Tuesday, April 24, 2007


This might be a bit graphic so, be aware.

Yesterday was a six month anniversary of sorts, although champagne and chocolates were hardly in order. I refer to the semi-annual replacement of two internal “stents”—plastic tubes, actually—that deliver urine from my kidneys to my bladder. These were put in place in October, 2006, by drilling holes into my back and then feeding the tubes down to the bladder. All this was done while under a local anesthetic and guided by x-ray images relayed to the surgeon. While these have been in place, passing urine has been a “joyful” affair, considering what prostate cancer does to that act for a man.

There are parts of yesterday that made it an adventure and I’ll start with some things that have been ongoing since December. I’ll spare the Dear Reader a blow-by-blow accounting of most of the personal issues I have endured except to provide a bit of a picture of what it’s like to live in a house occupied by five other people, none of whom are related. In this instance, I’ll focus on some odd behavior that, frankly, made me glad I was headed out of the house to surgery for the day. Maybe that is odd behavior in itself, preferring the hospital instead of the comfort of home but, perhaps things will come clear.

I set my alarm for 6:00am as Bill was coming by an hour later to give me a ride into Pali Momi. I was already up anyway long before that as the female tenant (“FT”) approached my room at about 4:30am and announced through my closed—and locked—door, “Hope you enjoy ‘loser’s land.’ I’ll add that to the list!” I have no idea to what she is referring.

This was just one incident in a string of many that shined a light on some of the oddest behavior I have ever experienced. This FT moved into the house sometime in December. There were five men living here. She seemed somewhat intelligent in the beginning weeks, buttressed by her repeated assertions that she had a master’s degree and that she taught school for some 18 years. I found any discussion of virtually any subject with her difficult as she couldn’t seem to stay on the discussion thread for very long, diverting the talk by interjecting other subjects altogether.

One of the housemates took umbrage at her moving in and began berating her for a variety of issues, much of which I wasn’t aware. This relationship—or lack thereof—took a turn for the worse when the FT cried tearfully every morning after these sessions. The rest of us men in the house looked at the situation and deemed it worthy of discussion with the landlord, if for no other reason but to get some calm and harmony within the household. We couldn’t seem to reason with either one of these combatants what with one yelling and the other blithering. Maybe a meeting with those of us concerned with chivalry and a lady’s honor would defuse these circumstances and all would be happy.

What a surprise--we later found out--that we meeting-attendees were as much actual victims as the one portrayed by the failed graduate of “Bad Acting School.” The FT hooked us all into believing she was a “poor thing,” misunderstood and not appreciated by certain segments of society and we should take her side as “gentlemen.” We did stand up for her yet, to this day, not a thank you in word or gesture as ever emanated from the FT. We made things better not only for her but, for all of us.

Or, so we thought…

As the year progressed, the FT called attention to her every act. If she as making morning instant coffee in the microwave, the door would slam shut loudly. If she was heating up a can of soup, she constantly had to borrow a can opener. The radio blared in the bathroom whenever she showered causing other roommates to bang on the door to ask her to turn it down. She would leave the back door open when doing her laundry in the washing machine allowing flies to enter the house en masse. Her response to requests that this habit be reversed was, “I’ll do it when I’m good and ready!” The FT took a liking to one of us and began a hugging campaign on him and even went further by exposing herself to him, completely nude, by delaying her entry into the running shower. She began lifting food from us out of the common refrigerator a little bit at a time and since she was the only one in the house that did not keep anything in that icebox, we suspected her immediately.

She burst into my room from time-to-time to ask my opinion of what she was wearing. When a bowling ball on toothpicks asks me anything in the fashion arena, I turn away.

Her behavior became more overbearing and disturbing. Once, she demanded that I allow her the use of my PC so she could check her email because, “If I don’t do it today, it will all be removed from the server—forever!” I said too bad... She yelled at others when she was bathing if they deigned to flush a toilet or draw some water from a faucet as this lowered the water pressure at the showerhead. She constantly left the kitchen light on all night to give her a “sense of security” when going to and from a ½ bath at 4:30am. When I challenged her about this so-called security at 8:00am, she responded by going outside, slamming the outer screen door and the fence gate and proceeded to shout loudly—in the middle of the sidewalk, in full view and earshot of neighboring homes—that all she wanted “…was to go to the bathroom in peace and security; is that so wrong? At another time, she went out to the roadway and loudly sang “God Bless America.”

She constantly talked to herself while in her room or in the bathroom, usually hurling epithets toward one or more of us regarding our behavior toward her. She loudly played a Christian music station from 4:30am, as well, waking up everybody around her. She would read out loud in the kitchen from her bible while the rest of us made our breakfasts and even tried to reason with her about how inane this all was. The FT regularly posted various brochures about the Christ in the common areas and we regularly tore them down. She seemed to have two personalities, one that was charming and the other that was evil, wicked mean and nasty and she could switch between these two at will.

The FT believed the police could solve anything for her. When she was upset by one of the tenant’s allergy problems (sneezing, hacking and coughing) she tried to get the police to throw him out. When one of the guys called her an unbecoming name, she got the police to respond by saying she was being “attacked.” They advised us to get the landlord to evict her as soon as possible, surely lending that advice after reading three or four pages of an FT behavior log I maintained on a daily basis.

She constantly left messages on one house mate’s voicemail of what she planned to do to the rest of us, especially me and another guy, including charging us with harassment, defamation of character, stalking and being peeping toms. She claimed to have filed a report with New Hope Mission (a church), the Department of Human Services and the Kapolei Police Station. We checked through a local prosecuting attorney and no notices were ever placed.

My patience ran out when she stole food from me and then claimed she thought it was someone else’s. When a ½ pizza disappeared from my section of the fridge, I pointed the finger at her and she denied it. She called me a “pervert” and announced I was frustrated and in need of Viagra in the presence of the housemates because I “…stayed up all night looking at naked girls on my PC.”

We reported this behavior to the landlord so often he stopped returning our calls. He asked me to send him a copy of my log and I complied. He said he would use this log as a basis for eviction—along with the more serious failure to pay the monthly rent for a second time. Not a single housemate got along with her except for, believe it or not, the very one that used to harass her in the beginning. But even he tired of her taking his food and lying about it. His opinion of her returned and he began arguing with her, even though I advised him “…never argue with a fool; people may not know the difference.”

When my friend, Bill, picked me up for the ride to the hospital, I told him that she had followed me out of the house, stared at me as I returned the city trash bin to inside the gate and then started reading aloud from her bible, loud enough that I had to get in my car to avoid it.

Our drive to the hospital was most pleasant as I learned more about Bill in those 50 minutes than I had in almost 25 years of knowing him. I got to Pali Momi at 8:00am with my surgery scheduled for 10:30am.

I was perfunctorily checked in by an administration person who needed a dose of charm school, quite unlike those in the medical specialties. Most of the former group has been quite pleasant during my recent visits. The entire latter group has been friendly and supportive in those same visitations. I was puzzled by the seeming difference in these attitudes; perhaps it was the difference in jobs. On the one hand, it’s a day of name, rank and medical insurance cards. On the other, it’s a variety of “procedures” among them the one I was about to go through.

At 10:00am, I was invited into a dressing area to mount into a backless gown and get punctured for my intravenous drip line. My blood pressure (BP) was high enough to alarm the nurse. I was nervous about what was about to happen and I was still thinking about the FT’s recent actions. For sure, this would cause anyone’s BP to elevate so; the nurse got a prescription for some “lowering” salve and applied it to my chest. It worked.

Next, I was wheeled into the real waiting area where I donned a shower cap and snuggled into some blankets because of my shivering. Fear and cold do familiar bedfellows make.

The last thing I remember was watching the overhead tiles and fluorescents whip by above me. When I got into the operating theater, the anesthesiologist said something unintelligible and I was out.

My urologist had earlier explained what was to happen. It was a “grope and grab” through my penis and into the bladder. He would find the old plastic tubes and replace them. He did warn me that if he couldn’t do this in one sitting (I was lying down, actually), then I’d be in overnight for a refit through my back as earlier explained.

I woke at 11:20am, just 50 minutes after going under, with the operation done. There was no pain anywhere probably because of those great drugs they give one. Seriously, I hurt no where. They wheeled me back to the waiting area I left earlier where I dressed and waited for my ride home with Timmy.

I was really thirsty. I think I drank almost a gallon of water and apple juice from 4:00pm until evening news time yet, I voided only a few tablespoons through my new tubes. I worried that something might be wrong since so little was coming out. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to be waking up almost every hour after midnight to urinate most of that gallon back to the environment.

I’m back, folks, better than new and grateful for the skilled hands that carried this off. Every six months, you say? No problem, I say.

By the way, more news on the FT: Today, the landlord set up her eviction. She has until the 30th to vacate the premises. I send her love and no hate. She needs help desperately. We’ll tighten our “Sam Browne” belts and await her further actions.

Stay tuned…

Monday, April 9, 2007

A Failure of Courage, Part 2

The only real solace I found was in long-distance running, at which I excelled. I discovered this lonely sport in the tenth grade when, at an annual school-wide run around the American school campus in England, I came in second to a high school senior who had won the event four years in a row. I stopped trying out for football as a 140 pound tackle and joined the cross-country and track teams. As a sophomore, I led in first place finishes not only against other American schools in England (where we lived as an Air Force family) and Europe but against English schoolboys, too. I was a Big Man On Campus because of my prowess in moving over the Earth at great speed and for long periods of time. Yet, in spite of my need to train, I was condemned if I didn’t replace the time involved to get our house’s grass tennis court mowed or the garden’s rhubarb chopped and readied for canning.

I continued running as a junior and senior in a 4,000 student high school when we returned to the States. I was County Champion in cross country, ran in the Illinois State Finals in track, as well, and was elected Captain of each team. I set various records in several events. I ran in an 11 mile road race against college and older amateur participants, coming in 7th in a field of several hundred participants but, more importantly, was the first high school boy to finish. This personal victory meant nothing at home, of course, because being in this event prevented my scheduled Saturday leaf raking (it was autumn, after all) and since I didn’t do it, I got the silent treatment for a week.

All the while, my courage to talk back or to challenge their words and behavior toward me tapered off to a simmering resolve that I would get back at them, somehow. I would make them feel bad that they had boxed me in, categorized me as useless and my ideas “…not worth a hill of beans.” I would find a way to make my “rebellious” nature real—obviously, I was rebellious if I couldn’t fit into their dreams for me. I would “…show them a thing or two” (as they used to say to me). I would make them hurt. I would get back at them even if I was doing the suffering. I would make them wonder whatever did they do wrong that I turned out like this.

So, I flunked out of college, for starters.

How does anyone flunk out of the University of Hawaii (UH)? I found lots of ways; the main one being: don’t do anything. Don’t go to class. Don’t hand in any assignments. Blow up organic chemistry labs. I didn’t do that, but the small fires I created or the acid I spilled didn’t sit well with the lab assistants. I did well in things that interested me, like English composition or Public Speaking but, that wasn’t enough to save my academic career. By the fourth year of college, I had so few eligible credits that UH gave up on me and reported my status to the Draft Board, who promptly invited me down for a “Pre-Induction Medical Exam.”

I got out of military service because I had asthma as a child and was treated with the drug “epinephrine” after the age of fifteen. I thought back on my early-age asthma attacks and realized they coincided with my dad being away on one of his many military flying assignments. He left and I got sick. He came back and I got well.

More interestingly, I got well right in the middle of a doctor’s appointment. I associated the doctor with being a “father figure” and was so happy in his presence that I literally healed and stopped wheezing and coughing in his examination room. He was kind and solicitous and interested in my well-being; everything I wanted in a “daddy.” His very presence and touch honored me so much that I returned the favor by curing myself in front of him. He’d often look over to my mother and ask why I was here. She would say I was too sick for school so, that’s why we came by. This healing act didn’t last long, though. As soon as we returned home, I was sick again until my dad flew back.

I remember his being away on a trip and coming home with his usual cavalcade of souvenirs for the family. We were stationed in Germany at the time. My mom told my dad that I failed to be “The Man of The House” while he was gone and didn’t do something that fit the title. He looked at me with his cold, blue eyes and said that because of that I would receive nothing and to go my room. I was just seven years old and devastated that I was being held to adult standards already. The pain was intense. Being left out of the “goodies” was a terrible fate. “What did I do that was so bad that I was being punished so brutally?” He later opened my door and handed me something, telling me to quit crying and “act like a man.” Getting the goods alone and not in the presence of the family felt like being picked last for a dodge-ball game.

Slowly, in spite of the rave reviews some of my teachers and other adults heaped on me and told my parents about, truths emerged. I was insignificant and insensitive to their aspirations. I was thankless for all they’d done for me as “first-born” and upon whom the future of the family name depended as the only son. I was told I had no idea how they’d sacrificed for me. I couldn’t “…imagine what my becoming a doctor meant to the family name.” I didn’t understand that I was destined to be the first doctor in the family since my dad had to leave pre-med in college to “…go fight a war on my behalf” even though he didn’t marry my mom until seven years later and I wasn’t even born for another year after that.

Guilt was the watchword by which I lived. I felt guilty if whatever I was doing felt good or made me happy. If those emotions were present, then I was betraying my parents and their ”love” for me. If I was enjoying myself, I would soon feel their wrath. I had to remind myself constantly that happiness and contentment were for somebody else, not me. As long as I was in their presence, being correct was the guiding principle and if I didn’t know what to do, I “…should know by now; My God, haven’t you been listening?” Guilt heaped itself on me, again.

The little child within me, who only asked to be cared for, loved and nurtured, retreated to a safe place somewhere inside, licking his emotional and mental wounds. He didn’t emerge for a long while and when he did as a man, he was creative, imaginative, artistic, sensitive and joyful if only in short bursts. Even though these times overflowed with positive energy, I couldn’t assuage the feelings of foreboding and guilt that came with them, that somehow I would gain my parent’s diminution simply by doing something well on my own. I remember their taking the credit for whatever I did well. After all, it was their genes or their teachings that gave me the wherewithal for my individual success and achievement.

When I told my dad that I flunked out of college, I almost laughed in his face. I did get back at him. Here was something I did all on my own. I really disappointed him this time. I flunked out so I couldn’t possibly go to medical school now. I couldn’t possibly be the doctor he dreamed of my becoming.

Although I failed in courage to come right out and tell him years before, I had enough courage—albeit a strange application, for sure—to stop trying to be something I didn’t want to be, putting an end to the charade, once and for all. I told him I wanted to be a psychologist and he got back at me, saying they were “…a dime a dozen.” He won again, deflating my hope in doing something at which I did well as exemplified by the “A’s” I earned in those college subjects. That I wrote well and could speak well was backed up by high marks. No matter to him.

For the rest of the time we were a family “unit” in Hawaii, he ignored me except to tell me that since I wasn’t in school and now had a full-time airline job, I was going to have pay rent to help out. We lived in free government housing on Hickam Air Force Base. We shopped at the cheap government food commissary. Even my mom was working. He was a colonel in the Air Force, surely a high-paying job. What did he need with my money?

I decided that since I was going to have to pay rent somewhere, I would at least choose my roommates and I moved out a few weeks before he and my mom were transferred to their retirement home in Florida. So there! A glimmer of courage sparkled although it was dusted over by my leaving home for good. I could never go home again, as has been said. I did miss family life, such as it was. At least the cooking was great.

To this day however, anytime I hear about some group of people being “like a family,” I run the other way. The only family experience I ever had was what I described and no way was I going to repeat that anywhere in my adult life by choice!

And so, I emerged from this family’s cocoon with wonderful memories of things I accomplished outside of their influence (some while they still lived in Hawaii) but, with heavy emotional baggage.

I learned how to sail small boats in record time and went on to be named “Corinthian (Sailor) of the Year” by my yacht club, at 21, for my work developing the club’s youth program and for teaching others how to sail as a paid member of Hickam Harbor. I won two consecutive “Single-Handed Championships,” where I raced a fully rigged 20’ sailboat by myself, winning over men several times my age and with much more experience than me. I won the annual “Dillingham Regatta,” a sailboat race from Waikiki to Kaneohe Bay as the youngest ever in that same 20’ sailboat, “Gay Lady,” with my dad and a good friend as crew. I skippered “Gay Lady” to several islands in races and on leisurely cruises with friends.

My career in the airlines flourished and I married an artist, whose father was in the Navy as a flotilla commander. We moved onto a 22’ sailboat from an apartment, storing much of our goods ashore. It was a sweet life aboard. We could sit in one place and cook, answer the phone, adjust the TV, eat and wash dishes. We had many friends that moved aboard their boats, too, and we sailed as a fleet on almost every Sunday to Waikiki and back.

Life was good but I was bad. I treated my wife the same way my parents treated me. If she angered me I gave her the silent treatment. I put her ideas down if they didn’t agree with mine. I sometimes made fun of her in public. I was rotten and ugly. I felt so guilty whenever I treated her in these ways but, I didn’t know of any other example to follow.

I had wanted out of my family so bad that I proposed marriage before my parents left for the Mainland. I thought she would rescue me from the feelings of inadequacy imbued in me. She was a free thinker, pretty, intelligent, charming and loving. I challenged her with deep thoughts and sexy moves. I thought we were in love enough to marry and we did although my mother insisted we come to Florida to do so. After all, my wife’s mother and father were retired on the East Coast, too, so it made sense.

I was still afraid of my parents, believe it or not, and when my mom complained that my fiancée arrived on the pre-wedding flight without wearing make up, I went ballistic and confronted her. “How could you fly without make-up? What will people think?”

I write this some 30 years later and still shudder at that last statement, “What will people think?” It has been a thought that hounded me most of my life, up until now. No matter what I did, if it was table manner errors (for which I was often kicked under the table or had my mother’s high heel ground into my foot), a misspoken word or a mismatched pants and shirts, I was always reminded of, “What will people think?”

I was so traumatized by what people might think of me that I began thinking through what I might say or do, rehearsing my behavior, giving up spontaneity for correctness, especially around others. I moved through life as if I was in an airplane cockpit (albeit low to the ground; I’m only 5’7”) and guiding my body-fuselage with available controls over the earth and through my life.

Intimacy was out of the question. To tell anyone what my deepest feelings were risked them thinking I was weird or out of place. Even my two wives never really knew what was beating deep inside me. As long as I could get by commenting on something outside of me like politics or the stupidity of someone else’s actions, I felt safe. I seemed to act spontaneously but I would often review whatever I said or did and wonder how I got away with this or that. Maybe I was louder than anyone else. Maybe I really was original in my words and deeds, saying and doing things no one else thought of. Even as an adult, people seemed to like me and want to be around me. When I got drunk, I was a happy drunk, hilarious to a degree that even years later, others ask me if I remember something I did or said that had them rolling on the floor laughing. I could not remember, of course, perhaps because of being so loaded, though I think something deeper was afoot: hysterical amnesia.

As I grew up I seemed to remember less and less of what went on before. I could remember the pain of living within this family. I could recall the names, the slurs against me uttered by dad and (less often) by my mom. I remembered following one of them around the house trying to get the courage to ask permission to do something like go out with my friends somewhere and needing my allowance advanced. I knew I would get some kind of “no” and yet, I was happy when I did. Maybe I would avoid the turmoil of going out and then dealing with not having done something for which I would be punished. It was almost better to be at home unhappy, than sorry for going out. The good things that did occur, I seemed to forget; unable to recall. While the scientific literature is kind to this condition, saying it usually lasts a few minutes or a few hours, mine has gone on to this day.

Hysterical amnesia usually occurs as a condition of some psychological trauma and is looked on as temporary. It can involve short or long term memory. The two key phrases for me are “psychological trauma” and “temporary.” I’ll admit to the trauma which I’ve described thus far but temporary has me stumped; just how long is temporary?

My sister is the opposite of me in many ways. She is calm while I am excitable. She is thoughtful toward others while I can run roughshod over others feelings. She can remember everything and here I am, hopelessly lost in the land of forget-it-all. My sister can remember if not the full details of any event but, can include the date and what the weather was like. I’m being facetious. Compared to what I can remember about our pasts she is Encyclopedia Britannica and I am a comic strip. I can ask her about our history or more particularly my history and she has the facts and the first and last names of everyone involved. My sister never makes fun of my not remembering, she just answers patiently while I listen, fascinated at her recall.

I asked her a few weeks ago if she and I ever talked with each other about what was going on the family. She said no, we never did. It was like I kept what was happening to me to myself and whatever they did to her was her secret. We often heard, “What happens in this family stays in this family.” We were never to discuss anything on the inside outside the walls of our home. It appears that the two us took that admonishment to mean she and I could not speak about anything inside—inside either.

I’m getting close to the end of my adventure in being down about my past—that which I can remember, of course. Next time on “Brittleliquid’s Journey,” I’ll continue, perhaps with the startling revelations leading to my emotional and actual castration. It won’t be graphic but it will be descriptive.

Until then, peace to you, Gentle Readers.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Taking a Break

While the last two posts have dealt somberly with negative emotions, today I wanted to take a break and just share a few things that happened over the last couple of weeks. I’ll sort through those--the good and the not-so-good—and present them not necessarily in chronological order, but on their effects on me. I’ve already written Part Two of “A Failure of Courage” and I’ll post it in a few days after editing.

As an aside, I received surprising responses regarding Part One. As I wrote it, I thought I was the only one who experienced about which I was writing. I thought that no one would believe me. Yet, people wrote me to say, “Dickie, if you thought you were all alone; think again. We went through the same things.”

I’m finding that what is common in those comments is the age of the people writing them. We all grew up in the 50’s and 60’s of American parents. These parents were of that group of people called by one notable newscaster as “The Greatest Generation.” His premise was that the generation who fought in WWII and Korea realized greatness for going to war and coming back to build a new USA. I ask where the greatness is when so many of their children suffer from low self-esteem.

On to this past week or so…

I thought I was lucky in love until my fiancée decided to lay down our relationship. To say I suffered a blow would be a massive understatement. Those of you who follow this blog know the depth of my joy at my being considered good enough to marry at my age, diseased and essentially penniless. (I live on Social Security, Medicaid and food stamps, right now.) Although she said her change of heart had nothing to do with me--it was her thoughts and feelings about herself that didn’t permit her to continue on--I still took it as a rejection. I will admit this loss was horrific and the pain more intense than anything I have ever experienced. I will also admit that my eyes finally dried out what with all the tears I shed.

In the end, this was a good thing. I resolved to be her friend, again, returning to a role I had for most of the last two years. In addition, I made a business deal with her that has her billing me monthly for her modeling services. If our feelings do change toward one another, we can still keep the posing going. I will survive and so will she.

That incident behind me, I continued on in my quest to achieve two goals: beat cancer and beat diabetes. I knew that my general health needed improvement in order to be better prepared to handle the two “biggies.” So, I started an exercise program and later added a new eating program that dates back hundreds of thousands of years.

My exercise program began with getting my running shoes on. To bend over and tie them was difficult, like trying to touch one’s toes while sitting down with a basketball in one’s lap. I could hardly tie them tightly because my feet were so swollen; they barely fit. But, once on, I was now free to move across the earth. I began my first week by walking for seven or eight minutes a day; not every day—I was exhausted after just a few sessions. I did get through those days gaining strength each day.

The next week, I doubled my time to 15 minutes a day. Surprisingly, this effort was easier than the first few days. I had strengthened myself so that the 15 minutes went by surprisingly fast. I was still walking in a protected area, a church parking lot, and it was quiet and devoid of traffic on weekdays.

The big change was extending my walking time to a half-hour a day. I was surprised to find I could walk from my place to the local supermarket and back in that time. Since it was open at the early morning hour of my stroll—6:30am—I even went shopping, bringing back my favorite breakfast, bagels, and to my delight at day-old prices. The change I mention was walking along the busy highway instead of a protected area like the church property or even the local neighborhood. The four lane highway carried the combined morning traffic of cars carrying their occupants to work or schools, school buses and huge diesel trucks loaded with containers or construction materials. The noise was horrific. I was very proud of myself for maintaining my new schedule and while I did take a day off or two, I kept on.

While my exercise continued an interesting thing happened. For many months, I suffered from a pain in my left hip that was virtually debilitating. I could hardly sit at my desk, stand or sleep. Getting into my car was like getting into a space craft. I had to edge myself in, hanging on to the door, the roof and the steering wheel until I could reach down and actually pick up and lift my leg onto the driver’s seat. Getting out was a similar ordeal only in reverse. I limped everywhere and couldn’t make sharp turns when I walked.

A Chinese doctor felt my pulse and told me I had arthritis. My primary care guy said my latest x-ray showed I might have cancer in that hip. All I know and care about is that the more I exercised the less pain I experienced. If I missed a day, the pain was mildly evident. If I missed more than two days in a row, I had to take Tylenol to quell the pain. That worked but, another of my goals was to be medicine-free and taking that stuff, while temporarily helpful was moving me away from my goal. So, I resolved to increase my time on the road to one full hour a day.

It was now my fourth week at this exercise game and I was up to one hour a day, a remarkable feat considering just a month or so ago I drove around parking lots looking for spaces really close to store entrances. If I had to walk far from my car, I found I could only do that once or maybe twice a month. Now, to my delight, I was walking far beyond the supermarket entrance along this busy highway, turning around a half-hour out and coming home tired but happy. I was so proud of myself for committing to a goal and achieving it.

About a month ago, just as I was starting my seven minutes a day program, my primary care doctor was berating me for gaining as much weight as I had since leaving the hospital (almost 40 pounds) and for having a blood pressure as dangerously high as I did—190 over 97. I blamed the insulin for the weight gain. I couldn’t possibly be my diet. I was only having one or two fast-food meals a week. I ate prepared salads I bought at the supermarket. I may have added a few pieces of breaded chicken to those salads but, those calories couldn’t have added all that many pounds. Okay, I did have one or two baked potatoes a day but again, the butter, sour cream and bacon bits surely didn’t outweigh the benefits of all the potato’s fiber. And then, a good friend, a vegetarian, re-entered my life and changed everything.

Bob and I worked together in the 80’s on a couple projects, one mine and the other his. I invited him to lecture at a weekend “camp” for our running club about the benefits of a vegan diet for runners. He was (and is) articulate and humorous and his message got to many of us. I remember one of his slides (no PowerPoint then) of the healthy “stool” or dump, something he said we should all aspire to. In a toilet was a stool specimen that filled the surface of the toilet water in a spiral measuring some four feet, coincidentally almost the length of the average adult large intestine. He told of that some African tribes, who eat nothing but roots, fruits, nuts, berries, bark and rocks (just kidding about the rocks) experienced these bowel movements three to four times daily. These people are trim and fit not only because of their diet but because of their daily long walks and the amount of fresh water they drank.

I decided I wanted be just like them so, I started my vegan adventure abut ten days ago because of a few recent, well-written paragraphs from Bob.

I gave my remaining chicken to one of my roommates. I took my food stamps to my closest supermarket and exchanged them for green leafy vegetables and peppers, carrots, tomatoes, onions and garlic. I got some inexpensive salad dressing, too. I started preparing and eating huge salads every day. I added brown rice to my routine, sometimes mixing it with the vegetables and heating up this concoction in the microwave for lunch or dinner. Overnight, it seemed, I started feeling differently—better, actually. And, wouldn’t you know, the “African Stool” happened for me.

Ten days after I adopted the walking and diet regimen, I was in my doctor’s office for my monthly check up. I thought I would be greeted with good health news and went through the various “vitals” measurements.

Weight: nine pounds lost since my last visit about a month ago. Blood pressure: 140 over 77. Sugar count: down from a daily average of 180 to 96—normal. And to what do I attribute these changes you ask?

Let me say I am still on daily insulin so some of the downward spiral in my blood sugar may be due to that. I’m also on a blood pressure (BP) drug to control those numbers. But, let me also add that my BP was always high whenever I went into his office, no matter the possible influence of the drug. I truly believe that the path I’m on is a big part of achieving the goals I espoused earlier: beat cancer and beat diabetes, the double deadlies of mine.

Watch this space for further updates on my progress.

Monday, April 2, 2007

A Failure of Courage, Part 1

I go far into my childhood for a sense of a failure of courage when I felt victimized for not responding willingly to my parent’s urgings and downright directives that I become a medical doctor. When I resisted--as in not getting top grades in science and math (prerogatives for medicine) in elementary and high school--I was mistreated by them in some way. I was yelled at, they entered disparaging responses in my report cards returned to my teachers or I just got the silent treatment.

I endured an atmosphere of worthlessness so long as those grades were low. I couldn’t tap my courage as a seven year old or even eleven years later on leaving high school to say med-school was no place for me. I felt abandoned by my parents, so long as I could not please them in their only request of me: “…become a doctor so you can make us proud.”

Those subjects that required creativity such as English Composition, Sociology, Psychology or reports in Modern History gained me excellent grades. Those subjects didn’t matter to them and as a result, I spent most of my time feeling insecure and mistrusting of my ideas and dreams. Any family discussions of these were immediately replaced with questions about my sincerity toward becoming a doctor, the only goal from them for me.

The result was I hardly ever spoke about what I really wanted to do—be creative—with anyone. I shunned intimacy with best friends, girl friends and even trusted teachers or athletic coaches. I spoke the family line: “I’m going to be a doctor!”

I knew more about my acquaintances’ aspirations and how they were going to achieve them than I did my own. I carried an empty feeling inside me whenever I thought or talked about becoming a doctor. I had all the medical books money could buy, primarily as Christmas and birthday gifts from my parents. Gray’s Anatomy weighed in at several pounds but, the only thumb-worn pages were those picturing external female body parts. That book sat on my bookshelf with others of that ilk surrounded by dozens of model airplanes I built and painted—creativity on display? I should say so.

I’ll admit that my “inner child” was being slowly smothered as I grew up. All I wanted was for someone to ask me “…what did I really want to do?” All I wanted was to have my ideas and thoughts acknowledged and embraced as genuine and original. Yet, anything I originated was ignored or “pooh-poohed” as insignificant or unworthy of discussion in the family.

When I was with others, I was fun-loving and free spirited, a pixie, an elf, a “Pied Piper” bringing others to all sorts of activities. I led people on cave explorations; “spelunking” as it’s called. I formed a band with me playing my dad’s trumpet, having no idea how to play it but, sounding pretty good anyway. I created war stories and used my family’s 1954 Buick as a four engine bomber, even “bailing out” over Germany and evading capture. I turned a tree-hung rope swing into an aircraft carrier catapult, only releasing a “pilot” for take off when he had run up his engine (his voice) to my satisfaction. I got my friends to dig holes in the forest, cover the holes with boards we found at constructions sites and created underground forts for ourselves with small, smoky fires for cooking hot dogs.

But, get me home and I was neglected and ignored unless I was talking medicine or “operating” on my sister’s dolls. I tried being humorous and joyful at home but, that usually was met with distain or long stares. If I wasn’t practicing my piano (“We’ve paid a lot of money for those lessons”) or my penmanship (“See, your handwriting is so bad it’s obvious you’ll be a doctor”) or sitting at my student desk staring at books, then love was withheld, diminished or diverted somewhere else. “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” was a common utterance.

I was criticized and chastised for anything not measuring to their standards. “If you don’t get your elbows off the table, then I’m gonna insert razor blades, sharp side up on the table edge to teach you a real good lesson you’ll never forget!” “Sit up straight!” and the classic, “Children are to be seen and not heard!” was literally beaten into me. It wasn’t long before I began admonishing and punishing myself for my transgressions.

I remember hearing, “BOY?!” shouted up to me by my dad from the bottom of the stairs and feeling my heart leap as I scurried out of my room to find out what I’d done this time. Maybe I’d forgotten to take out the trash or left a can of paint open or missed a spot in the two acre lawn I mowed or left water marks on one of the car’s tires when I washed it. Whatever I did, I was afraid of the consequences.

I wasn’t physically beaten in those days; it was the mental anguish I feared the most. “How could I have… (insert here any manner of actions? Why was I so stupid? How could I miss something so small?” were thoughts that raged within me. It wasn’t enough that I was called “Dumb head” or Knucklehead” or told “You’re not going to amount to much” if I didn’t get these things done right.

To ensure I wouldn’t forget my lesson this time, I found ways to inflict pain on myself as physical punishment. For instance, in returning to my room, I would deliberately slam my knuckles into the sharp edges on the door jamb, causing blood to issue forth, swellings to rise and bruises to be left behind. Or, I might kick my toes into the bedstead. I might even slam my fingers in the drawers of my desk. I just wanted some physical pain to match the mental and spiritual pain inflicted on me. It made sense for my body to hurt and make me cry rather than just having words do me in.

Since I was doing so many things wrong—household chores and poor grades—I was questioning my existence. I even went public in eight grade geography class when my teacher made a statement about some mystery regarding my birthplace, Brazil. I raised my hand and said, “I know another Brazilian mystery, Mr. Robertson. Why I was born…” I hung my head as he calmly looked away and called on someone else. At fifteen, I wrote a suicide note, “To Whom It May Concern,” stating simply that since I could not feel any emotions at all, life wasn’t worth living anymore. Obviously, I never carried through with that as I am here today. The real problem was I just knew I would screw that up just like I had everything else.

A Failure of Courage, Part 2 follows soon