November 28, 2015

A Walk in the Park

Here we are in the throes of the holidays again and the unbounded craziness that accompanies that. The weather this season is mild so far -- more travelers and more shoppers. Gadgets and toys blend in an ever increasing blur of potential and probable disaster: the hot Black Friday item in big box stores (available for layaway but today only) and on TV shopping channels (in five easy payments) is a drone, extra battery included, with a video camera or a still camera for less than sixty dollars. A memory of an 80s sci-fi movie called Blue Thunder comes to mind -- will a drone rise up from the park and hover outside my window, menacing and invasive? 

I use my bay window as a desk space and look out at the trees, the birds and other sights in the park. I have an elderly neighbor who sometimes walks in the park on pleasant afternoons. He walks with care and deliberation and never hurries. Unlike many older men, he is stylish and somehow I don't think his wife picks his clothes. He has a certain elegance, a confident style all his own. He wears caps and elegant shoes that are "just right." Unlike many elderly people, he never looks at the ground even if the terrain is uneven.  He seems to know where he's going and wants to see all of it. 

Today was a great day to be outside and he went a bit deeper into the park. I first saw him standing against a massive Live Oak with his feet crossed and leaning on his cane like Fred Astaire used to do in the old "big movies." It all seems natural for him. I never notice eccentricities, only distinction. I know only what I see in the park and if he were a character in a story ... he would be a cardiologist or the president of an insurance conglomerate. [Hey, life is copy just like Nora Ephron said.]

I kept writing and lost track of him. Then, there he was across the way by the still-blooming White China rose bushes. We've had frost but these heritage roses are hearty. I was enchanted that he stopped to admire the beauty that remained and my smile was followed by a breath-catching, "Ooh" that we women are so prone to utter. He picked three flower stems to take home to his own hearty beauty. 

Did I catch myself behaving as a "writing drone" without regard to someone's privacy? I think not -- this is the stuff that writers hope to capture. Stuff that is never on special in big box stores or TV shopping channels. Stuff that has stood the test of time. Stuff that is real. 

November 17, 2015

Sunday in the Park

Big weather changes coming: the trees rain leaves in a ritual of the season and they fly and float to landing places far from home. The window outside my desk faces a grove of magnolias, laurel oaks and Japanese maples and, as leaves flutter by, a bigger view opens onto a park, the corner of an historic Civil War Cemetery and other sights appear as more leaves fall. Sunday, I watched young parents plant a seedbed of ritual that will grow with their children. 

The weather was chilly on Sunday and the afternoon stretched out before me like a newspaper from a botched press run: crinkled and blank. Around one o'clock, little blobs of color began to appear in a broken line in the park. Two groups of six- or seven-year-old boys streamed into the open area of the park. One group wore bright yellow shirts and blue pants; the other group wore green jerseys and khaki shorts. They milled around and a few adults with ball caps and whistles showed up in the midst of the kids. Parents straggled in with brightly colored folding camp chairs and small coolers and set up along the sides of the field.  

The little boys clearly had no idea of their "sport." Mothers shooed them back into the field. Fathers imitated famous pacers like Giants' coach Tom Coughlin. The kids forgot the instructions and chased team members in little circles. After several "mis-starts and mis-plays," a coach tied a long plastic band on kids who were receivers. The boys lobbed the football high and short, very short, repeatedly. The parents shooed; the coaches pointed and took the ball back. 

After a few false starts and stops, the whole field of colors surged down the field. I began to giggle at this Lilliputian array of moving colors. Unexpectedly, a new team appeared and seemed to be chasing the whole entourage back the way they came. These were little girls, tinier and slower. And pink, very pink. They wore little pink outfits and dangled and shook pink pom poms that hung from their waist height to the ground. Go team. Now I was laughing out loud. 

Reality is never far away on a Sunday afternoon. As the kids watched, chased and strayed into each other's way, one father in a suede jacket separated from the crowd. He took out his cell phone, began to text, went to the parking lot on the longest curving sidewalk, never looked up or back. Sunday in the park. 

November 2, 2015

Conroy, Noonan and Lunch

Most of us who read, think and admire good writing can't get enough and might imagine listening to favorite writers conversing with each other. We smile at ideas of mythical dinner parties like those of the 1920s with Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Company. Since I no longer have dinner parties -- real or imagined, a fantasy lunch list will have to do. 

Big venues for entertaining big egos abound here near The Mountain, The Big Chicken and The Big Peach so a few good writers would add some class. I can see it all unfolding in this historical setting where the trains run on time through the heart of town and frequently. In my continuing spirit of "go big or go home," I've added Peggy Noonan and Pat Conroy to my short list with Antonio Damasio, Abraham Verghese, Atul Gawande, Margaret Atwood and six friends to be "flies on the wall" with me. Yes, I'm playing with this whole notion, but what's in play here is a "writer's truth." Someplace between the first course and dessert, we would hear their truth, wouldn't we? 

On Sunday's "Face the Nation," WSJ columnist Peggy Noonan talked of her new book, her writing process and that intangible "writer's truth."  Noonan is a craftsman with considerable experience, credibility and exquisite skill. She's a "writer's writer" with something substantive to say -- in my view, the only reason to write. 

Saturday, I happened upon a delayed broadcast of a book festival in Tennessee. Pat Conroy answered questions about his work and commented on "All the Light We Cannot See." You remember that novel? The one that made me seem foolish to write another word out of respect for Anthony Doerr's work? Then, Conroy went on to talk of a writer's relationship with "truth." This segment may appear on YouTube later and it's worth a look for a number of reasons. Conroy is a skilled writer and a complex, complicated man. To me, his best book is The Prince of Tides. It grabbed me so tightly in the late 1980s that I took "a personal day" from work to finish it. That book left an indelible emotional connection. Conroy's book has an "everyman" quality about it and remains on my ten best books list. 

A few years after my encounter with The Prince of Tides, we ran into artist Jackson Causey at Amelia Island's Shrimp Festival. A Beaufort, S.C. bank had commissioned Causey to paint a mural of the shrimp boat, "Tide Runner," from Conroy's novel. Causey had forty artist proofs printed and we were fortunate to get number thirty-nine. He added a detailed sketch on the wide matting to make our copy an original, framed it and shipped it to us. The picture relocates with me as a reminder of better times, of how deeply I felt Conroy's work and when my life seemed to wash out like a neap tide, I found freedom to write my own truth. 

I ventured back to the university for a lifelong learning program and taking a class in Conroy's work was my first experience there. This blog, new friends of so many levels, my own books and the courage to make it all work came from that first step. Reading other writers, thinking about what they say, uncovering their truth are integral parts of discovering one's own truth. 

Babies, let's have a little lunch and see who shows up.

October 6, 2015

Duck and Cover

When school children around the country began to view the early 1950's Duck and Cover film about how to survive an atomic bomb attack, my school had no film projector and we never learned that phrase or saw the film. Ironic, yet somehow appropriate. Perhaps it was different for you. Many in our age group saw it and learned it well. Watching Burt the Turtle on YouTube duck into his shell and cover the opening with his pith helmet now seems a wondrous combination of innocence and fantasy. Even as children, many of us felt war's ripples in our little world. We knew about rationing, about wool and cotton shortages, saw men who weren't whole when they came home, if they came home. We overheard talk of extermination camps and bombs. Kids someplace else might find solace in the Duck and Cover idea but in the river valley where I lived? Not so much. After many years, Duck and Cover was replaced by Shelter in Place but it was all the same. 

On the south bank of the river, life perched on a narrow stretch between mountains and river. Everything stuck on that small strip like a game board: mountain, railroad tracks, a few houses, road, a few more houses or other buildings, river. Cross to the north side of the river, repeat. Industrial facilities hopscotched among the homes, schools, churches, and hospitals on both banks of the river. That arrangement repeated up and down the valley until the river plain widened near the Ohio. The valley where I began school had coal mines, formaldehyde plants, ordinance plants, ammonia production, fertilizer and expanding pesticide production, for starters. 

Our homes were surrounded by volatility in a symbiotic relationship: people needed work and the work needed workers. Now, pulmonologists study that location as a hotspot where a toxic miasma embraced us all. Back then, life moved on. Parents went to work and children went to school. No one talked about Duck and Cover or the yellow snow or plum trees that withered over a summer. 

Back then, school was just one more worrisome thing for most little kids. One inept, insecure teacher could plant divisive discrimination in a classroom and ruin learning. First grade wasn't too soon for the competitiveness to begin: The Bluebird reading group sat near the teacher's desk, got the most attention and basically ignored and scorned those who weren't Bluebirds. I only remember Yellowbirds but maybe there were other groups of birds? We knew that Bluebirds had status and we did not. Our teacher made that crystal clear. Lifelong patterns of cultural sorting had begun: Haves and have nots. Smart and dumb. Chosen and marginalized. 

Our reading book featured Jim and Judy who had two parents, a fluffy dog named Tags who didn't resemble any of the tied-up coonhounds I saw, a house with carpeted stairs and a life of privilege. I didn't relate. Kids like me never had the right "stuff"-- no Cinderella dresses (no, all this princess stuff isn't new), no patent leather shoes with ruffled socks. I was all elbows and legs, a nubby sweater and imagination. The only kid who was more out of place was Joan, a tomboy, who wore blue jeans under her dress everyday and commandeered swings from the older kids. Bluebird status was a mystery outside my realm. 

Then, right around Christmas, reading clicked for me. No one knew about dyslexia then or for a long time but I was free -- it didn't matter that I wasn't a Bluebird. 

By the time Duck and Cover reached my school, I had gone to the "city"which was too cool for that. We suffered outwardly from teen-aged boredom and inwardly from big-idea angst. "The Bomb." "The arms race." "The worry of war." Vietnam wasn't on our radar yet and when it was, that state lost more soldiers than any other. 

The time of Bluebirds, teen angst and the cold war are only faded memories, aren't they, Babies? Well, not so fast. Living in a microcosm of "Duck and Cover" survivors and seeing friends react to threats of many kinds connects the dots of memory. I wonder how many kids integrated Duck and Cover as their go-to emotional response for every concern? For. The. Rest. Of. Their. Lives. 

Did our childhoods with duck and cover mentality beguile us into a fantasy we couldn't leave? Many, too many, Seniors complain that no golden years await us. In our later years, old coping mechanisms like duck and cover don't shield us. Life happens whether we have been protected our whole lives or not. Some people may get all the way through life with no explosive crises coming their way but I haven't met any of them.

For each curious, engaged and optimistic Senior I meet, I run into ten or more who weep on a church step or in an elevator, contaminate everyone around them with caustic criticism, relive the life they used to have, struggle to maintain some kind of daily balance on the edge of despair, grapple with an ill spouse, drive when they are medicated or physically impaired, and, mostly, who hide in denial behind resentment and bitterness with the life they have now. 

One thing I know is true: words can change your life if you let them. Words can express humor, appreciate beauty and foster companionship. Effective words to manage life instead of the old go-to, duck and cover, will be seedlings in the new garden. Let's see what grows. 

September 30, 2015

Revisiting an old flame, Time

While I waited for an appointment, I leafed through a current copy of Time magazine with Pope Francis on the cover. In the past, Time captured snippets of art, politics, medicine, education, business, history, science -- so many thoughts that enriched the seedbed of knowledge. A long time ago, Time published a letter to the editor that I wrote. While my child was at kindergarten, a taxi from a neighboring city delivered a telegram with that news. To my little house. In a tiny Midwestern town. High times indeed. 

Then one day, when my beloved Time arrived on Tuesday in its iconic brown wrapper, it was different. No articles or photographs connected to any reality that I wanted to be part of, at all. Who were these people and what had they done to MY Time? Where was Lance Morrow's essay? Why didn't my magazine seem as weighty, thick with copy and photos that bleed off the page like margins couldn't contain them? Strangers had invaded my Time and re-crafted it to woo another reader. My Time had dumped me. 

It was a harsh lesson to learn: just because Time fed my quest to know more, my delight came with no guarantee that I was indeed "their perfect reader." I felt the editors had sold out and put me curbside too. Where did Time's wondrous "momentary stay against confusion" (Frost) go like a first love? It was a sad day. 

My two boxes of Time that I moved up, down and around America with me (before Internet and "breaking news") no longer held distinctive memories of clean, clear and concise prose. Like pink petals pressed in a yellowed encyclopedia, they merely reminded me that my love affair with Time had gone wrong, horribly wrong. I burned them in the fireplace like mementos of an old romance. Time was passe. 

Oh, I flirted with CNN, Fox News, et al, and Google, but somewhere in my heart, the memory of Time still teased me. Today, the Time that I opened was like a warm memory. The tone was once again objective, the photography engaging, the copy sharp and articulate. 

Amongst all the old-style articles, a gem rewarded my backward look: a thoughtful essay by Kareem Abdul Jabbar on education and the absence of critical thinking skills in many college classrooms. His discerning essay discusses students' fear of new ideas. Jabbar makes a powerful statement about his own college experience and examining life outside of familiar thoughts. 

This topic is a hot button for me, of course. Looking outside the box in college is the whole point. I hoped that my students would look outside the box and never go back! It's like those seeds sowed by my old flame, Time. Babies, a dedicated teacher will motivate students of any age. We inspire you (inspire and fire have similar Latin roots.) and if you're lucky, we set your creative and critical thinking on fire. To prohibit that is beyond sad. 

Unfortunately, I see this same regressive mindset in Seniors (not college age but older people). They resist any different content touching their lives even if little quality substance exists there. They neither listen to nor engage anything that isn't the way it always was and long for earlier times of ostensible innocence. When I was a young woman, I struggled to identify what had value like my delightful Time magazine and radical, inferior content disappointed me. I had little patience and lots of motivation. Sadly, too many Seniors have no patience, no motivation and no fire. And, what do their seedbeds grow in the absence of curiosity and creative thinking? The result is the same in young and old: a big fat crop of paralyzing fear and bewildering ignorance. 

Jabbar's excellent article and the reclaimed Time quality were refreshing and seemed in harmony with a different path that I'm taking -- not to the past but to a future with different adventures. Stick around, Babies. We have a whole new garden to plant. 

September 20, 2015

Cows in the Creek

An intense, young female minister, successfully climbing a "church-career ladder," gave a sermon on "Sleep Loose" instead of the traditional "Sleep Tight" wish we tell our children. Swaddling babies for night sleep is fashionable again and that's all wrapped up in this notion of how we should sleep: protected against drafts and intruders, two-legged or otherwise. The young woman's message shared the idea of letting our children sleep freely without worry. The dictionary has at least 12 categories of meanings for 'tight' and they all mean 'restricted' in different ways.  'Loose' on the other hand, has only a few meanings and those mostly identify some negative form of 'free.' I could list them and rattle on about positive and negative angles. Let's not.  

A picturesque little creek meanders through this part of the county and flows under many of the streets. A few days ago, right in the heart of this little city where I live now, I saw an unusual sight: three healthy, plump, clean Guernsey cows stood knee high in the creek and made a little wedge. Two were large and side by side, but a calf stood behind them. These cows weren't lost, but loose. Cars whizzed by on two sides of the creek but the cows swished their tails and looked at each other. How far had they traveled in the creek? Perhaps a gate wasn't secured tightly and the cows got loose? Perhaps these cows had done this before? Perhaps this wasn't being loose but being free? Soon they would be at an impasse where the creek flowed under this main street. The traffic moved on and I couldn't know how their freedom would play out. I could only hope they turned around and went back home after a day of being loose, being free. Somehow, I think these cows knew how to go back to their own pasture, back to where they belong, back home because they knew how to be loose. I passed that way again a few days later and saw the creek more clearly: a chain link fence kept the cows in a protected zone while the creek flowed on. Their owner knew how to hold on to them -- loosely. 

Do we humans hold on to life and to each other without understanding the positives and benefits of holding on 'loosely?' Probably. That word had negative connotations when our generation grew up and those old tapes are hard to ignore or to erase. I met a woman whose mother language is not English. Connotations, idioms and subtleties are difficult for ESL speakers to conquer. When she repeatedly told me that she's "easy," I had to be extra mindful not to snicker. Meanings. 

A friend of mine has a unique attitude about situations and relationships: he holds on 'loosely.' For him, it's a matter of balance, control and freedom. He holds on just enough to remain attached but not so tightly that he isn't free. Isn't that like sleeping loose? Like the cows getting loose? We let life, our commitments, our stuff, our families, other people and our responsibilities bind us tightly and we hold on in equal measure. Does holding tightly keep our world and dear ones safe and with us? We can get tangled up in intentions and hold on so tightly that we actually lose the person or thing or situation that is so dear to us because we strangle their freedom.

The next time you fiercely grasp a person to keep them with you, think about a more balanced way to stay connected. 'Tightly' also means bound, restricted and even constrained. Just like cows, people need room to wade into the creek of life now and then. If you hold on loosely, your cows will find their way home. Be patient. 

August 26, 2015

Hummingbird Respite

Wedgwood blue skies, a leaf-shaking breeze and low humidity announce late August to The Big City. Tropical depressions, storms and hurricanes take charge in Florida now but the Southeast has different weather. While Erika and friends frolic in the Atlantic and Pacific, a tiny nip of fall blew into The Big City today. 

Finally, I am back to scheming the plot line of the novel in progress. Funny, how that all looks different in this new location. I can feel the persona of a muse (don't laugh, Babies) tugging at me, pulling me into that place of fiery thinking and feeling that somehow translates into words on the page. Can muses be male? The Urban Dictionary calls them "Agents of Fortune." Mine originated those Wyatt-blue eyes that defined the last novel -- where did that come from? Is my muse a part of my imagination that finally wakes up? That imagines blue eyes and people who never existed but have life? Did I encounter an Agent of Fortune who was my Muse? Hmm. The cooler weather tempts me back to other late Augusts and brings a wistfulness, a bittersweet lure. And I return there again and again like a hummingbird returns to an empty feeder. And I write. 

Moving again has unsettled me; it's been difficult, strange, demanding and of course, the damn trains run through all that on the quarter hour. So often I tell others to go outside; I did that myself this evening. I went to that private, secluded courtyard with a fountain in the middle and sat on a hard bench. I listened to the water dripping over the edges of the bowls and thought that might refresh my own flow. Four large Crepe Myrtle trees with their pink blooms straggling here and there form a little wind break. Someone had placed a wind chime and a hummingbird feeder on an adjacent porch. I didn't hear one train whistle. 

Suddenly, a flicker of something heading into the myrtles caught my eye but I couldn't find it again. An elegant bird flew out of the tree and to the empty feeder. I knew how that beautiful bird felt and I watched, silently. The hummingbird was a male with a beautiful rusty chest. Soon an even tinier female, delicate compared to his elegance, arrived. They flitted from tree to tree. One always stayed behind. Finally, I saw their purpose: it wasn't the empty feeder. Their mission was their babies -- two who needed courage to fly on to the next tree, on to their nest. Then, dusk was settling and I couldn't see them anymore. 

Back inside I encountered a brand new resident who had used the wrong address and mail hadn't followed her from there to here. We talked of ways to reroute the postal system in her favor. I thought of the long trail that brought me here and of all the detours of my own mail, of my "stuff," of my spirit and of unceasing train whistles. Isn't that the whole point? To show someone whose journey isn't sure how to move from one metaphorical tree to another? The fountain, the hummingbirds did inspire me to have courage for one more little flight, for ignoring the empty feeder and for listening to that voice in my imagination that speaks louder than the trains. Can an Agent of Fortune be winged?  

August 12, 2015

Eau de Clorox and the ER

Do you remember a wintry day when you were too sick to go to school and a grown up checked on you around twelve-thirty, asked if you were hungry and you said yes? You snuggled deeper under the covers and the smell of chicken noodle soup or bacon for a BLT floated through the house. On some level right then, you knew you would recover and life would be good again. Probably for many of us, that food became our "go to" comfort food as adults when life zaps us.  

Once (thank goodness, only once) in grade school, I had an ear infection with a fever and no grown up could miss work. A neighbor took me in. Incense, tobacco, and wet German shepherd dog odors filled her house. I was instructed to lie on the couch with squeaky plastic covers on it and to cover myself with my coat. Around ten, Mrs. Paula, who drank coffee, smoked and had television, said that I simply had to eat something and she would fix me up. She made milk toast: dry toast chunks in a bowl of milk that I was supposed to eat with a big spoon. Not. I never forgot the smell of that house, the smell of that mushy bowl and never had any problem understanding the notion of a "milquetoast" and why people like that make me queasy.

We seldom think of smells and the varied, deep memories they can create until we smell "something" unexpected and we're rubber-banded back in time. 

No one expects the unexpected on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon. The maintenance man hung pictures in my new apartment. A friend called and we chatted for a bit; I put the cordless phone on the coffee table and stood up. In an uncontrollable, unstoppable nanosecond I felt myself fall, my head hit a bookcase, and my whole left side hit the floor, face first. I was on the flipping floor.

Babies, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” came to mind. Simultaneous head swelling, bones throbbing, muscles stinging and a very unladylike, “Oh, hell!” registered. What to do first: rub my head, try to get up, let the stupidity of the situation rule? The phone was reachable and soon staff arrived with their keys; two paramedics who, in spite of their politeness, took complete charge, resisted my negotiations to move myself, plunked me on a gurney and waited for a police officer who wanted to know, “Were you abused?”

My BP remained astronomical for the next few hours; no, I didn’t see stars but dizziness, headache and nausea had settled in for the long haul. My cane and my purse (without my house key inside!) joined me on the gurney and off we all went, in the Metro Ambulance, not running X, but maneuvering around rush hour traffic and of course, the ever-punctual five-thirty train.

I could hear the 911 operator over the Squad’s radio assign a call of “Woman in distress who took Percocet and Xanax.” I looked at the paramedic and said, “That was smart” and he replied, “We don’t transport bright people most of the time.” Big city life on a Wednesday.

At the ER…

The train passes and we get to the ER which is the busiest one in this state (Must be a new designation because two nurses made a point of saying that). The paramedic named Tom tells an ER nurse my "tale" and I'm in a room, STAT. My little room has two wall mounted dispensers of green, accordion-style "don't be sick" bags and they gave me one of my very own to clutch. The room also has the usual hospital room items and a flatscreen TV on the wall but the multi-functional control doesn't work.

The first of many vitals checks and pain classifications begin. BP stays in the red zone but the pain level stops going up. Of course, the admissions clerk and her rolling computer appear immediately to update my info. My male nurse, RN and MSN, looks like a young Pierce Brosnan but with brown eyes, taller and better hair. Nothing more to add there. He covers me with two heated-blankets and kindness. 

An ER doctor comes in, asks more questions and pushes, probes, pulls and prods me. Test orders go into the computer. Nurse "PB-look-alike" returns and takes a "cup"of blood from my thumb. It's evening and I've had little water since early afternoon, ergo, flat veins make drawing blood difficult. 

Soon I am off to get x rays of both hips, many of that knee, spine, chest, shoulder and pelvis wearing one of those fabulous hospital gowns and clutching my two blankets and green bag. I think I'm radioactive by now and headache and nausea compete for my attention. Two excellent but not so young x ray techs assist me on and off the x ray table at my own pace and particular pain limits. They take a number of views with me on the gurney. Tests move along quickly and I see few other patients on the way back to the ER department. But, I can hear those unseen patients. Crying, yelling, and gurney wheel noises move past my room with the door shut tightly. Among all the motorcycle accidents, falls, car accidents and cardiac and cerebral accidents, a shooting victim arrives. The news later reports her death. 

A young man in light blue scrubs appears and whisks me off to the CT Scan Department. Gurneys fill up three curtained slots, one man in a wheel chair and six more patients line the walls to the CT imaging rooms. Broken arm, broken leg, car accident contusions, and other unseen injuries like mine flow into the rooms. One man in an arm sling and leg boot seems unconscious. As quickly as one patient leaves the waiting area, another arrives. 

Soon, I'm in a room on the CT table with my head in a cradle. The table slides in and out and the drum whirs around to scan my head, face and neck. As the table moves, the strong, yet somehow comforting, whiff of bleach floats about my head. The volume of sick and injured moving through that place never slows but unseen "someones" keep the laundry moving at the same pace. For just a second, I was reminded of the smell of the bacon or soup so long ago. Test results remained uncertain and that night would be long, but somewhere, someone was working to make things "okay" for the rest of us. No, the smell of bleach isn't like chicken noodle soup or bacon but smells can be symbolic as well as sensory. Somehow, I felt I would recover and my world would once again be right. 

Back in the ER, a new nurse comes on duty and, besides her regular duties, re-boots the TV control. As I wait for test results, I watch "Shark Tank."

Bruises and "big crown knots" will heal. Headaches will go away. I will see other doctors, have more tests and discover that my knee, that knee, has messed up. Rinse and repeat. Again, I will have to trust it's functionality but not until I heal. 

As for the larger world and all being right with it? Today, that busy hospital is on security lockdown after a"called-in threat." How do we trust our larger world when individuals or groups decide to interfere with our most basic and vulnerable need to be "okay?" 

Police cars, TV reporters and cameramen blocked off the street outside the main entrance. The hospital was locked down but not evacuated. No one in or out. I'm sure that the CT, x ray, and all the critical departments in the hospital with the busiest ER in the state went right on changing the sheets and being ready for whatever might come their way. 


August 3, 2015

The Emperor's New Lab Coat

As long as I can remember, lawyers, CEOs, clergymen, professors, committee chairmen, presidents of organizations and boards, teachers, ladies who sneer, mean girls, doctors, politicians, men who jog and supervisors, et al, with delusions of invisible new clothes and the privileges contained therein are a "hot button" for me. These people are bullies and whenever I run into (and immediately afoul) of any emperor in invisible clothes, I disengage and disappear. Whenever I run into a quasi emperor who parades in "new clothes" to a cheering crowd? Confronting that circumstance is the foundation of this blog.

Too often lately, "the emperor" in question is a member of the medical profession. That comforting white coat with the intricate frog-closures seems to have morphed into a raiment with built-in divinity and privilege. Those "new clothes" invite pontificating from atop "Mount Medicine" and banish compassion, empathy and diagnostic acumen. When emperors take themselves too seriously, everyone loses. A Medicare Questionnaire on an upgraded Tablet now comprises the annual physical. Touch the patient? Well, which question requires that? Just short answers -- the clock is ticking away in strict fifteen minute increments.   

Now that I have morphed into an older (okay, old), Rubenesque woman with a dab of remaining confidence and a working brain (at least today), I combat health issues that swirl around a circle of past mistakes and new complications with enough blame to spin up a tornado. As my vision continues to lessen and the adventure of that certain knee replacement at the UMC continues to degrade my mobility, I ventured into the medical world again in an effort to save my vision and to keep some mobility. I just want to know what is wrong; no miracles - just information. In all fairness, my group of excellent physicians has grown in my new location, but often, I've found disrespect, harassment, insults and, frequently an attitude of "the emperor doesn't answer questions." 

Oh, sure, I know that any semblance of the old family doctor is gone. The nearest thing is the rise of the concierge doctor who is way above most seniors' pay grade. Many quality doctors who specialize in geriatrics strictly limit the number of Medicare patients. So what can we do? When we were younger and mistreated, our only recourse was to risk bringing it out into the open. Keep telling until someone listened. Well, that's our only solution now too. 

We seniors face many loses: our mobility, our beloved family and friends, our homes, our resources, our status in the community, our health and even, our identity. When we need treatment in older years, must we sacrifice even our dignity to get medical care? Doesn't the Hippocratic Oath mean anything anymore? What happened to the concept of "do no harm?" When a professional doesn't care or feels patients and their current issues aren't worth the "emperor's time," he needs to retire and wear his new clothes in private life. I never believed the emperor had any new clothes and I still don't. How about you, Babies?

July 29, 2015

Dr. Welby Doesn't Work Here Anymore

Years ago, people who lived in rural areas had a family doctor who made house calls. When old-fashioned poultices, castor oil, a big bite of Vicks (really) or potent gargles/throat washes failed to cure the croup, high fever, pneumonia, pleurisy, or injury that felled the family member, Dr. Saure came in his trusty black Buick at night from a neighboring town. This event was always deadly serious and we kids had to remain quiet. If things were bad enough, the doctor would send an adult to summon an ambulance from the city via a neighborhood phone. The mysterious process usually ended when Dr. Saure's diagnosis brought forth a long glass needle and a tiny paper envelope from his black bag. Then, he folded his stethoscope back into the bag, folded himself back into his coat and my grandma folded the quilts back over the patient. Doctors made house calls when needed, brought life-saving treatment and we got better. Magical.   

When television arrived, Marcus Welby, Dr. Kildaire and the surly Ben Casey continued the mysterious and wonderful national image of our doctors. They were courageous, life-sustaining, respected and admired. Everyone had a story about "their" doctor who earned a special place in their family memories. Outside of Walter Cronkite, doctors were deservedly the most admired professionals in the country. Well, Babies, those salad days are over and now that we're older, where are the real life Dr. Kildaires and Marcus Welbys we trusted with our lives? A few still exist with skills, empathy and dedication patients admire, respect and honor. The rest? Retired to that mini-farm with a lake or a condo by the sea or perhaps opted out of the medical world entirely to run a free range poultry farm in Vermont. 

Today's medical community has more available technology than we could ever imagine so long ago, more intense pressure to cut costs from the mega insurance companies (buy-ups are hot news this week), more government restrictions and less time or patience. I get that and I'm sympathetic. 

However... I still want that beloved doctor of old and not The Emperor in his new clothes.... but there's more to this tale.