Year 1, Week 6: All too familiar


Another city, another hospital, another cancer, another series of doctors, another bunch of tests, and another patient. All too familiar, the same process, the same questions, the same worries, but seeing this as someone who cares, rather than as the patient.

But Geneva is not Ottawa, so some differences stand out. No ubiquitous supply of Purell and face masks in the hospitals (making me feel uncomfortable), seeing a mixture of private and public healthcare in action (more insurance forms to fill out), witnessing more of the interaction among the different specialists as they figure out the best treatment options for my mother-in-law’s lung cancer, more paper based (when was the last time I saw prints of my scans – never!) and a greater emphasis from the beginning on conditioning and rehabilitation. As well, people being people, an almost good cop (and patient engagement), bad cop (doctor knows best) contrast of doctor styles (the onc plays the bad cop role!).

I am also learning French medical terminology, translating some of the test results for some of our doctor friends back home. Thanks to Greek and Latin, not too hard, as well as my experience reading my scan and test results.

We used to live in Geneva and we called the hospital, Hôtel de la Tour, given how much more elegant and spacious compared to Canadian hospitals (or even the public Hôpital cantonal). Being Swiss, the food is food, unlike the colored cardboard served up in Ottawa.

As we settle in, some things are slow (internet takes a week and so am using Starbucks the local library and the hospitals for Internet), some things fast (transit pass and system). Some memories come back from when we lived here during the 90s when our kids were small. Somewhat bittersweet, given the context that brings us back this here this time.

And I am making sure that I practice some of the lessons from others and myself (Supporting someone with cancer) of how to care for someone going through cancer treatment, staring of course with the most important, being there.

I finished reading John Ralston Saul’s Dark Diversions, a delightful light read, essentially a series of short stories about couples, relationships, life and dictators, held together by the common voice of the writer/narrator, with a wonderful riff on the role of the narrator and some lovely asides, some light, some serious. A few samples:

My attitude is that I don’t refuse lunch with people who want to influence me. You never know when you’re going to be surprised, and whoever ends up paying the bill, you still own your digestion.

Demagogues, dictators, bigots, racists, populists. They’re all the same: leadership through fear, the roots of hero-worship. These people may be evil, but they stir up crowds. To see an honest man stir up a crowd is sometimes moving. To watch a dishonest man do it is much more interesting. They you can see the full spectrum of our weaknesses being played. Like an instrument.

He lived on the narrow margin between maintaining a vast public illusion and selling the odd Renoir that Renoir had meant to burn.

Perhaps it was just the scent of tragedy. Or our curious need for the final packaging of lives with which we’ve been involved. Faites vos paquets, the French say. Patrick had neatly tied up the packages of his life but left ours in disorder.

It’s curious how head tables file in, the way suspects do for a police lineup.

On writers and writing:

Now there are writers who draw your conclusions for you. The novel as parable. The short story as parable perfect. And every line contains opinion and direction. You dare not turn your head without permission, let alone have an independent thought about a character. As for feeling, they tell you exactly what the emotional state of every character is. Often they tell you little else. These are violations of the soul of both the character and the reader.

On the technocratic and bureaucratic mind:

It was a solid emotional outburst, full of ethics. I could sense the crowd hating it Their job was to be there. To listen. To ask specific questions. To report back. There was no need to personalize things This was about professionalism and the wisdom of professional conformity. About structures and running things properly.

One of the characteristics of the technocratic or courtier-like mind is the absence of judgement. It just isn’t necessary. Judgement is replaced by relationships and by structures. And when they do take a risk it is suddenly like buying a lottery ticket. After all, their skills relate to the management of the known. .But judgment is all about unknown relationships. The uncontrolled. Good judgement is dependent on some sort of central belief system. Almost any belief in any system will do. It grounds you Feeds your intuition. Helps you judge the meaning and consequences of events.

I have started reading Salman Rushdie’s memoir, Joseph Anton. It starts off strongly, with all of his passion, his wonderful writing, and of course, an interesting story to tell.

Once I have Internet installed, I can get the final edits on the plain text version of my book (for Kindle and Kobo) done (double checking that I didn’t miss anything in my cutting and pasting from the iPad edition), and am aiming for launch next week or the following one.

Tomorrow, treatment starts (chemo) and so our focus will be helping her get through the feeling crummy stage.


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