Monthly Archives: November 2018

Remembrance Day on the 100th Anniversary of Armistice – From the “War to End All Wars”


By Dr David Laing Dawson

WW1 was stupid, stupid, stupid, one of the great follies of humankind. And this is what we need to remember on November 11th while still honoring the soldiers who died in that war, or came home with minds and bodies shattered. And we need to do this without glorifying or even justifying war.
This week a classic FM station has been playing a new musical version of “In Flanders Fields”. The composer talks of noticing the last stanza in this poem and its importance and neglect. That’s the stanza that begins “Take up our quarrel with the foe”. She has added the ominous rhythm of marching boots to her score.
No. That “foe” was comprised of equally frightened boys and young men sent to war by the equally blind, heartless, stupid leaders, kings, emperors, Kaisers and politicians of the day. And when Dr. John McCrae wrote that poem, several million bodies of those “foes” were already strewn in the fields of Europe.

In the spring of 1916 my grandfather stood up from a soggy rat infested trench in Belgium at the call to charge. A bullet pierced his left arm and shrapnel from an exploding bomb gashed his face and stuck in the left side of his skull. He was carried to the field hospital for the third time that year and from there transported to a hospital in England and then a rehabilitation center.
A hundred years later I have his service and hospital records on my computer.
The bullet in his left upper arm was a through and through and the wound healed quickly. The Xray of his skull shows particles of shrapnel embedded in his frontal and parietal bones. The surgeons removed what they could but a few metal shards remain. He was then transferred to the rehabilitation center to be prepared to be sent back to the front. But my grandfather kept having dizzy spells and falling down. In the brief medical jargon of the day the doctors wondered if this was caused by concussion, or was it shell shock or might it be “functional”. Today the doctors would have used the words “post-concussion syndrome”, PTSD, and pondered the possibility of conversion reaction and/or malingering. But first they would send him for an MRI.
My grandfather spent the summer and autumn of 1916 in that rehab center and he kept having dizzy spells and falling down. Eventually he was given a medical discharge and sent home to Canada, to Victoria, to arrive there in the winter of 1917.
I have a few scattered memories of my grandfather from the late 40’s into the 50’s when, for the entertainment of his grandchildren, he might tap the metal in his head and imply his whole skull was steel. Otherwise, I know, he never talked of the war. He had enlisted in 1915 with the first Canadian Expeditionary Force, after the rule that wives had to agree was dropped. He trained in England in the summer of that year and then was deployed to the battlefields in the fall, the trenches of France and Belgium.
I had always assumed my grandfather was a veteran of Vimy Ridge and I visited the monument there and wrote in the guest book. But his war and hospital records show he was discharged home before the battle of Vimy Ridge. He was a veteran and survivor of lesser known and less successful battles.
In the language of medicine “functional” implies both “no physical/organic cause” and “the possibility of there being a purpose or goal involved in the loss of function”. “Conversion reaction” and “malingering” are two extremes of interpretation. The first implies that though the behaviour has a goal it is not a conscious goal, the second that it is a fully conscious goal. Of course, for much human behaviour the truth lies somewhere in between.
But there it is. In the hospital and rehabilitation center in England did my Grandfather decide he was not going back to that insane war, to the death trap of those trenches, to the whim of a general ordering a charge against machine guns? Did he decide to fake infirmity and return to his wife and three small children waiting in a farmhouse on Cedar Hill Crossroad?
I’m sure he suffered PTSD, and those dizzy spells may have been caused by concussion, by cerebral bruising.
But I like to think that he realized how stupid, stupid, stupid it was for young men to be sitting in rat infested soggy trenches through the night and day shooting at each other, and that he should go home to care for my grandmother, my uncle, my aunt and my father. (Another aunt arrived after the war).
If he consciously decided to go home on a medical discharge, even while feeling the guilt and humiliation of such a decision, well, here is what I have to say:
“Good on ya, Grandad. I’m proud of you.”


Flu Season is Coming

By Marvin Ross

Recently, a Facebook contact held a poll to determine if they should get a flu shot. Much to my surprise, 30% voted no with reasons like “it is better to build up your own immune system” to “the vaccine is not perfect”.

I was surprised but I guess I should not have been given the amount of anti-vax sentiment around. Building up your own immune system is stupid and it does not work. Polio, smallpox et al were eradicated not by having people build up their immune systems but by vaccinations. And yes, the flu vaccine is not perfect and its efficacy varies based on the best guess of epidemiologists but it does help to varying degrees.

What convinced me about 30 years ago was a study done by the National Hockey League. It may have just been the Toronto Maple Leafs but what they found was that the time off for players was greatly reduced  the year they got flu shots compared to the previous season. I’ve been getting it since and have never contracted the flu.

There is also an interesting difference between Canada and the US over flu shots. For many years, the flu shot in Ontario was only free to people with chronic diseases who were immune compromised. Then, it became available for free to everyone. In fact, only three provinces in Canada do not provide free vaccinations universally but they all do provide it for those with chronic illnesses. A few years ago, Ontario made it available in all pharmacies so people did not have to make a doctor’s appointment but could go into a pharmacy and get it from the pharmacist.

From what I gather, the flu vaccine in the US is only free to people who can satisfy certain conditions and who must apply for it. Otherwise, you pay. Now I don’t have stats on what percentages in each county do get the shot but the death statistics are telling. The World Health Organization says that up to 650,000 people die from influenza each year. In Canada, deaths from flu are about 3500 a year. As the US is about 10 times the Canadian population, that translates into 35,000 Americans. The actual death toll in the US in 2017/18 according to the CDC was 80,000. More that double the Canadian rate. This is an example of what the Spanish flu of 1918 to one city

An interesting commentary on the failure of the US to adopt universal health care was mentioned by the anthropologist, David Graeber. In his book Bull Shit Jobs, he quotes Obama who said:

“Everybody who supports single-payer health care says ‘look at all this money we would be saving from insurance and paperwork’. That represents one million, two million three million jobs (filled by) people who are working at Blue Cross Blue Shield or Kaiser or other places. What are we going to do with them? Where are we employing them?”

That quote came from an article in Nation, June 26, 2006 by David Sirota called “Mr Obama goes to Washington”.

When you don’t get a flu shot, you not only endanger yourself but those around you with compromised immune systems like the chronically ill and the elderly.

Go get a flu shot!

To US Citizens – Tuesday is Your Last Chance

By Dr David Laing Dawson

There must have been a moment, a day, sometime between 1927 and 1939 when it became too late to alter the course of world affairs as one Adolf Hitler rose to power and brought about the destruction of Europe.

The Austrian National Socialist party won only 779 votes in all of Austria in the general election of 1927. But their membership doubled each year after that and by the early 30’s one of their slogans was, “500,000 unemployed – 400,000 Jews – Simple way out; vote National Socialist”.

Historians can trace the seeds of WWII to WWI, but still there must have been a day when it was too late to stop WWII and the holocaust. Perhaps that day was the last opportunity to not vote for the National Socialists. Should not the slogan in the preceding paragraph been enough of a warning? Is not the code in “Simple way out” obvious? Or the juxtaposition of 500,000 unemployed to 400,000 Jews?

Apparently not.

I am writing this because I fear this Tuesday, the 6th of November, 2018, is the last day Americans can go to the polls and change the course of history.

I listened to some Trump supporters last night and I find they are just as deaf to the implications of the words of Donald Trump as the citizens of Europe were to that slogan:

“500,000 unemployed – 400,000 Jews – Simple way out; vote National Socialist”.

“I tell the truth when I can,” says Trump, without a flicker of irony. “Consider rocks as rifles if migrants throw them”. “…very bad thugs and gang members and middle ‘easterns’..”, “rapists and murderers..”, “Ìnvaders”.

Trump uses simpler code than the Nazi’s of the early 30’s. It should be easy to decipher, and then to grasp the full implications, and then to recoil from them.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018 may be that last day, my American friends, when you can stop this malignant rush to tribal warfare and the destruction of democracy.

Continue reading To US Citizens – Tuesday is Your Last Chance