Brain Power

What’s Flying Across “the Pond” like?

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What’s flying across “the pond” like against the prevailing winds? Well, sit back in your narrowest chair, stretch your feet out till your knees are half bent, and let me tell you. Or watch!

To begin, I used an e-Boarding Pass on my iPhone; and took one small suitcase whose zip is Herculean in strength, a camera bag, and a large purse. Plus food for the wait.

Checking in was a breeze. Air Canada emailed me 24 hours before my flight that I could check in. While still in bed, I clicked the link and checked in. My boarding pass automatically appeared in my iPhone’s Passbook. Wow. For a person with a brain injury, being able to check in at your own pace in the quiet comfort of your own home or hotel room = awesome.

Checking in at the airport was quick. Both at Pearson and Heathrow, I didn’t have to wait for a self-serve kiosk, even though I flew out of Toronto on the busiest day of the year. My parents helped me become familiar with this new system at Pearson, so no probs at Heathrow plus Heathrow’s kiosk had a better smartphone QR code reader. In Pearson, I had to manually enter my booking reference number because the kiosk couldn’t read my iPhone. Both kiosks read my passport quickly, but the one at Heathrow had a better animation to show you how to place it. I must’ve stood at the Pearson kiosk for five minutes trying to comprehend its hyperspeed animation. The baggage ticket printed out quickly. But in case of difficulty, agents are all over the place, offering to help. And the lineup for checking in your tagged baggage is short and zips along.

Security made me nervous. But Air Canada, the government of Canada, and Heathrow have websites with loads of info on how to prepare. I went over them all ad nauseum, so when I got there … well, I’ve never gotten breezed through so quickly before and with no beeping either! It took twenty minutes from entering Heathrow Terminal 2 on the bus to starting for the B41 gate. Not bad. It took almost as long walking to my gate where they boarded us swiftly. Nothing like my flight to England!

  

The insanely early wake-up time is worth the faster boarding and less cattle-car-like morning flight. Until the idiot across the aisle is so inept, he can’t push his bag into the overhead bin properly, and it bounces off the right side of my head and shoulder like a fat bolster. I turn around confused, while someone mutters, that could’ve been my head. The inept guy takes my bin spot. I tell him to shove his bag over.

We sit and belt in.

Pushback delay. Not again!

  

Oh wait, it’s only 11 minutes. We’re moving – yay!!

Oh wait, as in literally. There’s a queue of planes. Typical, eh? All those Brits hogging the lane to the runway. And now there’s an SAS trying to sneak in. Always one of those: even airplanes do it.

  

We creep forward under the unusually London sunny skies, our sleek old Boeing 767–300 plane headed to Toronto rain. Ugh. Worse, the person behind me has their music up loud (later, she sticks her knees in my back). It’s like sitting on the subway. The London Underground, not so much. Only once was I bothered by headset leak in London.

Oh wait, we’re moving, squeezing ahead of a Virgin plane. We go to the far end of the runway. A little smoggy out there, or as Londoners like to say: we have haze.

  

And now the engines roar. It’s 9:31, only 31 minutes after the official boarding time. I haz a window seat this flight. Taking off is freaking awesome!

I am so excited, I forget to chew my gum.

Window seats are the best … well, until you need to go to the loo (or the toi-let as Brits say) and the person beside you is snoozing.

The 767 being older is noisier than the 777. At least, if you need to be deafened, it drowns out the headphone leakage and muffles the kid making airplane flying noises.

Although the seats are as thin as the 777’s – you can feel the person reaching into the seat pocket behind you – and the aisles are just as narrow and the toilets as tiny, it feels more what I’m used to somehow. Really, how do fat people fly? The seat is the least of the problems. The aisles and toilets are practically unnavigable. You stagger down the aisle going sorry, sorry because the narrower the space, the harder it is to balance.

9:49am. Turbulence time. We were told it would be bumpy over Ireland or the Irish Sea, but we’re still over England. Even the flight attendants have to sit and buckle up. Fifteen minutes he said. But at 9:53, the seatbelt sign goes off. And that’s when smooth becomes a tad shaky, just normal air bumps but for the fearful, a little worrying I would imagine.

(When I got off my flight to London, a guy behind me was exclaiming over how turbulent the ride was. Turbulent? I thought. Yeah, twas bumpy but not bad. All in the perspective!)

Once the turbulence ends, breakfast arrives pronto – for me. Special meals come first. Then everyone else. That means I’m eating while my seatmates wait. A bit awkward when sitting in the back as the back seat passengers are served last. Not so bad on the way to London when I was sitting up front and the carts began there.

  

So, I don’t know, but piping and spicy hot chickpeas and soggy samosas aren’t my idea of an ovo-lacto vegetarian breakfast. Fruit and yoghurt aren’t bad. I’m surprised how sweet the grapes are.

In mid-eating, I glance out and spot a contrail off our starboard wing. It’s from a much faster plane. Then another appears. Then we’re veering toward them and crossing almost through them. Then I spot two more not far off, as the plane flies.

  

The most contrails I’ve ever seen before – and I’ve been a window seat fan for decades – was one years ago when one plane below us banked south as we both left Ireland behind us. Man, those air traffic controllers have a lot of traffic to handle these days. A bit scary when yet another plane appears and you know there’s not much room for error as it disappears below you. Kind of close. Maybe that’s why we rose up as we headed over the Atlantic.

Scrambled eggs with chicken sausage or apple pancakes are for the regulars. My seatmate is given her breakfast, oh, about a half hour after I swallow the last of mine.

When someone is about to hurl, there’s always a way to squish the stomach and get past the food cart. Airplane designers don’t take into account such a necessity!

Time to settle down into the bulk of the flight. We’ve been flying only 2.5 hours; another 5.5 to go. I put my display into Autocycle maps, and the day/night map announced it’s currently 9:58 AM. No, it’s not, I think, my iPhone says 11:58. Oh, we’ve crossed Iceland, crossed two time zones, or in other words, the equivalent of two provinces.

  

The ocean is blue and quiet. I remember one year, I was a teen, looking through the 747 window and seeing a gray ocean with waves so large, their crests were easily visible from our great height.

  

People congest the aisle queuing for the loo after mealtime while attendants clear up and offer duty free. My back is killing me; the only thing to do is lean back, slide my butt down, stretch my legs out under the seat in front of me, and rotate my ankles sans hitting the underside of the seat. The poor guy is trying to nap. Good luck with that. His blind is down, but a few of us – like me – have ours up, letting in the less-filtered sunlight of 40k feet up. Five hours to go.

There’s ice in them there ocean. Lots of it. Too higgledy piggledy to be waves … right??? Well, maybe both waves and ice.

This is when I’m not too fussed about being stuck on a plane, like when I flew over to England. I’d rather be staring out at the graduated blue of the sky, the matching blue ocean, and puffy, swirling clouds dividing the two than back home, getting back into my routine.

  

Halfway through, and the toilet is a cesspit. Sigh. There’s something to be said for sitting up front with the economy biz people. They’re not such pigs.

The porthole in the door at the back of the 767 is really, really small and round. The 777 doesn’t have as big a window as I remember the 747 having, but it’s massive compared to this. Still, it’s quiet back here. It’s time for the four-hour-get-the-hell-out-of-my-seat stretch. Unlike in the 777, no one else knows about this place, so I’m alone (apart from the occasional toilet user).

We haven’t reached Canada’s coast yet. Snack time though. Pretzels. Artificial yuck. But I’m hungry.

2:28pm (guess I should switch to Toronto time). I see ice! Canada!!

  

I ogle the geography of our glorious country for most of the rest of the flight for as long as the clouds will let me, which happily is a lot.

Snack time. Again. I get a tomato mint cumin wrap in a box. I’m glad I kept the napkin from my pretzels because none comes with my wrap. The regulars get the same wrap a little while later since they run out of the chicken version quickly. This time the regulars’ wait time is very short. The wrap has that over-nuked mouth feel. Oh well. We’re almost home.

Home. Sigh. We’re flying over Québec, almost near Trois-Rivières or as my French Canadian ex-inlaws used to say: Three Rivers.

There are British tourists all around me on this Air Canada Tango flight. They’re heading to Florida. I hadn’t known Toronto was a change destination for British travellers to the U.S.

I refuse a drink. The flight attendant asks: you’re timing for the toilets. Yup. It isn’t that bad, he hedges. Worst I’ve seen! I half-joke. He laughs wryly and moves on.

The plane bumps on air and shakes back and forth.

It’s 4:27pm GMT, and I think we’re lower. I really should change my time. Later.

4:36pm GMT: a flurry of activity as the flight attendants bring around the landing cards. Canada’s are big compared to the UK’s. Yet somehow you’re not supposed to fold them while carrying all your stuff and staggering off a long flight. The British have more common sense in the design of their cards. Seems appropo this is timed for when we are close to flying over and north of Ottawa.

(Later, I learn they have kiosks that demand you tear off the side part and discard it – really, I could have done that on the plane when not laden down – read the cards, ask questions, then spit out a copy you show bored customs agents about, I don’t know, three times with the third taking it from you.)

Pilot comes on to say we’ll be descending in 20, landing at 1:25 local time, only 10 minutes late, and then he gives us the bad news of light East winds, overcast, rain, and 2C. Well, for now, I can still enjoy the sun. But OK, really is time to change my iPhone’s time zone.

It’s 1:01pm Toronto time, time to gather up all the various bits of me and put them back in my purse. I’ve fully charged my iPhone through the handy seat plug. Nice to have one of my own, unlike on my last flight.

We’re in a bank of clouds, dropping to the ground. Looking at the wing, it’s like we’re standing still.

Flaps up, only ten minutes from landing. Person in front of me hasn’t put up his seat. Two flight attendants have gone up the other aisle checking recalcitrants. None on my side. Sheesh. Finally one arrives and helps the young man pull forward his seat back.

The light is dimming as we descend through the clouds. Boy, the popping in the ears is bad. Not forgetting my gum this time!

We’re on the ground. Cloudy cloudy cloudy. But unlike London, I feel like I can still see, like I don’t have my sunglasses on. Toronto light levels are much higher than England’s. My iPhone connects to Rogers but no can do in the texting department. I guess Lebara doesn’t let you use your UK nano-SIM card outside of the UK.

And that’s it folks. Now comes the tedium of standing up on legs too stiff to move, either competing with or waiting for crowds to exit the plane as we funnel through two customs agents at the end of the passage from the plane, waiting – oh, not waiting this time! – for my baggage, then finding my prebooked limo. Ta-ta.

Brain Power

Reading v. Learning: A Thought Exercise

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Is reading learning? Are the higher cognitive aspects of reading really just learning and concentration? Are my problems only learning issues and not reading ones?

If it’s solely a learning issue, then logically I would have the same kind of issue with any kind of learning. If learning is the issue, then the modality of learning should have no impact on outcome. So let’s compare.

When my physiotherapist teaches me a new exercise, he demonstrates it, may guide my movements, observes my physical motions, and counters any mistakes. I have no problems learning new exercises. Now, you could say muscle memory is not the same as mental memory, that learning a physical movement requires different kinds of cognitions, thus you cannot compare it to reading. Yet, after my brain injury, up until relatively recently, when I walked, it took conscious thought to walk. On the outside, I may have looked like I was walking normally, but on the inside of my head, I was telling myself to keep moving, to move my right leg forward, to continue the forward motion, to move back to the centre of the sidewalk. I had to remember cognitively how to walk so that I could tell myself how to do it. Muscle memory comes after conscious memory. I didn’t realize how much conscious thinking went into the simple physical act of walking until the day I stopped doing it.So yes, I have to learn physical movements cognitively before they become embedded into muscle memory, and I must be able to concentrate in order to learn them.

No problem on either count.

I will say the memory fades after a week or two if I do not do them after I have been taught. But I don’t believe that that fading time is abnormally short.

But okay, let’s assume physical learning is a different beast from mental; let’s compare reading to learning through spoken language. When my neurodoc told me to tell myself “it’s 2014” when I’m having a flashback, I retained that instruction and no matter how many months or weeks or days apart the flashbacks occurred, I recalled that instruction well.

But that’s a simple instruction. I would have retained that if he had written it down for me, no? Hmm. Written instructions I keep in order to read over and over because I do forget them.

What about a complex spoken instruction or question? He asked me a question recently that I had trouble retaining, but that was because I wasn’t paying attention to him at all but to something else. When I pay attention, like when he gives me my reading homework assignments, which I don’t write down, I remember them. I also have no trouble following his reasoning, learning what he wants me to learn.

My concentration is measured as excellent, much better than a normal person of my age and gender, yet paying attention to someone when they’re talking is far easier, especially face to face when I can see their lips move and their body language, than paying attention to text on a page or screen even using all my strategies and devices. That problem is unique to reading ergo it’s not (simply) a concentration and learning issue.

What about flow: do you  need to be in flow to learn? No, but you do need to be in flow to escape into a good novel to the point of losing all awareness of your surroundings and bodily needs like hunger. Reading a good novel is not satisfying unless in flow. I have not missed being able to enter that state of flow when learning these past 15 years, only when reading good books.

What about the big picture? The hardest part for me about my reading assignments is building up the big picture, of adding fact to visual to concept as I read along so that eventually the entirety of the piece reveals itself to me and I’m able to retain it. Trying to keep hold of what I’ve read while adding to them is taxing. But that’s learning! Isn’t it? Or memory? Or some more complicated cognitive process? When my neurodoc goes into his expository mode, I have had trouble listening for that long. and I told him a couple of years ago to keep it short. When he does that now, the biggest trouble I have with it is his vocabulary and the way he uses words.I don’t have trouble building up a picture in my mind of what he’s telling me when I can understand his vocabulary. That is language not learning.

I think it’s a false dichotomy to say the higher cognitive functions of reading are learning and concentration. Yes, learning is involved, but I remain convinced after this adequate thought exercise that my main problem with reading remains – reading.

Brain Health

Do Therapists Need to be on Twitter?

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Data don’t lie; you can’t hide from data. Mid-August my gamma brainwaves had dropped, my ever-spinning busy brain, heart rate, and muscle tension risen. Then my Pastor helped me make a necessary decision, and all my brainwaves returned to my normal the first week of September. I learnt a hard lesson about social media and therapists.

The situation on Twitter my Pastor extricated me from had been unfolding for months. I had been blind to it because of being a woman who hates confrontation, because my injured brain processed slowly what I was experiencing, because the PTSD hell I am in deafened me to the subtle difference between concern and obsession.

When I began to feel crowded in late August, I spoke to three therapists, a peer mentor, friends, and family about what to do. The situation changed daily and hourly; advice I got was old by the time I returned to Twitter. My inability to make quick decisions, my self-doubt, my slow processing all rendered me unable to handle the situation in real time on my own. I didn’t have weeks for my brain to process sensory input and initiate an action plan. I needed professional help. I didn’t receive it from my not-on-Twitter therapists. If I had told any therapist a man I knew was suddenly knocking on my front door every. single. day with a bunch of roses, then roses and chocolates, then roses, chocolates, and teddy bears several times a day, what do you think they would have said? Probably not “I can’t tell you what to do.” Finally I thought of my Pastor. He is a professional, he knows off behaviour, and he participates in social media. It was the latter that benefitted me. He understood the milieu, the tools to protect people; he knew what I needed to say and what I needed to not do. Mute, block, report, in that order, he repeated to me, if the man keeps getting to me. I wrote down his instructions and acted.

Relief. Then I got angry.

Imagine being a person with a brain injury who discovers Twitter, begins to flourish socially, then is informed by mental health professionals who are not on Twitter how it’s not “real life,” it’s only a start, how they need to get a social life in the “real world.” And to leave if someone is bothering them.

It’s patronizing, unhelpful, uncomprehending of social media, and a nicely worded putdown of your client’s experiential knowledge of Twitter as if it’s not as good as your what-you-heard-through-the-grapevine knowledge.

How can you really know the new and opaque Twitter community if you’ve never lived in it? Would you consider yourself qualified to help a person if you had no experience with commuting, with working, with living with a family, with friendship, with social clubs, with professional groups? That’s the kind of therapist you are when you attempt to aid a patient on Twitter when you’re unfamiliar with it yourself.

Up till now, I’ve thought it would be nice but not necessary to have my therapists on Twitter with me. But I’ve changed my mind. It is necessary for people in the helping professions to be on Twitter, to be experientially familiar with it.

So this blog post is for mental health professionals with no social media life experience.

  1. Social media, specifically Twitter, is real life.

  2. People in the helping professions who are not participating even to a small, regular degree, cannot help their patients or clients when toxic situations arise. They may think they can; their clients may hope they can. But they can’t.

How can you tell when behaviour is tipping from a bit too interested to obsession to stalking when you’re not familiar with what’s normal behaviour on social media?

When would you advise a patient being harassed on Twitter?

You may have heard about the obvious dangers where men tweet vicious rape and death threats to women. But people also become obsessed with a tweep so subtly and cleverly that fellow tweeps won’t recognize the danger. These people can control a person through misusing good Twitter features and can stalk them with no effort. I can see furrowed brows as you guys not on social media think “following” is stalking. It isn’t.

That’s the essential problem isn’t it when your patients or clients are on Twitter or Facebook and you are not: you speak different languages.

It’s like the telephone forty years ago. The instrument of instant voice communication was ubiquitous in Canada but not in England. Every time I visited England, I’d go to call someone and was sharply rebuked. What? What do you mean I can’t just pick up the phone and talk? What do you mean I can only use it if urgent and to use the mail instead? Since when do people use letters to talk to each other?!!! Argh!!! The English relatives would have the opposite experience coming to Canada; they would marvel at this concept of easily talking to people any old time and for as long as they wanted to. How novel! How fast! How freeing!!

That’s social media: novel, fast, freeing; also fun, challenging, stimulating, newsy.

But a therapist not on Twitter is like that relative in England: unknowing and unbelieving.

Twitter has matured into a community separate yet threaded into the world. Today, people of like minds meet each other across space and time; people of opposite minds debate and people from different cultures learn how they argue differently, making us Canadians appreciate how respectful we are; people talk to each other rapidly as if face-to-face, as well as in slow motion over several hours; people congregate around conversations like at the best party ever; people strike up friendships, draw “real-life” relationships closer, and take Twitter ones into geographic space, thereby changing them in unforeseen ways; people live tweet events to an audience who watch through their smartphone apps; journalists smash through the confining walls of traditional media; people influence politicians; and people get a hell of a lot better customer service – it’s amazing what complaining about bad service to one’s 1000+ followers does for your telephone service. Tone, mood, tiredness, hunger, laughter, knowledge, EQ, IQ, sense of humour, interests all come through in tweets. People become intertwined; personal discussions are conducted in public instead of privately through DM. As a result, all sorts of social cohesions and problems crop up that therapists have no clue about, even if explained through the imperfect filter of their patient’s experience. How would you advise your client in trouble on Twitter? Perhaps tell them to take a break from social media, as I was told to?

But that advice blames the victim and reveals your harmful-to-your-client ignorance of safety tools created to allow the victim to stay on happily while sending the offender out the air lock. Can you imagine advising your client to not visit their friends, don’t read the newspaper, don’t talk to politicians, don’t attend events, don’t watch videos, don’t listen to music, don’t share your photos, don’t write? Well, that’s what you’re doing when you suggest quitting Twitter or social media.

What does a patient do when a painful conversation pops up in their stream? Could you advise them and recognize the urgency if their tweeps began arguing with them, muted them, blocked them for no reason they could understand? Arguments are a fact of Twitter life. Not all are bad. Political or news-driven arguments are informative or entertaining and the cool thing is that strangers jump in – but perhaps a person with a brain injury or social phobia would hesitate to participate without your help. Being able to ask you, their therapist, for knowledgeable guidance would not only be nice but moreso necessary for people with poor social skills and/or low EQ, dontchya think?

Relationships on Twitter are real ones. People are people everywhere. They bring their baggage into the Twitter community, even when they intend to hide it. If they tweet regularly they’ll eventually reveal more and more of themselves.

One of my therapists said it’s like texting. Um, no. It’s more like film acting or writing a book in that you have no specific audience in mind. Maybe one day when you’re a little emotional or bored, you tweet out something revelatory. You mayn’t get a reply, so you won’t know it was read. That drops your guard a little. You tweet out something more revelatory. Pretty soon, regular followers and anyone checking out your timeline will develop a pretty good picture of you. But in texting you always have one person firmly in mind – so you’ll remember to keep hiding what you don’t want the other person to know. And no one ever joins in that conversation sans an invitation.

I was also told it’s like a dating site where the person you’re supposed to be exclusive with can see when you’ve logged on and who’ve you corresponded with. Really? I had no idea. But, um, no. Twitter doesn’t reveal lurkers. But Twitter does make monitoring dead easy: turn on notifications on a favourite tweep and voilá, as soon as she tweets, your smartphone or tablet buzzes. It’s a great feature for friends to keep up with each other or a therapist to monitor a fragile client, but it can also be used to obsess over a person. Or control them. Or stalk them. Fun.

Would a therapist not on social media know about that?

No. You wouldn’t. And so you might say soothingly, it’s only a coincidence he tweets you within minutes of you tweeting and he’s suddenly mimicking your tweets, not recognizing the danger to your client.

Would a therapist not on social media know Twitter is like face-to-face communication and how rapidly things evolve or devolve?

No. You wouldn’t. And so you might tell a woman patient with a brain injury worried about a man obsessed with her, that you can’t tell her what to do but can discuss it at the next appointment if it remains unresolved, as if she has weeks to decide, compose, act.

Would a therapist not on social media understand mute, block, report?

No. You wouldn’t. And so you would tell your client to take a break from a big part of her real life instead of advising her on how to use the safety tools in order to stay in her community sans being harassed.

Well, what’s in it for me, asked one health care professional of me, as if being able to advise their patient appropriately was not a good enough reason. Ahem.

Well, okay then: what’s in it for you to live in a community, live in Toronto, be part of Canadian life?

Do you read newspapers? Twitter will provide you broader and more comprehensive news faster than your traditional newspapers, TV, radio, way beyond what you can imagine. Do you like to influence local politics? Twitter will get you direct access to policians, bureaucrats, and journalists. Do you like to chat over coffee? You’ll meet all sorts of people from around the globe to shoot the breeze with. Do you want to expand your professional learning? You’ll get together with patients and fellow professionals in scheduled chats. Do you want to meet like minds and be challenged by new ideas? Do you want to break out of your geographic box and meet your fellow Canuckians, learn about Canada’s North, feast your eyes on the gorgeousness of our country, our planet? Do you want to meet your fellow professionals from the UK, Australia, India, etc. socially as well as professionally? Do you want to participate in your professional conferences more fully? Do you want to watch volcanoes blow complete with visible and audible shock waves? Do you want to participate in or watch events you can’t attend? Do you want to discuss a TV show no one in your family is interested in while you’re viewing it? Do you like to people watch? Well, Twitter does all that and more because it’s a community comprising flesh-and-blood humans connecting through their minds. Rather sci-fi’ish I know. But real.

Twitter is real life. Twitter is where your patients and clients live. That is why you as a therapist must join in. Or if you choose not to, know that you are abandoning your client to the deceivers of the world while you watch from the sidelines benignly.

Books

Authors Notice Good Editors: What to Look For

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Let’s talk editing. I’ve been trained as a copy editor, have edited newsletters for content and grammar, and have had four separate editing experiences as a writer. I also began my publishing career as a proofreader, learnt a bit about graphic design, and was a desktop publisher. I’ve worked on text the traditional way and the newer computerized way. So I’ve pretty much covered the gamut. In my editing life, I received kudos in the Preface to the Handbook of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology as a result of my editing of that tome. And in my writing life, Lifeliner received Reader Views Best Biography award and She was a finalist in the Word Guild Awards. Good editing makes or breaks a book, and authors notice. In fact, a bad editor can make the original manuscript worse. A good editor is hard to find and worth a lot.

Preface Pg to Speech Language Pathology and Audiology Lift Out Shireen Jeejeebhoy

Word Guild Award Finalist Sticker  awards2008logogold

So what to look for in an editor?

I shall begin with my first editor, whom I worked with on a short story – which you can find in Eleven Shorts +1. I met her through my Creative Writing Prof at the University of Toronto. She worked for a small literary magazine in Toronto and was very much interested in my story Our Father. Back in those days, there was no email, but I had been typing my essays and stories on a computer since the 1970s. I handed her a printout of my story. Later, we met at a café, just like you see in the movies and read about in books, to go over the flow of my story, the characterization, the plot – content-type stuff. It was a bit hard for a young writer, as I was then, to hear her criticisms, but I took heart from her enthusiasm and went back home to rewrite it. We met again in the same café, and although the story was better, it still needed work. Again, her comments were all on the content side. We had not yet reached the point of editing the story for grammar and punctuation. The third time was the charm. After that, I copyedited it myself (I don’t recall if she gave me any notations on that or not).

It was a fulfilling process. It was the only time I ever felt like I was collaborating with someone over my written work, who was invested in me and wanted me to succeed, who wasn’t afraid to point out the flaws and was wise enough to tell me what worked. In short, was rooting for my story. If you find an editor like that, keep them!

My other three editing experiences were with my books.

One editor was faceless and nameless, which I suppose was rather like I was to the authors back in my editing days. Back then, only the Acquisitions Editor met with the authors and spoke to them directly about their book (the Acquisitions Editor was in charge of finding authors and developing their books; once written, the manuscripts went to my boss, then after her review, to me). I remember one time I really could not fathom what the author was trying to say and needed to speak with him so that I could edit it. My boss and the Acquisitions Editor were loathe to let me call him up. We had long discussions about how everyone, including me, at the publishing company had to keep the authors happy, and how they were afraid that my criticism would upset him. Since I was so young, they were afraid my youth and direct way would cost them an author. I assured them I knew how to speak diplomatically. I think we even went over what I would say as they began to be persuaded by my argument that I really needed to understand what he wanted to write so that I could edit it well and thus make him look good. The quality of my work was how I’d keep him happy. I got my way. After the end of our 15-minute conversation, he thanked me for calling him. And I felt pleased with myself for being able to keep him happy while improving the text.

But back to the faceless editor. The editor edited for content and then for grammar and punctuation. By this time, editing was no longer being done on the manuscript page with pencil or red pen, but in Word using Track Changes. And oy, were there a lot. Luckily, there are guidelines online on how to use track changes because if you haven’t used them before (or the inexecrable Word), it can be confusing. Some were very hard for me to follow because of wholesale moves of paragraphs and pages. There were demands to fill in scenes, clarify things, and so on. I don’t remember what all I was required to do, but it was disheartening to see so much marking up of my work. Yet I knew it would make it a better book. I recognized that the editor had spent a lot of time and attention on my work, both for content and for copyediting. That was the key: the obvious effort behind the markups.

Sometimes you may find you have an editor that whips through your manuscript. Maybe you’ll think having not many comments is a good thing. Unless you’ve written many books, all of which have been edited, and each of which in succession has needed less and less editing, a lack of comments and track changes or inconsistent changes (some sections show many comments, other pages are completely bare) are a sign of an indifferent editor. Dump em or ask for a new one if you’re with a publisher or using an editing company.

The intensive experience was painful, but I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that it made for a better book.

Another editing experience was with a freelancer. You can find freelancers through editor associations, on the Internet, or through Twitter. I thought the freelancer would copy edit as well as content edit. But not really, as I learnt. Since then I’ve re-learnt that copyediting comes right at the end, only after the manuscript has gone through content editing and is done done. When looking for a freelancer, ensure you know what they will do. If you want and they say they will do content editing, don’t expect copyediting. They may point out some obvious punctuation or grammatical errors, but it won’t be a complete job in that way nor should it be at that point.

The freelancer wrote a memo pointing out the big picture issues, with specific comments chapter by chapter where warranted. The editor also wrote comments on the manuscript itself (in Word) regarding specific paragraphs or sentences or characters, which were referred to in the big picture memo as well to ensure I knew what the editor was seeing and what I needed to respond to.

There were some cultural issues that I had not thought of because we all think that since we speak English, we’re very similar us citizens of Canada, the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand. But we’re not. There are differences in vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, word usage, and ways of seeing things. It may be best to find a content editor who lives in the same country or continent as you do if you don’t want to change your cultural references and deal with grammatical changes that don’t apply in the country you live. Yet the opposite could be good too. UK and US authors seem to think everyone knows everything about their cultures and way of living and don’t need to explain them in their books. As a reader immersed in British culture and highly exposed to American and living in Canada, I can understand most of the inside stuff. But many probably don’t. Thus in our new global-reading world if you want your cultural references exposed so that you can explain them in some natural way in your story, find a content editor across the ocean.

I was able to have some back-and-forth discussion with the freelancer, and that was quite helpful to me. But it still didn’t reach the level of collaboration I had with my first editor and that I still miss.

That brings me to how very important communication is to the editing process. You want an editor who

  • can write an opening memo about what they see as the big picture. You want them to invite comment, which tells you they want to understand what the author is striving to achieve. In that way, they can do the best possible job on a (difficult) manuscript;
  • is willing to read your explanation notes when you first submit a manuscript;
  • understands the need to read past email correspondence with previous editors in order to catch up to where the work is at, if your manuscript has gone through a few editors;
  • is willing to ask you questions if they don’t understand something while they’re mid-edit (like I did with that author back in my editing days). Some may prefer to wait till the end, but a savvy editor will realise that sometimes they have to do it earlier in order to finish editing the manuscript well and not perpetuate errors;
  • is willing to discuss points of disagreement rather than bullying their edits onto you;
  • shows an interest in your work (or at least can fake it) so that they spur you on through this hard process;
  • is willing to answer your questions, knowing that it will make your book better. And that’s the ultimate goal of every editor: turn a manuscript into a great book.

When the editor has poor communication skills or won’t take the time to comment properly and completely, then going through the editing process will be a depressing and frustrating experience. It feels like standing on shifting sand. It may even make you second-guess your manuscript because you will have no idea what works and what doesn’t work.

If your editor shows poor communication skills, dump em or demand a new one if you’re working with a company or publisher.

A copy editor does not necessarily need to be your collaborator, but if you intend to write more than one book, you need to find a content editor who will become one, an editor you feel confident sticking with over the long term from book to book. However, once you find a good copy editor, stick with them. Too many are sloppy and don’t seem to have figured out the amazing tool of find-and-replace.

In the old days, a copy editor needed eagle eyes. Reading the printed word on the static page meant that if you found an inconsistent spelling of, for example, “recognize,” then you had to spot every single iteration of that word in order to fix the spelling. What you didn’t want to end up with was a book that had both “recognize” and “recognise” in it. Today, it’s so easy to fix. No eagle eyes needed! The first time you spot an inconsistent spelling or misspelling, you press Ctrl-F, type in the wrongly spelled word in the Find box, type in the correct spelling in the Replace box, click Find to find it, click Replace, do it word by word instead of Replace All because you never know what the computer will end up replacing, and repeat from the beginning of the manuscript just in case you missed a misspelling earlier and for every verb tense of the word. Then resume editing where you left off. Or if you need to stay focussed on the editing, open up a document where you list all the inconsistent spellings and misspellings to find and replace when finished. In the old days, you also had to spot double periods, missing spaces, double spaces manually – some of which required visual recognition skills. Today, after you’re all done editing, after the author has gone through the track changes, then the copy editor or proofreader can run a final find-and-replace of all those pesky details. It’s fast and easy.

You may want to ask your prospective editor if they know how to use that function and if they do. I made the mistake one time of assuming they did.

A good copy editor will also have a good command of the language. Their vocabulary should ideally be better than yours – or at the very least, they should show an ability to Google or use a dictionary. If you see questions in your manuscript about what a word means or a phrase and you double-check with your dictionary and know you used the right word or the phrase is a common one, a red flag should go boing in your head. You may not want to use that editor again. If, on the other hand, they suggest alternative words or phrases that when you check with your dictionary and thesaurus are better choices, stick with that editor. Your vocabulary will improve, and you know you can rely on their knowledge. It’d be like standing on a rock.

The same is true for punctuation. You both need to agree on which standard to follow. I use the Chicago Manual of Style, and I use the Oxford or serial comma. Errors galore can crop up if your copy editor doesn’t follow the Oxford comma rule when you do, doesn’t tell you, and you don’t notice. Also I was taught editors develop a House Style for peculiar spellings, book-specific usages, or exceptions to the Chicago Style rule. That can be a style particular to a publishing house or a freelance editor. The editor should let you know if they do. Or ask.

I’m afraid I have no tips on how to find a good content or copy editor, only what to look for. I am going to try Bibliocrunch to find a copy editor for my next book Time and Space. I don’t believe I need content editing for that novel, although I definitely will for the novel after that. Sometimes the book will tell you what you need.

My edited books include Lifeliner, She, Concussion Is Brain Injury, and Eleven Shorts +1.

Essay

Happy New Year!!!

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The clock struck midnight. And the second hand ticked past. Fireworks exploded in city-lit skies. And people yelled, “Happy New Year!” Fingers tapped out texts to far-flung relatives, and phones rang everywhere with exclamations of joy and promise to come. Some twittered their resolutions to each other, and older somes with a smile, avoided making any.

It is customary on this bright first day to look forward way into the year, to make life goals and year goals, but I advise: live in the moment. The moment is peace. It promises nothing and disappoints not. The moment leads to another and another, and soon it leads to another midnight of glittering stars in the night sky, of Happy New Year!!!

 

Essay

Happy Canada Day 2012

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Stained Monarch

The Monarch for me is Canada. I don’t remember when I first learnt about or first saw the Monarch butterfly, but she’s fascinated me always. Imagine: the endurance to migrate the length of an entire continent; the beauty to attract the eye wherever she flies; the fealty to milkweed and the fragility of that choice; the one life lived through many generations; the herald of summer in a white-locked country.

I travelled to Point Pelee one fall to witness the Monarch migration south. The sight has been imprinted in my mind forever of a lone Monarch launching herself against the wind blowing off Lake Erie, a tiny fluttering presence against the mighty span of the smallest of the Great Lakes, the far shore not in our sight – nor in hers – yet off she went, confident that she would not fail, not falter, not drown.

Our politicians, our bureaucrats, our leaders may be filled with caution, even introducing red tape into a rescue operation, endlessly talking and not acting on so many urgent issues that face this country and her cities.

But not so Canadians as a people.

We established a northern country, so vast it’s second only in size to Russia, but with a miniscule population that is spread out across the land and northwards like rare beads on a long string. Yet we are confident we will endure, we will not be taken over by bigger, more powerful countries than ours. We revel in beauty of such variety we could never grow tired or bored of it. We are loyal to each other, to the notions of peace, working hard, innovating, and taking care of each other through programs like medicare, even though they are often so at odds with the behemoths near us and secretive trade negotiations. We are growing to understand our history, appreciating how previous generations formed who we are today. We love our summers but are not afraid of our winters. The best of us find joy in every season.

And we never quit.

We do not follow blindly others as they race towards privacy-intruding laws; we look at the tide of fear consuming the planet in so many ways and resist; we fight to retain the rights and privileges that we remember others before us sacrificing their lives for and for us.

To my fellow Canadians: Happy Canada Day!

May you continue to bless this country, and may she continue to bless you.

Essay

Amazon, Apple, Big Publishers Frustrate Readers

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I’m a writer, but I’m also a reader. My favourite format is the mass paperback — until recently.

I received my Sony Reader (touch model) a couple of Christmases ago, and then when I bought the iPad, I loaded on several ebook reading apps: iBooks, kobo, Bluefire Reader, Stanza, Kindle. As a person with a brain injury, I was surprised and chuffed to find reading ebooks is easier than print books. There’s less text on the “page,” and on Sony and in iBooks, it’s easy to highlight and write notes (kobo is a close second), all strategies to help the reader to absorb, process, and synthesize the text. Still, at first I remained wedded to my favourite, familiar mass paperback. But after I became a member of Goodreads and began borrowing ebooks from the Toronto Public Library, I read ebooks more and more often. Before I wrote this post, I last read a print book months ago.

Most ebooks I read are borrowed. Until Overdrive finally created an eReading app, I used Bluefire Reader to read them on my iPad. I wasn’t interested in highlighting, printing, looking up words, or writing notes on these ebooks, so the rudimentary and restrictive practices of the apps and publishers didn’t impinge on me. But this week I wanted to buy three books for my background reading as I begin dreaming up my next novel. I wanted to buy them in ebook format. I wanted them to be as flexible and convenient to read as the mass paperback.

Apparently, I wanted the moon.

Traditional publishers are so scared — and seemingly ignorant of how readers use, lend, give away, sell print books — of what readers can do with ebooks that they insist on DRM (Digital Rights Management) locks. The idea is that they protect copyright.

The reality is they frustrate law-abiding readers and provide no deterrent to thieves.

The real result is that the publisher controls how, when, where the law-abiding reader can read the ebook and do nothing to thwart the pirates. Although ePub is an international standard, DRM locks are not. Everyone but Apple iBooks uses one standard. Apple uses another. An ebook readable in iBooks is not readable in any other app or Sony Reader. And vice versa. And Amazon is outside the ePub universe entirely. Consumer friendly, eh? Not.

Book #1 was available in Kindle format for about $4 cheaper than the ePub version. But I can only read Amazon’s mobi format ebook on my iPad’d Kindle app, which is rudimentary to say the least, lacking the features I need for background reading. I also wanted to be able to read it on my Sony Reader. To compound the insult to the international ebook standard and non-Amazon readers, the ePub version was more expensive than the mass paperback. If I bought it through the kobo bookstore or Sony bookstore, the ePub version would not be readable in iBooks, yet iBooks did not list their ePub version in the Canadian store.

Book #2 was the only book in that author’s arsenal that was not available in ebook format. What gives with the discrimination?

Book #3’s situation was totally ridiculous. It was available in ePub but only in certain territorial markets. So if I was a US customer of iBooks, I could’ve bought it in iBooks ePub. But as a Canadian, I was barred from buying it. My only option was mobi through Amazon’s Kindle store. Territorial rights in the global digital age are not only obsolete but an obstacle to reading. Given I resent buying an ebook I can read in exactly one place, I decided not to purchase the mobi ebook.

I wanted to buy all three in ePub. I could buy only one at an inflated price with limitations on which apps I could read it in. If this ebook did not have a DRM lock, I could’ve read it the way I wanted to on the device I wanted to in the app I wanted to. The upshot is that I’m reminded why I don’t buy traditionally published ebooks beyond what I must, why I prefer buying ebooks by indie authors that are DRM-free, why I will continue to mostly borrow ebooks — and why I will never put DRM locks on my ebooks. I don’t want to annoy my readers before they even load one up.

To check out what I’m reading currently and my Goodreads Author Page and bookshelves, please visit my Goodreads profile.

Essay

CBC’s Marketplace Posits A Theory About COLD-FX

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Bad science: have a pet theory, manipulate the results to suit it.

Marketplace mimicked bad science well this past week. Their theory: COLD-FX does not work. Their results: don’t fit.

A little manipulation was in order using panning camerawork, fun quizzes, people-on-the-street interviews journalists are addicted to, jerky camerawork as they follow some poor target, lowered voice, clever camera cuts, grainy footage, undercover-type footage, selective submission of papers for scientific analysis (truly, have doctors and researchers not yet cottoned on to how journalists manipulate them?), highlight preferred statements over blasphemous one, present conclusions as mind-blowing, etc., etc.

Well, I don’t like it when my health is threatened, and so it’s time for a little fun. After all CBC’s Marketplace can’t hog it all.

But first: I take COLD-FX, have done for several years, as a preventative measure. I started because since my brain injury, I’ve become quite susceptible to colds; worse it takes me a month to recover from one. Going from cold to cold while trying to cope with the fallout of brain injury is extremely unpleasant. I took Flonase for awhile, but the side effects aren’t great. COLD-FX allowed me to stop the Flonase and for the first time in ages, I went a whole year last year without one respiratory infection. Hallelujah! I take COLD-FX as a preventative or prophylaxis because if I took it immediately in response to a scratchy throat, my body would still take weeks to recover no matter how efficacious COLD-FX is because that’s how it rolls these days with any illness I contract. I figure not getting one in the first place is better.

And so in the cause of health, I brave watching Marketplace. I haven’t watched it in years, ever since it went from trustworthy straightforward journalism to the gotcha kind. The old Marketplace may’ve been staid, but I trusted and respected it. New Marketplace makes me roll my eyes and switch the channel.

Anywhoo…

I sit back and watch … a mom-child convention. Huh? I don’t know what a COLD-FX luncheon for hockey moms has to do with a market report on a product. But it sure looks suspicious! Marketplace has set the mood and begins to reel us in with choice words.

Brilliant marketing idea” — sounds like COLD-FX was all about marketing, not about helping people fight the bane of our lives: colds. (Let rolling eyes commence.)

take a natural product, ginseng and get some science behind it.” — tsk, tsk, imagine makers of a natural health product standardizing their product and using the scientific method. What will they do next? Conduct and publish more than one study?

just like a pharmaceutical drug” — the nerve!

“research pays off” — damn, it sounds dirty, having solid research backing their product.

Marketplace then capitalizes on something no lay person is going to know, that Health Canada takes years — and years and years — to approve new products, and it isn’t always for kosher reasons either. Imagine a company that decides it’s had enough of Health Canada’s notorious foot dragging and, gasp, puts on political pressure to light a fire under the bureaucrats to actually work on it. Tut, tut. Bet all companies wish they could do that. What would be better though is if the politicians reformed Health Canada to approve — or reject — new products in a timely manner based solely on science.

Oh look, now we have the person-on-the-street interviews. It’s interactive, snazzy, and provides a we’re-here-for-you backdrop to the “expert” interview. And here’s where the manipulations get awesome.

Erica Johnson asks their chosen expert from a prestigious Toronto hospital about the claim for immediate relief for colds and flu. Erica asks Dr. Andreas Laupacis, a general internal medicine specialist: “Is there any research that’s been done showing that Cold-FX helps stop colds in their tracks?

He answers, the camera moving and panning, weaving and zooming on him, on her, on both: “Certainly all the [camera cut to Andreas only] clinical trials I’ve looked at there’s no such [camera cut to Erica only] evidence. They’ve studied patients with [camera cut to Andreas only] Cold-FX to prevent flus. I didn’t see any studies to show whether Cold-FX works or not in people that notice a flu coming and then take Cold-FX.

Erica: “That’s right. The pitch: to stop a cold in its tracks.

Uh, no, not right, he said “flu.” You Erica said “cold.” Two different viruses; two different topics. Just like the flu vaccine has zero effect on a cold and some effect in preventing flu, any product that can prevent a cold may not necessarily prevent the flu. Your expert, Marketplace, did not say COLD-FX does not prevent colds. He said flu, and only flu. (That’s probably why there were separate studies for colds and flu, more below.)

But a little repetition by Erica nicely masks that distinction. Gotta admire the manipulation.

What the heck did the Health Canada letter to Marketplace actually say? A few words pulled out say nothing and cannot be relied upon. I mean if movie companies can pull out glowing excerpts from bad reviews… If you want to know, check out their website for Health Canada’s statements (more below).

On to the “undercover” work! The better to make COLD-FX look like a big, fat fraud. Jerky camera work. Blurred faces. Closed captioning of what pharmacists say. The pitch: “Remember: there’s no published evidence for [taking COLD-FX for immediate relief].

For some reason, I keep hearing the Twilight Zone theme.

More experts! This time Marketplace sends a select list of published articles on COLD-FX for analysis by Andrew Lane Ilersich, MSc, BScPhm, RPh at the Univeristy of Toronto. But it’s kind of boring just saying what they said. Quiz time! Grand revelation after each question and answer session! But did the analysis really say what Marketplace asserts it said?

As Syd Baumel wrote on the Marketplace website: “To begin with, the scientist didn’t do an independent search of the literature in case there were other studies of Cold FX out there. He only analyzed the four submitted to him by Marketplace.”

Andrew Lane Ilersich, MSc, BScPhm, RPh did put in his short summary headline of the meta-analysislimited scope.” (More below.)

COLD-FX has ten citations and it looks like about eight clinical trials listed on its website. Cherry picking is sweet.

Baumel again: “Cold FX enjoyed a 15% reduction in cold frequency compared to those who took a placebo. Very modest effect, but statistically significant. To the individual user, this suggests that if you take Cold FX, it’ll spare you from getting a cold about one time out of 7.

I personally didn’t understand this whole “once in seventeen years” of taking COLD-FX assertion on Marketplace. I’ve never heard statistics interpreted that way before, not in stats classes or research I participated in or studies I’ve read. Fifteen percent is one in seven and would be a standard way of putting it.

Anyway, how many people would bother reading the entire meta-analysis (PDF) to get the correct picture? Don’t your eyes glaze over at the very thought? So it’s pretty safe for Marketplace to reproduce only one paragraph from the plain-language summary and not the paragraph that states clearly that the studies “demonstrated a reduction in the risk of getting a cold.” It’s that old pull out one statement, ignore the other trick to make it sound like it’s saying what you want to. Here’s the entire summary:

“COLD-FX is effective for preventing colds in adults. Research findings from 4 experimental studies (randomized controlled trials) that compared COLD-FX to a placebo (dummy treatment) including over 1000 adults demonstrated a reduction in the risk of getting a cold. In all studies, the COLD-FX was used in a dose of 400mg/day. The duration of treatment ranged from between 2 months and 6 months.

Relative to placebo, the risk of getting a cold was reduced by about 15% when COLD-FX was used. The absolute risk reduction was about 6% (this means that if the overall chance of getting a cold is, for example, 50%, then taking COLD-FX reduces it to 44%). Altogether, 17 people need to be treated to prevent 1 person from getting a cold.

For those who contracted a cold, there was insufficient evidence that the duration or severity was reduced.

This analysis did not explore the effects of age, dose and/or duration of therapy on the effectiveness of COLD-FX, nor the cost-effectiveness of COLD-FX.”

How interesting: the analysis did not explore effects of duration of therapy or dosage taken, one or both of which would have large effects on COLD-FX’s efficacy, one would surmise.

Onto the gotcha journalism CBC enjoys. It makes their target look like they’re up to no good, even when s/he has a clear, legal reason for not answering their in-their-face questions (I mean, what journalist doesn’t know how lawyers make people shut up, even for the silliest of reasons? The buy-out seems to be the reason here. Oh, but perhaps journalists figure most people wouldn’t know how effective lawyers are at silencing people? I feel for target Shan, caught between a lawyer and a journalist. Gak.).

So Erica asks the big question. And Jacqueline Shan answers: “[I was just talking about Cold-FX inside.]

Erica: “We didn’t hear you talk inside.” Really? They were able to track her down but were unable to make it in time for her talk?

Shan: “Our company was bought by Valeant. So I’m not allowed to make any public statement… You need to contact the company.” Pretty clear to me. It must suck for a journalist to be stonewalled by a large company, so take it out on an individual instead, eh?

Onward!

Oh hey, the lowered voice method! A lowered voice hints at nefarious doings, hints there was a bacteria cover-up even though Health Canada said there is no health risk in its last statement to Marketplace.

Marketplace quotes: “Based on currently available information, the presence of E. hermannii in a finished natural health product would be unacceptable.” Health Canada clarifies:

“Our earlier language was perhaps too black and white and did not accurately convey the science behind acceptable levels

After laboratory assessments were conducted by Health Canada scientists of the product on the Canadian marketplace, a low level of the bacteria Escherichia hermannii was found. Following a thorough assessment by Health Canada Scientists, it was determined that the level found presented the lowest risk to health and safety of Canadians [my emphasis] and, as such, no recall was initiated.

It is important to note that all health products have benefits and risks. When health products are found on the market that pose an unacceptable level of risk to health, Health Canada takes appropriate steps to mitigate and manage these risks.”

To be sure, I don’t recall any mass deaths or hospitalizations from COLD-FX-related E. coli contamination back in 2008 or 2009. Do you? But who needs to prove a dangerous bacteria contamination when all you have to say is “bacteria” to spring suspicion and fear into every viewer’s breast?

I feel for Marketplace. They really had to work hard to prove their theory about this product, going here and there, running all over the planet, from city to city, from expert to expert, using cameras that produced grainy pictures in China while using excellent ones for the scenes in which Erica appears.

On to the good stuff: an interview with Don Cherry.

Love the Don Cherry interview: one science-illiterate person talking to another, talking about two totally different things. One about immediate relief, the other about prevention. Neither notices. You don’t see this in the Markeplace piece, but in the extended Cherry piece I’ve embedded above.

Cherry begins by saying he doesn’t work for them anymore and he’s a little ticked off with COLD-FX, the company. Yet, get this, he still takes four COLD-FX capsules a day and ten a day, like the hockey players, if he feels a cold coming on. He relates in the extended Cherry piece that after a lifetime of being plagued by colds, after he began taking COLD-FX, he’s had just three colds in eight years. I don’t think anyone, least of all, Marketplace, or anything, like being fired, is going to pry the product out of his hands. He likes being cold-free too much. Me too, actually.

In all the hoo-hah, Marketplace forgot to mention an important point: “in the United States alone at least 1 billion colds per year have been reported” (from Predy et al, 2005 CMAJ article) with each person catching on average two to six colds. We know each cold costs several days of lost work or reduced productivity, never mind that it makes one feel lousier than hell. This is not peanuts. Dissing an effective remedy for colds harms public health.

The meta-analysis they had done listed four studies. I took a gander at them. (Note: in the meta-analysis, they were not identified in proper reference format, but I’m pretty sure I found the ones looked at as there can’t be more than one in the same year by the same authors on the same topic.)

2004 study: Elderly nursing home residents, 90 percent of whom had received the flu vaccine, had fewer cases of flu when taking COLD-FX for 8 weeks and 12, that is, 1 of 97 versus 7 of 101 who took a placebo. Taking COLD-FX reduced the risk of a fragile, elderly person from catching flu by 89 percent. By the way, flu kills the elderly.

2005 peer-reviewed study in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal): Healthy adults who took the same dose as in the 2004 study but for 4 months caught 0.68 colds versus 0.95 for placebo and also only 10 percent caught more than one cold while 22.8 percent in the placebo group got multiple colds.

“These results are similar to those reported for zanamivir and oseltamivir therapy. These antiviral agents have been reported to reduce the severity and duration of illness by 1.5-2.5 days. In comparison, the ginseng extract treatment was found to reduce the duration of a cold by 2.4 days.”

2006 study: A variation of the 2004 study, in which after two months of use, COLD-FX reduced the risk of contracting a respiratory infection by almost half (48 percent) and the duration by 55 percent. I assume the infections were colds because they state that there was no influenza in the community during the study.

2011 study: A larger version of the 2005 study.

“data indicate that CVT-E002 at a dose of 400 mg/day or 800 mg/day is safe and well tolerated and results in a reduction in the number, severity, and duration of Jackson-confirmed URIs (upper respiratory tract infections) when taken as seasonal prophylaxis by healthy, community-dwelling older adults. Further studies with larger sample size are warranted to determine possible dose-related effects of CVT-E002.”

Ilersich concluded: “In summary, these results support the effectiveness of COLD-FX for preventing colds. There is insufficient evidence of a reduction in severity or duration of colds.Insufficient evidence is science-speak for do more work, we don’t know one way or the other yet.

By the end of the twenty-two-odd minutes, Marketplace’s entire piece, when read between the lines and engendering Herculean effort not to be distracted by the bells and whistles, boils down to COLD-FX prevents colds. The claim it provides immediate relief needs further study; the China connection is no different than every other product we buy (have you checked where your frozen veggies are grown lately?), thus is not COLD-FX specific and is a separate topic; the bacterial contamination is old news and a non-starter. In other words, Marketplace told its alert viewers to take COLD-FX daily if you want to prevent colds.

Perhaps that’s why it ends its piece in the bathroom — with a shot of Erica and another expert washing their hands with soap, claiming that it’s more effective than COLD-FX. Washing hands with soap is effective in reducing colds. But what’s their published evidence proving their theory right? Where’s the double-blind randomized trial that compares the two methods side-by-side in reducing severity, duration, and frequency of infections, one for colds, one for flu?

 

——————-

References:

McElhaney JE, Gravenstein S, Cole SK, Davidson E, O’neill D, Petitjean S, Rumble B, Shan JJ. “A placebo-controlled trial of a proprietary extract of North American ginseng (CVT-E002) to prevent acute respiratory illness in institutionalized older adults.” J Am Geriatr Soc. 2004 Jan;52(1):13-9. Erratum in: J Am Geriatr Soc. 2004 May;52(5):following 856.

Gerald N. Predy, Vinti Goel, Ray Lovlin, Allan Donner, Larry Stitt, Tapan K. Basu. “Efficacy of an extract of North American ginseng containing poly-furanosyl-pyranosyl-saccharides for preventing upper respiratory tract infections: a randomized controlled trial.” CMAJ October 25, 2005 vol. 173 no. 9.

McElhaney JE, Goel V, Toane B, Hooten J, Shan JJ. “Efficacy of COLD-fX in the prevention of respiratory symptoms in community-dwelling adults: a randomized, double-blinded, placebo controlled trial.” J Altern Complement Med. 2006 Mar;12(2):153-7.

Janet E. McElhaney, Andrew E. Simor, Shelly McNeil, and Gerald N. Predy, “Efficacy and Safety of CVT-E002, a Proprietary Extract of Panax quinquefolius in the Prevention of Respiratory Infections in Influenza-Vaccinated Community-Dwelling Adults: A Multicenter, Randomized, Double-Blind, and Placebo-Controlled Trial,” Influenza Research and Treatment, vol. 2011, Article ID 759051, 8 pages, 2011. doi:10.1155/2011/759051

Essay

Baked Good Deliciousness at the Vegetarian Food Fair: A Few Reviews

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The Vegetarian Food Fair down at Toronto’s Harbourfront this year was a cornucopia of good food, good-looking food, fake grass, and lots and lots of sunshine and people, unlike previous years I’ve been. I grazed my way from booth to booth, filling myself up on free samples and emptying my wallet on specials and baked goods. Lunch too. Most fare was vegan. These things seem to skip right over vegetarian delights on their way from meat to vegan. But never mind, as long as the vegan is good.

Savoury

King’s Café, in Kensington, was the Fair’s Gold Sponsor and had a take-out counter. I had my first Chinese bun in years, a veggie one this time. No more barbecued pork buns for me after I went veggie. It was one item I missed. The King’s Café bun was good. Puffy, white, slightly sweet. The veggie filling was not filled with fresh or quickly sautéed vegetables so much as saucy filling of some sort. I would’ve liked more colour and flavour. Their spring roll was like vegetable spring rolls everywhere: crispy and greasy. The other item I had, a mock chicken skewer was bleh.

Bunner’s is on Dundas West and had a delicious-looking booth of cookies and cupcakes with a couple of savoury items: pizza or curry pastry pockets. I bought the pizza one, a red-velvet cupcake, and their Gypsy cookie.

Pizza Pastry Bunners Shireen Jeejeebhoy 2011-09-09

The pastry for the pizza pocket was decent, a bit crumbly though. The filling included tomato, mushrooms, and diet mozzarella cheese. Let’s just say I’m not a fan of the latter. I do eat skim cheese or partly skim, but this did not taste anything like as good as what I buy at the store. So I think since the bakery is vegan it was not so much diet cheese as fake cheese. Soy and tofu are good substitutes for some things and can make tasty dishes, but I’m not a fan of many versions of soya milk (gag) and apparently not the cheese either. The mushrooms tasted like those ones from the old days in red-candled, dim pizza parlours. Not good. The tomato sauce was not all that flavourful. And something gave a chemically aftertaste; maybe that was the “cheese.” I don’t know what the calorie count would be, but it looked as hearty as a Cornish pasty. Too bad nowhere near as filling. I definitely needed dessert (well, is there any excuse not good enough for dessert?).

The Sweet Stuff

I stocked up on the sweet stuff from several bakeries and took them home, except for the sweet potato doughnuts from LPK’s Culinary Groove. I am a fan of this expensive-but-worth-it bakery and had not yet tried their doughnuts. And so when I saw they were freshly frying them, I had to try a cone of three. They’re tiny round balls dipped in maple sugar and piled into a paper cone. It’s a very attractive snack. The doughnut itself was crispy on the outside, soft and delicious on the inside, but the maple sugar’s flavour overwhelmed the dough’s. I would have much preferred raw organic sugar, which, I must admit, is what I like dipping my own homemade doughnuts in. A rare miss in LPK’s pantheon of delights.

Cupcake Red Velvet Bunner's Shireen Jeejeebhoy 2011-09-11

Bunner’s red velvet cupcake is a dainty confection pleasing to the eye. But in my first bite, I received a strong taste of the fat, non-butter fat. Good butter is yummy. Coconut fat can be awfully good. But oils and other baking-type fats are best left as background tastes not dominant ones. The texture was suitably airy, and the icing awfully sweet, which I know in our sugar-saturated society, many like. Not me. I do have a sweet tooth, and some sweets like Indian sweets are meant to be oh-so-sweet, which is why they come in small sizes and pack strong flavours to balance the sugar. But too much sugar in non-Indian sweets is not a good thing. Cakes and cupcakes are meant to be a flavour harmony that lights up the taste buds and makes the mouth smile and the mind remember pleasurably for a long, long while. Too much fat and sugar just gives one an emotional overload that leads to an emotional trough.

Cookie Supersonic Gypsy Bunners Shireen Jeejeebhoy 2011-09-09

I saved Bunner’s Supersonic Gypsy cookie for last. And I’m so glad I did. My stomach was satisfied, my taste buds were singing, and my eyes feasted on the deliciousness of deep red dried cranberries, a surfeit of chocolate chips, creamy-coloured oats, and seeds, all held together with yummy cookie dough. I should’ve bought another. And another.

Pecan sticky bun bloomers bakery Shireen Jeejeebhoy 2011-09-10

Next on the sugar express is the pecan sticky bun from bloomer’s bakery. According to the veg.ca website listing, bloomer’s is a delivery-only bakery out of the annex or available only at select stores. And so this was a good way to try out their goodness. The gentleman who served me was the baker’s father and generous. I bought the bun as I was leaving the Fair. Back at home, I had a third of a bun first (I was getting a bit stuffed). My first bite netted me a hit of sweet, uncooked dough. A short stint in the microwave fixed that, a remedy I’ve had to use a few times with my own doughy recipes because I seem to have lost my sense of when bread is done (stupid brain injury). So either the baker is new at this or rushed because of the pressures of the Fair. Experience with bread baking and high-pressure situations will remedy this in time. The taste was yummy. And it wasn’t drowning in cinnamon like some sticky or cinnamon breads can be. Sticky with just-the-right-amount-of-sweet bread and crunch of pecan, it hit the spot.

Next up was the Kelly’s Goodies’ coconut cupcake. It didn’t survive the trip home too well.

Cupcake Coconut in Case Kellys Goodies Shireen Jeejeebhoy 2011-09-10

But when I took it out of its carton, I found that it was only the beautifully rounded dome of icing that had been smooshed and only on one side.

Cupcake Coconut Kellys Goodies Shireen Jeejeebhoy 2011-09-09

The cupcake was fine and oh so moist. I detected banana; it seemed like it was layered in between the icing and chocolate cakey part, but I didn’t take the cupcake apart to inspect it. I was too busy eating to want to pause. The cupcake was decently chocolatey and not too sweet. Even better, the icing wasn’t overly sweet either. I think the coconut sprinkled on top thickly would’ve been better toasted, not only for a nicer crunch but also for the flavour. I noticed near the end of my cupcake feeding frenzy that fake aftertaste I’d noticed so strongly in Bunner’s baked goods. In this cupcake it lingered a few moments after I’d finished, long enough not to be pleasant but not so long that I went hunting for something else to eat to get rid of it.

Brownie Uber Kellys Goodies Shireen Jeejeebhoy 2011-09-10

Kelly’s Goodies’ is in Burlington, and its brownies come in at least three versions. At the Fair, they were handing out little samples of the plain-no-icing brownie. Smart. It got me to buy the Über or World Peace brownie — a brownie with a thin layer of chocolate icing. For icing nuts, there was the Mile High brownie with a rising cloud of icing and what looked like a tiny brownie on top. The Über Brownie is chocolatey and moist, so moist it almost clings to your palate like peanut butter. The icing was chocolatey too; its sweetness didn’t cloy, and the sugar didn’t overwhelm the chocolate taste. Best of all, no fake or chemically aftertaste.

Cobbler Strawberry Peach Apiecalypse Shireen Jeejeebhoy 2011-09-09

Apiecalypse Now! bakery doesn’t have a storefront so the Fair was a great opportunity to sample their fare. I chose an individual fruit cobbler filled with strawberries and peaches and totally covered with pastry so that it would arrive home sans fruit spilling out. I can only eat so many desserts in one day, and so it sat in my fridge for a few days. I heated it up in its foil container, uncovered, in a 200°F oven. Warm is best for pies. And it was good. Its taste and texture were as if I had just bought it. A fluffy topping, full of flavour but not overpowering, its crust a golden bite. The filling was a fruity, not sugary, amalgam of strawberries and peaches. I have to admit I would’ve liked more fruit. But it was a very pleasing pudding, as they say in Britain.

After all this dessert goodness, you’d think I’d have had my fill for a month. Nope. I’m ready for trying another pie from Apiecalypse or maybe one of LPK’s genius vegan Nanaimo Bars that I savoured a couple of months ago from their bakery on Queen Street East. It was worth the special trip.