re-energized: Fall, California, #MedX, and the possibility of “how might we”

It is the first day of Fall, the people of the internet (aka my friends on Facebook) are telling me. It’s kind of hard to believe given I got back from beautiful California less than a week ago where it feels like summer and is generally pretty. Alas, my favourite season—Fall—is upon us, and I engaged in an (iced) pumpkin spice chai at Vancouver airport at probably ten-something PM on Monday night.  (Pumpkin spice chai is amazing. I was getting ehhh about normal pumpkin spice lattes, honestly, and I am thrilled by pumpkin spice chai lattes.)

And is obligatory on the first day of Fall, listening to Come Winter by Daphne Loves Derby (on repeat), as has been my general habit since about 2014, if not earlier.

If you’ve got Apple Music, here’s a link to a slightly different EP version that I’m enjoying.

Fall is my favourite season not just because of pumpkin spice. I enjoy the cooler weather, the jeans-and-hoodies combo, the foray into toque-season (without the brutal cold associated with toque season), the fact that Goalball starts soon (and archery!), the fact that my lungs generally like Fall, and the fact that I get back to a bit more solid of a routine—for the lack of routine I generally have, even in the non-Summer months. Despite some of the worst moments of my life happening in the beginning portion of Fall (looking at you, 2013 and 2014, and even 2016), these have all come with resolution attached—“part of a change for better” (I Swear This Place is Haunted, A Skylit Drive)—or at least a piece of resolution that produced a change I can, at least now, feel positively about.

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This year, again, fresh off a return from Stanford Medicine X, and subsequent #MedXHangover and ongoing recovery, I feel that sense of renewal, that sense of recharged passion and purpose for creating change, both in myself and in the world. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve got some other advocacy-related travel opportunities in the works (travel may exhaust people but it energizes me), or that I met so many amazing people last weekend at MedX. It doesn’t hurt that the people I met and the experience I had at IDEO for the Medicine X – IDEO Design Challenge re-inspired me to think differently, creatively, in terms of “How Might We”s and innovation and possibility and better. No, spending a glorious two days with one of my favourite people on earth, Stephen, in Santa Cruz to relax and recharge even prior to embarking on the Medicine X whirlwind of inspiration, that didn’t hurt either. Meeting a dozen Canadians at MedX reminded me that things are possible, change is possible, even in our slow-moving, lack-of-progress medical system (although I maintain Toronto is more receptive to change than Winnipeg/Manitoba/our ridiculous healthcare-killing Conservative Government is). I am ready to do more. Batteries recharged.

I am re-energized. Re-inspired. Thanks both to California, to the MedX Family, to friends, and to the crispness of Fall.

Well, I’m sure another pumpkin spice chai latte wouldn’t hurt, either.

[belated] canada day.

Pretty sure there are few better ways to spend Canada Day… Than this.
On the water, on the shore, in a kayak. 

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maybe i could break clean, yeah, maybe i could break clean

when i’m on your shore again, i can fear the ocean
i can feel your open arms, like pure emotion
i’m finally free again, like my own explosion
when i’m on your shore again […]
well, it’s an abstract thought, 
but i’ve been thinking nonstop
bout the fact that my body’s made most out of raindrops…
with a saltwater heart,

oh maybe i could wash clean… all my landlocked dreams
yeah, maybe i could believe. 

saltwater heart, switchfoot

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Moments of peace, calm, before what is proving to launch into a hectic week. Even if on the freshwater, not the saltwater. 
Embrace it.
Embrace this.

This beautiful country.
And the freedom that I have to allow me this chaotic, beautiful life.

A call to be still. 

12 of 12 – october 2015

I have one post sitting here that I failed to hit publish on, and another that is in progress. So instead, we get a 12 of 12. [This is blogging, ADHD style!]

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8:58 am. Crashed at my aunt’s this Thanksgiving (like usual). My cousin Dean is away at school, so I take his room. It is very dark. I like.

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12:16 pm. Lunch. I don’t really get where they see there is “more icing” in the more icing packets for toaster strudels.

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3:28 pm. Everybody goes for a car ride with a remote, right? This is what I was in charge of when my aunt was transporting a TV to my grandma’s. (Clearly nobody trusts me to not drop an oldschool TV?)

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6:24 pm. My dad used the end of the whipped cream. I scraped the liquidy stuff off my pie and I was sad for a bit.

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6:35 pm. So I did the dishes because I was no longer in any hurry to eat pumpkin pie. And then looked in the freezer for more whipped cream. And I found ice cream! Problem solved.

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6:47 pm. Realized advance polls were open on Thanksgiving Day. What kind of shenanigans are those?!

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7:02 pm. So then, I mean, I went to vote. I also convinced my mom to go vote. See also: curious placement of the voting sign above the AED and below the AED sign?

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7:06 pm. Obligatory voting selfie, excited edition. You know how much time it takes to vote on Thanksgiving Day? About three minutes. There was one person ahead of me. Thankful for democracy.

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7:07 pm. Classy voting dumpster? By the way, we left home, voted, and returned home in thirteen minutes.

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7:37 pm. Of course upon returning home, I was almost immediately greeted by a political Facebook ad. Let’s just say I didn’t vote for either of these guys, and I didn’t know I even had a Green candidate in the area.

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9:14 pm. Why does TripIt even try to tell me the weather for six months from now?

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10:12 pm. Then I got an e-mail from the library that I could check out Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison electronically. So obviously after that happened I did nothing but read until 2 am.

World Asthma Day 2015: National Asthma Patient Alliance meetings and #ClearAir15 Summit

Airports and airplanes are among my favourite things. Once those six-flights-in-six-weeks culminate, if someone wants to fly me away again, I’m down.

YWG -> YYZ -> YWG -> YYZ -> YWG -> DEN.

[…Denver yet to happen. Next Monday.]

First was Senior Goalball Nationals April 17-19th. We didn’t win any games, but, I heard from another coach that he hadn’t seen Manitoba score seven goals in a game for about seven years, so, I feel okay about that! Plus Steve, Gerry and I got free stuff at the new Yorkdale Shopping Centre Starbucks (they’re left of me in the picture, #1 and #9, respectively), met Dia for coffee, went to the CN Tower, Purdy’s chocolate, and the Lego Store!

(Thanks to Jamie for snapping this picture when she and Larry came out to check out the games!)

Then less than two weeks after I’d returned, I was back on a 5:15 flight out to Toronto last Sunday morning. The official purpose of the trip was to attend an all-day meeting of the National Asthma Patient Alliance Executive Committee on Monday, the Clearing the Air Conference Gala Monday evening, and the Asthma Society of Canada’s 2nd annual World Asthma Day conference on Tuesday—World Asthma Day.

Sunday.

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Goodbye, Winnipeg…

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Hello, Toronto! (Again!)

My flight arrived 25 minutes early—it was really only the beginning of Transit Nirvana: I checked my phone upon arriving at the Terminal 3 bus stop, and the bus would be there in 3 minutes. I got off the bus at Kipling Station and after a moment of confusion with an out-of-order track, I was on my way to Jane. From there, I’d planned to walk to Humbercrest United Church, but, because of Transit Nirvana, the appropriate bus was sitting outside, so, a transfer it was. Beautiful.

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This picture was my “I’m almost there!!!” text to Jess (below!), who I connected with on Twitter a few years ago. Getting in to Toronto at 8:30 AM on a Sunday meant it only made sense to go to church (…for the first time in two years :]).

(Getting into Toronto at 8:30 also meant that I was awake at 3:06 AM, thus the evident tiredness here!
Selfie credit to Jessica!)

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Listening to the choir warm up before the service! I may have also had Live’s “The Distance” going through my head here:

i’ve been to pretty buildings / all in search of You / i have lit all the candles, sat in all the pews
[…] oh, the distance makes me uncomfortable / guess it’s natural to feel this way / let’s hold out for something sweeter: spread these wings and fly.

I’d discovered while exploring where the church was that my grandma’s friend Alice lived nearby. After the service (interestingly, Jess spoke on John 15, which we’d explored one weekend at a youth leader’s retreat a few years ago—read: five years ago. How did THAT happen?), I met up with Alice at a coffee shop nearby for a couple of hours.

alice and kerri

 

(Got this picture in the mail from Alice 05/15!)

I reconvened with Jess after her meetings finished to go for lunch and do a drive through High Park to see if the cherry blossoms were out yet. The park was busy, but I felt super lucky to see the cherry blossoms—a few days on either side and I may not have been able to!)

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 Jess dropped me off at a subway station, and while I almost got on the train going in the wrong direction (despite her telling me to go the opposite way!), I made another Transit Nirvana-esque transfer at Bloor-Yonge Station to college… and then proceeded to walk past the hotel and almost back to the station I’d transferred at. Hey, I figure I’d done pretty good up till that point—thanks Google Maps!

Shortly after arriving at the Courtyard Marriott downtown, I texted Stacey, a NAPA executive member from BC who had also arrived on Sunday. We connected in the lobby, went to the Second Cup in the hotel, and then went on a walk around downtown, including finding a Loblaw grocery store, and then returning to the Second Cup to buy dinner.

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(We got lost a bit, but that just means more Fitbit steps!)

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The sole purpose of my ice bucket was to house my berries—my chocolate milk couldn’t even stay in there so I just hoped it had enough preservatives in it ;). I was mostly unimpressed that Gerry wasn’t there to get ice for me ;).

Monday.

I woke up at 7:29 Eastern (6:29 Central—clearly I was tired as I went to bed at what my body would have interpreted as 10:06 PM, and I crashed into sleep rapidly according to SleepCycle), and got ready for the day. Did I mention the weird layout of my room? Yeah.)

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I went on a journey for a plain collared shirt in white or black several days before going to Toronto. I found one such shirt and the small was too big, so I had to resort to getting a Winnipeg Jets golf shirt. Represent! I got business casual down ;).

I got a text from Sue saying she had arrived at the hotel after an early flight from New Brunswick, and headed down to the Second Cup to meet her before my meeting with Erika and Vibhas. I am also that person who gave everyone the keys to my hotel room—Dia actually went up there to work, even! At one point, Erika and Dia had both of my keys and I had none, which was kind of amusing. Erika, Vibhas and I discussed the Asthma in Schools subcommittee meeting later that afternoon, and I thought it was awesome that we had some input from Sue as well, as she was taking part in the Strategic Planning discussion, so my hope was that she could use some of our previous struggles to help influence that discussion!

We started our National Asthma Patient Alliance Executive meeting at 11:30. Dia, as Chair, was keeping things rolling as you can see below.

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From this point, I think the best way I can summarize the bulk of the asthma/National Asthma Patient Alliance/advocacy/World Asthma Day related content is through tweets—real talk in “real time”. I’ve embedded a selection [a hefty selection!] below, and then will return with added commentary (I’ve embedded some commentary through Storify, also!)



(Be sure to click through on “Read next page” to see the last few gala posts, and tweets from the Clearing the Air summit!)

I set up #ClearAir15 on Symplur to give us a sense of how things were going Twitter-wise (no, Noah, I did not just set that up to bug you about my insane amount of tweeting, although that was a nice side-bonus—ADHD lends itself well to live-tweeting mostly), and because I like graphs and things (so does Rob, I learned). I am not really sure whether I expected more or fewer people tweeting (I am, after all, MedX biased, which is the craziest tweeting conference evah).

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Seems about right.

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Sorry, Noah (tweeting as @AsthmaSociety). Final stats say Erika and I out-tweeted you :]. Putting the e in ePatients.
(Of course, the ASC account came out ahead in Top 10 by Impressions. Also, I am glad to see more people tweeting at both Glen Murray and the Asthma Society than me, because that only makes sense.)

My favourite session of the day was Dr. Sarah Henderson’s breakout session on extreme summers and respiratory health. What I found most interesting about this, outside of the graph included above that compared Ventolin dispensed to levels of specific particulate matter in the air (mind-blowing to see that they were able to very much trend peaks in Ventolin dispenses at British Columbia pharmacies [and thus, likely, use of rescue medicine] at the same time as particulate matter from forest fire smoke), and how extreme heat + allergens + forest fires [particulate matter] = higher incidence of respiratory issues—I will say the most interesting part to me was not all of the above, but that Dr. Henderson actually dragged illicit drug use into the frame, noting that not only is use of street drugs a potential cause of death, but the way cocaine use alters the body’s response to heat means that cocaine users are even more likely to die during extreme heat than they might be in the same circumstances but in cooler weather. (Oh, I also got to introduce Sarah AND MENTION PENGUINS. Dr. Henderson is a cool lady.)

My Twitter slowdown came when money and politics were being discussed. I was not only lost, but disappointed when instead of using the policy discussion for good, it came to a political showdown that did not just highlight the good, it began slamming the Tories—yes, I’m really left-wing myself, but a health conference is certainly not the place to alienate those who may not be.

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And that is when Jess and I chose to take selfies instead of repeatedly slamming our heads into the table whilst trying not to breathe in too deeply around the woman who decided it was a good idea to drown herself in perfume before attending an asthma event? (Okay, maybe I was irritated by more than one force…). Anyways, moving back to the positives.

The final session of the day was a patient panel, including two NAPA executive members, Erika and Chantale. This discussion generated a lot of good questions, and I really just wished that the patient perspective was not included last. I think it was a good way to finish the conference, however, I think the patient perspective needed to be woven in throughout the day, not just at the end (by which point many attendees had left, as well). Once again, maybe a “MedicineX sets a precedent for me” thing, but, if we ever hope to see a world where patients are truly engaged in a conversation, and not just—whether legitimately or unintentionally seen as—an afterthought, this needs to happen: we may all be an n=1, but we are why change needs to happen.

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Jess and I following the conference—photo credit to Rob.

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Rob and I (Rob actually recruited me to the exec when he was working for the ASC.
We tried to recreate a picture from Quebec in 2012, when we were both the students taking all the pens from the conference room right before he started law school. And now I’ve also graduated and he is an almost-lawyer!)
Photo credit to Jess.

But, until then, until the change does happen and through that process, I’ll have many amazing friends to share the journey with. Before she pointed me in the direction of a train (look, I only stayed on going the wrong way for one stop!) Jess and I discussed the day over margherita pizzas (thanks, Jess!).

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$3.50 iced tea from Pearson and airplane shirt? Check. (After wandering out of the secure area to not-find Sue because I was not allowed in concourse D? Yeah, check.)

…and, of course, looking back with there realization that if we did not recognize that we are the ones who will help guide change being created, if we didn’t have this stupid disease, we wouldn’t have been sitting at the same table in Toronto for a second time in three days digging through all the topics that we did :). The conversation, the people, and the steps towards change—however small—are what matter.

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Disclosure: The Asthma Society of Canada, via its funding partners (pharma), covered the cost of airfare, one night of hotel, gala and conference admission, and some meals, for National Asthma Patient Alliance Executive Committee members to attend the NAPA meetings and Clearing the Air conference in Toronto. I was not asked to write this post, nor obligated to provide a positive review (as you can tell, probably). 

All tweets cited above as my own are completely that, including mentions of my engagement with both NAPA as present Vice Chair, and the Canadian Severe Asthma Network, as Patient Lead, are based on my own desires to identify [within] these roles/groups. I receive no added benefit in doing so, I just think they’re good people[/things].

cold avenger pro review

I subscribe to about 5 different things that are like Groupon or TeamBuy [so, yes, two of those, plus three or more]. One day, one of them was proclaiming its sale of cold weather face masks. Good idea, internet! My face can not freeze maybe and I can maybe proceed to not continue wrapping very long scarves around my face in a ridiculous fashion as I have been doing since circa Winter 2008.

Except, then I realized the problem with why I don’t wear such items and instead use scarves ridiculously is because they look kind of ridiculous and water just freezes to your face and then you end up cold anyways. My bigger issue is breathing in cold weather, and the issue with these masks is that I invariably end up fogging up my glasses or something and then can’t see, and can’t really get home or indoors or anywhere to be able to see without removing the scarf and then that does not solve my “cold air is among my worst asthma triggers” problem, right?

Enter ColdAvenger.

“If you can’t breathe, you can’t play.”

—ColdAvenger 

Okay yeah, that’s a hell of a slogan there, especially for this Canuck, right?
Then I read about the science behind the mask. Because, let’s be honest here… the black version of the mask looks kind of Darth-vader-esque, and as a 23-year-old-girl who frequently wears pink and purple outerwear, I’m not sure that Darth Vader is the look I’m going for.
Except I’m not into sounding like Vader, either, and we’ve already got enough Darth Vader asthma memes, right?
And so on.
Anyways, I reached out to the cool people at Cold Avenger, told them a bit of my story and offered to review on my blog, and they offered to send me out a media package to try out the Cold Avenger myself. Phil was awesome to deal with, friendly and personable, and—get this—I e-mailed my request in, and had a response within ten minutes. So, clearly their customer care isn’t lacking! Phil and I discussed what I intended to use the mask for, and he decided that the Cold Avenger Pro half mask was the better bet for me, “Just in case you start jumping out of planes with your new ability to breathe in cold weather.”
That’s what I’m talking about!

So, in avoidance of looking like Darth Vader (though very confident in my overall level of badassmatic!) I opted for the white “SnowHunter” version of the Cold Avenger Pro half mask, which arrived in my mailbox from Missoula, Montana little more than a week later.
Except it was still October then so clearly I did not yet need the mask […fortunately. I do live in Winnipeg, after all].
So I tried it out a few times last week once the hardcore chill hit, and damn, I am okay looking the part of a super hero/villain/whatever I am not up on my superheroes really for the way this thing works.
The science (more technical version here): Breathe in cold air to the mask. Cold air enters through vented part up front (which is adjustable—so if you need a higher level of ventilation to accommodate for increased respiratory rates due to activity, you can rock that, but if it’s super windy and too much air is being pushed in, you can make the gaps smaller/fewer and thus allow less air to be forced into the mask.) The very (flexible material) that protrudes out over the nose and mouth also catches the moisture/warmth of the air that gets exhaled, so that the next time air is inhaled, it mixes with some warm particles and… viola, no more breathing in crazy cold air!
A bit of a user-end primer on how the valve system works: if I’m doing something of low intensity, like walking to the bus except straight into a north wind, I’ve got the internal bit adjusted to let less air in at me because my respiratory rate isn’t that high and because more air is already being pushed into the mask. [Science, I tell you. Diffusion is where it’s at.] Keeps the air going into the body warmer and thus, the Cold Avenger team argues that it keeps you warmer by doing so—pretty cool, right?
So… Does it work?
 (Note: I’ve since found it is much better to run my earphones UNDER the mask. Also, on this 10 minute walk to the bus, ice crystals formed on my earphone wires just because of how it was hanging by the mask. Easily rectified by running the wires along the side of my face—and, proof of how cold it actually was outside?)
First thing’s first, you’ll see the gap where my earphone wire goes in on the right side—rectified, as stated above, but this was the culprit for the glasses fogging I experienced. The Cold Avenger, for ski goggle wearers and glasses wearers alike, comes with a nose wire so that it can be adjusted to seal more completely around the face.  This picture is from day 1 of Cold Avenger use. By day 2, I had the kinks worked out with the earphones and my hair and everything (the toque’s real use this day was actually because my hair kept sliding around outside the mask, and into my eyes/face and whatnot, so the toque’s sole purpose was actually keeping my hair back ;).
My asthma is really triggered by cold air (yes, I know, Canadian problems much?). Within five minutes of being outside in weather like it was on day 1 of using the Cold Avenger (-10*C, or -18*C with the windchill)—or even milder sometimes—I’m usually at the very least coughing, or feeling some degree of breathing discomfort. WITH the Cold Avenger? I didn’t cough at all until I got to the bus stop (8 minutes into being outside, walking fairly briskly). In fact, while the Cold Avenger people say [and I won’t dispute them, just an observation!] you’ll be warmer in the mask, I actually think I felt colder simply because I wasn’t hyperfocused on my breathing being crappy! So, hey, if I’m going to feel a bit colder because I can breathe!? I can deal with that, guys.
I’ve had a few friends ask (unprovoked even!) about the mask, and I’ve had nothing but good things to say—I mean, of course with the occasional joke included about being a superhero, how could I not?! I can’t wait to find some ice and try it out while skating or playing hockey outdoors with my friends, because if it can make those things more enjoyable, then I will be excited—and, as Phil discussed, if I find some planes to go winter skydiving out of, then hey, I’m ready for that, too! While I used to sometimes have to pre-medicate with Ventolin before even going outside briefly, I hope the Cold Avenger brings me back to a place where I can simply pre-medicate for exercise outdoors like normal instead of for simply going outdoors!
While I got this thing for free to review, now that I’ve tried it and experienced how it works with my asthma, I definitely think it would be worth shelling out the $60 for if you live in a place like I do where it’s cold for up to half the year and have cold induced asthma, or simply do a lot of activities outside and are looking for a solution that doesn’t restrict your ability to breathe or cause ice to form on your face like many alternatives (the crazy scarf wrap, for example) do. Plus, as you can see, I highly recommend upping your badass quotient and rocking some coordinating sunglasses with the Cold Avenger, too.
…Because I’d say that goes with the badassery of avenging, no?
Disclosure: I reached out to Phil at Cold Avenger who agreed to send out a mask and a kit containing information and stickers (!!!) for free for me to review. I offered to do the review in my initial message, but was under no obligation to provide a favourable review (but, they know their product, so clearly they knew they’d win me over :]). 
edit 5:34 pm 11/24/14: Kat pointed out that I meant diffusion and not osmosis up there. She is correct.