The old saying goes: Laughter is the best medicine. In addition, sometimes the strangest things can help one make, or accept, important, even life-altering, decisions. So we found out a few weeks ago. As a result, a new expression has become significant in our lives.

“Get Stuffed!”


First a bit of back-story. I (Gayle) grew up in an American-English speaking environment. To me the term “get stuffed” meant that one was preparing to overeat. Only after moving to Canada in my forties did I learn that “get stuffed” is a British colloquialism meaning, in the politer sense, “go away” or “get lost” or, in the cruder sense, “piss off” or worse. I became aware of the term while enjoying the satirical rants of Scotsman Jock McBile of CBC TV’s Royal Air Farce fame. Jock McBile, one of the most beloved alter egos of the late comedian John Morgan, was a mutton-chopped, kilt-and-sporran-clad curmudgeon, leaning on a cromach and using a thick burr to sarcastically and comically comment on current political and cultural happenings. His frequent climax to any dismissal of the antics of those whose actions met his disapproval was to tell them to “get stuffed!” as he marched off stage, menacingly brandishing his cromach. After marrying my own feisty Scotsman some 14 years ago, there were times when I wondered if Jock McBile’s cousin had come to live with me!


Now, what in the world does that have to do with me making or accepting life-altering decisions? If you have followed my blog, you will know that I started it to publicize the writings of my Scottish-born husband Ian and the books that he and I have produced over the past years. Recently, progress on future publications has slowed as Ian’s health has deteriorated. I’m struggling to continue with editing future books since care giving is taking up most of my time. As things settle down a bit with the provincial palliative care that has recently begun, I’m looking forward to finding more time to get back to editing our next book, Came to Canada, Eh? Continuing a Scottish Immigrant’s Story and, hopefully, progressing to other of our unpublished writings. But first, let me relate our most recent adventure.

Ian had a check-up with his GP to assess if his breathing distress (that had increased after his inoperable rectal cancer diagnosis in September) was being helped by a month’s dosage of morphine and whether it was time to curtail some of the other medications he has taken for other serious long-term medical problems like heart disease, a history of small strokes, peripheral neuropathy, GERD, hypertension and dementia. As the cancer would eventually be terminal, did he need to keep on all the other medications to prevent serious complications from other diseases? In other words, has all the medication become overkill? Ian is content to leave these decisions to me. (A daunting task indeed.) However, I already have lost my late husband to early onset Alzheimer disease and multiple small strokes, so have a bit of perspective to aid me. At the moment I’d prefer Ian not have a stroke that could cause paralysis so I could no longer care for him at home with palliative care until or near the end (which we would both prefer). So we opted for him to stay on Warfarin to aid in preventing a stroke, even though it adds to the bleeding from the incurable rectal cancer.

Next it was time for the clinic’s nurse to administer an annual cognitive test to decide whether Ian should keep on the dementia-slowing drug that he has been on for the last three years. His memory continues to worsen but the regression has slowed on the medication – a luxury that my late husband didn’t have as the drug wasn’t yet on the market when he needed it. Our nurse started the familiar test and I could see that Ian’s awareness of time had deteriorated since last year – “What year is it?” (“Well, it’s later than 1932.” – Smart Aleck – that is his birth year!) “Do you know what month we are in?” – (“Spring?” – hardly!) He could follow sequential verbal directions to take a piece of paper, fold it and place it on the ground, but only remembered one of the three words he had been given and then later asked to recall. “Truck,” readily came to mind but he had no recollection of “velvet” and “church” which he had repeated multiple times just minutes before. He correctly answered a few questions involving numbers and did not do too poorly in copying two geometric figures on a second paper. Then came the last assignment: “Write down a sentence, please.” I smiled thinking of what Ian had written last year. “I love my wife.” This time he readily jotted down a two-word sentence, handing it to the nurse with a smirk. She let out a hoot when she read: “Get stuffed!” There was a twinkle in his eye, though, so we saw it as a touch of sarcastic humour and not a nasty protest at the process.

Ian’s score was only a point below last year’s so I thought he should keep on the drug rather than taking a chance of his memory and abilities getting worse at a faster rate, even though this could also add to his bleeding. The medical staff thought differently, though, and recommended a trial period of 10 days off the drug to see if its absence made a difference. Those 10 days did not go well, however, as Ian had a growing number of disturbing hallucinations and worsening memory. As I still had about a month’s worth of the medication on hand, I started him back on it and will be monitoring him before we see the doctor again to assess whether to continue it. After only a few days, I’m encouraged that the hallucinations have lessened, though I’m not sure about the memory.


As irascible as he gets at times, I’d like to keep my old sassy Scotsman around awhile longer if possible. I’ve also started to tell him to “get stuffed” a few times when he gets carried away. That usually brings a chuckle, followed by a cuddle, which helps to alleviate the grumbling. Here Ian is a few years ago, all decked out to sing at the Okanagan Military Tattoo when he was still able to walk with the help of a cane (instead of a cromach).

Ian summed up his “get stuffed” afternoon with: “If you have a choice, it’s better to laugh than to cry.” The day following his medical exams he was so exhausted after our outing that he hardly got out of bed. At least it gave me some time to do some creative writing and fuel another blog post.

As difficult as care giving is, I’m determined to help Ian in these last years (or months) to make life as positive as possible and try to keep myself healthy and productive at the same time. Thank God for palliative care that offers growing support, as it becomes needed, and for the love and concern of family and friends.



What encouragement old friends can bring, even those who live far away. A recent letter came from Friedemann, a dear friend from my days living in Germany in the 1960s and ‘70s. He had recently lost his wife, Maria (another beloved friend) to cancer and was writing to comfort me after hearing of Ian’s cancer diagnosis. His profound words bear repeating:

“I am really grateful to you for keeping in touch with me and now with the follow-up news on Ian’s health crisis which will no doubt continue to occupy you both. I was sorry to hear that surgery is no safe option for Ian and do hope and pray that he remains without pain and comfortable and that you can both continue to live your interesting lives together.

“I seem to detect a note of optimism in your account–but then you always had what is basically a positive attitude to life, and although I have never met Ian, from your letters I have the impression that he is a person who prefers to see the bright side of life, too–a very healthy attitude (that I sometimes wish I had more of). Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Maria and you always got along so well, way back in the Heidelberg days. You both might have had good reasons for complaint in your lives, but you always managed to see the silver lining: a result of being embedded in your faith?

“Anyway, I do hope you can both find something to look forward to and enjoy each day. I often think of the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’, i.e. give us today what we need just for today (and tomorrow we will ask again).

“A month or so before Maria died she wrote an article for a magazine in which she quoted a poem by a German cabaret artist, writer, author of children’s stories and actor who died in 2005, Hans Dieter Hüsch. The poem apparently appealed to her way of thinking–I imagine also to yours and Ian’s—(In German–which you presumably still read? ):


Ich bin vergnügt, erlöst, befreit.

Gott nahm in seine Hände meine Zeit,
mein Fühlen, Denken, Hören, Sagen,
mein Triumphieren und Verzagen,
das Elend und die Zärtlichkeit.

Was macht, dass ich so fröhlich bin
im meinem kleinen Reich?
Ich sing und tanze her und hin
vom Kindbett bis zur Leich.

Was macht dass ich so furchtlos bin
an vielen dunklen Tagen?
Es kommt ein Geist in meinen Sinn,
will mich durchs Leben tragen.

Was macht, dass ich so unbeschwert
und mich kein Trübsinn hält?
Weil mich mein Gott das Lachen lehrt
wohl über alle Welt.

Hanns Dieter Hüsch


“In English (roughly!):

I’m cheerful, redeemed, set free.

God took my time in his hands,

my  feeling, thinking, hearing, speaking,

my triumphs and despondencies,

the anguish and the tenderness.


How come that I’m so cheerful

in my own small domain?

I sing and dance to and fro

from the cradle to the grave.


How come that I’m so fearless

on many gloomy days?

A spirit comes into my mind

that seeks to carry me through life.


How come I’m so light-hearted

and no gloom has hold on me?

Because God teaches me to laugh

at the whole world no doubt.


“So I hope God continues to give you both your daily bread and brighten your life for as long as God sees fit.

“Cheers and the very best of wishes.

(nicer in Latin: Pax et gaudium–et fortitudo = peace and joy–and strength!)”




Through the years, Gayle has shared the following with friends who are recovering from accidents or lengthy hospitalizations. Sunday she learned another friend was coping with a fractured ankle after falling on skies as she was getting off a chair lift and was jostled or startled by an over-anxious skate boarder. Here’s to a good healing, Pat! Gayle can’t blame a skate boarder for a previous accident she experienced. She was the over-anxious one wanting to spy a bird building a nest on her roof. And she never did see the darn bird! Perhaps this is what it looked like.

Bird building a nest on


Life’s Lessons Reinforced by Gayle Johannesson (later Moore-Morrans)
adapted from an editorial originally published in Esprit magazine, 1999, presented at a Lake Chapala Society Writer’s Group in Ajijic, Mexico, 2005

One fine Manitoba day in early May 1999, I eagerly awaited getting home after a long day at my editing job. After seven months of winter, Winnipeg was a glorious place to be and I planned to spend a long evening on my deck enjoying the warm air, extended sunshine and birdsong. As soon as I walked in, my daughter excitedly shouted, “Mum, you should check it out. I think a bird is building a nest on our roof.”

Of course, I can never leave well enough alone, so had to immediately trot out to the deck to investigate. I jumped up onto one of the benches surrounding our hexagonal deck table and then onto the table, but wasn’t close enough to view the roof. Jumping down, I hauled the table and bench closer and again hopped up onto the bench and then to the table. This time, however, I landed on a corner where there wasn’t a table leg. Down I crashed—all of three feet, mind you—slamming my right leg on the bench and landing wedged against the railing of the deck on my back with my right arm pinned under me. My frantic screams quickly brought my daughter and next-door neighbours to the scene. Soon the fire department and ambulance service arrived. I have little recollection of their rescue other than a vague feeling of horror as they threw all the furniture off our high deck and struggled to get me into a neck brace and stretcher, down the ten steep steps to the back yard and into the ambulance.

All this resulted in seven and a half hours of emergency surgery to repair what turned out to be seven breaks in the right ankle, knee and upper arm. I woke up in considerable pain with 17 pieces of metal in me—a rod and screws through the humerus, a four-inch plate in the fibula, bolts to try to hold the crushed tibial plateau at the bottom of my knee together, numerous screws to keep all these things in place, and, of course, a huge leg cast and arm immobilizer. Because of the multiple breaks it was a long time before I could get out of a wheelchair and onto crutches. My doctor declared me “architecturally challenged” because my bi-level house necessitated going down eight steps to the lower level or up eight steps to the upper level. Thus, I was destined to spend three and a half months in hospital, only being discharged in mid-August when I could finally maneuver steps on my crutches.

Most of my fourteen weeks was spent in a rehabilitation hospital, braving four hours of physiotherapy daily and gradually adding occupational and hydrotherapy sessions. I learned quickly, however, that my injuries were minor compared to most of my fellow patients, the majority of whom had suffered severe strokes, spinal cord injuries, complications from multiple sclerosis or loss of limbs due to accidents or diabetes.

What kept me relatively sane throughout all this was my editorial job. Luckily, my quarterly magazine was due to go to press a week after my accident and most of my work had been done. Our publisher quickly secured the services of one of our writers to complete my editorial and put the thing to bed. One week later I started serious work on the next issue, clumsily using my left hand and the telephone. Soon I became a one-hand whiz on my laptop computer, with the modem enabling me to communicate with writers, the office, our art designer and printer, aided by daily visits from our secretary who delivered papers back and forth. The hospital staff got quite used to me burning the midnight oil at the computer, probably considering me a bit nuts though they were very supportive as long as I didn’t keep my three roommates awake.

I’d like to share with you my editorial for the Fall 1999 issue of Esprit, the magazine of Evangelical Lutheran Women. The magazine is thematic and, as coincidence would have it, the theme for the issue which was finishing up just as I left hospital was “Body and Spirit.” I entitled it, “Life’s Lessons Reinforced.”

“Beginning to write this column brings me full circle since the last issue of Esprit. Then, my horrendous fall and seven breaks in right leg and arm bones resulted in the need for someone else to write this column. Now, after 14 weeks in hospital (most of it in rehabilitation), I have two more days before going home and this editorial is due. What a place this has been to glean ideas for the topic, “Body and Spirit!” I would not have chosen the classroom, but every minute in this environment has reinforced some important lessons in life.

“Lesson #1: I am a combination of body and spirit—an integrated whole that cannot be divided into neat categories of spiritual, emotional or physical. Wound the body and the spirit is wounded. Wound the spirit and the body is often equally affected.

“Lesson #2: It’s OK to cry. Roommates or caregivers need to allow one the chance to release emotions without feeling that the crying has to be explained or “fixed.” And, I needed to give myself permission to cry without feeling guilty or “stupid.”

“Lesson #3: Private moments are precious. I only realized how much so when I didn’t have any. Grasp them, however and whenever they come.

“Lesson #4: The social part of my humanity is equally important. The need for others is as basic as food, water or shelter. The warmth and touch a person receives or doesn’t receive from family or friends can have a profound impact on healing. What a contrast I saw in the progress of two roommates who had had similar strokes. One had no family present. Her four children, in another province, neither visited nor wrote. One son called a few times, promised the doctor he’d visit and take her home with him and then never showed up. Only one friend ever visited and then rarely. Her body healed enough to leave hospital but her spirits were low. The other woman, an Inuit from the far north, arrived with eight family members in tow. They attended therapy sessions with her, assisted in her care and kept her in their midst except for sleeping. Despite considerable disability and almost complete lack of English skills, she progressed with a cheerful demeanor, appearing confident and content.

“Lesson #5: Communication is a wonderful release. If someone will listen, it’s good to be allowed to unload a frustration, share a pain or rejoice in an improvement. When I’m the one feeling up to it, it’s also important to allow the other person to unload on me.

“Lesson #6: God loves a cheerful caregiver—and so do patients. Caregivers love a cheerful patient as well—but patients often find it hard to be cheerful all by themselves. Cheer travels, though, so let’s start with the caregiver.

“Lesson #7: Many of us who have prided ourselves as caregivers have a hard time accepting having to be cared for. It’s a humbling experience to have to ask for everything one needs. Proverbs tells us “humility goes before honour.” However, it sometimes takes a little assertiveness to make your needs known—one shouldn’t be too humble to ask.

“Lesson #8: The little things in life can give the greatest pleasure. When progress towards healing is slow, it’s important to note each little step forward. How uplifting it can be to have a therapist point out the centimeter improvement in bending or straightening a broken knee or the slight movement of a stroke-paralyzed hand. A woman I’ll call “Jane,” silenced by brain injury, one day surprised us by suddenly singing out, “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles at you!” How we celebrated those words, even though it might be a long time before she could repeat them.

“Lesson #9: The spirit of God dwells within me. The chances for meditation and interaction with the source of my being are endless. The Lord’s presence is there whether I’m lying on a stretcher in a speeding ambulance; being anointed with oil in a healing ritual before surgery; chanting silently God’s assurance from the book of Isaiah, “You are precious in my sight, and honoured and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4a) while painfully trying to turn the arm ergometer; anxiously taking the first steps on crutches; talking about losses and gains with my roommates; suffering neglect from too-busy medical staff; receiving a hot pack or massage from caring medical staff; praying behind curtains closed around my bed nook; or lying sleepless gazing at God’s beautiful night of moon and clouds outside my window. God is always there to sustain and comfort me. It’s good to be healing in body and spirit. Praise the Lord!

Gwynne & Gayle on crutches-Aug 1999_edited-1August 1999, Finally home after 3 1/2 months in rehab. Gwynne, just back from a summer in Norway and Gayle on her crutches. At left is part of our high deck and the steps I had to be carried down on a stretcher in May.