I’m well aware how lucky I’ve been to be very healthy most of my life and, in those rare times when I’ve needed a doctor, I’ve had easy access to high quality care. To date, the biggest injury I’ve suffered was a crushed hand bowling in college (yeah, weird story, but the important part is that I finished the game before heading off to the campus medical center). I’ve had the odd occasion to visit a physician over the past 15 years, but mostly just for regular check-ups and the obligatory lecture to exercise more, eat less bread and pasta, and monitor my genetic predisposition for high cholesterol and diabetes.
Last month, as most people have experienced at one time or another, I woke up with a stiff neck. I didn’t think too much about it, but the pain got progressively worse over the course of two days such that I could not lift my head. Over-the-counter pain relievers did absolutely nothing — even the combination muscle relaxant/asprin pills they sell OTC here in Canada did zip. I figured it’d resolve after a few days like such issues always have in the past. It didn’t.
With E and G here for the summer, I had a lot of help and support, as well as a push to actually get help. I tried to get in to see a doctor here. For residents, health care is free — you just swipe your Health Card at any clinic or hospital and wait for your name to be called. I would be paying out-of-pocket and then submit to Blue Cross for reimbursement. No problem.
Well, the wait was the problem. My experience is obviously anecdotal, but I tried a couple of clinics. The 3-hour wait times weren’t going to work given the level of discomfort standing or sitting on a hard chair. Many here travel to Ogdensburg, NY, about an hour away, for health care because you can make appointments and billing is handled directly with Blue Cross. That turned out to be no better. First available appointment would be August 18th. The alternative would be to wait in the emergency room — probably 5+ hrs.
Thus, I’m not making any judgment on socialized medicine in Canada vs. US pay-for-play health care. Both failed me when I needed help. I knew if I were back in Palo Alto, I’d be able to see a doctor, have an MRI, and get a definitive explanation and prognosis within a couple hours of making a call. Spoiled, no doubt, and not typical just about anywhere, including the United States.
The neck thing was so bad I went to see a local chiropractor (for those who know me, I have little faith in that particular discipline). After a few weeks of what I’d call very painful massage, I have a better range of movement. I can life my head and turn to both sides. I honestly have no opinion whether the 15-minute sessions twice a week helped or if I’d be in the same situation with the regular icing and resting I’ve been doing without the chiro. I still have a lot of pain most of the time that radiates down my left arm and causes spasms sporadically to my thumb.
After a lot of reading, it has all the symptoms of a badly pinched nerve that will eventually resolve. I reached the self-described limits of the chiro’s capability and will start physio therapy next week. My hope and expectation is that it will resolve in the next month or two while I try to not let it impact daily life.
I had a chance to do a temporary month-long consular assignment in Shanghai but figured the long flights back and forth would probably be a bad idea so I opted out. Next time, for sure, though.
If anyone has prior experience with these prolonged pinched nerve in the neck/upper back and found an exercise or treatment that helps speed up the healing process, let me know!
Tom McEvoy describes the game of poker as “Hours of boredom followed by moments of sheer terror.” While that description could well apply to any number of activities, it fit quite well for those of us working on the G8 advance team. There was actually a fair bit going on behind the scenes in and around Huntsville, Ontario, leading up to the G8 meeting. I had the honor/privilege/burden of wearing several different hats for the Embassy’s support team: site officer, thank you officer, gifts officer, and control officer for two Under Secretaries.
It was a kick to spend a couple of weeks in new surroundings. For two weeks, we lived out of rustic cabins just down the road from Algonquin Park, 7500 square kilometers of amazing hiking and canoeing, about 4 hours west of Ottawa and 3 hours north of Toronto. We shared the environment with chipmunks, fish, ducks, lots of bugs, moose, and a bear. During my daily commute from our cabin to the control room, I came perilously close to hitting a deer. Twice.
Without going into any detail, however, supporting a POTUS visit was a great assignment. The Embassy Ottawa team is a very experienced crew so I learned a lot from people who had been through the drill dozens of times around the world. Some days were pretty quiet, interacting with the White House advance teams and getting things set up. Other days had more than their share of sheer terror moments, juggling resources and making sure everything was covered.
In the end, everything went off as planned. The President arrived. The meetings took place. Many bilateral meetings took place. The President left. My Under Secretaries arrived, met their counterparts, received seamless support, and left.
Upon return to Ottawa, we (E and G are joining me for the summer) had the pleasure of seeing our first Canada Day up close. July 1st was the 143rd anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Nationalism here seems to be at an all-time high after the Vancouver Olympics. In addition, Queen Elizaveth and Prince Philip were in town. There were free concerts and activities set up all over town and hundreds of thousands descended on downtown Ottawa. Where else can you find a free double-bill of Bare Naked Ladies and the Queen?
After dark, we headed over to the Embassy and staked out a great spot on the roof to catch the fireworks. Promptly at 10:00pm, they started. We were so close, we could feel the explosions and feel the ash falling from the sky. I took advantage of the great spot by trying my hand at some fireworks photography. Here are a few:
For those who can’t get enough of fireworks pics, you can find the full set here: Happy Birthday, Canada!