December 25, 2008

Christmas in the Emergency Ward

It's Christmas Eve. We're visiting friends in Mississauga. It's about 10:30pm. Our son Jeevan is having dessert --- chocolate cake and apple pie. After a bite, his mouth feels itchy. Thirty minutes later, hives appear on his chest. He's short of breath and shivering. A severe allergic reaction. He takes Benadryl.  

11:30pm An hour later, Jeevan is shivering and still short of breath. We go to Credit Valley Hospital, 900m away, calmly guided by GPS. I drop him and my wife, Sharmila, at the entrance of the Emergency wing. Unlike the movies, the mood is subdued. No ambulances with flashing lights and blaring sirens. No one outside. No excitement at all.

The Emergency ward has less staff due to the Christmas holidays. After 15 minutes, Jeevan is being examined at Emergency Reception. Questions about symptoms. Measurement of his heart rate, blood pressure, weight. This takes 10 minutes. We forgot his OHIP card for proof of eligibility for government health insurance but this is not a hurdle. 

Registration is next. The process takes a few minutes. The paperwork goes back to Emergency Reception. After a few minutes, Jeevan is taken to a hospital bed and gets examined. Sharmila accompanies him. It's 12:05am. Merry Christmas?

I stay in the waiting area, writing this post as I wonder what's happening. I avoid touching anything for fear of catching a serious contagious disease. Three other families wait too. Everyone is calm. The scene is much like a doctor's waiting room. Another family enters around 12:25am. There are 10 of us, which fills most of the seats. There's another room full of patients. I'm not sure how many. Maybe they've already been examined and are waiting for further treatment. There's a feeling of calm. A feeling of waiting. 

12:30am Four staff working. A pair each at the Reception and Registration desks. This is full capacity but I don't see more patients.

12:40am Two paramedics drop by to chat and go to the staff room. The staff are pleasant and calm throughout. The experience feels unreal, like a dream in slow motion. 

12:50am Sharmila comes out. Good news! Jeevan is recovering! He received adrenaline and Benadryl. He is in a private room. Number 18.  I can go in too. I see he's on two or three drips (one to treat side effects). It feels like a movie with all the machinery beeping in languages that only R2D2 would understand.

1:40am The IV drip machine starts beeping because the fluids are finished. No one is around to respond. The emergency wing bustles with activity due to more patients and more urgent cases. That's fair but the beeping is annoying.

2:00am A new IV drip. One litre of a saline solution. Previously 0.5L administered. This is going to take a while. In my drowsy stupor, I realize I'm hungry. I follow a winding path to Tim Hortons for water, hot chocolate and a cream cheese bagel.

3:00am Trying to doze. We can probably go home in another hour if Jeevan's condition remains stable.

4:00am Waiting for the doctor

4:45am Waiting for the doctor

5:10am Waiting for the doctor

5:40am The Doctor! He was with more urgent cases. All's well. He writes a prescription for an epipen. Jeevan is to take Benadryl, as required. 

5:55am All the tubes and sensors are removed. I pay for parking ($14 --- nothing's free even on Christmas) Jeevan and Sharmila wait at the entrance of the Emergency wing, where we arrived seven hours earlier. Light snow flurries fall. Roads are nearly empty. How unusual.

6:20am We arrive at a Shoppers Drug Mart near home. We're thankful that it's always open, even on Christmas. Filling the prescription takes 20 minutes but feels like hours after the night's ordeal. I notice eight other customers making purchases. One leaves his Dodge Ram truck on while he shops. A woman forgets her purse in her Acura RDX and does outside to get it. 

6:50am Home again after 14 eventful hours. Blinking clocks show we had a power failure in our absence. Exhausted, we tumble into bed.

Update at 7pm
Jeevan has recovered. Life is back to normal as if nothing happened. 

Hospital service varies depending on when you arrive and how serious your condition is relative to other patients. We were fortunate to receive excellent, fast service. For free. 

We weren't able to leave milk and cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve, but he remembered us. An object, no matter how valuable, is replaceable. A life is not. We got the best gift ever. 

Our deep thanks to the caring, efficient staff at Credit Valley Hospital. They were separated from their own families on Christmas so ours could be together.

December 20, 2008

Hero To Zero: Why Satisfaction is Relative

There is no greater challenge than to have someone relying upon you; no greater satisfaction than to vindicate his expectation.
Kingman Brewster

How quick from hero to zero.

On Friday, Toronto faced the first major snowstorm of the season. Schools and offices were open. Public transportation kept the city running. Streets were plowed well enough that no cars got stuck near us. I had three meetings but they were rescheduled. So I worked from home.

I've been waiting for a parcel from the US and thought delivery would be delayed to Monday, the next business day. I checked the courier's website and saw they were committed to making the delivery even if this meant at night. Impressive!

Around 2:30 pm, Canada Post delivered mail. A few minutes later, Purolator delivered two parcels. Both were several hours late, but this was understandable. I was sure the other courier would arrive too. I checked the delivery status that evening:
  • 3:17 pm: Emergency Conditions Beyond Our Control
  • 5:19 pm: In-Transit Scan
?!? Would they come on Saturday? No.
How about Sunday? No ... but another package arrived.

Delivery has been rescheduled for Monday. Here's the funny part. On Friday morning, I would have been happy with a Monday delivery. Now I'm disappointed because of the
  • two deliveries on Friday
  • one delivery on Sunday
Satisfaction is relative. Right now, snow is falling heavily. Let's see what happens tomorrow.

This is my last post of 2008. Thank you, dear readers, for your precious attention.

All the best to you and yours during the holidays.
May your 2009 be really fine!


December 14, 2008

Solve Problems Like A Magician: Four Steps from Dai Vernon via David Ben

Magic has universal appeal. I don’t believe in magic in the way that I describe in my books, but I’d love it to be real.
--- J.K. Rowling

How can you make seemingly impossible problems disappear? By solving them. Like a magician.

At a recent conference, David Ben performed some magic --- mainly with cards. He even revealed how he did some of the tricks (what he called "effects"). More importantly, he shared a simple, classic process you can use to solve your problems.

The Four Steps
Dai Vernon, an influential Canadian magician (1894 - 1992), identified four steps for solving problems
  1. define the objective
  2. generate solutions
  3. evaluate the solutions
  4. implement the solution
These "obvious" steps are useful for many purposes. And somewhat dull. Until seen from the perspective of a magician. Let's assume that you are looking at a financial product or service with the help of an advisor.

Define The Objective
In magic, you start by defining the effect you want to create. Your objective may change during this process because you may not know what you really want. You may start with a vague goal and then refine it by digging deeper.

For example, maybe you want to be "wealthy". Drilling down, that may mean "financial independence". That may mean retiring at a specific age. That may mean a specific financial goal. That may lead to plans to reach the target dollar amount.

Generate Solutions
You might call this "brainstorming". Quantity counts. You want lots of ideas. Suspend your negative thinking and open your mind to new ideas. Our preconceived ideas affect the outcomes.
David asked this question: How would you put 36 cubes of sugar into three cups of coffee so there's an odd amount of sugar in each cup?
Think about this. Share your answer in a Comment. I'll post the answer on Monday morning.

Evaluate The Solutions
As a former tax lawyer, David reminded us that pigs get fat but hogs get slaughtered. This means that ideas that technically follow the law must still pass the "smell test". Charitable giving provides a great example. If you get a tax receipt several times larger than your donation, be on your guard.

What is too-good-to-be-true? Sometimes you can't tell. Your advisor helps by screening out flaky ideas. Generally, the simplest solutions work best. Easier to understand. Easier to explain.
The simpler the solution, the more that it will mean.
--- The Strawbs, Lemon Pie
Your experience is your greatest advantage. The same applies for your advisor. Experience isn't always valued, though (see Your Car Mechanic: Paying For Effort or Results?). That's too bad.

Implement The Solution
Detail makes for perfection, but perfection is no detail.
--- Leonardo da Vinci
Like talk, ideas are cheap because supply surpasses demand. Proper implementation is key. Simple ideas are often difficult to implement properly. You wouldn't generally know (or care) what takes place in the background.

David defined magic as the summation of hundreds of apparently inconsequential details. You can probably say the same for craft. This is certainly true for sales, especially for intangibles like financial products or services.

Different Perspectives
You will sweat. David Ben pointed out that you can perspire in front of your audience or in private. Naturally, the best place is while you're practicing in private.

How interesting to get perspectives from a tax lawyer turned magician. The magic behind the magic is a process we can also choose to use.


December 7, 2008


Everyone needs something to aim for. You can call it a challenge, or you can call it a goal. It is what makes us human. It was challenges that took us from being cavemen to reaching for the stars. --- Richard Branson

Richard Branson has intrigued me for years. Not for his knack for getting publicity but because he makes the world better. He cares. He enters established markets (e.g., music, airlines, mobile phones) and makes them more competitive. And more fun.

We look for opportunities where we can offer something better, fresher, and more valuable, and we seize them. We often move into areas where the customer has traditionally received a poor deal, and where the competition is complacent. --- Richard Branson

No Show
I expected to see Branson live at the 2007 Real Estate and Wealth Expo (see lessons learned), alongside Tony Robbins and Donald Trump. We were duped (probably by the organizers). Branson appeared on screen from his island home in a presentation that looked prerecorded. Even so, he commanded our attention.

When Old Is New

If I have not read a book before, it is, for all intents and purposes, new to me whether it was printed yesterday or three hundred years ago. --- William Hazlitt
Autobiographies let us learn from people we'll (likely) never meet. Losing My Virginity is hardly new. It was published in 1999 and runs chronologically. I listened to the audiobook, which Branson narrates. You can get a newer print edition if you prefer reading.

Frankly, I didn't know much about Branson since I live a low noise life. I assumed he went smoothly from success to success, starting with Virgin Music. Hardly. He faced many obstacles and could have easily lost his businesses many times since the 1960s. When facing a hurdle, he usually made risky moves and won.

I was especially surprised to learn
  • the role of the unknown Mike Oldfield
  • private businesses have outside masters too
Mike Oldfield
The success of Mike Oldfield's debut Tubular Bells --- the first record released by Virgin --- kept the company going for years. Oldfield recorded at The Manor when the studio was not rented out to other musicians. Virgin rented most of the 20+ instruments used. Branson writes:
I set about finding all these instruments: the acoustic guitar cost £35, the Spanish guitar £25, the Fender amplifier was £45, the mandolin £15, and the triangle was a bargain at £1. The tubular bells cost £20. £20 for tubular bells??

I said, "They'd better be worth it."
They were. The record set records. The profits were reinvested, primarily in finding and supporting new recording artists.

Outside Masters

Fortunately we're not a public company - we're a private group of companies, and I can do what I want. --- Richard Branson
Public companies tend to focus on short term goals, which can hurt the long term prospects. Virgin went from private to public to raise capital. Then from public to private to act fast (no need for board approval) and experiment more (e.g., starting the Virgin Atlantic airline).

Becoming private again still meant scrutiny. This time from banks. To grow, Virgin invested heavily and used borrowed money. This gave the banks influence over what Virgin could do and how long they could continue. Cash flow becomes very, very, very important.

There are numerous examples of challenges with the banks. Virgin was not well understood by lenders or stock markets.

Confucius on Wisdom
By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. --- Confucius
While others may imitate, Richard Branson learned by experience and reflection. In his autobiography, he candidly shares what he went through. This leaves us richer --- though not quite billionaires.