Hey trolls, here's the dirt on me.

Someone in cyberspace is out to get me, or more precisely, out to get my husband, through me. They are searching it seems to find any compromising dirt they can on me in order to use it against him to try to discredit his reporting on the BC election campaign.

Last week, I received 3rd party notification that a Freedom of Information Request had been received by the Information Access Operations (IAO — the new name of the BC Information and Privacy Office). The FOI request asked for  "any and all contracts including service agreements or service contracts awarded to Anne Mullens by any government ministry or agency including associated written correspondence or emails for the period January 1, 2002 to February 28, 2013."

IAO could not tell me who made the request, but it is likely one of the internet bloggers who has been spreading rumours about me for years now.

Since around 2002, a rumour has circulated on the internet that I am on the payroll of the BC Liberal government and that this makes my husband, Global BC television political commentator Keith Baldrey, biased in his job. Some sites say that I have received thousands upon thousands of dollars from this "political" job. I've been called a "biased bitch," a political party hack, and other terms.

Now that the election campaign is under way, someone is trying to prove through the FOI that I am indeed tainted in some way, and therefore Keith's reporting is tainted. It is really all about their hatred of Keith, not me, but they are using me, they hope, as collateral.

I give them credit, at least, that they are trying to find the truth, rather than just circulate the same old lies.

I am happy to set the record straight. In fact, I let IAO know that as far as I am concerned they can release every single record they find about me. I have nothing to hide.

(Anybody who reads my blog knows that!)

So, for the record now, anyone who cares:

I am a freelance journalist. I specialize in health care writing - for all sorts of clients. I also do a lot of "drama" stories for magazines (think "Drama in Real Life" for Reader's Digest International.) I do a lot of  travel, food, and outdoor adventure writing, too, what I consider the fun part of my job. While I write about healthcare issues and problems, it is the travel, food and outdoor adventure writing that keeps me healthy and sane.

For the last four years I have been managing editor of Boulevard Magazine, a monthly Victoria lifestyle magazine that was so all-consuming I had little time for anything else. I left that job at the end of March, 2013, although I am still leading special projects for the magazine.

I am coming back to freelance writing and I am in the process of starting my own health care communications company.  I will be looking for contract work in health care communications soon.

Way, way back (1982 to 1992) I was the medical reporter for the Vancouver Sun. I left that job when our first child was born. Then for 17 years I freelanced. During that time I wrote so much — mostly in the hours when the kids were in school — that it all blurs now.

But I do know that I wrote four of the special reports by the Provincial Health Officer. I wrote two of the BC Select Standing Committee (all party committee) Health Reports. I was a consultant for Hollander Analytical Services on a large Health Canada project on homecare. I wrote reports and materials for Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Public Health Association of Canada and the Public Health Association of BC. (The power of public health to improve population health is a passion of mine, particularly in the area of the social determinants of health.)

I assisted family doctors in BC, through the General Practice Services Committee, to get the word out about primary care reform to help support family doctors and their patients. (Good primary care is another passion of mine.)

All these jobs were non-partisan.

But I believe ONE job I did, more than a decade ago, would come up as being under the label of "Liberal Government." I helped prepare materials for a First Ministers conference, being held in BC, about the reorganization of BC's regional health authorities. As some might recall, BC around that time went from 54 regions, down to the current five health authorities. It was a massive restructuring. That contract was for $24,000 and it was extended for another $6,000. I don't believe I billed it all. I helped create all the information that explained the restructuring and why it was done to other provinces and their media.

I believe I may have explained that restructuring to Keith, too, and the principles of population health, good preventive health (get that mole checked!) and the need to support family doctors. But more often, at night when the kids were finally tucked in bed, we'd talk about the kids and their school assignments or who was picking up whom from what after school program. Or we'd talk about golf or the latest recipe we wanted to try (we both love to cook) and who would do the grocery shop (usually Keith — he loves to grocery shop.) Or the books we were reading, or an interesting magazine article we had just read — passing each other the latest New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly or New York Review of Books.

So that is about the extent of any conflict of interest.

Fill your boots, trolls.


Posted on Monday, April 22, 2013 at 05:41PM by Registered CommenterAnne | Comments5 Comments

Call now, operators are standing by

You’re watching TV and one of those ads come on — a loud-mouth guy hawking some revolutionary new gadget, talking in that carnival-barker voice.

 “Call now and we’ll send not one, not two, but three sets for the price of one!”

“Who buys this crap?” you say to your spouse.

Sigh. I do.

I hate to confess it. I am a well-educated woman (two university degrees) but I have a streak of gullibility when it comes to TV hucksterism that seems to defy logic and learning.

I see that coin counter or pet hair remover, or the only bra you ever need, and I am entranced by the promise of the pitch.

I don't dial right away — I'm not impulsive and gullible. I am practical and gullible, a dangerous combination for TV ads. So, I watch it four, five, maybe even 10 times until I finally think, “It's only $9.99, plus shipping and handling. I could use that.” And so I dial the number.

I am not sure why I am this way. Perhaps it's my upbringing, in which television was strictly controlled. I’ve noticed that those of us whose parents limited exposure to the idiot box seem more susceptible in adulthood to its hypnotizing power.

Some people, knowing their weakness, spurn TV. It might be a good idea for me, but I'm married to a TV journalist. For the past 20 years the TV has been on during most dinners so we can watch Daddy on the six o’clock news. When my oldest daughter was about four, I knew she was consuming too many ads with her nightly meal when she grabbed my hand upon seeing inside an aunt's broom closet and gasped: “Oh Mom, look! It’s the stuff that get’s your floors SO clean!”

She is now a jaded-20-year-old, so inured to TV exposure that she would never be taken in by a pitchman. But while she grew out of it, I did not.

Over the years I’ve bought the Sham-wow®, the Genie Bra®), the Pet Rider Seat Cover®, the Topsy Turvey® tomato planter, the Coinmaster®, the SpaceBag To Go® roll-up travel vacuum bags; the Steam Buddy®,and the Pet Hair Lifter® — and that's just the short list. (But I'll never get the Buxton® sling bag purse, that is just plain ugly!)

 In fact, my two daughters now make fun of me and give me joke gifts. Two Christmas's ago I got a Snuggie® and a Slap Chop®. They were laughing, while I was eager to see if I could get the Slap Chop® to make egg salad in three hits (while dressed like a blue-robed Gandalf in my Snuggie). I could not. The egg got jammed into the blades. So did everything else I tried to chop. The Snuggie arms were so long they impeded all useful movement except lying inert on the couch holding a remote.

Of course you're wondering how much money I waste on such junk. Well, not that much — the stuff is cheap after all. That's its hallmark. And I do make some back in garage sales

Do any of these things work? In general, not as well as advertised. (Short list of useful purchases: Genie Bra is a good sports bra, but buy sizes larger than you think you need. Coinmaster is handy. Pet Rider seat cover is good for shedding dogs, and the space bags are very good for travel.)

Perhaps that explains why I recently succumbed to the U-Glue® pitch, "the super glue with the convenience of tape." I had a practical need, of course: I wanted to create a display of family photos across an entire wall in the upper hallway of our 1912 home. But the wall consisted of old plaster over brick from the chimney stack, impenetrable to a nail. When I saw the barker in the U-Glue® commercial attack house numbers with the power washer, I was sold.

I soon spent a happy afternoon blocking framed pictures of great-grandparents, grandparents, cousins, kids in an artful, Martha-Stewartish display. “That looks great," my husband said. My hard-to-impress girls concurred. Even our cleaner left a note with a smiley face: "Like the photo wall!"

I was chuffed.

That is, until two weeks later, when we awoke to a resounding crash. The picture of Granny and Grandpa Middleton was in the middle of the hallway floor. Over the next week, the pictures toppled off the wall. The dog yelped and whimpered with each crash. At first I was dismayed but soon I simply stacked the latest picture on the hallway bookcase, to be dealt with later.

And when that time came, I found all the pictures were stuck to each other and to the bookcase. Yes, one big hunk of fused frames in an immovable U-Glue® mass, firmly adhering to the top of the bookcase. They are still there, mocking me every time I walk past.

So now I am watching TV infomercials looking for a good universal solvent, the type that removes stubborn adhesives without damaging family treasures. I could really use that.

(Reprinted from April 2012 Boulevard Magazine "Wry Eye" column.)


Posted on Sunday, September 30, 2012 at 06:25PM by Registered CommenterAnne | CommentsPost a Comment

Four Rides and a Lie on the Highway of Tears

Today's announcement that the RCMP have identified a suspect in a number of the disappearances of young women along Highway 16 over the last 30 years prompted me to dig out this story. I wrote it about five years ago. It is the story of the day I hitchhiked along that highway in August 1977.


 I am standing in hot sun beside Highway 16 outside Hazelton B.C., penniless, frightened and 5,000 kilometres from home. And I am sticking my thumb out for a ride.

It is 1977, I am 19 years old, and I am in a jam. I must get to Prince George by evening or I am sure I will be fired. It is a Sunday in the days before ATMs and ready cash. I haven’t got a cent on me.  Pride triumphing over common sense, I won’t put a collect call to my boss in Prince George or my parents in Toronto to explain my predicament, too ashamed to confess the missteps that had lead to this, hitchhiking on the scenic Yellowhead Highway in Northwestern BC, both hopeful and terrified that I will be picked up.

These days they call the Yellowhead Highway the Highway of Tears.  Over the last 30 years some 20 women hitchhikers have gone missing from it, never to been seen again. I didn’t know it back then that already three women had disappeared from this exact stretch of highway. I don’t think I could have stood there knowing that. Now, thinking back on that day, I cringe with what might have been.

It had started with a lie three months earlier. I cannot lie. I am bad at it. I blush. I stammer.  If I can get past the utterance of the lie, then it festers in me. I feel sure I will be punished, if not by those I lied to, then by the cosmos in some form of grand comeuppance for my deceitfulness.

“See, this is what you get for lying,” my conscience nagged as each car and truck whizzed by that August morning, heading east past the towering rock walls of the rugged Roche de Boule Range. “If you hadn’t lied, you wouldn’t be standing here and at the mercy of every weirdo who passes by.”

Worst of all, in my mind, I had lied about my family. I had denied my happy childhood and claimed an upbringing torn apart by divorce, loved ones scattered across the country. It was a lie that had given me a great job I was not eligible for, working with the Fish & Wildlife Branch of the B.C. Ministry of the Environment. Of course, whenever any of the biologists or conservation officers asked me any question about my fractured family life in the coffee room during my training, I tripped over stupid details.  Their smirks told me that they were peppering me with questions just to catch me out.  

Now my lie, I was convinced, was to become a version of the truth, my family’s charmed happiness torn apart, loved ones searching the country for the missing third daughter, the wayward one, last seen hitchhiking where the Skeena and the Bulkley Rivers meet outside the historic village of Hazelton.

The lie seemed so harmless at the time. In fact, to me, it seemed  the director of the Fish & Wildlife Branch in Prince George wanted me to lie.

I was out west from Toronto for the summer because of a cousin. Each spring she would buy a new pickup truck in the east, fill it with antique furniture and get one of her younger cousins to drive it to Prince George, where she would sell the truck and furniture for a nice profit and pay us for the trip out.  Two other sisters had already done the trip. This summer was my turn.

For four days in mid-April, two university friends and I had chatted and sang our way across Canada, our three part harmony rising above the dense pine of Lake Superior, the spring-barren fields of the Prairies and the brown, awakening grass of the Alberta foothills.

The pickup truck bed was filled with a pine hutch, an oak table, eight oak chairs, and a player piano. A blue tarp flapped in the wind, percussion to our constant songs.

But when we arrived in Banff, my friends were seduced by the party scene and abandoned me for the cute boys. I was left to drive the last 600 miles to deliver the load to Prince George on my own.

By May in the Spruce City it was still snowing and grey, the ever-present smell of pulp and paper hemmed in by the clouds. I still hadn’t found a job. A summer as a Banff chambermaid loomed when I heard about a high-paying position doing fish research in Northern BC. Hundreds of university students had applied. The successful candidate would be given a high wage, a truck, a trailer and isolation pay to live 400 kilometres north of Prince George in the Williston Lake watershed, counting and categorizing fish, viewing samples of their scales under a microscope at my trailer's kitchen table, and counting the scale rings just like the rings of a tree to record the fish's age.

When I walked into the Fish & Wildlife director's office for my interview, I saw the huge pile of resumes from university students in Vancouver on his desk. I saw him look at the pile, then look at me, in the flesh, standing there.  I had straight ‘A’s and had just finished my first year of a biological science degree at the University of Guelph.  I had the qualifications they advertised for, except…

“This job is limited to residents of BC, or at least to those who have a parent paying taxes here. This Reg Mullens in Vancouver on your resume, that’s your father?” he asked hopefully.

My face flushed. I had put my uncle’s name down as a contact, rationalizing they could assume what they like. Could I verbally carry it through?

“Umm, yes, ahhh, divorce, really very terrible,” I stammered, somehow spilling out a heart-rendering tale that Mom and the girls had stayed in Ontario while Dad had moved to the coast.

He beamed. “Oh how difficult … but congratulations you’ve got the job!”

There are moments in one’s life that are quintessential turning points, when suddenly things take a different trajectory and nothing is ever the same again. That moment -- that lie-- was one of mine.  My friends returned from Banff that summer and forevermore stayed in the east. But from that lie, I was immersed in the wilds of British Columbia where I developed a love of the mountains and the ruggedness, the individuality of this place, and from that my eventual settlement here. And, of course, from that lie comes this story of how I came to be desperate and hitchhiking on Highway 16, trying to get the 724 kilometres from Prince Rupert to Prince George in a single day.

For three months I had been working and living among the scrubby lodge pole pine landscape  1000 km north of Vancouver, near Mackenzie BC. It was a solitary life, one full of bugs and bears and the occasional drunken fisherman not letting me take a sample from his precious fish. But I loved my tiny trailer, my days spent analysing fishermen’s catch of rainbow trout and Arctic char. I felt tough with my government-issued Buck knife on my belt, slicing open a fish belly, scraping a sample of scales, or whittling some wood for my nightly campfire. I loved driving my big yellow pickup truck, emblazoned with the big Fish & Wildlife logo. I loved freedom and adventure, and the puzzled looks from the locales at the Windy Point truck stop (known for miles for its cherry pie),  as to what a 19 year old kid was doing in this place.

Then one day in early August, the truck seized. It would take at least 10 working days to get parts to replace its engine. I couldn’t work without a truck. “Take two weeks vacation,” the director told me.

“Go visit that Vancouver Dad of yours” the conservation officers and biologists in Prince George chuckled in the coffee room.

I decided instead to explore the landscape, taking the Alaska Highway to the Yukon, the White Pass railway over to Alaska and then coming down the coast by ferry to Prince Rupert. From there it seemed like a simple trip back to Prince George.

I had no intention of hitchhiking – that was for idiots. I had a different plan.  Working around northern campgrounds had taught me that a young woman putting up a tent by herself is a conversation starter. I would pick my own rides.

The plan worked like a charm. I had traveled more than 2,000 kilometres and never stuck out my thumb. Each night in a new campground I would check out the best prospects for a safe and comfortable ride, put up my tent nearby, and when the inevitable chat ensued, I'd ask for a lift. I got a great one every time, although my ride up a portion of the winding, dusty Alaska Highway, sharing the bench seat of a pickup with a couple on their honeymoon, with a husband who was a bit too friendly, was a tad on the tense side. I suggested a few hours into the ride that I move into the back, wedging myself in their truck bed, listening to their bickering in the cab, as we drove past stunning purple and green vistas from Fort Nelson to the Yukon border.

I secured what seemed like a great final ride on the Alaskan ferry from Skagway to Prince Rupert. I had hung out for two days on the top deck with a group of other young travellers, sunning and then sleeping under the stars as the engines thrummed beneath us, marvelling as we passed glaciers and fjords and charming coastal villages. One fellow from California said he was heading inland when the ferry docked and offered me and another fellow from Oregon a ride to Prince George. I would be back by dinner the next day so I splurged and treated the three of us to a fancy meal in the ferry restaurant. In Juno I bought a bottle of wine, which we drunk from a brown paper bag on the ferry deck.

We were supposed to dock at 8 pm, but the ferry ran aground metres from the ferry terminal. We sat for four hours waiting for the tide to float us off a sandbar. It was midnight when we finally docked and it was chaos. The ferry officials split us into two groups to go through customs, Americans in one line and Canadians in another.

“We’ll see you on the other side,” my companions said as they were marched off in one direction. Of course we never met again. An elderly couple saw me milling around in the dark, crying near the exit ramp. “I’m sure they will be there, dear,” the woman said, reassuringly as they dropped me at the nearest campsite.

 In a drizzly dawn I scoured the campground again but there was no sign of my new friends. It was 6:00 am and I had no money and 725 miles to travel.  I spent my last five dollars on breakfast, hoping I might choose a ride from the roadside restaurant.  At 7:00 am with no prospects, I went to the shoulder and stuck out my thumb.

My first ride came in minutes: a high school teacher heading to Hazelton, three hours east. We paralleled the wide, grey-blue, fast-moving Skeena.  He was the father of a teenage daughter. “You shouldn’t be doing this,” he said. “It is not safe.” But somehow I was lulled into a feeling of security by the ease and comfort of this first ride. All would be fine. He dropped me off beside a weigh-scale station, saying, “Call your parents.”

I stood outside Hazelton. And stood and stood. The longer I stood, the more paranoid I became. It would be so easy to disappear from this ribbon of highway that links small towns and villages through the wilderness. Hop in a car and be gone forever. At least the weigh scale stationmaster was watching me. He could describe any car or trucked that picked me up to the police, I rationalized.

More than an hour passed. My paranoia grew. I hid my knife under my shirt so no one could see it. But what about my camera? I was a budding photographer and I had more than $1000 in camera equipment around my neck including telephoto, macro and wide-angle lenses. It been loaned to me by my real father back in Ontario for the summer. It would be such an easy snatch.  I took it off and placed it at my feet to remove the motivation of robbery from would-be rides.

Twenty minutes later a black Jimmy GMC with Playboy Bunny mud flaps pulled beyond me and honked. I picked up my pack and ran. He was in his early 30s, flashing gold jewelry, and smelling of aftershave and breath mints. “I’m going to Burns Lake,” he smiled. I threw my pack in the truck bed and hopped in.

Three kilometres down the road, I suddenly gasped: “Oh MY God! I left my camera by the side of the road!” I pleaded until he finally turned the truck around. “Christ, are you stoned?” he said.

By the time we got back to the site, the ground was bare. The driver, who I’ll call Pete, stayed in the truck as I ran into the weigh scale station. “I was standing there for about an hour, remember? Did you seem my camera?” But the clerk snarled, “I’ve better things to do than to watch hitchhikers.”

I returned to the truck devastated. Not only had a lost my father’s Canon camera, but I had lost about 500 photos in the film cannisters in the case. Pete tried to help. He got on his CB radio and called other truckers. He even filed a report with the Hazelton Police. I cried quietly, head against the side window, oblivious to the idyllic homesteads and farmland backed by mountain walls as we drove east past Smithers. "I am such a fucking idiot," was the refrain repeating in my head.

After about an hour, tired of my blubbering, he pulled into a roadside park. “I have something that will help.”  He hopped out of his side. I hadn’t paid much attention to him until then, but as he jumped out of the truck I suddenly saw that despite a normal-sized torso, he was only about four feet tall.  He was driving with hand controls as his legs couldn't reach the gas and brake pedals. He came back, swinging himself up unto the seat with his muscular arms, and showed me a white powder wrapped in cellophane. “Try this,” he said as he pulled out the review mirror, took out a razor and cut up lines of cocaine.

It is only now that I shake my head in disbelief: I was riding with a coke-snorting midget!

Back then, I shook my head, declining. I'd never done drugs and I wasn't going to start now. I was in enough trouble already.

“Suit yourself,” he grumbled. He stopped about every 40 minutes to do another line and when he finally dropped me off at a gas station outside Burns Lake he seemed glad to be rid of me.

My next ride came in minutes, another concerned father, a vacuum cleaner salesman. He paid for and watched me eat an omelet in a German-themed diner and pressed $20 into my hand before he left me by the side of the road near a shimmering stand of aspen, I am not exactly sure where.

It was around 7 pm and I still had some 200 miles to go. A beat-up orange Toyota Tercel pulled over. Behind the wheel was a blond, tousle-haired man, maybe age 25 or so. He looked like a scruffy, dissolute, slightly older version of my university pals.

I hopped in. It was only then I noticed the opened case of beer behind the seat, half of the 24 bottles  already consumed.  “I’m going to Prince George,” he slurred.

He chatted about his summer job as a logger, his loneliness working in the bush, how he'd always go to PG on his days off. I was so exhausted I finally fell asleep, one hand resting on my hidden Buck knife under my shirt. 

I woke up when I suddenly felt the bumpiness of a gravel road instead of smooth blacktop. He had left the highway. We were going off on some desolate side road.

Fear surged inside me. I was instantly awake. I pulled my knife from its sheath, turning on him.

“What the $#!!* do you think you are doing!!” I yelled, brandishing the blade at him.

His stricken eyes said he feared exactly what I had feared all day:  I’m going to be knifed by some jumped up weirdo!

“I just have to pee,” he whimpered.

I looked around. We were about 15 metres off the highway on a gravel road.

“Oh, okay,” I said, sheepishly. “You can pee”

I put my knife away. We laughed nervously. He went out and did his business and we were back on the road.

Dusk was falling and the rocky, scrubby landscape was getting familiar. An hour later he dropped me off at the Inn of the North in Prince George. “Can I call you sometime? he asked.  And then I knew just how lonely one could get in the bush if you would ask out a girl who had pulled a knife on you.

“Sorry, I don’t have a phone. I am living in the bush 400 miles north of here. I go back tomorrow.”

The next morning, I walked into the director’s office. “I have a confession.  My parents are not divorced. I’m not a B.C. resident. I have spent all my life in Ontario. I come from a happy family.”

“You think we didn’t know that already?" he said. "You are a terrible liar. We knew after the first day.”

My conscience was now clean. I smiled.

“Hey,” he called after me. “Good to see you back safely.”

I have never hitchhiked again. And of course, I try to never lie.




Posted on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 11:44PM by Registered CommenterAnne | CommentsPost a Comment | References19 References

Reflections on a course of Accutane

The other night I watched my 17-year old daughter Maddy perform with her cousin at her school talent show. They performed the Johnny Flynn song The Water.  They were exquisite — perfectly in tune, voices seamlessly blending, looking flawless as the stage light shone on their attractive faces.

And ironically, sitting right in front of me was Maddy's dermatologist, there to watch his son perform. And I thought: I owe this moment to him and the drug Accutane.

Six months ago there is no way Maddy would have been up on that stage.

Writing about one's teenage children is sensitive ground — particularly about their struggles, in Maddy's case her struggle with acne. But Maddy and I have talked about this column and I am writing it with her permission and approval. "I think other teens and their parents should know what we went through," she said. "It might help them make their decisions." (Plus she added: "And none of my friends read your blog, so I don't really care.")

I swear we did not make the decision to go on Accutane — Isotretinoin — lightly. It is a very powerful drug — some would say toxic drug — with the potential for serious side effects. It is hard on the liver, bones and gut. Lawsuits have linked it to depression, rages and suicide as well as Crohn's disease. If you went by what is prominently found on the Internet, you might never consider it at all. And that is one reason why I write this — to give a balanced version to those trying to decide.

By last fall we had tried everything to control her acne.

Maddy's acne story was typical. She first started having breakouts in Grade 8, around age 12. At first Proactive worked. Then we moved to topical prescription antibiotics (Clindasol) with a Rx drying agent (Differin). The doctor by the end of Grade 9 added oral antibiotics — Minocycline starting at 50 mg and rising to 150 mg daily. She was on antibiotics for more than 18 months, a long time and daily antibiotics can have very serious rare side effects, which fortunately Maddy never got. She also took Alesse for hormonal regulation. That complex mix of Rx lotions and pills worked fairly well until the spring of Grade 11.

Then it all stopped working. We had numerous trips to the doctor to try to adjust medications. While diet has longed been deemed unrelated to acne, we still stressed healthy eating and good sleep. I read in recent medical literature that a statistically significant link had emerged between heavier consumption of dairy products to kids with more severe acne. Maddy cut back on dairy to no avail. We tried health food supplements called `Perfect Skin` and other concoctions touted to naturally cure acne. All useless. We even bought a very expensive hand-held infrared light device, recommended in some studies, for which she need to wear special eye-protecting goggles. All it did was burn her face, making it bright red and painful. Her skin was inflamed with acne and scarring. She was miserable.

"There were days where I did not want to get out of bed," recalls Maddy, particularly of last September and October.

I had been avoiding Accutane for months. I had read in the blogosphere about alleged links to Crohn's and suicide. Maddy had read about a risk of losing her hair, another one of its reported side effects. We read a lot of scary stuff on the Internet. But in hindsight, perhaps we would have considered it sooner.  I know some Moms who refuse to allow their teens to go on Accutane but I now feel it is reasonable choice when you have tried all options. And that is why I am revealing some private details to tell the story. As a journalist I feel almost a duty to report our experience -- I always ask others to tell their personal stories to me. Now it is our turn. Maddy agrees with me.

When I finally decided we had to at least talk to the dermatologist about its pros and cons, I got an appointment date of almost three months hence. But I phoned them in desperation "I know you have cancers you are dealing with, " I said, "But I have a teenager who won't come out of her room, who is refusing to go to school. We must get in on the first cancellation."

We were in that week. The doctor examined her and said: "You are the perfect candidate for Accutane."

I voiced my fears, citing various studies. "Don't worry Mom," he said. "I have been using this for 30 years. We will follow her. By the time five months are done, she will likely never have another pimple in her life."

Maddy was sent for a blood test for liver function and when it was clear, she started the pills a week later. She had another set of blood tests a month later and when those, too, showed her liver was tolerating the drug, her dose was increased.

Like about 30 to 40 % of users, Maddy's skin got worse in the first two months. This was tremendously hard. I believe — and recent medical literature has proven this true — the links to depression on Accutane are for those kids who worsen upon starting it. Says Maddy, "You have tried everything and you have all your hopes riding on it — and it makes you feel terrible and still you get worse. That was not fun."

"Hang in there," said the dermatologist. "This is normal."

The drying side effects were tough. Her lips were constantly dry and cracked — but vaseline and Elizabeth Arden's 8-Hour Lip Protectant helped. She had nose bleeds almost every morning during the winter. In week six, she suddenly developed back pain that was so severe that I called the doctor's cellphone on the weekend.  He checked her out Monday morning. "Ease up on her gym class and workouts until the pain goes away," he said.

Her eyes got dry, red and scratchy. Visine worked for that. She developed patches of eczema on her legs and arms, treated with copious amounts of vaseline and 1% hydrocortisone. She couldn't drink alcohol on it and we stressed to her the danger to her liver if she did. "I know Mom, I am not like that," she said. But for some kids it could be a serious risk.

There was one unexpected benefit: instead of losing any hair, it thickened, and she only need to wash it once a week. "I actually loved my hair on Accutane," she said.

We decided, that if she got sick or developed food poisoning or a stomach flu, we would temporarily halt the pills until she got better. There is not a lot of medical evidence for this action but I figured it was such a strong drug that we would not add it to her system if her gut was at all compromised. There is evidence that inflammatory bowel disease can be first triggered by an intestinal infection alone. I reasoned, why add Accutane to the mix? But we never need to temporarily halt the drugs.

By the third month we started to notice an improvement. By the final, fifth month, her skin was clear, the results almost astonishing considering where she started. Now, about six weeks after taking the last pill, she hasn't had a pimple since early March. Her skin now looks almost flawless.

"I was really scared to go on it, but I am glad I did," she says.

We acknowledge that it is not for everyone. That you must investigate all options. You must have liver function tests and have a good dermatologist who sees you monthly.

But even Maddy agrees: "There is no way in the world I would have been up on that stage without it."

And when the concert was over and we were trouping out I smiled at her dermatologist and said, "Thank you."

Posted on Monday, May 30, 2011 at 11:08PM by Registered CommenterAnne | CommentsPost a Comment

Why I'll Watch the Royal Wedding


In recent days, a conversation piece here on the West Coast, along with the Canucks, the election and the deplorably wet cold spring, is the question: "Are you going to get up and watch the Royal Wedding?"

Most of my friends and family respond: "Good God, No! 3 am? I'm not a monarchist. Are you?"

I'm not a monarchist. I care little about the Royal family, as attractive and rich as they are. To me, it is not a glamorous life. I think being one of them would be a sentence akin to life in prison with no chance of parole.

But I will watch the wedding. Maddy, my 17-year-old, and I have already decided we will set the alarm for 2 am,  bake fresh scones ( I will make the batter ahead) and eat them with strawberry jam, clotted cream and a good cup of tea, while no doubt remarking at the unfolding pageant - "Oh, look at that fascinator on Princess Beatrice's head!" or "Victoria Beckham is too skinny!"

For me, watching is not about the celebrities or the fashion ogling, although that is part of the fun, it is about sharing a collective "spot of time."

Poet William Wordsworth coined the term "spots of time" to denote those heightened moments of experience, when reflected upon later, bring trailing with them all sorts of other vivid memories. His poetry is full of descriptions of these spots, which resonate with readers 300 years hence.

Here is the exact stanza, from his poem The Prelude in which the term arises (Book XI, ls 258-278)


There are in our existence spots of time,

Which with distinct pre-eminence retain

A renovating Virtue, whence, ... our minds

Are nourished and invisibly repaired

A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced,

That penetrates, enables us to mount,

When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.


Wordsworth experienced most of his "spots" in private contemplation while out in Nature and for me many of my spots of heightened present moment awareness come from intimate times with family and friends.

But some come from collective experiences that I witnessed on television, some disasters and tragedies, others of world celebrations and cultural catalysts. In recalling them, I can conjure a flood of details. The first for me was the assassination of  JFK, when I was 5. The next was the debut of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan a few months later. For the Beatles, I can remember being in my aunt Helen's basement, her floor tiles, the red wool dress I was wearing, the tomato aspic jelly mould we had at dinner ( yuck then,  yum now), my rambunctious somewhat scary cousin Billy. I can almost smell, hear and taste it all.

A whole list of TV events carry such shards of vivid memory — the space launches, and the first step on the moon, the Solidarity marches, 1982 Royal Wedding ( watched with girlfriends under a big duvet in one of my first apartments in Toronto with tea and scones), the Berlin Wall coming down, 9/11, the 2004 tsunami...

The events are like thumbtacks in the map of a life, that pin down a point in time, a date and place, to which we can go back with certainty about where and when and what we experienced. I have many other vivid memories of my life, but many float in a general mist of time, a feeling and fabric, but are not so anchored. 

So when Maddy and I make our tea and scones tonight and settle in to watch, it will be more about making our own memories together than it will be about Will and Kate. It is about us, not about them.

Perhaps years from now, when I am dead and gone, she will get pleasure from telling her grandchildren: "I watched the 2011 Royal wedding with my mother, under her big duvet. We made scones at 2 am. I can still taste the strawberry jam ..."

Or else we could sleep through it and have no memory at all.



Posted on Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 12:45PM by Registered CommenterAnne | Comments2 Comments