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Archive for July, 2017

Stripping away the mandate for people to purchase healthcare, chopping healthcare down to the bare bones of a “skinny” bill that would have thrown millions off Medicaid, with a simple assurance of replacing the ACA in the future, was unacceptable to three Republican senators. And thank the Lordie for that!

Now we can return to our summer fun with a side-eye on politics, waiting for this administration – and NOT our healthcare – to implode. If you’re in the market for a good beach/lake/pool read, here’s what’s on my revolving nightstand (a bookcase in the form of a table).

I just finished reading one of Parnassus Bookstore’s Special Editions, “Do Not Become Alarmed,” by Maile Meloy. It’s a thriller, with three families on a cruise ship to South America when their children are suddenly swept away by a tide during a botched shore excursion. I approached this read half-heartedly since I didn’t need to be depressed in my fictional life, but I was swept away by the prose. Full disclosure, I didn’t finish the book at night since I was afraid it would have left me sleepless!

I’ve joined a virtual book club that has another Nashville connection. I adore Reese Witherspoon, probably because I can see her playing the Flapper in the movie version of The Novel, and she just started her own book club on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RWBookClub  She gave her followers three choices, and the winner is  “The Alice Network,” by Kate Quinn. The year is 1947 and although I’ve only just started, I’m in love with the main character. Based on the true resistance network of brave women and men who had gone behind Nazi lines in France, I’m anticipating a wonderful ride.

Teed up and ready to read are two more books: J Courtney Sullivan’s “Saints for All Occasions,” and “Hunger,” by Roxane Gay.

Who wouldn’t love Sullivan’s exploration of family and faith? I read her novel, “Maine” months ago and it had the ring of truth to this lapsed Catholic. Here is what Ron Charles at the Washington Post had to say about “The year’s best book” – “Saints for All Occasions:”

“This family has a way of forgetting what it doesn’t want to know,” Sullivan writes, and Nora depends desperately on that common predilection. “She wondered how much longer she could keep up the lie, even as she understood that she had committed herself to it for life.” The most fascinating element of the story is watching a daring act of deception coalesce into the solid-seeming shape of history.    https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/j-courtney-sullivans-saints-for-all-occasions-is-this-years-best-book-about-family/2017/05/08/3a57acd8-30ca-11e7-9534-00e4656c22aa_story.html?utm_term=.d32d5c3a3b0f

And getting skinny is somehow not on and always on the mind of memoirist Roxane Gay. In “Hunger,” another First Edition’s pick, she chronicles her childhood rape and her reaction to that trauma by overeating. In her own words: “I grew up in this world where fat phobia is pervasive,” she says. “And I just thought, ‘Well, boys don’t like fat girls, so if I’m fat, they won’t want me and they won’t hurt me again.’ But more than that, I really wanted to just be bigger so that I could fight harder.”

Whether you get your books in the mail from Nashville, download them on your tablet, or visit your local bookstore or library, you may want to peruse the Man Booker Prize long list: http://themanbookerprize.com/news/man-booker-prize-2017-longlist-announced

And if you are lucky, you may light upon a free book in a public place. Yes, I did say free so keep your eyes peeled! The talented Emma Watson is an official book fairy, but you could sign up to deliver books too! All you have to do is clap your hands, and visit their site, truly. http://ibelieveinbookfairies.com/

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Today Republicans will be voting on healthcare. Apart from a last ditch effort to blame their inability to “repeal” OR “replace” the ACA on Democrats, at least one Congressman from Texas believes the gridlock is a “repugnant” result of his female colleagues.

“Some of the people that are opposed to this, they’re some female senators from the North East… If it was ‘a guy from south Texas’ who was generating so much discord in the party, I would ask them to settle their differences in a gun fight,”  Blake Farenthold said. One woman senator is from Alaska, but I guess if you count West Virginia with Maine that makes it 2 -1

So it’s High Noon on the Hill?

While it is true that three GOP women profess they will not vote on any bill they haven’t seen or don’t understand, they may also be slightly peeved that they were excluded from the bargaining table in an infamous photo of an all men panel. Or maybe their reticence indicates a deeper truth – that women and children will suffer if Medicaid is cut:

“According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about half of all births are now paid for by Medicaid, ranging from 72 percent in New Mexico in 2015 to 27 percent in New Hampshire.” Oh, and it also pays for about 62% of all nursing home residents, most of whom are women. So the party who calls itself the party for LIFE, would like to cut the life line of those women most in need of health insurance.

In fact, all their so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” will most likely have to close. The irony of it all…and since Planned Parenthood is under attack, your guess is as good as mine as to where our country will fall on the world’s Maternal Mortality Rates. Oh wait,

U.S. women are more likely to die during childbirth than women in any other developed country, leading the U.S. to be ranked 33rd among 179 countries on the health and well-being of women and children. Women in the U.S. face a 1-in-1,800 risk for maternal death, the worst among the developed nations surveyed in Save the Children’s 16th annual State of the World’s Mothers report http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20150506/NEWS/150509941

In 1979 when the Bride was born, the entire hospital bill was $2,600. That included a day in the NICU, which I’d rather not explain since I’m sure that doctor would not like my story. We paid for that bill ourselves because we didn’t have insurance at the time. Due to an ancient and unheard of practice, all my pre-natal visits were free, ie “professional courtesy.” Today, the cost for a C-section (I had a breech birth) is most likely tens of thousands of dollars!

Sen McCain will be returning to vote on some form of a healthcare bill that would affect up to 69 million Medicaid patients – there was an increase in 11 million after the ACA passed. This means 15 million people may lose coverage by 2026. It would have a devastating effect on women, on the elderly and disabled, and patients undergoing opioid addiction services. Is that what the heartland wanted when they elected Mr T? http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/06/27/534436521/from-birth-to-death-medicaid-affects-the-lives-of-millions

I’d like to think that just like Gary Cooper, who played the marshal in High Noon, McCain will stand alone and face down evil. He will exhibit compassion by doing the right thing. The producers of the iconic western in 1952 were being pressured by McCarthy’s Red-baiting fears to fire the writer and blacklist Carl Foreman, who was Cooper’s friend. John Wayne was leading the charge against Foreman when Gary Cooper said, “If Foreman goes, Cooper goes.”

“They’re making me run, I’ve never run from anybody before,” Marshal Will Kane said to the neophyte Grace Kelly.

Today is the day to get up and move, to call your senators people. Here are my grandchildren under a wishing tree; what will these senators tell their grandchildren?

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My heart goes out to Sen John McCain, 80, who was recently diagnosed with an extremely aggressive brain cancer. His glioblastoma was found “incidentally” in medical parlance, in that doctors were removing a blood clot that was associated with this condition when they found the culprit. It’s the same kind of tumor that killed Sen Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden’s son, Beau.

It’s the same cancer that killed my Father.

My Father was a pharmacist in Scranton, PA. He had survived the Great Depression and was raising five children with the Flapper. At first, it was only headaches, but later he lost the use of his left arm. My sister Kay had to help him actually grind medication in a mortar at the back of the drug store while her younger brothers read comic books up front. Psychology was a relatively new field at the time; a psychiatrist told my parents that they should have another child because my Father had “lost the will to live.”

I am that sixth child and I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for his glioblastoma. The Flapper always joked that I was the only child she had planned! My Father’s friend, an ophthalmologist, noticed his bulging retina and sent him back to the university hospital where they operated on his brain right before Christmas 1948. I was three months old. He died in April the next year, he was only 47. Our Year of Living Dangerously was just beginning.

Although I may not have agreed with Sen McCain’s policies over the years, I have always considered him a true patriot. And unlike many politicians, he didn’t couch his words in innuendo. He played it straight and tried to be fair and work across the aisle. His daughter, Meghan, Tweeted:

“It won’t surprise you to learn that in all this, the one of us who is most confident and calm is my father. He is the toughest person I know. The cruelest enemy could not break him. The aggressions of political life could not bend him. So he is meeting this challenge as he has every other. Cancer may afflict him in many ways: But it will not make him surrender. Nothing ever has.”

But this type of cancer is a very cruel enemy indeed. Survival rates are devastating – only 14 months average with 5-10% alive five years after the diagnosis. Will he choose to fight with chemotherapy and radiation, or will he choose to battle Mr T on the Senate floor? Looking at his recent statements to Sen Lindsay Graham, I think he may do both!

Something happens to us when we are reminded of our mortality, when time begins to shrink. Bob said after his cervical surgery, he had less patience with hospital shenanigans and employee’s misbehavior. Before surgery he may have forgiven a surgeon’s harassment in the OR, for example. After surgery, not so much.

McCain is a war hero, and he is already criticizing Mr T’s strategy, or lack thereof, in Syria and Afghanistan. But if you recall, that other Lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy, was instrumental in getting President Obama’s ACA passed while he was battling this same cancer. If John McCain were to bring both parties together to salvage healthcare in this country, his legacy would be outstanding. I wish him well on this battlefield.

And check out the Google Doodle today. It’s celebrating the 106th birthday of Marshall McLuhan, who coined the phrase, “The medium is the message.” He predicted the internet but I wonder what he would think of Twitter. It was a key factor in Mr T’s election, and has taken the place of greeting cards as our politicians send heartwarming thoughts to McCain in 140 “characters.”

I don’t know which brother’s arm is sticking out behind the Flapper, but this is one of the few pictures I have of my Father.    IMG_0991

 

 

 

 

 

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You’ve all seen them while running through an airport. The giant ads – no, not the picture of the Parlor Mob at JFK – pictures of doctors in white coats, smiling in front of computers. Why wait for hours at your local Emergency Department? Can’t get an appointment with your actual doctor for months? Maybe you’re too sick to drive, and just too busy to take an Uber to an Urgent Care?

Well, the Virtual Doctor is in!

The first time I saw my very own Dr McDreamy at UVA I was slightly disappointed. Like many women, I had never had a primary internal medicine doctor before…ObGyns sure, and specialists to repair meniscus tears etc. Whenever something was seriously wrong, I always had Bob to remind me this was just a virus and it would get better with time. But a real doctor, this was something new to me.

Let’s go over the best parts first: the waiting room was almost empty; he was on time; his nurse was efficient, I was blessed with some very good genes so my medication list is mostly vitamins; his resident asked all the right questions; and finally, when I saw the doctor, he sat and talked with me for a very long time. I was in love!

And now for the not so good parts: I had to drive 40 minutes to park in a gigantic cement parking garage I would later get lost in; the walk to his office was well over a mile; and the worst part of all, he never actually touched me. I never got undressed and jumped onto an exam table clinging to a paper robe. No physical exam…I left his office with appointments for tests like blood work and a mammogram.

Let’s skip ahead to that week between my fall off the steps in Nashville, and our trip to the South of France. I called my Primary Care doctor and he was away and they couldn’t fit me in. I called my Orthopedist and his office said since I didn’t break any bones, he doesn’t do muscles! I didn’t bother trying to see my Dermatologist. I wondered aloud, is this what it’s like for everybody? When you finally really really need to see a doctor, like you can barely walk and you’re about to get on a plane, they are nowhere to be found?

Well folks, I think Bob may have found his retirement second act. Emergency docs have to know a little bit about every disease and a whole lot about the ones that will kill you. And isn’t that what we all want to hear? You don’t have a terminal illness. It’s just a cold, get over it! Well, maybe they will say it with a bit more finesse, into their monitor.

Dr Ali Parsa, founder and chief executive of digital healthcare app Babylon, sees the (remote physical and mental) health trend as an undoubted force for good.
“It’s time to do with healthcare what Google did with information – using the power of technology to democratise access for all, and put a personal (digital) doctor in everyone’s pocket regardless of geography or income,” he says. http://www.bbc.com/news/business-40629742

Bob’s been doing this for years already with our relatives and friends. People send him pictures of rashes, x-rays of broken bones, brain CAT scans. He’s functioned as our collective consultant at seders and dinner parties. “My foot’s just not getting better.” Or, “Will you just take a look at all the drugs I’m taking?”

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want an App or a Bot to speak to about my medical condition, but having a real, live physician on FaceTime or Skype? Sure! And the doctor or the patient could be in Katmandu, so long as the WiFi is working – this takes boutique medicine to the next level.

Lots of hospitals do this already. Did you know in most rural parts of the country, smaller community hospitals have critical care ICU docs checking in via monitors from their big city university hospital? At night, radiologists in other countries read X-Rays that are sent  digitally from the US. This has been going on for years.

I’m feeling hopeful today after the Senate saw fit to drop their misguided bill to “fix” the ACA and throw millions off Medicaid. The sheer irony of Sen McCain delaying the vote because he was busy having a surgical procedure his insurance covers illustrated their sinister deliberations. http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/18/politics/how-the-republican-health-care-bill-fell-apart/index.html

I hate that we politicize health care in this country. Until we see fit to have Medicare for all, maybe technology will help restore access and autonomy to the doctor/patient relationship. And at the very least, we would know if we need to go sit in an ER because our neck is tender and we must rule out meningitis. The doctor is on deck!IMG_0846

 

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People are always asking Bob what’s retirement like; do you miss doctoring, what do you do all day? For an old codger he remains pretty busy. He just started flying again, and will have to study and practice to get his instrument rating up to date. After all, who doesn’t want to fly through clouds? And he packed up a U-Haul truck with some of our furniture, drove it over 500 miles to Nashville, and is currently reupholstering some chairs!

Now, if you were to ask ME what his retirement is like, you might get another story. A therapist once told me that he explains it this way to the men he counsels: “Imagine you’re still working, and your wife comes into your office and sits down by your desk every day. And never leaves.”

Is that transparent enough?

The first time I heard the word transparent to describe people and not paper, or windows, was from my psychologist brother, Dr Jim’s lips. Years ago he was talking about people from California, because he’d married Anita in Big Sur and chose to live and work there among the tomato and wine vineyards. In general, he was describing  someone who is happy in their own skin, who is not guarded.

Think of Woody Allen movies, where the lighting is so scorchingly bright on the West Coast, and diffuse and dark on the East.

The next time I heard about transparency was while writing for The Berkshire Eagle. I learned that reporters could access any and all public records. You may not remember this, but back in the day when women had to be married to get birth control and credit cards, many records were sealed, including our own medical records! And then we the people passed “Sunshine Laws!”

Through sunshine laws, administrative agencies are required to do their work in public, and as a result, the process is sometimes called “government in the sunshine.” A law that requires open meetings ordinarily specifies the only instances when a meeting can be closed to the public and mandates that certain procedures be followed before a particular meeting is closed. The Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C.A. § 552) requires agencies to share information they have obtained with the public. Exceptions are permitted, in general, in the interest of national security or to safeguard the privacy of businesses. http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Sunshine+Law

The Freedom of Information Act was passed by Congress in 1966 and not surprisingly was spearheaded by California Congressman John Moss. If you’d like to look up a Citizen’s Guide to Using the Freedom of Information Act and the amended Privacy Act of 1974, you will find the following quote from our 4th President who lived right over the hill at Montpelier:

“A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”  James Madison

So we should arm ourselves with knowledge. That. Bears. Repeating. I’ve been thinking alot lately about how this Russian thing is a “Prologue to a Farce,” or perhaps even a tragedy in the form of treason.

Now the third time I thought about transparency was after being elected to a school board. Because it really wasn’t until I found myself on the other side of the table, the side that held closed meetings to discuss policy and personnel, that I realized there is a Yin and Yang, a dark and a light side to everything. Of course we didn’t want to disclose “on the record” why a teacher wasn’t getting tenure, and of course that teacher’s union could appeal to an administrative law judge, but in reality Due Process takes time…

These are the times that try our souls. Mr T has been celebrating Bastille Day, which is like our Fourth of July, in Paris. He was parading around, shaking hands a little less forcefully, while still defending his dear boy Donald Jr from the “Witch Hunt” of “Fake News.” One glaringly inappropriate, if not sexist, remark to Brigette Macron, the First Lady of France, stands out. Looking her up and down he said:

“You’re in such great shape,” then Mr T turned to her husband Emmanuel Macron, nodding approval and delivered one word, “Beautiful.”

Maybe he hasn’t seen many 60+ year old women in his tower, after all he’s traded in trophy wives a few times. We have a lecherous ex-Miss Universe owner for a President who is running our country like a reality show. To quote Olivia, “Let’s get physical, let’s get into physical. Let me hear your body talk.” Is that transparent enough?

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The latest This American Life podcast on NPR was all about summer camp. https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/109/notes-on-camp

About those people who absolutely loved camp and still think of it as a highlight of their young lives; and those who either never went to camp, or hated it for one summer. I fall into the former category. I started attending Camp St Joseph (CSJ) for Girls in the Catskills when I was around 10 years old, for the whole summer, and made it all the way to Counselor-in-Training at 16.

Which means I was a glorified waitress, but it was my first real job, and I was ecstatic.

Of course I was homesick that first summer. I had been contemplating moving home with the Flapper, and she was a working single mom at the time. So if I wanted to make the move work, she and my older sister Kay insisted I go to camp. CSJ was run like a military base camp. A bugle woke you at dawn and points were deducted from your team if you were late for the flag raising, if your uniform was wrinkled, or if a nun couldn’t bounce a coin off your neatly made cot/bed. The rafters were open so evening temperatures plummeted – we slept in our sweaters and socks.

Did I forget to tell you that each cabin had a nun sleeping in it?

Or that we went to Mass. Every. Single. Morning.?

But this is the place where I came of age. Where we sang Ave Maria on our way through the woods to a secluded grotto with a statue of Mary. Where I played Sir Lancelot in the play because I was taller than the other girl with a voice. Where I learned to play basketball like a pro. I can still remember the smell of the basketball court’s wood floor. The stomping, the cheers from the crowd, the ice cold Pepsi bottle from a machine after all our games.

I think the Flapper was pleasantly surprised that I cried when it came time to leave camp that first summer. After all, there were no smart phones to keep in touch; in fact, the camp didn’t want us to contact our parents at all. Every now and then we’d have to sit down and write them a letter, but that was voluntary – hence the phrase, no news is good news! After my first letter pleading my case to return home, my Mother never heard from me again.

Separation is an essential part of human development. Who really wants their kids living in their basement forever? Every year, when it came time to sew my name tags on all my camp clothes (khaki shorts and white polo shirts), the process of mini-individuation would begin. Raised as an only child with my foster parents, I learned how to handle conflict. I was also free to ride horses, learn archery, and play a mean game of jacks on our cabin’s front porch!

Today parents can keep track of their kids at summer camp via social media. I hate to sound stodgy, but IMHO this is not a great idea. Instead of separating parent from child for the summer, and allowing your child to blossom, constant virtual contact can give rise to separation anxiety… for the parent. Why isn’t Johnny in the river rafting picture? Where are Jane’s bunkmates in the craft cabin photo?

If I remember correctly, there were certain things I’d rather NOT tell my parents. Today, privacy is a thing of the past, and we Boomers are to blame. Kids share every detail of their lives on so many sites I can hardly keep track. Which is why I find it particularly hard to believe that Donald Jr didn’t say anything at all to Donald Sr about the possibility of digging up some dirt on Hillary via Russia last summer…

Now I get that Don Jr was raised as an entitled, elitist prep school snob. And I get that he thought he could pretty much get away with anything he did because Daddy’s money and power would bail him out of trouble. But I can’t buy into the “rookie” mistake language, or that he was an “innocent” bystander in all things Russian.

I think the President’s son needs to ship out to summer camp now, yesterday! Get off Twitter, remain unplugged and take a canoe out on a lake somewhere far away from reporters. Because even if his meetings with Russians were pure, and not illegal, they were certainly not saintly.       IMG_0809

 

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I’ve always wondered what people mean when they differentiate “street smarts” or “common sense” from “book smarts.” Because intelligence isn’t just a number on an IQ test, and it’s not just the ability to memorize facts. Critical thinking is essential to a well-informed electorate; the ability to understand public policy and weed out an opinion from reality.

We are a nation divided, by coastline and big cities from the heartland. And if this trend toward anti-intellectualism continues we won’t just be “America First,” we’ll be “America All Alone” on the world stage. If I learned one thing from attending many Naturalization Ceremonies on July 4th at Monticello, it’s that we are a diverse nation with almost 200 religions. And that our Founding Fathers wanted a BIG wall between church and state! And men women and children are still flocking to our shores for the promise of a better life.

For the freedom to speak their mind.

Tomorrow a reprehensible group of people will gather in one of Cville’s beautiful parks to exercise their First Amendment rights. The police have installed cameras. Roads will be blocked to traffic. There’s no telling just how many will show up from other states, but this small blue dot, the home of Thomas Jefferson’s Academical Village, will be hosting a KKK Rally.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Klan has advertised their “Unite the Right: March on Charlottesville” for months. They burned their first cross in fact, in 1921, in front of Monticello’s graveyard.

Remnants of this Reconstruction-era white supremacist terrorist group have crawled out from under their rock to demonstrate against Charlottesville’s effort to remove its Jim Crow-era Confederate monument to General Lee. Historical preservationist organizations which support maintaining such Lost Cause relics have scrambled to voice their disavowals. One local white nationalist organizer has sputtered a feverish conspiracy theory: leftist activists must have put the Klan up to holding this July 8 event, a month prior to his own planned August 12 “alt-right” gathering at the General Lee statue, in order to tar his “legitimate conservatives” and Confederate devotees with the same ugly KKK brush. https://medium.com/@JalaneSchmidt/excuse-me-america-your-house-is-on-fire-lessons-from-charlottesville-on-the-kkk-and-alt-right-84aafddca685

And so we are to see another “Alt-Right” group come to town in August for this Summer of Hate. I must admit, I’m worried for this college town, a bright blue light of the Resistance. Our Mayor proudly calls us a Sanctuary City. And Indivisible Charlottesville has deployed many progressive activists around Albermarle County this past year. You may have read about some of my exploits here: https://mountainmornings.net/2017/01/31/busy-morning/

When the Rocker was in middle school, I was into the PTA in a big way. One day I found myself serving Chinese food to students in the cafeteria to help celebrate the Chinese New Year. I’ll never forget the look of hate on one boy’s face when he told me he didn’t want any. I coaxed a little, not wanting him to starve, and he followed up by telling me, “I’m NOT Chinese,” in a venomous voice. By 12 and 13 a world-view can be set in stone; children are taught to hate and fear “the other,” but it is possible to teach compassion instead.

Curiosity is essential to our growth and development as a people. What if Jefferson didn’t wonder what was beyond the Blue Ridge? What if Kennedy didn’t wonder if we could go to the moon? Today our President meets with Putin. What if Trump tells him what a great golfer he (Trump) is and how much money he’s making on this Presidential thing?

What if we’ve learned nothing from history?   IMG_0929

 

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