Monday, November 28, 2011


When my father read the newspaper in the olden days he frequently, absentmindedly, tore off corners of the newspaper and chewed them as he ate up the news of the day. Cellulose is as indigestible as the news was, both in those days, and perhaps even more so today! Phytophagy can occasionally morph into the compulsion to eat vegetable matter unselectively and pathophysiology ensues if the matter is indigestible like cellulose. It leaves the growing mass of a cellulose ball called a Phytobezoar trapped in the narrow area of the GI tract! My dad never ate enough that it was other than a forme fruste of indigestible Phytophagy! Since he rarely read books, our stock of books was unmarked! One always knew he had read the paper or the magazine from the absent corners. A form of marking, like Kilroy! Like the neighborhood dog idly pissing on the hydrant, marking the bounds of the territory. I, for some reason, continued his habit, idly tearing the odd corner off a book and chewing it as I ingested the material and its content. It was never bad enough for it to be considered a pica, but it offended my friends if I had borrowed their book! Cellulose from paper is one thing, but wooden matches, toothpicks,popsicle sticks and other wood bits are worse. Human beings are not beavers. When I first married the pianist she was horrified to see the ingestion of her books, corner by corner as I sought to share her interesting reading material! I realize now it was a form of marking, done innocently! A habit idly acquired is easily dispensed with in the interest of literary harmony when love intervenes! I no longer have ever gone back to that bad habit, but when my son grew up, became a bibliophile and had his own library, I often read his books but for a while bent open the spines of his tighter books for easier reading. Again I was castigated for my book destructive tendencies. I am careful now to eat candy or popcorn when I read, and I strain to read obliquely through a semi-open book if it is newish and not my own! I want to be good!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Quince Jelly

Two mature ladies I know who like quince jelly took a large portion of my crop this past month, but I still had a number of fruits that I tried to get rid of, unsuccessfully. Quince jelly is not for everyone! The flavour is rather unique and somewhat perfume like, to my taste! It however has an exotic quality and a heritage aspect so I could not bring myself to discard the basket full of the fuzzy yellow fruit. I made my own quince jelly last week and it was very successful as the pectin content is high, even in the fully ripened and over ripened fruit that I used. Since quality jelly requires not only taste, but colour and jell quality, my product will rate highly for the scarce aficionado who appreciates the unusual and acquired flavour and appearance of the quince. The jelly in the jar has a colour of fine orange furniture oil, unique as well, from the ripe quince. I am also hoping that my value added product will entice the wary who avoided the primary product, but who could become a new enthusiast after trying the jelly. Those of low taste who require the more usual jellies on their toast can content themselves with the predictable, but I do not intend to proselytize to the unadventuresome. I am sure there are more elderly eclectic ladies on Lotus Island that can be enticed with my jelly!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Turf the Old

The Beech tree,(Fagus sylvatica) does not shed it's leaves 'til later in the spring despite the cold winter temperatures in Europe. The beech hedges, seen widely distributed in Scotland, retain the browning and yellowed saw toothed leaves though out the winter in contrast to almost all other leaves of deciduous trees, which conveniently and expeditiously retire to the turf in the fall and make way for the young in the spring. The Beech leaf is much more stubborn about going, and needs the young growth to expand and force the old leaves from their tenacious foothold. The elderly Beech leaves serve a minor purpose I suppose, in that they increase the winter density of the hedges which moderates the wind, but the appearance is of elderly gentlemen whose role is come and gone, but won't go readily! Eventually the youth will push them out and fulfill their role of windbreak plus providing new life to the company! Because the old are reluctant to leave 'til the spring, the mess to clean up after their departure detracts from the work available for the new growth. If they only knew! They fortunately, usefully serve as late arrivals in the compost, but the earliest at that gathering get the most points and serve the greater good quickly. The Evergreens are another matter. Here on Lotus Island, the Western Red Cedar, (Thuja plicata), nominally an evergreen as most of the Conifers are, loses its leaves in a 3 year cycle, as all the rest of the Evergreens do in 2 to 5 year cycles. At least Thuja, in the fall, drops abundant spent leaves with the November storms over our plot, as it is doing at the moment, and the deposits on the turf are huge. A better corporate system leaves much of the tree with both space for new leaf recruits and 2 and 3 year veterans to work usefully though the winter and spring. They are always green in name but deciduous in fact, since shedding of the very old is part of Mother Nature's renewal. Unlike the Beech tree; more like the Evergreen; continuity for corporate health of the tree and of us is a consideration!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Low Key Mad Cap

In the 60's when I arrived to practice in Lotus City there were only 85 doctors and everyone knew everyone else with all the passions that arose in such a closed and hothouse society! Famous for their medical parties were two brothers who lived in Lotus City but were from my Alma Mater! In one soiree they required each couple to do twenty toe touchings and deep knee bends at the door before they entered the party! They recorded the comments with a mike at the door under the category of "What Dr W. said to his wife as they bedded," such as, " This is a damned stupid thing to do!" or " I'm too old for this sort of bloody thing", or "I'm short of breath already" and so on, and we listened to all the tapes at the party. When the second brother arrived in Lotus City, as yet unknown, a party was held in his honour to introduce him but he didn't appear! It was a fancy affair and a butler in tails served drinks and aperitifs to the crowd and was excessively friendly, putting his arms around the ladies, complementing them on their hair and gown and seemed exceedingly familiar. Whispering sweet nothings in their ear. Everyone said," The hosts were really putting on the dog with this butler in tails, but his familiarity seems excessive." It was revealed at the end of the party that he was the brother that was to be introduced. These same Alma Maters of mine would tease their colleagues by putting monkey faces on pictures of their friends who had dared to be photographed as a family musical group on the society pages of the local newspaper. There were a no holds barred for that time in the 60's. Medicine may be much more organized now, and business like, and progressive, but the characters, for better or for worse, have disappeared into the grey morass! Now members are of the corporate medical society! Now governed by regulations that includes behavior both incurred in the practice (Professional Misconduct), superseded by all of one's activity (Unprofessional Conduct)! The practice of medicine in the past never precluded the pursuit of fun at the edge! Mind, I'm not condoning badness, or "Conduct Unbecoming", just silliness!!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fat Elvis

A useful service a parent can offer a boy in his early teens, is to accept that the father is a foil for certain mirthful commentary by the son and his friends. I learned, through some sort of inadvertency in the grapevine, that I was referred to by the diminutive set as Fat Elvis! I think it had something to do with my 60's hair style, carried over a later time, rather than my singing voice or my pelvic inclinations. I wasn't particularly dismayed by this description as I recall, since I considered the source. It is important for a son to have the opportunity to rail away at his father with his friends and to share in the joy of their raillery with one another! Heaven knows there are far worse labels to apply to a parent than that of an aging Elvis. Elvis Presley and I were the same age. If they were more literate they could have called me something really demeaning like Sancho Panza. At any rate they would skulk around, claiming the smell was just Patch, shoelaces untied, and nothing done up, and claiming victory to themselves over the Foil. Little did they realize the honour felt, being compared to one of the finest voices and rhythm makers in the world, less the girth.I won't say I was glad to be called Fat Elvis as it smacked of schoolboy insolence, but as long as it was behind my back it remained unacknowledged. I have never yet asked him how that name came about. He may have even forgotten about this period. I just celebrated the fact that a little derision, particularly with your friends when bravado is practised, is part of the important and necessary distancing process! I could have got back at him by calling him "dear" in front of his friends, as I occasionally did when we were alone, but I assiduously avoided this in company. Like most conditions in life, if you wait it out in good humour, it gets better.

Monday, November 14, 2011

An act of Care

My father came into the bedroom of my brothers and me every night before he went to bed and pulled the covers up on us and tucked us in. We would have been mostly asleep but we always had the vague sense that a hand was present and a vigil performed. This act was probably never necessary, as our rooms were warm, though our covers were often kicked off because young boys are restless sleepers; at least we were; fidgeting night and day! Where did that routine of his come from? Probably an automatic act from the need to show us protection through the darkness of the night and its terrors! A form of gathering us in! I don't think, I confess, ever doing that with my children! It's only now that I think about that act as one of care, a visible sign of an invisible impulse of love. We do little things to signify love! Different things unique to us. Different ways of expression! My dad's was his unique act! They only signify what they mean to us and what they meant for them, at times as we reflect on them. Hey! That was an act that I never really recognized the significance of at that time. It was just accepted that that was what he did. The small and seemingly inconsequential visible signs of parental love so often are under the radar until your soft wear revisits a reawakened state! When Robert Munsch published his fabulous children's book "Love You Forever", it made me wish I had tucked in the covers more often for my mother and father before they died!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Masterly Inactivity

Hippocrates, in an aphorism once wrote, "The wise physician amuses his patient while nature affects the cure." We used to have a phrase for that willingness to stay the hand. Masterly Inactivity! A small, but distinct segment of patients fit the need for this category of care. This active pursuit of inactivity has nothing to do with interest or disinterest of the patient by the physician. It simply means that when there is nothing to do, do nothing stupid; or "Do nothing, stupid!" Patients are frequently unhappy with this approach, even those sufficiently sophisticated who have been counselled that diagnosis and continuing observation is all that is required for their condition! After some time taken at explanation, the response will be, "For heavens sake, you have to do something rather than nothing!" The simple fact is many conditions are self limiting and many other conditions inevitably worsen! Hippocrates aphorism applied for this is, "Cure occasionally, comfort always!" Reputations for success are achieved often by the institution of an active treatment for a self-limiting condition just before its denouement! Credit where none is due thereby, is still useful, at least for the aura of the practitioner! Useless treatments applied to conditions where deterioration is inevitable can always be excused with, "They tried everything and they worked so hard to help!" There is some comfort that there was never neglect for the trying! Setting science aside, the Art of Medicine does not include taking credit for Mother Nature, and burdensome treatments for untreatable conditions. The line between Hope, Comfort, and Reality needs a careful tread! Somehow the ideas of a Greek Corpus, 2500 years ago, are still relevant today.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Black Bamboo

In 1971 I planted several clumps of Black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) along a faked dry river bed of Saturnalite that gave a pleasing appearance, even if contrived. I wanted it to remain clumped and it did since it was surrounded by poor soil and the aggregate of Saturnalite. My understanding at the time was that it was a naturally clumping bamboo and would not spread. Since there had been an embargo on bamboo at around that time and particularly Black bamboo I was pleased to have it, and I might have imagined I was in China as I sat, musing on my dry river bed. We moved from Lotus City to Lotus Island, both in the Pacific Northwest, and I took some rooted portions of the clumps with me. They are still in my garden here today, protected from wind by windbreak plantings, and having weathered a particularly cold winter in 2010 with some top foliage loss. In the garden here they are in three big clumps, but this year they have started to move! They have, for the first time in 40 years, begun to develop spreading rhizomes in spades! The clumps are monstrous after this length of time and have probably responded to exhausted soil by seeking fertile land, sending probing rhizomes and new plants abroad. In addition, probably seeking for a location warmer than their present spot. Lotus Island is in zone 5, Black bamboo's top cold tolerance threshold. Like populations of anything, the plant does what it has to do to survive and thrive. It goes to show that the classification of clumping or spreading, in plant and animal, fails to account for the contingent capacity to change and move with whatever means is necessary to survive! Climate and food trump stick in the mud, in the plant and animal world!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Winter Ducks

The Lotus Island Harbour is teeming with American Widgeons and Bufflehead Ducks today! Vegetarians and carnivorians! Dabbling ducks and diving ducks. They will be here all winter in our little spot in the harbour to our great delight. The Eagles have not returned yet to begin their connubial activity so the ducks have a short reprieve. The Widgeons crowd serenely together and float along, seemingly unhurried, occasionally dabbling down when close to shore for plant food. They don't need to hurry because the plants wait for them! Their pace is unruffled! Why wouldn't it be? They are the gatherer society. The little Buffleheads skitter along, wings flapping repeatedly, posturing and diving and darting hither and yon! You can always identify them by the wake they leave; they move so fast with both feet and wings going a mile a minute; in or on the water chasing flesh! No wonder they are in a hurry. Their prey waits for no Bufflehead, and they are the hunter society! The seagulls pester them, hoping they will drop the prey but the Buffleheads have an answer to that hunter society. They swallow their prey under water where no seagull will go. They spend much of their time swimming around and through the Widgeon flock: they look like Hares among the Tortoises. Curiously the only ducks we usually see now are these two species. In days of yore there were many winter species that visited but the varieties seem to have dried up. I don't know why. The harbour provides an abundant source of both plant and animal foodstuffs and the species don't compete because of the nature of their diet. Aside from the Eagles their winter sojourn is untroubled! For the pianist and me, familiarity never breeds contempt!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Eg Latin

For years our family has spoken Eg Latin, a superior subset of Pig Latin that has much greater cypher advantage and is not generally known! It was used only in fun but was completely confounding to the uninitiated. In the standard Pig Latin the post fix, AY, is placed at the end of the word behind the transposed first consonant or consonant cluster. Hence Rhinocerous would be hinocerousRay or perhaps inocerousRhay! Not too difficult to intercept. In Eg Latin, each syllable is treated by EG following the consonant or its cluster, so Rhinocerous is transposed as Rheginegocegeregous! If there is no consonant, but a vowel leading the syllable, the Eg precedes, such as in "over", egoveger! You may think this is hard to become fluent in, but it is not! Small children will take to it like a duck to water! Start with simple stuff like Legategin! Like Pegig! It is much harder to write it than to verbalize! I was taught this foolishness by my father and have transferred it to the succeeding generations successfully. I remember flying with our family somewhere years ago and talking EG Latin quietly to a kid that was misbehaving, when the family behind us joined the conversation much to our delight. I am completely illiterate in any language except English, (I hope), so I scrape the bottom of the barrel as my only claim to linguistic pluralism, derived from the country of EG.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Advertiser

In the 1960's, advertising for patients in a medical practice was forbidden by the College of Physicians and Surgeons! They were tough regulators! Making claims of any sort were also subject to sanctions by the College! A new specialist in town was to simply hang a modest shingle and a tiny and dignified announcement of arrival in the paper (three times I think), and then wait until their colleagues saw fit to refer a surgical case. The growth of the surgical practice occurred ostensibly through practicing the three A's, Available,Affable and Able. That does not include Advertising! Remember of course that this was before Medicare and paying patients were jealously guarded by their General Practitioners. When the pianist and I moved to Lotus City with our little family in 1965 to start a surgical practice, I took a job at the Veterans Hospital to keep the wolf from the door while the slow process of developing a consulting practice began. A tough old veteran had been having serious trouble with an old gunshot wound to the lower leg, incurred during the Second World War. He needed a below knee amputation and the Veteran's Hospital Prosthetics Department was keen to try a new prosthetic technique with the immediate application of the artificial limb in the operating room. After the team surgery, I was astounded to read a front page article in the Lotus City Paper the following day relating an interview with my tough old patient who was walking around in the veteran's canteen, fully weight bearing on the limb, extolling my surgical virtues! He was so elated he had phoned the paper! It wasn't very long before I was called to the mat by the College of Physicians and Surgeons for unfairly advertising! Several of my surgical confreres had complained and the Registrar warned me that I was on thin ice. I pled innocence! However---it was a good start!