A Day In The Life Of Scott

If it can't be expressed in figures, it is not science; it is opinion


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WOW, So Many Moments

So, it has been forever since I have actually taken the time to sit down and write a new post on here. Sorry to my loyal followers. Of course, some of you I spoke with in person during the summer. Moving on…

Well, first, I need to back track just a bit to June. It was a simpler time, when children respected their elders and…. Ok never mind, it was graduation day, and it was a stressful time as all of my grade 12s were preparing for their big ceremony. That of course, was all but one of them who had come to school to sit at the computer beside me and perfect his valedictorian speech. As I was finalizing grades and trying to get exams corrected on time, he said to me “Mr. O, thanks, you are the only reason I am here today. I am only graduating because who pushed me to finish school.”

These were the words of a student who was ready to quit school when he finished grade 11. I had to push him to change his mind and finish. I know that as teachers we often do hear about the positive impacts that we have on our students. Sometime we get glimpses as we talk to other students or community members, it was just a nice moment to hear first hand from a student whose life I made a difference in.

During the summer I visited back to Conne River, Newfoundland. Lots of positive stuff going on in that community since I left. What hit me the most though was not the new roads, new houses or even the new school going up. It was talking with some former students and asking them what they were up to.

Kinesiology, music, two in nursing, teaching, marine engineering, one doing her bachelor of social work, another doing her Masters of social work, and other just finished her masters in speech pathology. A couple had started their own businesses on and off reserve. Another is trying to get a aboriginal community radio station going to help benefit the community. These are all awesome feats, and whether I had anything to do with it is irrelevant, because I know I impacted these students in someway, most of them I taught for all 3 yrs of their high school careers.

There is one story that truly sticks out though. This student (let’s call him Drew) entered grade 10 and struggled with reading. He had dyslexia. As such, he also spent a lot of time putting himself down. He wanted to go into Nursing, but felt he couldn’t do it. I pushed him… and pushed him. He was a smart kid. Come grade 12, he had to write the public exam, which I read and scribed for him. All he had to do was sit in class and listen and he managed to pull off 70% or better on the exam.

After graduation in 2012 Drew went on to try out Nursing. After 3 years of planning his nursing career and a semester in the program he felt it was not his cup of tea. Today, he is a paramedic. He stuck with the medical career, but a different aspect. He’s been at it for 2 years not, and is happy. I spoke with him when I was in Conne River. It was so awesome to hear that he found his niche and a was able to succeed in spite of the dyslexia.

Let’s now skip ahead a bit to last week. School more officially started and students were back in the building. I find the beginning of the year is my time to reflect and think about why I have chosen this career path. I do it in the fall because I use the reflection to give me some inspiration to keep doing it. This summer was full of inspiration to me. Directly or indirectly, I know I made a difference to those students. I had to; they were in my classroom for 1-3 hrs per day everyday for 3 years. This is why I keep going. It is an amazing feeling to know that these kids are doing awesome things with their lives and I had the honour to be part of it.

Two days ago I had a couple students in grade 10 sit there and tell me they were too stupid to do their math that morning. First of all, nothing irritates me more than hearing a kid tell me that they are stupid. At that moment I sat down and gave her a piece of my mind… no not really, I gave her a little pep talk. I am trying to get these kids to try and hopefully succeed, I don’t need them thinking they are stupid.

This incident got me thinking about Drew and his story, and all of the other students I just mentioned. That afternoon during math with the same group, I asked them to put their pencils down and listen. I told them first that every single person I was about to talk about was also First Nations, and although it is at times more difficult, don’t let it stop you from doing what you want or love to do. I shared all the stories, but one took priority – Drew’s story.

After a few minutes for them to take in what I talked about, we were back to work. I find some of these kids need to know they are worth it. They need to know that someone believes they CAN do it, even if they don’t yet think they can.

One of the new teachers at school asked me today, why I teach in First Nation schools. There is no simple answer, and while in both cases it was a matter of needing a job, I have been doing it enough now to realize it is much more.

The FN schools are more relaxed atmospheres, for sure. But, they also focus more on individual students on a case-by-case basis. I don’t mean academically necessarily, but rather when dealing with the kids in general. It is more difficult to do that in public school, rules and policies are in place and are etched in stone. Realistically, no two students’ situation is the same, so why do we try to fit them all in the same mould?

I also do it a bit for greed. I know historically that FN communities are going to be dealing with more issues than the average non-FN community. This makes teaching the students more challenging at times, but when you see the rewards and the students’ successes, it makes those challenges all the more worth while.

 

Perhaps I have just been rambling on too much, it is 1 AM on a Friday night, so it is possible.

On a final note, I think this is going to be an awesome school year. I finally got a classroom without a sauna (ie. The computer lab with 15 computers giving off heat), I have a SmartBoard. I have some awesome classes – the kids are fun. I found out today I have some extra budget money to spend on my math and science departments. SWEET! J

Anyway, I am yawning away. I am off. Until next time. Cheers.

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A quick follow-up.

I took Isaac into the vet this afternoon because even after I got home from work today he seemed to be having difficulty with his hind quarters when he moved. The vet checked him out and could not find anything wrong. She did find that he seemed to be tender at the back end and he was a little slow to move and sit down, but he did not appear to be in any pain when she checked him over. She did prescribe him some anti-inflammatory meds to help him with the discomfort, and asked me to bring him back next week for X-rays if he does not improve. A huge sigh of relief, considering I was so paranoid last night that something else would be wrong with him.

My buddy will be alright, and after I gave him is medicine tonight he seems to be coming around more.J


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It’s been a long time, I know

So, I just noticed that it has been nearly a year since my last blog post. I lead either a very busy life, or a very uneventful one and so I have nothing to talk about. Whichever is the case, here I am, writing again.

Firstly, I feel that it necessary to write about something important – the things we take for granted.

This has been a stressful week for me, but not for reasons that most would thing. Home stuff is good lately, and school is better than awesome (I love my job, but more on that later). Rather I almost lost someone dear to my heart this week – my best friend, who has been there with me for the last 10 years by my side. No matter how many times he gets on my nerves and I have to drive him out the door he always comes back to sitting at my side. Never judging for anything, he is always there when I am down on myself and willing to lend a wagging tail and a nudge with his cold wet nose. In case it wasn’t obvious, I am referring to Isaac, my beautiful golden retriever.

Two nights ago I opened the door and he sneaked out between my legs. He took off running up the road as he had done many times before. Oft’ times before I or someone else would go after him, but it was 9 PM and cold out. I figured that as usual he would be back in 20 minutes or so after he has a quick run. This time was different, he never came home. I was not going to bed until the whole family was back in the house, so after 4 hours missing we went looking for him around town. After 45 minutes and going up and down every street, there was no sign of him. He disappeared one other winter night several years ago, and he was back on the door step when I woke up, waiting to get in where it is warm; so I tried to sleep believing he would be back in the morning.

This was not the case. When I checked first thing the next morning the deck was still empty. I had Nathan going around town all day asking around and looking for him. No luck. After I got home from work I drove around for an hour looking – no luck. We were getting worried, it is not like him to take off and not come home.

Nathan went to a meeting and I stood watch by the window, praying that he would arrive safe. After he got home we went out for another drive – after an hour there was still no luck search all over town. Just as I was about to return home Nathan suggested one more trip to the other side of town to make it full circle. Off in the distance, walking very slowly and weakly up the road I could see an animal. I pulled up closer to realise it was Isaac. He could not even climb into the car, he had to be lifted in, and back into the house.

He returned, cold, tired, hungry, sickly and missing his collar. Someone had clearly tried to do something to him because his collar was off and it was not loose enough to just fall off. Last night we warmed him up, gave him a warm bath and some fresh water and food. He seemed fine and eating normally, but legs seem weak when he is trying to stand up.

Tonight he is more energetic, and eating but still not himself. He is still having difficulty standing up, and does not want to jump up like he always does. I am worried about him. On Friday after work, I am going to take him directly to the vet.

My entire point about things we take for granted is this – my buddy is not well, and I nearly lost him, not realizing just how much he needs to be part of the family structure in his house to keep everyone sane. We do not realise how much pets mean to us until they are gone or sick.

This point is not only true of pets, but of people too. Don’t take them for granted and assume they will always be there – enjoy them while you can.

On the subject of school, I think I have the most awesome job anyone could ask for. Lately classes have been great, and just in general things have been great. A few weeks ago I started joining the boys around the drum most mornings. I find after smudging and drumming it just feels so invigorated for the morning. It is to the point now that the boys, mostly grades 1-6, beckon for me to sit with them if I am in the hallway. So that is cool. I’ll have some pictures soon – tomorrow morning in fact.

I can never be 100% certain until I am certain, but things seem to be fitting into place for the fall. I love that I am able to bring positive promotion of math and science to the school, and that I get a lot of support to do this. We are celebrating National Pi Day on Monday, and our science fair is also next week. I am still working on some robotics stuff, we need more money to get this off the ground completely, and at the moment time is tight getting ready for science fair and Pi day.

I have been pushing for more grade 12 science and math for the future. We need to have it so the kids have more options. If it is possible to stretch my abilities, then we should definitely be giving these kids a shot.

Any who, I need to close for now, gotta go pet the dog.

Êkosi pitamâ (That’s it for now).

 


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Too much to do, and I love it.

So, it turns out that I haven’t got enough hours in my days to be completely satisfied. Somehow I have to find time to work, play, and sleep.

Since my last post, I have been heavily into the work and much less into the play and sleep.  The science fair at school took a lot of time and preparation in January and February. The committee and I organized everything and completely re-vamped the fair from previous years to include projects from all students in the school. Elementary students prepared class projects, which in my opinion turned out awesome for the first time having done projects. Grade 6’s up to high school prepared projects that qualified them to go the regional First Nations science fair in Saskatoon. I took two teams on to the regional fair earlier this week. They never placed 1st or 2nd over all to make it to the national science fair in Fredericton, NB, but they did both place 2nd in their categories. They did awesome.  This was basically a 2-night and 2-day field trip that I chaperoned.  I love taking kids on field trips, but it is so draining, and I was drained to start with.

At the end of February we got a call from one of James’ surgeon’s office. His March 5th appointments with the neurosurgeons and his specialist had all been cancelled and fast-tracked to February 26th.  Everything was rushed so that they could get him in for surgery on Monday, March 9th.  While all this was great, it also meant that I was booking more days off work than I had expected in a very short time.  All these days off meant more planning and busy work that needed to be corrected…. (blah… while I love my job, I quite dislike the chore of correcting)

So, anyway, the doctors all felt James would be best with the surgery, which they changed. Originally he was supposed to have a section of brain tissue removed to reduce the number of seizures. His previous surgery back in January revealed some interesting findings. They were able to precisely locate the seizure loci (or places where seizures begin) in his brain.  This was pretty cool in itself because even with the electrodes and sensors in his brain back in January it was not really expected to get this information.  This was all well and great, but they could not safely remove the brain tissue from this new location without risking paralysis in his left leg and arm. Though this might not be so bad for some, James is left-handed.

The new plan of action was Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery.  Basically they placed two electrodes into his brain using a sophisticated computer and a robot. Each electrode placed next to each of the two seizure loci in the brain. These electrodes are then hooked up to a battery that was implanted and programmed with a specific pulse and electrical current. The current pulses stimulate the brain cells in the area, basically preventing them from entering a refractory state, stopping them from firing. In essence, it makes them too tired to work. A neuron that is too tired to fire, will not fire, and thus will not be able to cause a seizure.

The odds were that over the next 24 months there is a 15% chance of being seizure-free.  Not a lot, but better than the 0% that the doctors in St. John’s, NL told him back several years ago. At worst, there will be up to 80% improvement in his quality of life, as long as he continues to take his meds. Gradually the specialist would like to wean him off a couple meds, so that even though he has to continue to take them, he will not have to take so many.

We are two weeks post-surgery and there have been seizures, but honestly, they have been tiny. His battery pack has a computer and remote control for recording seizures during the event, but by the time we get the remote out the seizure is over.  Interestingly enough last weekend he messed up his meds and missed 3 doses. Normally this would result in BIG seizures and maybe a trip to the ER if he was really lucky.  With the device installed, he still had four seizures, but they were less than 3 seconds each – long enough to witness, but too short to be a problem, and he was not left groggy afterwards.

—————————————–

Back to my schedule issues for a moment.   I had to book 2 days off for James. One for the new appointment dates, which meant that at the very last moment I had to cancel my already-booked day off from March 5th. On March 9th I had to book the surgery date off too.  Somehow I still had to cram time in to finish 2 math courses that I was nowhere near finishing on time by last Thursday, but there was little I could do. I planned for a sub for that Monday and went on to Saskatoon.

I left James at the hospital until I was told to pick him up. I had kids in till late in the evenings prepping for their exams and working to bring their marks up. By the time I got home most evenings I was dead in the head. Somewhere between meetings, classes and tutoring I had to make 2 math exams and get all my correcting done before the term was over.  Thursday morning, March 12th, I get a call from the hospital while I was at work – James was being discharged.  Argh…. I now had to go to Saskatoon after school – 2 hrs in, 2 hrs out.  Waste of an evening. Upon returning home I had to make 2 math exams that I never had time to make all week. They were done and they were beautiful exams, but they were not done till 5:30 in the morning.  Oops, and I had to get up at 7:30 for work.

That same weekend, as if it wasn’t enough to be swamped with exams and stuff, Science fair in Saskatoon was March 16 – 17th. We were leaving on Sunday, returning on Tuesday.  I had to prep for 3 courses I had not even started teaching yet. I managed to get all of my exams corrected, marks and comments into the computer. I even managed to get all my planning done for two days. Needless to say, by the time I got home from Saskatoon on Tuesday after being “on” for 2 days with the kids, I was basically dead on my feet and my head.

I started back to class on Wednesday, and my new classes seem like they are going to be awesome.  I am teaching computer science and Math 10 and 20 Workplace & Apprenticeship (basically trade school math). All three classes seem like they are going to be awesome.  I love when things work out nicely like this.

Oh, I nearly forgot, Thursday evening I had a math night at school to help out with. That was interesting, I planned for helping junior high kids with adding and subtracting fractions, but ended up working with grade 5-6 kids instead.

Last night I spent 4 hours after school cleaning all the computers in the computer lab. They were so messed up it was driving me nuts and I don’t even use them. Didn’t get home til nearly 8 PM on a Friday night.  I tried helping a friend with some coding on his website, and I fell asleep on the keyboard… oops.   When I woke up all James said to me was  “having a nap were we?”  As if it is normal to fall asleep on the keyboard.  haha

The fun does not stop there.  I had staff meetings in North Battleford all day Monday and parent-teacher meetings on Tuesday evening.

I think that is almost everything done after that.   And so it should be, I had been swamped since February.

As a final note, as busy as I have been, and as sleepy has I have been while trying to get everything done in limited time, I am not at all complaining. I am a teacher, and working with the kids and enjoying every minute of it is exactly what I signed up for. Busy as it has been, I have been loving every minute of it.

I even signed up for more. I am planning to be returning to Little Pine School in the fall as the primary math/ science teacher for junior and senior high.  Not sure how that will work yet, since I am only one person, but I am sure it will be fun to figure out.

That has been my last 2 months in a nutshell. Too busy having to much fun to have time to type.

Until next time.


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It’s been along and twisty road

Although James has been dealing with the seizures, medications and hospital visits for 18 years of his life, it is looking like this may change soon. On Christmas Eve 2014 we recieved a call from the neurosurgeon’s office at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon. He had two weeks to get back into the family doctor for a pre-op appointment before having to go to the hospital again for more pre-op tests and X-rays.

Before I go any further, I should make a note of recall, James moved in with me in July 2012. Behaviour and mental issues resulting from his past aside, he arrived with a paper bag of anti-seizure medications that he was barely taking. The next day he ended up in an ER in Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland where they pumped him full of meds, checked his levels and sent him on his way. In the month that followed I insisted on getting him back on a regular schedule for the medication as he was supposed to be before he was scheduled to meet with his neurologist in September.

This was the first of the doctor visits, and it did not prove to be very fruitful, as he spent 5 minutes greeting James and then 5 minutes speaking with the dictaphone about the next appointment. I was new to this whole thing and talking to doctors is not something I was good at. I never even went to the doctor for my own problems, let alone a neurologist for someone else’s problems.

In the months that followed I managed to get James’ medications back on track, but with little effect on the seizures. Although he had tonic clonic (grand mal) seizures, he also had what the doctor called pseudoseizures that presented themselves as complex partial seizures. What on Earth is a pseudoseizure? It took a while, but I finally figured that out too. I was making it a special point to get to the bottom of all the seizures. I did my research, and I continued to do my research, trying to get to the bottom of what was causing all the seizures.

I very quickly was able to figure out the root of some of the pseudoseizures. Stress! Lots of stress; from a horrible and traumatic childhood, and being bouced around the foster care system because no one wanted to keep him. I got him enrolled in reguarly meetings with the guidance cousellor at school and had my own regular “chats” with him to help him in venting the demon thoughts that led to the pseudoseizures. Slowly, the number of complex partial seizures deminished from several each day to none, and only in a matter of months. I insisted he keep seeing the guidance cousellor on a regular basis to ensure they stayed away.

Now, this was one problem solved. However, even though he was taking three different anti-seizure medications, he was still having grand mal seizures. This was a problem, because it meant that even though the complex partial seizures were gone, and his meds were perfectly on track they were not working. In April of 2013, we met again with the neurologist in Grand Falls. I showed him 6 months of seizure diary, but he still did not believe James was having anything more than pseudoseizures and did not think he actually had epilepsy, even though the previous medical records already indicated that he did.

This time, I was more prepared, I had the seizure diary, and I had a plan. I was going to insist on a medication change because the current meds were clearly not working. Evidently my preparation worked, because in addition to oxcarbazapine, dilantin and divolproex the doctor now added keppra to the mix. After two months and no change in the seizure activitity I insisted on going back to the doctor to get things changed again. The doctor was effectively useless. While he did increase the dose of keppra, he did not want to look any further and did not want to see us again till the fall. Nice doctor. I always thought the doctor was supposed to try to fix people, not push them away because the case was too difficult.

I was on unemployment, broke and unable to do much, but I kept on researching – trying to figure out why the seizures were happening, what caused the epilepsy in the first place, and even what effect it was having on James’ brain. My plan was to attend one more appointment in Grand Falls and see how it went before finding a second opinion and finding him a new doctor, one that might actually give a damn.

Of course, as luck would have it, by September 2013 I was offered a job in Saskatchewan, and I had to move. Although James did not want to, I stongly encouraged him to jump on the wagon and check out the new sights of our wonderful country and perhaps a new doctor. James started school with me in Neilburg, Saskatchewan, but was unable to finish more than a couple months because he was having so many seizures. After spending a November evening in another ER in North Battleford, one of my colleagues insisted I make the call for a doctor’s appointment at a clinic not far from here.

This new doctor made a referal for James to see a new neurologist in Saskatoon. We attended this appointment and managed to get a same-day referral to an epilepsy specialist at Royal University Hospital. That same day James was told he would be admitted for a week of observation so that they could hook him up to the machines and record his seizures on video and EEG. This happened in January 2014. Following the observation week, the specialist changed James’ medication. Keppra turned out to be a wrong medication and should have been prescribed in the first place.

In February 2014 James was told that he was a good candidate to get surgery to remove the seizure tissue from his brain. The scans began… MRIs, PET/CTs, even neuruospychological exams. After months of waiting, we met with the specialist and the neurosurgeon in August; the surgery was going to happen. Unfortunately the waiting list was long and the wait would be long, even though James was short-listed.

It was a long wait, but we got a call on Christmas Eve. James was to go to Pre-op on January 5th and the first of two surgeries on January 12th. The possibility of brain surgery is enough to make anyone scared. The surgery last week was a simple procedure, placing deep electrodes into his brain allowing the doctor and his team to determine the specific location of seizure activity.

Last week, after making the discovery we got the best news someone in James’ position could recieve. Actual brain surgery to remove a portion of his brain is very risky and may not work. James is, instead, getting tested for deep brain stimulation. The team of doctors working on his case has been stimulating his brain for 2 days now, and slowly removing him from his medications. So far, he is on half the medication load and still not having any seizures. The goal is currently to determine how low the medication load can be before he has seizures while his brain is being stimulated.

If the testing phase works, James will be returning to the hospital in a few weeks to have a stimulator placed in his body and new electrodes placed in his brain.

This is the best possible situation for a special case of epilepsy that does not seem to have any cause and has been resistant to anti-seizure meds. Brain surgery is still an option for later if this does not work, but this has been giving promising results so far. Not bad for some one who was told by doctors in Newfoundland that he would not be able to get any surgery.

The rest of us are simply excited that things are working, and in the next few weeks James could be virtually seizure free.

It’s been a long and twisty road, but it seems to be straightening out. Something that could not be done without the amazing doctors that we have encountered at Royal University Hospital. Doctors who believed that it would be possible to help this kid to at least have a 75 – 80% improvement in the quality of live, and they are working hard to do it.

Awesome!


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I couldn’t be happier.

 

Things have been going swimmingly in the last few weeks. Classes have been awesome and now that I am getting to know the students better it’s been fun. This is what teaching is supposed to be like, I think – when you start the day on a natural high and finish the day the same way because there is nothing bringing you down. Not even the one kid who doesn’t want to do his work.

I am still swamped with correcting, but I can get some done tomorrow and Monday there won’t be any kids in.

I have been at school for three weeks and already I have begun to develop a positive rapport with students. This is half the battle when it comes to classroom management, but even still in the past there have been issues with my skills in this area. As I was on my way home from work on Friday afternoon I was thinking to myself about how nice it has been to be able to shape these students into the type of people I want in my classroom – be respectful and mindful of the few rules I have. They have been set in their ways, but I am fussy with regard to how I want things done, and I will not have it any other way. Just as an example, swearing is something that I will tolerate to some degree (except when it is directed at me) although I prefer not to hear it at all. I tend to pick my battles, correct the swearing and move on with the life. I am slowly getting them to the point where I’m hardly hearing a curse word out of them, and there is a quick “oops” when they do slip it out. Proper thing!

I felt it was important that I thank the two people who helped me so much last year with helping me to improve my skills in the area of classroom management; so I emailed them the other day to let them know how their support has been a huge benefit so far this year. I realize that I still have some growth to do, but that will come in time. Now that I have a solid base to build upon, it will be a lot easier.

I will be pushing some of them to join the ranks and do a science fair project this year. A few had done a project in the past and come in second among all First Nations schools in the province. So, I will be ensuring that they participate again this year. I got a bit of a feel for who might be interested on Friday, so now I just need to get more details and push them.

In other news my neighbour next door asked me to do some DJing for him. He has a DJ business and knew that I had dabbled in it while I was in Newfoundland. I had a brief orientation this evening, and will be running the show for a group of kids in North Battleford next weekend. I’m kind of excited about that too because I really enjoyed doing it before. Not to mention there are not too many side jobs where you can get paid to stand there and play music all night. I basically went from having no job to having two jobs in a matter of two weeks. J

I know I have not mentioned him in a while, but James has been doing better these last few weeks. Now that his medications are all on par where they should be and he has not missed any doses he has been seizure-free for a little over two weeks. We are still waiting on information from the hospital regarding the dates for surgery, but for now the meds are keeping things under control.

Well, it is getting late. I should go and get some shut-eye. More updates soon.

Cheers.