Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Back soon

I have been investigating public health services up close and personal but expect to be heading home soon after a sojourn at Lions Gate Hospital. Blogging wll resume next week.

Indeed, I am at home June 23 after almost 2 weeks in hospital. I won't bother readers with immediate details - I'm not even sure what they are anyway - but I will recap the experience a little later when its causes and outcome are more clear. At this point, I face long rehab, including probably 6-8 months to deal with shoulder reconstruction by Dr. Peter Zarkadas.

My crisis probably began with a blood electrolyte disturbance that led to physical and mental impairments and resulted in unconsciousness and severe injury from a fall. As a bonus, while I was in hospital, the medical experts identified a sleep apnea breathing disorder that needs treatment.

Certainly, I have a lengthy list of new personal heroes, from the first responders of the North Van Fire Department and the BC Ambulance Service to Lions Gate Hospital physicians, surgeons, technicians and nursing care specialists. Having effective emergency healthcare is a matter of choice and for many of us, the choice may be between life and death. I salute and say thank you to the people who deliver medical services in British Columbia.
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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A self-indulgent story of cars

We suffered a fatal loss recently. Not tragic but inconvenient. The family car died, soon after our local service mechanic found he could afford an air ticket to anywhere because we said, "Sure, do those repairs, we're keeping this car for years to come." The loss put us in the market for new wheels and set me to recalling mechanical companions of decades past.

First wheels, like first loves, are the most easily recalled - there is often a direct connection. Mine involved a vehicle pool belonging to a coastal logging operation owned by an uncle. Ten-year old cousin J. and I, a mature eleven-year old, pretty much had carte blanche access to any unused vehicle throughout this and following summers. Our usual ride was a 54 Plymouth station wagon. We cruised the extensive network of private logging roads that stretched countless miles north and east from the ocean deep into the rainforest near Lois, Dodd and Haslam Lakes. We didn't drive on active logging roads but there was no shortage of idle routes to explore.

If harsh weather threatened, our preference was a post-war Series 1 Land Rover, if we could grab it ahead of someone with more serious purpose. Our simple ambition was to have fun but it was a way of playing grown-up. Not the safest way either because we usually carried guns and ammunition into the bush.

Too puny for Uncle's .303, .30-06 or 12 gauge weapons, we used a .22 bolt-action rifle and a .410 shotgun. People and animals were fairly safe though, at places miles from anyone, we only shot at oil cans and makeshift targets. Parental casualness with children using vehicles and guns without supervision may seem negligent today but those jeopardies were part of Canada's rural culture then and remain so today to a fair degree.

A few years later, now at least shaving every week, I became a licensed driver, taking the formal test in what had been Grandfather's 1950 Ford. This was conducted by Peter Grabowksi, a 7-foot tall Mountie who wore spurs to the office. I cringed for Grandpa's custom all-leather interior and pleaded with the intimidator to be careful with his feet.

My regular transportation soon was a little edgier, and cooler, most especially in winter. It was a Honda Super Cub, a 50cc two-wheeled powerhouse that could reach 43 mph, as long as the road slanted down and the wind pressed on your back. A dozen or more pals at high school shared the fun because Honda offered an affordable range of low power street and trail bikes. To the routine question asking what you were doing when schools shut down on the day JFK was shot, we could reply, "Two-wheeling on the pole line, having a ball."

Three memories of biker days before thermal liners and Heat Pax compete for prominence. One was of me frozen to the scooter after a 52 mile winter ride between Langdale and Earls Cove, unable to move unassisted. Second was the image of my buddy, on that same ride, after he dismounted, feeling warmer but coloured from head to toe by the exhaust of the dirty diesel bus he followed closely for warmth.

The little Honda was great fun and low cost transportation but motorcycle riders, particularly inexperienced youth, are known to medical people by another name: donors. Headed to the big city for university I switched to four wheels and began driving a 1956 Consul. This British Ford had a 4-cylinder engine and 3-speed gearbox with column mounted shifter. The 47-horsepower engine allowed the car to hustle from 0 to 60 mph in about half a day. Top speed was only a little above that and I recall that conversation between passengers was near impossible because of the noise level.

After first school year, blessed with a summer job in Powell River's paper mill, for some unfathomable reason I treated the Consul to a new coat of British Racing Green and equipped it with four premium white wall tires and a chrome-tip exhaust. That remains one of my life's dumbest decisions. For one thing, I needed the money for school and more importantly, dressing it cost more than the value of the car. The 4-banger was useful for teaching certain skills. It broke down so often, I couldn't afford to have it fixed with real parts by a real repair shop. Wrecking yards and discount auto parts dealers became my hunting grounds.

After a while, the challenge of that grew stale and I acquired my first new car, an $1,800 BMC Morris 1100, larger and allegedly more sophisticated than the Mini, it incorporated advanced features and innovations. Unfortunately, after the first year, these things tended to break. The little car had surprising interior room, especially in the back seat with the front buckets folded forward to the windshield. My friend Peter at UBC's Fort Camp used to borrow the car during the evening as a quiet place to study with a friend. The first time he asked, I was reluctant to give Peter the keys because I wasn't insured for another young male driver. He said, "Don't worry, we're not driving anywhere."

That little red car served me for about five years. I sold it to the friend who had purchased my 56 Consul, the green machine. Strangely, we're still friends. The Morris, which needed new motor mounts every year, ended its operations quite ignominiously. Its new owner, who happened to be Student President of the UBC Education Faculty, having failed to replace the motor mounts that year, had the engine fall out of the car onto the street. Of course, he was stopped dead right outside the Education Faculty Building. As I recall, he blamed me for a hit to his political image.

Later cars blur into an indistinct commixture. There was one more unreliable British effort, a couple of North American built Fords, a Volkswagen Rabbit diesel but mostly small Japanese cars, Toyotas and Mazdas. The Asian designed cars were invariably reliable and long lived so I have trouble looking at other choices now.

We have enjoyed huge declines in motor vehicle crash fatality rates over the last fifty years. Today's cars are much safer than one and two generations ago. Much of that safety margin leads to higher costs, both in initial investment and in maintenance and collision repairs. Although we might be reluctant to admit it, the truth is that classic old cars from the past were pigs to drive compared to today's vehicles. Mostly, they were dirty polluters as well. We're well rid of them.
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