Archive for June, 2012

Good Medicine, Bad Medicine

Like many people, I owe my life to skilled medical practitioners.  Back before there was a quick-fix for the Rh factor issue, I was born fighting for survival as antigens forming within me battled to reject my own blood supply.  Even after a total transfusion, I required an emergency response team at least once before my parents could take me home from the newborn ward.

My husband Jack is similarly indebted to the researchers who discovered insulin as a treatment for Type I diabetes.   We are both extremely grateful for the reprieves we’ve been granted. 

But medicine is like any other field:  It produces competent, caring professionals as well as some less admirable types.  And because of its unparalleled potential to affect our quality of life, society holds the health care industry to the highest standards.  (A miscalculation in surgery certainly trumps a slip-up in toilet installation.)  

Some failures to meet these standards are dismissible as human error, of course.  The ones that cause fear and trembling are rooted in greed, insensitivity, ineptness, or narrow-mindedness – traits one would hope might be sifted out through the arduous process of education and training.  So, while most health care providers serve us well, some others, perhaps, could do better.  I am sure you have stories of your own.  Here are a few of ours. 

We had the same family doctor for our first ten years of marriage.  Dr. Good.  Really.  And was he ever.   He treated my stepchildren with respect; he listened, and applied common sense; he took a conservative approach to minor problems and acted quickly on the major ones.  He was a doctor, not a clinic – as his business card read.  When you called his office, a human being actually answered the telephone. 

By the time Dr. Good was approaching retirement age, he was forced to take on shifts at the emergency room in order to stay afloat.  The giant machine of government programs and mega-clinics and mammoth insurance conglomerates nudged him right out of practice, no doubt earlier than he, or we, would have liked.  Since then its been a kaleidoscope of changing clinics and M.D.s for us. 

There was the megalomaniacal endocrinologist who wanted to micro-manage my husband’s life with no regard for how sending him to the local E.R. for weekly blood checks would disrupt his work schedule and his insulin routine.  There he would sit for an hour or longer, waiting for the staff to get to him as a non-emergency, until his blood sugar had dropped to an comfortable low, throwing his readings off for days.   And this doc insisted on monthly office visits, versus the twice-a year check-ups most of his colleagues recommended. 

When the patient decided he could no longer comply with this overzealous tyrant, the doctor sought revenge on him by giving a bad report to the State License Bureau.  Jack had to renew his driver’s license every six months for many years as a result.  Perhaps Dr. X. could have done better. 

Several years later, at my desperation-inspired insistence, we starting tooling 20 miles across town at least twice a month to an institute that advertised itself as solely committed to diabetes care.  They were right there on the cutting edge; this was all they did and they did it well.  They said so themselves.  A few non-informative meetings with an overweight dietician who couldn’t tell me how many grams of carbohydrates there are in a potato should have been a warning bell.  Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come. 

Visit number one to a staff a specialist yielded a prescription for a new type of insulin.  For decades, my husband had taken the same two insulins, one dose of long-lasting morning and evening, for continuous “background” blood sugar control, and a dose of fast-acting before each meal.  Before breakfast, he would combine both insulins in the same syringe.  This was recommended  procedure; it was safe, effective, saved syringes, and meant only one injection instead of two.  Sweet and neat.  

Shortly after he started seeing the experts at the internationally acclaimed diabetes center, he was driving to an appointment with his eye specialist and I was along for the ride.  Half-way there, he started acting strangely.  I had seen this only once, a few weeks earlier at Taco Bell, when he had a blood sugar dip so radical and so sudden that he couldn’t speak, couldn’t even navigate out of his chair.  It had never happened before.  I thought it was a one-time fluke.  

Yet this day, here we are, barreling 65 miles an hour down the freeway, when my husband begins to act as if he doesn’t know where he is, (more…)

June 29, 2012 at 11:27 pm 1 comment

Sweet Promises and Sauerkraut

I’m working on a major writing project about caring for elderly parents, so I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs lately.  It’s been a depressing experience. 

It’s not that these accounts don’t hold touching examples of tender human exchanges; of forgiveness and grace; of healing and renewed relationships.  Where aging is their focus, well-chosen anecdotes often reveal the unpredictable, tragi-comic nature of physical and mental decline. And some of the authors’ insightful verbal snapshots are sheer rhetorical genius. 

What troubles this former apostate is the prevailing agnostic viewpoint that seeps into the texts, extinguishing any flicker of hopeful expectation that eternity offers a glorious, new future to step into as earthly life subsides.  It’s a faith-void that ultimately sucks all the meaning out of human existence.  

“What could I say?” writes Meg Federico in Welcome to the Departure Lounge, wondering how one is supposed to live when an end is in sight.  “Nobody tells you this stuff,” she laments.  “But shouldn’t a lifetime of church on Sunday offer some comfort, especially now?”  Indeed it should.  But I guess it depends on which pew you’ve been warming and your reasons for plopping into it once a week.  Somebody sure told me “this stuff,” once I was willing to sit still and listen. 

“What about God?” the author asks her troubled mother.  “God isn’t working anymore,” comes the addled response. 

God isn’t working anymore.  I had a magic talisman that was wonderfully reassuring to tote around with me when I was fit and able, eager to dress in my finest and meet with friends for coffee after the 10:00 o’clock service.  It was all glittery and shiny, just like youth, but no matter how hard I shake the darned thing, it has quit working now that life’s cherry bowl has gone sour on me. 

“Mom wouldn’t buy dumb platitudes,” daughter Meg concludes, drawing a moral equivalence between Holy Scripture and Kahlil Gibran.  Nobody with a true need ever does buy dumb platitudes.  That’s why there is a True God with a True Message who offers True Comfort when we most desperately need it.  Of course, we have to meet Him half-way.  He can’t guide us through the rough patches if we’re walking away from Him. 

It’s been claimed that every foxhole is populated with instant converts.  Not so every nursing home sick bed, it seems.  Depressing.  And inexpressibly sad. 

Because they are research, I read these books through to the end, but I do feel a need to push the “refresh” button on my mental computer screen when I’ve finished.  I might revisit an uplifting email from a fellow writer, compose a note to a granddaughter who is facing unusually tough challenges, or whip up a batch of Caramel Crispy Chex Mix for my in-residence mother-in-law. 

Then it’s out the door to steep in the scent and color of resplendent apple blossoms, wonders of Creation waiting just around the bend in the path to the park; to meditate my way through a power-walk and reconnect with the Source of my own hope and assurance.  Even as the child of God in me prays for those who face illness and recovery, and especially for those who walk in darkness, the perpetual foodie in me drifts to thoughts of a knee-slapping menu:  a comfort food meal to beat all, on a coolish day in June.  

That’s what works for me.  Stretching to the heights and then grounding my thoughts in the practical.  A crock pot of Pork Ribs Braised in Beer with Sauerkraut and Cabbage; some simple, light and fluffy Mashed Swidaho Potato Pancakes; and a batch of Brown-Bread Muffins takes me back to childhood, and turns out to be one of the most succulent meals I’ve offered at the family dinner table in months.  Truly comforting, it fortified this diner enough to go back and take up another volume in her current research assignment.  For basic directions, see below.  And I’ve thrown in my Customized Chex Mix recipe for good measure – and guilty pleasure.  A mixed fruit compote would work for the highly conscientious.  (more…)

June 18, 2012 at 4:23 pm Leave a comment

An Ode to J.R.

Rest assured; this is not a declaration of diehard devotion to a certain Texas-based, primetime soap opera, although my J.R. did spend a decade in the Dallas area and all three of my stepchildren still call that region home. 

No, the focus of my devotion is the husband with whom I recently celebrated a 25th wedding anniversary – an occasion that inspires poeticizing like none other.  (Also a stark reminder of how quickly time scoots by, and how precious is each month, week, day, and hour, to be wrung limp with an appreciative squeeze.) 

As for the object of my reflections:  I am an impatient sort.  Because of my personal history, I have expectations that aren’t always realistic or fair.  And I often project my own urgency onto those around me – whether they be ditzy drivers or my own dear, less manic spouse.  My 25th smacked me right in the kisser with a minute-by-minute awareness of just how much I have to stop and give thanks for, and to cherish.  I will, of course, elucidate. 

First of all, I am blessed with a life-mate who pays attention to the right small things.  He may ignore, guy-like, the fact that I haven’t dusted in weeks, but listen intently as I ramble on about the specific kind of tank-top I’ve been searching for, and then show up a few days later, having hunted down the perfect match for my description.  Six perfect matches, in fact.   

He might wait patiently, reading in the car, as I make multiple frantic stops trying to accommodate the demands of an allergy-elimination diet, then later spend his entire lunch hour driving to the one health food store that carries Rice Dream dairy-free frozen dessert, to replenish my supply.  He can seem not to be fully tuned in while I describe in tiresome detail what I am looking for in a watch, and then surprise me with the ideal model at the next appropriate special occasion, i.e., Happy Friday! 

The man, and this will never cease to impress me, will patiently troll the clothing racks looking for items he thinks I might like while I’m locked in a dressing room, slogging through the tedious process of Trying On Clothes.  Many of my favorite wardrobe additions resulted from his keen-eyed efforts.  All this without any of the melodramatic self-importance that motivates reality show fashion experts. 

Also, while I am an animal lover, my husband is an animal liker.  Having said this, my guy welcomed both of the feisty felines I brought into our marriage, supported me through related bereavements, and once back-tracked several blocks in the family vehicle because I saw a confused-looking kitty wandering around a commercial area and wanted to try to rescue it. 

At that point, I was not surprised at his capacity for indulgence.  After all, hadn’t he once piled into the same vehicle with me to rush to Wal-Mart and buy a cage and seed for the injured bird that had bounced off our front window and landed in the flower bed, only to discover on our return home that the stunned critter had recovered and flown away?  U-turn back to Wal-Mart to return the emergency items.  Again, no drama, no recriminations, just a patient tending to the needs of the situation.  My needs.

 And when I felt compelled to take in a pup who was facing her third home placement at the age of two because her ultra-distracted owners were moving, he resisted initially – for practical reasons.  Three years later, he is almost as delighted as she when he gets home from work and she threatens to turn herself inside-out in a joyful welcoming ritual of leaps and back flips.  Scene two, she is flopped  in his lap, eyes rolled back in her head, sopping up tummy-rubs like a thirsty sponge, and he is chuckling and murmuring softly as his blood pressure rolls back about 20 points.  The tranquilizer manufacturers will be out of business if a photo of this ever goes viral. 

My sweetie and I are very much aligned in all the important areas.  On some smaller issues, there is an occasional Venus/Mars split.  And then there is the day-to-day stuff.  I am pretty fanatical about conserving things, while my honey takes a more common sense approach.  Still, when he is finished with a shaker of body powder, a bottle of liquid soap, a tube of toothpaste, or a jar of mustard, he will open another, but leave the carcass behind for me to shake, scrape, dig, squeeze, or swoosh the very last drop or tittle from, knowing that it satisfies something within me to use the last drib and drab of anything. 

Then there was that phase I went through where I was reassessing how much toilet tissue I was reeling off the roll, and would sometimes lay the extra, unused squares back on the dispenser for later use.  Lesser men might have used this as material for ridicule.  My J.R. used it as material for bathroom art, creating a soft-sculpture Cottonelle gallery. 

It started out simply, with a four-inch paper doll, but soon I was finding a three-dimensional, if monochrome, humanoid; an elaborate sail boat; and even a palm tree – complete with fringed foliage.  You have to laugh at a situation in which more paper gets wasted with each escalating “retort” than was ever saved by means of my obsessive little fetish. 

Ah yes; the everyday stuff.  My guy always walks on the traffic side of me when we take a stroll, insistently offers his jacket even when I’ve rejected his pre-walk suggestion that I might want to wear one myself, and will get up from a restaurant table to drive blocks down the road, seeking out a menu I find more appealing. 

After two-and-a-half decades, you’d think we’d know all there is to know about one another, but just a few weeks ago I learned that the reason he always insists on going with me to run errands is, “Because I would never forgive myself if I was here and available to take you but didn’t, and something happened to you when you were out.”  Talk about a silver anniversary present to remember. 

Forever interesting, my multi-faceted husband continues to present sides of his quiet self that I’ve not yet become acquainted with, like the side that will spend huge chunks of energy helping out a neighbor with household challenges or polishing his Spanish to better communicate with our new friends down the block. And who knew he would become a fan of Bollywood cinema at this stage in life, and through that budding interest discover some true gems of touching, values-based entertainment that we can enjoy watching together – our own unique in-house date nights, no makeup required.  

What is no surprise is that he allows himself to be used by God in so many ways, as when the Lord led me-of-lapsed-faith to this decent, forgiving believer, and changed my life forever – and forever. 

I sometimes call this life-mate of mine Hank, because the night we re-met at a high school reunion, I spilled sparkling water on my lap, and he whipped out a real cloth handkerchief for me to use in the cleanup; he calls me Hanes because he rather liked the look of my gams.  And no matter how time ravages our once-youthful bodies, that chivalry will always be a part of Hank.  It is his core.   

And generosity is his heart.  Cars, computers, an unexpected check; re-gifting all of his birthday cash to help out a struggling co-worker.  This man of modest means has, without a second thought, carried on his parents’ legacy of giving to others whose need is greater, and we are both the richer for his servant’s spirit. 

I have a friend who has said of her husband, “He lets me be me.”  I am similarly blessed, although the balance dips to his side in our male/female dance of life:  He is much more likely to let my quirks go uncommented upon than I am to allow his.  I really must work on that. 

Alas, 25 years later I am still learning to be the wife God meant for me to be.  Meanwhile, I recently came across the following crossword puzzle clue:  Name which translates to “gift.”  Answer:  Isador. 

J.R.  He is not perfect, of course; that would be intolerable for both of us.  But he is my Isador, and that is definitely something to celebrate.

June 7, 2012 at 5:29 pm 3 comments


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Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

And what is the "something" we are aiming for here? Simply a life of robust good health in every important area - spiritual, physical, cognitive, and emotional.

To that end we offer inspirational real-life stories about PEOPLE OF FAITH AND COURAGE; menus and cooking directions meant to fuel your creative inclinations and your healthy body in the form of MUSINGS OF A MIDWESTERN FOODIE; and ADVICE FOR LIFE from the perspective of those who have lived it to maturity. (Click on the green category tabs at the top of this page to learn more about each section.)

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