Category Archives: Healthcare

Strokes and Flu: Who Knew?

Apparently I didn’t, but I found an article that explains the connection.

I am thinking about this because of the recent death of Harry Anderson, star of the TV show “Night Court” and other projects.  He was also an accomplished magician.

Yeah, I was a fan.  Loved “Night Court”, and tried to see the other shows he was in, as well as when he was on the old “Tonight Show” as a guest (here’s a link to one of his appearances).

Harry Anderson, bottom row

Anyway, Harry Anderson passed away on April 16 of this year (“Harry Anderson, 65, ‘Night Court’ Actor Who Bottled Magic Onscreen and Off, Dies”, Maya Salam, New York Times website, 4/16/18).

Cause of death was determined to be a “cardioembolic cerebralvascular accident”.  In layman’s terms, a stroke.  In his case, several strokes.  He passed in his sleep.

He had a bout of the flu months earlier, from which he never completely recovered.

My condolences to his family.

Aside #1: These days, when someone dies at 65, we see this as an early death.  People are expected to live to their 80’s, or thereabouts.  And when that someone who died is near your age, and is someone you admired, you take notice.

I wondered about the strokes.  What connection did the flu have, if any?  I mean, I knew you could get pneumonia as a complication of the flu, but stroke?  I had never heard of that.  So I went a-Googling.

I found lots of articles about stroke as a complication of the flu, but most just mentioned “inflammation” and didn’t go into details on the mechanism that causes the stroke.

Then I found The Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada website:

LDL cholesterol is quickly followed by white blood cells and thus begins the process of plaque formation, consisting mainly of cholesterol, fatty substances and waste products of cells. This leads to inflammation of the walls of the blood vessels resulting in continuous damage and growth of plaques.

This plaque formation starts decades earlier and as they grow in size they start to narrow the artery which then reduces blood flow and oxygen to the heart muscle. This leads to angina or chest pain.

Plaques can be either stable or unstable, with unstable plaques are full of macrophages and foam cells and extracellular matrix separating the lesion from the arterial lumen or fibrous cap which becomes weakened and is prone to rupture.

When this cap becomes weakened and ruptures, this is the process we believe leads to the heart attack. When this layer of cells is damaged the inflamed plaque becomes exposed to the blood stream which leads to an overreaction within the body and a triggering of a blood clot within the artery. This then leads to either a partial or full blockage of blood-flow within the artery to the heart muscle causing heart damage.

The clots can also break off and travel to your brain, causing a stroke.

Inflammation due to the flu can aggravate and trigger that process.

Most people over 55 or so have a least a little bit of plaque in their arteries.  The only way you can really know for sure is to have something called a heart catheterization – which, I can tell you, is painful.

Aside #2: I had mine 2 years ago when I was in the ER for what I thought was “just” intractable vomiting, but it turned out I had what my cardiologist later told me was “a chemical heart attack”.

Heart catheterization shows your arteries clearly.  It’s well worth the discomfort if you want to know what shape your arteries are in.  They run a thin tube up through your artery until it reaches your heart, and they (and you, if you want) can see what your arteries look like.  They ran mine through the artery in my wrist.  Some people get theirs in their thigh.

Anyway, if you have blockage (due to the aforementioned plaque), the heart cath/angiogram (x-ray picture) will show that:

So, if you have plaque – and most people in their 60s do – having the flu can cause it to rupture, form a blood clot that then breaks off and heads for your heart (which will cause a heart attack) or your brain (which will cause a stroke).

Getting a flu shot can reduce your chances of getting the flu, and thus also reduce your chance of a stroke or heart attack as a complication of flu.

Now, I don’t know if Harry Anderson got a flu shot.  It’s possible he did, but contracted a strain of flu that the vaccine didn’t cover.  With over 100 strains of the flu, clearly it’s not possible at this time to make a vaccine to protect against all of them.

The CDC, however, acquires samples of the virus from actual flu patients, and on the basis of that analysis makes recommendations to the FDA for which strains to target.

Aside #3: Another reason we need to oppose any funding cuts for either the CDC or the FDA.

Here is a link that explains the entire process for selecting which viruses to include in the season’s vaccine.

However, I can say that, if someone doesn’t get a flu vaccine, they have a greater chance of contracting the flu than if they hadn’t gotten a flu vaccine.

I understand, not everyone can tolerate vaccines.  But if you can, please get one.  It’s not too late.

Aside #4: I got the first of 2 shingles vaccines last week, and my arm was hot, swollen, and very sore for a week.  I also felt like crap.  So yeah, vaccines can and do have side effects.

In fact, Influenza B is still around, and you can still get a shot to prevent it.  Here is the CDC link that gives you a weekly flu report.  If you can’t do that and are over 60, at least stay away from sick people or wear a mask or something.  Plus you could also bring wipes with you everywhere you go.

Because getting the flu at this age is not only uncomfortable, it can be deadly.

Weird news of the week:  Is there anything weirder right now than the meltdown of our so-called president? Today, he tweeted his intention to obstruct justice:

“A Rigged System – They don’t want to turn over Documents to Congress. What are they afraid of? Why so much redacting? Why such unequal “justice?” At some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the Presidency and get involved!” Twitter, 5/2/18, 10:45 AM

I don’t know what he thinks he can do – fire the entire DOJ?  Stage a military coup?  He could declassify the redacted parts and instruct the DOJ to hand over the documents, but considering that the documents in question are about an ongoing investigation – of him – that would just make the obstruction case stronger.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s reaction to the articles of impeachment against him being drawn up by some Congressional cover-up minions Republicans (Mark Meadows, North Carolina, and Jim Jordan, Ohio) was succinct:

“There have been people who have been making threats privately and publicly against me for quite some time. I think they should understand by now the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted.” – “Trump Just Ominously Threatened the Justice Department, Alex Ward, Vox website, 5/2/18.

Should make for an interesting showdown.

Recommendation of the week: A website called Boing Boing, which is an eclectic site of news, information, opinion, and merchandise.  Worth a look, if only for the cartoon strip by “Tom the Dancing Bug” called “What Trump Supporters See”.

Be good.  Be kind.  Get your flu shot.

 

 

 

 

 

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Guns & Mental Health: Missing the Point Again

As we all know by now, there was a horrific school shooting in Florida on Feb. 14.  17 students and teachers were killed when a former student shot them with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

There have been 34 mass shootings since January 1st of this year…and it’s only February 21 (“Mass Shootings”, Gun Violence Archive website).

Total stats on gun violence (from January to February 2018), including “unintentional” shootings and “defensive use” are as follows:

Total # of incidents: 7,481

# of deaths: 2,072

# of injuries: 3,543

# of children (0-11 years) killed or injured: 79

# of teens (12-17 years) killed or injured: 395

Home invasion: 308

Defensive use: 213

Unintentional shooting: 240

This doesn’t include suicide, police deaths, or death by cop (Ibid.).

Contrast these numbers with the pediatric death rate (so far) during this year’s flu season (December until now in February): 84.

And this is considered an epidemic.  People are being urged to get a flu shot, get their kids flu shots, wash their hands, be wary in public spaces, and so on.  As well they ought to be.

But talk about gun violence?  Sure, as long as no one mentions guns.

I think that’s crazy.  “Deaths due to guns” is the only topic I can think of that doesn’t usually address what is a major reason for all these deaths – guns.

7 of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in the country have involved the AR-15, or similar weapons:

The Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada (Oct. 2017, 59 killed, including the shooter)

The Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida (June 2016, 49 killed) *

Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut (Dec 2012, 27 killed, including the shooter)

First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas (Nov 2017, 27 people killed, including the shooter) *

U of Texas, Austin, Texas (Aug 1966, 19 killed, including the shooter) *

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida (Feb 2018, 17 killed)

Inland Regional Center in San Bernadino, California (Dec 2015, 16 killed, including the shooters)

*Weapon used was similar to the AR-15.

The point is, semi-automatic weapons can kill a lot of people in a very short time.  That is their purpose – to kill people.

They are not used for hunting.  They are military weapons.  There is no need – I don’t care who you are – for a private citizen to own these types of weapons.

If you must buy a gun, buy a handgun.  Buy a shotgun.  Buy a hunting rifle. You can defend yourself with any of these.  Banning assault weapons or military-grade weapons does not violate anyone’s Constitutional right to bear arms (“Supreme Court Justices Allow Ban on High Capacity Guns”, Lyle Denniston, Constitution Daily website, 11/27/2017).

Which brings us to the “mental illness” component.

Many people, including the Idiot-in-Chief, are calling for stricter controls to prevent “mentally ill people” from buying guns.

Aside #1: You ought to be wary of any stand 45 takes, as it inevitably is the wrong one.  This case is no exception.

Let’s look at this logically, ok?  For which mental illnesses are you going to prevent people from owning guns?

Depression?  Ok, that’s 8.2% of the population (19.4 million adults).

Anxiety/panic disorders?  Ok, that’s (in total, all forms of anxiety) 22.3% of the population (49 million adults).

PTSD? Ok, that’s 3.5% of the population (7.7 million adults). (“Facts & Statistics”, Anxiety and Depression Association of America website)

And those are just the people who go for help.  The actual numbers are higher.

“Well, hey now,” you might be thinking, “I mean really crazy people, like psychotics or people with bipolar disorder and the like.”

Ok, here are more facts for you:

Only 3-5% of all violence, including gun violence, can be attributed to people with severe mental illness (“Gun Violence and Mental Illness: Myths and Evidence-Based Facts”, Joel Miller, American Mental Health Counselors Association website, 10/3/2017).

Most gun violence is perpetuated by people who are, well, violent.  As in, people who engage in domestic violence, have severe problems with drugs and/or alcohol, have a history of being violent towards others in general…you know, the kind of people who often get referred to “anger management classes”.

Having conducted those kinds of classes, I can tell you – they don’t work.

They don’t work because people who are violent do not see their anger as unreasonable.  They don’t see it as odd, or a bad alternative to other ways to handle conflict, and sometimes they see it as “self-defense”.

As in, “He called me a (insert insult here) so I hit/shot/threw something at him.”

I cannot even count how many times I heard that.  They really think that retaliating with physical violence against any form of disrespect constitutes “self-defense”, and no amount of reasoning can convince them otherwise.

And that point of view cuts across all race and class lines.  I’ve seen every kind of person express that idea, from the Mississippi Delta to inner city Memphis to Central Pennsylvania, and beyond.

It’s not a big leap to imagine that someone with a grievance against someone – or against people in general – who has that attitude towards anger and revenge is going to go out and buy a weapon that can kill as many people as possible.

Is that “mental illness”?  No, in my opinion, that’s not clinically “mental illness”.

Some could argue that yeah, it is, no doubt due to a personality disorder.  I might agree with that, as there are aspects of that kind of thinking.

But if we made that the criteria, who is going to evaluate folks for that?

Most people with personality disorders do not seek treatment.  They don’t see anything wrong with the way they think.  And, quite honestly, they are notoriously treatment-resistant if they ever do find themselves in counseling (usually forced by family or the law).

We even reward people with personality disorders in our society.  Look at 45.  Look at a lot of famous and wealthy artists/musicians/actors/politicians/CEOs and so on.  Many have personality disorders because the kind of profession they’re in lends itself to a certain ruthlessness involved in rising to the top of it, and attracts people with personality disorders. They can behave very badly and most of the time they get away with it

Aside #2: Let’s face it – a diagnosis of some kind of personality disorder is not going to carry the same kind of stigma that other mental illnesses do.  Some people now even brag about having one, or try to make nonclinical distinctions between “malignant narcissism” and just regular plain old “non-dangerous” narcissism.  Any clinician who has treated folks like that, or any victim of folks like that, knows that this distinction is bullshit.

How about people who have been committed to a psychiatric facility?  Even those who are held for 72 hours against their will for being “a danger to themselves or others”?  Surely they should not be able to own guns?

Besides the problem of the profit hospitals make from involuntary commitments – and they do, I’ve seen this in my workplaces – there are also the facts above that I mentioned about violence.  Most people are committed due to “suicidal ideation”, not usually “homicidal ideation”.

Should someone who is suicidal have access to a gun?  Well, no.  Usually we tell family members to get guns out of the house or lock them up.

But we don’t usually say, “do this forever, he/she is never going to get better.”  Especially in hunting country, that would just be stupid.

Aside #3: I am not a hunter.  I am not a fan of hunting.  I do respect people who hunt for food, as many do in rural places.

And what about involuntary commitment for false reasons?  I’ve seen that, too.  That goes on your permanent health record, you know.  So someone who has no reason to be committed other than due to a dispute over an elderly “patient’s” money, or in other suspicious circumstances is marked for life and cannot get a gun if he/she needs one (like in the case of abuse)?

Or how about medical records of any kind that mention a mental illness?  Are you going to tell me that a woman with PTSD or depression due to domestic abuse hasn’t the right to get a gun to defend herself in case her abuser tracks her down?

See, I am not against gun ownership.  I am against owning firearms that are used to kill a lot of people.  This is not a “ban all guns” vs “gun rights” debate – that’s a false dichotomy the NRA promotes.

This is about innocent people dying.  And the common denominators are semi-automatic rifles.  Rifles that are not necessary to own.

Let’s take those out of the equation.

Weird news of the week: This is why the British are considered so civilized – “Police Officer Accused of Taking the Biscuits”, Sky News website.  The article states that “it has not been clear what kind of biscuits he took” and the representative of the Met Police is quoted as stating that the theft “showed a fundamental lack of integrity”.

(Well, heck, if they were Penguin biscuits, I would definitely agree!)

Recommendation of the week: The Shibutani’s skate to Coldplay and a bronze medal. It’s worth sitting through the Coke commercial, trust me.

https://www.nbcolympics.com/news/maia-alex-shibutani-make-history-their-own-pyeongchang

Be good.  Be kind.  Don’t let anyone scapegoat people with mental illnesses, it could be you or someone you love someday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make No Mistake: This Was Never About Jobs

Brief health update: I am being tested – for the 3rd time – for pheochromocytoma, which is an adrenal gland tumor, and also being tested for carcinoid syndrome, which is a tumor ‘somewhere’. The endocrinologist thinks the tests will be negative, judging from my past test results, but he wants to make sure because my symptoms indicate one of those two diseases. He told me as I left that he might have to send me to Pittsburgh, which is the default answer for doctors here when they don’t know what’s wrong with you.  I can’t go to Pittsburgh, as I have no way to get there nor money for a plane or train (plus taxi, plus motel, etc).

At this point I would just be happy if they found a way to control the symptoms.  This illness has completely derailed my life.

Anyway, on to the subject at hand: the election.

I was dismayed that Trump won, and I was very disappointed that the Democrats didn’t get the turnout they should have.  I should mention, I live smack dab in the middle of “Trump country”, which is Central Pennsylvania.  The polling place I voted at had very long lines, and that should have been the first clue that Clinton wouldn’t win – my polling place never has a line, usually.

I also noticed a lot of apparent first-time voters, judging by how many people needed to have their hands held as they were walked through the process of using a voting machine.  No further comment on that.

So…Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but lost in the electoral college.  This is the 2nd time in 16 years that this has happened to a Democrat running for president.  But since she won the popular vote, this indicates – at least to me – that Trump doesn’t exactly have an overwhelming mandate from the American people.

Now, I have been watching news shows all through this election and beyond, and I have to say I disagree with the general consensus that Trump won because people have “economic anxiety” and that we “have to listen to them”.

No.  And no.

I live amongst the people who voted this guy into office.  I have heard their views – unwillingly, mostly – on the bus, on the senior van, in the hospital, in the shops, and so on.  Not one of them ever mentioned jobs when they went on their “I love Trump” rants.

They mentioned getting back to “the way things were, when no one was politically correct”. The translation?  “When I could be disrespectful and mean to anyone not like me, and no one would challenge me.”

They mentioned “taking our country back.”  Translation?  “I don’t want all these brown and black folks in my neighborhood/town, and I certainly don’t want to have to look at them or interact with them.”  Similar to that is “I don’t want these thugs coming to live here from Philadelphia, selling their drugs.”  Translation?  “African-Americans who live in this area are thugs and drug dealers, and are responsible for the drug epidemic.”

Never mind that the heroin problem here is multi-generational.  I worked as a drug and alcohol counselor and most of the heroin addicts I treated got the habit from parents, grandparents, cousins, etc – in other words, this heroin problem has been around for many, many years.

But it’s just another thing to blame on minorities, another justification for racist thought.  That is never acceptable, no matter what form it takes.

Not one time did anyone mention jobs, except as an afterthought about when this area had a lot of factories.  It was part of the landscape, not the central reason these people are so angry.

The closest I heard to anything like that was at a talk some man gave about his life as a machinist for Slinky.  He mentioned that he had seen machinery jobs leaving this area for many years, but he still told his kids that they should be machinists, too, and not be “lazy, like those kids who do programming.”

As far as I am concerned, if he saw the writing on the wall and still steered his kids towards being machinists instead of learning marketable skills (like a good parent would), then that’s on him.  He has some hang-up about certain skills and certainly about higher education, and his stubbornness hurt his kids.  It’s his fault.

No one in this area thinks Trump – or anyone else – can bring back the factories that dotted the landscape in Central PA.  That ship sailed long ago, in the 1970s.   The owners of the means of production decided they could make more money overseas, it’s as simple as that.  They weren’t and aren’t going to come back just because people want them to.

The people here know that.  A lot of them, too, are retired military people who have never worked a production job in their lives.  And the average Trump supporter pulls down $72,000 per year (“Trump Voters Earn a Lot More Than You Might Think”, Josh Hatner, USA Today online, 5/5/2016).

These are not poor folks.  They own houses, and cars, and bitch about how much they have to pay for Medicare (which is based on their income, so I really don’t feel sorry for them).  They are comfortable in their little world and they resent non-white people moving into the area.

They complain about “having to be politically correct” even as they say hateful things when other white people are around (I hate that, their assumption that because someone is white they will agree with whatever bigoted shit they care to spout – and I make that reaction clear to whomever tries that with me).

They don’t even want to discuss race or gender, because then they would have to examine their own racist and sexist viewpoints…and let’s face it, they don’t want to do that because it makes them feel uncomfortable.

Luckily, they feel, someone came along who would say all the stuff they were thinking, and now he’s president!  Now they have carte blanche to be as ugly and horrible to others as they want to be, and it’s ok because Trump got elected.

In some ways, as much as people get on the news shows and express disgust with Trump’s and his supporters’ racist/sexist/xenophobic/lgbt-hating ideas, backward and wrongheaded ideas have now been normalized.  This is what bugs me about people, liberals all, who keep insisting that Trump supporters are not bigoted, and we need to “understand them.”

Most progressives already do understand these people.  It’s why we won’t stand to let them get away with anything – not their rhetoric, or certainly not their hateful actions.  What liberals like Michael Moore – who, to me, is just a blowhard even if I agree with some things he says – want us to do is pander to bigots and racists.

They want us to “reassure” these hateful people that they are not under attack.  I won’t, and I can’t, do that.

They are under attack for a reason.  Well, for several reasons, actually.  Their viewpoints that they hold represent:

Racism

Sexism

Xenophobia

Anti-Semitism

Anti-LGBT

And on and on.  These ideas, this yearning to return to a time when only straight, white men were listened to, and everyone else was either vilified or ignored, are not compatible with the values our country is supposed to stand for.

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.

Oh, Brothers!

Health update: I called and requested sick leave from my volunteer gig (unpaid, of course) because I am spending most days feeling horrible (imagine motion sickness, 24/7).   I am housebound right now, unless I run out of water or ginger ale (thank goodness for food stamps!), in which case Nancy Downstairs drives me to the store (I have a sick bag in her car, it’s that ridiculous, for a 2 mile car ride!).  I didn’t ask the doctor how big the main gallstone was, he just said it was “enormous” and that I should call the surgeon to get my appointment moved up if possible.  I call every few days, no luck. Life, right now, is miserable.

This puts me in a bad financial situation, as this month I cannot pay all my bills due to the cost of medications (I think I have tried every prescription anti-nausea medication known to humankind – except, of course, for marijuana), and now am short on my bills with no stipend from my volunteer job.  I take ginger caps, which, though not cheap, are still cheaper than prescriptions and they seem to work just as well.

After I wrote my last post, I got some feedback from some fellas I know, so I decided to write this to explain.

The thing that bothered them was my implication that Bernie Sanders is a sexist.

I don’t know him.  I can’t assume that.  I was trying to point out what I see are sexist behaviors, or behaviors that might strike people as such.

It didn’t help that the news reported that Sanders had requested a meeting with President Obama today.  According to the Washington Post, which is apparently based on “sources” in the Sanders campaign, the subject of the meeting will be “how Sanders can assure that his campaign’s agenda has a central place in the Democratic Party’s general-election strategy” (“Bernie Sanders Returns to Vermont Ahead of Meeting with President Obama”, Robert Costa, Washington Post website, 6/8/2016).

On the face of it, and in my opinion, this strikes me as “I’m losing the primary so I am going to meet with the President instead of the DNC chair to talk about the party platform.”  This, despite the Sanders campaign having 5 seats on the platform committee (5 out of 15 seats).

The DNC chair is, of course, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  This is the woman Sanders got upset with because he blames her for bias (see last post or read PolitiFact for the info on this).  He wants to remove her from her position.

Well, why not then go talk to the vice chair of the DNC then?  Because she resigned, stating the she cannot be neutral as she supports Sanders (“Meet the Force Behind the Democratic National Committee Whom You’ve Never Heard Of”, Maxwell Tani, Business Insider website, 3/2/2016).

But why not her replacement, Amy Dacey (Ibid.)?  Certainly, if there are platform issues that need to be discussed, it makes more sense to talk to the DNC National Committee, doesn’t it?

All 3 are women, obviously.  I can see why the second one resigned, but what did the third one do?  She’s been in politics since she was 8, for goodness sake (Ibid.).

Just doesn’t set right with me.  So, while I would not call Sanders a sexist, I do notice signs of some men on the left, from long ago – who did happen to have a blind spot on “the women’s question” – that are similar to Sanders’.

It’s as if Sanders is, again, making this a “boy’s club” decision.  Let’s leave the women out of it. That’s one way of interpreting this.  Unfortunately, it isn’t the first time Sanders has “left women out of it”, as I detailed before.  He may not mean it, but it comes off as exclusionary and sexist.

Of course, I don’t definitively know why Sanders requested a meeting with the President.  But it made me go “hmm”.  Had it been the President who requested a meeting I would have assumed some sort of advice Mr. Obama would have for Mr. Sanders, regarding bowing out.

Here is what I wanted to say regarding the men who contacted me:

None of you, and indeed none of any of my male friends, have ever treated me or any woman I know with anything but respect and on equal footing.   Especially my Falls Church brothers! Known for their sometimes loud singing and boisterous partying – thankfully most of them sang well – they are some of the most fun people I know.  I remember thinking how respectful of me (and my sister Ginny) they were, and, contrasted with the “more leftist” guys I knew back then, there was really no contest.

It’s as if it just never occurred to them to be sexist, which is wonderful when you think about it. Even the one who classified himself as a conservative.  Not. one. peep. of. sexism.

To be able to say that about a good-sized population of men (we did have some extremely large parties of 100 or more sometimes), in the late 60s and early 70s, is just short of astounding.

So, no, my brothers, I don’t default to the “all men are sexist” point of view.  I look at behavior, and words.  And I would never, ever, classify any of you in that way.

Just wanted to make that clear.

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.

“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.