Superbug Follow-Up: My Open Letter to Health Minister Jane Philpott

Photo credit: The Honorable Jane Philpott, Parliament of Canada Website: http://www.parl.gc.ca/Parliamentarians/en/members/Jane-Philpott(88835)

In light of my therapeutic rant on the Superbug crisis posted on my blog a few days ago, I committed myself to putting my actions where my mouth is, so to speak.  In doing so, I thought I would at least share with whomever’s interested my letter to current Canadian Federal Minister of Health Jane Philpott, and a whole lot of other elected political brass in our House of Commons, including the big guy himself (JT) whom I carbon-copied the letter to (special thanks to a wise-old wizard who, for now, shall go nameless for that ‘cc’ political tip a couple of years ago – it really does make a difference in putting your letter to the top of the political ‘slush’ pile).  Too bad it didn’t work that way for literary editors and publishers the way it does for politicians trying to get reelected, but I digress…

Here is my letter to Minister Philpott for those of you curious to read it.  Her Parliament contact information, as well as that of any federal politician you may wish to write to on this or any other issue – municipal, provincial, state, or national – is readily available online.  To fight off my natural inclination to turn this into a Social Studies lesson, I will stop right there and paste my letter below.  Hopefully, at the very least, I’ve helped bring some attention, someway, somehow, to somebody in regards to the seriousness of this issue, and by so doing, hope to gain some traction on getting people, politicians, doctors, researchers, whoever to begin taking action to quell the destructive potential this problem, if continued to be left unchecked, may befall on all of us…

March 4, 2017

The Honorable Jane Philpott, Minister of Health

 Confederation Building, Suite 162
House of Commons 
Ottawa, Ontario   K1A 0A6

Dear Honorable Minister Philpott,

I am writing this letter to you in regards to an issue that, according to many medical and scientific researchers, is a veritable ‘ticking time bomb’ that has the potential to be the greatest existential threat to not only Canadians, but to the entire world – that is the steadily growing, and adapting, number of antibiotic resistant bacteria, germs, and viral organisms that, to date, are not only untreatable but rapidly communicable and, most disconcertingly, deadly to anyone, of any race, gender, age, or nationality. 

As a medical doctor yourself, I obviously do not need to describe for you the roots or cause of this problem.  I would however, unequivocally state my dissatisfaction at the lack of worldwide attention being directed to the matter, and the lack of will expressed by pharmaceutical companies, medical researchers, and governments in the Western World to fund research into new antibiotics and treatments for these ‘superbugs.’  While I know the challenges, both in terms of both economic cost and scientific limitations, to conducting this research are immense, to sit idly by while these resistant germs and organisms continue to adapt and spread is foolhardy, irresponsible, and dangerous , especially as we are now seeing firsthand the clear links between the rise of these resistant germs throughout the world in the face of new age, world developments like accelerated climate change and the pronounced availability of antibiotics worldwide.      

While it is certainly a tendency of the human race, and certainly those of us among the electorate, to be reactive rather than proactive on issues such as these, I believe that we cannot afford to wait for the next major, inevitable, global pandemic to occur in order to capitalize on the public outcry to finally take action.  There is much groundwork to be laid not only in setting up the funding structures and implementation of this research, but also in educating the general public about the dangers of overprescribing antibiotic drugs, improper disposal of unused prescriptions, the careless use (not to mention the unregulated availability) of antibiotics for household pets, and the rampant use of sanitizers in public places and private dwellings.  Education, at this point, may be the best way to mitigate or quell the pending disaster that a superbug infestation or epidemic could potentially bring to our country.  I call on our current Canadian government to take the lead in addressing this issue nationally by looking at creative ways to entice private corporations to begin research into effective treatments for the bugs already festering in our country, and to also take the lead globally, so that international nations begin working together to share and fund research that will ideally save countless number of lives in the future, including those of Canadians, who presently have no idea the threat such contagions pose to their health. 

Thank-you very much for your time to consider my letter.  As a concerned Canadian voter, I look forward to your response. 

Sincerely,

Michael Saad

Cc: The Right Honorable Mr. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

Cc: Ms. Rona Ambrose, Interim Leader of Conservative Party of Canada

Cc: Ms. Kellie Leitch, Critic – Health, Conservative Party of Canada

Cc: Ms. Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada

Cc: Mr. Thomas Mulcair, Leader of Canada’s NDP

Cc: Mr. Don Davies, Critic – Health, Canada’s NDP

Cc: Ms. Rachel Harder, Member of Parliament, Lethbridge Riding

***************************UPDATE:***************************  

Here is the response I received, not from Minister Philpott, but from a designee she assigned the response to:

Dear Mr. Saad:

Thank you for your correspondence of March 4, 2017, addressed to the Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Health, regarding antimicrobial resistance (AMR). I sincerely regret the delay in responding to your email. The Minister has asked me to reply on her behalf.

I agree with you that AMR is a growing threat to global public health. The Government of Canada recognizes this threat, and is committed to taking action to prevent, limit, and control the emergence and spread of AMR. Antimicrobial Resistance and Use in Canada: A Federal Framework for Action was released in October 2014, and maps out a coordinated, collaborative federal approach to addressing the threat of AMR in three strategic areas of focus: surveillance, stewardship, and innovation. The corresponding Federal Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance and Use in Canada, released in March 2015, outlines the concrete steps that the Government of Canada will take between 2015 and 2019.

Building on this initial response, a pan-Canadian framework for action on AMR and antimicrobial use (AMU) is under development by the federal government, the provinces, the territories, and external stakeholders across the human health, animal health, and agricultural sectors. As AMR is a shared responsibility in Canada, the Framework lays a foundation for coordinated, multisectoral action across jurisdictions on four key components: surveillance; stewardship; infection prevention and control; and research and innovation.

As you note in your letter, a lack of awareness surrounding AMR and AMU exists, and enhancing knowledge on this issue is a fundamental component of Canada’s efforts, both federally and as part of a pan-Canadian framework. The Health Portfolio participates in both national and international awareness efforts, and some of our educational resources can be accessed at: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/antibiotic-antimicrobial-resistance.html.

Surveillance of AMR and AMU is also essential to enhance our knowledge and understanding of this issue. To address this challenge, the Public Health Agency of Canada created the Canadian Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance System (CARSS) to provide an integrated picture of AMR and AMU across Canada. This enhanced and integrated surveillance is detailed in the CARSS Report, the most recent release of which can be found at: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/drugs-health-products/canadian-antimicrobial-resistance-surveillance-system-report-2016.html. To support a global picture of AMR, Canada has also joined the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance System.

The Government of Canada is engaged at the global level on efforts to address AMR. For example, Canada endorsed the WHO Global Action Plan on AMR in May 2015. Through the G7, Canada has committed to encourage international discussions on incentivizing the pharmaceutical industry; incentivizing the research and development of new antimicrobials, vaccines, diagnostics, alternative therapeutics, and other medical countermeasures in human and animal health; and improving access to effective vaccines, diagnostics, antimicrobials, and alternate therapeutics.

The Government of Canada is committed to supporting research and innovation on AMR and is making investments through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Between 2011-12 and 2015-16, CIHR invested over $96 million in AMR research, with $20.2 million in 2015-16 alone. As part of these investments, CIHR has a focused initiative on AMR where investments are being made in developing new point-of-care diagnostics to allow for better diagnoses and treatment options for patients.

Thank you again for writing, and I hope that my comments are helpful in addressing your concerns.

Sincerely,

Dr. Theresa Tam, BMBS (UK), FRCPC
Interim Chief Public Health Office
Public Health Agency of Canada

 

The Existential Threat We All Face & Why We Need Each Other To Defeat It

We know it’s coming.  We know it’s inevitable, that it’s going to be awful and, with all of that, we know it’s going to kill a lot of people.

We know it so well that our military, governments, health systems, and emergency management agencies, at both the national and international levels have been drawing up mitigation strategies, map zones, and ‘what-to-do-if-the-worst-case-scenario-actually-does-happen’ contingency plans, all the while the rest of us (myself included) live our day-to-day lives, worrying about our kids, our mortgages, the crime rate, what we’re going to do on the weekend, what we’ll do for our next holiday.  In short, regular stuff we all should – and need to be – worrying about.

What we don’t know is what form it will take.  I am talking about the next global pandemic.  We, of course, have seen these before, and survived them.  To be fair, you wouldn’t be reading this, nor would I have written it,  had we not survived them.  But what scares me, and should, at the very least, concern you too, is my first sentence in this paragraph.  That we don’t know what form it will take.  Will it be a rogue virus, previously thought to be dormant coming from some long forgotten, contaminated region in the tropics?  Will it be something we have already heard about in the news today – mayhaps that mutated avian bird flu currently spreading in China (March 1st, 2017) or the recurrence of the West Nile virus that gave us scares back in 2003 and 2012 and which returns to us in smaller – and less sensationalized – outbreaks every year since?  Or will it be a bacteria resistant superbug, genetically altered through adaptation to be resistant to the overused and abused antibiotics we have, at least in the Western World, taken advantage of this past century?  I suspect it will be the latter – doctors and scientists, medical researchers and pharmacists, geneticists and pathologists alike are worried – make that very worried.  So why haven’t we heard about it?  Well, first off, we have, it’s just that we haven’t been listening.

As far back as the 1990s we’d been warned about them (now is the point when I would like to unequivocally point out that I am NOT a doctor, medical researcher, global alarmist, or even remotely what you’d call an expert in this field – just think of me as your regular, ordinary middle-class Joe here, with nothing to gain, or to lose,  by writing this piece and pasting it on the Internet for the world – with all of its online pundits and trolls – to criticize, ridicule, condemn, and make crass memes of…), the media reported on numerous experts and whistleblowers sounding the alarm on antibiotic resistant superbugs and the dangers of them, especially if they manifest in the form of easily communicable diseases, spread through the air, or by mosquitoes, fleas, germs, or whatever other avenue all the various bugs of the past 1000 years have spread (I did say I’m no expert on this, right?).

We’re also being warned about them right now, as in today, in March 2017.  Everyone from the American Center for Disease Control (the CDC) to Bill Gates have been conjuring up those dreaded worse-case scenarios that have been peppering our media, social & mainstream, this past week, sandwiched between Warren Beatty & Faye Dunaway’s Oscar mix-up, the latest Donald Trumpism, some controversial parole-granting in my own country (Canada), and the latest happenings in the sports world – the NHL Mumps outbreak (!) and Kevin Durant’s MCL Sprain.  A fair jibe at me would to be to question why I am choosing to bring this up now, and post it onto my blog page, berating you with my alarmist, belly-aching about it today.  Why didn’t I do this years ago, when I knew full well this problem was growing, and the potential consequences of it getting direr?  Good question, and I have the following three points to make to address it.

(1) I actually have been sounding the alarm, just not so directly. In March 2015, my novella White Army Stand was published, a story which posits a world threatened by such an outbreak.  The pathogen I conjured up, the Norcavirus, was completely fictional, based on no real, existing virus – hell I don’t even know if I should be calling it a pathogen in the annals of science.  In my story, my main character Matias, himself a victim of Norca, has to rely on an unconventional, radical, and highly experimental treatment for the disease because no existing drugs or treatment would work.  In that respect, he becomes the last hope for the human race.  Now, it is at this point, that I must be clear that I am not writing this to put in a cheap plug, or to showcase, my story – I have not, and will not, make a single dime off of it – it’s available online, for free, at Fiction-on the-Web.  You can find it right here, along with some great illustrations by Elkford, B.C’s Adam White, whom I will put in that cheap plug for, because he’s so talented: http://www.fictionontheweb.co.uk/2015/04/white-army-stand-by-michael-saad.html  Why I am including it in this blog entry is because I want to prove to people this is a crisis I’ve followed for quite some time, and while my story was published in 2015 in Great Britain, anybody who is close to me knows I have been working on it a lot longer than that (and by “a lot longer” I literally mean over 20 years, and yes I can prove it if you’re want to press me on it).  So yes, I have been worried about superbugs and pandemics for some time.  And to be 100% up front, so too have a lot of writers & filmmakers before me, who’ve composed far greater and more influential pieces than I ever will – Stephen King’s classic novel The Stand, Wolfgang Peterson’s chilling movie Outbreak, and even Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, in all of its popular incarnations, posit the same end-of-life-as-we-know-it outcome in the face of an untreatable, all-too-real, global pandemic (okay, maybe minus the zombies & devils stuff, but definitely include the panic & human infighting parts). As for my character Matias, the results of his treatment I’ll save spoiler-free for anyone who wants to give the story a whirl.

(2) Okay, well number (1) was the fun point, at least in my own head, in terms of how fun it can actually be writing on a topic such as this one. Numbers (2) and (3) are far less fun to talk about, but represent the real reasons I am writing this blog entry.  Here’s the thing: why I am taking the time out of my *insanely-busy* life to sound the alarm right-this- second is because I firmly, without hesitation, know that climate change is hastening the disturbingly real possibility that the dreaded, world-changing pandemic is coming.  Forget about what’s causing climate change for a minute, don’t fret about the roles that humans may or may not be playing is hastening it, and ignore what those guys & gals in our sheltered, temperate zones  are saying about the heaps of snow & cold weather they’re getting outside their living room window  – let’s just acknowledge that the climate is changing, and by changing we mean that global temperatures are rising.  Scientists can prove it (I’ve seen the data, photos and I’ve read the research with the most critical eye you can imagine – like most of us, I would have loved nothing more than to have found some glaring inaccuracy, some fabricated omission, some gross contradiction to imply that the science was wrong, and I couldn’t do it).  We’re at a point now, I feel it’s safe to say, where even the deniers & skeptics we see on YouTube and on talk shows, don’t make any sense (even though I so desperately wish they did).  To stress that point, back when I was in high school, 25 years ago, it was conceivable when such deniers & skeptics posited that human beings didn’t have the capacity to impact something so monumental and God-inspiring as the climate, but in 2017, with developments such as the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, our replenishing of the Ozone Hole (itself a major crisis in my high school days), the spread of the Asian Brown Cloud, and a much better understanding of the circulation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, how can anyone imply that we are not living in the Anthropocene – the era where humans, above any other force of nature on Earth, has the most impact on the geological, atmospheric, hydrologic, and biological fate of the planet.

How climate change is increasing the odds, and expediting the inevitable pandemic that I, and a whole slew of experts, fear is coming, is by ridding our planet of the colder temperatures that have mitigated the potential sources of contagion, if not the actual viruses and bugs themselves, in our respective winter seasons.  Of course, like all of you reading this, I hope I’m wrong, and with me that the countless numbers of experts who I’m drawing such dire conclusions from – Bill Gates, Gwynne Dyer, all the ‘leftist,’ environmental cronies writing for National Geographic and Nature Magazine to name a few  – are all discredited, forced to eat crow, & shamed to obscurity.  If we’re not, then we have one last, real hope left, which leads me to my third and final point, number (3)…

(3) We can act now to start working on the drugs, the vaccines, the research, the protocols, to create the new treatments needed to combat the superbugs, or quell future pandemics, perhaps even the ‘big one.’ I will even go out on a limb (and believe me, posting this on my webpage for the world to scrutinize for posterity is that limb) and say that we as a human race, in all of our potential, in all of our capabilities, possess the means and know-how to concoct these treatments.  The problem, however, is the current, divisive political climate, and our incredibly uncanny, short-sightedness to be proactive when it comes to our collective fate.  I mean, it’s really incredible that the human race has lasted this long, when you come to think about all of our wars and the wanton destruction we’ve carried out over the past 3000 years of recorded human history.  We’re supposed to be the master species on the planet, yet you don’t see lions, or wildebeests, or jellyfish creating weapons of mass destruction or fighting wars of attrition, do you?  Not only is it amazing we’ve lasted this long, but the fact that we’ve overpopulated the planet is truly astounding.  While that overpopulation thing is no doubt a notable contributing factor to all of the aforementioned problems I’ve been whining about in this article, that fact is what it is, and it’s the hand we’re dealt.  Any solution to deal with that problem amounts to murder, abortion, and / or genocide and that’s forever off of the table, as it should be.  As a matter of fact, what I’m actually trying to offer is a way to hopefully avoid mass death altogether.  Yet, get this, the number one reason why, in the Western world at least, drug & pharmaceutical companies do NOT invest in new research, new protocols, and new drugs to counter the lethal threat to human existence that our superbugs pose, is because there is no potential to make money in doing so.  If I were talking to you directly I would repeat the last part of that sentence, but I’m not talking to you, I’m writing, so my Italicized emphasis will have to do.  Apparently there is no money making potential – no viable financial profit – in creating new medicines that could potentially save the human race.  Think about that for a second – and I’m a staunch capitalist, and even I think that’s absurd.  Just to show I am not making this up, here are the mainstream, sources I dug up that claim from (take your pick who to bash on this as bringing you such ‘fake news’ – I have the entire political spectrum encompassed in the following links, so see if you can discern what the common denominator in all four appear to be, and that denominator is certainly NOT ideology):

http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/we-may-soon-have-no-useful-antibiotics-left-expert-1.3302987

http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-uncounted-drugs/

http://democracyjournal.org/magazine/40/confronting-the-pandemic-threat/

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2017/01/13/nevada-woman-dies-superbug-resistant-to-every-available-antibiotic-in-us.html

Obviously (in case you can’t tell) placing profit over the fate of countless human lives, which could very well include our own, or our families, is unacceptable to me.  It should be unacceptable to you.  We desperately need to be united on this front, if we’re going to have any hope of mitigating the damage, certainly if we’re going to have any hope of winning the fight.  This research needed to start yesterday, and our respective governments must be prioritizing the facilitation of this research – if it means a nationalized drug plan in Canada, so be it.  If it means cutting military spending in the United States, I say go for it.  Write your MP or Congressman, premiers or Presidents, write to health boards, research institutes, pharmaceutical countries, write to anyone who will listen.  The biggest threat facing our people, our families, may not be the Russians, or migrants, or each other (though I daresay that may seem like it’s the case given the nasty turn politics in North America and the Western World have taken this past year-and-a-half).  No, the biggest threat may be that microscopic contagion from God knows where, maybe even in your own country or backyard, that is a ticking time bomb, an unknown, mutating pathogen no one has heard of and can’t pronounce, but who’s festering in the shadows, waiting to thrive in the larger, communicable world once it gets unleashed.  At that point, we will have heard of it, and this issue, along with its name and pathology, will be the singular, pressing, dominant fear on our collective psyches, for our families, and for our futures.

And by then it will be too late.  I’m going to do my part to help make sure that doesn’t happen.  I hope you do too.

 

Picture Credits:

(Left: Staphylococcus aureus antibiotic resistant, with a dead human neutrophil, courtesy of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases / NIH,  as found in Zielinski, Sarah, “Superbugs Are Everywhere: How to Stop Deadly Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria,” Slate Medical Examiner, November 2015).  Website URL: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2015/11/antibiotic_resistant_superbug_bacteria_are_everywhere.html

(Right: Image from “White Army Stand”, illustrated by Adam White, found at http://www.fictionontheweb.co.uk/2015/04/white-army-stand-by-michael-saad.html)  I put Adam’s picture in the title bar because ever since we drew it 17 years ago, it continues to give me hope because, in so many respects, it captures the sentiment of unity and resiliency that I believe is our great hope to overcome this challenge, and which I closed this blog article with.

 

From Leaves to Devils: The Inspiration of a Writing Teacher

(Picture Above, Mr. Ron Basarab – Photo Credit: Sparwood Secondary School Yearbook, 1988)

I’ve been asked a few times now how long it took for my first novel – All the Devils Are Here, due out this September 2016 – to get published from a blank page to finally being sold online and on the shelves.  My answer is 25 years, and I’m only being partly facetious.

It all started in 1991, as a student in Mr. Ron Basarab’s Writing 11 class.  One of our projects that year was to write a short story, or some sort of creative piece of fiction.  Sticking to the short story format, I wrote a tale about a terrified 10 year boy who idolized his father so much that he would worry himself sick whenever his father went away for long periods of time, or would get so wasted he would get ill or become violent.  The problem, or the crux of the story, as Mr. Basarab called it, was that the boy’s father was a drug dealer, and got himself into a lot of trouble.

The story, of course, would ultimately (and, by that, I mean 25 years later ‘ultimately’…) become the manuscript for All the Devils Are Here.  Without delving too much into the plot of the actual novel it would become, the story left my 10 year old boy, named Radley, with quite the crux.  Does he continue to live a life of constant, unbearable anxiety, or does he turn his father into police, in a desperate attempt to get his father help?  Does the child thus become a pseudo-parent, essentially making the decision to protect his father by turning him into the authorities, getting him arrested, and sending him to jail?

When I wrote that story, at the time called “Leaves,” I disliked it.  I thought it was phony.  I felt like Radley was too mature for his age, too focused into his thoughts for a prepubescent, and was utterly unbelievable as a character.  Handing the story in only because I spent a full day writing it (a full day, in my Grade 11 year, Holy Crap – that took my whole life away back then!) and it was all I had.  I had written other stories for various classes before, never really remembering them except for a select few (I’ll probably be blogging about those some day soon, I’m certain), this one was destined to be something I would surely forget about the day, if not the quarter century, after I handed it in.

Only it wasn’t.  Mr. Basarab – who was very old school and peculiar about concise, crisp writing, staying on topic, and was always one to barrage your paper or essay with red ink correcting your punctuation, spelling, or run-on sentences – actually hand-wrote a personal message at the end of my story, “This is quite good.  Go further.  What repercussions would this boy face?  I want to know.”

I could have just stopped at ‘This is quite good’ because, as I reflect now at that moment, 25 years later on the eve of getting the novel out in print, I realize that was the key – dare I call it a crux – that Mr. Basarab put me into.  First of all, he liked it.  That may sound ridiculously simple, and it was, but wouldn’t you know it, for a hormone-laced teenager growing up in small town Sparwood to read those words for the first time for virtually any piece of fiction I had EVER written up to that point, they were the bomb.

Second of all, and here’s where the crux comes in – he challenged me.  What were the repercussions Radley would face, whatever the decision was that he made? (you can see, I’m working hard on the ‘no spoilers’ angle for the actual novel).  I didn’t know the answer to his question, of course.  Hey, I had just spent the whole day on the story and I finished it, and had other things to worry about, like the hot, older girls in my class and the fact that my hockey team of the past 13 years, the Minnesota North Stars, was on the verge of defeating the best team in the NHL that season, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the first round of the ’91 playoffs (the Stars would wind up making it to the Stanley Cup Final that year, but I digress…’stay on topic, Saad!’).  In truth, I just never thought that deep about my characters before, certainly not when my sole intention was just handing in that story so that I didn’t fail Writing 11.

As I compose this blog, I am about to partake in my seventh year as MC and Chair of my current school district’s annual Wall of Fame ceremony, where our entire district honors and celebrates the achievements of former alumni of our schools who have gone on to lead distinguished careers and lives in their chosen academic or career fields.  Often these inductees, and we’ve had 37 to date spanning well over the 50+ years of our school division’s history, mention the contribution, advice, or mentorship of ‘that one teacher’ – that one kindred spirit who guided them when they were struggling, or sat down with them on the hallway floor to talk about their goals, hopes and dreams.  They’re all great, feel-good, inspirational stories, and fun to listen to year-after-year (I did mention I’m entering my seventh year of doing this, right?  I really do enjoy it, despite the extra work at the beginning of the school year, already busy enough).  Unfortunately, my story with Mr. Basarab isn’t so feel-good, inspirational, or dare I say  ‘sappy,’ – it may even come off as a bit cantankerous, but here goes (Be concise with your writing, and no more tangents, Saad! I can indeed hear his voice bark at me right now as I compose this … ) …

He was bloody persistent.  Probably the most persistent man I’ll ever know.  Those of us blessed enough to have been taught by him know what I mean.  The same jokes over again, corny jokes, so bad they became endearing, growing on you like freckles or dimples.  If someone sneezed in class, “come on you guys, it’s SNOT funny.”  “All right, class, if you guys REALLY think the ONLY reason I’m giving you an in-class exam before your final is so that you are forced to study for the departmental, then I’ve got this to say to you … You’re probably right!  Bahhhhahahhhaa!”  (Yes, I hate to admit, I do steal this line, AND his delivery, with my own students – it’s so much more fun when you’re on the other side as the teacher…). And that was just his jokes.  He was also persistent in his marking and assessment, knowing, almost as if he had a modern-day computerized Gradebook inserted into his brain, exactly what overdue assignment you had owing, and what your mark was on the last one you handed in.  I try to repeat that as an educator, but I flop, and get students mixed up whenever I try.  I need the print-out in front of me.  How he did it, I’ll never know.

And he didn’t let up.  And he never forgot.  Anything.  Especially when it came to teaching, or his students.  Even with all of the annoying jokes, which I now find not only nostalgic but also a fond memory, and even with the four other courses I took from him in subsequent years, including two I adored (English & English Literature) one I dreaded like the Plague (Journalism), and one I dropped because it was the Plague (French, en francais) he never forgot Radley’s story…and the fact that I had never given him an answer.  “So what happens with Radley, Saad?”  As aforementioned, the North Stars in the Cup Final that year quashed me from having to think about that decision, the hot, older girls in my class only got hotter, and then came the Grade 12 year, and the focus on scholarships, graduation, more girls, and the North Stars (or worse, the Minnesota Stars) poised to rebound from their Cinderella Cup run to seal the deal the following year (yeah, that didn’t happen, but don’t try telling me during the 1991-1992 season!) – all of this stuff was too dynamic for my 18-year old mind to concentrate on much else.  These happenstances allowed me to conveniently dodge the answer to Radley’s predicament and stick the whole thing on the shelf, where it gathered dust as I ventured onto newer, exciting things in University.

But oh did it haunt me.  Virtually any news-story that occurred in the mid 90s involving drugs or violent crime, I thought of Radley and his dilemma.  During those years, in encountering Mr. Basarab in the oddball of places I did, in the Sparwood Library as a summer student, in the Post Office, the bookstores in the Lethbridge malls, he would ask me about Radley’s fate, often telling me that story should have been longer.  It was meant to be longer, and that Radley was a character as real as he or I, and that he hoped he would one day see ‘Leaves’ between covers.

In 2006, I began in earnest to attempt to answer that question – I hadn’t seen Mr. Basarab in well over ten years by that point (I think he was seconded to the Education Ministry in BC, presumably never to step foot in the East Kootenays again, or so it was thought), but his inquiry about Radley’s fate still followed me, even after all those years.  So I began to explore.  I made contact with a friend of mine from university – the late John Gill, who was working as a Crown Prosecutor in Alberta, and barraged him with all kinds of ‘hypothetical scenarios.’  ‘So John, if a guy, hypothetically speaking, was soliciting drugs and selling them to kids, could he get put away for life…?”  Ever the patient, eager to help anyone kind of a guy, John must have thought I was up to no good – I finally confessed I was writing a story, and (thankfully) he guided me, in much the same vein Mr. Basarab would have, into helping me discover what happened to Radley and, in this new story I was creating, Radley’s entire biological family.  I owe just as much to John, I now realize, as I do to Mr. Basarab – while the latter was my inspiration to keep the story alive and answer the question of Radley’s fate, John was very much my tour guide through the mucky and intimidating world of Canadian crime & legalities that was so crucial in that all important, make or break, first draft of the novel.

Completed in 2008, A Swinger of Birches, the novella version of Radley’s story was ready to go, and one year later I finished the full novel.  And then it sat on the shelf for various reasons I need not delve into here (in short, I was busy teaching, and composing other short stories, as well as bringing babies into the world with my wonderful, supportive wife Jodi [be concise, Saad and stay on topic!])  Then in 2013, I made the conscious decision to take Radley’s story off of the shelf and fine tune it (and by fine tune it, I mean completely rip it apart, change the ending, change key characters, and revamp entire passages of it…)  Why did I un-shelve it?  Because, after well over a decade, I ran into Mr. Basarab again. He had defied all rumours, and returned to Sparwood, proving (to me, anyways) his affinity for Sparwood Secondary, the community, and its students.  Older, graying, he appeared tired – I realize this now but didn’t quite catch onto it at the time.  Regardless, we had a grand conversation. Mostly about life and education.  He never brought up my story, or Radley’s fate.  I did that, and he remembered it, telling me he was still waiting to hear the answer to his question.  I told him it was ‘in development’. It was all the motivation I needed at that point.  “You’ll get your answer soon, Mr. Basarab.” (I never could call him, Ron, despite being, at that point, a fellow ‘veteran’ high school teacher myself).  How soon, I couldn’t say, but like most writers, I promised it would be sooner than later, knowing full well that with the publishing world in the state that it currently is, it would probably wind up being later than sooner.

On October 23rd, 2014, the published online version of the novella became available, or at least I became aware that it was available. Radley’s story, and the answer to the question, had been partially answered.  I didn’t think to send it to Mr. Basarab right away, but it was in the back of my mind – I had sent him copies of my previously published stories and articles.  I would get to it soon, certainly before the month would end, I didn’t feel like there was any rush.  Only there was.  And I was too late.

In some twisted, cruel, bizarre, gut-wrenching coincidence, Mr. Basarab passed away on October 23rd, 2014.   It was a shock.  Thankfully, I’m proud to say, I thought only of him – the man, the teacher, and the great legacy he left behind.  I didn’t want to wallow in regret, or pout about him not getting to read my story, and have him discover the answer to his question – I knew he was a far greater man than that.  One who cared about all of his students, and go the extra mile to help them in whatever way he could.  People need only read his online obituary and guestbook to see how endearing and committed he was to so many of his colleagues and former students.  I did, of course, wind up dedicating the novella to him, but in doing so, understood that I hadn’t really, completely answered his question. Only the full-fledged novel would do that.  The novel (I know now) that he was really steering me towards.

That novel is, of course, All the Devils are Here, the title a line from Shakespeare’s King Lear that I knew Mr. Basarab would appreciate.  I set off to work on it throughout early 2015, and finally got it ‘between covers’ with the gracious help of Doug Owen and his team at Tumbleweed Books.  It, too, is dedicated to Mr. Basarab.  I hope it answers his question regarding Radley’s fate.  I only wish I could have thanked him in person for inspiring me to figure it out.

 

 

 

A Bright, Infinite Future for 2016?

In my writer’s blog I will feature a website-exclusive commentary on my published works, characters, and little asides that went into creating them.  Hopefully for any other aspiring writers out there, this may be of use.  I love to help other writers out where I can.  I, myself, have benefited greatly from the advice and guidance of wiser, established, and (thankfully) benevolent souls, both mainstream and not, who have led me along my path of this craft over the years.  I aim to pay it forward myself (I’m teaching my first creative writing class this Spring), and I hope this blog – with anecdotes of what I’ve done and how much I struggled with my fiction & non-fiction, published and non-published  – will help do that.

A Bright, Infinite Future.  I thought I might as well start with this story, my most recent to be published.  It is featured in the December 2015 issue of Non Local Science Fiction Magazine out of Pennsylvania.  I wrote the story as an expression of my reaction to the death of the courageous young lady you see pictured below.  Neda Agha-Soltan, a 26 year old Iranian, who was a citizen participant in the Green Revolution against the Spring 2009 election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Neda-Agha-Soltan Profile

I was in Edmonton at the time, marking diploma examinations.  It was late June 2009 and while the Western world reeled at the bizarre death of Michael Jackson, whose controversial end made scandalous headlines on virtually every television station and news website at the time. Neda’s death was also making the rounds albeit on a far lower scale, primarily on YouTube.  Incidentally I caught wind of Neda’s death while searching up the details behind Jackson’s condemned anesthesiologist – Dr. Conrad Murray, the image of this dying Iranian girl, shot in the chest while her two friends tryied desperately to help her,  startled me – shocked would be an equally appropriate word. This was not Hollywood, nor was it a scripted dramatization of war, or murder, that we saw countless times in movies, television, and video games.  This was real cell phone video, of a real life victim of a political repression, and for the first real time in history – we had a front row seat, and it was horrible.

You can still watch the video today – it is easy to find, heartbreaking to watch.  It’s still on YouTube and countless other streaming video sites.  I do NOT recommend watching it; rather, I would encourage everyone interested in Neda’s story to watch the powerful and wrenching documentary on her life “For Neda,” which also can be found online.  For a politically-active citizen like myself, who no doubt would’ve been right alongside her had I been an Iranian protesting the political corruption in her country, Neda’s story – and her death – are a symbol of the sacrifices that must be paid to showcase evil to the world.  Granted, there have been countless others like her in world history, civilians oppressed and murdered by ruthless militant authorities, but hers was presented to us right onto our digital laps.  Such is the power of media, especially media that gets it right in our faces – the cell phone video that day was happenstance, it was uncoordinated, un-calculated, sloppy and instantaneous, but it was there, and it caught everything that needed to be shown.

If the explosion of news media and photojournalism helped turn American public opinion against the war in Vietnam in the late 1960s and early 70s (photos of the Mai Lai Massacre, for instance, or the disturbing one of a naked Phan Thi Kim Phuc fleeing in terror from a napalm attack, hold particular resonance and agony for me), then the video of Neda’s death must hold the same sway.  Given the current turmoil in the Middle East in this post Arab Spring era, I think Neda’s death, as instantaneous as it was, carries the same resonance.  Tragically, countless other video taped deaths equally as gruesome and more deliberate – Daniel Pearl’s to name one – have occurred since Neda’s.  Videos like these without question have become a unique trend of the digital, viral world we now live in, giving human societies all over the world a first hand civilian view of the experiences of war, terrorism and – with it all – tragic death.  It is the new function of civilian media, and it is for this reason, at the core of A Bright, Infinite Future, I presented the Cel’Dero’s story through the eyes of journalist Sherrie Dennigre.  Cel’Dero, of course, represents Neda, and Delroy Higgins is me, and what he experiences in the story is what I went through in response to Neda’s tragic end, a video that haunts me to this day.  Given the current state of affairs in the Middle East with ISIS, the Syrian Civil War, and the ongoing Saudi Arabia, Iran, & Yemen conflict, I remain heartbroken at the thought that 2016 will only bring more chaos, destruction, and death to that part of the world – including death that we will see firsthand on the news and social media feeds of the World Wide Web.  As always, I can only hope I’m wrong.  I really wish I would be.

My story, A Bright Infinite Future, is published in the December 2015 edition of Non Local Science Fiction Magazine, which can ordered online through Amazon at http://www.amazon.ca/Nonlocal-Science-Fiction-Issue-4-ebook/dp/B019DA87MA/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1450244202&sr=8-3&keywords=nonlocal+science+fiction

 

 

Welcome to Michael Saad’s Author Page

Welcome to Mike’s official author page, which will feature updates on all of Mike’s future writing, fiction, and non-fiction, as well as blogs, commentary, and insights on all of Mike’s work.  Particularly of note, there will also be a showcase of artwork on several of Mike’s fiction stories by a variety of ultra-talented artists from British Columbia’s Elk Valley and the Lethbridge / Southern Alberta regions of Canada.