Saturday, April 29, 2017



That is the single worst thing that you could say to someone who is NOT relaxed. However, I often find myself commanding my body to relax, "Relax. Stop worrying. Relax!"

Our bodies are not Siri. Despite the incredible feats that our body can accomplish, it does not always respond on command. By ordering our body to "Relax!" our sympathetic nervous system doesn't just comply, inhibiting the "danger! danger!" signals to our adrenal glands. Our adrenal glands don't simply stop producing the stress hormone, cortisol. Our breathing doesn't just automatically slow it's rate. We simply cannot control our reaction to stress by commanding it to "RELAX!"

I've been working with my Pain Psychologist to identify and challenge negative thinking patterns and behaviour that is affecting me. It's called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which has helped to change the way I think and feel about situations, and as a result, has helped me to chill out and experience less pain.  It works! It's taken a lot of homework and practice, but I'm feeling much more equipped to deal with stress and anxiety, specifically as it relates to my condition and pain.

But...I still have challenging days where negative thoughts spin out of control and my strategies just aren't as effective. Cue Easter Break 2017. I had 10 days off of work. Although I had a few appointments throughout the week, the majority of my schedule was wide open. Lots of time to "relax."

I found myself laying by the pool, book in hand, listening to the waves crash in the distance. "Relax. This is nice."

I found myself sipping my tea on the couch, cuddled up with my cat, watching celebrity interviews on the Today show. "Relax. You enjoy this."

I found myself exercising in the pool, stretching my muscles and feeling my body move effortlessly in the water. "Relax. This feels good."

Problem: I was not relaxed. My jaw was clenched. My fingers were chewed until they were raw (stress causes me to forgo food for fingers). My stomach churned with nerves. My tried and tested meditation techniques were only providing temporary relief from anxiety. I was sucking back a daily vodka paralyzer, which only made my head ache. Boo. People attempt to emulate my environment with sound machines and heat lamps, and here I was, in a tropical paradise, cocktail in hand, and unable to relax! RELAX DAMMIT!

On Wednesday, I met with an Orthopedic Surgeon on island who is new to me. I can't recall his name, but I do know that he is Finnish. I required this Surgeon's signature to authorize my cartilage implantation surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, which is scheduled for May 15. Over the past 4 years, I've had dozens of appointments with at least 8 different Orthopedic Surgeons. Each of these specialists agree that my condition is severe and rare, and the majority of these specialists state that there is no treatment for this condition. This is why I sought out a Surgeon who researches my condition at a University known for its medical advancements. He believes that this upcoming surgery could result in very positive results for me. I'm putting my trust in this person who has presented me with a few decades of research and a history of positive results with respect to my rare condition. If I can't trust him, who can I trust?

So it shouldn't have surprised me or gotten under my skin when the Finnish Doc kindly agreed to sign off on my surgery, but then expressed skepticism with regards to a positive surgery outcome.

Instead of spewing out the numbers, the research, and the evidence that support my upcoming surgery, I sat in silence. I felt my shoulders rise defensively to my ears. My heart fell. And there it was. Doubt.

I listened intently for 10 minutes as he expressed his apprehension regarding the surgery. Instead of breaking down and crying in the Orthopedic Surgeon's office (my MO),  I composed myself, straightened my back, and spoke in a calm, confident voice, "Do you have any alternative solutions for me?"

Taken aback he responded, "No."

"Okay then. Thank you for your time. I am a strong person. I am educated. I am very aware of what this surgery entails. It was nice to meet you." This man was not going to see my tears.

Surprisingly, the Surgeon nodded and responded, "I can see that. I wish you all the best."

I took my signed paper and exited the hospital in the middle of a massive thunderstorm. Fitting. I then sat in my car and... well, I cried. Ugh. Good times. RELAX!

I've been enthusiastically explaining this surgery for the past year, "It's incredible. They are harvesting my cartilage in a lab! They will implant it back in my knee. Isn't technology and modern medicine amazing?" The reality is, I'm just not so sure. I want to be sure. The research is convincing. The science side of my brain tells me that this surgery makes sense. However, I've underwent 8 surgeries, and although many of them have provided temporary relief, I have yet to experience more than a year of reprieve. Am I doing this because I believe in it? Or am I doing this because I have no choice?

So I have some doubt. Instead of bottling up that doubt and facing the world with a brave face and enthusiasm for modern medicine,  I decided to tell people. I met with my island besties on Thursday for a really fantastic pre-birthday celebration at the Kimpton Spa. I sipped champagne, soaked in the waterfall hot tub with perfectly pedicured toes and admitted to my friends that I am afraid. They listened. They reassured me. And I felt better. I began to relax.

I messaged with my Canadian buddies. I told them about my appointment and we chatted back and forth. They called the Finnish surgeon bad names. And I felt better. A little more relaxed.

I'm calling it: Best Pina Colada on island at the Kimpton

Spectacular spa day with my island girls

My new wine glass, "Ship Happens." These girls know what I like!

The next day, my 38th birthday, Ev and I hopped on plane for a quick 45 minute flight to Jamaica (Confession: I drank the complimentary in-flight rum punch at 7:00AM) and settled in at Strawberry Hill, our own beautiful cottage nestled 3100 feet above sea level in the Blue Mountains. Immediately noting that there was no TV and the only sounds were the cool mountain breeze blowing through our cottage, the chirping of birds, and the occasional distant sound of honking (the road up the mountain is so narrow that you must honk when you are driving to warn oncoming traffic!), I was initially concerned that there wasn't enough action to distract me from my anxiety. I was so wrong. It was wonderful. Ev and I spent hours drinking Red Stripes on our mountain deck (because Jamaica!), watching and feeling the clouds pass directly in front of us, listening to Bob Marley's greatest hits (because Jamaica!), and just hanging out. We indulged in spa treatments, amazing meals and cocktails, and soaked in the serenity and peace. At night, our little cottage echoed with the sound of the rain on the roof and the wind blowing through our louvered wooden windows. Our four poster bed was heated and I don't think I've ever slept so soundly. It was just awesome. Although I have a severe dislike for the word, "romantic" (If you have to state that something is romantic, is it really romantic??), I will say that the weekend was "mystical." Yes, that's the word. Mystical. We discussed my fears about my upcoming surgery - but it didn't consume my thoughts or our conversation. We just thoroughly enjoyed each other's company,  and I submitted 100% to relaxation. Caveat: Do not go to strawberry Hill with someone you don't like. You will be spending a lot of time together. We observed a bird-watching couple arguing mountainside and pondered the possibility of them starring in the next Dateline Murder Mystery (the husband is always guilty, by the way). Ensure that your travel partner is your best buddy for this particular getaway.

Despite the mystique of Strawberry Hill, the experience didn't magically wipe away all my worries and fears, but I feel better about things. I am afraid. I have doubt. But I've made a decision to have this surgery. I am committed. The surgery is booked. My cartilage is growing in a Boston lab as we speak. It is the right decision because it is the decision that I have made.

One Love!

The view from our mountain cottage

My birthday dinner - 38 isn't so bad!

just flexin'

My knees are soaking up the freedom!


A Biloxi Mama and her little Biloxi kittens. The resort is looking after these guys in return for pest control!

So I ordered the complimentary rum punch on the 7am flight. It was my birthday!

Breathtaking scenery

Ev's showing me how to "wine"


My new buddy. Apty named "Whitey"

The lights of Kingston from 3100 feet

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Moment We Became Adults

Happy Easter! Easter, to me, is synonymous with family. My family has had a difficult year. We lost my Dad's Father, my "Gido," to cancer in October. Easter has always been a big family celebration in my Dad's family, and this will be my Baba's first Easter without my Gido. I'm sure it will be a difficult day for her. Almost a month ago, we lost my Mom's brother, my Uncle Neil, to cancer. Uncle Neil was far too young and vibrant to leave this Earth. My heart is just so heavy for everyone who is hurting, including my Mom, my Grandma, my Aunts and Uncles, and especially his immediate family: my 4 young Cousins and my beautiful Aunty Colleen who lost an incredible Father and Husband. I know that I can't take their pain away but I wish that I could teleport myself back to Canada so that I could be there to support my family. I've said it before, the biggest sacrifice I've made moving to a tropical island is being present for the ones I love when they need me the most. I love my family so much and I just hope that they know that despite being so far away, I think about them all the time.

Easter, on the island, however, is apparently synonymous with camping. I discovered this a few weeks ago when I was listening to the car radio. You heard me correctly: CAR RADIO. After 2 years of burning CD's (like it's 1999) for the Japanese radio that refused to tune into a station above 75 FM, and constantly indicated via GPS that I was floating in the ocean around Japan, I got a functional car radio installed! WhooHOOOO! Grand Cayman, to my surprise, has 5 FM stations that I choose to listen to which include the hits, rock, Caribbean soca, and some old school 90's music. Not bad for a an island with 60,000 people! As I was driving to the east end of the island one day, a commercial came on for our local grocery store: "It's almost Easter and you know what that means!" (eggs? Bunny? Jesus?) "....Camping!" (Camping?) Yes, the Easter weekend is the "May Long" of Cayman, where the locals pitch their tents on the beach and grill, party, and celebrate the Easter long weekend
for 4 entire days.

My Japanese GPS: It took 2 1/2 years but I made it to Japan!

Cayman Campground

Seeing the plethora of tents, BBQ's, and cases of beer, I immediately had flashbacks to the May long weekend in Canada. The May long weekend (typically the third weekend in May) is the biggest party weekend of the year because it is the official start to summer! (I believe it's also the Queen's birthday - Thank you Queen Victoria!) After hibernating for months through the frigid winter, everyone packs up their tents, trailers, and cabin supplies and heads out to the lake to enjoy a weekend of campfires, wiener roasts, and PARTY. In Saskatchewan, it's very seldom that the lake has actually completely thawed for the May long weekend, so we often gaze out at the frozen lake, anticipating all the fun water activities to come.

As a teenager, the May Long was THE MOST IMPORTANT PARTY WEEKEND EVER. Now I am NOT admitting to anything, but many teens prepared for May long in April, arranging a "pull" (someone who was at least 19 years old who could legally purchase booze). One year, some people I know managed to line up someone's brother's cousin's friend who took their $800, promising to return with the booze that was neatly listed on a piece of paper (Rockaberry Coolers and Strawberry Angel!) The pull ran with the cash and left 10 very sad (and broke) teenagers sobbing like babies. Sober babies. If anyone did actually make it to the lake with the pulled alcohol, the weekend was spent running through the campgrounds of Candle Lake,  dodging Conservation Officers and RCMP. You were a true survivor if you made it through the May Long without a ticket (known as a "one eighty" - $180 fine) for underage drinking or open alcohol. Looking back, the May Long was not actually a good time. My friends and I often spent the weekend, cold, dirty, shoeless (why the hell were we shoeless?) and miserable, wandering the campgrounds with a severe case of FOMO, searching for the best May Long party, racked with the fear of returning to school on Tuesday, only to realize that THE PARTY OF THE YEAR was missed or shut down by a responsible adults. Responsible adults were always ruining the May Long fun. To solidify the agony of the May Long, Mother Nature occasionally threw a wrench in our camping plans by delivering a heavy snowfall during our initiation to summer weekend.

A Canadian Classic: You will wake up with a headache. Guaranteed. 

Don't grow up, Kirstie! It's a trap!
At age 17, when Evan and I became a couple, I introduced him to epic May Long, and, together, we shared in the misery excitement. As we matured, the May Long morphed into a "Rick's Lounge" weekend, where we (Gasp!) partied legally at the local lounge. Despite our mature approach to partying, somehow the night always resulted in wandering, cold, miserable, and shoeless (Why? Why?) through the bushes, searching for an "afterparty."

When we turned 25 years old, we purchased our first house - a lakefront cabin at Candle Lake (when I say "WE purchased," I mean "Evan purchased"), and Evan and I had our own place to party on the May Long. Unfortunately, our first May Long in our new home took a terrible turn and nosedived us into the depths of despair known as adulthood.

It was 2am on the Saturday night of May Long 2005, and Ev and I had settled into bed after a night of campfire wobbly pops with our buddies. Suddenly, we were awakened by the flashing lights of a police car projected on our ceiling. We could hear shouting, the sounds of breaking glass, and the rustle of bushes in our yard. Ev quickly jumped out of bed, grabbed his golf club and headed outside to survey the situation (or beat someone with his golf club...the jury is still out). I watched in horror from my window as half a dozen frantic teenagers abandoned their bottles of beer in MY yard, and hid from the police under MY deck (technically, all of these things belonged to Evan, but you get the point). Donning only his bright blue Bart Simpson boxers, and shoes! (He was wearing shoes?) Ev waved his golf club at the drunk teens and bellowed, "HEY! GET OUT OF MY YARD!" I shuddered from my window. My boyfriend, the super cool Evan Lindsay, had a "Dad" voice. Terrified, the teens abandoned our yard and fled the scene. Terrified, I climbed back into bed and snuggled under my covers. At that moment it occurred to me: We are no longer the careless teens running from the law. We are the adults ruining May Long fun. We are the fun inhibitors. That moment marked our graduation from our carefree childhood days into the realm of responsibility and adulthood. That is the moment when Evan and I officially became (shudder)...adults.

Happy Easter Everyone!
To my family: I miss you and love you so much. I will see you soon.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Things you should not say to people on crutches

Crutches are an interesting mobility aide. For most people, crutches symbolize a temporary disability. Many of us have been on crutches at one point or another - whether it was a broken ankle in high school or a knee replacement at age 65, many can relate to the crutches, and assume that the person on crutches is in the process of being "fixed."

When we see someone in a wheelchair, on the other hand, we may sympathize, wondering if the person was in a tragic accident and unable to walk again. When we see a woman with a bald head peeking out from beneath a scarf, we may sympathize, wondering if she is undergoing cancer treatments. It's human nature. Certain aides or accessories cue our brains to experience more sympathy, to view a situation as more serious than another.

Now I'm not inferring that no one has sympathy for people on crutches; however, based on 5 years of consistent crutching experience, I will say that there is often a different reaction to a person on crutches verses other visible injuries/ailments. My situation is unique, in that, I have a degenerative cartilage disease. I don't mind explaining this to people, but I do notice that when they ask, "What happened?" many are surprised and slightly uncomfortable with my response. People appear to struggle to process the information about my condition. It's not expected. They would prefer to hear that I tore my ACL in a skiing accident because that makes sense to them. They can relate to that injury. Everyone knows someone who tore their ACL! It confuses people when I use 1 crutch one week, 2 crutches the next, and no crutches the following week. They don't understand that my pain varies from day-to-day. They expect to see progress. They expect to see recovery in a neat and linear way consistent with the average person who is recovering from a knee injury. So I think that sometimes people say and do inappropriate things because they just don't understand my disease and my explanation does not match their expectations.

I've noticed quite a few list-type articles out there: "10 things NOT to say to a pregnant woman," "5 things NOT to say to someone with depression," "7 things you should NEVER say to someone who has just gotten divorced," etc. So, I thought I'd add to the mix and create my own list. Behold:

Things You Should NOT Say To People On Crutches

1. "What did you do to yourself now?"

As I crutched across the school yard, sweat dripping down my face, pain radiating down my knee, I looked up as a fellow "professional," hands placed sternly on her hips bellowed, "And what did you do to yourself now?" I clenched my teeth as my inside voice replied, "Oh I just acquired a rare cartilage disease you dumb &*%$" Being a professional in my place of work, I filtered my inappropriate thoughts, smiled through my gritted teeth, and replied, "Just had another knee surgery." 

Why would one assume that I "did this to myself"? Given that I've been on and off crutches for the entire time I've worked on island, do people assume that I am injuring myself every weekend at international beer pong tournaments? (How badass would that be?) Anyway, don't say it. Just don't.

Crutches need support too sometimes

2. God will heal you

Now don't get me wrong. I'm pro God. If God wants to heal me, I'm all for it! I really do appreciate it when people say that they are praying for me. Regardless of your religious beliefs, when someone states that they are praying for you, it indicates that they are thinking about you, hoping and wishing for the best. It's a lovely gesture that I greatly appreciate. But I'm afraid God ain't putting my cartilage back together. Dr Carey from the Penn Cartilage Centre is putting my cartilage back together. When I explain to you that I have a specialized surgeon who is planning my treatment, please don't diminish my trust in the medical system by saying, "Don't worry, God will heal you."

3. That doesn't look fun!

Picture this: a sweaty woman, donning 2 large knee braces, leaning on a crutch, and painfully rolling a suitcase across a gravel path. Yelling, "That doesn't look like fun!" from across the gravel road is NOT helpful. Please help me. Please take 3 minutes out of your day and give me a hand. Some days I may not need your help. Some days I am stubborn and want to prove something to myself. If you ask, I will reply, "Thanks for asking but I got this today." Some days I will thankfully hand over my goods and direct you to my destination. It sure doesn't hurt to offer!

My crutches have many useful purposes, from bottle opener... a microphone! This crutch knows how to party

4. I know exactly how you feel. This one time....

Okay. I want to be clear about this one. I think that it's human nature to try to relate to someone when he/she isn't well. It's a technique that we've incorporated to help us form connections with others: "Oh the same thing happened to a friend of mine and he's all better now," etc. I get it. I also understand that people want to help, and sometimes that involves sharing articles they've read on the internet about stem cell treatment, miracle cartilage gel, etc. The gesture is nice. However, this can quickly turn into a long-ass boring story about "you." I thought you were trying to empathize with me, but now I've been leaning on my crutch in the hot sun for 10 minutes listening to a long ass story about the one time that you broke your ankle. One acquaintance skipped the empathy all together and commented, "My knees are killing me too!"  A simple, "I was on crutches too and I know that it's not fun. Hope you feel better," would totally suffice!

5. When are you getting off the "sticks"?

This is another interesting human response. When someone is sick, whether it be suffering from a cold or recovering from brain surgery, we just want to hear that they are "getting better." It's uncomfortable when we ask someone, "How are you feeling?" and the response is, "Actually, I'm not feeling better." What do we do with that information? Often, especially if it's not someone I'm particularly close to, I will respond, "coming along," regardless if I just discovered that I will require another surgery due to my degenerating cartilage. 

So when someone asks, "How much longer do you need the crutches?" I'm unsure of how to respond. The truth is, I will probably need then off and on for my entire life, but no one wants to hear that. That's not an expected response and it's typically followed by awkward silence. So my reply is typically, "Any day now." Unfortunately, I feel like people are disappointed, when 2 months later, they see me back on the crutches. And that's when I hear, "What did you do to yourself now?" (See  #1) It's a vicious cycle!

My crutches can jump at Batabano

So now that I've disclosed all the things NOT to say to people on crutches, let's end on a positive note. So many students, friends, colleagues, and strangers step up and say and do some very helpful things/gestures when I am on crutches. These caring gestures/words restore my faith in humanity and often make my day. Here are just a few examples of the awesome acts of "CaymanKind" thoughtfulness that I've experienced on crutches:

"Miss, that looks like it hurts. I feel sad for you." (5 year old student with a language delay)

"You always keep going with a smile on your face. That must not be easy for you some days." (co-worker)

"Whoa! Stop. I'll carry that for you. Where are we going?" (security guard at school parking lot)

"Hang in there. I can see that you're in pain today." (co-worker)

"You need a hug!" (7 year old student with a language delay)

"Let this woman to the front of the line." (stranger in a long line at the police station)

"Do!" (5 year old severely language delayed student as he independently brought a chair for me to sit down and motioned, "sit" with the word, "Do!" This was such an incredible gesture of compassion from a little boy who has shown remarkable progress)

"I got it!" (Uttered by each and every one of my office-mates as I pack up my materials to leave for the day. My office-mates ROCK!)

"Miss, come with me. I can help you in the office where you can sit." (Bank Teller who noticed me waiting in line)

"We're your island family. If you need anything, we are here for you." (My island besties)

My crutches can even SCUBA (with the help of good friends!)