So, it’s Christmas holidays, and I finally, finally have three minutes to myself to catch up on some blogging.
As I have moved from a job (classroom teaching) that was about 80% “doing” and 20% thinking and writing to a job (education officer with the Ministry of Education) that is about 15% "doing” and 85% thinking and writing, I find myself with little steam left at the end of the day to keep up my personal blog.
Whereas I used to crank out about 4 blog posts a week, I’d be hard pressed to write 4 a month now. And even then, I’m finding they’re not particularly well written.
Never Enough Time for (Good) Writing
The trouble is in part time, it’s true… somehow, I managed to find a job that is at least as consuming as classroom teaching -- and that leaves me little time to blog. While I’m taking far less work home as a public servant than I did as a classroom teacher (or university instructor, instructional coach, workshop facilitator, etc.), I don’t typically arrive home until 6:30 or 7p.m. at which point it’s all I can do to get supper on the table, chase down kids’ school forms and homework and get everyone to bed before collapsing into a semi-comatose state in front of Instagram for an hour or so before bed myself.
Inspiration and Permission
The other issue is inspiration. As a classroom teacher, I was constantly excited to share what I was learning alongside my students and colleagues. But as an education officer with the ministry of ed., I seem to have far less to write about. Or, perhaps, less that I can write about, due to the political nature of my current job: Much of my work is “in-progress” and as such, not open for sharing outside of the office.
As a teacher, I was constantly reflecting on practice, and sharing stories of my successes and failures with my spouse, my children and my blog readers. But as a public servant, I had to take an oath of office that precluded me from sharing publicly pretty much anything I do before it formally becomes public. (And even then, my ability to comment on it is limited, as it should be.)
So what’s a novice writer to do, then? In what ways can I continue to hone my craft?
New Genres, New Skills
I’m finding it interesting to develop new skills as I spend so much of my time now crafting emails, memos and issue notes and a wide variety of genres I did not know even existed until this year!! From parent guides to teacher guides to internal and external FAQs, everything I write goes through multiple layers of approvals and is edited (sometimes heavily) by a variety of co-authors and editors before it is ever seen by an "end user". I consider purpose and audience like never before… and I realise daily new examples of how my understanding of said purposes and audiences may differ from others’ interpretations.
Evolution of Content… and Audience?
The amount of wordsmithing I am learning to do in my new job makes me considerably less prolific than I am used to being, but perhaps more nuanced in my writing. That’s a gift I hadn’t considered when I first accepted the job, and I am considering how best to apply my evolving written skills to my blog as that, too, evolves.
If I no longer write about classroom happenings, and can’t write about emerging themes in public education for an audience that was primarily comprised of teachers, then how can I instead develop new, possibly non-education-related content in a way that interests them (you), or begin perhaps to foster a new audience for my blog?
Maybe the bigger question now is, why am I even keeping a blog?
Some years ago, I read and wrote about an article from the The Atlantic, “Why I Blog”. I reflected on how the sometimes error-riddled writing in a blog post was -- as the article implied -- part of the genre of blogging, which is in some sense a less “published” style of writing than, say, a paper magazine article or a book, which has gone through many, many rounds of editing before it is ready for public consumption.
But do we blog for public consumption?
I know some teacher colleagues blog very intentionally to build their “brand” and develop a following. I’ve never done that, and don’t even know if I have a brand to speak of. (And now that I’m an OPS employee, I can’t really go seeking specific fame and fortune anyway!) No, for me, blogging has always been more of a public scrapbook, a place to store and reflect on photos or written memories of various facets of my family/personal and professional life, open for others to peek in on and laugh alongside me at my shortcomings and marvel at or cheer me on in my sporadic successes.
While I’ve occasionally kept more topic-specific blogs (such as my Learn to Fly with Vera or Smart Bansho sites) over the years, in general, everything’s kind of begun to merge together in one place for me over the past 24 months, and I’m okay with that. Afterall, why limit one’s eclectic life to a single theme or passion online?
So now I have to figure out -- if it’s important to me to maintain this online scrapbook -- how I can continue to make time for and find joy in writing my blog posts more regularly, despite or perhaps somehow enhanced by the inordinate amount of writing I already do as part of my new day job!
Well, it's that time of year where I wish to heck I had all kinds of wealthy friends and relatives to buy me all the delightful and unnecessary (by global standards) items on my Christmas list...
And since neither an end to mysogyny, racism, homophobia and other injustices in the world, nor a new couch -- ideally one that's not covered in stains and dog hair like our current model -- seem likely, I thought I'd share a few other crazy wishlist items.
I've blogged in the past about some of my favourite apps and online tools, and a consistent favourite for me over the past 12 months has been Thinglink, a virtual annotation tool that allows the user to create interactive images. I've used this tool for a variety of purposes, from havingstudents record and share their thinking in a simple math lesson, to creating interactive picture dictionaries, to introducing myself and my students to a teacher and her class in Australia and vice versa during the first stages of a cross-cultural digital collaboration.
As I've moved from a classroom to a provincial position in education, I continue to value the wide applications of this digital tool. Most recently, I used Thinglink to annotate a graphic which a colleague and I had co-designed, to share information about descriptive feedback in a more interactive way for an online session we were facilitating together...
While seeing this graphic at another session was co-facilitating today, one of the participants caught the Thinglink bug, and we brainstormed ideas about how this tool could be used to enhance not only student/classroom experiences, but also professional ones. For example, to support self assessment during the TPA process, we wondered aloud at how powerful it might be for a teacher to submit to his principal a photograph of the former's classroom, annotated by the teacher to show how his chosen classroom set-up supports equity and inclusion, assessment for learning, and other important elements of learning space design.
Thinglink is a tool which I will not soon lose interest in, I think. The possibilities are endless. I should have bought shares or something when I first discovered it!!
After a month of not riding due to my idiotic insistence on pouring hot water onto my leg at work, and the resulting second-degree burns that significantly impacted my mobility for an extended period of time, I enjoyed my first ride in to work again this morning.
Despite the crisp air (Brrr -- when did winter suddenly hit?!) and the mild discomfort from the rubbing on my still-present leg scars as I rode, it felt very good to be on my bike again.
My month of sitting around with my unclothed leg elevated and airing out or covered in various creams had not done much for my physique, and I chugged along at rather a lethargic pace. Nevertheless, I managed to make it to the top of the Sunnyside bridge without having to do the walk of shame, and even stopped to snap a few photos of Kermit overlooking the tracks, expressway and hospital where I was born before continuing on for the second leg of my hour-long ride.
Further downtown, I managed to avoid the temptious Krispy Kreme at the corner of Bathurst and Harbord by engaging in some fancy side-street cycling to get myself to Queens Park, Wellesly, and eventually, my office building, where I locked Kermit up safely and dragged my sorry ass along with my pannier upstairs to wipe down and change clothes, and eat my morning oatmeal (Confession: Four fifths of a bag of gummy hearts preceded that meal -- they had real fruit in them, though, along with the carnuba wax, pig guts and whatever other horrid ingredients make them slide so smoothly and flavourfully down my gullet and into my eager belly!)
Another advantage of riding my bike over taking public transit or even Uber pool this morning was the control I had over how I began the receptive auditory part of my day: Instead of listening to some moron's horrific electro-pop leaking imposingly out of his headphones and into my sensitive ears on the bus, or suffering through the ubiquitous pop music that the vast majority of Uber drivers insist on playing while driving, I enjoyed my newly downloaded Bach violin sonatas and partitas while pedaling, as performed by the illustrious Lara St. John.
The logistical importance of my return to biking was confirmed for me at the end of the day, when -- after having finally managed to escape the office on time so that I could get home in time to cook dinner for my kids and help one of them practise his instrument as promised -- I found myself on the westbound platform of the Bloor line, waiting while yet another train pulled slowly into the station, pausing briefly to open its doors more as an exercise than anything else (since the subway cars were so packed that not even the most aggressive riders could elbow their way in), and pull s-l-o-w-l-y back out of the station, leaving a miserable crowd that included me on the platform, wondering when, precisely, our $3.25 mission might be fulfilled.
I soooo have to increase the number of rides I make!! (I had left Kermit locked up because I plan to ride home from work another day this week, having wanted to ease back into the cycling routine. Stupid move, as I soon discovered.)
Riding in today reaffirmed for me my belief in cycling as a single solution for multiple problems: Riding increases physical and mental health, reducing a society's collective obesity, depression and stress, and therefore, heart attack risks. It also reduces our carbon footprint by eliminating the need for cars in the daily commuting sense. And plus it's just kick-ass to bike commute, especially in winter.
Really, why wouldn't everyone just get on their bike and RIDE?! Do it -- I challenge you. Ditch the car, and ride your bike. Seriously, it will change your life!
One advantage of being a public servant is that unlike when I was a classroom teacher, I get Remembrance Day off work. In an effort to keep it real, I decided to spend the morning at my old school, and asked my former principal if it would be okay for me to attend the Remembrance Day assembly there.
A former colleague who lives nearby was kind enough to drive me in, and even invited me into his classroom to do a little math lesson with his Grade sixes.
It was nice to see -- as I passed my old classroom -- that the new teacher there had left up my safe space sign and rainbow flag, and had even added a welcoming sign of her own just outside the classroom door. Definitely gave me a much needed boost after the discouraging world events earlier in the week!
I felt a little bit like a rock star as old friends greeted me with big smiles and open arms. It was so nice to see everyone again, and catch up -- I admired many reorganized classrooms and launched into excited conversations with teachers about their observations about the impact on their students of adopting a more democratic process around setting up the learning space, where the students themselves had had a say in how things evolved.
One teacher in particular had spent a great deal of time on this, and I wished I had thought to take photos in her classroom.
Not having classroom responsibilities of my own made visiting a unique experience indeed, and I joyfully cut paper squares in preparation for one teacher's lesson and offered to make some last-minute photocopies for another. And still I had time to spare to say hello to some old friends before the bell rang!
Paper Folding Math
Soon, though, it was time to get down to business, and my morning host and I did a brief run-through of the lesson we had planned, one of my favorite low floor - high ceiling tasks, courtesy of Jo Boaler's You Cubed site.
The learning goal they'd begun working on, he explained, was communication. More specifically, communicating thinking effectively in math. We brainstormed what this might look like, and together with the students, posted a few possible success criteria (later in the lesson, we added another, and were I coming back to this class another time, I might facilitate a conversation with the students around what a makes an answer "complete", ie how to craft a fulsome response, and add something like that to the list, too).
And then it was time for the lesson -- students worked in small groups to meet as many of the five challenges as they could, and one recorder in each group documented her peers' thinking on Edmodo, using a personal device or one of the class chrome books.
As the students worked on the tasks, my former colleague and I circulated, asking provoking questions ("What did you mean when you said, 'it's the same'?", and "How do you know 'all rectangles are squares'? Where could we check if that fact is true?") and providing descriptive feedback based on the criteria we had co-constructed.
Afterwards, I was able to check in and respond to some of the work students had posted online...
It was a pleasure to see how engaged they were with the task, and I was also excited to continue working on the math and with their communication about the math with them later, on Edmodo.
Impromptu Music Lesson
Afterwards, I was invited to join another friend and former colleague to do some co-teaching in music, as the teacher there was working with the choirs in the gym. As we were unable to locate the lesson plan after a cursory look around the room, we decided to facilitate an impromptu conversation about hip hop in different parts of the world.
We asked students to identify their favourite musical artists; perhaps not surprisingly for middle school aged kids, North American hip hop artists topped the list. Then I asked whether any of the students had seen the recently released film, Queen of Katwe, chronicling the rise of Ugandan chess contender Fiona Mutesi. Disappointingly few had seen it, or even heard about it, but I did not let that deter me.
Thank goodness for the Internet; my friend quickly pulled up the video on Youtube, and the students actually seemed to really like the song, engaging with the beat, and being drawn to the colourful local language the performers sing mainly in.
Spurred on by a comment during our subsequent discussion of some similarities and differences between #1 Spice and the type of hip hop they usually listen to, we got into a bit of a conversation of colonialism, and the effects on the arts and local culture in a colonized place. We were able to draw comparisons between those effects, and effects like the ones students had discussed previously in social studies, with the impact of the residential school system, for example, on the cultures of Indigenous people in Canada.
I loved where the students moved us with their interests and knowledge in our short 40 minutes together, and it make me miss working with Grade 7s!
Effective Classroom Management
I was reminded during my morning in the classroom, how critical a role classroom management plays in effective teaching and learning, and also how complex elementary school classroom teaching really is.
Whether you prefer to call it "creating a safe and inviting learning space" or "fostering an effective learning climate" or whatever, it's important, and without considerable time spent there before, during and after the students arrive on the scene, the rest of the package just falls apart. Having the luxury of contemplating and discussing in great detail one facet of education (such as assessment, for example) in relative isolation, or even two or three or seven factors, is a completely different reality than the 11 000 factors that come into play all at the same time in a real life classroom setting!
I know this of course in theory, but it was good to have a concrete reminder once again.
Lest we Forget
Next it was off to the gym, where the second of two multi-media Remembrance Day assemblies were in full swing. Although I have mixed personal feelings about the value of such observances, it was nevertheless comforting to be altogether in one place like that, with more or less a common goal for an hour.
The music teachers had worked hard with other staff on the assembly team, and the choirs sounded truly lovely. A highlight was listening to one Grade 7 girl sing -- I'd known her since Grade 3, and she had been an elective mute! What a beautiful, clear voice she had. My belief in the far-reaching benefits of music (and the importance of highly qualified music teachers!!) were affirmed.
The assembly also afforded me to opportunity to see some of my former students -- several of them rushed me when I walked into the gym, and I had to temper my own exuberance to see them, too, with a professional response that was appropriate for the occasion.
It was so encouraging to see so many happy, hopeful faces. I've had many classes and students near and dear to my hear, but my time at my last school was special in that it was a middle school that several lower elementary schools I had previously taught at fed into, and so some of the students I worked with last year had been known to me in some capacity or other since Grade One!
Shopping Mall Dates and Challenge Winners
Too soon my morning at school drew to a close -- after catching up with some colleagues and new Syrian arrivals in the ESL room over lunch, I signed out in the office and Uber Pooled to the mall, where I started in on a little Christmas shopping and met my partner so that we could buy her some decent winter boots.
After finding suitable footwear, we enjoyed an eclectic dinner together at the food court, complete with Japanese dessert and bubble tea.
Then we happened across a Metro, which I grabbed, eager to see whether my submission to their recent Arts Challenge had been published. What a pleasant surprise I had when I discovered that my "emoji epic", chronicling my burn, had not only been published, but also chosen as the contest winner!
Tired but happy from a long, full day, my girlfriend and I headed home with her boots, our bags, and the page from the local newspaper confirming my status as a winner!
I haven't flown as much as I'd like to since earning my PPL a few years back, largely due to financial restrictions (it's not a cheap hobby, flying, especially in Toronto!), but recently an old friend was bringing his new beau into town, and wanted us to take them flying.
Someone else footing the bill is the kind of flight that works for me, so off we went for a local east and city tour.
The beau, it turned out, wanted a chance to try his hands at the controls, so he rode left seat while Tats played PIC, and I squished into the back seat of the old 172 we had rented, along with our friend.
Although I enjoy flying, it is also nice to just sit back and enjoy the flight, especially when one hasn't flown in a while. Flying hands off the controls also afforded me a rare opportunity to take some actual photos while flying, rather than having to focus on maneuvering the plane.
One of the many things I love about flying out of CYTZ is that the airport is shared with mid-size commercial operations. Seeing Porter's Dash 8s up close is always exciting, and this time I got to photograph an aircraft taxiing pretty much right in beside us as it came of Taxiway Foxtrot after landing on Runway 26, the same runway we were preparing to take off from....
As we completed our pre take-off checks and approached the hold short line for 26, another Cessna was just coming in for a landing. Again, having no flight responsibilities myself this flight allowed me to snag a rare close-up from my perch in the back seat of our own aircraft, of the company traffic on short, short final, just before that aircraft's flare!
Soon we ourselves were on the roll, and our new pilot-in-training (under the guidance and watchful eye of our PIC) did the take-off while that familiar feeling of "wow, I'm actually flying" hit me.
As we turned crosswind, I pointed out the naked beach (which -- with the sudden arrival of the crisp fall weather -- was itself now naked), and then we turned downwind to enjoy a breathtaking view of the fall foliage on the island, with the spectacular Toronto skyline as its backdrop.
As the boys wanted to fly out to the east end of the city a little and enjoy the areal view of the Bluffs and Frenchmens' Bay, we did that, and then returned for a touristy but-it-never-gets-tired city tour, circling the tower while the passengers snapped photo after photo from our vantage point in the sky.
An interesting thing that happened was when we opened the window so our friends' beau -- who had with him a very professional looking camera -- could take some photos without the glare... I stuck my iPhone out the window, too (holding on tight!!) and snapped a few shots. The wind, however, distorted things a little, and all my "outside shots" ended up with the wonky-looking sort of effect below, on the right!
It had been several months since I had seen the city from on high, and I really enjoyed our flight, even from (or perhaps especially from) the back seat.
Despite a slightly heavy load (with the exception of Tats, we were all pretty "bulky" people, and Tats had insisted on a 1/2 tank fuel restriction!), we made it back onto the runway in one piece. Back on the apron, we took the obligatory "we did it" group snapshot in front of our plane, then headed out to Queen West for dinner at the Beaver.
P.S. About the election, I will say that I played Clinton's concession speech for my kids, because I want them to see what taking the high road looks like, even in the face of such a devastating loss. We had an excellent, mostly child-driven conversation about inclusion vs. exclusion, misogyny, fear, love, Trudeau and the importance of being an ally, especially during challenging times like these, and I highly recommend facilitating a conversation like this -- if you haven't already -- with the children in your life!
***WARNING: This post contains graphic images of the first few days of a second-degree burn.***
Two weeks ago today, I spilled hot (VERY hot!) water all over my left leg. It took a few days for the severity of the situation to sink in, and while I still have a very long way to go until full recovery, I feel a little better equipped now to share the details of my journey so far, in case others out there are searching for some information/guidance.
During a particularly dark day last week, I found this woman's personal blog post a helpful emotional antidote to all the medical websites out there that describe different types of burns, but don't really discuss the practicalities of the short-to-mid-term healing process.
I hope this blog post is similarly helpful to others who may have burned themselves and are looking for a detailed personal story rather than purely medical advice to help guide them through the initial stages of the surprisingly lengthy recovery journey.
Context: Burns and First Steps
One thing I learned about burns that I did not know before is this: The initial 20 minutes following the onset of the burn are crucial. You can do a lot -- I learned from innumerable websites after the fact -- to reduce the impact, speed the healing process, and minimize long-term scarring if you act quickly following a burn.
Here's how it went down for me: After tipping over a full thermos of nearly boiling water and trying to absorb the fact that most of it was running off my desk and onto my left thigh rather than into my computer keyboard and across my "very important" papers, I leapt up and bellowed a 4-letter word which in general ought not to be uttered in the workplace. Then I sat back down and convinced everyone I was just fine, while they brought me stacks of paper towels and helped me wipe down my desk.
Physical and mental shock mingled with awkward feelings of embarrassment while I tried to "play it cool" for several (critical, as I would later discover in my research) minutes. At some point, someone handed me an ice pack wrapped in a kitchen towel, and it occurred to me that this felt very, very nice on my leg.
About 10 minutes after the initial spill, I finally had a chance (in the privacy of a cubicle in the washroom at the office) to remove my pants and examine the actual wound site.
It was not pretty: A fairly sizable chunk of skin had been completely peeled back and was bunched up about midway up my thigh, exposing I don't even know what underneath -- a deep layer of dermal tissue, I suppose. A pink area was quickly forming around this, and off to the farther left, several smaller (about the size of a quarter) blisters were developing.
It was becoming quite painful, and I wondered how I would suck it up and get back to work.
By the time I got back to my computer and nonchalantly typed "how to distinguish first and second degree burns" into Google, the ice pack still positioned carefully on my left thigh, about 20 minutes had passed.
I was bombarded with a barrage of online castigations ("under no circumstances apply ice -- it will worsen the wound and drastically lengthen the healing process", "immediately run the burn under cold water for 15-20 minutes to reduce the burn", "seek medical attention as soon as possible if..." followed by a fairly accurate description of what I had seen in the bathroom).
I couldn't abandon the ice -- it felt too good, and I had no immediate access to any other pain reliever -- but I did go and find out who our office first aid folks were, then casually sauntered over to their desk and calmly asked them whether they might be able to discern first from second degree burns.
Back to the washroom we went, and I stripped down for my two (still fairly new -- I only started this job on Sept 1!) colleagues.
"Uhm, yea, you need to go to the hospital!" was the general and immediate consensus.
Frustrated to be the workplace idiot who spilled hot water on herself at the office which would result in inevitable paperwork for my boss (think mandatory WSIB reporting -- even though the whole thing was my fault; I had failed to secure the lid on my thermos, and then got distracted and forgot that I hadn't tightened it like a moron!), but increasingly cognizant that this might not be the "put some cream on it and get back to work" small thing I had initially assumed it to be, I humoured my colleagues, and limped off to the hospital, the pain increasing with every step and the rough cloth of my still-wet pants rubbing on the raw, skin-like material that sat beneath them.
The moral of this part of the story is know your first aid -- if you or someone around you suffers a similar fate, know that 15-20 minutes of cool, running water (or a clean cloth soaked in cool water) over the burn in the initial half hour can significantly reduce the damage of the wound and drastically improve long-term outcomes.
Second-Degree Burns? The Pain is Unbearable!
As soon as I had been checked in and abandoned (in fairness, I sent them away, needing to be alone to deal with my sudden victim status) at a nearby ER dept., I burst into tears. The burn(s) HURT. SO. MUCH!!!!!
Happily, things were not super busy, and I was sent through the back fairly quickly. But I still had to wait, and during that wait, the intensity of the pain did not subside. (Reflecting later, I realize that unless the heat has a way to escape somehow, the burn continues to damage the skin -- had I only done the cold water thing!!!)
Not one for drugs, I nevertheless approached the nursing station and humbly requested something to relieve the pain while I was waiting to be assessed. I needed little encouragement to gulp down both the extra-strength Tylenols the duty nurse offered me.
Once my combination of superficial and deep partial-thickness burns had been diagnosed, I was prescribed some pain medication and a tube of Flamazine, and sent on my way with instructions to change the dressings twice daily.
Given the size and extent of my burns, the little tube of Flamezine lasted me about a day and a half. I did manage to procure one refill, however upon further investigation, it turns out that this cream can actually be quite damaging to "healthy" skin, and should not be used after the initial period following a burn (2-3 days, from what I can decipher online).
As things had gotten quite red by the Day 3, I used up the second tube of cream, but abandoned Flamazine in favour of Polysporin triple antibiotic gel by Day 4. (This new tincture had the added advantage of having vitamin e (good for reducing scars) as an ingredient, as well as Laidacaine, a very welcome local pain reliever.
(As I found out later, it's actually not uncommon with burns for things to get/look worse before they get better -- check out this article, written for medical practitioners, but accessible to Googlers. It's one of the more comprehensive pieces I've been able to locate online.)
One thing I had not realised was how long the pain/sensitivity would continue. While I took one of the prescription pain killers the first night, I didn't like the hallucinogenic effects on my sleep, and so I stuck mainly to extra strength Tylenol. Mostly one would do it, as long as I took it religiously every 4 hours, and occasionally I needed 2, especially at night and in the early days. A week later, things were still uncomfortable enough that I would periodically pop a pill.
Ice was particularly helpful in the early days in keeping down the swelling and providing some relief. (I returned to work the next day, but tried to keep my leg elevated as much as possible, and my colleagues were awesome about running around for me.)
As the doctor at ER had indicated that I could continue to bath and shower normally, but that I should take care to avoid hot water, I did so, and while the first few days really hurt on some parts of the wound, I was amazed at how little it hurt overall. I was very careful, however, to use only tepid and even cool water, and baby shampoo worked into a lather around the area.
By Day 9 I could consistently bathe that area without any stinging sensation, though again, the water must absolutely be tepid or cool, anything too hot or even slightly warm was/is highly uncomfortable. And as new skin began to emerge under the self-exfoliating old, burned skin, those areas became particularly sensitive.
Dressings and Wound Care
After cleaning the wound twice a day (usually once in the shower, and the other time sitting on the edge of the tub, with a small pot I refilled and would pour over the burn site), I patted it carefully dry with a sterile cloth. Infection is apparently a big fear with burns, and so I have been incredibly careful with this process.
Following the drying comes the application of cream and the covering of the wound. After the first three or four days, I incorporated a period of 10 minutes or so into my routine to let things air dry between cleaning and creaming, and when time permits -- which it sadly doesn't very often -- an additional hour or more between application of cream and application of dressings!
I think a big part of my slow healing process -- apart from my stupidity about initial actions with the ice -- was due to the location and extent of my burn, as I couldn't find a way to secure dressings in place and be able to be mobile in my regular capacity. I really feel like if my burn had been in a more easy-to-wrap and keep wrapped comfortably part of my body, things would have been much more manageable, at least early on.
Or maybe I should have taken more time off work, but I just didn't feel good about that, given the circumstances (me being still new to my role, and the accident being pretty much my own fault).
I found doctors -- both those in the ER as well as the fellow I went to see yesterday as a follow-up at my local clinic, to ensure things were healing properly and weren't infected -- to be fairly useless in terms of suggestions regarding dressings, or even knowledge about burn care in general; two of the three doctors said things that were in direct contradiction with one another, and they did little to instill confidence in me as their patient.
The vast majority of the research seems to be in favour of something called "moist healing", meaning that the old "air it out" adage does not apply (not only to burns, btw, but wounds of all natures) -- Keep it clean, moist and covered seems to the be the mantra to effective healing, that is, healing with reduced risk of infection and minimization of long-term scarring. And so, after cleaning and drying, I would apply whatever ointment I was putting on the burn, and then cover it with either 5 "large" sized non-stick pads from the drugstore, or later 2 actually large (but still not large enough!) non-stick pads from the medical supply store, followed by a gauze wrapping. If I stayed put with my leg up, this arrangement worked quite well, but if I tried to walk even as far as the elevator, the whole thing would start slipping down my leg.
Oh, and by the way, the non-stick pads feel super uncomfortable against your leg (the Bandaid brand was a little gentler, but also considerably more expensive), and as soon as you start moving around, it pokes and irritates the supposed-to-be healing skin!
I was surprised how much this whole thing has affected me emotionally. 72 hours after the accident, I was pretty depressed, and 10 days later, I was still having moments when I felt overwhelmed and hopeless.
Each night, I would go home as quickly as I could get there, trying not to cry as I hobbled from my office building to the bus stop or the subway after a full day at work, the dressings either rubbing uncomfortably against my skin, or slipping down my leg, or both. As soon as I got home, I'd take everything off, put on a warm, comfy (and after a week of this nonsense, quite smelly, as my girlfriend gently chided me) sweatshirt and bathe my leg. Then I'd apply a thin layer of ointment of some sort, put on some socks and leg warmers, and revel in the delight of not having anything rubbing on my burn!!!
So pathetic became my existence during this time that one night I even downloaded snapchat and fiddled with the stickers and selfie options....
While my partner was out of town during much of this time, I was lucky in that my kids (12-year-old twins) were super helpful with things like laundry and walking the dog when they were here. And when my partner finally came home, she did miraculous amounts of running around, even finding the afore-mentioned extra large, non-stick pads for me at a medical supply store.
I was also very grateful that a friend of ours eventually took the dog for several days, sparing me the late night walk when I was almost in tears at the thought of wrapping up my leg again in too-small dressing pads and and slipping-down gauze rolls to hobble down the hall with the wildebeest for her last pee break of the day.
But I still felt depressed and like this wound was never going to heal!
According to several burn support websites, the emotional effects are not uncommon. And yet most of these sites are for people who have been involved in a more extensive trauma than a hot water spill that was their own fault. When you're an outpatient, it's hard to find others who have suffered a similar fate, and those closest to you -- if they haven't ever been burned like this -- simply can't understand.
As I am usually a fairly high-functioning person, I was surprised at how alone I felt, and how much this whole thing has affected me. Thanks goodness for the internet; for every Instagram follower I turned off with my graphic posts of my leg's daily progression, I gained at least one new one and several "likes" from fellow insta-surfers who were familiar first-hand with the whole burn experience.
A big thing was coming to terms with the length of the healing process. Unlike other wounds, burns -- especially second and third degree ones -- take a LONG time to heal. I had no idea, and in addition to enlarging my vocabulary with subject-specific words like "exudant", "debridement" and "pruritus", I have developed an enormous empathy for people who have been in fires and/or have suffered more extensive burns. (I know my own burn wound is a big one, but it is restricted to one limb, and a part of one that's usually hidden at that).
In addition to the facts that it will be one-three years before I can expose that part of my body to sun, and that it will be at least another 10 days before I can function even semi-normally, I feel frustrated at my inability to do even the most basic tasks. Walking the dog, getting groceries, picking up more medical supplies... all of these are done for me by others for now, and not just for a day or two, but more than a week!
Initial Stages of Healing
(WARNING: Graphic Images Ahead)
As I immersed myself in my new private hell, I was disheartened to find very little information online about the initial healing process. Websites about the different types of burns abound, as does information on what First Aid to perform (too late!!) and how to reduce long-term scarring (not there yet, and don't really care about cosmetic appearance).
But where was the information and photos on what was normal, and what I should expect on Day 2 -5 -10 of this nightmare?
Each wound is of course unique, and should you ever suffer a burn like this, you will no doubt become intimately familiar with the nuances of your particular burn(s).
My own wound site's hallmark is a large, yellow area that was quite puss-y and weepy for about the first 9 days or so. Along the top edge of that was the large bunched up chunk of skin from the initial large blister that formed and burst. To the right and left of this were several blisters or blistery skin/partial pockets, two of which eventually opened, drained and turned yellow, and one of which burst to reveal new, pink skin underneath within about a week. All around was angry, red skin that turned dark in some places before eventually becoming crispy and peeling off.
(Days 3 and 4...)
Around Day 5, most of the additional blisters that had formed in the first 48 hours had popped. By about the 6-day mark, I was beginning to see signs of healing in the more first-degree areas of the burn, with the red lightening to pink and eventually almost back to my regular skin tone.
Day 7/8 (the Tuesday after the Tuesday of the fateful water spill), I finally took a sick day and stayed home with my wound cleaned, dried and creamed but uncovered (which necessitated me greeting a building maintenance guy who needed to check the radiators in our unit, in my underwear, but so be it!!) for most of the day. I also took a long, mid-day nap while listening to classical music.
This rest day was a great choice on my part, as it really allowed things to heal without the constant rubbing of clothing or bandages along the burn and newly forming skin. By the end of that day, the bunched up dead skin from Day One finally came off when I washed the wound before bed, as did a few other bits from various parts of the wound.
(Days 9 - 11 below... Click images to enlarge)
Skin Stretching and Oozing
By Days 3 and 4, I was already noticing a pulling feeling at part of the wound site that had been less badly burned, and where skin was regenerating. According to everything I'd been reading, one is supposed to stretch the healing limb, and keep it moving, so I began to do that regularly, twice a day, when I had removed my dressings and was airing things out a little. This way I could stretch the skin without the dressings rubbing and pulling against the still-rawer parts of the wound.
I was surprised how much that big initial broken blister still would exude yellowish and clear stuff, even after a week. Not sure how normal this is, but two weeks later, it seems to have finally stopped doing that.
Flaky, Itchy Skin
The biggest breakthrough came around Day 10, a Friday, when some of the really red, angry skin had turned black, dried up and died for good, and was beginning to peel away, revealing seemingly healthy, pink new skin underneath. Although the big, yucky yellow part (and three smaller yellow parts) were still there and difficult to deal with, seeing such a visible change was encouraging for sure!
Home Remedy Topical Applications
That weekend (Days 11 and 12), I mostly stayed home and looked after my burn. Tired and fed up with the medicated creams whose boxes claimed they should not be used longer than a week, I began to get a little experimental.
I'd read about and ordered medicinal grade Menuka honey online, and it arrived on Friday -- thankfully, my girlfriend also arrived that day (she'd been out of town as part of her on-the-job training for several weeks, and just happened to have a few days off that started Friday), and she was able to pick up the coveted package at the post office.
She also visited the health store that day, and bought some raw, virgin coconut oil and made another stop at the medical supply store to get hospital grade large, non-stick dressings that really were large (though in truth still not as large as I needed!), and some more gauze rolls.
I spent the better part of the weekend with my wound uncovered or lightly covered with leg elevated, slathered with either Manuka honey or a combination of coconut oil and a drop or two of the lavender oil I serendipitously had leftover from our visit to the world's southernmost lavender farm during the Argentina year! Had I had a way to obtain one, I would also have gotten an Aloe Vera plant, and used cuttings from that to rub gel into my healing burn site.
I don't know if it was my foray into non-standard medicine or the fact that I didn't have to keep walking around with bandaids chafing on my wound, but either way, things felt a lot better by the end of that weekend.
Tunnel-End Lights and Growth Mindsets
It's been 14 days now since I poured hot water all over my leg like an idiot. I still have moments of desperation (I have not biked in over two weeks, and my morning yoga routine is pathetic as I attempt in vain not to rub up against anything on the mat with my sensitive left thigh... also, various parts of the burn still really hurt off and on, and I panic whenever I think about dressing the wound because it is just so uncomfortable to have anything at all touching it), but I have also noticed some significant changes for the better.
Firstly, the blisters are gone, and the top layer of skin in most parts of the wounds has finally peeled away completely. Secondly, things are getting super itchy, which is apparently a good sign -- though driving me bonkers!!
Day 14... looking good, right?!
Finally, I am amazed at how much I have learned about burns, medically, emotionally, from both a first aid and a long-term perspective. I feel much better equipped to deal with a burn, should one occur again in my immediate family or workplace, and I have developed an tremendous empathy for hidden disabilities. I will try hard not to judge when I see others on public transit, for example, sitting in unusual poses that seem to sprawl over more than their "fair share" of seats. And I will check in on colleagues and friends who had something happen that significantly impacted their psyches, even after the novelty of the story has worn off.
It's far from over for me, this journey of recovery, but I can see now, for the first time, how far I've come, and that means there is only one way to go from here: FORWARD! :-)
Two months into this Ministry gig, and I am learning more about Kindergarten than I ever did in 17 years of classroom teaching!
Because the unit that I work with at the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Branch is focused specifically on assessment and reporting policy, familiarity with, interpretation of and implementation support of Growing Success are key components of my job.
In particular, the recently-released Kindergarten Addendum has become a focus for me, as I find myself with a number of Kindergarten resource, support and policy projects in my portfolio.
I've a wide range of classroom experience in my 17 years with a school board before my recent leap to the Ministry of Education, but Kindergarten has made up at best a tiny portion of that experience. While the complexity of a critically rich, socially just and academically robust integrated program was a challenge I enjoyed at the junior and intermediate levels, getting down and dirty with thirty 3-, 4-and 5-year-olds was something I just never could really wrap my head around, though I've always had an enormous respect for those who do.
Becoming a parent of twins 12 years ago certainly brought an understanding of the daily life of a Kindergarten educator into the realm of possibility, as I marveled in awe at the wonder and natural curiosity that small people bring to the world as they navigate through the toddler years attempting to make sense of the natural and social fabric that surrounds them...
And now I have the good fortune to be able to read and digest -- through personal reflections and conversations with more experienced colleagues -- a significant amount of material related to "assessment" in the Kindergarten context.
I'm amazed and impressed by the seamless integration of "assessment" (noticing and naming) and curriculum (program) planning in Kindergarten. With chapter titles like "Play-Based Learning in a Culture of Inquiry" and subheadings like "Co-constructing the Learning Environment", "Thinking about Time and Space", and "The Learning Environment and Beliefs about Children", the 2016 document invites Kindergarten educators to become reflective practitioners and adopt a growth mindset as they collaboratively develop a time and place where our province's earliest learners will begin their formal journey through an education system that will last most of them at least 12 years.
Although I am reading and talking with people about the kindergarten journey, I am a practitioner, and I need to see it in action.
Fortunately, Instagram has become my new poison: I joined in October 2015, and I often flip through my feed when I have a minute or two at the bus stop or while doing one-armed stretches while riding the elevator at home or work. (I love the visual expediency of the 1000-word picture, and the language of hashtags, when applied descriptively and creatively rather than purely as a long list of marketing gimmicks, intrigues me.)
Inspiration vs. Diversion
For a few weeks after starting my new job -- lost at sea without a classroom of my own -- I got sucked into the world of "teaching's so hard and we're going post ridiculous memes of how brutal it is every second of every day" for a bit. I began following accounts like names like "teacher misery", which pretty much sum up the often true but not the only focus of some of the more challenging aspects of the teaching profession.
But the themes of these accounts, and the underlying messages implied by the gaps in their posting topics, soon got to me.
Frustrated by my own increasing depression of how frustrating the system can be, I spent one evening un-following several teacher accounts, and doing an Instagram search for things like "teacher passion", "I love teaching", "Ontario Teacher" and "Authentic Inquiry". Surely, I thought, there must be keen and eager teachers out there who are doing it well, despite the sometimes enormous challenges of too many children, not enough space, and limited resources...
Perhaps not surprisingly, the most frequent photos that popped up were ones from Kindergarten classrooms!
My respect for these dedicated educators of our school population's youngest citizens continues to grow daily as I peer through the window of social media* and am rewarded with richly colourful, diverse and hopeful images of intellectual provocations designed to invite small people into a world of wonder, speculation and risk-taking.
The research (e.g. Dweck and Leggett and others) strongly indicates that children who see themselves as capable learners early on in their development tend to experience more success throughout their educational careers and beyond.
These identities are not only formed early on, but also once set are -- according to the research -- very difficult to change. Therefore, Kindergarten educators play a key role in building a society of engaged, growth-oriented citizens: It is they, along with parents and families, who help children form an image of themselves as learners... or not.
The ways in which the adults in the room guide the co-development of the learning environment, from language used to materials laid out to provocations set up to observations named and celebrated with students form the building blocks on which the rest of a child's educational career will be built.
I'm excited to see from the many photos Ontario Kindergarten educators are enthusiastically posting on Instagram that these building blocks are being thoughtfully and joyfully offered to our young learners.
I think the rest of us have a lot to learn from what's happening in Kindergarten!
* I am not naiive enough to think that the types of activities I see posted on Instagram are indicative of what's happening every minute of every day in a given classroom; I know that many of the same hurdles I faced as a teacher are faced by the educators in Kindergarten classrooms. But the fact that they are leveraging the affinities of their students and beating the odds of the challenges some may face -- even a few times a week -- is a testament to the many wonderful things happening in their classroom practice!
I had a conversation the other day about the importance of teaching history from a less eurocentric perspective and through a more FNMI-focused lens. The teacher I was chatting with was lamenting
the lack of ready access to good FNMI resources for students and teachers.
As someone who grew up with little if any authentic teaching about FNMI realities in Canada, I shared her frustration: How do we begin teaching well about something we know so little of? Last year's Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action calls for the integration FNMI history, contributions, current events, etc. into the curriculum at all grade levels, and not just for FNMI students. We are to incorporate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods, and we are to teach at all grade levels about the legacy of the residential school system, and its attempts at systemic eradication of an entire cultural group.
But how can we do it all justice without a firm understanding ourselves of FNMI realities?
I was embarrassed -- when talking to a colleague at the office later that afternoon (one who had recently published a relevant children's book about her grandmother's experiences with the residential school system) -- to be reminded that it is not just in History that we should be thinking about how to infuse FNMI realities into the curriculum; Dr Jenny Kay Dupuis, who happens to work in a cubicle a short walk from mine, patiently pointed out that there are many opportunities to highlight Canada's injustices to our FNMI people, and to integrate Indigenous knowledge into our teaching.
Jenny shared with me this guest blog post she co-authored, which includes a number of links to FNMI sites and other resources for teachers and students.
Coincidentally, she also happened to be interviewed by CBC's Matt Galloway that very morning, to share about her new children's picture book: I am Not a Number, by Second Story Press.
The audio interview is under 10 minutes, and provides listeners with some poignant historical information about the residential school system.
It would itself make an interesting study in oral language for students -- as I listened to it, I imagined immediately how I might use it with my students, were I still in a classroom: How effective is the interviewer (Galloway) in extracting information from the interviewee (Dr. Dupuis), etc.
It could perhaps serve as a catalyst for having students interview a family member about their own history, or write about a time when they first remember hearing an important family story. I could also see myself using this interview as a jumping off point for students to develop inquiry questions; the ESL teacher in me wants to begin by supplying a list of relevant vocabulary words: Grannie, Residential School, haircut, and so on, before students listen to the interview, and have them write a few sentences predicting what it will be about.
After talking with Jenny about her book, I offered to let her write a guest post on my blog (which I am still hoping she will do at some point), and sent her a follow up email saying "anything I can do to help!"
I realized after I sent the email that I was guilty of the same crimes that the T and R commission's report urges us to fight against: Although well-intentioned, my offer of help could easily be construed as demeaning; Jenny and her people don't need my "help". What they need is for me and my fellow non-FNMI Canadians to stop helping and start learning. Ugly history, beautiful history, troubling current events and discrimination, beautiful arts, culture, medical and other contributions... we need to take responsibility for our part -- direct or indirect -- in the ugliness, and make it a priority to learn the story of our FNMI sisters and brothers so that we can share the same with our children at home and in our classrooms and begin the long climb out of darkness and into a lighter future in which we acknowledge the mistakes of our past authentically and celebrate our truly equitable and respectful co-existence.
And it has to be authentic, not just a memorized and script off a printed page, poorly recited at the beginning of a meeting or over the P.A. system at school each morning so that we can say we've fulfilled our legal duty -- no, we have to go our of our way to learn something we didn't know before, and get excited to share about it with our colleagues and children.
This weekend, my partner and I visited Port Perry with one of our sons. We geocached on Scugog Island, home to a Reserve; one of the caches was placed on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation, which the cache owner alleged to be a part of.
Simon wondered aloud about the relationship between these people and the Mississaugas of the New Credit, whose traditional land his school is built on. It led to an interesting conversation, just a drop in the bucket, but another seed was planted, none the less.
It is through a combination of these opportunistic teaching moments and through careful, planned, integrated instruction that we will begin to fulfill our responsibilities with respect to the teaching part of the reconciliation recommendations.
Not knowing is no longer an excuse. We are called to wonder, to question and -- if necessary -- to google!
After writing for several teacher and multiple birth publications, including ETFO's Voice Magazine, Multiple Moments, and the Bulletwin, Vera turned her written attention to prolific blogging for some years, including BiB, "Learn to Fly with Vera!" and SMARTbansho . Homeschooling 4 was her travel blog in Argentina. She now spends more time on her Instagram (@schalgzeug_usw) than her blog (pictures are worth a thousand words?!) Contact Vera by clicking the photo above.
The views expressed on this blog are the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the perspectives of her family members or the position of her employer on the the issues she blogs about. These posts are intended to share resources, document family life, and encourage critical thought on a variety of subjects. They are not intended to cause harm to any individual or member of any group. By reading this blog and viewing this site, you agree to not hold Vera liable for any harm done by views expressed in this blog.