The Sick Days 24 results

Shelley Page chronicles her struggle to rise in the ranks of journalism while hiding a serious autoimmune disorder in The Sick Days, a continuing series in The Ex-Press (Ex-Press.com)

Playing with the boys

The Sick Days: Part 13 How one young reporter ended up shouting at the Queen Mother from the sidelines of a horse race while dodging the pig sty theatrics of One Yonge  By Shelley Page When I joined the Star’s downtown general assignment pool, all the reporters’ desks had been shoved into rows as they renovated the newsroom. It reminded me of a Grade 8 class at an all-boys school. Loud-talking guys in wrinkled dress shirts, loosened ties, sitting jowl-to-cheek, ego-to-ego, as they pounded out their stories on 1970s computers, in late stages of decay. I was seated, temporarily, beside a bulldog of two-way man (meaning he both wrote and took photographs), who immediately showed me the collection of girlie photos he’d amassed on the job. He’d somehow convinced numerous women to pose for photos with their shirts off, and kept a file in his desk, mixed in with pictures of his children (clothed). He showed me this collection, I guess, to see how I’d react. ...

The Sick Days: Part 12

The mantra, the mental spellcheck and a call to the show The suburban beat suddenly gets grisly when a serial rapist starts stalking Scarborough, leaving a young reporter haunted by a narrative loop of horror that demands spiritual healing, while her body slowly tapers off high doses of prednisone By Shelley Page A suburban monster, he overpowered her from behind, dragging her into the backyard of her parents’ Scarborough home. There, he strangled her with an electrical cord, while viciously raping her for almost an hour. He left her tied to a fence with her own belt like a dog. The details in the press release were spare, stark. The victim was 19. I wasn’t much older. I quickly typed up the brief and filed it to the senior cop reporter based at One Yonge, Toronto Star headquarters. Reporters are observers. That is our blessing and our curse. We know we can’t help, but we’re uncertain what or how to feel, as though it were a professional liability. Repo...

The Sick Days: Part 11

It was the Last Drink on the Table The rush of daily journalism faces off against the need for a daily dose of prednisone as a cub reporter tries to make it from the all-male east bureau to the doors of One Yonge By Shelley Page A tip came in that had front-page potential, handled right. I begged the bureau chief—who held a scrap of paper covered in sketchy details as if it was a treasure map—to let me check it out. It was my first week as a full-time reporter at the Toronto Star and I needed something out of the ordinary. As I raced down Brimley Rd. towards the Scarborough Bluffs, the steering wheel of the 1978 blue and white ‘Star car,’ quivered like I was pushing a power mower. I had to keep pulling to the left to keep it heading straight, straight toward the lake. The tipster, Bill Shillabeer, waited at Bluffers Park, a sandy beach beneath the towering bluffs. “Where is it?” I asked, breathlessly. A reporter must strike a balance between ...

The Sick Days: Part 10

A serving of self-loathing, with a dollop of death wish An autoimmune diagnosis suggests something self-inflicted, and the fact that the 80 per cent of the 50 million American sufferers are women fuels the idea that there is a substantial psychological component. Forty-five percent of women suffering autoimmune disease were first labeled hypochondriacs. By Shelley Page Before I knew I was the proud owner of an immune system that couldn’t tell self from invader, doctors pushed sedatives on me. They hypothesized that my buffet of bodily dysfunctions — stabbing pain around my lungs, clawed hands, ruddy and hot joints — were provoked by overwork and exams, stress or anxiety. Something of my doing, or my response to something of my doing. Then I found out I had an autoimmune disease. And if we’re going to get all psychological about it, it’s like having the mutant spawn of Hannibal Lecter, the self-cannibal of all illnesses. We sufferers allegedly have an acute ...

Obscure illness gets star treatment

Thanks to Selena Gomez's recent revelation that she suffers from Lupus, the world knows a lot more about an illness that once stood like a wallflower at the high school dance of diseases By Shelley Page The world’s teenage girls just got a crash course on lupus. Selena Gomez has 34 million Twitter followers, 47 million Instagram followers and 58 million Facebook followers. And she has lupus. Suddenly, the obscure has become front-page tabloid fodder. I feel horrible for her, but oddly happy for those of us who suffer from the fatigue-inducing, organ-destroying autoimmune disease. October is one of those months when there are walks and talks for many major diseases. October is Autism Awareness Month. Ditto for Brain Tumor Awareness, Breast Cancer Awareness, Eye Health, Learning Disabilities, Psoriasis Awareness, SIDS Awareness. And Lupus Awareness Month, at least in Canada. It’s an obscure illness that doesn’t attract big banks as sponsors or celebrities ...

The Sick Days: Part 9

The press was powerful and intoxicating Printing secret crushes fills a last-minute news hole, and opens a young reporter's eyes to the power of shared community a newspaper can cultivate By Shelley Page After the latest issue of Monty’s Mouth was distributed, our junior high school’s collective of burnouts, jocks and nerds would spend five minutes smelling the paper it was printed on, hoping for a high off the pungent smelling mix of isopropanol and methanol — the duplicating fluid used in the ditto machine. This was the era when cooking sprays like Pam were huffed out of plastic bags and kids hung out near the pump while their dad filled the gas tank. Working for Monty’s Mouth was like school-sanctioned substance abuse. But I was drawn to the paper because of the intimacy it created. I liked when kids gathered to read about wrestling wins, near perfect foul shot percentages, out-of-town band trips, and overwrought student poetry that sometimes had to be ...

The Skirt for a win

The Sick Days: Part 8 Life as a young reporter was an environment of extremes, both exhilarating and noxious. There were parties, drinking, intrigue and byline counts. It was fun, but often felt icky. By Shelley Page After jumping out of the Poison Dwarf’s car to escape his lust-dressed-up-as-apology — which I paraphrase here as “I behaved badly, it’s your fault, and I will make you pay” — I realized I better apply for jobs at other newspapers. I sent out applications to a dozen newspapers across the country, including in the North. I’d always imagined I’d have to go somewhere remote for my first full-time job, and I was fine with that. I also kept research and writing stories in my off hours, while evading the gaze and grip of the PD, my mentor, who I never spoke to for the rest of the summer. I contemplated going to his bosses to complain about his behaviour, but who? It was the ’80s and I was supposed to shrug it off. Around me, my real or imagined ...

The Sick Days: Part 7

Dressing like a lady and other lessons for a cub reporter Looking back, an essential lesson for female journalism students should have been how to deal with sexist notions that our almost entirely male professors held, and that existed in the newsrooms we would soon walk into By Shelley Page In journalism school, we learned how to shape a story into an inverted pyramid, ask open-ended questions and be fair-minded. What if we wanted to get a big important man to talk and we were female? Well, I learned that lesson in my fourth-year investigative reporting class after I was told to interview Liberal Senator Colin Kenny for a book being written by one of my instructors, John Sawatsky. I was nervous and Kenny was impatient and gave short, unhelpful answers. Although it was bitterly cold outside, he opened his window and seemed to lean into the howling winter wind. My tape recorder barely picked up his answers. Back on campus, I told Sawatsky and Professor Joe Scanlon, ...

The Sick Days: Part 6

Sweet Young Thing Seeks Star Job Like crows trying to snag the choicest flesh off a dead squirrel, we crowded around the program head hoping to snag the choicest assignments for our first week. By Shelley Page Does it matter more who we were then or what we went on to do? Graduates from my summer reporting program at the Toronto Star became Editor-in-Chief of the Globe and Mail; a best-selling author of crime fiction; a prominent columnist; foreign correspondents; a journalism professor; a rock critic; and a Pulitzer Prize winner. But almost three decades ago, we sized each other up around a long table in the Print Room, the bar on the ground floor of the Toronto Star building at One Yonge Street. There were 18 of us, mostly in our twenties. Four were women. Two others were from Carleton; both were guys, one a very good friend. At 21, I was the youngest, but one of the few who had daily newspaper experience. Amid us mostly scrappy j-school graduates, was a summer ...

The Sick Days Part 5

Prednisone 101: What the doctors didn't tell me 15 prednisone-fuelled moments from journalism school By Shelley Page 1. I’d only been back in Ottawa a few days and my face was like a pregnant woman’s belly. People couldn’t keep their hands away. Walking with a purposeful bounce across the Bank Street bridge, I waved at an approaching  classmate. She looked at me oddly and didn’t wave back. By the time we were face-to-face, she leaned in, squinted, and then gently poked my face with her finger. “Shelley? What’s the matter with your face?” she squealed. “Are you sick? Did you have your wisdom teeth out?” I imagined my neo-cherubic cheeks popping, squirting prednisone juice all over her. Others simply didn’t recognize me. While sitting in a campus pub, I noticed my former roommate Jen waiting tables. I prepared to launch into my brief explanation that I was on a medication called prednisone and it caused Fat Face. But she served me hot chocolate and ...