Thursday, May 24, 2012

To Doctors Deserving Some Thanks

My husband's oncologist was born in 1974, the year my divorced parents conspired to pawn me off to a rich aunt and uncle living in Minnesota because I was a bit of a 16-year old challenge. I do not know the background leading to Dr. G's birth, but I can say that my own Midwestern adventure turned out fairly well, and my parents were freed to pursue their own interests. 

My surely skewed teenage memory recalls my aunt and uncle as similar to the Dursleys of Harry Potter fame. Oh, they were well-intended. But they were as committed as the most fervent evangelists to taming a teen girl raised in Miami. They were convinced I brought to their heartland all the evils of a tropical and contemporary Sodom and Gomorrah. 

Our oncologist  is from Louisiana. He received his medical degree from Louisiana State University in NOLA. My Yankee friends can just hush now, because we really do have some swell medical schools in the South. Besides; he earned himself a fellowship at Harvard, which adds to his cred. And we knew from our first appointment that he is bona fide. Dr. G actually makes eye contact with us during office visits. He calls to check on Lewis after hours. And he recently chased me down in a hospital parking lot to deliver some good news about Lewis' cardiac functions. 

My Minnesota uncle was a physician. One of those small town general practitioners who may or may not exist anymore. He was a husband, father, uncle, and friend. But he was first and foremost a doctor to all who knew him. Indeed, his identity was inseparable from his vocation. I learned this during The-Year-of-Minnesota and it made a great impression on me at age 16. I learned that there are ministers and doctors and others who have been called to help and heal others. There are those who strive to make a difference. They strive to ease pain in their communities. They have a calling and are recognized and respected for their journey. 

My uncle was noted by author William A. Nolen, M.D. in his 1970 novel The Making of a Surgeon. Uncle Greg Olson and Dr. Nolen were long-time colleagues in the small Minnesota town of Litchfield. Nolen's book, admittedly dated, is an excellent chronicle of small town medicine. He praises the dedication and commitment of my uncle and his sacrifices to make a difference. 

I'm not sure if our oncologist will ever be chronicled for his really awesome skills. Lord knows, he knows his stuff and his bedside manner is wicked cool. He is truly the best of small town medicine and cutting edge expertise. Who knew these skills could co-exist? 

My husband's oncologist will deliver to us some very important news in the morning. After several weeks of aggressive chemotherapy, we will learn if my husband's five inoperable tumors have responded. I spent today praying and crying and pleading to God and all ancient deities for a positive report. I prayed to all my dead aunts, uncles, and the many others who went before me, begging for mercy and grace. 

Here's the thing. I know our oncologist will deliver the news, regardless of its severity, with grace and sensitivity. He will continue to guide my husband and I along this difficult journey. He will do this in an effort to ease pain. He is, first and foremost, a doctor, called to help others. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Innocence Lost

On April 30 I predicted in my weekly Patch article that something amazing would happen. 

I predicted that some teen would leave my upcoming yard sale sporting a sequined disco pimp hat that I purchased in 1975. My mind pictured a happy high schooler, delighted with a yard sale treasure, his or her future bright and full of joy.

Little did I know how wrong I would be. 

On May 1, my 16-year old subdivision neighbor Andrew Messina was shot and killed in the doorway of his home by a SWAT sniper. He died following a single bullet to the torso, after a series of events that are still being sorted out. Andy's funeral took place this afternoon, just around the corner at the church where I worship.

I did not know Andy or his parents. I do not know all the details of what happened on May 1, though I have read volumes of public conjecture and less than articulate rants on Facebook and local news websites. The controversy is high, to say the least. Click here for a sample of the emotionally-laden dialogue in our community following the death of the teen. 

First characterized as a hostage situation, that no longer appears to be the case based on a listen to the 911 tape. It is also unclear whether the teen was threatening to harm others, kill himself, or both. Most disturbing, it is unclear whether Andy pointed a gun at SWAT negotiators or not. But the police stand firm in their position that standard procedures were followed and that public safety was at risk.

I refuse to conjecture. I wasn't there. But my alarm bells sounded loudly when I learned that Andy used Zoloft. 

The link between Zoloft and teen suicide has been debated for years, with strong arguments on both side of the fence. Yes, depressed teens are already at a higher risk of suicide, so the fact that some teens on Zoloft commit suicide seems logical. But the unique patterns surrounding teen suicidal behavior and Zoloft seem too prevalent to ignore. 

Yes, the FDA has issued a special warning about Zoloft use by children and teens. Prescriptions come with warning information and physicians routinely advise parents regarding risks. But teens on Zoloft are still dying. Andy is the second in my community of whom I am aware. 

Readers can find a range of information about the Zoloft controversy online. Here is a sample, though I am in no way endorsing the sponsors or vouching for the credibility of any of the sites. 

By the way, I have only mentioned Zoloft in this blog post, but I understand the controversy extends to other SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) drugs prescribed for depression. 

I'm in no position to judge the police and their handling of the incident. And all 
the perfect parenting in the world cannot fully control the teen with depression or behavioral issues. Frankly, parents of these teens don't have many places to which to turn for help. Our families feel forced to hide the issues (listen to Andrew's mother on the 911 tape pleading for silent police support in order to avoid embarrassment). Our communities shun behavioral and emotional matters. They are simply not socially acceptable. And, given events in Woodstock, GA on May 1, our police's standard procedures may lack contingencies for teens experiencing an episode of severe emotional distress. I'm no law enforcement expert, but the use of rubber bullets to end a standoff is not unheard of. 

Dear reader, I confess that I'm not sure what compelled me to write this post. 

I do know Andy Messina's parents must be experiencing an unbearable level of pain. And a 16-year old no longer faces the possibility of a future in this world that is bright and full of joy. Thus, I suppose I write to express condolences to the Messina family. I write with sadness in my heart knowing a mom and dad sit nearby, mourning the loss of their son and wondering w
hat else they could have done to save him.

Friday, May 4, 2012

An Extraordinary Yard Sale Adventure

Shame on me for disappearing from my own blog. It's just that stuff seems to happen to eat up one's time, even if one is a retiree.

Take this weekend.

My husband-who-happens-to-have-cancer and I decided to offer our treasured junk during this weekend's two-day neighborhood yard sale. The event occurs each spring and fall, and involves families in our subdivision toting all their dust collectors, broken stuff, and faded clothing out to their garage or driveway. Then other neighbors drive around for two days rummaging through all the stuff and haggling over the difference between 25 or 50 cents for a 1960's picture frame that's missing the glass.

The sale began today, but we've been preparing for what seems like, well, the torturous eternity that constitutes a presidential campaign. Slowly wading our way through our three-story home, one room and closet at a time, we transferred forklifts full of discards to the garage over the past months. Then we spent this week blowing the spider webs and dog hair off everything that had sat in the garage. Oh we had covered and carefully bagged everything when we took it out. But garages have their own unique atmospheric conditions. Sort of like the dusty conditions of Mars, exacerbated by solar tides.

Anyway, we spent last night setting up as well as we could displays of our treasured junk. Hard to do without long tables and colorful tablecloths, but we did our best. We spread raggedy sheets on the garage floor and set out our wares, leaving ample room for hoards of buyers to walk throughout the displays. It wasn't Macy's, but it worked.

As we set up last night, the early birds arrived. Mostly men in pickup trucks looking for tools and electronics. They were greatly disappointed with my offerings, so started checking out the lawn equipment and other items in our garage that were not for sale. And they did their best to make us feel guilty for not selling stuff like our very own, very needed lawnmower for two dollars. Or finding fault with our not-for-sale tools and telling us how foolish we were for not letting us take items like the dented and dusty yard blower off our hands.

Today brought similar bargaining techniques:

"How much you want for that rug?"

"You mean the handmade oriental wool rug I bought for $300?  It's priced at $10.

"I'm not sure about the color. I'll give you $5."

"Go to Macy's, and good luck."

Here is my favorite exchange of the day:

"What's the price on this shirt"

"You mean the brand new Ralph Lauren polo shirt that still has the $98 price tag on it and has never been worn? $3."

"Will you take $2?"


And the fool actually walked away.

Tomorrow should bring more fun. My big ticket item is the tanning bed, that I will bring out in the morning. The first goober who tries to low ball me may be treated to a demo. I'll set the dial for the equivalent of Martian solar tides.