Alberta Children’s Hospital

Extra Life 2017 – Fundraising

This Saturday, November 4th, 2017, I will be buckling down for another 24 hours of gaming misadventures, all for the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

I could give you the same schpeel I do every year; this was my home away from home, where I had 4 of my 5 spinal surgeries, where a pseudo-father figure surgeon helped me grow up and hone my sarcasm to its current needle-like state. I could tell you about how the smell of hospitals still makes me nauseous, and that the only way I can go into them is by holding my breath as I walk over the threshold, imagining how I carry a piece of the outside world with me as I go.

I could talk about the hours and hours of x-rays and appointments and surgeries. About sitting awake at night, watching night turn to day and nurses change shifts and fellow patients grow, heal, and leave.

When you turn 18, you effectively ‘graduate’ from the children’s hospital, but you never leave it. Not really. A piece of you stays behind, clings to the shadows. All the kids who walked in and never walked out, all the ones who gave up their innocence to surgeries and experimental treatments and promises to do the best they can.

The Alberta Children’s Hospital was built on the memories and shadows of those kids. Shadows insulate the walls from the coldest of the winter winds, taking the brunt of it so those who are still alive, who are still innocent, get a marginally better chance.

This year’s Extra Life seems a little more melancholy to me, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the sensation of pain getting worse over the last year, or realizing that I am so far away from the comfort of those walls now. I’m as much an adult as I was ever a child, and I feel remarkably listless in between the two worlds.

Still, ACH remains my home away from home, even if I haven’t been a patient there in 10 years. The Good Doctor remains a remarkable influence on my life, even though I haven’t seen him since just after I was married.  And the little slice of shadow, that tiny bit of me, still lingers at the hospital, connecting me to it.

On Saturday, November 4th, I’ll be gaming for 24 hours and raising money for Alberta Children’s Hospital.

You can watch the stream here, or donate money directly to my campaign here. All donations over $20.00 get tax-deductible receipts, and any donation over $25.00 will get you entered to win prizes, including a limited edition BB-8 Funko Pop and a Dogmeat Funko Pop.

Every dollar donated goes directly to the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Thank you

Extra Life 2016

It’s that time of year folks. Extra Life 2016 is almost upon us; 14 days and counting. Somewhere, in my brilliance, I thought I could make a $2000 goal. That was silly. I am silly. As it stands I am currently at $410 plus some change donated by my lovely coworkers. Not bad given that I haven’t bombarded social media the same way I normally do. If you’d like to donate to my Extra Life campaign, you can do so here. If you need some convincing, read on.

The What:

Extra Life is a 25 hour video game marathon that takes place every fall. Gamers around the world gather to play video games, board games,  and card games for 25 hours while simultaneously raise money for local Miracle Network Hospitals. I play for Alberta Children’s Hospital. ACH is my jam.

The Why:

I’ve spoken about my medical misadventures more than a few times. I haven’t held back when discussing how nasty chronic pain is, or how vital I have found music and books when it came to surviving my hospital experiences. When it comes down to it, a person can’t be expended to spend hours upon hours of their formative years in the same place with the same people, repeating the same experiences, and not develop some sort of affinity for the setting. For me, that has been, and always will be, the Alberta Children’s Hospital. The old hospital, now the Richmond Road Treatment Centre (Where my chronic pain clinic is now located, fancy that) became my home away from home. I knew its walls, its art work, its doctors and nurses and orderlies. I knew it better than I knew myself, and consequently found the earliest pieces of who I am grew and were nurtured in those walls, by those people. The old ACH holds a very special place in my heart.

It also terrifies me. Like, literally, I usually pee myself a little bit when I have to go back there. Three spinal surgeries with awful, debilitating pain will often create that negative connotation. And yet, for whatever reason, I also love it. Despite having only one surgery in the New Children’s Hospital (which will be celebrating its Tenth Anniversary this year!) I find myself still associating it as a home-away-from-home. It is still inexplicably mine, though I have grown so much older since walking through its halls as a patient. It is a place I ‘graduated’ from, phased out of, and in so many ways, it was the first place to dub me an adult. Sure, I had already graduated high school and gotten a diploma and could vote and had to do my own taxes, but only when I was told I could no longer go to ACH did I truly feel like I had grown up.

It was mesmerizing how sad I was to leave the hospital, to leave behind the nurses who had helped raise me in so many ways, and the doctor who had been like a father to me for the last seven years.

Growing up sucks, but growing up and leaving behind that was more difficult than any tax equation or ‘adulting’ I have had to do since then.

I love the Children’s Hospital. I hate what it represents in many ways; all my fear, my pain, my awkward youth. But I appreciate how I can now look back on it with wider, if not world-weary eyes, and see what it meant to me and how it shaped me into the woman I am today. That is why I take part in Extra Life. It is giving back, if only in the smallest way, to a place that helped shape me into the sarcastic, annoying individual I am today.

I couldn’t be more grateful.

The When:

November 5th, starting at 10:00 a.m.

The Who:

As always, Cheryl will be joining me for her own live stream! Last year I was pretty damn sick and I flaked bad on her. This year I am making it up. Because Alex and I are moving this monday, we will be having a pseudo-house warming party with some close friends who are invited to come over and play card games as a break in the evening!

The Small Details:

I’ve decided this year to try doing a single game from the start. Namely: Fallout 4. I’ve only done a single run of Fallout 4 so far, so I think it’ll be fun to start all over and make the biggest, sarcastic, jerkiest character I can. I’m going to call her Moira BulletStomper. Yeah.

I’ll be streaming on my Twitch channel here!

Tweets will happen intermittently here.

How can I help?

If you have a dollar to spare and you’d like to donate, you can do so on my fundraising page here!  Alternately, I encourage you to join in the fun! Tell your friends, get groups together, and use November 5th as an excuse to reconnect with some old buddies and raise money for your local Children’s Hospital. It certainly doesn’t have to be ACH! You can pick any hospital in any region!

This really is a wonderful cause. I can’t do sports. I am not so good at the mathing. I don’t politic or science well. But dammit, I can game, and I can write, and on November 5th I’m going to be doing it #ForTheKids!

As a bonus, here is my spine from… one of the surgeries. I don’t know. I’ve lost count.


Extra Life 2015 – A Week Late

Last week was the official Game Day for Extra Life 2015. Unfortunately I couldn’t partake as I was busy screaming at children and their parents. Now, you might be saying to yourself “Tell us something about you that we don’t know, Kathleen.” If I am to be honest, I was paid to scream at them. I was paid by my place of work. I was paid to pump up the copious parents and their wee children who had arrived for the grand opening of our American Girl Boutique. It was great fun. I spent the day meeting and talking to parents and kids, escorting them through the store as I threw on my best Ol Timey Radio voice and waved my hands around like a Wacky Waving Inflatible Arm Waving Tube Man. Some parents were even kind enough to thank me for the job I did on twitter, which was jolly good.

But, that meant while I was screaming at children, all my Extra Life buddies were busy with bloodied fingers and sore eyes, taking part in a 24 hour video game marathon for our local Children’s Hospital (which I have spoken about before.)

Well, a week later, and I’m getting off my ass to do it. Cheryl will be joining me again this year, as will Shawna. My goal is $1500, and at this point I’m only at $340. It doesn’t matter, though, because it is the thought that really counts. Sean Rooney and his team raised over 40K in the memory of their son, Dominic. That money will go directly to ACH and help them remain one of the most prestigious Children’s Hospitals in North America. We are so, so lucky to have access to the research and staff at ACH, and every year around Extra Life time I feel the need to reflect on my time as a patient as ACH.

Like most sick kids, I never really had the capacity to look at my situation with any sense of rational thought. I never looked around and mused about the remarkable things happening all around me, about the lives being saved and lost within the bright walls of ACH. I never said, “Golly! The medical research taking place here is out of this world! Surely we, as a community, ought to go out of our way to support this fabulous institution!”

I was, simply put, a dumb kid with no concept of the world that revolved around me. In many ways I am glad that my education focused heavily on rational thought. I constantly wonder if I would be capable of looking back at my time as a patient at ACH with gratitude if it weren’t for the teachings of those around me.  For Doctor Harder, who stepped into the role of a father and still keeps my graduation picture on his desk; to Evelyn, who became a close friend and comfort to my mother. To Doctor Salo, who took on my case with his dry sense of humor and, to this day, is the only person I want on my side when Skynet takes over (because he is, and I quote “Not afraid of no toaster”.)  To my teachers who showed more patience than necessary through high school, as I adjusted to my life in this new and relatively disagreeable body, who offered me books and words of comfort every time a surgery came around. To the professors in College in University, who put up with my sarcasm and helped me hone it in such a way that the energy of it went towards educating others instead of fueling my own regrets. To my mom, who stood by my side for every surgery, every x-ray and MRI, who brought Momma Bear forth when needed, and joined me in outlandish and childish commentary about other patients during the long hours in hospital waiting rooms. To my husband, who stands by my side now, through everything. Who does it without being asked, knowing that I am perhaps a bit too stubborn to acknowledge that I need him there, when the truth is I do, for every appointment.

I do this ridiculous marathon for all of you, because you taught me how to survive, and help me to do so every day. And knowing that the love and compassion you showed to me was not meant for me alone, but meant to be shared with those who I encountered as I got older. I will continue to show compassion, thoughtfulness, and rational thought on a daily basis because that is what I took away from Alberta Children’s Hospital. Every child who walks through the front door of that amazing structure is fighting their own battle, be it cancer, blood diseases, autoimmune diseases, or broken bones. They don’t know it now, but they will learn compassion and thoughtfulness as well, probably years after the fact, when they are older and capable of reflecting on their experiences.

So tomorrow, if you are having a lazy saturday, join myself, Cheryl, and Shawna as we play games of all sorts for ACH and all the kids in Southern Alberta who have, and will eventually use ACH in some capacity.

We will be streaming via twitch here, starting around 10 am MST.

Donations can be made here.

There will be singing and antics and various games. Cheryl will also stream, I imagine, as she has a much larger and dedicated audience! There will be Moscow Mules to drink (I bought a bag of limes just for this event), popcorn eaten, and lots of Beemo and Vivi time in front of the camera.

Help me support Alberta Children’s Hospital, a week late but hopefully not a dollar short. If you can’t spare a dime, then please consider sharing this with your friends and family.

Thank you,

Kathleen Sawisky, esq.

Integrity Commissioner and also Prime Minister of Canada Hur Hur

Extra Life 2015 or ‘Dammit, Cheryl!’

I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t ready for Extra Life this year. This would be my fourth year doing the annual 24 hour video game marathon, and I had originally given myself a goal of $1500 in an effort to top what I did last year.

But things happen. Life gets in the way. And somehow the increasing strain I was feeling in my back and the constant, reverberating pain that was beginning to eat away at my sense of self and sensibilities left me feeling as if this year I just couldn’t do it. I love gaming, but this year was just one year too many. My body couldn’t handle the stress, my mind was already strained from trying to remain happy under the pressure to be miserable, and now I was working.

But dammit all, Cheryl just had to message me on Facebook, innocently inquiring as to my plans. She unknowingly planted that seed, that tiny idea that was, from her end, innocuous and innocent. Not to me though. My brain, twisted as it is, interpreted it as Kathleen, you are letter yourself and the Children’s Hospital, which you owe so much, down if you don’t do this. Don’t be a big dumb baby.

Shut up, brain. Shut up!

But there you have it. My big dumb-dumb baby brain is back in Extra Life 2015 mode, and with only 2ish weeks left to fundraising I have put myself into one hell of a corner. I won’t make my goal, but I refuse to change it. I said I would raise $1500 and dammit, I will try. I will bribe coworkers, guilt if need be. I will beg family, I will post pictures of my nasty-ass spine and I will describe in vivid detail what it is like to have to take 12 children’s Tylenol instead of suffering a suppository only to then throw up artificial grape flavoured nonsense. It was like vomiting up Hell itself, by the way.

I will do it all in order to remind you folks that every year hundreds of thousands of kids utilize the various hospitals that are part of the Children’s Miracle Network, and that ACH here in Calgary is particularly important to me. It was a second home growing up, and offered me a family I never thought I would need, let alone want.

If you have a dollar, a dime, a quarter to spare, please consider donating, if not to me then to someone else. Maybe there is another hospital closer to where you live, where your own child has gone, or where you yourself had a broken limb mended in your childhood. Support these amazing organizations in any way you can.

Me? On November 7th to 8th (or possibly 8th to 9th depending on my work schedule) I will be playing video games for 24 hours straight. I will live stream it and complete challenges. Full disclosure: It will be all Fallout.

Click here to view my Extra Life page and, hey, maybe make a donation too!

An Open Letter to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley

Dear Premier Notley,

First, let me congratulate you on the NDP’s stunning rise to power in Alberta. 40 years is too long to suffer through anything without seeing some change (and I say that almost completely without irony save for the little bit which, I assume, will become clear in the next few paragraphs.) I proudly voted for my local NDP representative, although I believe she lost to the PC candidate who, as I understand it, had avoided drinking the same Flavour-Aid as the rest of Prentice’s self-worshipping team. Was that too bitter? That sounds a little bitter. I actually like our local chap; he’s always spoken up for Silverado. No hard feelings there.


Chronic Pain Diaries, Part II

Sometimes I think people forget that chronic pain isn’t a simply a struggle that exists in the moment. For every minute of pain there are five other minutes of fear and confusion and worries about what the future will hold. In that way, chronic pain is a pervasive aspect that touches on the past, present, and future, and to think that those who suffer from it are only concerned about their pain in the moment is unrealistic.

Every time I have a flare I, it acts as a stark reminder that the pain comes from somewhere, and inevitably also has to lead somewhere else.

Yesterday I had an awful pain day. I woke up curled up in the fetal position. It felt like someone was pressing assorted knives into my hips and lower back over and over again. Even walking to the shower was painful, like each step was a new adventure in agony. It was a bad day, hell, it’s been a bad week. The rational part of you can only deal with so much stress before those sturdy walls you’ve built around your sanity start to break down. And when they do… Little things start to sneak in. Little ideas and fears. Why is there more pain? What does it mean? Is something wrong?

I know I’ll have to get the rest of my spine fused eventually. That is just a fact. But when that happens I won’t be able to bend at all. I’ll be like a LEGO person only with three more expressions and less controlled hair. Maybe it will help the pain, maybe not. Probably not. More hospital, more IV lines, more scars. More sleepless nights and log-rolling so I can sit up. More nurses waking you up every hour to take your temperature and blood pressure.

More roommates who watch the TV too loud or always have visitors. More dry toast, if you get to eat at all. More catheters and invasions of privacy. More feelings of being filthy even though you are trapped in one of the most sterile places imaginable.

More pain, more sutures, more cut nerves that never heal and leave you feeling like less of a person. More questions, more things going wrong. More physio when you are exhausted and want to sleep. More people telling you to just take one step more. More x-rays to irradiate your already glowing ovaries, thanks but no thanks potential future children. More damp clothes as the only means to clean yourself. Being sick from anesthesia. More emotional struggles because of said anesthesia. More time missed with family and friends. More important occasions ruined or altered because you’re too tired or sick or doped up or still in the hospital and can’t be there or deal with it.

More fears about something going wrong. Of becoming useless to the ones I love and who love me.

Chronic pain is about so much more than the pills and the heating pads and the bad flare up days. It is a whole culmination of fears about the present and the future. It’s about all the possibilities, and not all the rational thinking in the world can get a person out of that loop of thought. You can’t rationalize that many what if’s. All you can do it rotate through them, one at a time, and hope that you’ve got the right tools to deal with the stress.

Yet Another Open Letter to the City of Calgary and the City Council “Art? I am the art!”

Dear City of Calgary Council,

Integrity Commissioner here, thought maybe I would chime in on this whole ‘funding for public art’ issue that has been troubling some of you for the last little while.

Of course the drop in oil prices has us all panicking and retreating to our Campbell’s Soup-Stocked emergency shelters and panic rooms. We have to examine things that are important to us as a city. Running water is obviously a yes, as is electricity. Ring road? Maybe not as high on the priority list. There are the library renovations down town – high on the list because books.

But where does public art fall on this ever-changing list of wants and needs? Some would argue it falls no where on the list because public art is about as useful to the city as a fingerless glove to a hook-handed public official. Others might argue that public art is a means for our city to show visitors where our values lie. We find some level of importance in 50 foot mesh heads and giant blue rings that absolutely bear no resemblance to one of the various hoops that are taken out by the carnies every time Stampede rolls around. Nope. It is definitely art.

The issue here is that the Calgary City Council is viewing this as a black and white matter. Either we put money towards public art or we feed the orphans. Allow me to provide an alternative: Have the orphans make the art. Ha ha ha! I jest, of course. Everyone knows we ship those free-loaders to Red Deer.

But seriously, folks. You know that art can be cheap, right? Your 17 foot sculpture of Naheed Nenshi’s skeletal structure doesn’t have to cost $45,000. The problem is you folks are awful at haggling which is exactly why every time your middle-eastern friends come round to your house and see your Persian rug they relentlessly mock you for it. Because you paid for it. Someone forgot to teach you folks how to haggle. Well, don’t worry because I am here to supply you with a series of potential public art projects that are cheap and can, for the most part, be made using basic supplies found around your house!

  • Take some hockey sticks. I mean, like, all the hockey stick. Heck, take the Edmonton Oilers ones (they obviously aren’t using them). Okay, now super glue them together to form a deciduous tree, like a maple or something. Maybe an elm. Now, take all the hockey pucks, and I mean all of them, and super glue them to the trees to form ‘leaves’.
    • What does it mean? This particular piece, entitled “The Hockey Pokey” represents the effervescent love of hockey that all Canadians share. Or something like that.
  • For this one you are going to need some condiments. A lot of condiments. I’m talking relish, mustard (both grainy and yellow), ketchup, sauerkraut, sautéed onions, jalapeños, everything you can think of. Now you’re going to take some bed sheets and just soak them with condiments. Arrange the soaked bedsheets in a ball like structure so they look a globe, with each condiment-sheet being a different country. Shellac the heck out of it so it doesn’t start stinking up down town. Place on a stack of used sofa cushions for display.
    • What does it mean? I call this piece “Condiments of the World”, get it? Ha ha ha! It’s like ‘continents’ but not! The pun basically makes the whole thing. It represents our unity as a multi-cultural society through food! Or something like that.
  • This one has multiple purposes. You know how we used to have those cow statues everywhere? Well, in this particular piece we will shave the head of all the City Council members for charity, preferrably the Alberta Children’s Hospital (I guarantee this would raise a good wad of cash, this negating the need to ever discuss where we will get funds for public art again.) We will then take the hair and, combining it with a paste made up of old root vegetables and Q-tips, we will create a new cow statue.
    • What does it mean? I don’t know. I figure the general public would probably get a kick out of seeing the whole of the city council being bald. Plus charity. We could call it “Our Beef With City Council!” Or something like that.
  • This next one is great because it involves recycling. We are going to take some wine bottles. Basically all the wine bottles everywhere. Also all the empty liqueur bottles. We are going to smash the hell out of those bottles. We are going to take that crushed glass and create some pretty-ass looking layers of colour in a giant clear tank. It will be like one of those sand art bottle things you can get from mall kiosks during the holidays, only it will be made from all the empties that the people of Calgary have accumulated. The scene to be shown in the glass? Well, I think we could put it to a vote, let the public decide! After all, it’s going to be out in the open for everyone to see. Personally I am in favour of having art that shows my cats. Just my cats, doing cat stuff.
    • Seriously, What does it mean? “Through the Looking Cats” would be a delightful play on words that would show our love of literature. Or something like that.
  • What? Not enough? Okay. Um, let me think. How about we take all the plastic bags we get from an average trip to the grocery store and knit those bastards into a giant 20 foot tall touque that can also double as a kids park or, or! We put it on top of that giant mesh head outside the Bow. Nailed it!
    • I don’t get what it means. I know. Art is hard to understand sometimes. “Touquing it to the Next Level” would be the first of many major art projects that will be added to the Mesh Head, hereby known as ‘Leslie’. By the time we are done Leslie will represent the inscrutable spirit of Calgarians everywhere. Or something like that.
  • Geez, you people are demanding. Okay. How about this. Next to the Giant Blue Ring we place a Giant Red Octagon, a Giant Orange Triangle, a Giant Yellow Square, a Giant Green Isosceles Triangle (for diversity), and on the other side a Giant Indigo Oval, and finally a Giant Purple Star.
    • But… Why? I don’t know. Okay? At least it will be a rainbow and people will stop laughing at the single blue ring. Or something like that.
  • I am almost out ideas, but of course I saved the best for last. We’re going to need 76 lbs of wild flower seeds, two 20 foot watering cans, a giant marionette hand and a series of ropes and pulleys. To pull this off someone is going to have to be hired to live in the miniature mushroom hut and dress up as an elf. They’ll have to be very good at yelling at children and the elderly but not use racial obscenities. Colour-blind candidates are preferred, hopefully with no family connections and the ability to still legally enter the US.
    • I… What? I call it… “The Reckoning of Saint Bacon and the Whinnying Quartet”. Don’t ask questions. It’ll cost about $200 but I can make it work on less. In the end it will amuse, bemuse, and even terrify those who see it. No one will ever question Calgary again. We will be known as the city that lived. Others will bow in fear and admiration of us. Or something like that.

You’re welcome, Calgary.


Kathleen Sawisky, esq.

Integrity Commissioner (?)