Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Can you go home again?

I looked at the kid standing across the counter from me with dismay. “Ten dollars to mount one poster onto cardboard?” He nodded, trying to look confident under my intent glare. “You realize we’re talking about slapping on a little glue and sticking it to the cardboard.” He nodded again. I picked up my four posters and shoved them back into the oversized envelope. “Forget it, I’ll do it myself.”

In a prior lifetime I was about as crafty as they got. Tole painting, quilting, t-shirt painting (my Mommy and Me outfits used to sell at Nordstrom’s), clocks, candybar labels – nothing was beyond my grasp, and I loved every minute of it. I used to drop the kids off at school and shoot my bad self over to Michael’s, where I’d loiter, lust, and invariably buy out the entire store.

Now that I’m a black-hearted editor and writer, my time hasn’t been my own for…um…wow, a long time. Until today. Michael’s looked exactly as I remembered it – thousands of aisles filled to overflowing with all the latest and greatest artsy fartsy goodies. My brain went into overload. I found my cardboard, which was large enough to fit all four posters ($8.99 thank you very much). But I didn’t stop there. I found some fun things to make surprise gifties for four of our authors who will be at the autographing booth at this weekend’s BEA. I felt drunk on my own cleverness.

I brought my booty home and got to work. Daughter wiggled the glue and brush in the air. “Gee, Mom, how’s it feel to go back to your roots?” Geez, I thought she was talking about my hair.

“It’s not like I remembered it,” sez I, while rubbing the glue out of my shirt. “I wasn’t as clumsy back then.”

After fifteen minutes of gluing, cutting, and pressing, I had four brilliant, gorgeous posters for my authors. Looking at them made me wish I’d sprung for the backings so they could also stand up on a table. Ah well, maybe later. “Stick that in your bong and smoke it, Kinkos. I just saved myself – ah – the company thirty bucks!”

My little author gifties turned out great, too.

Playing with scissors and glue took me back to when my kids were young and the worst thing we had to worry about was skinned knees and who ate all the Icy Pops. I remembered how I cut my own wood for tole painting. The garage door was always up, and the neighborhood kids (of which there were many) considered us their second home as they filtered in and out while I worked the bandsaw, sanded, and sealed. Daughter, now 21, used to zoom around the garage in her wheelie chair, and I had to lay the garden hose across the driveway so she wouldn’t roll down the apron. My two boys, now 23 and 25, spent their time with the other boys cutting up the egg sacks of black widow spiders who found our neighborhood a sheer delight. It was a simpler time that was always filled with noise and a lot of laughter.

It was fun walking down memory lane, and it’s nice to know that there are times you can go home again. I watch the scant number of kidlets who now own our neighborhood streets ride their bikes and play street hockey, and I know they couldn’t possibly be having as much fun as we did. Those times were magic. So thanks, Kinko’s, for charging a king’s ransom. It was a fun day. I’ll hit reality tomorrow. Maybe.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Dave, we knew ye when...

So David looked at me through a wall of tears. “Look at me, willya? I look like I’m related to the Pillsbury doughboy.”

I tried to soothe him as best I could. “Dave, dude, bubie, I warned you about the evils of writing. It was your grand idea to write the next Great Italian Novel by suggesting that Michelangelo was a drag queen who was being shaken down by the good friars from The Sanctuary of Monte Cassino.”

He smiled. “You have to admit, it’s a great plot.”

“Come on, Dave, it’s out there. It’ll never sell.”

He looked hurt. “Why do you say that? Don’t you think I can write?”

“It’s not that. It’s the plausibility factor. No one is going to believe that your winkie was accidentally knocked off during a rave and Mich had to chisel you a new one, only he ran out of marble and that’s why he had to cover you up with a grape leaf.”

“Do you have any idea how humiliating it is to have tourists peek under my grape leaf?”

“Well, they won’t now, for sure. Look at you,” I said, pointing to his expanded girth. “You’ve let yourself go, man. What is this going to do the tourist industry in Rome? If you’re going to write, you have to arrange your BIC Index* (*Butt In Chair) into more manageable chunks. You have to lighten up on the Hostess Ho-Ho’s for starters. Get up every hour and walk around, do some sit ups and stomach crunches. Put a salad into your diet.”

More tears fell down Dave’s portly cheeks. “What do you recommend?”

“Here,” I said, handing him a card, “this is your pass to 24-Hour Fitness. You’re in California now, so you’re gonna get fit, get a tan, lose the grape leaf, wax your chest, and, for godssakes, buy yourself some swimming trunks.”

He smiled for the first time that day. “And my novel?”

“What the hell, it’s crazy enough that Janet Reid will love it. Oh, and pass me that box of Twinkies, willya?”

Memorial Day

I tip my quill to those blessed souls who make up the Army, Marines, Navy, and Coasties. You are the very best of America.

And to the six brave young men in my son's Stryker Company in Iraq who won't be coming home, Godspeed.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

EMTALA...been there, done that, sort of

Things are heating up over at M.D.O.D.’s blog about EMTALA (Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act ), and it made me think about what it must feel like to be forced to provide health care to anyone regardless of citizenship, legal status, or the ability to pay. And then I remembered that I have experienced this.

When I was a teacher, a little body sitting in a desk was a student, and I never considered their legal status. I didn’t have to because we knew everyone. But over the years, the status of our little school changed. More and more students came in who spoke no English. Not a word. How on earth was I supposed to teach these kids? I complained to the principal that we teachers couldn’t possibly take time away from our students so we could cater to those who knew zip. How was that fair to my other kids? The principal looked down her long nose at me and told me to grow up. WTF? She sat in her office glad handing and smiling to the masses while we were stuck with no resources in which to teach these kids.

I hated every minute of it. I had no backup from my own school, and no answers about how to teach them. The district was thrilled to receive the government dollars by having those little bodies in their seats, so no one cared that they simply sat and colored pictures all day long, did no homework, and had no parental support.

Then came mandatory testing because, lo and behold, test scores were in the tank. There was a huge push to get everyone “up to speed.” Spanish books arrived by the boatload. Great. I don’t speak Spanish, so how was I supposed to teach them? How was I supposed to correct their homework? How was I supposed to balance this with my English speaking kids?

Yes, I realize Spanish should be my second language considering I live in California, but it became a sticking point for me. Why should I have to speak their language and they don’t have to speak English? In the beginning, everyone thought they’d learn English through immersion on the playground, but that didn’t happen. Instead, all the Mexican kids banded together and spoke Spanish. I disallowed Spanish in my classroom, but my principal told me I couldn't take their language away from them. Teach them, and shut up.

The ESL teachers pulled my little non-English speakers out of class for an hour to play catch up. How on earth Sacramento thought a kid could catch up in one hour everything I taught in a day is one of those great mysteries. It didn’t help that these kids’ parents spoke zero English either. How could I possibly talk to them during parent conference time about their failing kids? Did anyone at the highest levels actually care, or was this more PC feel good stuff to keep them in office? Eventually, we were forced to give them less work but grade them on the same level as my regular kids.

Things got really awful around February or March…it’s hard to remember that far back…but I appeared at school one day, and nearly half my class was missing. This went on for a month. What the hell was going on? We were told that all the Mexicans go back to Mexico for a month for some sort of holiday. Great. So now what do we do? Do we sally forth knowing that half my class will be a month behind when they return?

I was furious. Soon after, I became bitter. Those kids missed the multiplication lessons, all the spelling lessons, how to write in cursive, a month’s worth of history and science. In June, I had little choice but to flunk half my class. They hadn’t mastered the most basic rudiments of English, couldn’t spell, do math, history, or science, so they weren’t ready to be promoted. I was called to the principal’s office and told that I couldn’t flunk these kids. They had to be promoted. Otherwise there would be a huge outcry about so many being retained.

“And this is my fault?” I shouted. “These kids missed a slew of school and can barely write their own name. After nine months in my class, they still can’t speak English. Why in the hell are we rewarding this?”

She took her glasses off and looked at me with pity. “You have no choice.”

It was then that I made my decision. “Yeah, I do. I quit. You’ve taken the act of teaching out of my hands and forced me to teach with no regard for a child’s qualifications, like knowing our damn language. Furthermore, you’re forcing me to promote them even though doing so will set them up for further failure. You’ve bastardized the teaching profession, and I refuse to change these grades. You’ll have to do it. And when the shit hits the fan, it’ll be your name on the report cards.”

I cried as I drove home that afternoon. I’d spent so many years in college to become a teacher. I was pretty darned good at my job and had made a difference in many young lives. I was proud of that. Wherever I went, I always had a toothy kid waving at me and asking if I still had my Nerf basketball hoop hanging over the chalkboard to test kids on what they’d learned. Not anymore, kiddo, not anymore.

So, my dear doc buddies, I do understand your anger and frustration. You’re told what to do and how to do it by non-doc feel gooders whose agendas have little to do with logic or financial viability. We don’t have anything formal like EMTALA in education, but we’ve still managed to screw up the education system and overcrowd our classrooms with people who don’t belong there. It seems only natural that our medical system breakdown can’t be far behind.

Monday, May 19, 2008

And speaking of candidates...

No one can say it better than these two...

Do our votes count or not?

I’m confused. California went to the voting booths and cast their ballots. Propositions were won and lost based on those votes. Who could argue with the will of the people, except to maybe question their sanity on many issues?

While I may not like the liberal bent of my home state, I can, at least, have my say by voting, as is our constitutional right. The fact that the CA Supreme Court, by a 4-3 margin, overruled 61% of the voters and legalized same-sex marriage scares the bejabbers out of me.

Where does the power grab end, and what importance does my vote actually have anymore? What does a majority win mean if a body of seven unelected officials can arbitrarily overturn the results? I think these folks see us as the “little people” who are too stupid to dress and feed ourselves and need Big Brother to step in and do our thinking for us.

“Yes, yes, you squeezy little California voters, we know the majority of you voted against gay marriage, but you simply don’t know what you’re talking about.”

This makes my bellybutton invert. This isn’t about the gay marriage issue, but about hijacking our votes – the will of the people. We are only relevant as long as the Supreme Court allows us to be. Don’t look to Sacramento to help us voters, either. They’re the folks who steal people’s land and give it to developers.

So the next commercial or politician I see who shows off his pearly whites while imploring us to “get out and vote,” my reply might be, “why?”

What in the hell has happened to this country?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

HMO = Shut Up and Die

I have an HMO rant burning inside of me, and I simply have to get it out. My friend has a rare form of bone cancer, and nothing was working to shrink the tumor. She researched day and night and came across a doc in another state who uses CyberKnife treatment, which is a robotic radiosurgery system designed to treat tumors anywhere in the body non-invasively and with incredible accuracy. She told her oncologist about it, and he wrote up the referral to her HMO. They turned her down for out of state treatment, but they did refer her to two CyberKnife programs in their network. Both turned her down.

My friend is one of those kick-ass, never take no for a final answer types and appealed the decision to California’s independent medical review board. But she didn’t stop there, after all, this was her life at stake. She also began raising money in case she had to pay for the treatment out of pocket. As she told me, “Screw those insurance weenies. I’m little more than a zit on their butts. It’s is all about the bottom line and acceptable losses. Plain and simple, I’m expendable in their eyes, and I’m not going to let them kill me.”

Her answer was to contact all of her friends and family to picket outside the insurance office. Newspapers and TV crews arrived to cover the event. We weren’t out there all that long before word came down that, magically, her treatment would be approved after all, and oh no, their sudden reversal had nothing to do with our makeshift protest. Hmm.

In an even stranger twist, a doctor from one of the original hospitals who’d turned her down saw the newspaper article and directed his office manager to call my friend. His thinking was, why have her travel across the country when she could have the same surgery in her own hometown? Indeed. He was even more puzzled that a doc from his own hospital had turned my friend down. Clearly, she was a very viable candidate.

Long story short, she had the treatments, and is doing so well it brings tears to my eyes. But I couldn’t help but think about the docs that turned her down. Was the insurance company pulling their strings? After some sleuthing, I discovered the appeals data from 2007 shows that of the state’s largest insurers, including my friend’s insurer, independent doctors sided with the patients in only one third of the cases. Why would that be? Can I really believe (or trust) that HMOs are so efficient that there is never any need for an appeal? Or is there collusion going on? I’ve heard horror stories about how doc’s feet are put to the fire by insurance companies if they ask for too many tests. Just how “independent” are these docs anyway?

I’m tickled pink that my friend is going to survive and live a long time. I’m devastated and bitter that she had to fight so hard and create a media circus to do it. Does anyone really believe socialized medicine will be any better? I certainly don’t.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

If you can't find it, does that mean it doesn't exist?

I’ve been reading my favorite medblogs, and some of them have been talking about the fantasy of fibromyalgia. Not being a doc, I never realized that this wasn’t a real disease, or at least one that could be diagnosed with any certainty because nothing shows up in the lab tests. Since I have no dog in this particular race, my thoughts, instead, went to the frustration a sufferer must feel over having something that many agree doesn't exist.

It reminds me of when my daughter, at the age of 15, got a raging case of mono. It was horrible to watch my kid suffer as she stayed out of school for an entire semester and had a teacher come to our home 3 days a week to check on her progress. After she was well enough to go back to school, she developed mind-crushing headaches and needed long afternoon naps. I thought it was some leftover from the mono; maybe Epstein-Barr or chronic fatigue, but the labs kept coming back normal. I remember the frustration of seeing my formerly vibrant daughter suffer and cry because no one could figure out what was wrong with her. All she could do is learn to live with the constant headaches.

Six years later, the symptoms finally abated, and we’ll never know what was wrong with her. But I always harbored the irrational frustration that only a mom can have at the docs who insisted there was nothing wrong. Clearly there was, but no one could find out what. So did that mean that it wasn't real, or were they suspicious she had a mental problem? It wasn’t that the docs didn’t try. She had CT scans, MRIs, blood tests, but nothing ever popped up. Sadly, it will always be a mystery.

Which brings me back to these fibromyalgia sufferers. I have no idea if it’s real or not, and I make no judgments either way. But after experiencing a damnably puzzling and frustrating number of years with my daughter’s undiagnosable (Lordy, is that word?) affliction, I can’t help but wince reading the number of medical people telling fibro folks, “I don’t believe you,” and making fun of them.

The only thing I can think is that these medical heroes (and, yes, you are heroes) have their reasons for believing as they do about fibromyalgia. I’m just so grateful that no one said this to me or my daughter. Her pain and suffering was real, even though no one knew why. And is there anything more frightening than that? It makes me wonder if it’s possible to have something terribly wrong and not be able to find out why.

And what does this mean for the medical community? If there's nothing that shows up, how does one go about treating it? I can see where an inability to diagnose could turn to doubt and derision on the part of the medical world, but it makes me wonder how fibro can afflict so many people so consistently, yet there isn't a test that will reveal what it is. And since we can't say we know absolutely everything about the human body, is it necessarily fair to deride these sufferers? Or do I have this all wrong?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Cinco de Mayo

Happy Anniversary to the guy who has kept me laughing for 29 years. Whenever I took myself too seriously, you were there to lighten my mood with your quiet, dry wit. You held me whenever I needed a shoulder to cry on, and you’ve kicked my butt when I got complacent. You’re the very best of what love is, and I bless each day with you.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

I don’t get it; I can change the color of my hair with the snap of my fingers and two expendable hours. I can lose weight by walking an extra mile and eating fewer Twinkies. I can tell my dog to sit and my son’s dog to quit eating my daughter’s underwear.

I am woman. Hear me roar. If I’m in complete control, then why, oh, why can I not order this damn flu to be gone?