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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Friday, October 23, 2009

Hustling to get help during moment of clarity

Praise God. Gram gets it.

“Tell your mom that I know I may have a problem…Alzheimer’s…and that’s being checked,” she said to me Wednesday after I called to check on her. This was after the family - including my mom! - took her to the doctor. “We’ll, at least it is not communicable.”

Wednesday, I knew I was seeing glimpses of my old Mac. However, Saturday through Tuesday afternoon, Dad, uncles John and Art and I have been wrestling with my grandmother while she was in the grips of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. And its grip was tight.

She's back right now and we're taking advantage of it; hustling to get her help during this moment of clarity.

Praise God she gets it. Today. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.

We got concerned Saturday when Gram could not dress or eat herself and could not remember basic things, like her children’s names or the day of the week. Gram's disorientation and agitation increased in Lakewood. She began taking out her frustrations on my mother, who had done nothing but give up damn near every weekend for 30 years to do Gram’s bidding.

I was incensed. I am taking prednisone and methotrexate to treat sarcoidosis and one of the big side effects of prednisone is mood swings.

These days, I am always on the verge of blowing like a volcano. I have chased down drivers who pushed me along in the slow lane of the Garden State Parkway, yelled at slow store clerks and people who cut me off in line. Most times, I am able to hold my tongue, but it is hard. I fight the urge to smash to bits the contents of rooms - waiting room, public bathroom, and my bedroom, whatever.

As I said, I am good at keeping it concealed. I know the rage is pharmaceutical induced. I do not usually go around tearing up stuff – and I do not want to hurt anyone.

However, I am protective of my mother and feel the need to shield her from her mother, who is trying to beat her down verbally. That just is not happening on my watch.

But I catch myself. We are dealing with Gram but not dealing with Gram. She is in the grips of one of the foulest of diseases and she is afraid. Afraid of being alone. Afraid of the future. A couple of months ago, she told me that she was not afraid to die but afraid to live.

So I sheath my claws and look for a way into Gram’s addled mind.

I see it when she tells me to tell my mom that she knows that she needs help.

We had a conversation about it Wednesday after visiting with her primary care physician. For whatever reason, he was able to talk to her about dementia and she listened.

“The doctor was trying to tell me something. Everyone is trying to tell me something. I just don’t want everyone to know. I can get help for this. At least it is not communicable.

There. A joke. That is my Gram fighting back. I reassure her that we, her family, are only here to love her and help her.

Meanwhile, we are working behind the scenes to secure assisted-living and other services. We are also considering having her prescribed a medication to alleviate symptoms; I am scheduling some doctor’s appointments first to rule out anything physical.

Sunday, Gram declared that she had a shooting pain in her left arm and demanded to see her doctor. It was a ploy to get out of our Lakewood home and to get back to Elizabeth, back to familiar territory. It worked. We could not ignore her complaint so my mom and I loaded Gram in the SUV and drove 45 minutes north to Elizabeth (she was not having a heart attack, so…) and Trinitas Regional Medical Center.

After blood and urine tests, a CAT scan and thorough exam, the emergency room doctor said she was physically fine but was exhibiting signs of dementia and needed to take her high blood pressure. My grandmother would have nothing to do with the diagnosis even though she could not remember anything from earlier in the day.

Gram is 83 years old. She stands 5-foot-three-inches tall. She was physically strong enough to wrestle with a nurse in her 20s that was trying to help her sit on the gurney. She was strong enough to shove pills at the nurse after refusing to take them. The nurses at Trinitas were great. They exhibited the patience of Job with my grandmother.

I am glad Gram taught me the story of Job. I have to do the same.

...Ladybug, Ladybug...

It's strange that while all this stuff is going on with my grandmother, I have noticed the swarms of ladybugs on windows and in front of doorways this Indian summer. In fact, I had to fight through what seemed like scores of ladybugs to get into my grandmother's condo complex this week.

"What's up with all the ladybugs," I asked one of the maintenance men, who was sitting in the lobby and appeared to be staring at the little red beetles and a leak that was dripping from the second floor.

"Oh, I just noticed them," the man said. "Look at that..."

The man overseeing maintenance at a hi-rise on Pearl Street in Elizabeth, N.J., is clueless. I remember that ladybugs are one of my grandmother's favorite animals. She even has ladybug broaches. I was taught they are "good" bugs, a gardener's friend, feasting on aphids and other creatures harmful to plantings.

I can't count the number of insects that I have killed in my lifetime, but I am pretty sure I never harmed a ladybug, specifically because of Gram.

I walk past the custodian and head back to my grandmother's unit, trying to remember the old nursery rhyme she sang to me and, I have learned, to my mom.

Ladybug! Ladybug! Fly away home. Your house is on fire. And your children all gone. All except one, And that's little Ann, For she crept under The frying pan.

My Gram was sitting in a chair and singing that song when I left her on Wednesday.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Senior mental distress hits families hard

My family is having my grandmother evaluated by her doctors. She is exhibiting signs of dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

If my Gram has either, she is not alone: 3.4 million Americans aged 71 years and older, almost 14 percent of the population have dementia, according to a 2007 study by Aging, Demographics, and Memory Study (ADAMS), funded by the National Institutes of Health. And 2.4 million, 9.7 percent, have Alzheimer's disease. The study is described as the "population-based study of dementia to include people from all regions of the country."

No one, the person with dementia or Alzheimer's, or their familial caretakers want to be in this club, which is growing.

I have been back in New Jersey for almost three months and spent quite a bit of time with Gram. She was slower and more forgetful that I remember, but I did not see this coming.

I drove up to see her Saturday. My mom advised me to just go food shopping for Gram and get back on the road to Lakewood to avoid the second round of the nor’easter that hit the region this weekend.

As I drove up, I thought about taking Gram out lunch or maybe a movie just to get her out of the house. She had not been out much since last Wednesday, the last time I visited her. I took her to the Barnes & Noble in Clark, bought her a decaf and soup and worked on a blog posting. She seemed fine, reading a magazine article about the tomb of King Tut, people watching.

I was unprepared for what I encountered Saturday. I could not get her to open her door. I could not get her to get dressed. She did not know what day it was or what time of day it was. I had to hand feed her a hamburger because she kept mistaking a napkin for the sandwich. I had to feed her fries because she kept nipping at her fingers.

I was taking care of Gram Saturday because my mom had bronchitis. I had to call my mom for help. I was way over my head.

“I’m sorry if I am a bother,” Gram said to me after my parents and I made the decision to bring her to Lakewood. We packed up some of her things and I scooted her into my car for the ride home. “No, you are not a bother, Gram. I love you. We love you. We’re just taking care of you, that’s all.”

My grandmother cannot remember what happened between Wednesday and Sunday. My grandmother cannot keep straight the names of her children. She cannot remember to take her medications and fights you when you try to administer them. She cannot remember where she is. And she is suspicious of anyone who tries to help her, including my mom and me.

This is sad and exhausting.

I thought that dementia was not a problem for the demented. It is especially excruciating for the people who have to take care of the afflicted. The caretakers are worn down by the disoriented person that is trying to make a snack of their own fingers instead of the French fries you just served.

However, I suspect Gram, the gentle woman who helped rear my brother and I who helped me become someone who loves telling stories and who understands right from wrong, is trapped somewhere inside the person sitting across from me as I write my column at the kitchen table.

The woman sitting across from me is quiet, but agitated. She is fighting my mother and me over the medications she is supposed to take. She says she is ready to go home. I tell her she is staying here until we all go to the doctor together. She’s staying until we have sure she is well.

She offers an incoherent explanation about why separate prescriptions are mixed together in one bottle.

Then, she has a moment of clarity.

“Sometimes I am wrong,” she says about her prescriptions. “I can’t remember. My mind is a sieve. It goes in and goes right out.”

This is a ray of sunshine I need to keep going. I am worn out and frustrated. I am supposed to be dealing with my own illness, sarcoidosis, and now I wrestle with hers, too.

She did all she could do for me. It is my turn now.

More Friday. Thanks for reading.
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Monday, October 19, 2009

The NFL could do without Olbermann, too

(This one is dedicated to my Aunt Cathy, Uncle John and cousins Ian and Sunny. I'm glad you are home resting, Cathy! Feel better!)

(Watching the New Orleans Saints whip the New York Giants yesterday was like watching your best friend get beat down on a playground. You want to help, but you’re glad you didn't. ‘Cuz you know you would have caught a beat down, too.)

Rush Limbaugh was punted from a group of businessmen seeking to buy the NFL’s St. Louis Rams franchise and I let out a cheer.

Limbaugh is an ignorant and divisive blowhard when it comes to race, politics and culture and there’s no place for him in a game and industry allegedly based on hard work, teamwork, merit, fair play and diversity.

I also would like NBC to bar Keith Olbermann from having anything to do with Sunday Night Football. He knows the game, no doubt. I was a fan of his when he and Dan Patrick were together on ESPN. However, Olbermann has moved from sports to politics and has settled nicely into the role of essentially being the left wing’s version of Bill O’Reilly, which is fine during the week.

However, from noon Sunday until midnight Monday, football dominates the landscape, transcending the boundaries of politics, race, gender and ethnicity. During the Sunday night game on NBC, I do not want to be reminded that America is divided on health care reform, the war, the economy.

I watch football to escape. I want Coach Tony Dungy to explain the intricacies of the Cover-2 defense. I want Rodney Harrison’s take on blowing up the Wild Cat offense. I want to watch old players and geeky fans quarrel about the best teams, quarterbacks, etc.

Rush and Olbermann are polarizing personalities and I think they are fine for the swamps that pass for cable news networks. In the electronic bog, they can spew their rhetoric and quip all they want without ruining my game.

I don’t like my politics and sports to intersect unless we can get Rush and Obermann to duke it out in an iron cage match.

The winner takes on Nancy Grace.

God help the winner.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Children seem especially susceptible to H1N1 virus


The deaths of 43 children
between September and early October are being attributed to the H1N1 swine flu pandemic; however, Americans think the press is overstating flu danger and is split over whether they should be vaccinated, according to a new poll.

In all, 86 U.S. children have died from H1N1, commonly referred to as the swine flu, since it arose last spring, say officials from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has counted 40 or 50 child deaths for the entire flu season in some past winters.

It is unknown how long the swine flu outbreak will last. Still, a chorus rails against flu shots. Websites and talk radio shows quoting dubious sources are whipping up fear that prevents many from seeking out the vaccine.

According to the New York Times, people are expressing confusion over the making of the flu vaccine and whether it is more dangerous than the virus itself. Many are concerned that the vaccines are new and untested. However, officials from the CDC and others have taken pains explaining that the swine flu vaccine is made using the same techniques as seasonal flu shots. Also, clinical trials were conducted, officials say, albeit on a smaller scale.

Information, misinformation and disinformation – a fancy word for “lie” - all flow at the speed of light across social media. People will sort through it and come to their own conclusions.

I realized the futility of putting thought into a message and having is misconstrued or warped. When I was reporting news out of New Haven, Conn., in the mid-90s, a reader once said to me, “I appreciate what you write and I see what you are doing. You tell the people what’s going on and how they can get involved. All you have to do is read in between the lines and…”

The stories the reader spoke about could have been about the latest battle between the Board of Aldermen and the mayor’s office, or problems in public housing. Or maybe they were about some slumlord that was sliding by because he was politically connected.

Regardless of what they were about, I thought my stories were clear, to the point.

“Thank you,” I replied, “but I do not write in between any lines. I write everything I hear and see. I write in plain English so everyone can get it and decide what is best for the community.

The reader seemed to understand what I said. Good reporters construct accurate, fair and balanced stories that edify and/or serve an audience. Readers, viewers, listeners do not have time to read “in between the lines.” News and information should be easy to break down and digest and it should be sourced.

I think the news media for the most part has done a good job of explaining the pros and cons of the H1N1 vaccine. Still, there is no accounting for the way people interpret even the most straightforward news and information, which is why so many members of the public have warped views of what is going on.

According to the Pew survey, there is even evidence that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to get the H1N1 vaccine are. Why? Because elephants, despite their memories, can’t remember the Spanish influenza pandemic of the 1918? For what it is worth, I am a registered independent. I have done my own research and have read much about the groups that could benefit from the H1N1 flu shot. I am going to take the shot.

...Still waiting...

My new cardiologist in Long Branch, N.J., is making me miss my old cardiologist at Northwestern Medical Faculty.

I am still waiting for the results of an echocardiogram to determine whether my heart, affected by sarcoidosis, is better or worse after months of treatment with prednisone, a corticosteroid, and methotrexate, a chemotherapy drug. The test was administered on Oct. 8. As of today - Oct. 15 - the results have not been read.

I called the cardiologist’s office today – again! I am told he is unavailable until Oct. 22 and that the report has yet to be read.

Grrrrr…The hairs on my arms feel like they are standing at attention…

I am told a nurse will call me back. I tell the receptionist at Monmouth Cardiology that that is the third time this week that I have been told a nurse will...

Tick, tick, tick…I feel the prednisone-fueled anger welling up in my body. I note to myself that the rage intensifies without making my pulse race. The Incredible Bulk (I don't have the Hulk's rippling muscles; the Bulk is accurate) can take no more! He will yell! He will smash! He…is disarmed by the reception’s polite demeanor.

“I am so sorry we are keeping you waiting and I understand how you must feel. All I can say is if this has been an emergency, we would have immediately contacted you.”

Well, I can live with that through the weekend. Still, you people are no Northwestern Medical Faculty. I would have had an answer by now. I will be calling Monday.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Still trying not to let prednisone get the best of me

(Updated! Search for "NFL" or "Rush Limbaugh")

I celebrated Columbus Day by watching the parade in New York City with my grandmother; treating her to an old-fashioned Italian sausage-hot dog, potato sandwich… and bird-dogging a Mercedes Benz for miles along the Garden State Parkway.

Hey, the driver started it! I hate excuses for reactions, but this was a prednisone-influenced response. The mood altering affects of the pharmaceutical had been at bay for weeks. However, things have changed in the past 10 days or so. Do not know why.

The drug I need right now to suppress sarcoidosis symptoms sometimes make me feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Jekyll is usually in control, but Hyde sometimes wins. And he won at about 11:30 a.m. Monday just north of exit 105 of the ‘Jersey Parkway.

The day was sunny. The autumn color lining the road is at peak. Few people were out because Columbus Day is a state holiday. I was in my Volkswagen GTI heading to my grandmother’s house to help her with chores and run errands. I was listening to some King’s X , drinking a cup coffee, driving along in the slow lane and –...

Who is this idiot trying to run me off the road? I am in the right-hand lane, the slow lane, because I am trying to chill, for heaven's sake. All of a sudden, I am being pushed to do 70, 75 miles per hour.

I put down the coffee, duck into the left lane and down shift so this idiot in the Mercedes, this jackass with NY plates can blow past me. I then lurch back into the right-land lane and punch the gas…Now my car is a black, turbo-energize missile heading straight for his tail pipe.

The Mercedes driver, some silver-haired, I-am-so-cool-I-wear-my-collar-up old coot, sees me in his rear view mirror. I am flipping him a brown bird. He is scared.

He should be. The chase is on. At least for a few more exits. I eventually let him go.

And I am embarrassed by my behavior. The guy in the Mercedes was rude, but I did not have to stoop to his level. Prednisone makes it tougher to be level headed.

Right now, I need the drug to suppress my immune system, keeping my sarcoidosis at bay. Without the drug, the disease allows my immune system to go haywire, attacking vital organs, in my case the heart and the lungs.

Prednisone is a corticosteroid and has been called a wonder drug used to treat many problems, including arthritis, lupus, and lung diseases. However, it comes with a laundry list of side effects, including mood swings, weight gain, blurry vision, ravenous appetite, diabetes, insomnia, thinning skin. These are not even the most serious side effects. The goal is to get the benefits of the drug and get off it before problems that are more serious develop, including glaucoma and osteonecrosis.

I felt like things were pretty much under control but of late. I have been especially moody, happy, sad, angry, euphoric, sometimes all at once! And I am constantly hungry. I will eat anything. Anything. Anything. I am in a constant fight NOT to eat. And the prednisone beast is not satisfied with celery. The fattier the food the better.

I am taking 30 mg of prednisone a day, down from 60. I am hoping my team of docs will cut the dosage again. I would love to get down to 10 mg daily. I have read that side effects are negligible at that dosage.

I want to get to the point where I do not take any prednisone. I want to be as close to normal as I can get.

There are tens of thousands of people out there taking this drug, some people are taking much more than I am taking. I can’t imagine being on a higher dosage than 60 mg. The dosage made me wildly creative – I shared some of my fiction with a couple of friends and they seemed to enjoy it.

However, the dosage also made me feel like I wanted to get into a fight with a Mack truck. Pity the truck.

After terrorizing that poor motorist, I finally got to my grandmother’s place in Elizabeth. I took her to the drug store; we got a bite to eat at an Italian sandwich shop on Jersey Avenue.

I could feel her watching my interaction with the man at the booth - it's a tiny, outdoor sandwich shop - and with a couple of cops who were ordering food.

“You are easy and nice,” my grandmother said. “You are a nice young man.”

“Thank you, Gram,” I said.

However, I do not think I am so nice, especially on prednisone.

But I will try harder.

Biz partners sack Rush's NFL ownership attempt

During the fall, I live for American football, especially NFL games. Go Giants!

I like the game because it is tough and brutal and smart. Not everyone can play a and I marvel at the strategy and performances. I also like the game because it comes close to the American ideal. People excel based on their deeds and merit, not the color of their skin or because they know someone. Can you catch it, throw it, run it? Can you block or defend the run or pass? Then you play.

We’re seeing greater diversity among players, too. Sixty-seven percent are black, but there are whites, Samoans, Hispanics.

We are even seeing diversity in ownership and in the top management of the league and the individual teams and the game is popular the world over.

The NFL is far from perfect. More could be done for injured players – the league has to own up to the concussion controversy; it could stop penalizing individual expression; it could make more opportunities for coaches, quarterbacks and executives of color. But the league demonstrates that diversity works and is good for the bottom line.

That is why I am happy that Rush Limbaugh will not become even a partial owner of an NFL team. The NFL product has the ability to draw people from across demographic. Limbaugh’s vitriol divides.

Is Limbaugh a bigot? I can’t see his heart, but I have heard some of his words. When it comes to black athletes, he has sounded like a cretin.

I have yet to see where any of his thoughts or philosophies benefit people who are minorities of any strip (racially, sexually, etc.), or are disfranchised. If it’s out there, post it at the bottom of this blog for all to see. I would love to see any constructive thing he may have said.

If Limbaugh is a bigot, he must be salivating at the chance to own a piece of a company that includes blacks toiling on a field. Keep him out of the NFL owners’ booth. That means people of every race, color and creed can support the league without supporting him.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Is blackface ever OK?

(No echocardiogram update. The results have yet to be read. My cardiologist is off until Wednesday. I refuse to fret. I keep myself busy. And today post something unrelated to sarcoidosis. It is a big world out there. Enjoy).

I wanted to slap an Australian when I saw the thoughtless blackface “ode” to The Jackson 5 from the Down Under variety show “Hey, Hey. It’s Saturday Night.”

However, I want to laugh ‘til I drop when I think about Saturday Night Live’s Fred Armisen or Darrell Hammond putting on blackface to play President Barack Obama, Jessie Jackson or Al Sharpton.

What’s the difference? Context and nuance.

Watch the clip of The Jackson Jivetribute” to The Jackson 5 again. Do the “performers” look like Jackie, Tito, Marlon and Jermaine? I’m an artist so I can appreciate artistic license, but come on. This looks like white guys who smeared shoe polish on their faces. One of the Jive wore whiteface and an afro wig to portray Michael. No tribute there either.

Nothing about the sketch honors the Jacksons. The soot-colored prop used in the sketch is an archetype of American racism. Blackface hails from a time when people of African descent in America were at once loved and loathed by the dominant white power structure. Loved for their labor, loved for their culture, but dehumanized because…well, because one has to dehumanize their fellow man if they are going to enslave them and steal from them. Can’t do that to someone you see as your equal.

The blackface of Armisen and Hammond is very different. These are not shuffling, shucking and jiving performances. The performances are nuanced. There is a range of human complexity. Even the makeup the actors use reflect the hues of the humans they are poking fun of.

Saturday Night Live is one of my favorite shows. However, it bothers me that there have only been a handful of black performers among the scores of white performers. Eddie Murphy is probably the best-known and most famous SNL alum, "Pluto Nash" and a few other bad movies he made notwithstanding. One of the best Murphy and SNL moments ever was Murphy’s film White Like Me, about the secret world of white people. He dawns white face, a straight-hair wig and proceeds to get special treatment; free money from banks, white-only parties on public transit after black folks get off the bus.

It is keen satire and hilarious.

“They give things to each other,” Murphy muses after not having to pay for a newspaper

I live for the day when SNL producer Lorne Michaels and others in Hollywood cast more blacks in "white" roles. I'm talking about actually casting actors of color to play white icons.

Samuel E. Jackson IS George Dubya!

That will be real proof that we are overcoming.

Don’t laugh. In a world in which many white people still feel smearing ones face in a coal-black substance is a way of honoring people of African descent, anything is possible.
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Friday, October 9, 2009

No news is good news

No news is good news.

I am awaiting the results of an echocardiogram to measure the ejection fraction of the left ventricle of my heart. I am being treated for pulmonary and cardiac sarcoidosis and it is my hope that medication, exercise and life changes have improved the strength of the left ventricle, which pumps oxygen-rich blood into the body.

I have been anxious about the test, but I have tried not to show it. I, like tens of thousands of people dealing with an autoimmune disease, just want to see some sort of improvement. And I really want to get off prednisone, which is controlling the disease but causing side effects, including type 2 diabetes, mood swings and weight gain. Yes, I am an edgy fat man with a sweet tooth…But I digress…

The test Thursday morning was easy enough. Took off the shirt, laid back, let a technician run a goo-covered wand across my chest to “read” heart activity. The ejection fraction is demonstrated in a percentage. A normal "EF" is between 50 and 70 percent. Mine was in the mid-30s in March, the last time it was checked. I want my heart to improve so I stop taking prednisone and methotrexate, which "treat" sarcoidosis by suppressing the overactive immune system. I don't want to go into the winter months with a suppressed immune system. I caught a could that knocked me on my butt for two weeks. I don't want to go through that again or worse. I get nervous any time I sneeze or get the sniffles.

I want my heart to improve because I don't want a defibrillator installed in my chest.

The technician who conducted the test Thursday was cool. Very professional and put my mind at ease even though she could not read me the results. My cardiologist will do that. “Well, I guess I won’t freak out. It’s not like you stopped the test to get the doctor,” I said after we were all done.

“That’s only happened twice in the 10 years I’ve been doing this and I don’t have to do that today,” she said.

Good. Later Thursday, I did not call my cardiologist for the results. I wanted - needed – a day free of worrying about sarc and what it is doing to me. So, I exercised, did some writing and am preparing myself to make the call. Regardless of what the doctor says, I know I am still in the midst of a lengthy process to get well. Some days will be better than others, but I keep moving toward the goal. Watch. I bet he will be off today. Then it is 72 hours of waiting.

Oh, well. Life goes on. It finds a way. I take solace in that fact.

Have a nice weekend.
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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Checking 'ejection fraction' for heart improvements

(Find a penny, pick it up and all day long you’ll have…goodness only knows how many germs and bacteria on your fingertips…Good luck trumps germs, though, so I pick it up. Hand sanitizer, where are ya when I need ya?

My flu or wicked cold or whatever is finally gone. I feel good so it's back to walking, lifting, and getting as healthy as possible. Does better health translate into better writing? You be the judge…)

“That is the story of the day.”

The cardiologist said the preceding after hearing my answer to his question, “What brings you here?”

I told him about everything leading up to my hospitalization in March with pulmonary and cardiac sarcoidosis. Dr. Charles J. Mattina of Long Branch, N.J., is a good listener. I like his follow up questions and demeanor. He is another doc hired in my on-going fight against the disease.

His role is crucial. Cardiac sarc kills. There is no sugarcoating it. We will know more about my heart after I undergo an echocardiogram. I do know my left ventricle is weak, two thirds weaker than it should be. Doctors at Northwestern Medical Center concluded that the sarcoidosis that scarred my lungs also weakened my heart.

A Northwestern electro-cardiologist recommends the installation of a defibrillator to shock my heart into a normal rhythm in case it beats awry, causing sudden cardiac death. He recommended that action in March, but after careful consideration and getting a second opinion, I am opting to see if prednisone and methotrexate will contain the damage.

I was sick during the winter of '08-09, the coldest winter in Chicago in 30 years. The cold air clamped down my lungs like an icy vice grip. Every breath was piercing pain. Every step, labor. But I went to work - two jobs in fact and did what I had to do to survive. Thanks to my friends I made it through. If I could live through that, I figure I can live through almost anything.

“If I was in your position, I would have made that decision,” said the cardiologist about my strategy.

Thursday, my new cardiologist will test my election fraction, which measures how well the left ventricle functions. This is usually expressed in percentages and the good folks at the Cleveland Clinic explain it pretty well. I’ll try it: With each beat, a normal heart pumps a little more than half its volume. A range of between 50 percent and 70 percent is acceptable. A lower ejection fraction signals problems with the heart, including a heart attack or disease like cardiomyopathy.

My ejection fraction was in the mid-30s when it was last measured in Chicago. I have given up cigarettes, exercise and have been consistent with medications to project the heart. I am eager to see if the situation has improved.

I like my chances, but I am open minded and ready for anything. If we don’t like the results, we’ll try something else. I am not surrendering to sarcoidosis. Too many people to see and too much stuff to do.

...Flu shot: Round two...

I’m going to roll up my sleeve and take the H1N1 swine flu vaccine shot when it becomes available. I won’t be first in line, but I will not be the last. I will do my best to avoid situations where I can get sick, but unless I decide to live in a plastic bubble, I will be out in the world and run the risk of running into someone who sneezes without covering their mouths or..picks their nose and …yuck...wrote about that always you know what grosses us out! I am taking the shot as a precaution. The pros outweigh the con. Let me know what you are doing and why. And good luck!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Time will tell whether Letterman sex scandal has legs

(Greetings. I usually write about conquering disease, specifically sarcoidosis. However, I also told you that I would write about anything that moved or fascinated me, including pop culture and news. I am fascinate by the David Letterman situation and debate, so here's my two cents. Back to health matters on Wednesday. Thanks for reading and let me know what you think)

David Letterman admits that he dropped his Worldwide Pants to plow young girls who worked for him and the majority of people seem to be OK with it.

He admitted to sex with staffers during last Thursday's show after explaining to his TV audience that he was the victim of an alleged extortion scheme involving his personal life.Robert "Joe" Halderman, the CBS producer accused of trying to extort Letterman should get what is coming to him if he is found guilty.

However, as far as this newsman is concerned, Letterman buried the lead. The shocker was the dirty deeds with folks who worked for him and he should have copped to that before looking for sympathy.

Letterman is no Roman Polanski. He did not admit to plying a 13-year-old girl with booze and pills to have sex with her and then flee prosecution for some 30 years.

Nor is Letterman a public servant. He might be a hypocrite because he made fun of people for doing what he was doing, but Letter never publicly extolled the virtues of high character while engaging in trysts.

However, Letterman is one of the biggest stars on TV and, through ownership of his lucrative production house Worldwide Pants, Inc., one of the most influential men in the entertainment industry. And bosses in corporate America are not supposed to sleep with the hired help.

Letterman’s “Golly-gee-let-me-tell-you-a-story-about-what-happened-to-little-old-me" routine surprised me not. That is his shtick. He is covering his butt and trying to garner sympathy. Watch the monologue again. It is not funny. Or did I miss the joke? It is masterful manipulation. I am shocked that so many people simply bought it and don’t think what he did was a big deal.

It does not matter that at least two of the women who say they engaged in affairs with Letterman speak fondly of him.

The employee-employer relationship is a master-servant relationship and the servant’s consent means nothing. A couple of years political commentator host Bill O'Reilly settled a lawsuit filed by a female produce who claimed the two had phone sex.The producer, in an interview, claimed that she allowed the activity to continue because, "I'm not used to saying no to this man on any level."

This is why most companies have policies in place against such behavior. Letterman’s actions, according to a release from Worldwide Pants, did not conflict with any company policies. The company has a CEO, but Letterman IS Worldwide Pants. He is the product and the product is worth millions.

I guess this one sticks in my craw because, along with shaping news coverage and newspapers, I have served as a mentor and coach to dozens of young people, mostly women, who were newly-minted journalists or interns. These women were bright, talented and hungry and it was my job to help them hone their skills and learn the business so they could excel. That is what young people testing the waters of an industry should be able to expect. I rose through the ranks of my industry thanks in large part to good mentoring and I am happy to pay it forward, no strings attached.

I bet that Letterman was some kind of a mentor once. However, the women with whom he slept; will they rise in their industry because of demonstrated talent and contacts or because they slept with Letterman? Was their quid pro quo?

And I have a question for moms and dads who have adopted the “Leave Letterman alone” stance: Would you laugh until you cried if your 20-something daughters came home with tales about trysts with the 60-something owners and franchisees of Home Depot, Walgreens or Burger King?

And did these women really love Letterman, or did they simply understand that his word could make or break their show business careers?

Young women march into the work force every year with dreams of making it. They need mentors, not letches who are going to take advantage of the innocent, the scared, the confused or the enamored.

We'll see if public sentiment changes as the story develops. (Wednesday: Left ventricles, electrocardiographs and flu shots, oh my!)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Writer's now cautious about next flu shot

My internist does not believe that my recent illness, which included "flu-like" symptoms that laid me low from Sept. 19 to Sept. 30 had anything to do with the seasonal flu vaccination shot.

"The virus is dead, you know that?" he said, referring to the shot.

"Yeah, I know the virus is dead. However, the Centers For Disease control even concedes that some people get sick from flu vaccinations," I responded. I don't want him to be on the defensive. I trust him, but I also want him to know I pay close attention to everything in connection with my on-going fight against sarcoidosis.

"Well, we may never know" what caused the illness, he said. And he is right. I take prednisone to fight the sarcoidosis in my heart and lungs. The drug suppresses the immune system, which during sarc flareups goes haywire and attacks vital organs.

The prednisone stops the attack but leaves the immune system gate wide open to be stormed by a host of germs and viruses. We'll never know where I picked up a bug.

I could have caught a nasty cold from someone in the mall, at a doctor's office, a super market, the movie theater, the library or book store - which is where I am writing this blog right now - someone needs to scrub that men's bathroom here, yo. Really.

The point is that I could have touched a door knob anywhere, picked up a germ, touched my mouth or rubbed my eyes and voila!. Instant illness.

Well, not instant....takes a few days to develop...Trouble is, it used to take a couple of days to get over the common cold. Now, on prednisone, it takes much longer and there's always a chance it could get worse.

That's why I am constantly washing my hands, using hand sanitizer, watching what's being sprayed in my direction (which sounds more disgusting than it is, I reckon). The internist recommends I stay in and away from places where crowds gather.

Stay in for the entire fall and winter? Fat chance. But I will avoid the crowds, which may mean scrapping plans to see my favorite band Living Colour later this month. That is a bummer, but I'll catch up with them eventually. Shopping, writing at B&N, I'll do all of that off-peak.

That big dude in the corner of B&N in Brick or Howell, the guy typing away while wearing a WWI gas mask... Might be me. Feel free to come over and say hello.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that I would be among the first in line rolling up my sleeve for the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccination. People with compromised immune systems should get it, the experts say. However, on the wake of my experience with the seasonal flu shot, I'm adopting a wait-and-see attitude. The cardiologist is cool with it.

"So maybe you allow a few weeks to go by and see what happens to the people who take the shot. You're a journalist so you'll be watching and researching anyway," said a cardiologist I visited this week. I was trying him out; thinking about employing him in my fight against sarc.

"So I should not take the shot, sit back and see if millions of people who get it die before I get it?" I asked.

"That's what I would do," the cardiologist responded.

He's hired. A man after my own heart.

...Good show, Chicago...

Too bad that President Barack Obama could not persuade the International Olympics Committee to award Chicago the 2016 Summer Olympics just on the off-chance that John L. Perry and the people at who have supported him, and the Glenn Becks and Michael Steeles across our great land suffer a collective aneurysm from shock and die.

That was mean, I know. However, it wasn't unpatriotic, a trait demonstrated routinely by the Perrys, Becks and Steels of this nation. They continously wish ill against the country and its sitting president.

Perry even wrote how the country might benefit from coup d'etat - a military overthrow because one group one and another group lost the national election, the way it is explained in the U.S. Constitution, you know? published it and then took it down when readers objected. I guess the people that run that site are only brave then not challenged.

Steele actually argued that winning the Olympic bid does nothing to immediately help the country. It would be a big confidence boost to a nation still undergoing tough times and it will mean jobs that start way before 2016, Mike. It takes a while to build for an Olympics.

Do you not undetstand that because your head is made of steel?

I'm sure they and others will take glee in the fact that the country lost the chance to showcase its splendor to the internationally community. I an almost hear Beck manically screaming, "We lost! Hip-hip hooray!"

So, Chicago didn't win. It's still a great city it can now turn its energy to worthwhile public projects, including improving infrastructure and schools and getting a handle on youth violence. Chicagoans, when they put their collective minds to it, can solve any problem.

Much luck, Chicago. Your success would be good for the country and it would also make the Perrys, Becks and Steels of the land choke, which is fine with me...
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