Category: Personal Health

Taking A Bite Out Of Poverty

This man would never had a positive change in his life had he not regained a reason to smile again. Click the image to read this wonderful news story that has stuck with me for so many years.


The Ontario Dental Association (ODA) recently asked for more funding for dental programs used by low income earners and the homeless. Currently in Ontario, OHIP does not cover the cost of dental care, which means unless you are rich or at least work for a company with a generous benefits plan, you are shit out of luck if you do not have the money to go to the dentist.

The ODA itself is shit out of luck if it thinks the Doug Ford government, which has already shown a callous disregard for the poor and homeless by treating them as an excessive expense to be cut from the budget, will go along with the idea. In fact, in a recent link, the Doug Ford government is considering plans to allow private companies to deliver health care — meaning dental care may not be the only thing Ontarians will be paying for out of their pocket.

You don’t have to be knowledgeable about the human body to know how important it is to have a good set of teeth. Teeth aid in digestion of food: if you can’t properly chew your food, that food will either not metabolize properly while going through your digestive tract, or you simply won’t be bothered to eat since you can’t chew. Poor oral health could also cause serious health problems to occur if oral infections spread throughout the bloodstream.

There’s another aspect most people miss when it comes to the importance of publicly funding dental care. It’s looking for work.

Much as I rag on employment assistance centres and their mostly useless job seeking tips, one tip I am in agreement with them on is that appearances count during an interview. Missing teeth is an unattractive thing to see, if not at least a visual distraction, and could subconsciously prejudice a job seeker’s chances of landing a job. We are after all a very shallow society that worships beauty to somewhat unreasonable standards.

I make this point because I’m often reminded of a 2007 news story I read in the Toronto Star. It’s about a man who could not afford dental care because he’s poor. As a result, he lost nearly all of his teeth and in turn could not find work because it affected his appearance. The reason why this story stuck with me for so long was because I do have a great deal of knowledge about the human body — in fact I once wanted to be a doctor — and found it odd that medical treatment for an illness was only covered by Ontario for as long as it did not happen in your mouth. So. Stupid.

After reading this story, I talked to my (former) dentist about it, and suggested that maybe OHIP should cover dental care. She responded, rather tersely, the day that dentists have to deal with OHIP is the day she relocates to America. Seriously.

Why would she have this dislike of publicly funded dental care? Is it because she can’t set her own prices when working under OHIP? Is it because OHIP — being a government run body — is a bureaucratic mess to deal with?

Whatever the reason, dental care is STILL extremely important for the working poor, not only as a sound foundation of good health but also for personal happiness and boosting self-confidence.

Thanks for reading!


P.S. For those of you who didn’t bother reading the story — that’s okay, it’s somewhat depressing — it does end with a happy ending. Toronto Star readers were moved by this story and generously donated enough money to give the fellow a new set of chompers.

Needing A Lift

I thought exercise was supposed to be GOOD for you! (Image taken by David Gay, with permission to use for as long as credit is given to the owner)

As previously mentioned in my job search video series, “David Needs A Job!” and also in this blog, a friend of mine that I will refer to as “Red” suggested rebooting instead of rebuilding what I lost from being out of work. This includes trying new things that could work in my job search and throwing out old habits and strategies that no longer apply.

Since my arrival in Kitchener last November, I’ve always kept an open mind regarding that suggestion by applying the approach of “I’ll try anything once”. The flyer job I did was one example of that. This is especially important when dealing with the hurdles I face right now in finding a job: a lengthy unemployment period, a jobless recovery, not knowing enough people to form a network that can assist in finding employment leads, and so on.

One new challenge that I have to grapple as a part of the reboot process is physical prowess. I was never a jock in school, more like one of those computer nerds you see getting stuffed into a locker by the bigger kids. I never had interest in exercise, and wasn’t any good at sports.

As I got older, I realized I had to take better care of myself, starting with the weight I packed on during my 20 year Information Technology career. While changing my diet by eating better and walking and climbing the stairs to burn more calories whittled my weight down from 188 pounds to 145 pounds, it did nothing about the spindly things that pass for my arms.

This wasn’t a problem in the past, since the heaviest thing I had to lift and push in my Information Technology career was a mouse, keyboard, or monitor.  After coming across a common qualification in entry-level job openings such as the following below, however:

“.. be able to lift, push and pull up to 54 kg (120 lbs.) with assistance on a regular basis.” – from an advertisement by the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company.

“..  move items weighing up to 50 pounds without assistance.” – from an advertisement by Lowe’s.

“Must be able to lift 50 lbs.” – from a Culligan Water advertisement.

“Ability to lift up to 50 pounds.” – from a Lids advertisement. (fun fact: Lids is a company that specializes in hats — just how heavy is a baseball cap anyways?????)

I realized I needed to get my arms in better shape if I wanted to be considered by companies like Culligan or Lowe’s as a potential hire.

I did some research on various fitness places in the Tri-City area, and discovered the average cost for a fitness membership is between $45 and $55 per month in Canadian dollars. That’s pretty steep for someone not working full time, plus there is also the psychological abuse from the more fit participants as they tease me during my attempts to lift and curl and press weights with my skinny twigs (d’hurr hurr hurr, lookit dat old guy trying to work out. Do you even lift, bro?).

So, erhm, no, will not try that avenue, yet the problem remains unsolved.

I went to the source of the reboot suggestion (“Red”) for inspiration. I asked for her advice via Email, while stating the cost of a gym membership. Her reply, in typical Red fashion, was the following:

Please. PLEASE. You can pick up a pair of weights at any sports store, or even Target. Google “arm strength exercise” and you will get a set of routines to target both the lower and upper muscles in your arms.

Gyms are a scam.

I Googled using those search terms, and was rewarded with a lot of helpful links for beginners. The next step was a trip to Target at the Conestoga Mall to look for weights. Once there and finding their sports section, I tried some of the weight sizes to find out how much I can lift (a fact I never wondered about until now). 5 pounds? Too easy. 10 pounds? A little bit of weight there, but still easy to curl.  I then tried the 20 pound one. Ouch. Yeah. I now know what my maximum lift is per arm. I also found my left arm was weaker, since I am right-handed.

I picked up a single weight since it cost over $30 Canadian. If I get more temporary work, I’ll buy a second one if they are still around.

A 20 pound weight can get heavy after a while of carrying it around.  I cheated a bit getting the weight home by using an empty seat on the bus and, after stopping  my sister and brother-in-law’s dog from licking the steel grip, tried a few exercises with each arm.  It’s tough at first, but if I keep at it and don’t push too hard, I’m sure the exercises will get easier.  I’ll also start making less of the face you see in the embedded picture.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Thanks for reading!


Pass The Salt

The bowl was created by Cynthia Guajardo of Colorado Art Studio, with all copyrights for both the photo and the bowl belonging to the author. As a courtesy, I’ve linked the image to her studio web site for others interested in seeing more of her work.

I held my last job for 17 years because I consistently did things right. Makes sense, doesn’t it? If you are a complete screw-up, you’re not going to last long on the job. Even a sense of humour and being approachable and friendly only goes so far before you’re shown the door, regardless of how much your co-workers like you.

At the risk of tooting my horn too much, research and experience are the foundations of how I do my job. I ask questions, try to understand what’s going on around me, take notes for analysis, and determine future trends based on previous actions. This approach has served me well for so long, most of the time.

Still, despite my best efforts to get the facts straight before coming to a conclusion, sometimes the problem does not get solved, or the situation is not as crystal-clear as I thought. When that happens, two words are spoken, the first beginning with a vowel, the second beginning with a consonant.

No, not those two words. These words: I’m wrong.

For many, it’s one of the toughest phrases to say in the English language. I admit it’s not easy for me to say it, but as I said before, doing things right is important to me both professional and personally. This includes admitting I’m wrong when I am indeed wrong.

For those of you who follow my blog, you know I’m not a big fan of employment assistance centres. I’ve registered with three since I started my job search and I wasn’t impressed with any of the contacts my case was assigned to. They rarely replied to my Emails or returned my phone calls. They gave advice that was useless. Their previous work background did not lend well to their ability to help unemployed people like myself. When I was told by an assistant of MPP Kathleen Wynne’s office to go see a fourth employment assistance centre (Skills For Change), my past experience led me to the conclusion this was going to be a waste of job search time.

I was wrong. The career coach/counsellor handling my case both surprised and impressed me. She offered suggestions that were fresh and out of the box, and not the tired old script of using action words to market myself like some product. Instead of sending me off to do more workshops, she went through my period of unemployment with a figurative fine-tooth comb and identified what worked and what did not. In short, she didn’t talk with me, she talked to me. I wasn’t treated like a case number on an assembly line, but like a person. She spent time working on a new design format for my résumé. Best of all……she answers my Emails!

I still feel employment centres as a whole really need to work closer with government and the business community to help people like myself find work. They need to standardize methods that are proven to work and give advice that actually does work. In specific, some staff at those places really need to go easy on people’s personal property, like my USB fob.

Having said this, I’m guilty of tarring a profession with the same brush based on my past bad experiences. While my concerns and issues with employment centres are valid, judgement on performance should be based on an individual basis and not as a collective whole. For that, I was wrong to assume otherwise, and it’s time to say I’m sorry.

It’s the right thing to do.

Thanks for reading!


As The World Turns (Over You).


When you are focused on one particular thing in your life — in my case, my job search —- you tend to forget about the other things that are going on about you until you are reminded of them. Some of them come as gentle nudges: you discover you need milk for the morning’s breakfast, you look at a calendar and realize you have to call your mother to wish her a Happy St. Patrick’s Day, or you learn you need to take your suit to the cleaner’s while looking in the mirror before heading out for your interview. At other times, some things you thought were settled and long forgotten suddenly come back at you, and not in a gentle way.

We have a great health care system here in Canada. It’s not perfect and it needs improvement (particularly the issue of wait times), but it’s paid for through the provinces, and there’s no excuse not to go to the doctor if you notice something amiss.

I regularly check the moles on my body for anything that looks out of order, and I have gone to a dermatologist twice in the past when I saw what appeared to be a mole change. Those two concerns turned out to be false alarms and I was commended after each doctor’s examination for taking charge of my health. During the first week of March, I was trying to check out a mole on my back that was in an awkward place. It looked perfectly fine, but it was really getting on my nerves. Have you ever seen a dog chase it’s tail? Have you ever seen a stupid dog chase it’s tail? That’s what I looked like, while standing in front of the mirror, twisting around while trying to get a good look at that mole. I finally said, “This is ridiculous, I’m going to have a doctor look at it close up before I injure myself”.

I went to the medical clinic up the street, where a GP examined me. He said there was nothing wrong with it, but he referred me to a dermatologist just to be safe. 10 days later, I went to that dermatologist, who examined me and said it looked fine, but he recommended removing it because it was over 1 cm in size. He froze the skin on that part of my back and removed it (I didn’t know exactly how and I don’t want to know if he is freezing me). The procedure took just five minutes and he slapped a bandage there, telling me to keep it clean and put PolySporin on it. He then said I would be contacted later if anything came up in the biopsy report.

That part made me worry. “Biopsy report?”, I asked him. “I thought I was fine!”. He said it’s just a precaution to make sure the tissue removed was not undergoing any changes that could indicate cancer. Because I had “job-search-on-the-brain”, I asked him if I should perhaps throttle back on my looking for work until the results come back. Don’t be surprised by that question: the last thing you want to do is apply for a position and later, if hired, explain to your new boss you need to take a leave of absence or even resign if you have to undergo medical treatment. He replied to me that would not be necessary, since he felt the mole was likely non-cancerous but he can’t be positive until the biopsy report returns. He would know the results in three weeks.

So, two doctors tell me not to worry, with the latter removing it as a precautionary double-check for a lab to look at. Fine by me: no more looking like a dog chasing his tail in front of the mirror. Weeks go by and I forget about the mole. Granted, the wound made by the removal of the mole is taking a while to heal, but it does not hurt at all and only bleeds a bit during the changing of bandages and the application of Polysporin, but three weeks go by and no call from the doctor.

Just after the start of the fifth week, I get the following message on my answering machine:

(I edited the name of the clinic and the doctor out, so that is why it skips in some places. Sorry.)

Not urgent my you-know-what. I’ve gone to many specialists in the past, including dermatologists as I mentioned before, and not one has ever called me back just to tell me “You’re fine! Thanks for coming down!”. I called the clinic staff person who left that message,  asking her what the reason was for having to come back. I might as well have tried herding cats in an alley with the runaround I got:

“Hi I’m calling about my test results. The doctor needs to see me?”

“Yes, sir”

“Was it a positive?”

“He didn’t say, he just needs to see you”

“Well it must be bad news if he wants to see me”

“Why are you saying it’s bad, sir!? How can you say this as fact? He just wants to see you!”

“Well, what does he want to see me about, if you know it’s not so bad?”

“Sir I don’t know! It just says here (where exactly is here…on a screen? paper?) that he wants to see you!”

I have a great deal of respect for doctors and anyone else who work in the medical field. They work long insane hours, take care of people like myself, and do not get thanked for their efforts. But I always hated the fact it was a “Snakes And Ladders” game when came to getting test results. I waited 10 days to see a dermatologist. I waited just over 4 weeks to get this answering machine message. Now I have to wait 3 weeks more to see the same dermatologist again for something I can’t be told about over the phone. It’s supposedly not urgent, but the doctor still has to tell me in person rather than make the results available to staff to tell me over the phone.

Now I have this angel of uncertainty yammering in my ear for the next three weeks while I continue with my job search and my course at George Brown College. It’s going to be a distraction for both, but as I said, this blog is supposed to chronicle my job search and distractions like this are a part of the process. It’s a reminder that the world still turns no matter what I’m doing, and sometimes the world can suddenly roll right over you without warning.

I’ll update this blog post on May 3rd once I come back from the doctor with the results. Wish me luck!



Update May 3, 2012: I have the results and I wish I can tell you the news is good, but it is not. I will require a second biopsy to ensure the mole is not cancerous because the sample was incomplete. This is likely because it was a deeper mole than expected, and deepening moles are typical of melanoma, or skin cancer. I have to wait for a local plastic surgeon to contact me to schedule an appointment for a deeper extraction and biopsy.

This will of course affect my job search, as I cannot apply to full time positions while this health scare  hangs over me. I have an obligation to ensure I am capable of holding down a full-time position before accepting any offer. I would appreciate hearing from cancer survivors how they are handling their employment situation, especially if they are out of work. Please feel free to drop me a line.

In the meantime,  I plan to apply for part-time and temporary positions for now, and the college course will complete as scheduled.

Update May 31, 2012: Finally! Someone from the Health Care Clinic calls me back while I was out job-hunting. A staffer left a telephone number and extension for me to call to get information about my appointment date and time. When I call, however, I get an answering machine saying they are either dealing with another patient or away from their desk. WHAT?! I left a message on the answering machine to call me back. A call-back has confirmed a time to see a skin surgeon. I’ll keep you posted through updates on this page.

Update June 22, 2012: The plastic surgeon at Toronto East General removed the last of the mole, and has my final biopsy reports. All negative. Huzzah!

……if I can only get rid of this meibomian cyst that just popped up. Yeesh. Never a boring moment at Chez David

Update June 26, 2012: Another reason why we need a computer system that shares patient data between doctors in Ontario: I just received a phone call from the dermatologist office who sent me to the plastic surgeon, asking if I have gone to that plastic surgeon yet. WHAT? Health Minister Deb Matthews really needs to work on this. On second though, heck with that.  I could probably write one for the Ontario government. Hire me!