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Category Archives: Health care

Jennifer Jaff: Obituary

Less than a month ago I was introduced, by my daughter, to Jennifer Jaff, the Founder and Executive Director of Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illness. Jennifer conceived of and founded Advocacy for Patients out of her  passion and commitment to ensuring equal rights for those living with chronic illness.  She was dedicated to improving the quality of life for others based on her own experience with Crohn’s disease.

Jennifer helped me resolve a minor problem I was having regarding a referral from  my primary health provider. She did not know me, had never met me F2F, but when asked for help she did the research and sent me thorough instructions about what I should do. I’d never been involved with a professional health advocate before. Just seeing that someone like this exists in the world was so reassuring. Now I wonder if I’ll find someone like Jennifer ever again.

For details about Jennifer’s life and death, see her obituary and/or the Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illness website.


Democratic Convention Part II: The Party With Heart

Part II: In Praise Of Democrats

Before I say one more word about the Democratic convention, anyone who missed Bill Clinton’s speech last night should run right over to You Tube and watch it now. It is well worth the 49 minutes—this guy can talk, remember?—and he reminds you that there’s still hope in the realm of electoral politics. More on Bill later.


Show Don’t Tell is the first—possibly the only—rule of creative writing. You don’t introduce your main character with, “Jane was prone to daydreaming out in nature.” Rather, you say something like, “Jane ambled down the lilac-lined driveway on her way to pick up the mail as she’d been asked to do, when a cluster of just-bloomed orange tiger lilies beckoned her. She stood admiring them so long that she forgot to do the errand and went back empty-handed.”

This writing metaphor came to me because, at their convention, Messrs. Romney, Ryan, and other Republicans told us, in a mountain of phony verbiage, what caring concerned people they are, while the  Democrats showed their care and concern via a long line of speakers whose lives have been improved by President Obama’s policies. Who knew?

Lily Ledbetter told of the injustice that was never made right for her, but won’t be inflicted on our daughters and granddaughters because President Obama signed her namesake, The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, as his first piece of legislation. Ledbetter was one in the parade of strong, righteous women who addressed the convention. There was Nancy Keenan, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League-Pro-Choice America (NARAL); Sandra Fluke, whom Rush Limbaugh called a slut for demanding insurance-covered contraception; and Stacey Lihn, whose baby daughter needed three heart surgeries within the first few years of her life, the cost of which would have maxed out her insured care, until Obama’s health bill made such caps illegal. Said Lihn:

“Like so many moms with sick children, I shed tears and I could breathe easier knowing we have that net below us to catch us if we fall… Zoe’s third open-heart surgery will happen either next year or the year after. If Mitt Romneybecomes president and Obamacare is repealed, there’s a good chance she’ll hit her lifetime cap.”

Stacey Lihn, husband Caleb, and Zoe

There was also a visitation from Sister Simone, a Catholic nun who called Republicanism “Politics masquerading as values.”  This I take exception to: organized religion doesn’t have the exclusive franchise on values. Politics are about who has power and who does not; who has money and who does not; who will eat and who will not. If that’s not defining values, I don’t know what is.

The issues of contraception and birth control were front and center, more than they’ve ever been before, a hard-hitting response to the crap Republicans have been throwing around since the primaries. I give the Dems a lot of credit; in fact, I’m ecstatic  that they seem to have grown a pair. (You know what I’m saying…didn’t you just love Clinton’s similar allusion to “brass?” )

One thing that bothers me, though, about the contraception/abortion debate is the absence of any comparison to policy on Viagra and similar drugs. They’re covered by insurance to “treat” “erectile dysfunction” (gimme a break!) without a single iota of controversial discussion.  You don’t hear men being grilled about their “ED”, they’re simply believed when they say they have it. Men aren’t treated like children who can’t make their own decisions. Nobody even dares to point out that fewer erections are a normal part of aging. Nobody accuses men of wanting others to pay for their pleasure. I’ve heard absolutely zero controversy about these drugs that’ve been flagrantly misused for recreational sex since Day One of their appearance in pharmacies. I even knew a guy who stocked up on them just to sell them at a profit, and I’m sure he wasn’t the only one. I’m not saying I’m against Viagra use; but it does make me furious how different men’s and women’s sexuality gets treated. It’s the double standard for geezers!  I know…this should probably be a separate blog. I just had to say something…okay, moving right along:

The Party With Heart

The ultimate tear jerk material, or so I thought, came on Tuesday night with a video tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy. Naturally, there was not a dry eye in the house—or, I’ll bet, in the homes of people like me who watched those gut-wrenching memories and remembered a time when we had a more functional government.

At one point the Kennedy footage evoked simultaneous tears and laughter, in a segment of the debate between Teddy and Mitt Romney in their opposing campaigns for Senate. Kennedy: “I’m pro-choice, he’s multiple choice.” He ended a recitation of Romney’s ever-spinning opinion changes with “If we give him two more weeks he may vote for me!”

Google Image

Did I say “ultimate” tear jerk material? Sorry, Teddy, I mean no disrespect to your memory, but Bill Clinton topped you this time, on Wednesday. I can hardly begin to convey the genuine emotions, sharp intelligence and wit, exquisite logic, and the pure inspiration coming from Bill Clinton. Going through the Republican charges against Obama, Clinton spelled out a rebuttal to each, piece by piece. He laid out what they’d said, then insisted we all “Look at what’s really happening,” and he told the truth concerning the budget, the deficit, education, health care, just about every issue that matters. He predicted what a Romney administration would mean to different groups of people, including children with disabilities like autism and Downs Syndrome, and he ended with a firm, utterly believable insistence that “We can’t let it happen!” He brought the audience to their feet, tugging on their hearts until he managed to rekindle the spirit of hope. Bill Clinton has been called The Comeback Kid. He’s the kid who’s got the brass to say “America always comes back,” in a way that makes you believe it’s possible.

At the end of Clinton’s speech Barack Obama came onto the stage and they embraced, a visual linkage of one administration to the other. Clinton’s old rallying song, “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” played, then switched to Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” the  perfect song for Obama and his struggle against the obstructionist Republicans. Obama’s a great speaker, but I’m not sure he’ll top Clinton with his acceptance speech tonight. I’ll tell you what, though: Democrats and Independents, and maybe even a few Republicans, will be rooting for him.

Clinton, Obama embrace

A few media blurbs on Clinton’s speech:

Bill Clinton came in and beat up the other side.”–Christopher Hayes

“Extraordinary.”–Andrea Mitchell. 

“As a Democrat it doesn’t get any better than this.”—Ed Schultz

Part III: Media Coverage (Coming Soon)

Perspectives On Abortion

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I just posted the following comment to NPR’s Perspective Page in response to one they aired this morning:

There was no doubt in my mind that I would have an abortion when I got pregnant by a man who told me he’d had a vasectomy. Planned Parenthood, that wonderful organization, said they’d heard the story before.

I was living in New York at the time, working as a legal secretary, trying to recover from the past decade, during which I had gotten married and pregnant at 19; gave birth to a son with hydrocephalus (a disorder of the central nervous system requiring several surgeries); had a baby girl two years later, got divorced, and, after two years as a single mother, let them go live with their father and his new wife while I figured things out. It was 1974 and abortion had only recently been legalized.

I am now 66. My children are grown; my daughter has two of her own. My son lives independently, despite ongoing physical and mental problems, a few miles from me. From this vantage point, my third pregnancy and subsequent abortion are minor blips in a difficult, complicated life. I rarely even think about it, except when women like Ms. Gresset tell their painful experience and extend it to everyone else by concluding nobody should have an abortion. There are as many experiences of abortion as there are women who have them. In my case, at the moment it was performed I did have intense feelings—but they lasted only for those few moments. I felt like life—not a baby, but the life force, life energy—was being sucked out of my body, which it literally was, and I cried. My first thought, however, was not of regret, but of determination. I said to myself, “This is never going to happen to me again.” And it hasn’t.

What if I’d had that baby? I would have had to care for him/her by myself. My two children, who’d already suffered through more difficulties than some people endure in a lifetime, would have felt confused and rejected that they were not living with me, yet I had another child. It would’ve taken me ten times longer to feel confident and competent enough to take them back, as I did after four years. If I’d had that baby, I have no doubt he or she would have a lot of problems as an adult.

Given the controversy surrounding this issue, I think it’s irresponsible to air an anti-abortion statement—which Ms. Gresset’s is—without giving equal time to the other side. Ms. Gresset doesn’t just tell her own experience, she goes on to proclaim that everyone should learn from it and never have an abortion. Wouldn’t it be absurd if I told everyone they should have abortions based on my story? It is just as wrong for Ms. Gresset to do it. I’m not even going to venture into that territory, but just say that I’m enormously glad I had the freedom to choose not to have a child when having one would have been, not “inconvenient,” but devastating.

Just Enough For The Inner City

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I don’t live in the worst neighborhood in the world, but I do live along the edge of a gang-ridden, inner city ‘hood. Crime and the forces that are supposed to keep them under control here are so dysfunctional — and have been for a long time — that the Federal government is slated to take over management of the Oakland Police Department any day now.

Since I moved here some 3+ years ago I’ve complained non-stop—but  then, I’ve always complained. I went from being raised as a 1950s middle class kid, married slightly up, left that life in part for political reasons, and began moving gradually downward ‘til I landed here.  At 66, I won’t be purposely moving any further down if I can help it. Should the Republicans come into full power again I could easily end up homeless–but I’m no longer moving, even subconsciously, in a downward direction. Yes, it’s true: the long slide down was in large part intentional.

I wanted to experience life, and since I couldn’t afford to experience the high life I went for the low. I wanted to learn things, and that I have. Problem is, when things get tough I forget that I chose the road less traveled, so I whine and blame the political structure for how hard my life is. Glimpsing the truth means I’ve stopped resisting it. You cannot learn when you’re resisting. Doris Lessing says you  learn nothing until you work through “what you’re landed with.” I think it’s the same sort of idea.

And I’m learning–have been learning all this time—the way poverty can be a central and integrated part of a human being, whether one is born or grows into it. I’m not observing or reading about it either: I’m learning it on a cellular level.

My neighbors complain about the smallest thing anyone does that might infringe the least little bit on their mental or physical space. “When you ain’t got nuthin’ you got nuthin’ to lose” seems to be a truth they resist, refusing to admit they have nothing to lose anymore. Neighbors yell at me when I let out a cheer during a ball game. They shout insults through the open windows if I sing a song while cooking dinner. I can’t shake out my dust mop: from one window the dust allegedly flies into the apartment under mine; on the fire escape it hits the allegedly “clean” cars in the parking lot; and the hall window overlooks a narrow alley shared with the building next door, whose residents told me to stop dirtying their space. We’re talking about dust on a mop, floating up towards the sky, drifting over sidewalks full of candy wrappers, cigarette butts, and used condoms. Turf. Doesn’t matter if it’s dirty, it’s still someone’s turf.

When a person outside the train station asks me for 63 cents exactly, just 63 cents to get them on the train, I no longer dismiss it as a cock-and-bull story: I have occasionally needed 63 cents—or 26, or 85–for bus fare to reach my bank so I can withdraw from the Social Security check just deposited that morning, buy a little food and a ride home, maybe even a cuppa coffee.

The inferior health care and the lifestyle that brings greater health problems is more than political theory. I had COPD for five years without it worsening in the least, until I moved here, lived and walked every day on hot dusty streets that have very few trees, near the freeway overpass I cross on my way to the nearest dumpy, ill-equipped—but cheap—supermarket. Four months after quitting smoking my breath still hasn’t rebounded, what with my lungs inhaling vehicle smoke on normally hot days and fireplace smoke on cooler Bad Air Days. I did a little research and found out how to get the city to plant more trees in a ‘hood—individual homeowners must agree to care for a tree planted in front of their house, and I just can’t imagine the homeowners around here going for it.  I mean, if residents leave plastic bags full of old clothes piled up on sidewalks and in yards for weeks, are they going to promise to water trees on schedule? Besides, the information flyers would have to be in too many languages—Spanish of course, but also several different Asian dialects. I tried telling someone who was planting flowers in her yard about the trees—but she didn’t understand English, or even want to try. Am I being racist? I ask myself anxiously …

Hell, I can’t stand to live on this friggin’ planet any longer, much less in my own damn neighborhood!

But if I weren’t here I’d miss Marc Maron…

While I’m here spewing I’m reminding myself of Mark Maron…If you’ve never heard his podcast WTF, I envy you madly: you’re in for a world-class treat. Maron’s a standup comic in his late 40’s who’s apparently been searching for years to find his niche, and a couple of years ago he did. Twice a week he interviews quirky or famous or talented or lunatic people, most of them comics but sometimes singers or writers, mostly not famous but sometimes as big as Jimmy Fallon or Robin Williams.

The big appeal though isn’t the interview subjects; it’s Maron himself. This is a comic who doesn’t “tell jokes” but who raps, mostly about himself, with little plan or foresight, digging and scratching until he reaches universal truths. I am not too embarrassed to admit I’m in love with him—unfortunately he’s in a committed relationship (his third) and I’m too old for him anyway. I’m sure most of his listeners, both men and women, feel the same. It’s because we feel so connected to him: you can’t help it, when someone places his finger exactly on that spot that aches so badly, that place that’s been longing for a human touch, and he pushes and twists until pain floods your consciousness, much the way a masseur hits a sore and knotted muscle and kneads it smooth. That’s the way Maron operates: he’s a genius. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and/or visit the website at WTF .

The World As We Know It

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Warning: The following material is obscene, explicit, and depressing. If you have a delicate constitution and choose to read it anyway, good for you.

As Hurricane Alex, the first to hit since the oil spill, passes over the Gulf states, workers are frantically cleaning up oil from the beaches they just finished cleaning. I imagine every storm for quite awhile will be dumping fresh oil (if you can call this nasty stuff ‘fresh’) onto the sand, and this arduous, health-compromising cleanup will begin anew. Kind of makes you think of Sisyphus and his boulder, doesn’t it?

Depending on your age, it’s a very different planet than the one we knew as children. Deadly floods. Lethal storms. Devastating earthquakes. More bad air days than good. Mud slides, fires, tsunamis, outsized snowstorms, winter weather in May and summer weather in January. CancerCancerCancer. More babies born with physical and mental disabilities, more kids getting strange and debilitating illnesses from toxins in the environment. An ocean that might be ruined beyond redemption. Don’t expect oysters, or any fruits of the sea, any time soon.

No Comment Department: A video by John Walthen, shot from the sky, of the oil-covered sea and dying dolphins.

In addition to this planetary breakdown we predicted and are witnessing, the social structure isn’t holding up too well either. No work. No money. No housing. No health care. More and more people dying of poverty’s repercussions. More prisons, fewer schools, all part of a self-perpetuating cycle that’s both cause and effect of more violence, hatred and fear. WarWarWar. More guns let loose in our cities. A dysfunctional, vitriolic political system. Marx predicted that capitalism would implode on itself. It seems to be doing just that.

Meanwhile, we each focus on our little corner of the world and try to hold body and soul together. Yesterday I wrote on my business blog about my own puny concerns, the world of online writing. Today I seem to have returned to what is becoming an almost constant state of grief for our dying planet. I don’t believe in God and prayer, but I offer a kind of prayer first heard 35 years ago in Lily Tomlin’s The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.