Category Archives: Health Updates

Updates on the mystery illness and other family medical things

Poverty and the Search for a Diagnosis – Hidden Costs of Healthcare. Plus RWNJ News.

Sorry, had to update after initially publishing because a certain cat was trying to eat my laptop cord and I accidentally hit “publish” too soon.

Very brief lesson in parathyroid glands, calcium, Vitamin D, and doctors who don’t give a crap.

Health update:  Latest test results revealed a parathyroid hormone level (PTH) of 233 pg/ml, which is way over the upper limit of the range (13.2-98.4 pg/ml, which is somehow different at UPMC Altoona labs than the oft-cited 10-65 pg/ml that everyone else has).

My calcium was 9.2 (normal).

My Vitamin D levels were an extremely low 8.7 (normal range is 20-50 ng/ml).

In January, my calcium was 10.4 (too high for someone my age).  My PTH was 60.3.

The problem with that was, as your calcium levels rise, your production of PTH is supposed to shut off – so in this case, it wasn’t “suppressed” and it should have been somewhere around 20 pg/ml or lower.

When I asked Dr. Asshat about this, in January, he just shrugged and said my calcium “isn’t high”.  I tried asking him – 3 times – why the PTH was so high (60.3) when the calcium was high (10.4), and he just kept changing the subject, or said, “I don’t see anything abnormal, your symptoms don’t fit.”

When I asked him this past Monday why the current PTH level was so high (233), he responded as I guessed he would: “Your Vitamin D is too low.”  Yes, Vitamin D deficiency can cause high PTH levels, but then I asked ok why did I have the high calcium and normal-high PTH levels last time?  Those aren’t indications of a Vitamin D deficiency.

He just kind of looked at me.  Now you know why I refer to him as “Dr. Asshat”.

I knew he was going to mention Vitamin D, because it’s the easiest explanation if you disregard the January test results.  He reiterated, as he decided to order 2 more tests, that he doesn’t see an endocrine basis for my symptoms.  Here, then, are some of the symptoms of hyperparathyroidism that I have:

Loss of energy

Sleep problems

GERD (gastric acid reflux)

Kidney stones

Labile hard to control blood pressure

Nausea and vomiting

Heart palpitations

Headaches

Facial flushing (hyperparathyroid crisis)

Diarrhea

(“Symptoms of Hyperparathyroidism”, www.parathyroid.com, and “Hyperparathyroidism Symptoms”, www.uptodate.com)

When pressed, he asked me, “Are you on Metformin?” which is a diabetes drug.  I do not have, nor have I ever had, diabetes.  When I answered with a fairly stunned “no”, he then asked me if I “had anxiety”.

This guy, sitting at his laptop, doesn’t even know what’s going on with the patient sitting in front of him.  He can’t remember and I guess he doesn’t take good notes because he still asks stupid questions with the medical record open right in front of him.

I told him, “No, no anxiety”.  He replied, “Oh yeah, your metanephrines are low so, no, no anxiety.”

I then asked, “Yeah, about that…the last 3 tests indicate my epinephrine (adrenaline) is too low to measure – is that abnormal and why is that?”

He told me “they should bottle your blood, you’re so mellow”.   He wasn’t kidding.  He then regaled me with a story about highly anxious patients who “sit there and tell me they aren’t anxious when their adrenaline is off the charts”.

Then he told me to go get a test for diabetes, and one for vipoma (cancer test for digestive issues).  And to take 50,000 IU of Vitamin D once a week.  I followed him out…

“But wait!  What if my calcium spikes too high after taking the Vitamin D??”

His response?  “Oh, someone’s been reading! Ok, if it makes you feel better, I will test your calcium in 8 weeks.”

Dirty look from me.

“Ok, 4 weeks then!” he said, somewhat testily.

High calcium levels can cause strokes.  Giving someone Vitamin D whose PTH levels are high due to screwed up parathyroid glands can result in dangerously high calcium levels.

Got my diabetes test back last night – normal.  Vipoma is not back yet but I bet it was normal, too.

I see a doctor in my PCP’s practice next Friday (Dr. Wonderful is, as usual, all booked up for September).  Since I know this man will sit with me until every.single.question I have is answered, I am looking forward to it.

And I will ask him for a referral to another endocrinologist.  I really hope there is another one in Altoona who takes Medicare, because if there isn’t…well, I don’t know what I am going to do.

Can’t travel – no car, and no way to pay expenses of train, etc.

Advertisements

Blood Pressure’s Insane, Out With Whole Grain, and the Presidential Campaign

It’s been about 3 months since I last wrote in my blog.  I’ve been ill.

My blood pressure doesn’t want to come down, and the doctors will keep switching my meds until they get it under control.  And, YES, I’ve already tried meditation and all the other “natural” remedies…there seems to be some problem in my body that’s causing this and the other symptom of flushing.

The stomach problems I have been having are finally being properly addressed – I have a hiatal hernia, an inflamed esophagus, and something called gastroparesis.

Aside #1: Gastroparesis means that my digestive system is really super slow.  As in, it takes about 16-18 hours to digest a meal.  The symptoms are: feeling full after only a few bites, reflux, nausea, and sometimes vomiting.

Sometimes it is due to diabetes, but not in my case.  Mine is “idiopathic”, which means they don’t know why this is happening.

The solution to this gastroparesis is to change what and how I eat.  I am to eat 4-6 small meals a day (so far, not been able to eat that much), and I have to ditch my entire way of eating, grrrr.

My “normal” diet has included raw fruits and vegetables and food high in fiber.  Those foods aggravate my condition so…

Out with brown rice, in with white rice.  Out with whole wheat bread, in with white bread.  Out with raw fruits and vegetables, in with cooked-to-death products like applesauce and canned pears.

Basically, I have had to scuttle everything I know about a “healthy diet” and replace it with low fiber food so my stomach can get better.  That also means a lot of vegetable broth, Jello, yogurt, and other easily digested food.  Ugh!

The other symptoms I am having – high blood pressure and flushing – are still unsolved and now I have to go see an endocrinologist.  Might be a tumor somewhere, or some adrenal issue. So, the search continues.

Since July, I have been in the hospital about every 2 weeks, mostly due to the stomach issues but being kept in hospital because my blood pressure would not go down.

If the systolic number (the top number) is 180 or over, and/or the diastolic number (the bottom number) is 110 or higher, then I have to go to the hospital.  I’ve been out of the hospital a week now and so far my blood pressure hasn’t consistently gotten that high, so maybe I can finally keep out of the hospital for longer than 2 weeks.  It approaches that, and so far has been “very high”, but not a hypertensive crisis.

Aside #2: I really want to get back to my volunteer work, but have to give things time so I can make sure I can actually meet my volunteer commitment before I go back.  I need the stipend, I will admit. 

Meanwhile, as I have had a LOT of down-time, I have been watching a great deal of news, and also of course I have watched both presidential debates.

Wild, isn’t it?  I can’t recall a time when we’ve had such a dumbass like Trump running for president, and I certainly can’t recall a time when the sexism flew so freely – oh, except for the time when Hillary Clinton was first lady and had the nerve to propose a healthcare plan (that’s sarcasm).

I am convinced that much of the opposition to Hillary is due to the sexist idea that women can’t be presidents.   The reaction to her is too vitriolic and hateful to be anything else.

And, as usual, when you empower the far right to speak their minds, what you get is ugly rhetoric and hatred of anything that is, say, modern or post-1950.

Ah, the 1950s – when people “kept in their place”.  White men had the final say in everything, and everyone else was told to shut up.

To those people I say, “Shut up and crawl back under your rocks.  You can’t stop progress and, like it or not, one of the absolute best things about our country is its diversity.”

The thing that gets to me is how smug the right is.  They have those smirks on their faces as they talk about their “moral superiority”, even as their candidate confesses to sexually assaulting women because “when you’re a star, they let you do what you want” (“Trump Recorded Having Extremely Lewd Conversation About Women in 2005”, David A. Farenthold, Washington Post online, 10/8/16).

They spread lies about Hillary Clinton that are based solely on the trash that comes out of their candidate’s mouth.  If they would bother to fact-check, they would see that the liar is their candidate, not Hillary.  But…fact-checking is harder than just repeating outrageous gossip on Facebook, and apparently not as fun, either.

My sisters!!  What is wrong with you?  Did your parents not teach you critical thinking skills?

I often wonder which generation raised these idiots.  I guess maybe the one that came before mine, the ones who preferred to defend the Vietnam War and who spread fear about African-American citizens having the same rights and opportunities as white people enjoy.

That would kind of square with the “elderly vote” – Trump’s base of 70-90 year olds.  You know, my generation has been referred to as “the me generation”, but our attitudes pale next to the entitled, selfish, hateful ones of the people who came before us.

As for those who came after us, I have no idea why they are so reactionary and frightened.  I’m sure, though, dear readers, that you will be happy to comment about that on this blog.

Again, I feel it all comes down to the inability or unwillingness to take in multiple forms of information (not Breitbart or Fox News), evaluate, and form an educated opinion.  After all, it’s so much easier to react emotionally and commiserate with others of like minds than to form an independent opinion based on facts.

A cursory look at the most popular blogs and Facebook pages bear this out.

“Let’s all get hysterical!  Let’s spread fear!  We can get thousands of “likes” if we do!”

A Caution to Women Over 50: Our Symptoms are Different

I know there is a lot going on in the world right now, but today’s post will be somewhat brief because I just got out of the hospital last week.  What follows is a health update, but it is also advice for all women over 50, just to keep in the back of your minds.

Tuesday, June 29, I went for a doctor’s appointment so he could schedule an operation to remove my gallbladder.  He looked at the ultrasound and told me he would take it out next week.  Hooray!!

When I got home, I began to feel worse than usual.  I felt as if I had swallowed a bunch of acid of some kind.  Antacids didn’t help, as I couldn’t keep them down.  I couldn’t keep water or anything else down – and those of you with acid indigestion know how awful that feels when your stomach is intent on expelling copious amounts of bile.

And so it went on this way all day and all night on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday at about 11 AM I decided maybe I should call the doctor.  I was sweating and could not stop vomiting (I know, it’s gross, but I promise you I have a good reason to be specific about the symptoms).  I didn’t have any pain, but I did have a slight fever.  I figured it was just a gallbladder attack from hell.

I called my primary care physician – Dr. Wonderful.  I spoke with his nurse (that was disappointing) and she told me to call the gallbladder surgeon to ask what I should do.

So I called Dr. Kaneshiki, the excellent surgeon (I am providing his name as he is highly thought of, and if you ever need a surgeon in Pennsylvania…), and his nurse told me to go to the ER.

I texted Nancy Downstairs and woke her up, and told her I was calling an ambulance.  She said she’d drive me so 10 minutes later we were on our way to the ER at UPMC Altoona.

Thankfully, there were no other patients and they took me back and hooked me up to an EKG, took temp, bp, etc.

Tech: Um, do you normally have a fast heart rate?

I told him I didn’t and they then whisked me off to some room where a nurse was again attaching a heart monitor to me and yelling (yes she was, I am not exaggerating) “Quit moving, you’re messing up the machine”.

I wasn’t squirming or anything but it’s hard to be still when you’re sick to your stomach like that.

I said, “Maybe the lines are all over the place because it’s a heart problem?”

The nurse glared at me.  Touchy!

The ER doctor came in, barking orders at Mean Nurse for meds and such, and he put some pasty stuff on my chest.  He kept asking if I was in pain (I wasn’t).

Doctor:  Really? No pain anywhere?

Me: No.  What’s all this fuss about for a gallbladder?

Doctor: Gallbladder?  You’ve had a minor heart attack.  That’s why we drew all that blood, to look for the enzymes that indicate that.

Me: That’s going to screw up my surgery next week, I bet!

I was quite surprised.

Aside #1: Like most people, I had read things about how women’s symptoms for heart attack are different but I really didn’t internalize that information, I guess, because when I think of “heart attack”, I think of someone turning red in the face, gasping for air, and clutching his chest while stating that his arm and/or neck hurts.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I recall reading that women’s symptoms were different, but I guess maybe I didn’t pay attention.

The cardiologist came in and told me he had to do a heart catheterization on me, to see which (if any) of my arteries were blocked.  Coincidentally, he is also Nancy Downstairs’ cardiologist, so she came down to the waiting room for the cath lab to find out what was going on.

Aside #2: It really helps to have someone do that, as often they will recall things the doctor said that the patient, in her distress, won’t remember.  Our hospitals need patient advocates so that every patient can have someone in that position to assist them.  The only place I know of that has patient advocates is Minneapolis.

I was awake for the heart catheterization, which really hurts a lot.  What they do is run a catheter up the artery in your arm (or groin…fortunately he used my arm) all the way up to your heart.  They are looking to see if there are blockages or anything abnormal.

But of course me being a baby about things like that, I am just repeating “OwOwOwOw” sort of like a mantra, while the cardiologist is telling me, “But look!  You have perfectly clear arteries! That’s really good!”

Aside #3: It wasn’t my finest hour, but at least I didn’t cry or yell or get hysterical.  I did sneak a peek at my arteries and I have to admit, they did look pretty cool.  Must be all those years as a vegetarian. And now I can scratch off “wonder about the plaque in my arteries” on my list of “things I wonder about the older I get”.

Then they took me to some MRI machine, injected some dye, and looked at my neck arteries. That wasn’t too bad except in the beginning, when the tech kept getting the placement wrong, and would move me so far into the machine that it went over my head…which I alerted her to in a voice just slightly shy of full panic mode:

“No no no too far in no it’s over my head no no move it back you’re not MRI-ing my brain you know, I am going to get off this table if you don’t move back!”  Or words to that effect.

Aside #4: I was locked in closets as a child as punishment (yes, really), and have been claustrophobic ever since. No dosage of benzodiazepines works for me when I am approaching full panic mode in that situation, nor do the headphones that some places provide in an attempt to drown out the banging the machines do – they never have Tool or Alice in Chains anyway, which actually might help if I could sing along.

Apparently that test had ok results, too, because I never heard about it again.

I spent 2 nights in the hospital, under observation, and was told at discharge on Friday that I was cleared by the cardiologist for gallbladder surgery the following Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the surgery went as planned and I am now minus one gallbladder.  I feel so much better!  Of course, they have me on more meds, which I am not crazy about (1 for blood pressure, 1 for heart, 1 for the cholesterol problem I don’t have but “just in case”), but…well…doctors.

And the cause of the heart attack?  The consensus, for now, is “stress”.  Eating better and exercising will help a lot, but my main stressors are poverty-related, so I will have to do better coping with these conditions.  Transportation (length and type, I don’t mean “assholes on the bus” lol), living far from family, and not having set goals all take their toll.

Aside #5: After giving it some thought, I am going to add “being single” here to the list.  I don’t like admitting it, but I do think that I am one of these people who is happier when I am in a decent relationship.  “Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow”, or so states a Swedish proverb (ThinkExist.com).  Not everyone is like that, and I wasn’t like that for a long time, but after recovering from domestic violence I think I am ready again to share both joys and sorrows.

Anyway, to the women who read this blog, and to the men who have women in their lives…please pay attention to symptoms such as nausea/vomiting that lasts more than a day, with or without sweating.

I had very bad fatigue also, and had to stop after 2 or 3 steps on the stairs to my apartment (which is only 11 stairs up).

What I did not have was shortness of breath or chest pain.  That’s what tripped me up – I thought I had to have those 2 symptoms!  So, if you or someone you love has weird symptoms, even without chest pain or shortness of breath, go to the emergency room.  Far better to be safe than sorry.

And if you are thinking, “I can’t afford to go the the ER!” then ask yourself this: Can your loved ones afford not to have you around?  Hospital bills can be negotiated; your presence on earth cannot be.  My heartbeats were wildly unstable when I arrived at the ER, and I don’t know if I would have survived if I had just “toughed it out”.

Please just remember that when it comes to heart attacks, things are not always as they seem.

I don’t have any weirdness except for a “sort of” recommendation for a movie called “Oz the Great and Powerful”, starring James Franco.  It’s sappy, it’s happily-ever-after, it’s a morality tale, but I really liked it.  Suitable for kids over, say, 8 or so, and not nearly as scary as “The Wizard of Oz”.   I am a James Franco fan so I enjoyed seeing him in this part.

Be good.  Be kind.  Be mindful.

First Sanders, Then Clinton: Why I’m Torn

Medical note: Doctor Wonderful decided that my gallbladder has to come out. Not sure when that will happen but I have an ultrasound on June 2 and an appointment with a surgeon on June 28.  He was kind enough to refer me to his personal surgeon.

After years of voting – always as an independent but always, inevitably, for the Democratic Party candidates – I switched my affiliation to “Democrat” so I could vote in the Pennsylvania primary for Bernie Sanders.

He lost.  Disappointing, but not surprising.  He did actually win the county I live in, by a decent margin.  It made me wonder, where are these progressives in Blair County?  I never seem to see any.  In fact, I was surprised that the Democratic Party didn’t even run any voter registration drives around here, as Democrats always do better in any election where there is a huge voter turnout.

Just more Pennsylvania weirdness, I guess.  An invisible Democratic Party with invisible Bernie Sanders supporters.  In fact, wherever Nancy Downstairs and I go, we are the only people I see wearing Sanders t-shirts.

Anyway, as I do watch most political things on TV – except Fox – I have found myself drifting more towards the Clinton camp these days.

Aside #1:  I never liked Bill Clinton, especially when he signed a bill establishing “workfare” in 1996 (“From Welfare to Workfare”, no authors cited, The Economist website, 7/27/2006).  “Workfare” was designed to “end welfare as we know it” (“How We Ended Welfare, Together”, Bill Clinton, The New York Times website, 8/22/2006), but all it did was make more people homeless and cut off benefits for those who needed them.

But Hillary Clinton is not her husband, thankfully.  While her husband was trying to placate neo-cons with his workfare bill, Hillary was working on a comprehensive healthcare plan.  She was mocked for her efforts, and told she had stepped out of bounds as her role as First Lady.  I remember being really angry about that.

Then, of course, her husband left office in disgrace.  Why she didn’t divorce him has always been puzzling to me, but that’s her personal business and none of mine.  It did, however, slightly tarnish my opinion of her.

Ok so back to the present day.

I have watched, with growing alarm, the Sanders campaign as we head towards the California primary.  I have felt a growing unease with Sanders as I’ve listened to his speeches and observed the rise of the “Bernie or Bust” sector of his supporters.

Aside #2: This unease began after I kept hearing Bernie refer, in his speeches, to himself in the 3rd person.  A minor thing to some, I know, but it set off alarm bells with me because in my opinion it indicates an ego problem.  Who else refers to himself in the 3rd person?  Trump.  But my objection is based on psychological profiles of patients/clients I am familiar with, and not some knee-jerk objection to Trump and his language. And Sanders’ ego worries me.

I have watched, and listened, with even more growing alarm, as Sanders seemed to be on the brink of at least one utterly disastrous decision regarding a debate with Trump.

Let me explain.

Clinton declined to debate Sanders at this point, and in my opinion this was a very smart decision.  We know her positions on issues, and we know his, too.  There is no need for her to focus on anything but her own campaign at this point.

Also, she is aware, I’m sure, that any criticisms Sanders has of her will make their way to Trump’s tiny mind and big mouth.

Considering that Trump parrots things that Sanders says about Clinton (because he can’t come up with any original opinions about anything), I had visions of an aftermath of a Clinton-Sanders debate that consisted mainly of soundbites of Trump repeating and distorting every criticism of Clinton that Sanders had uttered during his debate with her.

Regarding the Trump-Sanders debate, since Trump has opted out of it i think that this is a lucky break for Clinton and, to a certain extent, for Sanders, too.

Folks, we do not live in a “post-sexist” world.  Bernie needs to be aware that a certain portion of his potential supporters would see him pushing for a debate with Trump as a way of marginalizing Clinton.  Just another couple of good ol’ boys keeping the little woman out of a debate.  He can deny it all he wants but there is a certain visceral reaction that feminists have to stunts like this (myself included).

Couple that with the fact that a Trump-Sanders debate would have projected a false sense of what the general election will consist of (because Sanders is probably not going to win the nomination, he hasn’t enough delegates), and it all left a terrible taste in my mouth.

He needs to be more in tune with women over, say 40 years old, who have seen this type of tactic over and over again.  And, just as whites do not have the right to tell minority people what they can and cannot be offended over, nor can they tell them to “get over it”, so it is with men not being in a position to tell us that “Sanders didn’t mean it that way” or that we are being too sensitive.

I am 100% sure Bernie didn’t mean it that way.  But the effect would have still been the same – two men debating over a contest that they are the only participants in.  It still marginalizes women, intent or not.

Also, I know that his criticism of Debbie Wasserman Schultz is supposedly based on what he calls the “rigged system” of the Democratic Party’s selection of the nominee for president, but he is, himself, running within that system and what did he expect?  He knew – or presumably knew – how the delegate selection process works, yet he didn’t start complaining about it until it became clear that he wasn’t going to win enough delegates to get the nomination.

Aside #3: He is so upset with her that he endorsed her opponent in the Florida congressional race she is in.  Who is a white male.  Come on, Bernie, you have to know that this is starting to look like a pattern.  In fact, all his proposed platform committee members are male, except for one.

Wasserman Schultz also dared to tell him to reign in his supporters, after the minor dustup at the Nevada Primary.  The Sanders supporters were upset because many of their delegates were disqualified for not registering on time, by May 1 (Allegations of Fraud and Misconduct at Nevada Democratic Convention Unfounded”, Riley Snyder, Politifact website, 5/18/2016).

This is the fault of the Sanders campaign, no one else’s.

Sanders’ supporters were also upset because they lost a “voice-vote” to adopt a preliminary credentials report – which showed there were more Clinton supporters than Sanders supporters present at the convention – and their response was to boo and yell and generally react badly.  A later, “actual” count showed that Clinton supporters did, indeed, outnumber Sanders supporters.

This, too, is the fault of the Sanders campaign, no one else’s.

You have to do the work in elections.  This means voter registration drives, going door-to-door if necessary, and not just working through social media to get the work done.  Until and unless there is a US-wide system (as in Pennsylvania, shockingly) where people can register online, people are still going to have to do the work of registering people in person and even taking them to the polls and conventions if necessary.

Even if all states had online registration, people would still have to post links everywhere, mass email people, hit all social media sites and so on.  People would still need rides to the conventions and/or the polls.  You know, the disenfranchised that Democrats and others are always claiming they care about.

I haven’t seen any party do any of these things.  Republicans won’t, of course, because low voter turnout helps them, but what is the excuse for the Democratic Party?

Instead of addressing the problems with organizing people (that resulted in a lower turnout of supporters), and telling his supporters to stop behaving childishly, Sanders continued to hammer the leadership of the Democratic Party and their rigged elections.

That is 3rd party rhetoric.  We’ve been hearing that for years.  Most of us in the far left know that it’s exceedingly difficult to get a candidate elected who isn’t in the pocket of, well, of everyone basically who would never support a 3rd party candidate.  And we know that running for office takes money, more money than most of us will ever have.

So, while I was initially delighted that a socialist of any kind was able to make it as far as he did, I am very much over that now.

The thing that tipped me over the edge was the “Bernie or Bust” people.  So sure of their moral high ground, they insist that if Sanders isn’t the nominee then they will just not vote. Because…principles.

Well, I would just like to thank those morally superior voters who will stay home and risk a Trump presidency win so that they can feel better about themselves.

I guess they aren’t poor.  I guess they aren’t marginalized.  I guess that, to them, it makes no difference in their daily lives who wins the presidency because they are not on welfare, social security, or medicare/medicaid.

No matter who wins, they will be ok.  Annoyed, maybe, but essentially ok.

Meanwhile, a Trump win will mean that benefits of social programs get cut (he claims he won’t but these programs are seen by his supporters as helping the poor, so you bet he will try to cut them), especially if he has the support of a majority of Congress – and if progressives don’t vote, he will have that support because Republicans will retain their seats.

A Trump win will mean that all that ugly rhetoric about minorities, women, the poor, and the disabled will morph into actions that hurt those people.  Have people not been listening?  This man – and I use that term loosely – thinks protesters should be jailed and/or beaten, and encourages his supporters to do that.

A Trump win will not only mean a reversal of reproductive rights, but maybe jail time for women to “punish” them.  Certainly we will see laws that jail doctors for this.

But that’s ok, I guess, because Sanders supporters can just smugly say “I told you so” as they rant and rave on social media, completely oblivious to the fact that this does not do a damn thing to change anything.

We had a saying, those of us in the old, far left – you know someone by their practice, not by their words.  This is so pertinent to what’s going on today.

I don’t really have a problem with Sanders sticking things out until the end.  What I do have a problem with is his practice, his tendency to ignore everyone but young, white people.  That, to me, speaks volumes…and I find it very disappointing that someone who touts himself as a socialist still is not addressing people who suffer the most under capitalism.

Yes, he does mention us marginalized folks in his stump speeches.  But look at where he campaigns, for the most part.  Look at who his supporters are, for the most part.  Oh, there are occasional minority people who pop up at his rallies, but they are often rich and famous minority people, like Spike Lee.

Aside #4: I know, Clinton does this as well.  But a cursory look at their rallies reveals that Sanders supporters are overwhelmingly white and middle class.  Clinton’s rank and file are more representative of “real” people.

Sanders is still almost entirely focused on his own campaign, his own wish to be the nominee. His speeches consist almost entirely of attacking the Wall St rich backers of candidates (which is a valid point but ok already, people get it), explaining what his presidency will do – in the vaguest of terms, and now taunting Trump because Trump refuses to debate him (because Trump has no ideas to debate).

Where are the real-life examples of what Sanders will do to help the most vulnerable of people in America?  He has stated that he doesn’t understand how anyone can live off of “11,324/year” (“Social Security”, Bernie Sanders, Bernie Quotes for a Better World website, no date).

11,324/year???  Wow, everyone I know – and this includes my clients at my volunteer job who consist of elderly, disabled people – would be over the moon with that monthly payment (~$943/month)!  Why? Because, unless someone has retirement benefits or something, people on SSI/SSDI get $750/month at most.  That is what I get, and that’s what everyone I know gets.

I have no idea where he gets that number, but it shows how out of touch he is with the poor.

I think he, for the most part, cares more about his ego, and his nomination, than he does about the people he supposedly is representing.  I think he would take down the entire Democratic Party if he thought it served his interests, and I come to that conclusion reluctantly.

The most important issue right now is to defeat Trump.  I don’t think I need to explain why.  But, even when Sanders states – over and over again – that polls indicate he would beat Trump in a general election, I think that it’s going to be painfully obvious that the old “anti-American, anti-Communist/Socialist” rhetoric is going to be the Republican Party’s most used weapon against Sanders, were he to get the nomination.

The reason is, the Republican Party and Trump feed on fear and ignorance.  They hate women so Clinton is the enemy, and they hate “commies” so Sanders is the enemy.  Is Bernie going to take great pains to explain why socialism isn’t an evil idea that is, to many people, traitorous and totalitarian?

Clinton has a better chance of making her claim that sexism just won’t fly with most women anymore, and point out that the Republican Party and Trump are reactionary, hateful people. With the exception of some loudmouthed idiots, most people will not openly support blatantly sexist rhetoric or ideas.

Um…ever read the comments sections by “Bernie or Bust” people about Clinton?  “Blatantly sexist” doesn’t even begin to describe that.  Or take the interviews of Sanders supporters you see on TV – yes, they mostly mention Clinton taking a lot of money for speeches to corporations. But there is also a disturbing sub-text, an almost pathological hatred of her because she is female.

I can come to no other conclusion.  I have seen some bitter, contentious political fights but I am always aware that the most virulent and hateful rhetoric is reserved for women and minorities. If they are strong women who dare to stand up to a man (unlike Palin and other right-wing women), they are vilified to an extent that I have only seen reserved for our current president (because of his race).

Sanders needs to get his ego in check and talk – really talk – to his supporters.  Otherwise, when the time comes to unite the party against Trump, we are going to lose a lot of voters due to false morality, sexism, or just sour grapes because Sanders lost the nomination.

It’s not about him, it’s about our country and the gains progressives have made over the years. He needs to change his rhetoric – not only to help defeat Trump, but to educate his supporters that “progressive” does not mean “my special interests” regarding student loans and other millennial concerns, that it means addressing the deepest and sickest problems of the entire country under capitalism.

So, now, I am torn.  If Sanders loses the nomination, as he is predicted to, my vote in the presidential election will be for someone who is bought and paid for by the system.  But at least Clinton has the possibility of being pushed farther to the left, once elected – because I happen to think that Clinton really does care about people and their problems.  She realizes how dangerous Trump is and is urging people to focus on defeating him.

Sanders realizes how dangerous Trump is, too, but his main focus is still on his campaign and the electoral system.  If he doesn’t start addressing, in a clear and principled way, the problems this country has specifically, he is going to send “Never Hillary” people scrambling to vote Libertarian, or to not vote at all – both of which hurt the Democratic Party and ultimately help Trump (though he may also lose votes to Libertarians).

Libertarians – who think that poor people ought to just rely on charities or…or I guess just lay down and die.  Libertarians – who think that a “free market” will solve everything and by God if those poor, elderly, and disabled people weren’t so lazy, they would get jobs that would magically appear if capitalism was unfettered by any controls or checks/balances.

Libertarians – who believe that everyone should just have health insurance savings accounts, but who have no answer as to where we are all supposed to get the money to put in a savings account.  Oh yeah, those magical jobs that will appear to hire those of us who, so far, as so marginalized by society that no one will hire us.

Why do I think a portion of “Never Hillary” or “Bernie or Bust” people will vote Libertarian?  It’s because of the last election that Libertarians ran in, with Ron Paul as their nominee.  I talked to a lot of people who considered themselves “progressive”, who were Libertarians, because of some of the policies Libertarians support (marriage equality and reproductive rights, to mention two).

These so-called progressives, though, also railed against welfare and social security.  Their ideas still only revolved around helping the middle class.  I see the same thing with some Bernie supporters.  Not all of them, of course, but a portion of them.

The election is a few months away.  I hope to see things change and evolve so that we can keep Republicans and fascists out of power.  I still wear my Bernie shirt, and if I had it to do over again I still would have voted for him in the primary.

But I am becoming disillusioned with Sanders.   I will be watching and hoping he changes his tone, and perhaps adds more women to his campaign rolls.  I hope he becomes more specific in his speeches on how he is going to change things.   If by some extraordinary circumstance he is the nominee, I will vote for him and maybe even campaign for him (if I am not sick).

I am also watching Hillary Clinton.  As of this blog post, I have to say that she has displayed a high degree of self-control and has not been distracted by the many criticisms thrown at her. As for her emails, I would venture to guess – based on my experience with one of my tech savvy kids who actually sets up servers – that her server at home was much more secure than the one at the State Dept.  Also, many of these so-called rules she broke were not even in effect when she was Secretary of State.

But I have noticed that there seems to be so much hatred towards Hillary Clinton, so much unreasonable dislike of her (unreasonable in that a lot of people can’t even articulate why they hate her), that I wonder how she will turn that around.  She’s not young, she’s not model pretty, she seems to talk fairly straight when asked questions, and she won’t let Trump bully her.

Maybe we just aren’t ready for a woman president.  I would like to think that this isn’t true.  But, as Nancy Downstairs put it the other day, when I expressed sadness at the sexism I see all around, “It’ll always be that way.”  I sincerely hope not.

Weirdness of the day comes from the Reuters website, just because it shows how easy it is to generate a lot of views over the most stupid of things:

“Texas Woman and Her Chewbacca Mask Go Viral”.  Yes, I know – I’m a grump.  I found this woman annoyingly self-involved.  The fact that she then went on several TV shows just boggles my mind.  But, there you go – you might find it funny.

Recommendation for the week?  Sorry, too sick to recommend anything right now.  In fact, it took several days for me to write this, because I feel so awful.

Be good.  Be kind.  Be well.

 

 

 

Transportation and Other Medical Complications

I haven’t been posting lately because my health has taken a turn for the worse.

The mystery illness, which used to manifest every few months and last for a couple of weeks or so, has now decided (I guess) to stick around.  And I am worse.

I have been struggling to go to my volunteer gig (as it pays a stipend of $2.65/hour and, small as that is, I desperately need the money), run basic errands, and then the rest of the time I try to sleep.

I’ve been lucky recently because we have had snow days – which means I stay home but still get paid.  I have called in sick a few times but I can’t do that much because I don’t get sick pay and I am afraid the agency will drop me from the program.

Aside #1: It is a federal program called Senior Companion Program.  Info here.

As you can see if you look at the link, I am supposed to spend time with a senior who needs someone just to hang out with.  However, since I don’t have a car – and many applicants for this program want someone to take them to lunch and so on – I have been assigned to work in 2 hospital gift shops.  Running a cash register and waiting on people.

That is very different from what the program intended, but recently they found me a client to go visit every Friday.  That’s a good thing, and a better use of my time/skills.

But, on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, I work at the gift shops.  Yesterday, I was working at one of them, and after lunch I became ill.

This is where transportation, in my mind, becomes a medical complication.

I had to go home.  So off I went to wait at the bus stop, and took the one hour ride home, trying not to get sick all that time.

Aside #2: That’s very hard to do, by the way.  I emphasized how long it takes because I want you to imagine what that’s like, riding a bus for that length of time when you are feeling really shitty.

When I finally got off the bus, I treated the neighbors to the very unpleasant site of me puking in the street.  Oh well, at least I held off until I was off the bus!  Got some weird stares but who cares?

Up until yesterday, I could usually work my shift (4-6 hours, depending) and not get super-sick until I got back home to my apartment.

I just figured it would pass, like it has for what?  The past 2 years maybe?

Had I had a car, I could have driven to a clinic, or my doctor.  Or I could have even been able to pull off the road and get sick.  But public transportation doesn’t allow for that.

This is another example of the snowball effect of being poor – you can’t just pop out to the local clinic.  You have to spend a lot of time on the bus, if you are even up for that, or if you psychically know in advance that you will need to get medical attention, you can call one day in advance for medical transport (ala Blair Senior Services van).  But only before 2 PM.

If you’re really sick, you can gamble and call an ambulance.  That’s a gamble because if the hospital staff can’t figure out what’s wrong enough to admit you – as they cannot admit without a diagnosis – or if they figure they can just send you home with antibiotics…

…you then have no way to get home.  Unless you are lucky enough to be discharged before 3 PM, when the last bus from the hospital leaves for the transit center where you can catch the last bus to Hollidaysburg.  Gotta make that bus by 3:30, though, or it leaves the transit center without you.

You could take a taxi home.  That’s a minimum $20, before tip.

So, as you can see now, being sick is an enormous hassle if you don’t have a car.

Now add being sick to doing errands without a car (cats gotta eat!), and volunteering without a car, and just getting out of the apartment becomes a huge ordeal that takes a lot of effort.

Another example was today, on my day off…I made arrangements to have medical transport (BSS van) take me to Walgreen’s to pick up my hypertension medication.  I called yesterday, as per their rules.

But I was so ill that when I left the apartment today I forgot my wallet.

I had to call them to bring me home, prescription-less.

Now think about that.  People with cars can just turn around, go home, get their wallets, and go back to Walgreen’s.

But, since I have to rely on the vans, and because I didn’t get to Walgreen’s until after 2 PM…

Tough.  They picked me up but wouldn’t make another appointment for tomorrow because it was after 2 PM.  Now I will have to stop off at Walgreen’s on the way home tomorrow from my client’s apartment, on the bus.  And then wait another hour for another bus to come by.  All while sick, and all while it’s very, very cold here.

I think this transportation issue, with all its “waiting in the wind and cold” and the like, has aggravated my medical condition.  I am pretty sure this is typical stuff for older folk in my economic class.

Want to do a good deed?  Take a car-less neighbor/relative to the store some time.  I guarantee it will be appreciated.

Oh, and here’s the last thing about being on Medicare…

You cannot, at least in Blair County, get an appointment with your doctor unless you call at the end of one month for an appointment in the next month.  So I have to wait until the end of February to get an appointment with Dr. Wonderful for March.

Meanwhile, I am tracking the fevers and have also acquired test strips so I can give him data when I go see him.

Aside #3: Doing surveys for Amazon gift cards is how I was able to buy the test strips (and a toaster oven, as my oven stopped working last week – when it rains, it pours!).   Unnecessarily complicated and time-consuming, but it’s yet another survival strategy.

I used a test strip today.  Found something.  I won’t go into details but at least I have something to tell my doctor.  At minimum, I think part of the issue is in one of my kidneys.   The pain radiating from my flank is a clue.   Could be a stone, an infection, or something else, though usually I don’t have kidney stone attacks for years and years, not like this anyway.

Oddly enough, my doctor never tested my kidneys except for a urinalysis.   I guess I will ask him to refer me to a nephrologist, and cross my fingers that there is a competent one in Altoona that takes Medicare.  Otherwise…Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh, which requires transportation, at least one night in a motel, and copious amounts of money for cab fare.

Because, no matter what the issue is this time, it still leaves the problem of “why is she testing positive for inflammation?”   The doctor can treat a kidney infection or stones, but we still won’t know why I continue to run a fever nightly, or why I have the other symptoms even when there aren’t kidney infections or stones present.

Anyway, that’s what’s going on, and why I have been absent from WordPress, Facebook, and, in general, everywhere on and off the internet.

And none of that has left me energy to blog.  Though I have watched a lot of debates on TV and so on, so I do have a lot of opinions to blog about.   When I can get my fever down long enough to write a proper blog post, I will.

Thanks to everyone who asked me if I was ok.  I appreciate that more than you know.

Be good.  Be kind.  Stay tuned.

“Water, Water Everywhere Nor Not A Drop To Drink…”

Note: I wrote this on January 17.  Since then, I have gotten stranded at the store on the 18th for almost 2 hours in 6 below weather (because the bus driver decided to skip the stop – he has done that numerous times but that’s a post for another day).  

I have also been quite ill but still doing my volunteer stuff because it is through a federal program (the Senior Companion Program) that pays $2.65/hr and I need money to buy a blood pressure monitor at the very least, or at most to pay for a trip to Pittsburgh to find out why I am so ill.

Basically, I have been getting up, taking the bus to my volunteer job, taking the bus home and going to bed.  On days off, if I don’t have problems like lack of water – or catfood – I stay in bed.  No Facebook, no email, no blog, nothing.

Today is a snow day, so I am home.  And feeling a bit better, enough to write, anyway.

Everything is worse, health-wise.  But, due to transportation issues, I am loathe to go to the ER.

Again, it comes down to one thing affecting another.

I can take the bus to the ER, yes.  That, with transfers, will take 1 1/2 hours.  If I am too sick I can call an ambulance.  And hope Medicaid pays for it.

But if, when I get the the hospital, they cannot figure out what’s wrong, and cannot come up with a diagnosis, then they cannot admit me.  Medicare/Medicaid will NOT pay for a hospital admission unless they have a diagnosis.

Most likely I would get discharged with an admonishment to see my pcp Dr. Wonderful.

The same Dr. Wonderful who told me he was stumped and would send me to Pittsburgh if I didn’t get better.  This is why I have doubts about the ER suddenly figuring it out, because Dr. Wonderful is very skilled and I doubt the ER is any smarter than he is.

Discharged probably after the last bus has already left for Hollidaysburg.  So then I will have no way to get home.  

Nothing is simple when you are poor.  Nothing.  Everything is complicated, takes at least twice as long to do, and has ramifications which you may or may not be able to foresee.

Ok…on the the blog post.

The title is a quote from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Coleridge.  But y’all probably knew that.

On January 16, 2016, President Obama declared a state of emergency for Flint, Michigan, due to the contamination of the public water supply.  The water there is so corrosive that it leached lead from pipes, making the lead in the drinking water 900 times the amount recommended as “safe” by the EPA.

How did this happen?  And why are so many citizens – especially children – hurt by this?

Well, in 2014 the city of Flint was not doing well, so to save money they decided to get its water supply from the Flint River, instead of the Detroit Municipal water supply.

The problem was, the water from the Flint River is so high in salt that it corroded pipes – pipes that are made of lead.

Lead.  That stuff you’re not supposed to ingest because it causes all kinds of problems, including brain damage.

Residents noticed the water started smelling like rotten eggs.  Sometimes it was discolored.  But time and time again, they were assured by the city that the water was safe.

Briefly (22 days) in 2014, residents were advised to boil their water, due to bacteria, but then were given the all-clear.

In March of 2015, the government of Flint announced that the water met all state and federal safety standards (“A Timeline of the Water Crisis in Flint Michigan”, Associated Press via the ABC News website, 1/16/16).

But by now, doctors were beginning to notice problems with children – and, despite the mean things written about them, it’s most likely they found this out because their parents brought them in to see those doctors.

Aside #1: “How could those parents let their children drink that? Too busy paying for their drugs and weaves?”  Read that, heard that, yep.  Racism and classism in one ignorant idea.

So the doctors contacted the powers-that-be in Flint and urged them to stop using water from the Flint River.  They were told that the water was safe.

Aside #2:  Let’s not have science get in the way of economic decisions.

It’s not until October of 2015 that Gov. Snyder attempted to do something about this problem, by approving $6 million to switch the water supply back to the Detroit system (Ibid).

A state of emergency was declared this month, but in the meantime, while all this was going on…

There were a few “water filter giveaways” around Flint – if you can get to the locations and can bring a copy of your water bill.  The city leaders are “developing a plan” for those who are homebound (Water Filter Giveaway Branches Out to Four Flint Locations”, Ron Fonger, MLive.com, 10/05/15).

ZeroWater has donated 5,000 tumblers to schools.  The United Way is donating 2,500 dispensers (Ibid).

There have been quite a few giveaways of water in gallon jugs (“Local Organizations Host Bottled Water Giveaways”, Lauren Chapman and James Felton, WNEM website, 9/28/2015).

All this is good.  But it doesn’t address the other issues that complicated this problem.

Do you know that, after all this, and the state switched the Flint water back to the Detroit system, 1,800 people got shut-off notices (“1,800 Shutoff Notices Issued in Flint”, ABC12 News website, 11/5/2015)??

That’s right.  They couldn’t use the poisonous water after the switch to the Flint River was made, but then when the city admitted they made a mistake they then went after the residents for money, after Flint got that $6 million grant to switch the system back.

Here’s the last line of the story I just referenced:

“Many people living in Flint have boycotted paying their water bill after a water emergency was declared, but the city says people have to keep paying their water bills no matter what”(Ibid).

And that’s part of the problem.  A completely callous misunderstanding of how poor people live and pay their bills.

“Well, I pay my bills so why shouldn’t everyone else have to?”  I can hear that from, well, just about everyone who never thinks beyond their front door.

So I am going to tell you why.

Imagine you are already struggling to pay bills.  You live on social security, or you have a minimum wage job, and you live in a neighborhood where the local store is one of those little stores that sells junk food, canned food, and minimal stuff like milk – a “convenience store”.

Sure, they take food stamps, but it will cost you sometimes as much as twice the price than if you went to a regular grocery store.

In other words, you live in a “food desert”:

“Food deserts are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.” – U.S.D.A. website.

“That’s Not Telling It Like It Is. It’s Just Wrong.” – Barack Obama

The President made this remark in his state of the union speech this week.  He was referring to what I think of as “the politics of hate”:

“…that’s why we need to reject any politics — any politics — that targets people because of race or religion. Let me just say this. This is not a matter of political correctness.”  (Transcript of President Obama’s State of the Union Address, White House website, 1/13/16)

He went on to add:

“When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong.” (Ibid)

This really hit home with me, because it addresses one of the most often-used arguments to support bigoted, ignorant politicians – “he’s just telling it like it is.”

The implication is that whatever is said is fact, and that the person who repeats it is being candid.

Well, that’s half right, anyway.

The person who states ideas like this – for example, that all Muslims are violent – is being candid.

But he/she is not stating a fact.  He/she is stating an opinion.

Opinions are not facts.

This would all seem to be obvious, wouldn’t it?  Yet, we see it time and time again, this phrase used to justify some very hateful and false ideas people seem to be spewing all over the place right now.

And it’s not just about Muslims – it’s used to support hatred against the poor, the disabled, minorities, women, neo-Pagans, Catholics…you name it, someone will hate it.

This statement is also often paired with “freedom of speech” arguments, such as “We have freedom of speech in America, so I can say what I want and you have no right to tell me to shut it.”

That’s true, up to a point.

Your hateful speech is protected, as long as it doesn’t incite violence or panic (the classic “shouting FIRE! in a crowded theater” argument), and/or isn’t specifically directed at someone else (“Hey, look, a fag – let’s go get him”, that causes others to chase someone down and beat him/her).

What I don’t get is, why would anyone be proud of speaking hatred against other people?

And, of course, the other side of this is that, yeah, we do have the right to tell you to shut up.

In the past few years, I have watched politeness norms dwindle to virtually nothing, on the internet especially.  Now it seems to be affecting person-to-person discourse, as well.

Famous people like Donald Trump have made it fashionable to say all kinds of untrue and hateful things, under the guise of “telling it like it is.”  And I continue to be deeply disappointed in some people – particularly friends who I never considered thought those kinds of ugly and untrue ideas – who have “come out of the closet” and revealed just how much they hate all kinds of people who are different from them.

I’m glad that the President mentioned something about that.  I’m thrilled to bits anytime anyone in the public eye points out how wrong it is to think/speak this way.

And it wouldn’t be so bad if it were confined to the internet.  Or confined to certain groups of people, or certain places (though I recognize where one lives does make a difference)…

It’s bad because it’s everywhere – on the bus, in the places I volunteer, in grocery stores, and other public places I have to go into.  I can’t escape it unless I don’t leave my apartment.

Some of it is unwanted remarks by strangers who assume I will agree with them (this is usually a white person making a racist statement), some of it is one or more people speaking very loudly on public transportation with the intent that everyone hear them, and some of it is directed at me – usually every time I go grocery shopping, because I use food stamps.

I cannot remember a time in the past year where I went to the grocery store and wasn’t confronted by a shopper behind me who stated:

  1.  They can’t afford the organic food I am buying.
  2.  They think it’s wrong that I buy other kinds of food using “their” tax money (last time it was a small cake for my birthday, just last Monday).

I can turn off my computer or go to other webpages and so on.  I can’t turn off other people.

“You’re being too sensitive,” I can imagine some think this about me.

But think for a second – what if you heard this stuff every time you left your apartment, in several different places, day in and day out, year after year.

Can you imagine what that’s like?

It wears on you.  Like I wrote before, like water on stone, it erodes something inside you.

It skews your opinion about humans in general, because after awhile it seems as if everyone you encounter is a mean-spirited bigot who can’t wait to either commiserate with you, or to put you down.

And if you call them out on it, as I have on occasion, they try to backpedal and say that you “misunderstood” them.

That they didn’t mean you, they meant all the other people on food stamps who buy organic food, or who buy ‘junk food’.

Um no, they most certainly did not mean that, because they addressed their remarks directly to me.  Me, who is standing in line with quinoa and organic vegetables.  Which they apparently cannot afford.

I would wager that they spend much more than the $35/week in food stamps that I spend.  So they’re really not even being truthful.  What they mean is they think organic, healthy stuff is too expensive (no argument from me there), so they choose not to buy it.

They want to spend their money on something else, which is their right.

I don’t.  What happens is I run out of food before the month is out, and then I either do not eat or I eat some “emergency” thing like ramen.

But that, too, is a choice.  A choice they will never have to make, and one they do not understand.

They don’t even think about it, all they see is someone not spending their food stamps in a way that they think is appropriate.   I’m not sure what they think we ought to be buying, actually, but if the food bank is any indication I guess it’s canned vegetables and beans.

Even if I agreed with that, do you have any idea how heavy that is, lugging a month’s worth of canned goods home on public transportation?

See, no one thinks that deeply about anything.  That is one of the reasons for this blog, to let people know what it’s like to live this way.