Conscious Aging: Day 6 Maybe Biopsy Day

It’s early morning in Seattle  on  Monday, and Sara is here. Matt coming mid-morning. Thank heaven they can keep up with work, sort of, from the hospital.  I’m on the rotation for brain biopsy later this afternoon. Yesterday was complicated. Someone had reinstated my 81mg aspirin, which would have created problems if I’d needed a transfusion during the procedure. Under ordinary circumstances I could have been given proactive platelets, but that brought my longtime IgA deficiency into play. This is already more than you want to know — suffice to say I had to wait 12 hours without aspirin to clear the potential transfusion safety issue. Now we are there.

That said, this is a Level One Trauma center. When I first has my episode, the ambulance people assumed a stroke and quite properly brought me here. Now, the assumption is different and my symptoms are brought under control with meds — rather ponderous ones, I might add. That means I’m not a Level One Trauma patient and can bumped by an emergency that comes in by helicopter, usually. If that happens today, I’ll be moved to the affiliated UW hospital and treated there. In some cities, the trauma hospital and the rest of the services are in one building, like Strong in Rochester NY. Here, they are two.

I’m getting a ton of support and concern from all of you, which is just a great feeling and I’m very touched. Many of you have  asked when you can call or visit. Honestly, I can’t do that. My writing is better — in the first days, I was dictating to the kids. Now, I can write my own updates. But it’s laborious. I keep hitting wrong letters, or double typing words and have to go back. It’s more like typing/retyping and is exhausting. Also, at random times my ability to speak clearly wigs out, usually for under a minute then comes back. But I don”t want to scare you to death. I’m a little used to it. It’s amazing what you can get used to. Given at that, I’m conserving my energy for immediate family.

I’m curious and taking note about what is unaffected: my online Jigzone Puzzles, which Tia Phyllis put me on to, and Mrs. Maisel, which I’m watching on Netflix on my phone.

Not how I planned my gorgeous Seattle summer.

I like a lot that many of you are looking at the sky with me, which is what we can share, and telling me what you see. There’s always a way to stay connected.

Conscious Aging: Day Four

Dear friend and massage therapist Nicki tells me to be gentle and accepting with my body. Today I can stand and walk across my room, speak mostly clearly, eat, lift both hands, smile, and write a short post.

I am accepting.

My son and daughter are by my side, and their spouses are caring for kids and running around with everyone’s needs. My sister Wendy came from New Jersey to help.Older sister Linda will come later in the week.

Early in the week I will have a brain biopsy and we will get a diagnosis. Your love and support, prayers, hope for a miracle, give us strength.

Stay with me.  If I lose words, you will remember my language, my humor, my occasional sarcasm. 🙂 That matters.

Today is a gorgeous day in Seattle. I am grateful. I can see the sky from my bed.

Look at the sky with me.



Learning v. Coming to School

This article on whether students at a prestigious Montgomery County public high school need to attend classes in order to pass the course and graduate caught my eye, because it took me back to one of my very early jobs with the Rochester City School district when Jerry and I first moved to that city in 1971. I was a “mental health technician” for the Rochester City School District, charged with testing special ed students but also with helping the school psychologist and social worker with the travails of the large and diverse study body at urban Franklin High School.

My qualifications? A philosophy B.A. from the College of St. Elizabeth, plus two years in the Peace Corps. I had nary a special ed or psychology course to my name. I applied for the publicly posted job, met with the head of Student Services, and he thought I’d be great.

The early 1970’s were a troubled time, with many riots at the school which brought the Rochester Police Department crashing through the front doors in force, batons raised, to try and get students rampaging up and down the halls back in their classrooms without anyone being hurt.

With such large and noisy problems to solve, nobody much noticed one agoraphobic white kid smart enough to know exactly when he needed to show up — to get the syllabus, books, and class assignments, and to sit for tests — in order to pass the course. Other than those specific points, he never came to school. Finally, the attendance officer noticed the boy’s shockingly bad attendance record, and I was in on the meeting about what to do.

The kid was clearly very bright. He was doing very well in his subjects.  He just wasn’t coming to class except when he absolutely had to because Franklin was a scary place under the best conditions and this kid had trouble leaving home for anything. During the meeting he didn’t try to conceal his non-attendance, or make up stories about why he wasn’t in school. He simply said leaving home was hard for him, and he learned better by himself, alone with his books and study assignments. This was the early 1970’s, before things like home schooling, or on line education were options. If you were in high school, you were supposed to show up.  This boy unintentionally offended everyone’s sensibilities by passing with flying colors despite hardly ever darkening the door of the building.

I remember how shocked everyone was when the attendance information was finally laid out, and it was clear how little school this kid was attending. That said, nobody was clear on what to do. He was performing academically beyond grade level, and carefully managing his attendance within the limits of his agoraphobia.

If I recall correctly, the outcome of the meeting was to send me for a home visit to talk with the kid and his family about whether his attendance might be improved. Other than that, there was a tacit agreement to leave the kid alone, and focus on the school’s larger problems.

My guess is that this kid learned enough in high school to do just fine and move on to the next stage of his life. And the system, for once, did the sensible thing.

The Olympian Caster Semenya

Caster Semenya is a South African middle distance runner and Olympic gold winner who has naturally higher levels of testosterone than the typical range for women. Speculation is that Semenya may be intersex.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has now ruled that in order to continue competing, Semenya will have to take hormones that lower her natural testosterone levels and take blood tests to show that she is doing so. That ruling supports an International Association of Athletics Federation ruling that specifically targets athletes like Semenya. The position of IAAF and CAS is acknowledged to be discriminatory, but the belief is that this discrimination is necessary to safeguard the integrity of women’s sports.

This is a tough one, and it has split the world of women’s athletics. Billie Jean King, Abby Wambach, and Martina Navratilova support Semenya’s position. So does Madeleine Pape, an Australian runner who lost to Semenya in competition. British long distance runner Paula Radcliffe supports IAAF and CAS.

I think blanket rules to cover relatively rare situations are generally a bad idea. I also think it’s ironic that governing bodies who work hard to control performance enhancing drugs in elite competition are now taking the position that performance-limiting drugs must be used in this case. If I were Semenya, I wouldn’t take hormone treatments that could have an uncertain impact on my overall health for the sole purpose of making me other than I am and satisfying sports officials.

Asking her to do something quite unreasonable, I say.

Kamau Bell on Megachurches

Kamau Bell is a mid-40’s American comic and TV host; his original series United Shades of America is on CNN Sunday night. For a tall black guy who tackles exceedingly difficult topics like a visit with the modern day KuKlux Klan,  Bell is disarmingly laid back and funny. He sports not quite a full Afro, but way more than low-drama Obama’s buzz cut. Bell dresses in jeans and a shirt — no Anderson Cooper suit with a crisp white shirt and tie, no matter where Bell is going.

That Bell has a history as a stand-up comic protects him, I think. He just doesn’t evoke hostility, even from the most hostile people. I found that show where he visited the  cross-burning Klan terrifying, even though I suppose he had the protection of a CNN camera crew who were doing the filming. That the Klan members were chummy with Bell while explaining the ins and outs of cross burning gave me chills. I held my breath until he got out of there and went back down the dark road, safely away from the rising flames and white hooded Klan members.

Bell’s latest foray is into the world of megachurches, specifically those that make their home in Dallas, home of the megachurch movement. Bell visits a conservative white one, where the pastor told his 30,000 followers to vote for Trump because Trump is in alignment with Jesus, a black megachurch dedicated to social justice whose pastor follows the path of Martin Luther King, an LGBTQ megachurch with a Brit gay pastor who tries to redeem “church” for those most wounded by it, and a megachurch-in-the-making that has just raked in enough money to build a big structure in the boonies outside the city.

All of these places share common threads: they are full-blown media productions that attract tens of thousands of members; they present the gospels in an easy to follow mode that assumes worshippers want to be entertained; they bring in a lot of money; they are by and large segregated by race, sexual orientation, philosophy. One white megachurch pastor said outright that he considers Jesus an entertainer, and his ministry calls him to be an entertainer too. The Prosperity Gospel megachurches make no apologies for insisting that members fund the lavish lifestyles of their preachers; the 6M jet pastor is unabashed in saying God wants the members to buy him this jet.

After my book How Much is Enough? came out in 2002 and I got hired by a lot of Protestant churches to talk about stewardship, I attended a Wednesday night church service at one of these places in the midwest, at the invitation of my host. I found the service intentionally hypnotic, with low lights and repetitive chanting and people swaying back and forth with their eyes closed. Biblical instruction was projected onto a big screen with fill-in-the-blank questions and answers, as in “The purpose of prayer is _________.” I forget the single word answer, but the congregants all knew it. During the praise section a church member was singled out for having baked 400-some odd cupcakes singlehandedly. She was a nondescript woman who probably didn’t get much recognition in the rest of her life, but here we all were shouting praise to the Lord  for Sister-Cupcake-Baker.

I found the whole thing creepy. But thousands of people flock to these places, while more traditional Protestant worship is dying on the vine. In some way megachurches and the election of Donald Trump are hitting the same chord, but it’s not music that I myself can hear.

Getting to Know Seattle: Fallen Construction Crane

Some of you have asked if Klainer West lives anywhere near the fallen building crane that killed four people and injured three here in Seattle on Saturday. The answer is yes. I walked past Mercer and Fairview, in the South Lake Union intersection where the crane fell, a little over a week ago — right past the new buildings under construction and that very vulnerable crane. That intersection is a boundary for Amazon Central; Sara works there. And Matt drives past the intersection every day on his way to work.

We weren’t there on Saturday and didn’t know the people who lost their lives or were injured. But the accident did indeed hit close to home.

Downtown Seattle is filled with building cranes, and  you often can’t avoid driving beneath them. Scary.

Getting to Know Seattle: Spring Sounds

As I sit drinking my morning coffee and writing the next day’s blog posts, I am serenaded by the sound of a cement truck dumping its load. Last summer the small Craftsman house across the street was jacked up, and a new entire floor added below. There was a new house built from scratch just down the street. That meant a summer of hammering, banging, sawing, screeching … and cement trucks or other building material delivery trucks dropping their supplies. If one construction site wasn’t doing something noisy, the other one was.

Sigh. I was glad to have it all done. But I breathed a sigh of relief too soon. Now the house two doors up from the reconstructed house is jacked up, and construction has begun. People who live in Seattle have a lot of money. They can buy a house for 1M — the going entry price on Queen Anne — and consider it a fixer-upper.

Eventually the cacophony fades into the background, but right now the construction noise feels very loud.

Getting to Know Seattle: From Old to New

Seattle neighborhoods are known for Craftsman homes, built at around the same time as my stucco Tudor home in Rochester, NY — late 1920’s, early 1930’s. The Craftsman homes are not usually very large, and they are often on small lots — making adding to their space difficult. But they are filled with fine architectural detail and skilled wood work. These are features you don’t get in newer condo buildings in downtown Seattle — even at a 1M price point for a two bedroom. The home I live in now, belonging to daughter Sara, is a fine example of the period.

Slowly, the Craftsman homes are being razed and replaced with modern structures — more space efficient, but they change the character of the neighborhood. I passed these homes today on my way downtown, on opposite sides of a steep street.

Old giving way to new…

If you had a choice, which place would you live in?

Watch Out for Your Cassowary

I’ve never understood why people want to keep dangerous wild animals as pets. Siegfried and Roy did a Las Vegas act with white Siberian tigers for years until one of the tigers attacked Roy on stage and nearly killed him. A Connecticut woman, Sandra Herold, kept Travis the chimp as “part of the family” until Travis attacked and came close to killing her friend, Charla Nash. Nash had to have a face transplant after Travis ate hers. Travis apparently slept in Herold’s bed, watched TV with her, and ate steak at her table. All good until Travis reverted to norm and tried to eat her friend.

Now, a Florida man has been killed by a cassowary that he kept on the grounds of his home. A cassowary is a dangerous bird. They have pointed nails, long enough to function like daggers, growing from three toes on each foot. They attack when frightened. They do not have the capacity to make friends with humans.

The 75 year old man’s fiance’ apparently said he died “doing what he loved”. Not sure what that might mean, other than the man had a fondness for tempting death.

These human/animal fatal encounters put others at risk, namely the emergency personnel called to get the attacker secured and rescue the victim. Police and other emergency responders are trained to deal with many different adversaries. I doubt that includes much preparation for subduing a raging chimp or a killer cassowary.

To be fair, the wild creatures are only doing what they do. It’s the humans who keep them who need a swift, sharp reality check.