Category Archives: Healthcare

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.

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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.

Small World, Small Minds

Note: I started my volunteer gig on Monday.  My very first day, I sort of got in trouble for reporting a problem that the “powers that be” subsequently told me wasn’t a problem.  

So, I am going to avoid situations where the “not-a-problem” comes up, in order to stay clean if the shit hits the fan.  Because I take these kinds of “not-a-problem” things really seriously and will not risk my reputation – such as it is – for social reasons and to “get along”.  

Yesterday I atoned for it by repackaging 160 bags of candy for resale.  And was chatty and pretended to like being bossed around by 80 year old women who get sarcastic and mean if things are not done “just so”.

I marveled at the fact that they were able to sit and stand for much longer periods of time than I was. Physically, these first days were hard on me.  The walk to the bus stop to go home is uphill and difficult.  I fell asleep both days during the hour-long trip on the bus going home.

Thankfully, I have today off.

Today’s blog post is about something that happened last week on the van…

I recently wrote a blog post called “Free Garbage is Still…Garbage”, in which I mentioned that many people do not understand how poor folk live in America.  I was writing mainly about people who have never “been there”, people who never think about unpleasant things like hunger and poverty, or people who basically think that being poor is self-inflicted.

Well, I ran into another representative of a group of people who like to complain about people who live on disability – that small but vocal percentage of people who are on disability themselves, but who deserve it!  Because they’re really sick!  They really can’t work!

But those “other” lazy bums, they can!  It’s not right!

I was riding the senior van to a facility, going to my volunteer gig orientation.  A very obese man sat in a wheelchair behind me and started the conversation with, “I used to be in a workfare program, and they were supposed to hire me at the job I worked after 2 years, but after 4 years I hadn’t been hired so I demanded that they hire me!”

“Uh oh,” thought I, “a real charmer.”

“Of course,” he continued, “they said why should they hire me when they can get welfare to pay me?”

By now I am rolling my eyes.  Because you just know that no one said any such thing.

Aside #1: It may have actually been true, but I don’t think they would have told him that to his face – that kind of stuff results in lawsuits.

So he was embellishing somewhat, ok.  We all do it sometimes.

“But then I got arthritis,” he said, “and I couldn’t work.”

He paused, then angrily stated, “It doesn’t matter anyway, because you have to know someone or be related to someone in order to get a job here.  I even went to go see the guy I used to caddy for, and told him I needed a job, but he wouldn’t hire me!  I told him he could either hire me, or pay my way through his social security payments!”

Yeah, because that will surely convince someone to give you a job.

Aside #2: Again, there is some truth to the idea that, in provincial Altoona and in the even more provincial surrounding small towns, you have to know someone/be related to someone to get a job. Mostly because everyone around here is related to someone, or knows someone who is connected to them in some way, who is in a position to hire them/give them a reference (or talk unkindly about them being a troublemaker, in my case).

He was on a roll now. “But you know what makes me so mad?  All these bums on social security who say they can’t work because they have drug and alcohol problems.  They just have to set their minds to not using or drinking, and go back to work!  They’re just lazy!”

Ding ding ding – hot button pushed, right there.

“Now wait a minute,” I objected, “people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol do have a hard time holding a job.  They have a problem that needs to be addressed.”

“Yeah, but it’s all in their heads!  They could work if they wanted to!” he argued.

I sighed.  “You would agree that these substances affect your brain, right?”

“Yeah,” he replied.

“And you would agree that your brain is the thing you think with?  So these substances cause an impairment in the way people think,” I tried to explain.

“Exactly!” he beamed.  “That’s why they can just set their minds to not doing it anymore, and go to work!”

I gave up.  He clearly wasn’t going to get it.  I tried another tactic.

“Welfare and social security fraud is only at about 2%, that’s less than just about at any other government program.  So it’s not that many people,” I stated.

“I know TONS of guys who just sit around all day.  Why, just look at THEM!”  He pointed to 3 guys crossing the street.  They were all about 30, I guess, and were not white.

“Do you know them?” I asked.

“Well, no, but they should be at work!” he exclaimed.

Ok, this guy was just not going to get it.  He has decided that any minority person who is ambulatory and “doesn’t look sick” is just scamming the system.  People like him never seem to change.

So I dropped the subject and stared out the window at the scenery, annoyed.

With all the problems this guy has – health being the major one – he is worried about people he thinks might be taking advantage of the opulent living we on social security disability have?

But he himself is on social security disability.  Surely he knows this ain’t no “high-on-the-hog” living.

Free Garbage is Still…Garbage.

I remember talking to someone a few years back, about the local food pantry here in our little town (which is also the county seat, so it’s not exactly unsophisticated).   I had good and bad comments about the food pantry, but the whole experience left me wondering about how that and the healthcare system are somewhat intertwined.

First, the positive – the food pantry here delivers.  That’s really awesome and helpful, especially since the pantry is on the outskirts of town, where buses don’t go.  So, for those of us without a car, that’s a really nice thing for them to do.

The people who deliver the food are very nice, and when you try to thank them they say, “Don’t thank me, thank God,” which I take as the modest statement it is.  They are using their own cars to bring food to my apartment, and I think it’s really nice of them to do that.

Aside #1: Contrary to some misconceptions, I do not argue with every Christian who expresses thoughts about Jesus or saints or whatever deity they choose.  I fully support their right to believe as they wish.  My complaints only come into play when they try to force others to believe as they do, or force others to participate in their worship, or make judgments about neo-Pagans/non-believers being evil and so on.

The bad part about the food pantry here?  It’s nothing but unhealthy food.

Day-old baked goods like cake and cookies (which are, of course, yummy), white bread, canned vegetables with high salt content and lined with BPA, juice “drinks” (basically the ones with juice flavoring and sugar), hot dogs, beans (in cans, not dried beans), and tomato soup (very high in sodium).  And usually ramen – lots and lots of ramen.

Aside #2: Beans are the only things that are remotely healthy on this list, but they always seem to come in extremely large cans, are processed, and in general are not all that good for you. I don’t know why they don’t give out dried beans, as these are much cheaper, keep longer, and are easy to make – and better for you.

I received this a couple of times when my son was living here with me, as we had a very hard time making ends meet on just my food stamps.  Thankfully, he got some assistance and we didn’t have to call these folks again.

Thankfully, too, he got a job down south years ago and never has to live like this again.

I mentioned the unhealthiness of this stuff to someone, who then turned to me and said, “At least it’s free.”

Garbage out of dumpsters is free, too, but it’s still garbage.

Since the person I was talking to was somewhat conservative, I asked him what he thought the extra cost to the healthcare system is, due to people eating unhealthy food for prolonged periods of time.

Aside #3: Heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and other diseases can sometimes be prevented, or often can be ameliorated, by eating decent food.  That means little or no sugar, fresh vegetables (or at least frozen ones), fruit, fiber (like beans), and grains.

He thought for a minute and said, “I think we should pass laws so people can only buy certain things with food stamps.   That way, they would have to eat healthy food.”

Sigh.  I should have known – conservatives are not known for their generosity.  Or for their understanding of how po’ folk live.  Or for supporting other peoples’ self-determination.

Should we also pass laws telling private charities what they can and cannot give out at the food pantry, too?

Of course not.  The answer lies in education.  Education for everyone.

The people running the food pantries need to be educated so they can in turn educate their donors on what to give.  I think most people would love to know that what they give could make a huge difference in someone’s health.  And I think if they knew what to buy, and were shown how cheaply they can buy it, it would be a win/win kind of thing.

The people receiving food from the pantry could use some education, too (no, not all of them, and it’s not just the poor – most Americans don’t eat healthily).  I don’t mean about the food groups and so on, I mean education regarding how to prepare meals from scratch.

Many people do not know how to cook from scratch, poor or not.  But it’s not hard.  Cooking rice and beans from scratch takes time, mostly, not brains.  You can cook a whole bunch on the weekend and freeze it all, if need be.

Some poor people do actually work (for Walmart, too, but that’s another blog post).  They have families.  They might not have the energy or time to cook from scratch, unless they are given the tools by which to do so.

By “tools”, I mean…cookbooks.  Heck, you can have volunteers cut recipes from magazines, punch holes in them, and put them in binders for very little effort or money.  Or you could get people to donate cookbooks (though that’s probably a bit harder – most people’s cookbooks are not basic like Adele Davis’ “Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit”).

Aside #4: I always thought Adele Davis wrote “Recipes for a Small Planet”, but that was Frances Moore Lappe.   Adele Davis, by the way, was the person who coined the phrase “You are what you eat.”

You could even – gasp – ask businesses to donate crockpots.  They are not very expensive, and you can dump all the ingredients into one, set it, go to work, and have dinner by the time you get home.

You could get people to donate freezer-ware, and include instructions.  You can get containers to freeze things in at Dollar Tree – and all their stuff is BPA-free, I asked.  $1 for a set of 3 or more – cheaper if you buy by the case.

All of these things still add up to a lot less than hospitalizing someone who’s had a heart attack or other possibly preventable illness.  Which would keep healthcare costs down – that wouldn’t satisfy Libertarians or right-wingers, who both want to see po’ folk not get any healthcare at all – but for most normal people, this would be a good thing.

And why should we think about how we can help the poor eat more healthy food, and save on Medicare/Medicaid costs?  Because it’s the decent thing to do, and because it saves money in the long run (i.e., your tax dollars – and theirs, too, by the way, since many of them work).

But…what about people who work and don’t qualify for food stamps or government health insurance?

To them I say, “Be quiet, and be grateful that your life isn’t so horrible that you have to sit in someone’s office for an hour and explain to them why you don’t have enough food to eat each month.”

Aside #5: The intake process at most food pantries is pretty hard on one’s pride.  They ask you how you got to where you are, and that’s a fairly painful question to answer.  Not even welfare workers ask such nosy questions, or look at you like you’re trying to put one over on them.

To them I also say, “You own a car and a house, have a retirement plan, savings account, and other things that poor people will probably never have.  We would all trade our food stamps and Medicare/Medicaid to have the income you have to afford all those things.”

We’d trade it all just to be able to work at a decent job.  To just have a shot at a life out of poverty.  Most of us aren’t lazy – if people who thought that had to live for a month as we do, where everything takes twice as long to do, or in some cases isn’t even doable, I think they would understand the amount of effort it takes just to survive.