I'm a former journalist turned director at a large non-profit. I've lived my entire working life with a serious chronic illness and have learned, the hard way, how to work well. My blog shares my experiences and insights with those stumbling along a similar boulder-strewn path or who have friends or loved ones struggling with chronic illness.
He’d cared for me before diagnosis, pulling me out of snow banks when I fell. Later, he rode the prednisone rollercoaster with me, as my spirits sunk then soared and I dealt with a swollen face and ripped skin, immunosuppression and insomnia.
During the three years we’d worked in different cities, we saw each other every few months and vacationed together. He’d take my woeful phone calls, reminding me, “You can do it.”
When he was posted to Toronto, we decided to move in together, without much thought.
In marriages involving chronic illness, divorce rates are said to be more than 75 per cent. A study I found in the Journal of Oncology reported that spouses are actually lonelier than their ill partners and have lower levels of well-being and marital satisfaction. When illness takes over, partners become patient and caregiver. Continue reading →
As I’d find out, not the best advice for a reporter sent to sneak into a third-world prison.
I was heading to Trinidad to interview two imprisoned teenage drug mules who had attempted to smuggle three suitcases of marijuana back to Canada. Both 17, they’d been sentenced to eight years in an adult prison, filled with murderers on death row.
The Star wanted the boys’ story.
It hadn’t started out as my story. A new hire, a summer student heading to Columbia University’s journalism school in the fall, had been following the case and already called the prison warden asking to interview the boys. Although she had a hunger for foreign assignments and a passport filled with stamps, she was too green to go.
Instead, I was assigned to show up at the prison, say I was a cousin, get their story and a photo: proof of life for the front page. Continue reading →
While dying of prostate cancer, New York Times book critic Anatole Broyard wrote about “the therapeutic value of style.”
In Intoxicated By My Illness, he observed: “It seems to me that every seriously ill person needs to develop a style for his illness. I think that only by insisting on your style can you keep from falling out of love with yourself as the illness attempts to diminish or disfigure you.”
I’ve long envied literary men who write boldly about their various afflictions, fatal and otherwise, knowing that their ability to do their job is never in doubt and they relish the protection that their reputations afford them.
This is not the case for shift workers, dishwashers, desk jockeys that fill boxes with numbers for a modest salary, or almost anyone else. And not for girl reporters trying to figure out how to work sick.
I am currently reading Working Bodies: Chronic Illness in the Canadian Workplace (McGill-Queens University Press, 2014). It is dedicated to “all Canadians living with chronic illness who want to have meaningful employment and engagement in the workplace.”
When the pain came, I carried it on my shoulders as I waded through the polluted, dirty water of Lake Ontario. When I made it to my desk in the Toronto Star newsroom, I wrote the final words on Vicki Keith conquest.
“Five down. None to go.”
I followed her in a boat across Erie, Huron and Superior, Ontario (twice), and almost Michigan, and that’s the best lede I could come up with. But at least it was brief.
My knuckles were swollen, my fingers bunched into fists. They looked like boxer’s hands. I punched gingerly at the keys, wincing. It was like repeatedly hitting a block of cement.
I did not go to emergency, as I had when I was in third-year university. I calmly called my rheumatologist at Mount Sinai and asked for an appointment. His office manager did not see the same urgency that I did, and so she booked me the next available appointment, several months from then. Continue reading →
When I joined the Star’s downtown general assignment pool, all the reporters’ desks had been shoved into rows as they renovated the newsroom.
It reminded me of a Grade 8 class at an all-boys school.
Loud-talking guys in wrinkled dress shirts, loosened ties, sitting jowl-to-cheek, ego-to-ego, as they pounded out their stories on 1970s computers, in late stages of decay.
I was seated, temporarily, beside a bulldog of two-way man (meaning he both wrote and took photographs), who immediately showed me the collection of girlie photos he’d amassed on the job. He’d somehow convinced numerous women to pose for photos with their shirts off, and kept a file in his desk, mixed in with pictures of his children (clothed).