Friday, July 5, 2013

Sad, Sad News

On May 26, 2013 Doug passed away at the Burnaby General Hospital intensive care unit after collapsing at Eagle Ridge Manor at noon the day before.
It is a terrible loss for family and friends. Many have asked how things have been in the last while so I feel I should fill in some of the blanks. As you will see though, I am having some formatting problems - please bear with me for now.
Doug had been doing pretty well since his episode at the Royal Columbian in September. On the advice of the Manor nursing staff, he no longer came home as often and, like they hoped, he then fell into the routine there. Thus the family spent time more often at the Manor and enjoyed the programs and people there with him at least every other day. On special occasions, we would do family things at home or at one of the girls' homes - birthday, thanksgiving, Christmas, etc . But  in the Manor Doug found new joy in caring. He was always on the lookout to assist other residents come and go.  He faithfully cared for the geraniums, mixed and stirred the latest baking project, and reveled in sharing the joy of the first signs of Spring in the garden. He loved it when others joined as he traveled the world watching the Oasis Channel on the big screen TV. He became quite competitive at Wii bowling and had friendly rivalries with Evelyn, Muriel and others. He enjoyed being part of the Bell Choir. And in the past few months,, especially with the help of Monica and Marvin Steinway from the stroke rehab program at the adjoining hospital, the 4 of us took on the hymn sing on Wednesdays - and we once again heard his wonderful bass voice. There were still days, one or two a week, when he would choose to stay in bed. There were times when he would admit to again facing those same feelings of despair. But then he would engage again and be the encourager once more. Both Doug and I made good friends there including residents,their spouses, and staff. It was like a big family and we came to love and appreciate them in their joys and struggles. 
Doug still complained of debilitating pains - in his shoulder and hip and then in his wrist - but these lessened with the reintroduction of the Neurontin at previous levels. He worried about the family and about me being home on my own. But still he would light up whenever I would arrive there and we would walk the garden, the hospital paths or the hallways together. Even if he was down for the day, he was always ready to do a crossword puzzle. We often worked on one in the evening  by the fireplace. Other times Kathy or Carolyn would take him on. We would strategize, give the clue, and fill in the answer, but he loved the mental exercise of getting the word. He loved to see the girls and his grandchildren. He enjoyed walks around the property or down by the inlet. Occasionally we would walk by the Fraser, and Sundays we often went to Swiss Chalet. He had lots of visitors too. Some were regulars like Jean Jones, Hugh Little, Maureen Peters, and Pastors Walter and Garrod from Willingdon Church.
He never once complained about being at the Manor. In fact it increasingly became a place of safety as he battled growing fears of being caught too far from a washroom. His digestive worries fluctuated but seemed to be increasingly unpredictable. They were giving him several laxatives and supplementing 2 meals each day with high calorie Ensure. But he worried about eating and continued to lose weight. He was about 130 pounds by the beginning of May.
Earlier in the Spring, Doug began to have issues as well with a sudden drop in standing blood pressure. They reduced his blood pressure medication but his balance was still shaky at times. Early in May Irena, the physiotherapist, recommended hip protectors because of several minor falls and continuing blood pressure abnormalities. There was little else to protect him as by this time Doug was basically skin and bones.
Doug's brother Gerald, his sister Carol and their spouses (Gloria and Bob) came out from Ontario 5 days before their May 24, one week, Alaskan Cruise.  It was exciting for them and us. I had arranged for Doug to come home for the duration. We had a wonderful BBQ at Carolyn and Michael's on the holiday Monday. The whole family was there. But it was enough and that same day, Doug asked to return to the Manor. He spent Tuesday in bed. He came home Wednesday afternoon – to a BBQ steak dinner courtesy of our family  visitors. Doug so enjoyed this special time with his sister and brother but again returned to the Manor immediately afterwards. Thursday morning I got a call that he had fallen. I arrived to see him in bed with a huge open bump on the back of his head and a cut above his left eye. He reported that he had fallen off the bed after rolling over to see the time. When they found him, he was  partially under the room-mates bed unable to get up and quite disoriented. He also said that he had had no sleep all that night on account of stomach pain.
He remained in bed that day but was wanting to do a puzzle before I left. Carol and Gerald had a good visit that evening, said their goodbyes, and reported that he was looking and feeling better.
It was a travelling weekend.  Shortly after breakfast Friday morning Carol, Gerald, and spouses left for their cruise. Kathy, Sam and I had arranged to go to Seattle for a few days while Gary and the boys were on a boys' club camp out. Carolyn and her family were off to a Church family camp in Princeton. 
I had lunch with Doug at the Manor before we left. He was up and eating but you could see he was weak. Even his voice was weak. I thought it was still the shock of the fall. I thought he should have assistance for walking and, in fact, spoke to Magda (Patient Coordinator) just before I left. We agreed that he would soon be assessed for a walker. He was OK with us going to Seattle and walked me to the door, gave me that wonderful hug, a gentle kiss, and stepped outside to wave goodbye as he often did. 
We left our hotel phone number in Seattle with the nursing station just in case. We planned to return 2 days later, May 26, Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Doug's journey Jan-Aug 2012

Beginning of July:
For Coquitlam, it has been a hot day. Tomorrow too will be hot - high of 29 they say. It's west coast norm not to have air conditioning. I'm not sure if it is the weather, jet lag from my trip last week to Ontario, or the changes around me that make me feel so tired.
Since my last entry there has been so much change. Doug was at UBC from mid January until late May. The battle for his recovery was headed up first by Dr Scamvougeras, and then by Dr Berzen of the neuro-psychiatric team as they tried different medications and eventually shock therapy to address the ongoing depression and anxiety syndromes. Finally, it was decided that the structure and safety of an extended care facility would be the best solution for ongoing care and so we entered the provincial system to wait for a facility assignment until our 1st choice would come available.We were faced with the reality of being placed temporarily anywhere between Hope and Whistler. It was a great relief - and answer to prayer - when we were assigned and then got to see the Eagle Ridge Manor. We were told of the assignment in the morning and had to accept by mid afternoon or go to the bottom of the list. The Manor was not our 1st choice but a most acceptable one.
It is bright, well managed, close to home. There are many well run activities with enthusiastic and caring staff. After 6 weeks there Doug participates in many things - bingo, newsgroup, music, WII bowling, crafts and kitchen projects, etc. There is a beautiful garden that had an arbor laden with wisteria when we looked out on it from Doug's room on that first day. Even now, it is a delightful spot for fresh air and with even the chance to view an occasional passing deer and fawn.
It has been difficult to make this decision to put Doug in a Care Home - and that feeling of loss dogs me still. The events of described below though help me to realize the changes may be bigger than I can handle alone in the days and months ahead.
Mid August
I wrote and saved the draft of July and now need to catch up to today. As I type this,  Doug is in the emergency ward in hospital after a frightening episode of catatonia and then delirium. These were just words to me until the horrible events of the past few days. Both it seems are side effects of inappropriate medication. Both thankfully seem to be temporary.
Doug's anxiety and depression have been increasing in the past month or so. Activities he once enjoyed no longer appealed and there were an increasing number of days spent in bed. A family trip to Kelowna did nothing to stop the cycle. He had been eating less and less, sometimes refusing his medications and most recently complaining of excruciating pain. In response to the pain, the doctor at Eagle Ridge prescribed Oxycotin . Doug's brain is highly compromised from the massive 1997 stroke. Although the drug was held back after only 2 doses, the psychiatrists now feel that the Oxy magnified Doug's symptoms until he became overwhelmed with despair leading to the catatonia and the hospitalization last Friday. Then the hospital doctor treated his reemerging anxiety on the 2nd day with Ativan - leading to the confusion and delirium of the next day. It has been a truly frightening experience for us all. However, a positive outcome has been that local psychiatrists have been in touch with the neuro-psychiatrist at UBC. He has agreed to work with them in an ongoing consulting capacity. The next day or two may determine how this will look for Doug's care and oversight.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Beginning 2012

We are starting a New Year and yet it seems too familiar.
As I think back over 2011, Doug has increasingly struggled to maintain his life of joy and "mission". Whether it was the change in medications earlier in the year, or just the length of time he has been on so many drugs, their efficacy has changed and life has been more difficult.
 There has been change in memory, balance, and mood. But probably most significant to Doug's quality of life, there has been a change in focus. How much I realize the importance of purpose, as I  have sadly watched Doug lose his ability to encourage and engage friends thru a weekly phone call and ministry of sharing a Bible passage. It has been his passion to speak into the busy lives of about 40 friends each week, and he has been faithful to that for almost 13 years now. It has defined his days and filled his hours - from after breakfast, sometimes into the evenings, 3 or 4 days each week. What a blessing to him to feel needed and engaged regardless of how the brain injury has removed his ability to enjoy simple things like a good book, a TV program or a drive to the store.
In the past 2 months Doug has been hospitalized for 2 weeks for depression. Again, just before Christmas, the doctor was checking if there was a bed available  for him. In the morning he rises refreshed, but a cloud descends before we finish breakfast, and he retreats to bed to hide from the day. Without the desire to phone he seems empty. If he does engage, what spills out are worries and needless fears. He knows he is depressed but can seemingly do nothing to help himself. He resists my attempts to activate him until about 4:00 pm when he will get up, dress, and have supper. After supper he stays up until 9:30, but always needs to be led to do something. Otherwise he wanders aimlessly or sits with his eyes shut.
This tale is nothing new to those who have lived with depression. It is part of a scenario we endured before, between 1997 to 1999 after his brain injury, until his medications were successful. Perhaps the miracle is that those meds were effective for so long.
I know I have changed in those years as well. I see both hope and fear now. 15 years ago, there were few stones we left unturned in the fight to regain life and purpose. I had motivation and desire to beat this thing. I saw chemistry work a miracle and psychiatry forge a base on which to build a life. But I am now too aware that  brain injury can accelerate the effects of aging - physical and cognitive. Perhaps too, even though the desire is still there, I am more quick to realize my own tiredness and my own vulnerability in the face of mounting odds.
So as we move into 2012, we face an uncertain dance with time. Our future lies once more where God alone knows the outcome - between the wonders of modern medicine and  the cruelty of brain injury. As a caregiver, I'm OK if I take it one day at a time. "Day by day, and with each passing moment, strength I find to meet my troubles here."  I think I need to go to that piano in the living room, page 334, I think it is.....



Monday, May 30, 2011

Another Reminder of Ottawa

The Canadian Assoc of Former Parliamentarians sends out a newsletter every quarter. In the Spring 2011 edition in the section "Behind the Curtains" there was an article titled "When MPs Resign"  Along with a picture of an angry disheveled British MP the author noted that "members cross the floor and occasionally ministers are forced to step down, but rarely do MPs resign their seats mid-term". Reading the article brought back so many of the memories of my own experience I submitted the following letter to the editor. I hope they publish it.....



I always enjoy reading the articles and viewpoints of my colleagues in each issue of Beyond the Hill. The article in the Spring 2011 newsletter written by Ada Wasiak on “When MPs resign” caught my eye and my heart in a special way. The question “Why would anyone give up such a secure high paying job?” reminded me of the profound common experience that I shared while in Ottawa as an MP from 1993 to 1997 and how different my life has been since that time because of the choice that I made to resign.

As the article mentions, the process of tendering an MP resignation is not complicated. However both reasons and consequences are difficult and often negative. Allow me to share some of my experience.

In my case, my 51 year old husband was in a coma from a sudden massive brain hemorrhage when the writ was dropped for the June 1993 Federal Election, Consequently, I did not campaign in that election. Thanks to the gifted work of the physicians, my husband survived. Thanks to the hard work of my team, and a supportive electorate, I won my second mandate to represent the people of Port Moody Coquitlam.

That summer, I kept up with the constituency work while juggling the demands of being support and advocate for the care and rehabilitation of my husband. Those first weeks and months are crucial in the determination of the final outcome for brain injury. In September, we became aware that all of Doug's hard work could only take him so far. He was deemed legally blind and it became clear the cognitive deficits would forever prevent him from driving, working, or even participating in his much loved outdoor hobbies like fishing and hiking. Parliament was recalled in late September. Doug plunged into clinical depression about the same time.

I returned to Ottawa and soon realized that a choice would have to be made. I could answer the demands of the trust that my constituents had placed in me, or I could choose to be the support my husband needed to survive.

Party leadership had said that they would cover for me if I needed some time, but I knew this required a long term solution..I will always remember my walk of decision behind Centre Block and a half hour meeting with Gib Parent, Speaker and Chuck Strahl. They reviewed the rules. They encouraged me to measure my decision carefully. There would be no pension. There would be no severance.

It was a long flight home that day. The next day, Wednesday, Oct 2, 1993 I watched QP with Doug by my side when the resignation was announced. Preston Manning explained the situation to the House. Then, much to my surprise, there were spontaneous statements from each party – statements of affirmation and caring from Jean Chretien, Elsie Wayne, and others. Then life changed.

It has been 14 years since that time. Doug remains healthy yet dependent. Life as a caregiver keeps us close to home. Although I have not been politically involved , I have watched national and even international events unfold with deeper understanding. Time has given me new perspective on issues and events of my Ottawa years of change and challenge. My Coquitlam focus remains firmly on family both personally and in my volunteer activity. I may not have the title or resources of so many of my colleagues, but I know I made the right personal choice.

I thank those who now serve in Ottawa for their dedication and a recognition of the importance of the task they perform..I am also grateful for the connection through the CAFP magazine to the continuing involvements and influence of those that have retired..I thank you for allowing me to share this perspective from a long way Beyond the Hill.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Time to set the record straight


When I first ran for political office, I made it clear that my motivation was to stand for families, in my community and in the nation's capital. At the time “family” was not a politically correct word but I was convinced that the strength of our country came not from government but from families strong enough to forge strong communities. It's interesting to me that now, in 2011 as we face another federal election, all parties – even our new BC Provincial leader- make lip service to “family” in their platform. Little did I know this sincere motivation almost 20 years ago would take me into a 5 year maelstrom of controversial policy development and discussion.

In the years from 1993 to 1997, the Liberal government was forging new social policy directions - in direct opposition to the will of many Canadians. Within a few months of arriving in Ottawa, I was voted Chair of Reform's Family Caucus. Within a month, we were facing a Bill that proposed the introduction of “Sexual Orientation” into criminal justice legislation, then the Human Rights Act. Soon after we were debating the “Definition of Family” as a party and as a nation. The next 4 years held many challenging lessons for this novice politician and homemaker. I remember when a reporter first asked if I would call myself a “Social Conservative” – I didn't even know what that meant!

So many of these family issues were controversial and the Reform Party's social policy development was in its infancy– from Definition of Family to Age of Consent, to Spousal Support laws. No wonder my wiser colleagues were so kind as to make me their spokesperson! 


It was a privilege to speak for the many concerned individuals and groups that connected  with the Ottawa office - from all cultures and backgrounds. However, I soon learned that those that had prepared the way for these social changes were ready to fight back. I soon learned too that the media controlled the messaging.

I stepped down in October 1997. Reports of my resignation explained that I had won the election for Port Moody Coquitlam in June, that my husband had suffered a brain hemorrhage at the same time and that I had now chosen to step down in order to care for him. But then several papers included a reference to a news release from several years earlier. The reports stated that it was this release by which “ I was best known”. As I have had no public platform since that time, I feel this attempt to redefine my purpose needs to be addressed. I would like to set the record straight.

Let me give the background about this particular news release. It was in the summer of 1995 that a staff member made me aware of an article put out by the pro-family organization Focus on the Family in the States and known to the American Congress. Both Canada and the U.S. were facing many of the same challenging issues through that time. This article had to do with Focus' ongoing campaign against abortion but it was much more graphic and hard hitting than their previous letters. Probably because of the upcoming U N Women's Conference in Beijing, this article highlighted the existing one-child policy in Communist China, the purported sale of organs from political prisoners and then concentrated on the reported abuse of foetal parts in that country for medicinal use. It even made reference to "cannibalism" in an effort to underline both the horror of abortion and this inhumanity towards the pre-born. I insisted that the staffer thoroughly verify sources. Against my better judgement, I finally agreed to let them submit it to our communications people. To my surprise, it was released to the national media. It appeared in several newspapers and there was several days of feedback.  I did not re-release the story after that but did receive 1 or 2 calls throughout the remainder of my term in office. There were many other stories with “longer legs” released from my 4 years in office including both local and national issues. Thus my surprise, when this one article was resurrected and described in detail as a major event at my resignation.

Thankfully, there has been no evidence of the truth of that story since that time. Frankly I did not intend for it to be released. In no way did I intend to discredit any nationality or group of people then or since. I believe far more harm was done in that regard by those who used the story in what i can only assume to be a political way . But it was a mistake to allow the staff to submit it and I must bear that responsibility. I sincerely apologize to any who have been offended in any way.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Boxes, boxes, everywhere


I am finally opening boxes that were shipped home from Ottawa 14 years ago. As I unseal them one by one, it is amazing to read again the record of so much that was so vital in those days. I am reminded again of the cataclysmic changes of that year.

My departure from Ottawa was sudden. It was April 23, 1997 and I had just returned from a reception at the Governor General's Residence honouring the 10th anniversary Man In Motion ride of Rick Hanson. I had the opportunity to shake his hand and hear him speak hope and strength into the lives of those there, many of whom had battled both the physical and psychological effects of severe injury, Little did I know that my own family stood at the threshold of a similar experience.

The call came about 2:00 pm that afternoon. It was my daughter Kathy and I still remember each word she said. “Mom, come home. Dad has had a heart attack”. When I arrived at the hospital on the far side of the country it was not just a heart attack, but a massive brain hemorrhage - the side effect of the experimental medication he had been given – that threatened to take his life. He was in a coma. I signed for immediate emergency brain surgery. That was a Wednesday – and on the Sunday, while Doug hung between life and death, the 1997 Federal election was called.

On the request of my election team, I let my name stand in that election but they knew I could not campaign. Much to the surprise of my opponents, I won decisively, . But then, 4 months later, the limits of Doug's recuperation became apparent and the reality of permanent cognitive and visual impairment compounded into massive depression and loss of hope.

I stepped down Oct 1, 1997. I still remember the conversation the day before with the Speaker in his chambers . Both he and my Reform colleagues assured me I could take time off if needed and it would be OK. But I knew this was more than temporary. I took my “walk in the snow” around the back of the Parliament buildings with tears pouring down my face. I knew I would have to make a choice and that Doug's life literally depended on that choice. The decision was made but I was warned that it must not be known before the Speaker's official announcement – or it would be fodder for the ubiquitous Ottawa political spin. I arranged to fly home to watch the next day's Question Period proceedings on TV with Doug by my side.

That session was pretty amazing. I could hear the surprise from all sides as the announcement was made. Preston of course had been advised and he rose to explain and thank me for my stand for families in Ottawa. Than each party in turn – every party was represented, even the Prime Minister - gave an impromptu word of appreciation and hope to us, followed by a standing ovation of the whole House.

Politics can be exhausting. It can be cruel. But I was reminded that day, that if you strip away the political messaging and mandarins, the people there care as deeply, and understand as profoundly as any of us. That was a moment in time I will always treasure.

And so my staff had to close up and clean up the 2 offices. My political life was loaded, sealed and sent across the country in about 20 boxes. The change was so sudden and complete that, in a way, it's hard to believe those years really happened but for the files that I now review.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Piano and a Chair


We have just jettisoned our couch and brought up our century-old baby grand piano that had been relegated to the basement when we moved here 5 years ago. I have decided that it is more important to enjoy this instrument than to have the formalities of a regular living room. Music has always been part of my life – with Grade 8 Royal Conservatory for me and then both of our girls. As an adult, I have played mostly for my own enjoyment. As an MP, there were many times I would return from the airport and feel so much more “home” when I could sit down and fill the house with the melodies of my heart tunes. I call this piano my therapist – how often in the darkest days of Doug's depression after his stroke and resulting brain injury, I would find comfort and hope in the words of the hymns I learned when I was young. While my fingers played the tunes, my heart would rehearse the words I knew so well. Music is special. And to think my grandchildren are beginning to learn now as well! Just today, Doug and I visited my daughter for lunch and heard the 2 boys, ages 4 and 6, play their latest lessons on their new piano. It's 3 fingers, only on the black keys – but oh what potential! I'll share that scene with you....

A corollary of this piano move has been the arrival of my green Parliamentary Chair in the nook of the baby grand. Until now, this prized chair has been hidden away in an upstairs bedroom. Now it has a place. It is very special. In January, 1998, 3 months after my resignation as MP, I was invited to a caucus meeting in Vancouver. When I chose to step down, Doug was realizing the effects of his brain injury - loss of all things that meant life to him - and was falling into a severe depression. Those days were dark and long. At that Caucus meeting, I was surprised to be called to the platform by Preston Manning. There, he presented me with this chair – purchased by the Caucus for me as a farewell tribute. It represents not only the work and relationships of those few years, but the passion that took me to Ottawa and then, as recognized that day, the passion that brought me home again.

Its interesting how our everyday decisions and even the objects in our lives come alive with the stories from our past. It is no wonder that older people find it so difficult to “downsize”. Viewed from the outside, an old chair can simply seem dated or worn. Viewed from the heart, it carries the personalities and even the dreams of the past. Even as I spend time with a friend this week in her need to move to a supportive living complex, I hope I can meaningfully relate to her memories and the emotional attachments to the things she will have to leave behind.