Archive for the 'life' Category

24
Aug
13

Germanised Canadian in reverse culture shock

After 16 years living in Germany, you start to pick up a few German habits.  You don’t cross the intersection when the light is red – it sets a bad example for kids.  You greet colleagues around lunchtime not with hello, but with a cheery Mealtime!  You say hello to everyone waiting already when you walk into the doctor’s waiting room. And whenever you’re at the supermarket checkout counter, or picking up stuff at the cleaners, or dealing with a teller at the bank, you do NOT make idle chit-chat.  In and out with sometimes barely a nod to civility is how it’s done.

So after eight weeks travelling through this great land we call Canada we arrive in the unusually parched Wet Coast west-coast town of Squamish, and it’s time to go to the bank.  I’m out of cash – not an unusual state this time around considering the incredible jump in prices we’ve seen for everything from fish to fowl – so the first morning after we get in I head to the bank, stride up to the teller and ask for my daily withdrawal limit.

After keying in my PIN number she informs me that acquiring the cash will take a minute as the cash must be dispensed from a machine back around a corner, and it’s in need of some sort of re-boot or whatever, and I say that’s OK, and then she asks me, So, do you have any plans for the rest of the day?

I look at her and hesitate that telling half-second which gives me away as someone with as much social savvy as a deer staring at headlights.Canada Osoyoos wildlife deer on trail

As I said, I’m kind of out of practice at this sort of thing, and after 16 years of dealing with German checkout counter ladies and bank tellers, it hits me as if she’s asked me if I’ve tried out that crazy new brand of multicolour condoms with the spiral ticklers.

“Yes, well, uh, I’ve got lots of plans lined up,” and I see out of the corner of my eye that the teller to her right has turned her head to look at me as if to ask herself, gee, he looks like a regular white guy and he’s got no accent, so what’s his problem?

I instantly switch to Canuck mode and try to come back with the breezy-bantery reply you’re supposed to, but it falls flat.

“Well, uh, we’re doing laundry at the moment, actually, it’s the fourth load already.  We let it pile up as we’ve not had a chance to get any done since Canmore and since then we’ve been through the Kootenays and well, you know how it is.

“Well, at least you’ve got a nice sunny day to do it,” she replies, the cash finally having been delivered to her wicket and I can count on the ordeal being over that much sooner.

It’s a good thing the cash came when it did as I was going to add, “and later on I’m taking my Mom to a funeral, well it’s not an actual burial, more of a memorial service for my former principal who passed away, and I was very saddened to hear it and I want to be there.”

I hope October is here soon so we can all start talking about hockey again.

03
Jun
13

Back on the mountain bike again and it feels great

Ian back on the bikeIt felt so good to be on the bike again – my real bike, not my daughter’s and definitely not the one that replaced the one that split in two as I was crossing the road last year – that I rode 45km along the Elbe just because.

Tuesday it will be three months since my ski injury, and only three weeks ago the physiotherapist at rehab said to me in a gentle, roundabout kind of way that my goal of getting back on the mountain bike would have to wait.

“I think we all knew that riding again by the end of your time here wasn’t going to be,” she said, “but I think by the end of the year you’ll be ready.”

The end of the year?  Another seven months of taking the bus?  I went home feeling despondent.  I was making progress on getting the knee to bend more and more, so why such a long, drawn-out recovery?  Maybe she was just trying to make sure I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high for a quick return to full range of motion.

By some scheduling quirk they assigned me a different physiotherapist the next week.  She’s no better than the first one, but somehow she stretched me out one day so much, it made all the difference.

That same afternoon – the Friday of week three – I got up on the exercise bike, the real one, the one with the real crank and not the one you adjust shorter for those with limited flexibility – and gave it a turn.  And another.  And another.  I could not believe it.  It felt tight at the top of the circle, but I could do it just fine.  I was so happy, I wanted to scream with joy.  It was like climbing to the top of a ridge when you’re heading for the summit and taking in an incredible view knowing that you’re finally over the first big push.  I clenched my fists, bowed my head,  wanted to scream but couldn’t, so it just happened – a gush of tears.  I could not hold them back.  I was so happy, so incredibly overjoyed at once again proving to myself my leg was going to get better enough to allow me to do this simple task once again.  I tried to hide it by swiping my towel, taking in deep breaths, but it didn’t work.  It was like a release from weeks of frustration and doubt.

I looked over to my right to the desk at the corner of the gym and there she was, the physio who only two hours before had had both my legs stretched out on the table saying, “Gee, you’re really doing this well.”

I wiped off my face and walked over to where she was sitting, leaned over and said as sincerely as I could, “thank you! Thank you!  Thank you!”  She didn’t know what I meant, but I pointed over to the bike and said, “over there, the bike – I can do it!”

I led her over and got back on and showed her, thanked her again, and kept on it for another 20 minutes.

Yesterday, after practising in the  meantime on my daughter’s bike, and the dreaded split-in-two bike, I took out my bike – the one I watched them build from scratch – and took it for a spin.  The right thigh might still resemble a sausage with a slice down one end, but it bends and is getting stronger.  It feels great.

11
May
13

A little bit more every day

Things are coming along.  To compare:

Four weeks post-op:

Quadriceps tendon ripped bending knee

Seven weeks post-op:

Knee injury quadriceps tendon rupture

Today, just shy of 10 weeks post-op

Knee flex post-op 10 weeks

Of all the things I’ve had to do to get this knee to flex again, this has to be the most difficult:

Knee flex rope pull

It’s part of about 90 minutes in what the physios at rehab call the torture chamber.  When you arrive you’re given a set of exercises that target your problem.  I’ve got about 10 different things to do in order to build up my quadriceps muscles and flex the knee, and could go into detail about each one, but that photo is all you need.  It’s the worst.

The rope is appropriate, because it’s like self-flagellation.  I flex it as far as the muscles will take it, then start pulling slowly on the rope until it hurts.  Then I pull just a little bit more and hold it for 30 seconds.  After about 15 seconds, you start to go a little numb in the head, but wake up again when it’s time to release it.  Then the pain comes back double as you slowly let the foot down to the floor.  Repeat six times, once a day.

Good news!  I get to keep doing this.  My rehab is going to be extended one week, after which I will have the opportunity to drop by the centre for a workout as often as I like.  Physio should also continue twice a week after rehab finishes May 21st.

25
Apr
13

Notes after two days of rehab

There’s a theory about the news business that says they publish stories of disasters in far-off countries to help remind their audience that no matter how bad things get at home, it’s a lot worse elsewhere.

I don’t know how much truth is in that, but I was reminded of it on day two of rehab.  As much of a disruption to my life this injury has been and will continue to be for months to come, it’s a chin scrape compared to the situation of three men I’ve seen in the changing room, therapy pool, leg workout, and stretching classes.

One of them is an older fellow who looks like he’s worked outdoors his whole life.  He has a vertical scar running from way above to way below each knee, and he walks so slowly… I haven’t found out whether he’s got artificial knees, but maybe we’ll get to talking tomorrow.

Another fellow looks completely normal until he’s in the change room, where you see a long, curving scar running from his hip to his knee.  He had a rare form of bone cancer and they’ve installed an artificial femur.  Though he had to stay six months without moving in hospital – I was climbing the walls after six days – he says he’s lucky: the medical technology used to give him the new femur is so new, had he been diagnosed with the disease only three years previously, they would have had to amputate the whole leg. 

The third guy makes me weep just to think about.  He is tall and good-looking, but looks like he’s been in a serious car or motorbike accident.  He has absolutely no use of one arm, which dangles bone-thin, limp and lifeless at his side.  His hip and leg on the same side are very deeply gashed, and he walks very awkwardly.  I haven’t talked to him, am kind of waiting for the right moment to engage him in conversation, so for the moment I remain in respectful awe at his guts and determination as he works his way through the workout routines.

I am so very humbled by what I’ve seen over the past two days.  Though I see it only from a distance, I have a new-found perspective on what it means to be profoundly injured, and the strength these people have to work on overcoming it.

I’m also gaining even more respect for the people who go to work every day determined to help people in such bad shape get well enough so that they can lead a reasonably normal life again.  They see them arrive and leave again a few weeks or months later, like a carousel of pain.  There must be deep satisfaction in knowing their work is vital to the people they treat, but the energy, enthusiasm and often humour with which they approach their work must come from some profound place only they know where to draw from.  I know I wouldn’t last a week in their position.

In the weeks since I’ve been getting around the city for better or worse, I’ve also been on the receiving end of countless acts of kindness from people whose names I’ll never know.  From the man who went all the way back down a spiral staircase to hold the door open for me to make sure I left the doctor’s office in one piece, to the men and women, young and old who without fail will see me with a crutch and stand up and offer me a seat on the bus, to the random people on the street who catch my eye and with a little smile wordlessly tell me: hey, I’ve been there, too – I can only say: thank you, Hamburg.

And there is progress.  One month after the operation, I could only bend it a little:

Quadriceps tendon ripped bending knee

Three weeks later after 12 days of physio and two days of rehab, still a ways to go, but it’s coming along:

Knee injury quadriceps tendon rupture

 

17
Apr
13

Hooray-hooray, it’s not yet May, but rehab starts a week today

I’d love to do a leaping dance, but under the circumstances, maybe not.

Only a few days after receiving word that my medical rehab has been approved by the Berlin powers-that-be I get a call from the clinic saying my three-week program starts April 24.  Yipppeeee!  :)  I had been counting on it starting only sometime after the first weekend in May.  The clinic here in Hamburg has a great reputation and has just re-opened in brand-new facilities.

It’s just in time.

I’ve ditched the brace that had been clasped to the leg from ankle to hip for six weeks to keep the knee stable after the operation, but there’s still so little movement in the knee, I get worried that it’ll never be the same again.  It’s hard to see over the lip of the hill when you’re standing at the base.

I now get around mostly without crutches with a tension bandage around the knee, but it’s a hop-along scene.  This is what it looked like four days ago when I made the switch:

A friend congratulated me on the quick approval for rehab, saying all the pain they’ll be putting me through to stretch out the tendon again will be worth it.

I can’t wait…

09
Apr
13

how to bake bread on one leg

Hobbling around on crutches means you can’t do much of what you usually do, but as long as you have a bit of balance and are organised, you can still pivot on one leg in the kitchen.

The other day I made what around here will forever be known as one-legged bread.  

To make one-legged bread, you first have to rip your quadriceps tendon, get it sown back to your kneecap around three permanently installed screws, spend nearly a week in hospital, and still be a week or so away Ian knee post-op front x-rayfrom being able to walk without crutches or ankle-to-hip leg brace.

If that step sounds like too much hassle, I fully understand.

But since making bread of any kind means going slow, being patient and taking long pauses, your mindset is already there if you’re approaching it on one leg.

And because your muscles are wasting away immobile while the tendon heals, you should be eating a lot of protein – like steak!  That is a tip from my old friend Vreni in Vancouver at Wellness Works.  And I’ve recently discovered an ancient whole grain called Kamut that is not only very tasty, it has more than twice the protein of run-of-the-mill whole grain wheat.  So in this recipe, that’s what I use.  It grinds up well in a grain mill if you have one.  Thanks again, Vreni – for that and your advice on how to best recover from my injury.

The first step is to make a thick, awful-looking batter called a sponge that will serve as the basis of the bread dough. In this recipe you use white flour, kamut flour, dried yeast, honey and lukewarm water.  Ingredient list and details at bottom.

Mix that up with a whisk until it has the consistency of thick pancake batter.

Then mix well together some more white flour, yeast and salt, and pour all that over the sponge.  Cover and let sit on your counter for an hour, then put it in the fridge overnight or up to 24 hours.  Or if winter is still lingering, stick it out on the balcony if it’s not too far below freezing.

When you get up the next morning, the yeast will have bubbled up into the flour mixture and look like this:

one-legged bread sponge mixtureYou can see how the sponge has bubbled up from below to mix on its own with the flour mixture on top.  This is perfectly OK.

Now get a good wooden spoon and mix it all together, then knead the dough for about 5 minutes.

Then go give your leg – and the bread – a rest!   Stick a bowl over the dough and let it sit for 20 minutes.  That allows the dough to expand a bit, making the rest of the kneading easier.

ian in hamburg one-legged bread rising

While you’re letting the bread rest or during one of the risings, maybe you can do an exercise you learned in physio: lie flat on your back, and try to raise the injured knee off the ground by sliding your heel along the floor toward your butt.  I get about this far until it hurts like a bugger and I can raise it no more:

Quadriceps tendon ripped bending knee

Back to the bread:

Knead it for about 10 minutes more after it rests, then put back in your bowl, cover and set in a warm place to rise.

It should rise about double after about 90 minutes.

Punch it down, fold it over a couple of times – but don’t knead it – then put it back into your bowl to rise a second time.  It won’t take as long this time to rise.

After it’s risen a second time, punch it down again and shape to an elongated form and place in your bread pan.

bread dough in pans before final rising baking

Leave it uncovered somewhere warm to rise to about an inch or so above the loaf pan rim, then stick in the oven at 240 degrees C or 475 F for 10 minutes, lowering the temperature to 215 C or 425 F and baking for another 25 minutes or so.

Take it out, let it cool on a rack a bit, slice off an end, put on a bit of butter, enjoy!  Then hop off to rest while it all cools.

Ingredients and method:  I have two huge loaf pans, so I multiply by FOUR the recipe listed below.   Splitting the huge mass of dough into two, each loaf should weigh about 1600 grams before you bake it.   I usually cut the loaves in half and freeze what we don’t eat right away.

Putting the sponge mixture overnight in the fridge is not really necessary.  You can mix it up into dough after a couple of hours if you like, but leaving it overnight makes for a more full-flavoured bread.  Just make sure you let it warm up again for an hour or so after taking it out of the cold.

For the sponge:

All-purpose white flour (in Germany 405): 1 cup / 155 grams

Kamut or whole wheat flour: 1/4 c / 36 g

Honey: 1 1/4 tsp

Dry instant yeast: 3/8 tsp  / 1.25 g

water 1 1/3 cups:  / 320g

DO NOT ADD SALT TO THE ABOVE MIXTURE.

Flour mix:

White flour: 1 3/4 cups  / 290g

Dry instant yeast: 1/2 tsp

Salt:  1 1/2 tsp

Enjoy:

ian in hamburg one-legged bread kamut

This recipe I’ve adapted from The Bread Bible, eliminating all the fancy stuff like throwing in ice cubes into the oven before baking to provide moisture.  She also recommends pre-heating the oven to 475 F ONE HOUR BEFORE BAKING!  I suppose in a universe of infinitely free electricity this might not be such a bad idea, but around here our light bills just jumped another 10 percent, so lady, forget it!

22
Mar
13

Showering neighbour discovers concept of curtain, doesn’t bother to use it

This is an update of my pissy little pre-ski-holiday-cum-hospital-stay rant about a neighbour directly across from us who seems to enjoy showering for an audience.

Germany Hamburg window with curtainThanks to all those who took the trouble to comment and who gave great advice.  This morning, I am going to take that advice, hobble over there and slip a message under his door.  It probably won’t end up on passive-aggressive notes dot cawm because it won’t be anonymous.  I am going to leave my mobile phone number so he can contact me if he’s got any questions.  It’ll be written in flawed German, but I don’t care.

You see, I was all set this morning to write a light-hearted little story about how our soap-on-a-rope guy now has a curtain covering his bathroom window.  Great!  Someone obviously told him something.

I hadn’t noticed a curtain there before.  Upon discovery, one of the first things I thought was that he put it there because – as we also recently discovered – he has a girlfriend!  Or is it his wife?  In any case, while standing behind my seated wife over this past weekend – weight all on the left leg, of course – giving her a neck massage, a figure with shower nozzle in hand displaying all the attributes of a female appeared in the window.  Those attributes swayed.  They brushed the window.  They were, in fact, not bad to look at.  I was going to dash over to the other room to get my camera for posterity – or perhaps anteriority – but knew that in my present condition she’d be dry by the time I retrieved the camera and got in position to get a decent shot away.

In any event, just as I was in the middle of writing that post  I realised I had to start all over, because as I raised my head to look outside – there he was.

Curtain brushed aside.  Same lather, different day.

If he has a curtain, why doesn’t he use it?

Now to translate that into German.




The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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