Volunteering in the Polyclinic Pan Am Games Toronto 2015

July 14, 2015 by  

Canada Day was my first volunteer shift in the Polyclinic in the PanAm Athletes Village Polyclinic. If you don’t know what a Polyclinic is, you’re not alone. My understanding is that it is a European term that denotes a health/medical clinic that provides a wide variety of services – thus “poly” from the Greek meaning “many”. In this case, many services.

The PanAm Polyclinic provides all kinds of services from Family Medicine to a fully-stocked ER, Specialty Services such as Dermatology, Cardiology, Dental, Optometry – Bochner Eye Institute and Loblaws are donating time, expertise and hundreds of pairs of glasses for the teams – and of course, full Sports Rehab Services (Physio, Massage, Chiropractic, and Sports Medicine, Physiatry).

There is also a Public Health office staffed with City of Toronto nurses to deal with any outbreaks or other public health concerns – there are thousands of condoms on all the services desks for the taking – they are snapped up quietly by many – and not just the athletes!

I am one of 3000 volunteers in the Health/Medical Services at the Polyclinic and the many Competition Venues and Fields of Play across the Games. There are about 6500 participating athletes from 41 different Pan American countries, competing in 36 different sports.

Planning has been in the works for 6 years and has involved 16 different communities surrounding Toronto the north, west and east. According to the Chief Chef for the Games, 500,000 meals will be served in the Athletes’ Village alone. These Games are the largest multi-sport event ever hosted in Canada. The cost for public security and traffic management is in the neighbourhood of $250M.

If you watched the Opening Ceremonies Friday night – or better still were actually there, you’ll know that it’s all very exciting for Toronto!

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Thinking about Occam’s Razor

March 3, 2015 by  

While watching an episode of Madame Secretary the other night, I was interested to hear the main character mention Occam’s Razor as she wrestled with a complex issue and the need to get at the variables, understand them and make decisions about how to proceed. Knowing my interest in complexity and complex adaptive systems (CAS) theory, a friend told me about Occam’s Razor awhile ago. I had never come across it before, despite lots of reading about complexity and complex systems – obviously not reading the right things, Ann! Thanks.

Wikipedia tells us that Occam’s Razor (which is also sometimes written as Ockham’s Razor) is a problem-solving principle devised by William of Ockham in the 13th C – believe it or not. William was a respected English Franciscan friar, philosopher and theologian.

The principle of Occam’s Razor states that among competing hypotheses which predict equally well, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Other, more complicated solutions may ultimately prove to provide better predictions, but—in the absence of major differences – the fewer assumptions that are made, the better – according to the theory.

Called also the Law of Parsimony, it tells us to KISS or keep it simple, and not over-complicate. This of course makes a lot of sense and it also reminds us to quantify, qualify and verify our assumptions. Wikipedia goes on to say “ For each accepted explanation of a phenomenon, there is always an infinite number of possible and more complex alternatives, because one can always burden failing explanations with ad hoc hypothesis to prevent them from being falsified; therefore, simpler theories are preferable to more complex ones because they are better testable and falsifiable.”

The fact that we are still considering William of Ockham’s ideas, 7 centuries later boggles the mind, and makes me question how much more we know or don’t know today than we did centuries ago.

It also makes me wonder about the fit between Occam’s Razor and complex adaptive systems’ theory. This is for another time.

Arrival in Beautiful CapeTown

February 4, 2012 by  

We spent last night in the Fairmont Zimbali on the Indian Ocean after a frustrating day spent in the Durban King Shaka airport waiting for flight to Port Elizabeth. Too bad we couldn’t enjoy it because it looked beautiful. We arrived after dark at 8 pm and had to leave at 6am; however we were very glad to have a warm and safe bed to sleep in. Durban looks to be a beautiful place and we would have liked to have more time there -everyone at the airport was very helpful – but once it gets dark it’s nice to be settled in somewhere familiar.

This morning early we flew into Cape Town on South African Airlines and what a site from the plane coming in!

Hippo Heaven

February 2, 2012 by  

We’re at Makakatana Bay Lodge in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park near Lake St Lucia in Kwa Zulu Natal province for one more night. Today we took a pontoon boat tour on the estuary of Lake St Lucia and saw many dozens of hippos resting in the water. As we motored gently by, they would lift their heads to look at us, snort a lot to say: dont come too close; and then submerge themselves again. Many had young ones and can be very aggressive towards intruders. Our boat captain, Warwick and our guide Louwrena were both very knowledgeable about the wildlife and could spot interesting birds and lizards from long distances. We didn’t see any crocodiles which apparently is unusual. Gord got an excellent shot of fish eagles sitting regally in the trees or taking flight to get away from the boat.

Our captain was a very respectful and knowledgeable guide who kept away from anything that would be unduly frightened. Our lodge is very wild, elephants come at night to forage, 3 water buffalo spend their time grazing in the front yard, monkeys live in the trees outside the porch where we eat breakfast and race across the rooves at night, and a warthog family come several times every day to drink from the pond.
This was our third day tour in this UNESCO World Heritage reserve. As we drove in the first day we were thrilled to see giraffe and zebra grazing beside the dirt roads. We spent the first evening on a drive with a wonderful young and very knowledgeable guide named Riley who sat with us for an hour watching a bull elephant alone in the setting sun and very close to our truck. Needless to say we have some great photos. We have been using the computers in the lodges to keep our messages going out and the photos are downloaded onto the ipad. Next time we will bring a cell phone and learn how to use it to tether – right, Kirk.
I am continuously blown away by the complex adaptive systems that we are learning about every day here – complexity being a subject I am very interested in!
We leave here tomorrow after breakfast and drive 3 hours to the Durban airport to return our rental car and catch a flight to Port Elizabeth. From there we pick up another car and drive to Cape Town along the famous Garden Route.

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Amazing Sights at Makakatana Bay Lodge

February 1, 2012 by  

We’re at Makakatana Bay Lodge in the northern part of Kwa Zulu Natal on the banks of Lake St Lucia not far from Swaziland. Having some wonderful viewings of giraffe, water buffalo, zebra, rhino, warthog families and many kinds of antelope with a fantastic guide named Riley who is both very knowledgeable and excited about his work. He’s also a great bartender and cook. We’ve had evening drinks with him on the savannah as well as a fantastic outdoor breakfast at the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park north of the Lodge in Zululand and surrounded by lovely hillside residences and small villages. We left the lodge about 5 this morning to travel to this famous park where there is lots to see.

On the day we arrived at the lodge we took a wrong turn and before we knew it we had glimpses of giraffe, zebra, warthogs and tons of colourful birds. It was very exciting to see these animals in the wild and protected. We spent one evening with this large lone bull elephant just watching him as the sun set and he wandered the plains. At a couple of points you’d swear he knew he was giving us a thrill – he was only 20 feet from our truck – and he seemed to pose for us. Riley was full of interesting information and knew just how close to get so as not to scare or disturb him but to give us a good sighting.

One of the pictures below is of Dung Beetles which live in elephant dung. Thanks to Louwrena, Riley’s colleague who taught us about these interesting creatures and actually had us hold them and their dung balls. The elephants wander the roads at night near the lodge – they come to eat from the trees and one night devoured the year’s crop of mangoes! By morning their dung is full of beetles which will live and reproduce in the dung – as well as recycle the dung into useful products for the ecosystem…a form of symbiosis. They are extremely efficient. Researchers found that a 1.5 km of dung attracted 16 thousand beetles who disposed of it in under 2 hours.

Having a wonderful trip and meeting many interesting people with lots of insight in to this wondefully complex country.

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Most Amazing Soweto Tour Today

January 27, 2012 by  

We had a fantastic day today. After a very good sleep and a wonderful breakfast overlooking the city of Johannesburg we headed out on a tour of Soweto, starting with the Apartheid Museum and ending with the Hector Pieterson Museum. In between we visited Mandela’s home, which is now a small museum, and we had a local lunch with our guide. There is so much to tell that we will do it in stages today and tomorrow so please check back on this post as we put it together. It’s almost dinner time so we will publish it as we add information.

We left the hotel with Ben, our excellent tour guide at 1030am and returned at 5pm. We were concerned that much of what we would see would be very hard to take in. Ben started the tour by saying “I am going to show you the good, the not-so-good and the ugly.” And he did – all while answering our many questions with honesty, humour, grace and pride. He has many good reasons to be proud, he has lived in Soweto all his life – he tells us he is 40 and the youngest child of 4. His mother is 75; his father left when he was 6. Their household also consists of his two nephews, 21 and 17 (as their uncle he has resposibilities to see they are raised well) and his own 2 children on weekends. He is a very conscientious and kind man. We know this by the respectful and kind way he treats the many people – both old and young – that we come in contact with over the course of the day. He tells us he has just finished paying the bride price (dowry) for his second wife. He is proud to tell us she is a teacher. We are sorry to learn that his mother has just been diagnosed with TB. Happily she is being well cared for in a local hospital. He tells us that healthcare Is provided for all South African citizens. We later learn that TB is often used in Africa as a euphemism for AIDS, which has a significant stigma attached to it. We also learn from reading the newspapers that although health care is provided for all, the quality is not at all what it needs to be. We hear – although we don’t see it – that thousands of people wait in the fields surrounding hospitals, hoping to be cared for at some point. This is a third world country for many of its citizens and a wealthy first world country for others – not unlike Canada with its challenges in First Nations communities. The significant difference here is that the African majority of many millions of people is by far the poorest and the least educated.

A little about Soweto: It stands for SOuth WEst TOwnship and is about 30 minutes from our hotel. The population is estimated to be about 3.5 million but no one really knows how many people actually live there. Apparently the government conducted a census last year, the results have not been released yet. Both Archbishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela lived there for many years. In fact Bishop Desmond Tutu still has a house which his son keeps for him and he stays there when he is in Johannesburg. The restaurant where we were invited to have an excellent local buffet lunch was beside his house.

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Leading in Complex Systems

November 10, 2009 by  

Health care leaders have begun to adapt to the complexities, ambiguities and paradoxes that are now the norm in healthcare.

It is more and more apparent that the emerging field of complexity science offers important strategies for leading in chaotic, complex healthcare environments. A 2001 survey by Burns found that healthcare leaders intuitively support principles of complexity science and understand the value of complex adaptive systems as a model for leading and managing in healthcare environments.

Leadership that uses complexity principles offers opportunities to focus less on prediction and control and more on fostering relationships and creating conditions in which complex adaptive systems can evolve and produce creative outcomes.
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