For the past few months, I haven’t had the motivation to go outside much. I do go on the occasional walk, but it is not unusual for me to spend an entire week indoors. In order to fix this slump I’ve found myself into, I decided to partake in my favourite winter sports this week, including skating, cross-country skiing, and sledding. I discovered that the sole act of deciding to do these activities actually gave me the motivation to do them. It was hard to get myself to go outside, but after I did take that initial step, I found myself having lots of fun. I would like to tell you guys about my experience.
A kilometre away or so from my home is a soccer field surrounded by a running track. During the winter, the track is transformed into a very large skating rink. There are speakers and lights placed along the rink, which light the area at night and play music throughout the day. And so, on February 8th I went skating for the first time in two years. I left my home at around 3:15 pm, and even the five-minute walk to the rink was exciting. I haven’t set a goal for myself in a while. The fact that I had somewhere to go and something to do was exhilarating, especially since I haven’t had much to do in a while. The experience of skating itself was a lot of fun. I was surprised that I was still able to stand and move myself forward. As I glided along the ice, I could feel the cold wind against my cheeks and hear the crackling of the ice beneath me. My legs hurt as I pushed myself along the rink. I had fun skating as quickly as possible, then stopping, and letting my momentum take me forward. I tried to skate backwards and in circles, but that was too much for me.
While I do enjoy skating, I do find it monotonous at times and my mind sometimes wanders elsewhere (usually to negative thoughts). I used this time skating to practice staying in the present moment by focusing on my body movements, the sound of my skates on the ice, and the scenery around me including the snow, ice, trees, sky, buildings, and people. It felt nice to finally move my body after months of inactivity. I definitely recommend it (although I would suggest bringing lots of tissues, which I, unfortunately, did not). If you guys want to check out this rink, it is located at 5300 Boulevard Robert, Saint-Léonard next to the Saint-Leonard library and the Martin Brodeur skating arena. If you are not from Saint-Leonard, and would like to find a skating rink closer to your area, you can find a list of all outdoor skating rinks using this link: https://ville.montreal.qc.ca/portal/page?_pageid=5977,94954214&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL
On February 10th, I went cross-country skiing at Maisonneuve Park for around 40 minutes. The sight of the park covered in snow was lovely. There were skiing tracks throughout the park that extend into the botanical gardens. As with skating, I haven’t been skiing in almost 2 years. I also never had any professional cross-country skiing lessons, so I had no idea what I was doing. Still, I had a lot of fun that day. I tried to copy the other skiers I saw, pushing my skis forward and digging my poles into the snow in the same way as the others. It was hard to coordinate my legs and arms so that I could properly ski. I was a bit embarrassed by my lack of skill, but I pushed on. The park itself was beautiful. I had chosen such a nice and sunny day to ski. The skiing paths were set up nicely throughout the park. There were multiple routes a person can take. It made me feel as though I was going on an adventure and in control of my own destiny. There were some small downhill sections, which were fun. I loved skiing quickly down them. Although, this experience was much more exhausting than skating. I used much more of my muscles. At the same time, using my body made me feel more alive. It made me feel more connected to myself. Weirdly, as I was so focused on the activity itself, I actually completely forgot about the pandemic and Covid-19 for that brief time. It felt like a nice escape from my daily fear. Only when I passed a family wearing masks was I reminded. If you have cross-country skis, I highly recommend going out this winter. You might be reluctant to (I sure was), but I know you will not regret it. Going outside this week has made me want to go out more often. I can’t fully describe this experience; you will need to experience it yourself to fully understand. A complete list of parks that allow cross-country skiing can be found at this link: https://ville.montreal.qc.ca/portal/page?_pageid=5977,94954226&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL
And you can rent cross-country skis at the following parks:
And finally, later on in the day, I went sledding at Park Pierre-de-Coubertin. It seemed like other sledders had created bumps on the hill, which were hard to navigate through. If you hit a bump too quick, you can fly off your sled. I noticed a few families sledding alongside me. I was a bit self-conscious about my age (I’m 24), but it was still fun to quickly slide down the hill. Some places you can go sledding in Montreal can be found at this link: https://ville.montreal.qc.ca/portal/page?_pageid=5977,94953630&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL
Back at the end of May 2020, I interviewed a 29-year-old male clinical nurse who answered the call for aid in our CHSLDs. I would like to offer a snapshot of the insights given by this nurse, aka “Louis.”
Prior to the pandemic, Louis ran a private clinic that had seen a drastic downturn in patients due to coronavirus fears. Like many other health care providers, he adapted to this “new normal” by switching from in-person services to telemedicine, while also having to downsize his staff. At first, he offered his skills at the local hospitals’ emergency rooms. After two weeks of labouring in an essentially empty hospital, Louis applied to work in two overloaded CHSLDs.
Louis offered to be dispatched in these affected long-term facilities for four weeks. One where he spent the majority of his full-time hours, and the other where he offered to be on call for, as needed. Both Montreal care homes were considered red zones, which designates long-term residences with high levels of coronavirus infection.
Despite recent measures of PPE protection, he advised me that in the care homes he was dispatched to most of the residents had been infected before this PPE ever arrived. So the virus still ravaged these seniors with a mortality rate of 20 to 30 percent. What changed was that the new and existing labour pool was better protected now than when they’d been forced to pay for their own PPE out-of-pocket. Also, he feels that most CHSLDs are not structurally built to enable the isolation of Covid-positive patients. Unlike the hospitals where he had plied his craft with few Covid-19 patients present, here they were overrun by infected residents. With, no separate wing to place them in, and no way to isolate the virus in one area of the facility. So that once it got into a CHSLD it inevitably spread to all of its residents.
He also confirmed some of the stories in the news about mismanagement of the personnel, speaking on a specific situation. He spoke of a nurse who found out on-site that she’d be working alone for the entirety of her 12-hour round. Instead, of being one of four persons working that shift, based on the number of residents in that facility. Not only that, the care homes’ manager attempted to have her stay for a double shift as well. These are the sorts of situations that caused burnout of the CHSLDs’ personnel in the first few months of the pandemic. And the type of negligence that had been prevalent in private care homes in Quebec thus far. Due to the pandemic and the hygienic procedures to follow for her and the patients’ safety, there was no way for her to get around to seeing all of the inhabitants, while providing adequate, three-hour-plus daily care, for each of them. The facility was fully aware that she would be unable to appropriately tend to these seniors, and still, they orchestrated this situation for her and replicated it for many of the other staff. Louis has further corroborated that these long-standing practices of short-staffing are part of what has led to the neglect of care home residents, prior to Covid. But the pandemic is exacerbating these issues further, by increasing the tasks required for public health, while the initial problems remain. Even, with additional temporary staff, government oversight, and heightened public scrutiny.
Unfortunately, the supplemental bodies being added to a generally understaffed palliative care system made up of doctors, nurses, and army members (at one point), cannot mend the situation if all failing elements are not addressed. He confirmed with his experience working there that the manpower available can only do so much, without the proper resources to bring about real, long-term change. Innovations need to be applied systematically in the public and the private sector, to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens will not be overrun by any future iteration of infectious diseases. Louis hoped at this time that these modifications were coming, to ensure that the Quebec tragedy of over 2,400 resident deaths in CHSLDs in less than two months of the pandemic being declared, would never be repeated. And, that it would continue to diminish in the coming months.
When you try something for the first time, it is normal to anticipate errors. In fact, when you try something for the 6th or 10th time it is still normal to expect mistakes. As humans we are fallible. And to illustrate that point, I want to tell you a story about when I tried something for the first time without fear and made a silly, but big, judgement in error.
When I was younger my best friend Winnie and I’s birthdays were two days apart, with mine arriving first. On the day of my actual birthday, Winnie baked me a cake and brought it to school to share with all of our close friends. The cake was so good, and the gesture was so sweet, that I decided I had to return the favour. And so, I decided to bake a cake for Winnie’s birthday. The problem was, I had never baked a cake before. However, I did not see this as a hindrance to my plans more so just as a challenge I was ready to accept. Besides, I was taking Chemistry, reading a recipe was just like following a procedure in Chem, how hard could it be?
So I took out my mother’s cookbook from the cupboard, began collecting materials, and started following the recipe word for word. I mixed together the ingredients and everything was going smoothly until I got mid-way through the recipe. I was at the stage where pretty much all of the batter was inside of the bowl and then all of a sudden, the recipe read, “mix by hand.”
I thought to myself, “Mix by hand? Well, haven’t I been mixing by hand the whole time? Strange… but okay!”
And so, with only a moment’s hesitation, I walked over to the sink, pulled up my sleeves to my elbows, grabbed the soap, and began washing my hands like a surgeon. I scrubbed my arms until the point where they were pruning and walked back over to the kitchen table.
I looked at the big bowl of ingredients for my mom’s chocolate fudge cake, took a deep breath and submerged my arms in the cake mix and began mixing. I was about 1-2 minutes into the process of “mixing by hand” when the phone rang. My mother was upstairs and started yelling for me to answer the phone.
I yelled back, “you answer it, I’m mixing the cake!”
My mother responded, “just put down the spoon.”
So I looked at myself, and my current state, and yelled back a meagre, “spoon?”
In that moment, my mom came running down the stairs and mid-way down the staircase she saw me covered in chocolate fudge up until my elbows and collapsed on the stair laughing hysterically.
In that moment I learned more than one valuable lesson. First, do not take things so literally! When it said mix by hand, essentially the spoon was implied. Second, trust your intuition. I knew and had a moment of hesitation that alerted me to the fact that I may be going down the wrong path with my baking methodology. I was originally right and should have listened to that apprehension instead of going along with what felt slightly absurd. Third, while yes it is important to follow directions, it is also important to never forget your common sense. Common sense told me that mixing the cake by hand in that fashion was the wrong choice, but I did it anyway! And fourth, and possibly most importantly, as human beings we make mistakes, but it is important that we try. When we try something new, it is important to remember that we are going to make errors along the way. But mistakes are just a part of the process on the path to mastery or success in anything.
Do not be afraid to try new things, and do not be too hard on yourself if you fall short of your expectations when you try. If we always lived in fear of attempting new endeavours, we would never see our full potential realized. And what is life if not an exploration of a treasure trove of adventures for us to tap into.
Do not be afraid to roll up your sleeves and “mix by hand.”
Our individual provinces (and Canada as a whole), are currently battling a second wave of spikes in coronavirus infections. In Quebec, this wave began to be reported around the third week of September, shortly after the reopening of schools throughout the province. When asked why Quebec’s numbers remain high, the government continues to blame its citizens, specifically those under 40-years-old. Saying that their Francophone roots lead to lax behaviour and a tendency to party. What the CAQ government refuses to provide, however, is hard data backing up their claims as to where the infections are coming from.
During the first wave of Covid-19, our government likewise reprimanded the population for the rising numbers in the first month of lockdown. They refused to advise which age cohorts were testing positive, in what occupations, and areas. Eventually, we learned that front-line workers and health staff were those most at risk while doing nothing more than being of service to other Canadians. Front-line workers did not have PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) at the start and peak of the first wave and were amongst those falling ill. Along with medical personnel who had PPE but were exposed at close range to active cases of COVID-19 during their workday. It was not until shortly before the federal government dispatched military staff to assist Quebec’s CHSLDs (Long-Term Care Homes), that we learned where the virus was spreading the fastest, and why.
Now we are in the second wave of infection, which began just weeks after learning institutions reopened throughout Quebec. The numbers of those infected have not decreased despite the partial lockdown restrictions ordered by the CAQ government for the hardest-hit cities and regions. These were announced for the month of October, and have since been extended to November as well. The restrictions include the closure of restaurant dining rooms, movie theatres, museums, and all other indoor public spaces. As well as churches and places of worship having a maximum attendance of 25 persons permitted at one time. Individuals living alone, are asked not to have more than one guest over, except for service calls, such as plumbers, or home care workers (for those in need of such). Yet non-food and drink industries, businesses such as hair salons and hotels, are allowed to remain open. As well as public establishments, where elementary school children are not required to wear masks in their classrooms, and their in-person attendance is mandatory unless they have a medical note excepting it.
However, most serious illnesses affecting these preteens, including kidney failure, organ transplant waitlist, and active cancer treatments are not automatic exemptions from school attendance during COVID, according to the province’s back-to-school plan. Doctors’ associations in this province have been spoken to by our provincial government and asked to be stringent in the medical notes they issue, exempting youths from attending school. Which is what is required to allow them to have access to publicly provided (free), remote schooling. Otherwise, parents can either homeschool their kids, or enroll them in a private school if they can afford the tuition, as they offer online learning. These options require parents of school-aged children to have one of the following circumstances: one parent not working, or not working during the day, or for this to not be a single-parent household. Or, for the parent(s) to have the spare income to enroll their child (ren) in private school. This is not the case for the majority of Quebec families, and creates a disparity in the risks that the offspring of lower-income parents (and their immediate family), are obligated to face during this pandemic.
Lawsuits launched by parents of severely ill children, asking for remote learning to be an option in Quebec, for all parents who choose it for their children, have been denied by the courts. Our premier claims this law is due to a teacher shortage in our province, to focus the number of teachers in the classrooms. However, every province in Canada has a teacher shortage, including Ontario, which has the highest number of coronavirus cases in Canada after Quebec. Still, it offers that option to parents, as does every province except for Quebec, Manitoba, and New Brunswick. All three provinces insist on school attendance up to Grade 8, and offer remote learning with a medical exemption. But only Quebec makes medical notes, and illness exemptions especially hard for parents to acquire. As of this date, New Brunswick has had 334 cases of coronavirus, Manitoba has had 4,500, and Quebec has had 102,000 cases. Despite having a much greater population infection, Quebec’s government offers the least options in Canada for parents that are justifiably worried about sending their children to school.
Dining in a restaurant, or going to a cultural establishment, is currently too dangerous in Quebec’s red zones, but forcing sick children to attend school is not? So far there have been 6,554 cases of COVID-19 reported in Quebec across 1,476 schools, in less than 2 months of schooling. 5,267 of those infected were students, and 1,287 were teachers. These children and adults all have families that they came home to prior to developing symptoms. Who, likewise have or will contract the virus too, as they isolate in the same dwelling. As the CAQ government refuses to disclose the ages of those contracting coronavirus in raw data, it is unclear if this second wave is not directly linked to the insistence on in-person school attendance in this province. What is the percentage of 40-years-old who are contributing to this second wave of COVID numbers because they work in a school, or have children attending school who brought it home with them? Unfortunately, with the emergency powers in place for our government to protect us, there is no way of forcing more transparency in the coronavirus data that is rendered public. Unless once again, federal interference is required, and they have no choice but to advise us on where the problem truly laid this time around.