A review of Ottawa’s H1N1 vaccination clinics

by , on
October 27, 2009

Yesterday I decided to line up to get vaccinated against H1N1. The vaccine was just being rolled out in this city and I happen to be in one of the high-risk groups (pregnant and more than 20 weeks along, as well as being a woman in my 20s) so I decided that yes, I would get the shot, and I would try to get it on the first day of clinics.

The City of Ottawa seemed well prepared for the clinics – they even set up a Twitter account to help people keep track of line-ups and wait times at the various locations around the city.

But information was sadly lacking throughout my entire experience waiting for my shot yesterday.

The ottawahealth Twitter account didn’t update during the day, until about 3 pm, and then it was only to tell people that the clinics open at that time couldn’t accept any more patients. I call not telling people what’s going on until there are massive problems a fail.

We showed up at one of the clinics scheduled from 5 to 9 right at 5 o’clock to a line already winding away from the building. It was cold yesterday and the line barely moved for an hour. They handed out numbers to everyone in line, but they did so wordlessly, so I wasn’t sure if they were calling out numbers inside, or if they were just trying to maintain some order – or appear to be maintaining order. Of course, we learned later that they were never checking the order of the numbers, and when one of the officials was asked about it, it didn’t seem to have occured to them.

Around 6 pm, just when I couldn’t feel my hands and I was wondering if we needed to leave – and, as I already noted to my husband – right before the cameras went live for th 6 o’clock news – they gathered us all inside and out of the cold. But still, forcing the most vulnerable people – pregnant women, small children, the elderly and people with chronic conditions – to stand outside for an hour in the cold, is something I consider fail number two.

Fail number three would be forcing those same people to wait for hours on end without access to chairs. There were a few scattered around the line, and the people around me took turns sitting when our part of the line reached them, but on one occasion I had to sit on the floor to avoid just falling over, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get back up.

Fail number four is the real story of what needs to improve today and throughout the rest of this vaccine roll-out: They failed to share information with us, and when information was shared, it was contradicted and just plain wrong.

When we arrived, there was information going down the line that they expected to vaccinate 200 people per hour – I, stupidly, assumed that they were basing this on how the other clinics had been operating not on absolutely no information at all. Once they got us all inside, they told us that they had handed out 450 numbers. We thought we were doing okay.

The second time someone came to talk to us they told us we had another two-hour wait ahead of us, and if we wanted to leave they would honour our numbers the next day – with the caveat that if everyone in line ahead of you decided to leave, you would still be behind them when you came back the next day.

Then came the point when we found out that they hadn’t handed 450 numbers, they had handed out numbers starting in the 800s, meaning that 000 was actually somewhere in the 200s, and my 337 put me somewhere in the 500s. But at that point, we had already been there for two hours, and it had been some time since we had been told that it would be two more, so I didn’t want to leave without getting my shot.

And then we got to the point in the line where the people who had gone all the way through – to registration, vaccination and the 15 minute wait after getting the shot – starting passing by us. One women told us that she had waited three-and-a-half hours from the point in front of the elevators where we were standing (apparently people had started lining up before 4 pm for this clinic that opened at 5).

It was almost 8 pm and the officials running the clinic told us that if we had a number, they would get to us by 10 pm (though when asked for a guarantee, they would waffle), the security guard was telling us he was supposed to get everyone out of the building by 9 pm, and the people leaving the line were telling us we had at least a three-hour wait ahead of us. It didn’t add up, and when pressed to answer questions, one woman would say she just had to go and talk to someone to clarify and then disappear without giving us answers.

It seemed as though the only people who wanted to give us any answers were unable to get any themselves.

When we got closer to the front of the line – which ended in the registration section, before you sat down to wait for your name to be called, before you sat down in the vaccination section and waited for someone to be free to give you the shot – I had expected to see someone keeping track of people, someone with a stopwatch or a counter – assuming that they were trying to learn some lessons from this first night, but there was no one. This means that they have no one of giving people who show up tonight a better idea of how long the wait will be from various points in the line, they don’t know how many people showed up or how many they actually processed. They will be no better off based on our experiences and frustrations, and that is the biggest fail of all.

Tweet rant

by , on
October 20, 2009

I love Twitter. I love that I can connect with people there. I love that Twitter makes my job easier. I love that I can ask Twitter a question and get a multitude of answers back. I love that I have met some of the people I follow on Twitter and they are all as interesting, if not more interesting, offline. I love that I’ve had great conversations with people I never would have otherwise met because someone their interests and mine converged on Twitter.

I love Twitter.

But today Twitter is driving my batty.

There are limits to all mediums, certainly, and Twitter is no exception, and today the limits are making my life a bit difficult.

Usually when people who aren’t on Twitter discuss it they complain about the 140 character limit. Personally, I find the 140 character limit somewhat useful. You have to be clear, concise and sometimes you have to edit yourself to fit into the limit. There are those who don’t edit themselves – they link tweet after tweet to say everything they want to say or mess with good grammar and spelling, use IM-speak or otherwise make themselves a bit less comprehensible.

(I know that I am among the minority as a person who still takes the time to spell out all her words and properly punctuate, no matter the format, but I don’t think I’m going to change and I’m not going to stop being somewhat annoyed at people who don’t take the time depending on the format).

The problem with Twitter is the problem with all written communication – there is an overwhelming likelihood that people will miss your tone or your point because they are reading something differently than you meant it to be read. There have been times when explaining what my point of view is when someone has misunderstood just seemed like too much effort to undertake on Twitter. You don’t want to sound defensive, but it’s annoying when someone just isn’t getting it and you can’t understand why they’re not getting it because you’re only getting 140 characters from them.

And when you’re seven and a half months pregnant, you tend to get more frustrated more quickly than the average person – and I don’t think I ever had the fuse length of an average person. My husband, who has much more patience with these things than I do (which also frustrates me) says I should just take a breather and step back from Twitter for a while, because none of this is going to matter an hour from now, but for me it’s just not that simple. Twitter is a source for me, and my job depends on sources, so I’m just going to have to suck it up and move on.


by , on
October 17, 2009

When I was 16 I planned on killing myself. I knew that I was never going to go anywhere, I was never going to be anything, I was never going to contribute to the world and I was only making things harder for everyone I loved by being here, wasting space, costing money.

I decided that I would wait until my hockey team won the Memorial Cup. Three years later they did, but by that time I had talked about it, been treated for clinical depression and realized that things were not, in fact, as hopeless as they seemed.

This is something I have spoken about with only select people in my life until now. It seems silly to describe it as embarrassing, but that’s how I feel.

Since I was 16 I have gone through waves of depression – one particularly bad one when I was 22 – but I’ve always talked to my doctor, gotten bad on the meds, and pushed through because someone always managed to convince me that it would be worth it. Or maybe just because I was always curious to see what I would have missed.

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to the radio on my way to work and they were interviewing a guy who has created a website for teenagers to go to when they feel as hopeless as I did, someplace that he hopes they will find the time and support they need to back away from the ledge. The website is called YourLifeCounts.org and it is a nice idea with a few problems that I can see, as someone who has been there.

One problem is that part of the idea is that kids can send in an email and someone will respond to them within 24 hours. I’m fairly certain that a lot of the time they will find that 24 hours was just too long. When you’re in that state of mind, you not going to stand by and wait for someone to get back to you and let you know why your life counts for something, because you don’t believe there is a reason. You don’t believe that they are going to get back to you because you’re not important enough – you don’t matter. Which brings me to my main problem with the website – the name.

When I was in the depths of my depression, when I was ready to give up any future I had just to make the hurt go away, it would have been completely beyond me to go to a website called ‘your life counts.’ Because, with that url, they certainly didn’t mean me.

I’m not trying to destroy this website or make light of what they’re trying to do – which is a great thing because depression is a cruel thing to deal with and I can’t imagine losing a family member to suicide – but I think they need to learn their audience, and I know that audience. I was there. They need to re-jig the message because right now I think they’re missing out on their core audience. The kids they really want to help are the kids who don’t want to talk to anyone about their feelings because they don’t want someone to try and change their minds. They don’t want someone to sit them down and explain all the generic reasons their life counts, they want someone to tell them why it’s worth living when they feel as though their life doesn’t count and that just by being there they are making things harder for everyone around them.

They need their fathers to call them out on it and their mothers to explain how awful it would have been. They need some stupid goal to live for, some light in the future that gives them the opportunity to get out of the depths before it’s too late.

On Feminism

by , on
October 17, 2009

I just pulled this off my old Livejournal after a discussion on Twitter about changing your name after marriage. ‘Twas a good rant.

Over the past few years I have grown, matured and come to realize that I am a feminist, though I used to be one of those women that considered it a scary word that meant I would have to stopped wearing skirts, shaving my legs or doing anything else for ‘the man.’

In less than two weeks I am getting married and I have decided to change my name. Enter the ridiculousness.
Articles like that make me want to change my name out of spite for women like that. The ‘it didn’t work for me so it’s a horrible idea’ personality type.

The basic argument here is that I shouldn’t change my name, because that is my identity. Well, I’ll tell you what, I think that’s a load of crap.

My last name has never been my identity because it has always been too closely associated with my father. It belongs to him and his achievements – it has never been mine but something that attaches me to him. For a girl who has spent a good deal of her life trying not to be like her father, there is no sort of identity attachment to my name. In fact, I’ve considered changing it in the past (like, when I was starting to have a byline), to my mother’s maiden name, so that people wouldn’t assume that I was using my father’s reputation to get ahead (which one of my classmates, who I thought was a friend, did – She once announced to the class that I didn’t deserve a great opportunity (that I would have kicked ass doing) because I “already had a foot in the door.”)

We didn’t speak much after that.

The other side of the argument is that Joe and Joe’s family were very touched and excited by my decision to change my name. In fact, it meant more to Joe that I change it than it meant to me to keep my old name. That was one of the main factors.

The idea is that I am changing my name to reflect the family that has welcomed me in and is happy for me to be there. It has nothing to do with making life easier for our kids – if anything they’ll be the odd ones out, it has nothing to do with a change in my ownership, it just fits.

Having said that, I am going with Ms. instead of Mrs. The latter just sounds a little strange and old fashioned to my ears. I also might go the initials route, sticking that old last name ‘S; in the middle with the ‘E’ I usually use. Classy.


by , on
October 9, 2009

After hearing about it on Twitter a few times and mentioning that I was thinking about doing it, I officially signed up for National Novel Writing Month last night.

Basically, it’s a challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November, with quantity being more important than quality. That amounts to about 1,700 words a day for 30 days. I imagine I will have days when I don’t reach that count at all, and days when I far exceed it.

I don’t think writing 50,000 words is going to be a challenge for me, the challenge for me will be trying to write fiction again and trying to write a long story instead of several short ones.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written fiction that was complete. In high school I wrote several short stories and I still think about them, one in particular that I wrote in Grade 11. Before I took journalism and before I trained my brain to write in these entirely different ways, and before I joined the work-a-day world, I could easily write fiction. It was my preferred form.My favourite assignments were the ones that called for us to mimic an author’s style. Despite hating The Old Man and the Sea with every fibre of my being, I was very good at mimicking Hemingway’s style – short, choppy sentences. Maybe that’s why I did so well in journalism school.

Since I started journalism school all of my writing has been non-fiction, either for work or in my journals. When I sit down with my notebook and pen (which is still my preferred method of writing as I love the feeling of a pen gliding across paper) what flows is generally about my life and my feelings and is just downright honest. For a while I felt as though I had lost all my ideas. Now I have ideas, and I jot them down, and I try to build stories around these characters, and I get no further than  a few pages or even just a couple of sentences.

Writing never used to be this hard.

It’s as though there’s too much other stuff in my brain for all the creative stuff to get to the top of my thoughts.

I hope that the result of NaNoWriMo is that my brain kick-starts. That I am reminded how much I love writing, how much I love creating, and how good I am at it. While my confidence is generally low, I do believe I am a good writer, and I’ve had enough people agree with that assessment that I am comfortable saying it out loud. I hope that I get over this hump.

I don’t really care whether what I get out of NaNoWriMo is any good – I just want it to be an exercise in the craft, in reminding my brain everyday that it needs to be thinking in the fictional, that I want to learn these characters that I’ve started building up over and over again, and that eventually – maybe during next year’s NaNoWriMo, or another one further down the road – I will write a novel and it will be good.

It hasn’t really been 2 years…

by , on
October 6, 2009

This morning in the car I nearly turned to Joe and said that it’s not possible that we’ve been married for two years, it just doesn’t seem true. It doesn’t seem like we’ve been together for over four years either. It seems like we’ve been together forever and not very long at all.

We started dating at the end of March 2005 (something our friends still don’t believe, they think we were keeping our relationship secret until he stopped being my boss, but they should know that we weren’t very good at hiding it at all). We first kissed on March 27, 2005. By August 2005 we were moving in together, in December 2005 we got a dog and in July 2006 we got engaged – and then it took us a whole other year to actually get married.

At least twice during that year I tried to convince him not to marry me. I told him he deserved better and I didn’t deserve it so good. He didn’t believe me. I told him I was only going to end up causing him pain and he didn’t believe me. In truth I don’t think I would have survived the last four years without him, and I don’t know what I’ll do if I ever lose him. He is my strength, he keeps me safe when I feel like I’m drowning and he is my best friend.

Now we’ve been married for two years and we’re expecting our first child (who, based on this pregnancy, may very well be our only child). But these two years have not been smooth sailing.

Almost immediately after the wedding I lost my job and since we had been talking about moving closer to our families out west, we made the decision that I would go to stay with my mother in Saskatchewan and try to find a job while he finished a contract here. I left at the beginnning of January and he was to joing me in March. It was hell. There was not a day that I didn’t cry, didn’t worry about how all this was going to work out, didn’t think he’d find a way to build his life here in a better way, didn’t think we might never see each other again.

And then things turned around a bit – after three weeks I found a term job back home that would end about the same time his term job would, which meant we would be in the same city and have two incomes again. And then I got extended, and extended, and extended – I’m approaching my two year anniversary here too. And he found another job, long-term permanent, and suddenly our plans had changed completely again.

Part of this job that I fell into, though, involves going away for work. Last summer I spent all of July and August in Montreal, and then when I came back I was working 14 to 16 hour days for another month and a half. I think it was worse being at home knowing he was around and I couldn’t see him than being away and only being able to talk on the phone.

So basically, I consider us married for two years, minus the nearly three months I was away, minus a month and a half when I was doing nothing but working and sleeping.

It still seems like forever and not very long at all.

Shortness of breath

by , on
October 5, 2009

I am determined to be a fit mum.

I’m about 7 months into this pregnancy and I feel totally out of shape. Before I got pregnant I was going to the gym sporadically, I was trying to take the stairs at work (I could get up six of the ten flights), I was thinking about what else I could do to feel better. After a rough summer and fall of 2008 my PCOS was rearing its ugly head and I was determined not to let it beat me again. In fact, my PCOS was probably as bad as it ever had been, which is why I was so shocked when the pregnancy test came out positive.

I still can’t really explain why I took the test that day – I was taking it to prove to myself, again, that I wasn’t pregnant, that I was diseased and I had hurt myself in such a way that it was impossible for me to get pregnant. And then I got out of the shower and saw two pink lines instead of one. I didn’t believe it until after I had taken 3 more home tests, plus the blood test at the doctor’s office. After those all came to the same conclusion, I assumed it was an ectopic pregnancy – something fairly common with PCOS – until we got our first ultrasound. And then I waited to miscarry. And then the first trimester ended, and every appointment we’ve gone to they tell us that everything is as normal as it can be. And I’m still shocked.

At the beginning of this pregnancy I felt sick and tired all the time. I stopped going to the gym, I couldn’t handle much of anything. I had a really hard time eating – I lost my desire for food because nothing tasted very good to me. I wasn’t craving anything, in fact it was almost the opposite.

Now I’m seven months along, give or take, and there is not a moment of any day when I would say that I feel good or normal. I feel weak and out of shape and generally uncomfortable. Later in the day I feel out of breath and the heartburn is enough to drive me crazy. I’ve been having problems with sciatica since very early on and my bad knees have a new companion in my hips. I can’t go anywhere quickly and I have to take a lot of breaks.

And I have about three months left and I’m only going to get bigger.

My biggest worry is not making it through the next three months – I have reorganized my maternity leave so I have some vacation before I officially go off, which should help (I am so tired by the end of the week that the weekend isn’t long enough to recover) – my biggest worry is how out of shape I’m going to be when the baby gets here.

Feeling the way I feel now, I can’t imagine carrying around a baby, I can’t imagine running on less sleep, I can’t imagine feeling this bad and having to focus on someone else all the time. Especially once the family goes away again and Joe has to go back to work.

I’m worried that I’ve started on a downward spiral that I won’t be able to get out of after our daughter arrives.

Joe and I are determined that our daughter will not go through the same struggles that we have. She will not know what Mcdonald’s tastes like, she will not complain about the taste of whole wheat bread or pasta because it will be all she knows. I am determined to introduce as many different fruits and vegetables into her diet as I can when she’s young because I don’t want her to be like me – yes, I am a picky eater.

Even before I got pregnant we talked about our kids and the choices we would make for them that we failed to make for ourselves: No pop in the house, desserts on special occasions and as a treat only, meals with the right portions of breads and meats and vegetables. And she’s going to find a sport – soccer, swimming, karate, hockey, figure skating, baseball, dancing, cricket, I don’t care – she’s going to try sports and she’s going to find something she loves and we’re going to support her in it.

She’s not going to be 28 years old and watch all these sports and dance shows and wish that at some point in her life she had tried.

Maybe I’ll even do it with her.

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