Saturday, February 17, 2018

Diagnostics and Delusion

I'm dreaming of the whole illness evaporating like a common cold, though I know perfectly well it won't. Meanwhile, the only thing between me and those big, bad, mean metastases is a slim, modest, 20-mg daily dose of Tamoxifen. 
That's sending a boy to do a man's job. More like sending a 98-lb. pipsqueak to do a the job of a team of superheroes aided by the marine corps. But I take the slim white pill in the way that some slip that tab of acid onto their tongues, devil may care--a thing I never did and don't regret never having done--and some take the priest's wafer, swallow, and feel cleansed. Belief is a thing I could use, though in the religion department I'm lacking it. 
I believe in living. I dream of long walks, dancing the shim-sham shimmy again, and thirty-two changements at the end of ballet class. These are all things of the past, but vivid in memory, and I do enjoy my memories. I  suppose I enjoy these things even more as memories, since the actual doing of them used to cause considerable effort. 
Meanwhile, back at the gene pool: are my genes turning traitor? Was I born with genes determined to betray me just when things were getting good? Lately, we've been watching Lucifer and enjoying the series immensely. My sympathies are often with the fallen morningstar; God seems rather mean, as he does in Milton's Paradise Lost, the Old Testament, and much of Renaissance painting.
Even Blake gives him a brooding, crabby expression and calls him "Old Nobodaddy" but that may be whistling in the dark, an increasingly familiar feeling to me. At the end of the last Harry Potter book, Harry has a long conversation with Dumbledore in a place that looks like Kings Cross, then wonders if the scene was "real" or just inside his head--of course it's Dumbledore  who questions that distinction.  I like all versions of real--really here, especially, for a long time: that would be my favorite.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Surgically Yours: Frankenstein & Me

Look at that face. But even more, look at that forehead. The face approximates the mood of my leg, the forehead scars the look. I am Frankensteinian. I wonder whether I'll ever be able to go through airport metal detectors, I should live so long. A huge rod now sits in the center of what's left of my femur, extending, like the lonely monster's hopes, into my hip. But I can walk with crutches, and was just within yelling distance of a delivery man who, by the time I hobbled down the stairs, had just flipped his "be back later" note through the letterbox and vanished. It was nice of him to return. 
I feel likely to become an assemblage of parts in my quest for survival. Parts of me, the cancerous parts, will be discarded, and the empty holes filled with whatever surgeons use. I cannot seem to gather myself into a sensible state of mind. A shower takes all my concentration, and I used the laundry basket as a walker until I could lay my hands on my crutches. Once I'd changed the bandage on my Franky-leg, it seemed time for a nap again. What's a nice girl like me doing with Stage 4 breast cancer? The tablespoon of sugar I need in my supersized cup of extremely strong morning café-au-lait? The coffee itself? I like it strong enough to walk on, and I always grind a lot of beans for a little bit of water. Once in a while, at least once a week, I eat a chocolate bar. The extra estrogen naturally swimming through my system, and which helped me produce three lovely children at an age when many women are grandmothers? The glass or two of red wine, nightly, that I used to enjoy? I drink much less than the doctors on Gray's Anatomy. I exercised much more, too, ate my turmeric, avocado, garlic, and ginger. Avoided the grapefruit and tangerines. The longing to know "what I could do"--to derail the disease--not using lipstick or hairdye? Avoiding alcohol, sugar, and other small pleasures?--is positively Frankenstinian. Life in the uncertainty zone is monstrous. Some flip of the genes seems the culprit, and elusive as the monster, whose maker chased his unwanted creation across the ice for long distances, and fruitlessly.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Madame Alzheimer's: My New Hospital Roommate

She's really sweet, although my first impression, when they rolled her in, was one of surliness. I smiled and introduced myself; she merely stared. Turned out she was just confused. I found out just how confused when I went down the hall with my husband for a few minutes and returned to find her flipping through my papers, which had been moved from my wheelchair to her bed. She was sure she had her own medical records in her hands. My very patient, not-easily-riled husband had to negotiate with her, even gently pull my papers from her surprisingly strong grip.
She cannot remember that she has a broken hip until she's already sitting on the edge of her bed, setting her feet on the floor, declaring that she has to go to the toilet. Guess who gets to ring for the nurse?
Several times last night I woke to the sound of her groaning as she got her feet on the ground--and rang, urging her to stay in bed. Then the nurses charged in, hauling her legs back in and cleaning her up. Adult sized pampers came into play; I requested that the nurse open the window. Tonight, I heard sounds that may have involved intestinal activities I'd rather not know about but the nurse will come eventually. 
German hospitals, given the choice of allowing an elderly woman to fall, breaking the other hip, and tying her to the bed, since the nurse can't check up on her often enough, seem to think it mean-spirited to restrict her in any way.
"It's dangerous!" I say. I even say it in German. 
I think I rang for them one time too many. They know they can count on me to do so. My neighbor, who was seventeen in 1945, is sleeping now--or what passes as sleeping. They slipped her a mickie or two, and she gulps and gasps like one with a bad combination of sleep apnea and seriously overgrown adenoids. And now it's time for me to turn in. Hospitals have never been known as places where you actually rest. But I rather feel like I'm working a bit too much for the nurses at the moment.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

My BIg Fat Hospital Room

My roommate's family is large, loud, and emotive. At any given point, six relatives are working the room, brandishing plastic bags of onions and fruit, or gathering around her bed. When her adoring adult children are not surrounding her--sometimes even when they are--she asks me where my leg hurts. Every time she asks, I answer, pointing to the area from which pain radiates. She knows how much my leg hurts because she, in fact, has almost exactly the same condition and is taking the same amount of morphine; she's in a room with me because it's convenient for the hospital to dump patients with cancer metastasized to the bone in the same room. But now she's in bed, surrounded by relatives with melodramatic faces:
Roommate, waving arms around, eyes wild: "I'm in paaaaiinnnn! Ohhhh, I'm in sooo much painnn!"
Chorus of grown children, ripping hair: "Ohhh, Mama's in paiiinnnn! Mammaaa's in paiiinnnn! Ohhhhh!"
Roommate: "Ahhhh! It's terrible!! Ahhhhh!"
Chorus: "It's terrible! Mammaaa! Terrible!"
Then they all sit down, divvy up huge hunks of cake and some concoction resembling ice cream, loudly consume both, scattering crumbs, guzzle fruit juice, offer me tangerines, smile indulgently when I say I like quiet and need to work. 
Refreshed, they're off to the races again.
"Do youuuu have paiinnnn too?" asks the roommate again, with her deep, burning eyes trained on my thigh, where, as well she knows, the pain has been morphined into quiescence. 
"Yes," I say. "You can get more pain pills, too." The nurse has been in and out, handing out pain pills like candy. My roommate's eyes are glassy with pain pills. 
"Ohhhhh!" she adds. "Are you in painnnnn?" She wants me to show her. Again. I do. Again.
When she and all her brethren are not relishing her pain, they're asking me if the doctors are crazy, and inquiring of the man who came in to hang window curtains whether nuclear medicine is any good. He shrugs. They'd already asked me, and I'd naïvely suggested that the doctors probably knew more than I did. The husband spent the night, sleeping head to toe with his wife; both groan a great deal and their groans are punctuated by their loudly ringing phones, which announce themselves at four in the morning and are answered--passionate diatribes about stress, catastrophe, doctors, and cancer tend to, so to speak, metastasize in this room. I've requested a move. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Donald Trump Is Not a Racist

Trump's no racist, I muttered to myself while watching a spirited CNN panel enumerate his "racist" comments about Mexicans and "shithole," i.e. poor, countries populated mainly by people of color. 

It's missing the point to call the man a racist. A racist at least has a point of view--a narrow one, a despicable one, a misguided one, an idiotic one, a destructive one, and oh, such a passé one. But a point of view. A belief system.

Don't dignify Trump's tantrums with the idea that any point of view whatsoever is meant to emerge from them. Trump is much worse than a racist: he's a reckless, thoughtless opportunist. To suggest he espouses any point of view, apart from a lust for money and power--and you can't call these points of view, but rather appetites--is to misdiagnose. We were on the mark when we called him a toddler--there is incidentally, a blog, The Ticus Files, you should all check out by a sadly deceased wonderful writer, Andrew Balée, dedicated to Trump as "toddler-in-chief," enumerating his bouts of negativistic, childish behavior. The Republican senator Jeff Flake has just pointed out that Trump's latest rants are borrowed from Joseph Stalin, who was more paranoid and destructive than Joseph McCarthy. Christiane Amanpour, interviewing the Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen, remarked that Putin's style is "very aligned" with that of Stalin. Putin's style, Gessen retorted, is also aligned with that of Ivan the Terrible (killed serfs, slaughtered his firstborn son, threw live squirrels out turret windows, raved in a style remarkably similar to Trump). Here the sixteenth-century ruler is in Sergey Eisenstein's 1944 interpretation: 
This captures the evil pout of the preschooler whose most recent urge hasn't been gratified, and who's going to throw a massive tantrum or bite mom. But a toddler is small, and we expect toddlers to grow. Trump has the urges, the amorality, of a toddler, but he's far more dangerous because he's got the know-how, the cunning, and the money of an adult. If Trump were just a racist, things might actually be easier.

Gessen went on to point out that like Ivan, Putin thinks of Russia as an empire, that in order to make Russia "great again" (a familiar phrase) he's got to position Russia in opposition to an important enemy. Who else but the United States? Putin doesn't get to "be important," Gessen wryly observed, unless he's got a big enough enemy.

 Just imagine Putin positioning Russia against, instead of Trump's America, one of those "shithole" countries! Yes, imagine an alternate universe in which Russian TV, instead of coughing up the usual reports of encountering "American forces" in Syria, announced: "Russian forces fighting in Syria conquered, after a brave struggle, soldiers from Haiti, Nigeria and Chad."

Nope. No wonder Putin enjoys the term "dickhead"--of course he does, because politics has become a peeing contest between two or three empire-builders, each of whom says he has the bigger . . .button.

The line between reckless opportunism and nihilism is a thin one indeed. The man who doesn't give a damn about anything but money, power, admiration and the limelight is the one who doesn't notice, or give a damn about racism or anything else, and so he indulges in one last impulse that brings on the apocalypse. About twenty-five million people died in the wake of Stalin's megalomania.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Norwegians At the Gates: American Immigration and Donald Trump

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services fact sheet, in the fiscal year 2016, "the top countries of origin for naturalization were in the following order:  Mexico, India, Philippines, People’s Republic of China, and Cuba." 

If you read the whole page, you can find one mention of Norway--seems to have been a military spouse or two from Norway who married an American and got naturalized. Not necessarily in order to leave Norway. Why, in fact, would any person lucky enough to hold Norwegian citizenship leave the land of fjords and midnight sun, fabulous fish, gorgeous wooden stave churches, rich oil reserves, great health care services, the astonishingly talented Karl Ove Knausgaard, who, the Boston Globe's reviewer comments, "suffers from the kind of honesty that could peel paint," and a single neo-Nazi killer Anders Beivik, who slaughtered 77 people? It does say something about a country when there's just one really known bad guy. Known for killing the folks Trump wants excluded from America.

When Trump asked why America should let in immigrants from "shithole" countries like Haiti, I thought it worthwhile to point out why Norwegians aren't banging down the door. Maybe Knausgaard could afford to live in any American city, but why would he? Why would anyone leave Norway? I wonder how many Americans are trying, as I write, to become naturalized Norwegian citizens?

And Breivik--if he had the freedom to enter an American prison instead of a Norwegian one, would he? In Norway, people send him boxes in which he can place his neatly folded Lacoste sweaters. But If you believe in punishment, an American prison is definitely the place to get one. 

I can't help but remember Richard Nixon's foul racist remarks about numerous ethnic and sexual minorities: but his policies differed. He really didn't put his money where his mouth was. Although he appears to have enjoyed yelping racist remarks in private, in public he opened relations with China, founded the Environmental Protection Agency, put large sums of money into cancer research, peacefully desegregated Sourthen schools, and signed Title IX in 1972, a civil rights law preventing gender bias at colleges and universities receiving Federal aid.

And Trump? With his bigger button? But now he says he's good friends with the North Korean dictator? What about those talks with South Korea? Can a ray of hope gleam somewhere, soon?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Preying Man?

Yesterday, as I was returning to my university office after my last class, in the evening, I saw two men standing in the hallway who didn't look like students. They seemed too old, thirtyish or older; they had a casual, dislocated air. A secretary was just poking her head out her door to ask what they wanted and they answered, "We're looking for something." She withdrew her head. I walked past one of the men, who was standing in the middle of the hall chatting on a cell phone--also not typical for students, who, if they must make phone calls while waiting to see professors, sit down or withdraw to a corner. The other man had gone ahead of me, rounded the bend to the right of my office, where another small office was recently burglarized.
What was he doing there? Should I ignore him? If he was there to vandalize, I knew I was within screaming distance of the secretary.
I rounded the same bend, ten paces behind him, asking, "Are you looking for someone?"
I discovered the man on his knees, eyes closed, lips pressing the floor. He appears to have been praying. I left immediately, walked back to the secretary's office, knocked, explained. I wondered if the man was just a wandering, devout person looking for a quiet place to pray? Was this scene for real?
"Oh, yes," said the secretary. "People often go back there to pray."
My husband said another small hallway near the men's room was also used for that purpose.
Nevertheless: it is, for a woman, unnerving to find a man crouching in the hallway around the corner from one's office when the skies are dark and all other colleagues have gone home. 
Also, I don't think these guys had anything to do with the university. They were looking for an indoor place to pray. 
Praying people should have a place to pray that is just for prayer. A university hallway is there to get students and teachers from one end of the building to the other. Someone who is not there to take classes can easily be mistaken for a predator.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Critical Mom Thanks Michael Wolff

With a little help from Gilbert and Sullivan.
I am the very model of a presidential genius:
I have a fully functioning and very stable penis,
For weaponizing nuclear I have a bigger bu-uh-ton,
Than Kim Jong-un’s--mine works!--and let me tell you that his do-oes-n’t!
I know my bombs--his are so dumb--I will inflict a painful death,
While Rocket-man and company can barely even catch their breath,
I Harvey-Weinstein girls, I kiss and grab them when I'm in the mood,
And you will see how great I am: just let me hop into the nude . . . 

Gentle reader, check out the "Modern Major General" parodies of our president online--from Politico, from opera singers, from the talented thousands: Oh, thank you. I would rather laugh than cry, but it's getting harder not to do the latter.

I've just ordered your book, Mr. Wolff.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Irresolute? Happy New Year

I made no New Year's Resolutions. We enjoyed a family evening, just the five of us, as we always do, and my husband made hors d'oeuvres, open-faced lox sandwiches with capers, snails awash in butter and herbs, and then everyone's favorite: nachos baked with chopped scallions, grated Gouda, and salsa. All washed down with Aperol, Prosecco, tonic, and lemon. Then dessert. We watched Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and around eleven, the kids started shooting off firecrackers and Roman candles with my husband. The guinea pigs trembled in their cage, but every year they survive the noise and seem okay the next morning.
And why no resolutions? I don't like them. I don't make them. I make plans and try to stick to those. I'm not going to step on a scale until sometime next week, and I'm planning on resting, grading papers, and writing. 
But instead of resolutions I have hopes, big hopes. I'd rather not spray them across the page, having some notion that if I do, they won't come true. I'm happy to be done with the festivities and to be almost on my way back to work.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Gardasil Revisited

Back in 2015, I wrote a post expressing my skepticism about Gardasil--I interviewed the most prominent experts I could find, in the "pro" camp, the inventor of the vaccine, and in what I regard as the cautious camp, a thoughtful physician who was involved in evaluating the vaccine for Merck. My thoughts on the vaccination have changed to the point where my thirteen-year-old daughter has received the first of the two vaccinations. With no ill effects, weeks later. Why?
•The doctors whom I trust believe the drug will protect her from cervical cancer.
•They have never seen a bad reaction--not in over ten years.
•Some types of cervical cancer are epidemic in people under the age of twenty. 
•Since I've now had cancer myself--unexpected, breast--I think my daughter may be at higher risk. 
I'm leaving up my earlier post for anyone researching this topic--I think the controversy hasn't evaporated. But I also now believe I've done the right thing. If anything changes--if, God forbid, she has a reaction to the second shot--I'll inform my blog readers. I'm interested in hearing from readers on this topic.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

On Writing Christmas Cards

Writing them, with a pen, on paper, that is. That's what we still love to do. My husband takes family photos, makes up a beautiful card with a greeting, and I write something personal to friends, tuck in the little newsletter and the page of that year's fun photos, stick on a stamp, an airmail sticker, and write an address. In green ink on red envelopes. Is all this sounding too Martha Stewart? Ah, but the house lies in shambles beside me, the mountains of laundry decorate the floor, and the grading I haven't yet finished nods evilly at me from its neglected spot on the sofa. But those cards--they've just got to go out. A third of them thudded to the bottom of the mailbox today, as I sat in my office waiting for a young man to finish transferring the last few files of data from my 2009 computer to my sleek new Mac Air Book.
"Just another five minutes," said the young man who seemed to understand everything for which I grope toward even finding the right name in my new computer. 
Twenty Christmas cards later, a bead of sweat on his face, he confessed that somehow  it still wasn't possible for my computer to receive any upgrades. He was on it, he was fixing it, and another twelve cards later I said I'd head home. He'll be taming my computer over the next day or two, at least I hope he will.
I'll be writing Christmas cards--much more fun. I like getting them, too--not the horrid electronic kind, with the mechanical jingle bells, the fake snow, the trotting reindeer or flapping birds. The kind that come in envelopes that you open and display on the mantel or prop up in the middle of the dining room table. Do I sound very 1965? Well, I'm in a nostalgic mood. It's Christmas. I'm about to look up my recipe for refrigerator cookies, the kind you roll out and make with the aid of cookie cutters shaped like Tannenbaums, stars, half-moons, and hearts. Then you decorate them with sprinkles, glitter, and food dye. Christmas cookies. Yum.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Toto, I Don't Think We're In Trumpland Anymore

Ride 'em Roy. The Marlboro Man stunt backfired when the horse tried to buck that pedophile. Roy Moore's West Point buddies remember him as a hard worker and a guy for whom a girl's virginity was important. That, they remark, is probably why he wanted very young girls. 

Between Moore's wife announcing to a crowd that she wasn't against Jews because "one of our lawyers is a Jew!"--a remark she delivered with a big smile, as if she'd bowled a strike--and Moore's apparent love of the young because they're virgins, the American people just dodged a very big bullet.

It's harder to dodge that repeat-fire weapon of mass destruction who is "the president."

Toto's already pulled back the curtain. He's been yapping and nipping at our heels for months. The penalties Trump should pay for abusing women, his concealed and presumably outrageously out of line taxes, the Russian stuff, Jerusalem, the terrorist attack at the Port Authority in New York two days ago--Toto is barking loudly, America.

When Doug Jones won, America put one toe out of Trumpland. Can we go for a long jump next?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Don Doesn't Own Jerusalem--He Can't Buy Us

By the time I finish this sentence, some new awful event will have made the Jerusalem incident pale beside it, the way the Puerto Rico deaths, the Russian investigation, the taxes, and, despite Harvey Weinstein and company, the abused women terrorized by Trump, have paled before each new, dreadful Trumposity. 
The bully is still bullying--and none stand up to him. I think of King Frank, the first to lead Narnia in the series' inaugural book, The Magician's Nephew. King Frank thinks he's not cut out to be king, the very characteristic that Aslan, the book's Jesus figure, knows qualifies Frank for true leadership. King Frank is a boy from the countryside, he says, used to farm work, and his accent is cockney. Queen Helen, his wife, arrives covered with soapsuds, since she'd been doing the wash when Aslan transported her to Narnia, and both feel humbled by the attention from Aslan, by his confidence in them, and by the loveliness of the Narnian landscape. Love, above all, defines King Frank and Queen Helen, along with that very British desire to do the right thing. 
I feel I shouldn't put the two of them in the same sentence as Donald Trump, but they are such an ideal, the likes of which American politics rarely sees--Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Barack Obama may be the only two presidents approaching that ideal. How we slid from Obama to Trump is Vladimir Putin's best kept secret. But his doped-up athletes have been exposed, and wouldn't it be nice if he and Don got simultaneously deposed.
To be governed by leaders who give a damn about the people and the planet would be the best for which one could hope in 2018. Like the German comedian Jan Böhmermann, whose "Be Deutsch" went viral, we must, in the face of Trump's divide-and-conquer strategy, all "hold together--try to be nice."
My new year's resolution is to do just that, even when I'm introducing ideas to my family or other groups that might not be their favorite. Hold together, try to be nice.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Big Bird: A Thanksgiving Tale

Every year, I go to the same farmer's market and ask for an enormous turkey, "at least eight kilos! Twelve would be better!" I explain we need the bird for the American holiday, Thanksgiving, and that we're having between ten and fifteen guests. Every year, the farmer gives me a bird that, although organic, juicy and delicious, weighs less than eight kilos. Well, once we had one that came in at 11.73 kilos.
 With plenty of stuffing, pints of cranberry-orange relish, two batches of corn muffins, multiple vegetables, pies, we've always had enough to go around and enough for turkey sandwiches the next day. But this year, we were having sixteen guests, maybe more, and I stood on my toes and begged for a bigger bird. The farmer looked down at the pathetic American: "Well, perhaps ten to thirteen kilos," he said, as if he wished I would go away, and then, as always, the night before Thanksgiving, I went through my usual tortures: What if he forgets? What if my husband and I go there at 7:30 in the morning, the way we always do, and the man says he forgot? What if we have to go to the supermarket and get a frozen bird?
I tossed and turned.
At 7:30 the next morning, we went to the market, trundling our little red shopping cart behind us, me grumbling my obsessive worries about the turkey, my husband trying to get me to make a list of everything we hadn't yet purchased and needed.
We saw the farmer and waved. His wife started looking for the bird, and she poked around in the back of their stand long enough for visions of horrible frozen turkeys to start dancing in my head.
With a leer, the farmer lobbed a gigantic thing up onto the counter. Almost 16 kilos, and the most expensive bird we've ever purchased, at approximately 140 euros. 
I could barely lift it.

One very heavy bird (35 pounds, American)

Between the two of us, my husband and I got the thing into the red shopping cart. We had no room for the vegetables and potatoes. 
All the way home we wrestled with the dread possibility: What if that thing didn't fit in our oven? 
"We  could cut off the legs," my husband offered. "It won't be pretty, but . . ."
The thought of an amputated turkey just broke my heart, but I agreed to his solution--anything was better than a cold, uncooked turkey and sixteen unhappy guests. 
The bird didn't fit in our turkey pan! Crisis!
It did fit in our large baking pan, the one that fills a whole shelf on the oven. Barely. With its legs almost pressing against the glass.
Pre-trussing. Oh, did I tie those legs together

For the first time in all the decades I've prepared Thanksgiving turkey, every bit of stuffing actually fit into the bird. I trussed up the opening the way you'd lace a pair of very large boobs into a Bavarian dirndl, and tied up the legs the way a sadist might fetter a victim. I closed the oven door and baked the bird for a whole six hours. 
Two strong men were needed to carry the majestic beast to the table, and we feasted for hours.
The bird that didn't fit in the turkey pan .
A little bit of turkey skin is still stuck to the back of my oven, though.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Access Trump: Locker Room Talk

"Sir, does the president still accept the authenticity of the Access Hollywood tape?" 
We didn't get much of an answer. Nobody expected one. The real question is why anyone's asking when we know what kind of answer we'll get.
Would I rather have Francis Underwood as President? Don't we already? Frank's charm is, perhaps, more dangerous than Donald's "Yeah, I said I apologized, but actually, that doesn't work with the conversation now, so I didn't do it." If Chuck Schumer mysteriously drops dead tomorrow, I'll know who's behind his sudden demise. That scene in House of Cards in which Spacey whips out a blade, terrorizes his tough, Hillary Clintonish secretary of state, who's just snapped, "I'm not afraid of you!" must be all too real. 
The kicker would be Melania turning out to be Claire Underwood, that steel magnolia Lady Macbeth. Melania's style might be more that of Livia, the wife of Augustus Caesar, who allegedly sweetly poisoned him. If I were Melania I'd want to poison my husband. But I suppose I wouldn't actually do that, because I'd want some real revenge. I'd think of something much more embarrassing. You wouldn't want to make him a martyr, done in by the young wife he trusted so much, would you? But you'd find a way to get those taxes out there. You'd find a way to remove him to the very same facility as Harvey Weinstein. You'd get him on his knees, wouldn't you? 
You go, girl.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Ballet Boo-Boo

What was I thinking? Demonstrating a jig in high heels on a hard floor? One leap into second position and a muscle in my upper thigh groaned.
It was like this: my students were reading Laura Ingalls Wilder, the part where the grandma wins the jigging contest. They didn't know what a jig was. I thought I'd demonstrate.
Despite that rather sharp and sudden pain, I'd thought all I needed was a very hot bath. I'd feel okay by the end of the day. 
But that slightly exploited muscle announces its painful presence every time I walk up stairs or try to run.
Actually that jig was more of a highland fling.
Massage? Blackroll? Red wine? Half a jar of Tiger Balm? Next ballet class swathed in sweats? Tincture of time?
Oh, that particular commodity, time, is in such short supply.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Palbociclib Blues, Part Two

I've been in a clinical trial--Penelope B--for five cycles of what is presumed to be Palbociclib, the Pfizer drug marketed under the name Ibrance, and which is now used to extended the lives of women with metastatic breast cancer. Which I'm lucky not to be enduring. Last April, after sixteen chemos, two operations, and twenty-eight cycles of radiation, I got to keep my breast, minus eleven lymph nodes, and was declared cancer-free. I take a nightly tablet of Letrozol (2.5 mg), which is supposed to prevent a recurrence, and side effects include feeling old--I call Letrozol my miracle aging pill, and counteract the stiff hands with one of those rubber porcupine balls that I squeeze any chance I get. I take ballet and tap when I feel well, which is not lately.
Since I my tumor was small (Stage 1b) but aggressive (Grade 3) I was eager to take part in a clinical trial designed to further reduce any chance of recurrence.
During the last five weeks, I've been experiencing side effects. Two rounds of antiobiotics (Twenty tablets of  1000 mg of Amoxicillin-Trihydrat followed by ten days of Cefuroxim 500 mg twice a day) were not quite enough to get rid of the bronchitis against which I could not defend myself, my low white cell count, a common side effect, remaining insufficient to jump start my immune system's normal efficiency. As I type, I'm still snuffling with my endlessly stuffed nose, popping a Sinupret three times a day, and coughing.
So would it be worth my while to continue on this clinical trial? According to Dr. Second Opinion (but I did consult him before the bronchitis, when my only real complaint was the unusual fatigue) "Yes, yes, yes!" He whipped out charts and graphs, none of which I understood, but I banked on his enthusiasm for the figures, which clearly meant something.
 I've never needed a second round of antibiotics for any throat or lung infection, except for the time I had pneumonia more than eight years ago, when my kids were very young and I never got enough sleep, and ended up in the hospital.
So I asked, and am asking anyone who knows, the following questions, since the leaders of the study I am in don't really have definite answers, and perhaps no one does:
 (1) With the 2,5 mg. of Letrozol daily that I now take, what is your best estimate of a cancer recurrence without the Palbociclib? I know that some women take a higher dose of Letrozol. What difference would that make?
(2) What are the long-term consequences--in terms of exposure to viruses, bacteria, cancer--of the low white cell count that I now have?And how would anyone really know the answer?
(3) Can you say for sure that this medication benefits me, personally? Is it possible it only benefits the study?
By the way, my blood was tested, as usual, at the hospital, now that I just have a cold instead of bronchitis, and was pronounced fine. In fact, good! I could start taking the Palbociclib again right away!
Before, I felt fine but my blood looked just awful.
Is it possible there's no test to measure correctly the effect of Palbociclib on my blood? Theoretically, there may be no medical reason for me to feel lousy when my blood looks dandy. And dandy is how it looks, folks. But I feel anything but.
When I Google patient information, I get what everyone already knows. When I Google medical studies, I get, for example, this: but I feel inadequate to the task of interpreting the data. I don't understand the charts and I don't understand the medical lingo. I did ask my doctor, and she probably would not want to be quoted, so I will just say that my impression of what she said, strictly my very own interpretation, legally distinct from whatever may actually have emerged from her mouth, is that the German government needs to find ways to save money, because this extremely expensive drug, which I am getting for free, costs too much, so if one study says the tumors get smaller but the life expectancy remains the same, then that's a way of broadcasting the conclusion that too much money is being spent (notice how I deliberately used the passive voice there?) The criteria of good care is increased life expectancy. And one truth is still that it's really hard to tell what treatment or what drug did the increasing. 
If I had metastatic breast cancer, I'd down this drug with no complaints. What's a month of bronchitis when you get to live?
But I don't. I want to live the way I like to live.  So tell me, doctors, prophets, women with the same experience, anybody who knows more than I do (I really hope some brilliant cancer researcher is reading this): SHOULD I STAY ON THIS CLINICAL TRIAL or SHOULD I GO?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Where Was Brianna Brochu's Mom?

I can't help wondering whether she's as horrified as I am when I Google the measly "five facts"--Brianna's "an actress" who hails from Harwinton, a scenic New England town filled with wide open spaces and big white churches, complete with steeples. Litchfield County isn't as rich as Fairfield, the home of Old Greenwich. But Harwinton's website and the pre-mugshot photos of Brianna, one of her holding a fat pumpkin against a backdrop of fall leaves, intimate prosperity. Brianna's wide grin suggests, with the twenty-twenty vision of hindsight, Salome with the head of John the Baptist.
That her parents accompanied her to her arraignment, that somebody paid that $1,000 bail (only a thousand? Really?) suggests enough familial concern  to want to keep her out of jail, or at least a hope that the case will evaporate sooner if Brianna's out on bail.
I'm left with the usual unanswerable questions: Did her parents ignore her? Are they racists? Is Brianna trying to get their attention by doing something outrageous, or is she just a girl with a serious personality disorder and sweet, concerned parents? Is the whole incident something to be pinned on Brianna forgetting to take her meds?
We're not likely to get the real answer, but I continue to speculate: did she and her roommate fight over a boy? Or was it just the radiator, which Brianna wanted off (how like a New Englander) and Chennel ("Jazzy") Rowe, from Queens, New York--turned up. I'm siding with Rowe on that radiator!  My New England step-siblings always seemed not to notice when the house was freezing, and never bothered with their sweaters. For a native New Yorker, New England is chilly, in atmosphere as well as attitudes. That certain reticence--with which Brianna seems not to be afflicted--is still there.  
I can't know her motives, but observe the following, as an English teacher: Ms. Brochu writes well for a college freshman--vividly--and the well-constructed sentence that proved her undoing is a model of parallel verbs and the kind of humor you'd tolerate in villains of summer beach reading:

After 1 1/2 month of spitting in her coconut oil, putting moldy clam dip in her lotions, rubbing used tampons on her backpack, putting her toothbrush places where the sun doesn't shine, and so much more I can finally say goodbye Jamaican Barbie.

Spitting, putting, rubbing putting (again--repetition--she might have said "sliding" or even "hiding" but I can hardly fault her grammar.  True, there ought to have been a comma before the "I." Her choice of poisons--moldy clam dip, menstrual blood, and excrement--are not what you'd find in a Dan Brown novel, but one of his miscreants poisons an allergic man with peanut dust. 
What a shame Ms. Brochu's imagination took such a dark turn--that a bright girl like her would go to so much effort to harm someone who'd tried to be a good roommate and who appears to have done her no wrong--apart from having been born with a different skin color. 
But really, Ms. Brochu, really? 
It's still so hard for me to believe either that a girl who is educated enough to construct a sentence is that malicious--though of course I ought to know better. I do believe that education, rather than punishment, is the real answer to dealing with folks like Brianna Brochu, but the kind of education I'm thinking of usually devolves to parents--especially moms. Which returns me to my original question: Did Brianna do something of which her mother actually approves?

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

It's Reformationstag: Happy Halloween!

Among Martin Luther's vast writings, his 1543 treatise, "Jews and Their Lies," remains among the more shocking, and not remotely atypical. His latest biographers claim that he probably didn't actually nail his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, but just sent them round the way you'd bang out a staff email: "the hammering episode," writes Joan Acocella in The New Yorker, "so satisfying symbolically—loud, metallic, violent—never occurred. Not only were there no eyewitnesses; Luther himself, ordinarily an enthusiastic self-dramatizer, was vague on what had happened."
Acocella highlights the constant presence of  bowels in Luther's imagination, a theme that dominates German comedy to this day: she recounts his proud moment when his little son "crapped in every corner of the room.”  That brought me back to the days when some of our German friends recommended their foolproof method of toilet-training: just let the child run naked in the garden, poop in the soil, and then somehow, miraculously, the kid will develop a longing for nice, clean indoor toilets and plumbing.
The more fools we, trying that method on our firstborn, who was only around eighteen months old, but big enough to have grown out of the largest size of pampers. While we weren't looking, he went back in the house, pulled on his nice new Lederhosen, and came back out to the garden, slyly making his way to the hole he'd dug and into which we assumed he would relieve himself. And he did! While wearing his Lederhosen.
“I am like a ripe shit,” Luther said when he was about to die, “and the world is a gigantic asshole. We will both probably let go of each other soon.” I can never read that--one of the more pungent quotations offered by Acocella--without recalling a few scenes from the German version of Saturday Night Live: rows of comedians seated behind closed toilet cubicles, their feet tapping away. Stefan Raab playing a farmer who is considering using a shovel to wipe himself.
 Happy Halloween! You can buy, for less than three euros, a playmobil Martin Luther. The little figure smiles in a friendly fashion you can't imagine ever appearing on the face of a man with the tummy troubles afflicting the real Luther. Quill in one hand, golden Bible in the other, open to a Gothic-lettered Das Neue Testament, translated by Doktor Martin Luther. 
Thanks, but no thanks. I'll take the jack o' lanterns carved by my kids; when lit, these orange faces glow with real menace. 
But hey, Luther's notions of conscience and bible-reading have enjoyed a certain heyday. If we credit him with increasing the desire to think for oneself and read, read, read, then I'd be happy to see him ascending, complete with halo, to the heaven of his choice.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

What to Do When Your Teenagers Hate Each Other

(1) Take a deep breath. Remember they won't hate each other forever. How do you know? Well, you've seen this pattern before. Teenager A gets mad at/insults/ignores Teenager B. Then the two insult each other ("!@#$%^&*()_!!! ")
Very unprintable.

(2) If you're a praying type, pray. Otherwise, just take another deep breath and hold your ears.

(3) Lurk upstairs in your study trying to write, until you hear Slam #1 (Teenager A is in his room) and Slam #2 (Teenager B is in her room). 

(4) Wait. But probably you won't. You'll rush downstairs, knock on Teenager A's room because it happens to be nearer to your study. You'll beg him not to use the F-word and tell him doing so is "absolutely unacceptable." You'll tell him to apologize to Teenager B.

(5) Knock on Teenager B's room. Tell her you just told her brother his language is totally unacceptable. Explain that she wasn't all that nice to him. ("What, Mommy?"). Telling your bro, you say, that he can only have a single cookie and then has to wait a long time is not very nice. 

(6) Don't be surprised when Teenager B, a young lady, cannot understand (or feigns not to understand) why telling her fifteen-year-old brother he can only have a single cookie "until later" is not all that friendly. 

(7) What to do about the cookies that were thrown and now reside on the recently cleaned kitchen floor? Along with the body parts of the water filter that accidentally got knocked off the counter? When Teenager B (now sobbing) indicates that she is "not going to clean it up when it's not my--extra sob--fault!!!"

(8) Lurk in your study, part two, for another hour or so.

(9) Come downstairs, talk to Teenager A in his room and ask him to apologize to Teenager B. He will, Mom, but later.

(10) Same procedure with Teenager B. 

Meanwhile, Mom, get over your cold. Have a glass of red wine. Sleep.