people are now in, or about to enter retirement; only to find their savings earning one or two percent or, if they're particularly fortunate, 2.5 percent.

Such people dare not put their savings into the markets, not when their lives are reliant on those savings. We have all seen what happens to the markets.

How did Canada get things so ass backwards?

How did Canada get to rewarding people who buy like there is no tomorrow? Who get mortgages they can't afford? Who purchase more automotive and recreational vehicles, gadgets and gewgaws, vacations and cruises than they could ever use?

Too many seniors today are struggling to make ends meet because their hard-earned savings are earning less than the increases to their living expenses, such increases exceeding the cost of living. (For most seniors, some form of disability is present.)

This situation, the erosion of seniors' and others' savings, is thanks to the interest rate policy of the Bank of Canada.

It's downright criminal.

[Cross-posted at Challenging the Commonplace]

Gracious Thanks Extended

Recently, friend Ocean's monetary income was enriched, as she had applied and has received, Canada Pension Plan benefits and the Supplement for Elderly Renters. Her quality of living soared.

For those of us living in financial poverty, it is a real relief when our fortunes improve. It also gives us the opportunity to say thank you to all who support us along the way. Ocean has done this in the form of a letter to the editor of one of our local papers. Here it is, in full.

Generosity makes this best place to live
Chrystal Ocean, The Citizen
Published: Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I am a woman who lives daily with debilitating chronic pain, the result of the wear and tear of everyday life on a childhood injury.

Having turned 60 this summer, now I qualify for two important government programs. Now my annual income has gone from $7,200 (all my tiny savings could manage) to $10,000.

Now I receive a small monthly payment from the Canada Pension Plan, a contribution to my income I earned from a lifetime of work.

Now I am getting monthly help with my rent in the form of the Supplementary Aid for Elderly Renters, a provincial program. I am immensely grateful for S.A.F.E.R. It goes beyond description the degree to which this help has lessened my daily stress.

But it's the local resources and the people of this Valley I most want to thank.

Keeping one's head up when economically challenged can be difficult in a society that treats the dollar as god; and it can be difficult at times accepting kindness because it reminds you of how far you've fallen.

It's also a constant challenge accepting your own limits.

Without the kindness of people of this Valley, the quality of my life and the lives of so many others would be far worse. Many of us would be dead.

Beginning late last year, I began visiting the food bank every few weeks to get bread. Never anything else. Just bread. Prior to such visits, I'd stopped eating bread altogether. The price of the ingredients to make my own bread and the prices of loaves sold in stores were prohibitive. Bread didn't seem as essential as fruit or vegetables.

In the early days, my visits to the food bank were hit and run. I'd skulk in through the back door, avoiding eye contact, grab some bread and skulk back out. I was embarrassed to have to use this resource.

Now I don't skulk. Now I might stop to have a coffee, perhaps something to eat if a colourful salad catches my eye, and even a chat.

To the many people of this Valley who contribute bread and other foodstuffs to the food bank: thank you.

To the people who maintain the food bank, including Dave the cook (other cooks' names I don't know), and the driving force behind it, Betty Anne Devitt: thank you.

To the local grocers, to stores selling general merchandise including food, to independent bakeries and to home bakers, and to the many others who contribute to the food bank: thank you.

To Karyne Bailey, the woman behind Cowichan Valley Recycle ReUseIt, a wonderful online resource through which people of this Valley -- 1,151 members and climbing -- can obtain and give away stuff for free: thank you.

At the heart of CVRReUseit is recycling. Countless times I've received items I'd been going without, including basic kitchen equipment and bedding; and I've been able to give away items to people who needed or wanted them.

To Jenny, who brings me free eggs every couple of weeks: thank you.

To Daisy Anderson, who takes me along on grocery trips and changes my hard-to-reach light bulbs: thank you.

To Daphne Moldowin, who knows what it's like to live this way and helps me refocus when I'm down: thank you.

To the people who together make the Cowichan Valley one of the best places on earth to live -- for all of us: thank you.

Chrystal Ocean,

While I was reading it, I was thinking about the many other people out there who use the services provided that give a helping hand. Ocean's letter brings alive a real person to the nameless others who also use these services. Her letter shows an intelligence not often associated with the 'needy'. Ocean's letter indicates to me that she is graciously grateful.

Well done.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It's Like Having Children

Having a cat is like having children a lot of the time. Each day Kiltie jumps up to the third shelf of the bookcase where I keep the tiny bag that contains her toys. After extracting her head from the bag, which hugs her head neatly like a top hat, she comes out with this or that goodie in her mouth. (Click images to view larger version.)

Kiltie's Toy Bag - discarded rubber ball left inside

Every night, I pick up the toys, put them back into the bag and place it on the bookcase. Over the course of the next day, most if not all of the toys have been strewn around the place again.

Feather-tailed mouse left, 'sparkly' to right
Unlike children, cats cannot be trained, at least easily, to pick up their toys at the end of the day. This is particularly given that 'the end of the day' is the start of a cat's day.

Mouse head
Today, I found one disembodied or beheaded mouse, together with all but one of Kiltie's toys.

Mouse body
Kiltie's favourite toy of all time is one of the first items each day to come out of the toy bag. It's a fuzzy sparkly ball that has a bounce no other ball seems able to duplicate. It's the only ball with which Kiltie will play fetch with her human; in fact, she insists on the game throughout the day.
Kiltie's favourite toy, her sparkle ball

Woe are the times when Kiltie loses her sparkle ball. For three years that was the case, until the landlord came in one day to check for air in the heating pipes and reflexively fished out Kiltie's toy from where it had become wedged.

To Event Organizers, Retailers, Others: On asking for donations

A letter appeared in one of our local papers at the end of September. Anyone who organizes cultural, political, charity or other events for which the charge for admission is 'by donation', and any store owners who engage in trying to collect donations at the till, should read it:

Cashier: "That'll be [amount] oh, and would you like to donate [dollars] to [whatever]?" I just went in to buy some lumber, groceries, post a letter, etc. and I run afoul of a gouging, intimidating method of squeezing money out of me [and you] thought up by some nefarious shrink.

You see, if the cashier asks you in front of a queue of people, you'll think twice before saying "no" right? You might appear to be mean! The elderly in particular may well be intimidated into saying "yes." From Mill Bay to Duncan only my bank and one hardware store have not offended me in this way.

Peter Bell, Cobble Hill

Seems Mr. Bell's letter made enough of an impression on the Cowichan Valley Citizen that the link to it still appears on the front page of the paper's website.

Good on them.

It's a well-known point among people in households of the lowest income to avoid any events for which "by donation" is the entry fee; it almost always translates into an expectation, if not an outright demand for payment. The latter happened to me not that long ago.

As for requests for donation at the till, I quietly mutter "no," with head down and shoulders hunched and turned away from the people queued behind me.

Mr. Bell is right. It is embarrassing, regardless of whether one is accosted for a 'donation' at an event or a store line-up.

Over the Edge

I have been coasting along on a tiny fixed income for well over a year. Squeaking by on next to nothing, thinking all was well in my financial world, as I applied for and will receive early Canada Pension benefits in late December. This extra income would act as a buffer for emergencies.

Two days ago, our area was struck by a violent northwesterly wind storm, knocking two trees over, topping a third and weakening two others in my small treed lot. One tree was pressing against the power and telephone lines that feed into my house. I called Competition Tree Service and the owner came to take a look. Good news: he could clear up the mess and save more trouble in the coming winter months. Bad news: it would take every penny I had left.

Gone are the trees and with it the danger. Gone is the money I was planning on using to pay my dentist. Gone is the immediate ability to pay ongoing bills ~ telephone, hydro, recycle, house/auto insurance and the small monthly amount I set aside to pay the yearly property tax. Gone is the weekly grocery money. All gone.

Over the edge into teeth grinding, soul destroying poverty - again.

I remind myself, 'This too shall pass', but it is going to be a long haul to regain peace of mind, at least financially.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pain and Quality of Life

At the age of 13, I was struck by a car and thrown 50 metres. I could have been killed, but instead only my right leg was damaged. There was a nasty compound fracture of the femur.

For several weeks while I was kept in traction (crikey, that was painful!), doctors feared they'd have to amputate the leg. However, they tried to and eventually did, reach an orthopedic surgeon who was well-known for his ability to achieve the impossible. Dr. Paul McGoey agreed to see me and I was transferred by ambulance to Scarborough General Hospital.

After six months under the care of Dr. McGoey at Scarborough General and staying at St. John's Convalescent Hospital in between the numerous trips (8? 10?) by ambulance between the two institutions, my leg was saved.

I returned home.

That was something I could have done without. The people at St. John's, Scarborough General and the paramedics who drove the ambulances had cared about me. The people at home didn't.

The last trip I took by ambulance, the one that took me home, the paramedics gave me a huge bouquet of flowers. They were the same paramedics who had been with me for each trip: from Collingwood General to Scarborough General, when I was still in traction, and for all the trips between Scarborough General and St. John's. Unknown to me, they had asked their boss to be the paramedics for each of my trips.

I pushed that leg to do things that most people wouldn't have. For years, not only was I a letter carrier but also (often at the same period of time) a dance teacher. Eventually, I owned and ran three dance studios.

While the leg was 3/4 of an inch shorter than the left, I had a persistent limp and misalignment at the hip affected my turnout among other things, that didn't stop me. However, eventually I paid the price and my back suffered from making adjustments it wouldn't normally have had to do.

That's the long and short of it. Now, over the course of aging, I'm in a lot of pain and there's nothing even today's professionals can do to correct the source of it.

Given three changes recently affecting my financial resources (SAFER, Canada Pension Plan and greater Pharmacare coverage), I can now obtain prescription medication for pain.

Two weeks ago, I went to my doctor and asked her help with pain management. She prescribed Naproxen and Gabapentin.

The Gabapentin has reduced the chronic moderate pain (level 5,6) a couple of notches, enough to improve my quality of life. Now I can do daily housework - carpet and floor sweeping, light dusting and the odd wipe at the floors. It's nice to have my place returned to the cleanliness to which I was formerly accustomed. I'd missed that, but especially the ability to care for my small home.

Now I can also walk more briskly, climb stairs and go up the dreaded hill more easily. I've yet to try pulling my shopping cart up that steep incline.

The dose of Gabapentin I am was on does nothing for the flare-ups, when the chronic pain becomes acute (level 9). Neither does the Naproxen help with the swelling around the source or the arthritic stiffness further up.

I saw the doctor yesterday, having just gone through five days of level 9 pain. She has upped the Gabapentin.

Back from the Dentist

Now that my annual income, thanks to SAFER and the Canada Pension Plan, has jumped 40 percent - from $7,200 to $10,0001 -, I made an appointment for a consult with the dentist just around the corner from me. He and another dentist were recommended to me by my doctor's office.

It was a toss-up which dentist to choose. I went with Dr. Tom Roozendaal - who I will, from this point forward, affectionately refer to as Dr. Tom.

Had my first visit to a dentist in ten years been as traumatic as I'd been expecting, I'd have given Dr. Tom a different moniker. As it turned out, there was nothing to fear.

Patients are made welcome and comfortable the minute they enter Dr. Tom's office. They are offered a coffee, which I was assured Dr. Tom didn't mind - I hesitated at first, concerned about stinky breath. The reception room has a water wall that makes a pleasant, relaxing sound. A large Samsung screen to the right of the water wall and just below the ceiling displays photos of restful landscapes. Everyone in the office is friendly, relaxed and welcoming.

Patients are not kept waiting; at least I wasn't.

On to the inner chambers.

I was immediately made comfortable in Dr. Tom's dental chair, with extra aids to ease my back. (By the end of the visit, I didn't want to move and could easily have fallen asleep, almost free from pain.) Soon after, Dr. Tom came in. He was easy-going and within minutes had me feeling relaxed, which surprised the heck out of me. He asked all the right questions, plus more I wasn't expecting; was extremely knowledgeable - I could see why he finished first-place at dental school and received the College of Dental Surgeons of British Columbia’s Gold Medal (naturally, I'd checked him out beforehand); did a thorough examination, never once poking an instrument near a sensitive spot; and limited the consult and his recommendations to my budget, having been made aware of my financial situation.

Prior to help from SAFER and the CPP, dental care over the past ten years had been out of the question.

Still, help from those programs or not, dental care is expensive.

Given the passage of time, I'd lost a filling and chipped two teeth, one being the same tooth whose filling came out. I feared more damage, although I'd tried my darndest to maintain good hygiene over the years.

Dr. Tom's verdict:
two fillings (over two visits) to fix those teeth, one filling of the regular type, the other a white filling; and a visit to the hygienist.

That's it.

Of course, had I the money, I'd get two caps instead of two fillings. As Dr. Tom explained to me and would have recommended had I been able to afford it, caps would have preserved those teeth considerably longer.

But who, on $10,000 per year, can afford $1,200 - per cap?

The estimated cost of the four visits, including today's consult, is $672, plus or minus a few dollars depending on what the hygienist does.

For the preservation of what teeth I have left - am missing three molars - I think that's a good deal.

Thank you, Dr. Tom, for making my first dental visit in a decade such a good one.


Those chipped teeth and lost filling tell a larger story, one about poverty and its direct effect on dental health.

Dr. Tom said that chipped teeth are almost always caused by teeth grinding. He asked if I ever grind my teeth, either during the day or at night.

Let's just say that it's rare I wake up in the morning without fists clenched and jaw clamped tight.

Living at the bottom of the poverty well causes severe, unrelenting stress. The result of such stress has a direct effect on health, dental and otherwise. In the former case, poverty predisposes one to poor dental health, regardless of how well one maintains one's oral hygiene.

1My savings have never been much, although people of higher income could learn a lot about saving from those of us surviving on much less. On an employment income of only $12,500 per year, I saved $5,000 annually.

As the years have gone by, without my being able to find employment that could accommodate my disabilities and with interest rates punishingly low for people who save rather than go into debt, my savings have rapidly diminished. Originally living on $8,000 per year, my annual withdrawal from savings went down to $7,200 - as costs continued to go up.

Since I can't go on BC's disability assistance for reasons I've explained elsewhere, without both SAFER and the CPP I'd have been homeless within another 18 months.

ETA: See follow-ups here and here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On Giving, Getting and Inequality

If you've sometimes had trouble sorting out the mixed messages on this blog with respect to acts of kindness, perhaps this might help you out.

"Because of our natural aversion to inequality ... we sometimes find generosity as annoying as selfishness."

That about sums it up.

Of course, one study does not constitute final proof. However, being unequal in terms of others' valuation and the constant effort to hold on hard to our sense of self-worth lies at the heart of the seeming conflict. That is, it's perfectly natural to appreciate help of the kind Daphne and I have sometimes received; and to resent it for the situation it represents.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Well, duh! The experts speaketh

Some recognized experts are suggesting the solution to homelessness is to give the homeless money to stay off the streets. Of course, the real experts - the homeless themselves - have been saying that for, well, forever.

In societies that treat the dollar as god, money is the best incentive of all, folks!

How very strange

... for the BC government now to permit public servants to use Facebook, Twitter and other social media, but still not permit them to use email to communicate with members of the public seeking their help.

I have written extensively about the problems for people of low income who must choose between having phone service - landline and cell - and having access to the Internet. For such households, the choice is almost always Internet, given it delivers more bang for the buck. With an Internet-connected computer, headphones and a service like Skype, one can still make outgoing calls to other computers and to phones.

Alas, in Canada - but not in the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Mexico ... and just about every other advanced country in the world - you still cannot obtain an online number. If you had an online number, then people with a phone could call you at your computer. But without benefit of a phone OR an online number, people wanting to call you by phone - and in the case of the BC government, having to call you by phone, since that's the only way public servants are permitted to communicate with you - you cannot be reached.

The only option for someone without a phone but with an Internet-enabled computer is email. And the BC government won't permit public servants to use email to communicate with clients, consumers, or whatever the hell we want to call those seeking service or information from the government.

The BC government has even cut off the ability of public servants to use email in special cases, or so I was told when I was trying to communicate with the people at SAFER. Had the public servant processing my application required clarification, he/she would have had to use snail mail, thus delaying my application's approval by at least two weeks. The ability to send emails, other than in-house, was disabled.

It's so damn frustrating. A simple fix by the CRTC, that it lift its silly 911 restriction, so that VOIP providers could issue online numbers with Canadian area codes, would make the problem go away in an instant. And this fix, in aid of greater access for low income households, wouldn't cost the government a damn thing.

I've SkypeOUT. I'd have SkypeIN if it was permitted in Canada. But with SkypeOUT I have listed in my contacts all the emergency numbers one might need. So what if 911 isn't accessible?!

Lift the damn restriction, CRTC! It's obvious the only reason you have it there is to protect Canada's big telecommunications companies.

[Cross-posted at Challenging the Commonplace]

Monday, November 8, 2010

On Being Happy

Am back from having gone to the food bank, and am now eating a pickle sandwich and some almonds and feeling happy for the first time in several years. Not just content, but happy.

Several factors have contributed to this turnaround, from chronic depression and chronic pain, to episodes of happiness and substantial reduction of pain.

Foremost is having finally qualified, now at age 60, for rental assistance from the BC government in the form of the Supplementary Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER). Effective August, I began receiving a monthly payment geared to income that substantially contributes to my rent. Payments from the Canada Pension Plan also began in August. These two payments, one provincial and one federal, plus my small income from savings, have combined to increase my income by a whopping 40 percent - to $10,100 annually.

Regardless of what measure one uses, I am still several thousand dollars below the poverty line. However, the 40 percent increase has made a huge difference to me, not least because I've been able to buy items I've desperately needed. More important, however, is the considerable lessening of stress due to daily financial worry.

As to pain, my financial situation has finally been reflected in my BC Pharmacare coverage. Since July 1st, I've not been required to contribute anything to the one prescription medication I take (Synthroid). Prior to that, I'd had to pay at least 30 percent of the cost, plus a deductible. (I don't know why it took so long, given my income has been sub-$8,000 for several years.)

I avoided the doctor because, what was the point? It was shut up and put up, to hell with the pain.

With so many things having changed, including my Pharmacare coverage, a few days ago I visited the doctor to ask for her help with pain management. She prescribed Gabapentin and I'm on a schedule to gradually increase the dose. (From one/day, to two/day, to three/day. Am up to two/day now and shall be glad when I reach the full dose. The pain returns in full force just around the time pill number 3 is due.) Already, there has been a difference, though. At night, there's less pain, so I sleep better. In the mornings, I'm able to walk, climb stairs, do light housework and pull my shopping cart with considerably less pain. The result is greater mobility and better quality of life.

Am also grateful to our local food bank and the businesses, organizations and people who contribute to it. I've only been getting bread there, but today, for the second time since I've been going to the food bank, I stopped for some coffee and a bran muffin; and met and chatted with some people while there.

Perhaps I appeared more approachable. I know I was smiling.

Friday, November 5, 2010

On Obesity and Poverty

A new study done in the US predicts that obesity rates there will peak at 42 percent, not the 34 percent previously predicted.

My immediate reaction was a shrug of the shoulders.

If you live in the poverty well, you know more than most of the 'experts' about the chief cause of certain illnesses. You know more than the health professionals, political advisers or policy makers. To whit, you know that obesity rates will peak at 42 percent in the US because more USians are poor.

With poverty comes poor nutrition and a helluva lot of bad carbs.

Consider the dilemma for parents whose household incomes have their families living in the bargain basement. It's

  1. feed your children nutritionally, but exceedingly sparingly. Then ignore your children's cries from pain in their bellies due to starvation; or
  2. feed your children pasta, bread, rice, cookies, donuts, snack food, etc. to fill their bellies and stave off their hunger, the result of which is malnourishment; and
  3. don't forget to feed yourself, although not the good stuff.

Should be obvious, eh? So why don't governments do something about it? Especially governments in countries with a universal healthcare system?

It costs not just lives but MONEY to keep people in poverty, folks!

Far better for the federal government in cooperation with the provinces to implement a guaranteed income for all (GAIA). Far better for municipalities to ensure a robust local food infrastructure and to have inclusive property laws to allow truly affordable housing. Far better these than to pay the enormous financial cost of serving a large swath of the population whose poor health due to poverty drains the healthcare system of crucial resources.

[Cross-posted at Challenging the Commonplace]

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What a difference a little money makes!

Received my first SAFER payment on October 29th, which was a lump sum covering August, September and October. That same day, I walked to town pulling my little shopping cart behind me.* The plan: to buy myself at least one pair of pants or jeans to replace the ones that were literally falling off me.

When you've lived frugally - OK, admit it, CHEAPLY - for so long, it's hard to start spending again. I'd tried many times before to buy myself new, 'new', or definitely used clothing before. Ninety-nine times out of 100, I have returned home empty-handed. This time I was determined to get something, to buy NEW, to ignore the price, and to consider only the fit and whether I liked how the new duds fit and looked on me.

My first stop was Winners.

Tried on four pairs of jeans, in petite sizes. (All my clothes should be in petite, not regular sizes, which aren't designed for women under 5'3". It's not just about shortening hems; the whole styling is thrown off if an article was designed for someone several inches taller than oneself. Unfortunately, petite sizes rarely appear in thrift stores or through other means.)

Since I was shopping alone, I asked the Winners fitting room attendant to help me decide. We agreed on one pair in particular, which were in medium faded blue denim. Although these jeans had the inevitable gap (for me) at the back of the waist/hip, they still looked great on and because they fit so well, for the first time in what seemed forever, I felt good in a pair of pants. So I bought them, knowing I'd have to get a belt to deal with the gap problem. (Bought a nice belt today - 1" wide, navy blue, in a weaved leather pattern, for $2.75 at a local thrift shop.)

I left Winners with more than a pair of jeans. The fitting-room attendant had suggested I try Reitmans, said their new store had greatly expanded its petite section and most of the bottoms they sell have a wide band around the hip/waist which markedly reduces the gap. She should know. She has the same problem and buys all her bottoms there.

Next stop Reitmans, where I bought a second pair of jeans, in black and gap-free! 

Today was the first full day I'd worn either of my new jeans. (When at home, I wear the falling-apart apparel.) I chose the medium blue denims because I planned to get a belt to go with them.

It felt wonderful to walk into town and back with high quality, soft breathable fabric against my skin, without having to hitch my damn pants up all the time and to know that, as well as feeling good, I looked good. 

Today I also bought new reading glasses. I can see!!! And am sitting before a new 21.5" LG flatscreen monitor. No more fuzzy greyed-out images!!! Also made an appointment to see my doctor, something I always avoid; perhaps she can prescribe something that will help me better deal with the pain. Am also starting to think about seeing a dentist. That's not at all certain due to the likely cost, but at least am thinking about it.

* Reminder to self: Check out alternatives to the shopping cart. Pulling it, especially when laden with groceries, is further straining the back. For flat walking, a walker would be good and would also solve the problem of standing in line-ups. But would I be able to pull a walker up three flights of stairs, as I do presently with my little cart?