Jill Of Some Trades

And Master Of At Least One


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Castaway: The Final Chapter

On October 3, 2018, I was given the clearance by my doctor to take my first steps. I had already made a physio appointment for the next day to help get me moving as soon as possible. The doctor also warned me, in a slightly condescending way, that if I didn’t do what I was told, I could potentially lose mobility and flexibility in my ankle. His exact words, “We babied your ankle for six weeks. Now you have to be aggressive or you will not recover properly. You need to be out of the walking cast in one week.” Determined to show him that he misjudged me as a potential princess, I asked if I could take my first steps, then and there. He nodded and I got up, almost squealed in pain, but I wasn’t going to show any sort of emotion and then tried to walk while using my wheelchair as a crutch. I underestimated how weak I would be, how painful it was to try to walk on my now inflexible ankle and how poor my balance would be. I took my note for physio, plunked myself down in my wheelchair, and my cousin, kindly took me home. All I could think about was how was I going to take off the walking cast in a week. How was I supposed to walk more than 5 steps?

There wasn’t a lot that I could do that first day, but I committed to standing, at the very least, as often as I could, using a walker to help me maintain my balance. I only took 5 steps that day. Better than nothing but not the strides that I was hoping for either. I eagerly waited for physio the next day wondering what the difference between passive and active exercise would be. I showed up at Totem Life Science and was told to wait in my wheelchair for Katie, my physiotherapist. I wasn’t afraid of the pain that I knew would come, but I was afraid of losing my balance a little and re-injuring myself. Katie is a young, positive, skilled physiotherapist. She got me to stand, then walk around the examining table. She looked at my ankle, and showed me the passive exercises that I was supposed to do. They were the ones that I could basically do lying down. I had to rotate my ankle every hour, ten times in each direction. Point and flex the foot the same amount of times, then use an exercise band and do the same thing. I was also supposed to ice it, pretty much hourly. I walked a little more, but felt very thrown off by the cast. I started to understand why I needed to be out of it so quickly – it made me feel unbalanced and it was also hurting my hips. She told me to bring my walker, if I had one, and my running shoes the next day.

I did all of the passive exercises, every hour on the hour like I was told. I iced my ankle, and I went back to physio the next day. Katie told me when I got there, that I would be walking out the door that very day and that I was going to do physio in my running shoe. My ankle was sore, and I had my doubts, but Katie said – trust your ankle – it’s solid, remember that it will hold. So I did. I walked back and forth (with the walker) and did everything that she told me to do and being out of the cast made it so much easier. I asked what else I could do at home, aside from the passive exercises, and she said just walk as much as possible and ice my ankle as much as possible. She said try to walk without the cast when you can. I committed to doing everything that I was told to do and more. I used my mother’s walker which was way too short, when I got home and walked the corridors of the the condo. I knew that there were about 180 steps end to end, and I did the walk three times that afternoon. It hurt, more than I can tell you, but I did it. Then, I did it again, two more times that day, happy to see some progress. Over the weekend, I did it 6 laps, 4 times a day. I pushed the walker away and used I forced myself to walk to it. I did all of the passive exercises all weekend long.

When I went back to physio, Katie could see that I made a big effort and that my walking improved and I stopped using the air walker in 6 days. She was able to spend the time doing ultrasound therapy and massage versus watching me do the assigned exercises. She would add new exercises to improve my balance and my dorsiflexion (ability to move your foot upward so that it is closer to the shin which is crucial for walking). I added single leg squats, regular squats, sideways walking and balancing on my leg to my passive exercise routine. If you don’t work on dorsiflexion, you will limp, have issues walking up and down the stairs and have the potential to injure yourself. Speaking of which, within two weeks, Katie had me try the stairs. My mantra became up with the good and down with the bad. This essentially meant leading with my good foot up the stairs, and the bad foot down the stairs. Once I could figure out the stairs, I did them as often and possible and walked outside so that I could get used to different terrain. I walked as much as I possibly could.

In addition to twice weekly physio sessions, I also saw Stacy, a chiropractor, who was a great support in my recovery. She is one of the owners of Totem Life Science and referred me to Katie. She was also the person who explained to me that the intense, burning pain that I was having was nerve pain. I went to Stacy once a week for additional massage and ultrasound therapy. It really helped to speed things along. By November 5, I was able to go back to work and by December 20, Katie and Stacy both told me that I was well enough to no longer require physio. Here are some tips to remember if you are recovering from ankle surgery and starting to walk:

Everyone is different and will respond differently to treatment and physio. Not to sound cheesy, but recovery is really a marathon and not a sprint and you can’t compare where you are to someone else. Worry about your progress and only your progress.

Do your exercises at home religiously. Don’t shortchange yourself. If you do them at home, your physiotherapist can focus on the “hands-on” therapy that they are so skilled at rather than babysit you as you do the exercises you should be doing on your own. They are trained professionals and will know if you aren’t doing everything that you are supposed to at home. They notice your range of motion and gait. By ignoring the exercise, you hurt only yourself and you will have a longer recovery.

It will hurt – there is no way around that, but the ability to walk is worth it. The pain gets better in time.

You will notice huge changes the first week, and like me, you will get so excited and then….. After the first two weeks, the hard work really begins when you have to really focus on your dorsiflexion. It is the very last thing to come back, and you need to keep pushing through this part of your treatment and your progress will slow.

Lose your pride. I walked with a walker inside and outside. I used canes, had my air cast on to help keep my distance from people. One thing that I didn’t care about was how people saw me. I wanted to walk and I wanted my mobility back as quickly as possible and if it meant that people would see me in a walker, then that was fine. I also knew that I had the good fortune of knowing that my situation was temporary. Others do not have that luxury.

People watch and be sensitive – I always give up my seat on the subway to people who are older, pregnant and have mobility issues. When I was on public transit with a cane and cast, I was offered a seat maybe 60% of the time. People can be rude, but that doesn’t mean that you should be. Use your injury to be a more thoughtful rider.

When I went to my final orthopedic appointment on November 21. The doctor kept saying look at the nice veins! Your ankle looks really good! Look at the flexibility, it’s really coming. He told me that he was impressed with my progress. This was the very doctor who a few weeks early looked at me so skeptically. I wanted to say, you doubter! I showed you! Instead, I just said the truth – I had a great physiotherapist and chiropractor and I listened to them and did everything that they told me to do. My ankle gets a little stiff and sore here and there, but overall, I couldn’t be more grateful for the ability to get myself around pretty much like I used to. They say it takes a full year for the swelling to completely go away, so I’m trying to be patient.


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Brock McGillis – First but not Last

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Photo courtesy of Brock McGillis

Brock McGillis isn’t just a former OHL and professional hockey playing, having played in both the USA and Europe; he is also the first, and so far only, pro hockey player to openly come out as gay.  In addition to providing on and off-ice training with elite level hockey players in the City of Greater Sudbury, Brock also serves as a mentor and a motivational speaker.

With a mission to create equality regardless of sexuality, gender or race, and a focus of helping LGBTQ+ youth on loving themselves, he has an important message.  He also wants to help all youth shift their language, treat others with respect and become the support system that LGBTQ+ kids need.  I was deeply touched by his message.  I’m straight, or what’s considered an ally, but I have many people in my life from this community.  It absolutely breaks my heart to think of them being hated just for being who they are.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a hockey fan.  The only sport I love watching is figure skating, but when you hear a story that is so humane, I needed to know more.  Brock was kind enough to call me and answer some questions.  To illustrate the kind of person that he is, this is someone who made the time to chat with me, even though he’s been interviewed by the likes of CBC’s The National, Yahoo and other bigger and better newspapers and blogs and for that I’m thankful.  Here are just some of the questions that I asked:

Children, including those that are part of the LGBTQ+ community have pressures on them that even you may not have experienced growing up.  For example, with social media, there is no escape from bullying, you can’t even get away from it at home.  What tips or tools do you recommend to help cope with these additional pressures?

First off, tell someone.  It’s hard to engage with a bully and I don’t encourage kids to do this.  You may not be in a place to confront the bully.  If I’m reactive to a bully, there will be a barrier.  If you are going to speak to them, personalize it.  For example, I ask them if they know that 95% of people know someone who is LGBTQ+.  It could be a family member or a friend.  Ask if they would want a person in their life to be hurt or if they would intentionally hurt them.  If there is an ally there, they should know that laughter hurts more than words.  Don’t laugh.  But the kid being bullied needs to stay strong and not react.

You have openly admitted that there was a time when you thought about taking your life.  If someone that you knew or was mentoring felt the same way, what is your advice to them?

Mental illness is becoming an epidemic.  There are resources available and help that is available so that you can find a support system.  Don’t hide your illness – people are there for you and want to help.  How can they not want to? Part of the issue is that mental health isn’t visible so people can’t always see your struggle.  You have to be open, then people can support you.

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Image courtesy of Brock McGillis

Many kids do not grow up in a household where they will be accepted if they are LGBTQ+.  How can they get help when they don’t have at-home support?  How can you get the courage to come out if you don’t know how people will react?

Pick your spot when  you come out.  You know your surroundings and what you are dealing with.  Come out when it’s feasible for you to move on, when you can be independent, not when there is the danger of you getting kicked out of the house.  You will feel better when you accept yourself.  You have to love yourself.  I love being a gay man.  I want people to be clear and hear that.  Once you love yourself, you can withstand hate.  But some people just need time.  We expect people to be OK with everything the minute that we come out.  We’ve had years to think about this, they haven’t  Some people just need time.

I read a quote of yours that was heartbreaking.  It was something to the effect of “…how badly I wanted approval in a world that did not approve of me.”  What do you say to someone who feels exactly the same way?

You don’t need approval, you have to approve of yourself.  It’s all internal.  When I starting approving of myself, it empowered me.  I stopped caring about what others thought.  You have to accept yourself.  Seeking acceptance from others implies a hierarchy.  No one is above or below anyone else.  We don’t need to accept others, and others don’t need to accept us.

What is the toughest question that any young person has asked you and how did you answer it?

It was actually at the second school that I spoke at – I was fresh into this, there were about 1,000 students.  There was a kid that had this arrogance about him, and his question out of everything that I was saying about my experience of coming out was “What about in the showers.  Isn’t it awkward for you and your teammates?”  I wasn’t reactionary, but I wanted to send a message.  I asked him if had siblings and a sister, and he said yes.  I asked if he played hockey, he said yes.  We are taught in hockey that we are all a family, all brothers, right?  Again the answer was yes.  Finally, I asked him if finds his sister hot and he turned beet red.  The whole school cheered.  I used the moment to inform and educate him while taking him down a peg.  I’m still in touch with him today and have mentored him in hockey.

How can we help as allies?

You can help in a number of ways.  You can start by being a shoulder for someone and showing that you care.  Voice your support for either a person being bullied or the LGBTQ+ community.  Some people show their support by going to Pride an marching or by going to a rally.

Other ways are more simple.  Treat everyone as an equal and help encourage openness by not being judgmental.  I like to say that normal doesn’t exist, we are all weirdos in our own way.  Having a discourse with someone that is struggling is always helpful.  It can also be a grassroots initiative by an individual to help create awareness.  Allies need to stand up, engage and educate.

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Image courtesy of Brock McGillis

Do you ever see hockey truly being integrated with makes and females playing on the same professional team?

It’s a difficult equation in professional hockey.  Men and women are built differently and it would be hard for a woman that is 5’1 to withstand hits from a man that is 6’7.  Goal tenders aren’t required to get involved in that level of fighting, so that may work.  I want the best players regardless of gender or sexuality. I just think physiologically it may be more difficult for women. It really is about the best players though – period.

My Take – I was curious about how a pro hockey player would answer this question.  Before all you women out there get all up in arms, think about it for a minute.  I’m not an expert, but from what I understand, women’s hockey doesn’t allow checking – it would add another dimension to their game.  If you think about it objectively, and you compare just on size alone, Brock has a very good point.  Maybe one day there will be women players in the NHL, then again, but maybe there won’t.   Either way, women can still play and participate.

Finally, as time is passing, we can’t forget about the children who have been touched by Humboldt tragedy.  What message do you have for them?

One of the survivors said, ” I haven’t cried and I won’t cry.  I’m a tough Canadian guy.”  Man, you need to cry, you need to grieve.  No one will judge you and if they do, to hell with them.  It’s so sad, and people will be mourning for a long time.  It won’t change overnight.  Hockey is Canadian culture and Canada is hugging you right now, holding you up.  We are all your support system and that won’t go away.

My last thoughts:  In September, 1995, Hillary Clinton stated the following “…let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all,”.  We are at a point where we have to recognize that LGBTQ+ rights are human rights and LGBTQ+ rights are human rights.  We are living in a world right now where hate is, once again, becoming permissible.  In Russia, it’s OK to discriminate openly against gay men and women.  In the Middle East, gay men are marched off of roof tops to their deaths.  Gay men and lesbian women are forced into unwanted sex changes in Iran in order to be with the person that they love.   In North America, LGBTQ+ kids continue to be bullied on a regular basis and that frustration sometimes can lead to suicide.  It was an honour to speak with someone who is so passionate about helping kids in this community and is actively seeking to mentor them.