Touch me I’m sick

“I am trying to be ill.”- Rik, The People’s Poet


I was born with strong bones and a healthy heart. Being born as nine pound plus baby, I can honestly say that I was never weak, nor malnourished. And based on the rapidly growing pile of jeans in my closet that no longer fit and my rapidly diminishing view of my toes, I can say that this situation has continued to be the case. I am grateful that I was born with such a sturdy body. I thank the Lord that he gave me many gifts. He gave me an excellent sense of hearing, strong bones that have never been broken, a remarkably handsome face and awesome muscle tone. He also gave me the ability to completely delude myself as regards my face and physique. It is sometimes a burden to have been born so blessed. However, in an effort to even out the score and ultimately prevent me from ruling the word, the Good Lord is his infinite wisdom decided to give me one pair of organs that frankly just don’t work that good. No, not that pair of organs, you pervert. Based on the two young people that resemble me and spend a good portion of the time calling me Dad, while asking for me to give them money, I would say those organs work just fine thank you very much.

No, the organs I am referring to are ones that have a far more important job and are about as effective as the Jaguars offense, my lungs. I hate my lungs because frankly they work about as hard as a government employee on a Friday afternoon. There was a time when my lungs weren’t consistently letting me down but apparently the factory warrantee on those bad boys expired after 18 months. For those of you who have never known the joy of taking a deep breath and feeling like you are inhaling through a wet sponge, let me enlighten you in on the joys you have missed.

  • ·         You have missed the joys of being up at three in the morning because you can’t breathe and you and your occasionally nodding off mother get to enjoy some late night TV. However, if you think that late night television is bad now with your 300 channels and your 54” HDTV then imagine what it was like back in the early 80s when there was only 3 channels on…during primetime.
  • ·         You missed the joy of being accused of being a smartass by every teacher because you made the critical mistake a taking your usual desperate gasp for air at the same moment that your teacher mentioned her age and/or weight.
  • ·         You missed knowing more about how to conduct a chest x-ray than the Technicians that spend 24 credit hours learning to do it at community college.
  • ·         You also missed the secrets of children’s medicine: If it tastes good, it doesn’t work. If it tastes bad, it still won’t work. And if it tastes really, really bad then it won’t work but the doctor will recommend that you drink a bottle every fifteen minutes.

I don’t want to pretend that I was sick throughout my entire childhood; there were some considerable periods of time when I was completely healthy. The fact was that as long as I didn’t get a cold, I was fine. However, as soon as I felt the first twinges of a sore throat, I was like a man leaping from an airplane without a parachute. Oh sure things were okay right now but the reality is that conditions were only going to get worse. My mom did do her best to make my periods of sickness as tolerable as possible. When the times came when my coughs got really bad she would occasionally deviate from the doctor prescribed medicines and go with some home remedies and they were so great. My favorite was a combination of warm honey and whiskey. I am not sure if it helped my cough, but it sure made the cartoons I was watching far more entertaining. The only problem with home remedies is that once you tell someone that you are open to using them then suddenly everyone that you know is an amateur physician and has their own little known medical secret that will make you well. There is also a simultaneous contest to see whose home remedy can be the weirdest. My rural south Georgian (the state where sanity is on permanent holiday) grandmother always won the title hands down.  My personal favorite recommendation from her was ,in response to my case of pneumonia( another benefit of being sick as a kid is the ability to spell “pneumonia” without using spell-check) , that my Mom render up a large amount of possum fat and the bathe me in it and follow that with wrapping me up in newspaper. Wow, just like it said in the New England Journal of Medicine. I hope this explains my dual hatred of both the opossum and the printed newspaper. The only thing worse than people offering up home remedies, is when they recommend their own doctors. Once again, I truly appreciate that there are people in the world that care enough about me and my health to offer free advice but sometimes it still sounds weird. The conversation is always the same,” Oh, you have a bad case of __________. Well my doctor, DR. ____________ can cure that right up. Just make sure you tell him that I sent you.”

Now, this although noble, is just plain odd. It’s not like there is a vast difference in doctors in this day and age. I mean I always presumed that there were professional guidelines that all doctors have to meet. I don’t think I have ever seen a lottery scratch off ticket that says,” Match the number to your lucky number and win a medical practice.” So since they are pretty much equal I don’t think shopping around would do my health much good. Secondly, your relationship with your doctor is like your relationship with your preacher: First of all, once you have started the relationship you are too committed to leave and secondly you won’t know if you made the wrong choice until after you are dead. But, the truly odd part of the doctor recommendation is the “mention my name” part. What are you working for commission? Did your doctor promise to knock 25% off that kidney transplant if you brought him 15 new patients?  That’s not medical referral, that’s a pyramid scheme.  And just once I want to hear a doctor say, “Oh, you know Steve? Well in that case I am going to give you the “real” medicine because I have been giving everybody else Flintstones Chewables.”

Now while I do have much respect for anyone that would rack the kind of student loan debt that is necessary to become a doctor lately, I must admit that the general level of medicinal professionalism has started to suffer lately. It’s not the doctors’ fault, with growing malpractice insurance premiums, prescription drug abuse on the rise and the fact that every numbskull with an internet connection thinks they can do the job of diagnosing their ailments better than you can. It’s no wonder that the number of doctors is on the decrease. Although there are many fine doctors still practicing medicine, there are a few charlatans operating in the medical field. Have you fallen prey to one of these bad doctors? Here are a few tips to know for sure:

  • ·         Your doctor’s office is an El Camino with no wheels that’s parked in the alley behind the pawn shop.
  • ·         Check out the health of the fish in the waiting room aquarium. If he can’t keep a 93 cent goldfish from Wal-mart alive, then odds are against him curing a human being. A note to you non-aquarium keepers: Fish don’t sleep belly up.
  • ·         The Time magazine in the waiting room refers to the 1880s as   ”The Future”.
  • ·         The receptionist desk consists of just a series of pallets stacked on top of each other.
  • ·         When the nurse calls you to come on back, she adds,  ”if you dare”.
  • ·         The door stop in the hallway is a cooler that reads,   ”Live Human Organs”.
  • ·         The floor in the treatment room has a chalk body outline on it.
  • ·         The back of the doctor’s lab coat has Jiffy Lube on it.
  • ·         When you hand the doctor a vial of your blood, he asks “what’s that red stuff”.
  • ·         The x-ray machine is just an Etch-a-Sketch bolted to the wall.
  • ·         The doctor keeps referring to when he took his Hippopotamus Oath.
  • ·         The office gives you the option of paying with livestock.

Even if you have the good fortune to have selected a quality medical care provider, you will learn as I have that as bad as being sick as a kid was, being sick as an adult is even worse. When you were sick as a kid, Mom always gave me the best care. She let me keep my room a little messier than usual. She made me grilled cheese sandwiches and I got to drink root beer from a straw in my room, activities which were verboten when I was healthy.  She would bring me extra pillows if I wanted and was always trying to do the little things that made me feel better. To a kid suffering from pneumonia, these little things made all the difference in the world. Best of all, eventually I would fall asleep, and while a neighbor came over to watch me,  she would go to the store. It never failed that when I awoke there would be a new toy sitting on the pillow next to me. It may have been only a Matchbox Car, but that little gesture made all the difference to me. These memories made such an impact on me that I adopted my own  ”if you are sick you get a present” policy at my house. The kids love this so much that when we go visit a friend in the hospital I have to make sure they are not licking the doorknobs just to get something new. So as bad as I may have felt as a kid, the love that I received made it not seem so bad.

However, I know that being sick as an adult just plain sucks. There is no chance to stay home if you are sick, not in this economy. No one makes you grilled cheese. You just get to feel bad and yet still have to do all the things that you do when you are feeling well. No one brings you root beer with a straw in it and I haven’t seen a toy car on my bed yet. You also get to worry about how you are going to be able to get better before the deductible on your insurance resets and you have to shell out your Christmas money just to keep well enough to stay out of the hospital. It is sickening and depressing. I always make it worse for not letting anyone do things for me because I feel guilty for being sick. It all seems like just too much to handle. It was in the middle of my current bout with Bronchitis and self doubt that I fell asleep last night. Late in the night, I felt my wife put her hand on my back and checked the rattling in my lungs. It was just a little gesture but it made me happy that she cares enough about me to check on how I was doing, even late at night. It made all the difference in the world……………but I still would like some root beer.


More than Movies

“I’m your huckleberry”

I love this movie. It’s called Tombstone and unlike that Kevin Costner Wyatt Earp movie that came out at the same time, it is very entertaining. It is well documented that I love movies. I love the magic of spending two hours completely enthralled my characters and events that are pure fantasy, even when that fantasy is loosely based on historical figures. Of all the films that I have enjoyed during my life, there is a small family of films, recently included was Tombstone, that hold a special allure to me. They have earned a place of honor in my life such that even if I have the movie on VHS and DVD and the movie happens to come on t.v., I can’t help but watch it. Most of these movies are from my childhood. They are the old war movies I used to watch as a kid on Saturday afternoons like The Dirty Dozen and The Great Escape. They include the Disney movies like Jungle Book and Peter Pan. They include the vast collection of Batman films from the original relaunch featuring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson to the entire Christopher Nolan reinvention , however this does not include that George Clooney slop fest Batman and Robin because it was just awful.  And of course they include the Original Star Wars saga and to a slightly lesser degree the prequels that followed, proof that this is about the films I loved even when I recognized that they weren’t as good as they could have been. This may seem like an eclectic mix of films to hold in such high regards and I had never really been able to connect them before. But as I am in an introspective mood this morning, I think I have found their common thread and that which connects them to me. It’s about heroes.

I am not sure if it was because of the era that I grew up in or if the truth is that everybody regardless of age feels the same. Personally I have always sought out heroes and like  most people the search for them took me into the world of entertainment.I remember spending Sundays as a child watching old reruns of shows like The Lone Ranger and Tarzan. These heroes were without flaw. They were brave. They were noble. Their reputations were without reproach. I held them in the highest of regard and then I started to outgrow them.

The ones that I chose to replace them as I grew older were never as brave, as noble, nor as pure as the ones I had as a small child. This is probably due to the fact that the world that I was growing older in was showing itself to not be as pure I believed it was when I was young. But luckily for me, I lived in a time when there were some real life heroes that I encountered in my life and this did a finer job at giving me hope than any fictional character ever did.

My mom was always looking in on elderly people that she knew and helped take care of. To a small child this was, at first sight, was a random collection of strange old men and women who dressed well even when they weren’t going anywhere, used to grandest of manners ever to strangers and spoke often about vague concepts like honor and appreciation. As we lived in a world where kids were never left home alone, I accompanied my mother on these visitations. And as Mom performed simple household duties, I would sit there and talk to the elderly citizens which we visited. They enjoyed having someone young to talk to and they told me these great fantastic tales. It was not until I grew older and recalled these tales that I learned who these people were. They were heroes.

There were the pair of brothers who survived the sinking of the Titanic, by being given the spot on the lifeboat that their mother let them have instead of her. There was the century old woman who told me tales of her father’s time as a Civil War soldier. Even the least senior of those we visited, barely in their sixties, told me of battles in places like Iwo Jima and Bataan. These stories served to do more than just entertain me, they formed a new set of criteria as to what qualified as a hero. It was from that point on that I searched for my heroes, not on the television nor in the theater but rather in everyday life.

Still, occasionally there would be a hero from the larger realm of celebrity that would fit all my requirements and unfortunately one of the greatest on of these passed away yesterday. His name was Neil Armstrong and he was everything a hero was supposed to be and more. I was born 3 years after Neil became the first man to step on the moon, but had the good fortune to live in a time and in a state where astronauts were not relics of a history book but rather where the most popular answer to “what do you want to be when you grow up”. I even attended a high school named after an astronaut who had perished during the Space Race. Armstrong was brave and noble and the embodiment of the power that science had over our dreams as children. He was the hero we never outgrew, not because of what he did but because of what he didn’t do. He never cheapened his image by showing up on a game show or some ill-advised sitcom role. Most importantly, he never tried to cash in on his fame by trying to sell a veggie steamer or indoor grill. When he retired from NASA, he continued to be a hero. He became a teacher, and when that career was finished he quietly drifted off into his own quiet world of solitude. His passing is truly sad in that it was preceded by the death of that which made him famous, the American quest for manned space exploration.

Although my need for heroes is something that I thought I would have grown too old for, the truth is that we need heroes now more than ever. I still have them, and I still need them. However, the ones I now choose are far more terrestrial and far less famous. They are the teacher that promises to challenge the kids and open their world. They are the extended day worker that treats your kids like they were your own. They are the state trooper who despite not getting a pay raise in three years, still does his job with professionalism and valor. They are the friends that treat you like family and the family that acts like your friends. They are the mom that is devoted to finding a way to let her allergic son have a normal life and the mom who despite the pains she has had in her life greets each day with hope and a smile. And they are my kids, not because of the heroic deeds that they have already done…

But the heroic deeds they are yet to do.