Wednesday, January 30, 2008

My Winter Vacation

...or "I ain't dead yet"

I will have to keep this short, as I am still weak from my 'winter vacation' (yes, I got one). And I ain't dead yet, and don't plan to be for quite some time.

My winter vacation was approximately 10 days in a nice, private room with room service and smiling attendants who saw to my every need. What more could anyone want?

Even had a nice view from my window - right on the High Point Regional Hospital parking garage.


On Sunday, January 20, I twisted around in my computer chair to pick up a pesky Chihuahua to put him in my lap. I slightly sprained a muscle in my chest - just between my right shoulder and breast. Bother.

As I tried to sleep, it seemed to get a bit worse, as did my breathing. I took an aspirin, which helped a bit.

The next day, I went to work. Matters didn't improve.

On Monday evening, Mr. Andante hauled me (literally) kicking and screaming to the hospital emergency room. My 'sprained muscle" hurt like hell, and I could hardly breathe.

As I staggered up to the registration desk, holding my chest and gasping for breath, the desk clerk hollered for an immediate EKG, and several of those caring attendants rushed me into a triage room, stripped me down to my loveliness, and started applying icky electrodes.

EKG fine; whew, no heart attack.

So they schlepped me into x-ray to see what was going on.

I have been walking around with pneumonia for God-knows-how-long, but that's not a big deal.

I have also been nursing a small-cell, extensive & aggressive cancerous tumor just between my trachea and right lung. It's not pretty - I am not in denial, but I am in Full Metal Plated Ninja Super Powered Spidey Fighting Mode.

Not to mention in Full Scale The-Hell-With-Having-No-Insurance Go-to-Hell American Health Insurance Extortion System.

I have spent ten days having chest x-rays, biopsies (OUCH!, followed by some really nice la-la land drugs), CT scans, needle-punching, chemotherapy, antibiotics, etc., etc. and the pure angelic, saintly ministrations of the High Point Cancer Center crowd.

I am finally home, and OH - how I long to take a good rest in my own bed, surrounded by my Chihuahua herd and listening to Mr. Andante snore.

I am weak, but like I said - ready to fight for my life.

And I have something in common with my Favorite Person, Elizabeth Edwards. It is not curable (at this time), but it is manageable. Oh, how I wish her husband had been able to get his message across. I hope he will continue to advocate for the poor and for the uninsured. I think he will, and his voice is strong.

That sodium-depletion matter is somewhat related - the tumor produces some sort of hormone that acts as a diuretic - which reduces the sodium - and I am taking a medication to boost sodium production. I have since found out that a sodium level of 117 can result in that seizure-coma-death sequence. I was admitted to the hospital at 120 (it had dropped from the safer levels achieved just a few days before). I am now up to 129. The "safe" zone is 135-140.

I'll get there, no matter how many bags of potato chips have to give their life for it.

For the next seven days, I go for some sort of Gawd-Awful expensive injections each day to boost my immune system that has been shot to pieces by the chemo. My wonderful doctor (aka Dr. Bloodsucker) is applying to Big Pharma to get me on their Free Drug program.

It gives me no end of satisfaction to think some drug company CEO or upper management hot shot will have to give up a tiny bit of their next bonus to give me free injections.

I have been seeing him for a long time anyway on an unrelated, irrelevant matter and have a good relationship with him. He's originally from Pittsburg via India, has a long, tongue-twister name, and when I'm not calling him Dr. Bloodsucker, it's Dr. Nuisance. He calls me "Trouble". We get along fine. He doesn't sugar-coat anything, and I trust him implicitly.

He's another one who knows I am not a second-guesser, just a Googler who likes to be an informed patient. He encourages it, bless him.

There is a marvelous program from private donors that will give me a big break on discount meds. And I can get generics from Wal Mart, Target, and various other pharmacies for something like $4 per month.

I'll be dropping by the Cancer Center lab at various times for assorted lab tests to monitor progress, and in about three weeks, I go back for another, hopefuly shorter "vacation" at the Cancer Center for further chemo and whatever else awaits me. It's not fun, but the people there make up for a lot, especially Craig the Day-Nurse whose blood pressure goes up with we discuss the need for insurance overhaul (he's all for it), and the Chemo Nurse - Nurse Potty & Poison (whose never-ending IV saline solutions during chemo send me to the potty at all times of the day and night).

Not to mention Gladys the housekeeper who keeps me in clean hospital gowns & sheets, the pretty little soft-spoken Night Nurse who would like to work for Hospice but doesn't think she could deal with dying children, and the innumerable CNA's who do anything (including listening to me rattle on) from emptying the bedpans, checking vital signs at 3:00 a.m., and fluffing my pillows. God Bless Them, every one.

The hospital has given me an application for financial assistance, and may write off some of the expenses. I will apply for Social Security Disability, and Medicaid (hopefully) will kick in to cover stuff. I think I will be able to work for a certain number of hours per month and still collect disability to make up the shortfall in income. My wonderful employers at the Quaker church are willing to do whatever is needed to keep me in medications, income, and their loving circle of prayer.

So, I'm not going to sweat the money at the moment - it's the last thing I need to focus on. But I will continue to advocate strongly for a single-payer, sensible system for a deserving American public - I think that includes me.

So, please bear with me when blogging is light or none existent. I beg you all for your good vibes, thoughts, prayers if you are so inclined. But if you are sick yourself or even feel a case of sniffles coming on, don't breath on my blog. You never know what perfidy these InterTubes are up to now.

Peace out, for the moment.....


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Silent but deadly - Saturday tree blogging and miscellaneous

A little matter of an ice storm the other day made things semi-panicky around here and shut down the area temporarily. Followed by sun, melting, kicks in the pants for being alarmists, and another round of winter-weather-maybe today. Photos around the old family estate below.

Fortunately, this was not anywhere as severe as the one in 2002, when folks all around us were without power for two weeks. During that time, our electricity blinked once, but held. We lost a bunch of trees, but only one came close to our house by several inches. Lots of people lost their homes entirely.

Saying "I guess we live right" didn't help my favorability rating.

I've been touring assisted living facilities for my mother. It's time, at 93 years old, to stop trying to live alone (with my abundant and just-up-the-street help). She deserves some pampering.

Let me just say I'm ready to move into any one of them on a moment's notice, as soon as I can find someone willing to foot the bill so I don't have to Work Hard For The Money.


Let me also add there's just nothing like the feeling you get when an ancient little lady with Coke-bottle glasses toddles up to you as you tour the facility, clutches your arm, and says - "Honey, you're going to LOVE it here!"

I'm sure I would. I'm sure I also wish she was being led by a guide dog and maybe had no eyeballs at all.

But I'm sure it's the place for Mom, too. Wonderful facility, not far from where I work, great little community. If you need a recommendation in Asheboro, NC, let me know.

Lots to do before then, and I'll be pretty busy with it all, not to mention my own pressing health concerns. I hope to move her in several weeks.

They will take over all the medication supervision, cleaning, physician appointments, meals, snacks - you name it. For me, it will be like seeing my daughter off to college. And if I can remember what a vacation is, I might get to take a little one.

The Japanese Maple that guards the entrance to the Collective Sigh Estate.

Across the street, the neighbors have a lovely Magnolia (genus Magnolius Steelium, I believe) that always seems to bear it's ice mantle with grace and dignity.

Magnolius Steelium, flanked by Treelia Whateverius and separated from our house by Via Zambonia

Behind those trees would be his business - restoring & souping up Street Rods. Very cool. And a handy neighbor when the batteries in our beat-up old cars are dead.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ain't misbehavin' anymore

Yeah, another long one. Usually I say "so sue me".

Today (it is 'today' by the time I type this) I say - please read on.

I usually don't know what I'm talking about (silence from the peanut gallery, please) but this time I actually DO.

And yes - it can be a matter of life and death.

I've had this Salon column bookmarked since it was posted on Jan. 10th, but haven't had a chance to give it the attention it so richly deserves.

Until now. It's too important - I'm delaying my usual beddy-bye time to do it, even if it means morning brain-fog.

In addition to just normal busy-ness, my brain has been foggy lately anyway - with good reason. A medical reason I didn't realize had crept up on me.

Concern with creeping blood pressure did lead me to grit my teeth, take my checkbook and sorry butt to the doctor. He did the usual manual b/p test, blood & urine test. B/p okay.

But those tests led to a lot more serious medical issues, and this Salon article has been in the back of my mind.

Please take a moment to click over and read it; I'll copy/paste a bit, but it - and my inborn nosy nature - just likely saved my own life. At the very least, it saved me much time, anxiety, and money. And saved valuable hospital bedspace and resources.
Is there a doctor in the mouse?

Arrogant doctors criticize their patients who go online to research ailments. But they're wrong. The best health sites are a boon to patients and doctors alike.

By Rahul K. Parikh, M.D.

Jan. 10, 2008 | In November, Time magazine's medical writer, Dr. Scott Haig, wrote an article, "When the Patient Is a Googler," in which he described a frustrating experience with a patient who had chronic knee pain. Even before he met the woman, Susan, in person, he was frustrated with her because she was Googling information as he talked to her over the phone. Things got worse when she came to his office and told him she had researched his medical background and qualifications, and had read a paper he'd published. "I was unnerved by how she brandished her information, too personal and just too rude on our first meeting," he wrote. He proceeded to call her the "queen, perhaps, of all Googlers," a class of patients he referred to as "brainsuckers."

The problem with Haig's article, other than petulance, is that he's ignoring every single Internet trend in healthcare over the past decade. The medical establishment, in fact, has taken way too much time to understand that the Internet is a disruptive innovation that has overturned the status quo. It has leveled the playing field between expert and novice -- in this case, doctor and patient. While some doctors like Haig may find that challenge threatening to their status as an expert, the Web is now providing the kind of information doctors need to be aware of if we want to continue to be good at our job, and the kind of trends that can help patients be smarter and healthier.

According to a 2006 study of online health searches by the Pew Research Center, eight of 10 Internet users, up to 113 million Americans, have gone online looking for health information on behalf of themselves or a loved one. For those with a chronic problem, like Susan, that number rises. People with chronic medical problems are more avid users of the Web and state that their online searches affect treatment decisions, their interactions with doctors, and their ability to cope with their condition. That's not something that any doctor can dismiss.
Please read the rest yourself. Yes, it's important.

It's important to understand there is a lot of crap on the Tubes, too, and have sense to know what is likely reliable and what isn't. I would never dream of "doing a Susan" and actually clubbing a doctor with his own personal information.

If I doubted the physician's credentials, reputation, or published writings - why should I keep an appointment if I don't respect him/her? Susan was a jerk about that.

But arming herself with information wasn't jerk-ish at all, especially information about her own condition.

I will research the subject when confronted with a medical condition to see what the accepted therapies are, and my doctor - bless his heart (yes, Bryan, I mean that most sincerely) - had the good sense to listen.

The sodium content in my blood became dangerously low; so low as to provoke the good man to call me at 8 a.m. this morning and suggest an immediate hospital admittance for several days of IV's and diagnostic tests to determine WHY.

I had been told of the condition yesterday after that first blood & urine test. The initial results had him calling me at work later that morning to tell me I should limit my fluid intake to one liter that day and do the tests again the next morning.

(today - Wednesday...no, make that Wednesday - yesterday. Brain fog sets in early. I mean, late. Oh, hell - figure it out yourselves.)

I SUFFERED through that one-liter day, and realized very quickly I was heavily over-consuming liquids - most of it caffeinated coffee and soft drinks. I'm embarrassed to admit how bad it was. It wasn't water poisoning, but it wasn't that far off.

Thanks to Googling hyponatremia and researching it at a number of reliable medical websites, the alarm bells went off. "Abnormal consumption or excretion of dietary sodium or water."


The outward symptoms are sometimes very sneaky; you don't realize you're sick until you reach severe stage. If you're lucky, the ER uncovers the disease after you've been rushed there with seizures or in a coma. Death follows quickly.

So, I grimly stuck it out, chewing gum and sucking hard candy for all I'm worth. I'm not thirsty - it's just a bad habit. Gotta break it. Not easy.

When he called me this morning and recommended immediate hospitalization, my first thought was "I don't have health insurance - how can I cope with several days in the hospital and a bunch of expensive tests?".

My second thought was "who is going to look after my mother and deliver her thrice-daily medication?"

My third thought was that part about 'seizures, coma, and death'. I must not be too far off.

Apparently, I wasn't - but I begged him to do another test and see what my one-liter restriction day did for me. He reluctantly agreed, and said come in for the tests.

When I got home in the afternoon after the tests and visiting assisted living hot-spots for my mother there was a message from the doctor on the phone.

Now I'm thinking, "oh, crap - hospital, here I come.".

But no.

I was absolutely right. And the dear saint listened to me and took my abnormal fluid intake seriously.

My tests this morning were in the 'safe' zone. Continue fluid restrictions, come in next week to repeat the tests.

Thank you, God, goddesses, and Google.

I likely face further tests for any damage done over the years of heavy overtime done by my kidneys and other innards from the excessive caffeine, fluids, and sodium depletion. I will deal with that as it comes and go willingly for those tests. We will work out payments as necessary.

Heck, maybe I'll live long enough to get health insurance, but I'm not betting the ranch on it. Maybe Michael Moore could arrange for treatment in Cuba.....

But no. I will do as I'm told; restrict my fluid, lay off the caffeine, and take my medicine - literally and figuratively.

And you bet your damned LIFE I will continue to try to be an informed patient.

It IS sometimes a matter of life and death, and sometimes that 'bet' pays off big-time with life.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Medical tort reform

As it happens, I am all in favor of giving a good legal scouring to the entire health industry.

Here's a good place to start:

Salary & stock options of Merck's CEO, Richard Clark:
$1.1 million base pay; 125,000 stock options at a grant price of $34.70, exercisable in three installments in May 2006, May 2007 and May 2008

Fred Hassan, CEO of Schering-Plough reels in a cool $5.79 million, which includes his bonus ($3.69 million) and 'other' - $.55 million.
Isn't there a law somewhere about how Big Gummint is supposed to be on guard against selling unsafe drugs? Or making false claims?

Is there nothing about selling ineffective drugs at hugely inflated prices?
Study Reveals Doubt on Drug for Cholesterol

A clinical trial of a widely used cholesterol drug has raised questions both about the medicine’s effectiveness and about the behavior of the pharmaceutical companies that conducted the study, cardiologists said Monday.
The so-called cholesterol lowering drug in question is Vytorin - the same Vytorin of the slick, cute TV & print ads comparing the appearance of foods to your relatives.

It's a combination of Zetia and Zocor.

Vytorin, the object of the study, runs $100.00 per 30 day supply of a 10 mg tablet.

According to my trusty local pharmacy, which can always be trusted to charge through the yazoo, a thirty-day supply of Zetia (10 mg) is $97.99.

Simvastatin, Zocor generic found to be actually useful by the same study when given in higher dosages, runs $50.59 per 30 pills at 20 mg. and the very same $50.59 per thirty 40 mg pills.

Zocor lost it's patent protection in 2006.

And people wonder why I won't take the crap after it's been prescribed.

Pass the snake oil. It's probably 100 times more effective.


Friday, January 11, 2008

I demand satisfaction (slap with gloves)
South Carolina tailor made for me' - Dead Fred
Them, sir, is fightin' words.

I may be of the North Carolina persuasion, but on behalf of Carolinians everywhere - I resent that remark.

Thank goodness that's almost over

My preznit visits Israel and the West Bank!

Tells the Israelis to stop building settlements, tells the Arabs to stop shooting!

Peace within a year!


This diplomatery is so easy!


Thursday, January 10, 2008


If you are surprised at how badly WRONG all the Pooh-Bahs and Learned and Wise pundits were about the New Hampshire Democratic primary, then let me assure you that upon receipt of your $5,000 I will send you $21 million dollars for deposit and upon completion of the transaction will then split the money with you.

Edwards gal that I am, I might well have been tempted to vote for Hillary during the primary.

I like the way a commentator on NPR put it - many women voted with their middle finger. The sneering from the Peanut Gallery, not to even hint at the screaming from the rightwing radio whackos, was way, way over-the-top.

You don't like it, Chris Matthews? Have another Viagra...it will make you feel better.

You go, girl.

Having said that, the macho tomfoolery that preceeded the primary was only a very small HINT at what a Hillary presidency would bring.

So...you go, John. Or Obama.

Then again - if one of them had jumped in to criticize the pundits BEFORE the primary instead of piling on themselves - not to defend Hillary, but to point out what asses the media can be - how many of those women might have voted YOUR way?

Think about it.

Update - Holy crap. Karl Rove agrees. Any pigs sighted at 3,000 feet?


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

That 'fire in the belly' is sometimes indigestion

Rasmussen currently has Dead Fred roaring into the New Hampshire primaries at 3% - just behind the formidable "Not Sure" at 4%.

I can't recall when I've ever seen a more lame campaign, unless it was maybe my own first (and last) foray into the electoral process during the sixth grade.

For some reason, my classmates nominated me (the class clown) to run. I guess I was just flattered to be nominated, as nobody (least of all me) had any idea what a 6th grader could do as President of the Independent State of Lemon Road Elementary School.

A few posters were (surprisingly) made up for me by the kid down the street. Even my best friend thought the idea of my running was a hoot and didn't bother to offer help. I didn't ask; how should I know a candidate is supposed to ASK for anything?

I seem to recall standing in front of a 5th grade classroom with the other three candidates for a 'question & answer" time.

After "Mack" McMahan gave a quite stirring and eloquent speech about how he'd get Coca-Cola machines in the halls, longer recess periods, no homework, etc. - I was asked why I wanted to be president.

I shrugged my shoulders and said "Because".

As you might expect, I went down in ignominous flames and Mack McMahan won. If there was a "Not Sure", I'm sure he/she gave me a beating. No Coca-Cola machines resulted from Mack's win, and I think the teachers actually increased our homework load.

True story. It's the first and last time I ever ran for anything and don't plan to.

Old Fred and I have a lot in common; at least I have the sense not to waste any supporter money on running a down-the-drain contest with "Not Sure".

Breaking! With 76% of the precincts reporting, it looks like Dead Fred is beating "Not Sure". Close one, Fred!

Today in 1815
"In 1814 we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans"

(written by Jimmy Driftwood)
So ended the final engagement of the War of 1812 - two weeks after the war officially ended.

If you're old enough to remember that song - yes, you are old. Join the club.

If you are able to read these words you should be old enough to lament the lack of communication in those days that could have prevented the loss of 291 British dead (including three senior generals)and and 71 dead American soldiers.

A simple telegraph, phone call, e-mail, text message or any other form of today's instantaneous communication would have prevented the unnecessary loss of life.

Dubya, what's your excuse?


Friday, January 04, 2008



I'm still an Edwards gal, and there ARE some areas where Obama is lacking. But I could get behind him. I could get behind any of the Dem candidates if I have to choose - which I likely won't. The North Carolina primary isn't until frickin' MAY.

I'm sorry to see Chris Dodd (and Biden, for that matter) withdraw. I really liked Dodd especially, and certainly liked his health plan. It has major advantages over the others, with the exception of Kucinich's simple, sensible, and more affordable-to-all single-payer proposal.

See the link and look for 'adverse risk'. This would be the insidious 'preexisting conditions' that make health insurance out of reach and unaffordable for many uninsured.

The other candidates waffle around it, including Edwards and his otherwise not-a-bad-try proposal.

Lump all the uninsured into a 'public pool'? Unless that public pool includes everyone it's like saying "Let loose the hounds of war" to the health insurance companies.

Whichever candidate wins the nomination, I hope Dodd's compassionate and sensible proposal to make 'adverse risk' exceptions illegal gets into the final plan.

And I am heartened by the amazing numbers of young voters who turned out to caucus for Obama. I should have known - my own daughter, who will predictably vote Democratic but more along the lines of "whatever"...is passionately behind Obama.

To me, it's a good sign.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Folly? Brave? Smart?

Edwards urges pullout of troops training Iraqis

I admit it - when I first saw this headline this morning my kneejerk reaction was - "Oh, no - he'll get clobbered".

But - why not? And so what?

Let the other candidates clobber away. Let the good folks in Iowa and New Hampshire ask them 'why don't you want to get out of Iraq?'

If we ever intend to LEAVE Iraq, the first step has got to be calling a halt to the training. We just keep churning out insurgents and the weapons end up in the hands of the militias. Unless our 'training' is for a more deadly civil war then crying for someone else to police it?

Good for Edwards.


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