Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Saluting all U.S. soldiers today

Technically speaking, the tens of thousands of men and women serving in the United States armed forces are not veterans. They are active duty members of our Military Services branches, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.

I want the members of each and branch to live to veteran status, but we all know the reality.

Still, Veterans Day is the perfect day to honor the men and women who have lost their lives or are risking their lives defending this country.

We are safer because of them. It really is as simple as that.

A week ago, we learned that there are no safe havens for soldiers abroad or at home. I appreciate the sacrifices they have made and will make and I want this government to do everything possible to ensure that safety measures are maximized so we can avoid another Fort Hood incident and so more soldiers can live long lives after service.

Stay safe.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Benefits of owning 'the beast'

(Hello there. I trust you had a good weekend.

I want to share with you this solid New York Times article about corticosteroids, the synthetic versions of the natural chemicals produced by the adrenal glands. Prednisone is the corticosteroid I am taking to manage my sarcoidosis symptoms. The drug works, but the side effects can be as bad as “cure."

And now, a long overdue ode to a family member assisting me in my healing…)

The beast is eating my foot.

Well, more like…a soft gnawing…a gumming. He could crush my left foot if he wanted, but his tail is wagging so hard that I know he never thinks that way.

He just wants me to keep roughhousing with him, so I do. Until he turns on his back and I can rub his belly.

He is Tobie, my family’s Golden Retriever. Tobie plays a big role in my recovery from sarcoidosis.

Pharmaceuticals control the sarcoidosis that tries to ravage my heart and lungs. My family keeps my spirits buoyant. Tobie just makes me warm inside.

Things are looking up, but these are still stressful times. The dog, along with writing and exercise, help reduce stress. Much has been written on the benefits of owning a dog or cat.

I hear the “thump, thump, thump” of his tail against the floor in my parents’ bedroom when I wake up in the morning. He just lays there and beats the carpeted floor with his tail, letting everyone know that I am up and that he is happy I am here. He brings me his favorite squeak toy. He loves me to take his leash off after we do a round in the park. I then fold it and place it in his mouth so he can carry it home.

Tobie actually smiles a crooked grin when he plays. My mom half-jokes that he might have had a micro stroke. Could be. The crocked grin comes from somewhere.

Tobie is seven years old. He is the color of late autumn leaves and he is developing a white mask. I am noticing more and more white hair in his fur. He is getting up there, so I enjoy time with Tobie and am thankful my parents added him to the family.

At night, I like to find quiet moments where it is just the two of us. I cradle his head in the palms of my hands and message his golden face until he breaks into that crooked grin.

Then he farts. Whoa! I'm just gonna go to bed.
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Friday, November 6, 2009

Obama's first year

(Back to health matters on Monday. Today, a little something about the political scene)

A year after the election of President Barack Obama, CNN interviewed people about what they were doing when they received word of the historical event. The interviews were tied the debut of a documentary on HBO Tuesday that chronicles what is characterized as Obama’s improbable rise.

Election Day 2008, I was busy coordinating Election Day coverage for the Chi-Town Daily News. I was editing and posting stories from full-time and volunteer reporters who covered city races and the presidential race.

We posted what seemed to be dozens of vignettes and anecdotes about local races and the mood of the electorate. At the end of the night, I gathered the best and weaved them into a lead story. I was proud of the newspaper and staff and felt honored to be working in Chicago the night Barack Obama gave his victory speech in Millennium Park.

I appreciated the moment and savored it. Obama won big. He had a mandate.

But he ain’t using it. Instead of forging ahead with the people who got him into the White House and implementing the sweeping change he promised, he has sought partnerships with people who would shout him down during a presidential address. People aligned with a news network that reports false stories about him.

I want the president to be more decisive. I want him to realize that he is fighting against the status quo and the supporters of the status quo won’t give an inch. They have nothing to benefit from ending war, reforming health care, really getting the economy on track, equality.

Obama and his supporters should move fast and be deliberate because the people who lost the White House want it back and are willing to do anything to get it back.

Question is, can Obama and his supporters do what’s right for the nation and maintain a majority in Congress in the 2010 mid-term elections and then re-claim the big house in 2012?
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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ducking viruses, caught by bacteria...


Dry, racking cough. Slight fever. Fatigue.

I am sick again.


Well, this is putting a crimp into hitting the gym. I am resting, drinking plenty of fluids, taking azithromycin, prescribed Tuesday just in case bacteria that could cause strep throat, bronchitis, pneumonia or whatever is trying to establish residence in my body.

My family and I have been ducking viruses only to get caught by bacteria. They are different.

Mom got sick a couple of weeks ago, followed by Dad. Guess I should have expected that I would next. I thought I had dodged the illness bullet after spending the night with my mom and grandmother in an Elizabeth, N.J. hospital emergency room and not getting sick.

Two impossibly drunk men on gurneys flanked Gram’s tiny exam room. Those men were ruddy in complexion, disheveled, and bombed out of their minds. Looked like they had been through hell and back. I tried to hold my breath every time I walked past them.

Also took Gram to a couple of doctors’ appointments and sat amongst some folks who looked like they were expecting visits from the Reaper.

“It’s too late for you,” I half-expected a nurse to say to some of them. I am just grateful we all made it through that day.

This is the second time I have fallen ill since September. Back then, I could barely move for two weeks. I was weak, sore, had a nasty cough. It was rough. I am taking prednisone and methotrexate to suppress symptoms of heart and lung sarcoidosis. The drugs work by suppressing an immune system gone haywire, but that also leaves me vulnerable to all sorts of nasty infections the body usually fights off without problem.

We are in the process of tapering off the drug, but it is unclear how when we will be done. We’re still at 30 mg of prednisone a day. I want to cut it in half if possible and see if that does the trick. Ultimately, I want off these drugs and everything prescribed to deal with side effects.

Until then, my internist advises me to stay away from crowds. It is a microorganism jungle out there. The nasty ones have plenty of places to lurk. Let us start with the hands of food handlers and cashiers, which can be fleshy petri dishes teeming with all sorts of nasty organisms. Sometimes, those employees are one in the same – and many do not wash their hands after handling money or before they make a sandwich.

Grabbing a cup of coffee at the local 24-7 store? Everyone in the world has touches the cups, stirrers coffee pots, sweeteners. Coughs and sneezes on them. No one washes their hands before touching them. Yuck.

You have to be careful out there during the cold and flu season. Doctors see dozens of sick people and somehow maintain their health. This is how they do it. Good luck out there and be well.

Meanwhile, I’ll kick back and follow the doc’s and my mom’s advice. I want to get well enough to take my grandmother to the movies soon.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

One man's war on obesity

OK, New Jersey property taxes are the highest in the nation. The state’s unemployment rate is soaring. Urban decay is unprecedented. The gubernatorial race focuses on…the girth of the Republican candidate.

Democratic incumbent John Corzine, GOP candidate Chris Christie and independent Chris Daggett are scrambling to hit the 21 counties of this state in an effort to sway voters their way. Neither man seems up for making New Jersey a better place for all. They offer empty sound bites and little detail, and the press is not pressing them for more.

In fact, in the past few days, the focus has been on Christie’s fat. So let us go there for a sec.

Yep, the man is fat. He will not reveal his true weight – on the Don Imus Show this week, Christie joked that he weighed 550 pounds. He stands about 5-foot-10-inches tall. Images of Michael Meyers’ Fat Bastard come to mind.

However, this is not laughing matter. Christie would fall into the category of obese. He will not publicly tip a scale, but he appears to be more than 20 percent over his ideal weight. That ideal weight must take into account the person's height, age, sex, and build.

Christie is not alone: one-third of Americans are overweight; more than 20 percent of us are obese.

The reasons for this range from overeating to not exercising enough to antidepressants to corticosteroids to…just check out this link. Also, being overweight is liked to so many illnesses, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, etc.

But there is no need to feel overwhelmed, my fellow Americans. We do not have to take this fat thing sitting down. We can fight back.

We can eat better, exercise re-evaluate our lifestyles and choices.

For some of us, there might be things in our background that are difficult to overcome. Still, we can reshape our bodies, health and destinies.

Back in March, I could hardly breathe because of cardiac and pulmonary sarcoidosis. Today, I can walk a few miles without feeling as if I am going to pass out. I want to be able to do more. Specifically, my goal is to get off every freaking medicine prescribed to me in this war against sarcoidosis.

So I am going to hit the gym. I have gone as far as I can with the makeshift gym in my basement. And while the trails of the Pine Barrens still call…I could use a little climate control. Some A/C.

My fellow Americans, I theater for my war will be inside. Rows of shiny dumbbells and barbells and Stairmasters, elliptical and treadmills will be my weapons.

The immediate goal is to get through the challenging holiday season. I plan to maintain my weight through the horrid holiday season of temptation and inflation - of the mid-section.

The ultimate goal? Lose….quite a bit.

I say 50 pound, but I need to weigh in and then set a goal. I’ll share with you after the weigh in. I will not be shy about the weight because it is a temporary condition as far as I am concerned.

Thank you for your ear, New Jersey, America. Good night. And God bless the United States of America.
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

2012 likely to be just another year

(Greetings. I like to write about things other than sarcoidosis, so I wrote this little piece about the 2012 phenomenon. I'm guessing we'll be here after the Mayan calender winds down. Check it out. Friday's column will be health related.)

People are excited about what is being characterized as the ancient Mayans prediction of the end of the world on December, 21 2012.

Wow. There are only three years left to get all affairs in order. Tick…tick…tick…

And The End will be quite the spectacle, at least according to the trailer from the movie “2012.” An ensemble cast including John Cusack, Danny Glover, Amanda Peete, Thandie Newton scramble to survive the Apocalypse.

The End has never looked better than this. Check out the color of the molten lava! Now, that is red. Pass the popcorn!

OK, yes, that is silly. Truly, I do believe it will end one day, but not necessarily on Dec. 21 or Dec. 22 of 2012. Might be earlier, might be later. We won’t be sitting around watching movies when it happens, either. We will be too busy ducking falling buildings and bridges, searching for food and shelter and steady ground, praying, stuff like that.

A 2012 industry that feeds on fear, desperation and misinformation is churning out books and tapes explaining why the end is near, what it means and, in some cases, how one can benefit! Don't share water or food or shelter in the final hours, my friend. Clock that last dollar until the bitter end. Profit in the final minutes even though you can't take it with you.

The ancient Mayans had a culture that included advanced writing, mathematics, astrology and a Long Count calendar that tracks more than 5,000 years and resets at zero. That calendar was discontinued by the Spanish after the Mayans were conquered.

Scholars argue that for the ancients at the end of the cycle would find reason to celebrate, not to fear or lament. The doomsday scenarios so many are trying to sell these days are spawns of ill-informed or wrapped minds. Or just a chance for many people to make a fast buck.

Think: If the Mayans had the ability to see into the future, don’t you think they would have spotted the Spaniards and uncovered the plan for the demise of their culture? Don’t you think they would have tried to do something about it?

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Winning an important battle

My heart is getting better. There is no need for an implantable defibrillator.

Oh, Happy Day! Really, few words describe the mix of relief and joy I am feeling. This song actually sprang into my head when I got the news Friday, and I'm not really a gospel guy. Click on the link and enjoy. Then come back and read the rest, OK? Thanks.

The test results show evidence that my heart muscle has improved since the last echo back in March when I was diagnosed with sarcoidosis. Back then, my heart was so weak that a cardiologist at Northwestern Medical Center wanted to install a defibrillator. I decided to try a pharmaceutical regiment, exercise, got serious about quitting smoking and other lifestyle changes. All that is paying off.

I am winning a battle, in a long war.

“I know they were talking about defibrillator and stuff like that, but at this point, you do not – I repeat - you do not need anything like that at this time.”

The cardiologist told me to keep with up with my heart medicines - carvedilol, lisinopril, hydralazine and hydrochlorot. He also said he would speak to the rest of my docs about reducing prednisone I am taking to control sarcoidosis.

I am excited. I know healing takes a while. I have tried hard not to give myself deadlines (One to two years! I can't help it!) and I still have a ways to go. But this is a significant development. I am excited about it and relieved. For the past eight months, I have been wondering whether sudden cardiac arrest would claim me and what it would do to my family. I thought long and hard about having the defibrillator installed. I came very close to asking for the procedure in August when I moved back to New Jersey.

However, I held off because I believe in the human body’s ability to heal and my ability to overcome. I believe that God helps those who help themselves. I am thankful to my family and friends for helping me get through these challenging times.

I’ve a ways go: Sarcoidosis is still affecting my heart and lungs. When - will - it go into remission? What will a CAT scan of my lungs, to be done in late November, reveal? What organs might it strike in the future?

What is the correct dosage of prednisone and methotrexate that will continue to control sarc without dangerous side effects?

Will I ever get off of these pharmaceuticals for good?

That is my ultimate goal.

I don't take this win for granted. It will fortify me for the challenges ahead, and I know they are plenty. I am ready for them.

But today, I celebrate winning a battle.

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