Monday, May 28, 2007

Monday is Maow Day

Not much time to write today so I thought I'd just pull together a brief update on the Herd.

We're making great advances in socializing our new 10 week old ferals. It's only been a week since they had their first contact with a human, and they're both light years ahead of where Clove and Pepper were at this same point of their transition from bush cats to house cats. I managed to stroke Ono's head and neck on the second day after she came in the house -- her little gray angora fur is just as soft, maybe even softer, than it looks. She is a very calm little creature, while her brother Kindle is as hyper and skittish as can be. But even he has let me pet him every day since day four -- he even looks like he enjoys it a little bit, until he realizes exactly what's happening. Then he hauls tail away and calls it enough for this visit. Both Kindle and Ono are settling in nicely, and are definitely acclimating quickly to the rhythms of the house. They know when their new people daddy is delivering food, they've stopped napping a lot and are now playing the usual kitten games (like "pounce my sibling and eat his/her head", "attack the tail -- even if it's yours", and "smack the ping pong ball around its curved track as loud as possible at 4:30 am").
But best of all, they've become fascinated with the other members of the Herd and will run to see them and rub up against the screen door to the fully screened-in porch off of the master suite where they're staying (it's as close as you can get to being outdoors while inside) whenever one of the older kitties checks in on them.

Omai sleeps near her brother and sisterAll of our best efforts to trap the remaining kitten, Omai, haven't paid off (yet), but we have had a breakthrough of sorts with her. Right after her brother and sister came inside, on the day her Mama went to be spayed, little Omai went through a crisis of loneliness and spent the day screaming her lungs out. Let me tell you, that tiny little things has a pretty darn impressive set of pipes and stamina to spare. She figured out pretty quickly that Kindle and Ono were just out of reach behind the kitty-proof screens of the porch, and took up residence there to cry to them all day and night. (I believe I pointed out that this porch is attached to our bedroom -- oy.) Clever beings that we are, we took some of the cinder blocks left over from the renovations to our house and built her stairs to get up to the little tiny ledge at the base of the porch screen (inside and out). This ledge is just wide enough for the kittens to lay on, and to our delight she is coming up quite often to lay with her littermates, separated by only the thin screen.
They're a lot happier and quieter, which makes us happier and better rested. Since food hasn't been enough to entice Omai into the trap, tonight we're going to play to her desire to be with her siblings by placing a towel that they've slept on, and hopefully drenched in their scents, plus a t-shirt that smells like the other kitties in the trap with some food. We're also going to cover the trap in the hope that making it look a bit more like a place to hide will make it more attractive to her. Wish us luck.

And for the last tidbit of the day, we finally managed to get a picture of the Puddy Tat that we've been trying to get for months to document one of his more interesting, and adorable, quirks. Puddy as the Dalai La-Maow on Mt. Shower WallWhen we renovated our house, we put a roll-in show into the master bath, and the main shower area is separated from the rest of the bathroom by a 7' wall of glass blocks. As soon as Puddy discovered that this wall did not reach the ceiling, and that he could launch himself up to the top of it from the pedestal sink, he's spent the duration of almost every shower I take lounging on top of the wall. It was pretty obvious that he was at his most relaxed up there, and so we started referring to it as his Zen time on his mountain, which then led us to start calling him The Dalai La-Maow. Well, as you can see from tonight's photo, the Tat has taken Zen to a whole new dimension. It's worked out better for him to dangle his legs down on either side of the wall instead of hunkering down on top because he can actually go to sleep without falling off onto my head. I'd pay darn good money to be able to relax that much.

Everyone else is doing well, several cats have come in to tell me in no uncertain terms that it's time for bed. Besides, it's no longer Maow Monday, so I'm going to listen to them and call it a night.

Oh, before I go, my site traffic reports are telling me that there are a few of you out there who've taken the time to read my ramblings, so I wanted to say a personal thank you so much. I started this blog for me, but I have to say that it's pretty cool to know that somebody else has stopped to listen. And it's way, way, better to see that those nice folks who've dropped in are coming from all over the world, including Australia, China, and Turkey. If you're so inclined, leave me a little note back one of these days. I much prefer talking with people to talking at them.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Living in Paradise Part 2 - Time is Lost in the Mail

As one of the US territories, mail in the Virgin Islands is handled by the US Postal Service. But like everything else here, getting your mail on island is a very different experience than it is for most Americans who live on the mainland.

The major difference for us was not having a mailbox at home for the first time ever. A hard as it might be to imagine, the majority of roads in the Virgin Islands do not have street names. Yes, you read that right -- the main cross-island thoroughfares and streets within the towns on the islands have proper names, but the majority of roads do not. We live on one of those unnamed side roads -- we tell people who need to find us to go to the entrance to our estate (regions of the island are still known by the names of the estates that originally owned the land in the 17th and 18th centuries), go past the dairy and the school, past the little bodega where the Friday night cockfights are held (~ grrrrr shudder cringe~), turn right at the white picket fence, follow the road around the curves and go past the two satellite dishes up the hill -- and we're the first yellow and white house on the left that sits down and tucked into the side of the hill (it's a great natural hurricane barrier). And on top of that, there's many cases of two houses in the same estate sharing the same plot number, which happens to be the case with our address. With challenges like that, is it any wonder the Post Office doesn't offer home delivery and pick up service? Instead, we contract with a Mailboxes USA franchise for mail delivery, which unlike a PO Box, enables us to receive packages at that address. Fortunately, our Mailboxes USA isn't too far at all from our home so getting there to pick up and send mail isn't much of a hassle at all.

The timing of sending and receiving mail also works on an entirely different set of natural laws than those that rule on the mainland. How quickly (slowly) anything posted will travel is a total crap shoot. We've sent mail to Michigan and the Baltimore/DC area that has arrived there in 4-5 days, while other cards and letters to those same destinations will take three weeks to arrive. I receive a regular check each month from my long-term disability provider. The check is issued and mailed on the 4th of every month -- it has arrived as early as the 9th and as late as the 26th. The most insane example of randomness is a postcard a dear, dear friend of mine sent to me during her July 2004 trip to Australia. It arrived in December of 2006, and the stamp wasn't even cancelled. Thank goodness for online bill payment. Without it, we'd need to mail every bill payment at the day the bill arrived or face bankruptcy from mail delay-induced late charges.

Our magazine subscriptions provide a weekly reminder that we're not in Kansas (or DC) anymore. I subscribe to both Time and Newsweek, both of which publish once a week. These publications tend to arrive in clumps, and only once (this week, in fact) has one of these arrived at the same time it's on the newsstand. Most need to be thought of as a review of news of the past. Most arrive within three or four weeks of the cover date, but there was a batch that arrived in late April that included an issue from early January. When I saw the cover story, I thought, "Whoa, deja vu -- I can't believe something like that happened again." Needless to say, it was a great relief to see the publication date and realize that there wasn't another tragedy but rather Time had just gotten lost in the mail. (Okay, so it wasn't actually Time, but "Newsweek was lost in the mail" just isn't as catchy.)

As if the randomness of the regular mail service isn't enough, packages sent down to us face an even tougher journey. These Virgin Islands are a US territory, but because the Caribbean is viewed as a potential gateway for Central and South American produced illegal narcotics to enter the United States, any packages sent through the Virgin Islands must pass through customs. This little detour between sender and recipient takes the randomness of time to a whole new level. We feel it most with our orders from, a Net based supplier of discount prescription medications, medicine cabinet and household type goods that saves us a bundle off of island prices for those product categories. Some orders arrive in about a week, while others take three weeks. The record was eight weeks from order to delivery, and one order never made it at all. Fortunately, has fabulous customer service policies and have happily replaced, at no additional cost, orders that seem to have disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle.

The final problem with getting things sent here is finding vendors who will ship items here. It's downright scary how many retailers are under the belief that the only US territory is Puerto Rico, and will happily treat orders sent there the same as packages sent within the lower 48 but charge us Virgin Islanders much higher expedited or international shipping rates. And I had one twilight zone moment when I found a web vendor who had no problem getting my order to me, but wouldn't provide a way for me to enter my USVI address as my credit card billing info!

Geographically, no part of the US Virgin Islands falls within the infamous Bermuda Triangle, but given the erratic mail service we live with, it seems pretty clear that every letter and package sent to and from here travels right through the heart of the place known for making things mysteriously disappear without a trace. But life here is laid back, and you pretty quickly get used to it being just another quirk of living in paradise.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Luck Has Been With Me This Week

Luck, the fates, god...whatever your beliefs call it, has always been with me. Even though bad things have happened, I've always come out of them better than anyone ever anticipated, and these bad things have brought some pretty darn good things in along with them, including getting the greatest jobs in the world, opportunities I never would have had if my life had progressed without illness or incident, and meeting my beloved hubby. And without missing a beat, luck has found its way into my week and brought with it everything I could have asked for.

Its first appearance was on Monday when we went to see my pain doc in Puerto Rico. My hubby forgot to call our regular taxi driver Joe Castro (no relation) in advance. So when he called Joe on the morning of the trip to see if he would be able to drive us to and from the airport (we know his taxi can accommodate my wheelchair, and we pay him a pit beyond standard fare to hang near the doctor's office while I'm there), we were disheartened but not surprised when he told us he couldn't do it because he wasn't working that day. But just as we were heading out of the terminal to try our luck at the taxi stand, the hubby's phone rang. It was Joe, who said if we still needed a ride he could be there in 10 minutes. We jumped on the offer, and tipped him an extra $10 for rescuing us on his day off.

I had been dreading this visit with the doctor for weeks because I needed to ask for bumps up for both my oral pain meds and my pump dosage of anti-spasticity drugs. The doctor has been pushing me hard to try getting pain meds through the pump so I can get off the brain-fogging, addictive, and expensive oral pain medications, something I am utterly opposed to for many reasons, and I dreaded having to do battle with him again over this issue -- and potentially over increasing my oral medications too. But he accepted my requests for increases without batting an eye, and didn't say a word about switching over to morphine delivered through the implanted pump. I got my refill for the pump, my new higher dosage programmed, and four months worth of prescription refill orders for the new levels of pain drugs in plenty of time to make it back to the airport for our late afternoon flight home.

Luck found me at the airport, too. I landed in San Juan and transferred into the aisle chair only to discover that the lift used to get me on and off the plane had broken right before my flight landed. This meant I had to be carried down the steps of the plane, which I usually will not tolerate because it's unsafe for everyone involved (especially me). Fortunately, they did a really good job of it. Even better was learning that the lift had been repaired before our departure time, so I wouldn't have to go through the risk and indignity that goes with being manually transported onto the plane. Way to go, fates.

And finally, it was two straight nights of kitty luck. The night we returned from Puerto Rico, we set out the cat traps near the kitty nest in our bushes. In less than 30 minutes, we had trapped Ohel (who is now renamed Kindle, which is the correct term for a collective of kittens). And less than an hour later, Ono had wandered into the other trap. After moving them onto our porch so they would be protected from any overnight rain, we entered into a long debate as to whether they would go directly to the shelter or go to our vet so they could come live with us. Even though we had been reassured that a trip to the shelter wasn't an automatic death sentence if these kitties didn't get adopted, we were still leery of the reality that the shelter's pre-adoption screening was pretty weak and did not require a promise that the adopted cats remain indoor animals only. So suckers that we are, Kindle (a boy) and Ono (a girl) went to the vet the next morning to get spayed/neutered and their first round of vaccinations, and then came home to live with us. They're both out on our small screened in porch right now, curled up together in their kitty bunk bed, starting the process of adapting to human contact and life as pampered indoor members of our family. New kittens Ono (gray) and Kindle (orange) in their kitty bunk bedNot to be outdone, we managed to trap Mama the very next night! So after a full year of trying to catch Mama, she's finally been spayed and vaccinated, and released back outside to live a long, happy life in our yard under our care. And we will be done being adoptive parents to Mama's kittens once we capture Omai and bring her in with her brother and sister.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Oh No Oh My Oh Hell

No, I'm not having a particularly bad day, or week. That's what the hubby and I collectively uttered when we discovered that our outdoor kitties Mama and Comet were the proud parents of three new kittens. Interestingly enough, that's also what we've dubbed them: ono, omai, and ohel.

Ono is a spitting image of his daddy, Comet. He's another dirty little snowball -- mostly off-white, with a gray tabby striped tail and gray ears, and, from what we can tell, his/her daddy's blue eyes. He/She was the first one we spotted romping out in the yard (and who disappeared into their nest in the bushes right after the hubby let out an "Awwwww...").

Omai is the miniature version of Mama, and probably also a twin for Clove. He/She's another gorgeous mix of shiny black fur with blotches of caramel tan mixed in. We can't tell yet whether or not he/she has the same beautiful fluffy tail as his/her older sister.

And finally, there's Ohel. This little cutie is a cookie cutter image of Pumpkin. Mostly orange tabby, Ohel has a bit of a whiter face, and a white chest, a feature that both her older brother Pepper and older sister Clove have (Clove's white chest is mixed with the caramel beige color of her blotches).

The birth of an orange tabby kitten and another Siamese mix make us even more prone to thinking that Pumpkin and Puddy might really be Mama's biological kids. After all, they were found in the bushes...

The debate is still raging about what to do with all of them. The hubby, who was the one who firmly stated that we were at capacity when we brought Pepper and Clove indoors, is already gushy about Ono, Omai, and Ohel. Adding to his temptation is the fact that we have three discounted spay/neuter certificates on hand (you can buy these cheap pet fixing coupons from our local shelter for about half of the price of the vet's usual charge). I'm pretty sure that we'll end up keeping Ono outright. We'll take Omai and Ohel to the shelter. Although it's sadly not a no-kill facility (animal overpopulation is a huge problem with all the feral dogs and cats on island),this shelter has a "Last Call" policy in which they allow us to come rescue the kittens if they're in jeopardy of being euthanized.

So we've got two kitty traps loaned out by the shelter in hand, and we'll put them out tonight. My fear is that once we catch the first two, the third one will get smart and be too wary to go into the trap. After all the kittens are safe, we'll keep trying until we get Mama and Comet and take them to the vet to prevent any more litters from being born. In addition to our concern that repeatedly giving birth will shorten Mama's life, we just can't afford to support any more furry critters!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Puerto Rico Pumping

Tomorrow, my hubby and I will hop a 90 mile flight for a one day trip over to Puerto Rico so I can pay a visit to Dr. Edwardo Ramos Cortes, who is the director and owner) of the Institut de Rehabilitacion in Santurce (part of the San Juan sprawl). We make this trip once every five or six months so that Dr. Ramos can write refill prescriptions for my pain medications and refill my pump.

The pump is a device that's implanted in the left side of my abdomen, just below the bust line. Manufactured by a company called Medtronic, which is the king of all medical device producers, this hockey-puck sized device is connected to a catheter that is inserted into my lumbar spine. The catheter feeds directly into the intrathecal area of my spinal cord, which means that whatever is delivered through the catheter circulates directly to the spinal nerves below and just above the catheter level via the cerebral spinal fluid.

Some pumps are used to deliver morphine to control lower back and leg pain. Mine, however, contains an anti-spasticity medication by the name of baclofen. Before getting the pump put in, I was taking an oral version of baclofen. Even at the maximum daily dose, the drug was doing almost nothing to relieve the pain in my legs and right hand that comes along with severe muscle spasms and tone (aka rigidity because of the blood-brain barrier. (This barrier is a natural safeguard that keeps the brain from absorbing 100% of a substance that enters the blood stream. With the pump medication feeding directly into the spinal fluid, 1/1000 of the oral dose can be up to 1000 times more effective.

The intrathecal baclofen therapy has been a life saver for me, relieving about 90-95% of my spasticity. In fact, before I had the pump I thought that the strength and control problems that had be getting worse in my right hand were from arthritis. But after the pump was placed in September of 2001 (just two weeks after a plane crashed into the Pentagon, one-half mile down the road from our last house), I regained both strength and dexterity in my right hand, meaning my problems were the result of muscle problems. I love this technology.

So every six months or so, we go through all of the hassles of air travel for a crip (the hand searches, the lift, the skinny ass aisle chair, and the banged up legs that goes with using an aisle chair to board the plane) to fly over to Puerto Rico so Dr. Ramos can stick a needle through the skin over the pump and top me off, and up the dosage if I need it (and this time I do). It's an expensive pain in the ass that wears me out, but I'd be a hell of a lot worse off without this wonder medical technology.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Living in Paradise, Part 1 - The Mysterious Cistern

Three years ago this month, my hubby and I, along with three cats, packed up our lives and made a big move that so many people only fantasize about: we abandoned the ultra-urban Washington DC suburbs and headed south to live on a tropical island. We landed on St. Croix (aka STX), the largest of the US Virgin Islands, bought a house mid-island, and prepared to settle into our new lives. For several months before we moved, I'd been a regular on a terrific message board about moving to and living in the Virgin Islands, ( so we thought we had a pretty decent awareness about the differences between island life and living in the lower 48.

Then we encountered our cisterns.

Although some homes near the heart of the two cities on STX have city water and a few others have wells, most rely on a cistern to provide water to the home. A cistern is a large water storage tank that's built into the foundation of a house. Rain water runs off the roof and into a gutter system that empties into the cistern, which hosts a draw pipe that's connected to the home's primary pump. The cistern can be accesses through a 2'x2' opening located somewhere in the floor of the home, and there are overflow pipes to prevent the cisterns from overfilling in the even of heavy rains over an extended period of time. (I have read stories that describe the covers of cisterns being blown off by the downpour when category 5 Hurricane Hugo struck.)

For those who do not know, water is a precious commodity in the USVI. Homes with cisterns use rain water as their primary water source -- the air is so free of pollution down here that it takes minimal filtering to make it potable, and with the use of our faucet filter provides the tastiest drinking water I've ever tasted. As it rains very, very little during the winter months, the water collected during hurricane season (June 1-November 1) needs to last through the dry period until the rains come again. If you run out of rainwater, you can purchase a tanker truck full of water, delivered and pumped into the cistern through either the floor hatch or the downspouts. The current rates for 3100 gallons of water are about $110 for well water and $160 for distilled (desalinated).

The only thing about cisterns I found during my time on the VI Now message board was that they needed cleaning occasionally. We had no idea how often this needed to occur, and talking with locals and transplanted continental produced advice ranging from having them every two years to every five years. The only consensus was that, even though it is possible to clean them yourselves, it is best to pay a professional. These conversations also provided advice to treat the cistern water with bleach or use a faucet filter to make the water parasite free and safe for drinking. (There are some pretty nasty water-borne parasites prevalent in the tropics.)

Our house used to be a duplex, so we actually have two separate cisterns that hold 12,500 gallons each. Since moving here, we've finally sorted out all of the mystery, and had one of our two cisterns professionally cleaned, which should be done every five years or so. We also learned, the hard way, that only one of our two cisterns was equipped with a draw pipe. It took a $400 investment to get it set up they way we were sold on it -- that switching between the two cisterns takes no more than the flip of a switch. We've had to buy water once -- this week, in fact -- and know that we can only buy it 3100 gallons at a time because the larger tanker truck can't make it around the tight curves on our street. And we know that our faucet filter eliminates any need to ever add bleach to our super clean rainwater.

Now all we need is to sit back and wait for nature to deliver all of the fresh water our cisterns can hold -- without bringing a hurricane along with it, please.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Why I’m Pro-Choice (Part 3 of 3)

It turns out that I didn't have to worry about whether or not that doctor would perform the abortion or not. Because of our dispute over the date at which this pregnancy occurred, he sent me to get an ultrasound. This test, as well as others conducted over the next two days, landed me in the emergency room of the University of Michigan Hospital after it was determined that the pregnancy was ectopic.

While waiting to speak to the surgeons on call before the emergency surgery I was going to have, I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to finally have my tubes ties. After all, the doctors were going to be working in that general area, so why wouldn't they be willing to do this for me? So as soon as the doctors arrived and had explained what they planned to do today, I asked about getting a tubal ligation done at the same time. Their answer? "Oh, no, we can't do that. You're making the decision under duress." I was stunned. What the hell does a woman have to do to get some permanent birth control?

So I came back at them that my request was not at all based on any duress and cited the fact that I had been at U of M about a year ago to request the same procedure as proof that this had been a long-standing and well thought out request. When I told them that I was instead sent away with an IUD, these two doctors -- also men -- told me that I had to be mistaken, because they would never put an IUD into a woman who had never had any children. There was that same we're men and doctors so we know more than you tone that the Planned Parenthood doctor had when he asked about my last period. I don't such a comment would have been made in these times, not because men and doctors are better trained to respect their patients as sources of accurate information but because the litigious nature of today's society would quickly target the facility for a major malpractice lawsuit.

Thank god my wonderful, loving mother was there with me. After she talked to the doctors and confirmed that I had stated that I never wanted to have children since I was a child, the finally agreed to tie my tubes during the surgery. 23 years old and it took my Mommy to convince doctors that I knew what I was talking about. Absolutely shameful. But wait, there's still more paternalism in the story. Even after promising me to do the tubal ligation, I awoke after the surgery and was told by the docs that they had used metal clips instead of surgically severing and cauterizing the fallopian tubes. And because I still might change my mind, they only used one clip on each side instead of the recommended two to make it easier to reverse. Their parting words to me were that if I ever missed a period, I should take a pregnancy test because there was still a possibility that I could be pregnant. WTF? I felt utterly defeated knowing that I was still in danger of having to go through all of this again.

After going through a year's worth of hell and interminable battles with doctors to try to ensure I never had to face an unplanned pregnancy, I learned that even without court involvement, women can encounter some enormous barriers to accessing the birth control and abortion services that they have decided are right for them. Had I not been in a loving relationship, had the unquestioning support of my parents, or been able to rely on a close circle of friends for moral support, this process would have broken me emotionally. It was that long year that landed firmly in the camp that believes the government has no business imposing beliefs on a woman that are not her own regarding birth control and reproduction.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Why I'm Pro-Choice (Part 2 of 3)

While waiting to start the pill again, I got pregnant.

Even being pro-choice and medically complicated, the decision to seek an abortion was deeply painful. I thought that being in Ann Arbor would offer me choices about who would do the procedure. (Ann Arbor had already passed a law stating that should the courts overturn Roe v. Wade, the city's only penalties for doctors still performing abortions would be a $25 fine.) Wrong again. The only facility that offered the procedure was the Planned Parenthood clinic in nearby Ypsilanti.

While Planned Parenthood does a lot of excellent work, my experience at this clinic was a nightmare. Although Michigan didn't have any mandatory 24 hour waiting period law in place, the clinic required you to come in the day before the abortion for counseling. I had a job with a very difficult boss at the time (may he rot where he stands), so getting time off was going to be rough. I finally convinced him to let me off for a day and a half and had the counseling on a Thursday afternoon, with the procedure scheduled for the next morning. I figured that would give me the weekend to recover from any after effects.

One of the concerns I shared with the nurse who did counseling for Planned Parenthood was that the normal discomfort caused by having an abortion would be exacerbated by my existing spinal cord damage. She assured me that the doctor would provide me with a prescription medication before the procedure to alleviate all pain. However, after I arrived for my procedure, had changed into a gown and was on my way back to the operating room, I was told that after the doctor heard about my previous medical problems, he was "too scared to give me any medication, even ibuprofen." Needless to say this news was all that was needed to tip already fragile emotions over the edge and I began to cry. The nurse told me that I'd better stop crying or the doctor will this you really don't want an abortion and he'll refuse to do this." Given that this was the only option in my area and that I had already wrangled very hard to get time off with my boss, this threat only made me cry harder out of fear that might lose my job if I needed additional time off to travel to the next nearest clinic that performed abortions.

When the doctor came into the operating room and found me crying, he repeated that I needed to "pull myself together" or he would send me home. My heart aches for those women who were truly torn apart by having to have an abortion that were forced to deal with this man -- how can someone who does this for a living not have more compassion and understanding that this is a painful decision for many women, or that others simply are afraid of the unknown?

As the doctor examined me in preparation for the procedure, he decided that the physical state of my body did not support my assertion that I was 10 weeks pregnant and challenged me about the I reported as my last menstrual cycle. When I told him that I was certain that date was accurate as I had been tracking my cycle for years, he cut me off and insisted that I was wrong. Of course, silly me! Being a silly girl, I forgot that old white guys were, by definition, far more knowledgeable about my bodily functions than I was.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Why I’m Pro-Choice (Part 1 of 3)

The Republican dominated Supreme Court chose to ignore the supposedly core GOP value of “keep government out of people’s lives” when, last month, it upheld a law making a specific late-term abortion procedure illegal. By refusing to take on the case, the Court once again inserted itself between a woman and her doctor when it comes to determining what the best course of treatment should be if a fetus is found the have severe medical complications in the third trimester, or if a late term pregnancy threatens the well-being of the woman. (This law contains no provision to protect the physical or mental health of the woman).

I have always been pro-choice, but I have personal experience that validated my position. When I lived in Ann Arbor, MI, one of the most liberal cities in America, I went to the University of Michigan clinic with the hopes of setting an appointment to get my tubes tied. I have never wanted to have children, and at 23 with a host of other medical issues affecting my choices for birth control, it seems like it should be no problem.

Wrong! The all male team of doctors on duty that day decided that I was too young to possibly know what I wanted, and refused to even discuss tubal ligation. Their reason? "Oh, you'll change your mind when you're 30 and come back to us begging to have it reversed." (Can you say pa-ter-nal-ism?) This same doc insisted that I had no idea what I was talking about when I told him my anatomy prevented the use of a diaphragm, and that he would show me otherwise. (Can you say pa-ter-nal-ism again?) He changed his tune pretty quickly after he examined me, but still refused to talk surgery. Instead, I agreed to try an IUD. After five months of sheer hell caused by the IUD, I went back to have it removed and go back on the pill.

That one clinic visit was more than enough to permanently cement me in the pro-choice camp. I had no idea at the time that there were even more experiences with paternalistic doctors ahead.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Clothes Cap Shun

Since we now live in a place that necessitates keeping our windows wide open 24/7, I taken to watching TV with the closed captioning visible so we can keep the volume down and not blast our neighbors with our choice of programming. Thank god deaf folks are intelligent, because at times you have to be a genius to figure out what the heck the typed version of the program's dialogue means.

Live shows are the worst offenders. At least his makes some sense as the transcriber has to act like a court reporter and type as the audio portion of the show is first spoken. So it's somewhat understandable when the captioner misses some asides, or loses track of lines when it's a panel show with multiple people speaking at the same time. But closed captioning is just as big a problem when there's only one speaker. And heaven forbid someone on the show speaks in a language other than English. It's pretty much the same when a foreign language is spoken -- sometimes the actual language is identified while others just say, "speaking native language." Sadly, none of these errors are ever corrected before the show is rebroadcast at a later time.

Not that taped or syndicated shows are much better. At best, the captioning is inconsistent. For example, the show "House," which uses the same opening it had when the show began several years ago, has selected a haunting piece of music to play during the title sequence. Some weeks the music is identified as "Teardrop" (by Massive Attack) but other weeks the captioning just shows the few musical notes to indicate there's some music being played. At worst, captioning is based solely on the captioner's knowledge of the world and phonetics. A great example from a taped show on recently occurred when the capital city of Somalia was referred to in the captioning as "Mow God Dish You." Don't these people ever really listen to the shows they transcribe?

The Americans with Disabilities Act ensured that the deaf community would have greater access to the benefits -- and burdens -- of television programming by forcing TV manufacturers and programmers to close caption the shows that air. But deaf folks will never share in the same access to television enjoyed by the hearing until all closed captioning is accurate and complete. And they should have to settle for nothing less.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


I am pretty regular viewer of the Suse Orman financial advice show on CNBC. One of the newly added features of the show is called "Can I Afford It?", during which all of the viewer calls are to ask advice about stuff they want to buy based on their current financial status. Over the last few months, this segment I've become convinced that either people who claim to be big fans the show ar total morons.

Tonight's episode provided some typical examples. The first caller was a 24 year old woman who already had $10k in credit card debt at a scary high interest rate, student loans and an entry level job asked if she could afford to spend another $500 on a purse. A classic "duh" moment: a 40 year old guy want to build a custom 4400 sq. foot home with a price tag of almost a million bucks, and just building the home and his current $1k/month car payment would eat up about 85 percent of his income. I guess that he didn't ever plan to furnish the house or turn on the lights or run water once he moved in. And a 37 year old woman with $27K in credit card debt, a car loan, and a mortgage was planning on dropping $k to go to Disneyland. (I personally thought she was already a citizen of Fantasyland.) What the hell did these idiots expect a financial genius to tell them -- "Nah, debt's no problem at all, enjoy!"

I absolutely cannot stand being in debt. I've had to at times, like when I woke up one morning in a new, more costly apartment and found out that my employer had cut my pay by 20% and stopped reimbursing me for my $400/month health insurance. But given a choice, I will cut every item in my budget down to the bone rather than owe someone money.

I was raised by depression era parent who both grew up pretty poor. My Mom was the financial manager of the house, and her experiences and her commitment to do better for her kids, were huge motivators behind the way my parents spent money. Although she refused to really believe it, our entire family believes she was a financial genius. The fruits of her skills sure testify to it -- my parents had no debt ever beyond a car loan and their mortgage; all of her kids had lives filled with family vacations, all the food they could eat) whenever they wanted it); a really nice place to live; and my parents still had enough saved to fully enjoy their retirement and leave an inheritance. Some of the best things my Mom taught me (and there ware many), were the importance of living within your means and maintaining a good credit score. I can't begin to describe the ways in which this advice benefited me throughout every phase of my life.

Now I realize that not everyone has the benefit of being raised be their own financial guru. But even so, it seems to me like common sense to not carry more debt than absolutely necessary, and to not spend more than you make. Maybe the Suse Orman viewers aren't total morons -- at least they've gone to an expert before making dumb decisions I'll give them the benefit of the doubt now , but would certainly add a few choice adjectives to my original assessment if those folks ended up buying that stuff anyway.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Herding Cats (New Photos!)

Confession time: I am a crazy cat lady. I have almost zero will power when it comes to critters of the feline persuasion - show me a cat in need of anything and I'll more than likely be the one trying to find a way to provide what it needs, especially if it needs a home. Fortunately, my husband's common sense has kept me from descending into the madness of having our home totally overrun by a four-footed family

The Indoor HerdIn our house, herding cats isn't just an expression, it's a way of life. We're currently at our maximum capacity herd, which consists of seven indoor beasts rescued from shelters and two ferals that have adopted our yard as home. The kitties are all different ages and personality types, and getting them to cooperate with anything we want to do is a massive endeavor.

The indoor herd consists of:

  • The Woof CatThe elder members of the pack are Woof, a 13 year old black Bombay, and Moo, out 12 year old medium-haired, cow cat (both in size and coloration). These two have been with me since they were ten week old kittens. They are the cuddlers of the bunch, and prefer hanging out where they can touch their humans to just about anything else. Both of these boys have faced severe health threats. At one point, Moo lost the use of his hind legs, and we discovered that he has diabetes. He now gets insulin shots twice a day, and has fully regained the use of his back end. Woof has had several battles with urinary crystallization, one so severe that we were only hours from losing him that required surgery to treat. The Moo Puppy CatOur vet told us a lot of cats die from this, so Woof takes after me in beating medical odds that say he probably shouldn't be asleep next to me right now.

  • Next in line is Misha, a gorgeous brown tabby who will turned six this year. She is the Sybil of the bunch -- a living terror to the house and other cats one minute and giving you head bonks and curling up in you lap the next. She remains the only cat in the bunch who has figured out that me sitting in my wheelchair creates a permanent lap that's a great place to curl up and get petted. She is also our resident flight risk, and actually managed to disappear outdoors for seven terrifying days right after we moved here.

  • Right after we moved to St. Croix, Pumpkin and Misha, the Tabby Girlswe adopted siblings Pudding (aka Puddy) and Pumpkin, who will turn three this month. Pumpkin is a rare female orange tabby, while her brother looks mostly like a blue-eyed Siamese except for his orange striped tail and very faint orange stripes on his legs. We originally thought that Pumpkin would be "my girl" and Puddy would be the hubby's boy, but as cats are prone to do, it ended up just the opposite. This duo was found in the bushes somewhere on island and brought to the shelter, where we found them when they were only six or seven weeks old. Both were very sick from a parasite infection and required hospitalization before we could bring them home. PuddingPuddy needed to be at the vet's for three weeks, and our vet told us that our little boy had the worse infestation he had ever seen. Now, these two are healthy, typical young adults who bounce rapidly between playing, fighting, and curling up and looking downright adorable.

  • PepperThe latest two additions are another brother and sister pair, Pepper and Clove. These guys were born in our yard last summer, and bringing them in where they are safe, have good care, and love is one of the really good things I've done. Pepper, an all black boy except for a tiny white patch on his chest and a white belly, is a shy little guy when it comes to people but can tear it up like a pro when it comes to being a cat. CloveClove is a medium-haired black girl with beautiful flecks of caramel and some white fur on her belly and mixed into on her chest She also has a fabulously fluffy tail, and struts it around like the world is her catwalk has been nicknamed "The Shadow" because she has adopted Pumpkin as her indoor mama and tends to be glued to Pumpkin's side, especially when petting is imminent.

In addition, we also care for two feral kitties who started showing up a regulars in our yard last year. The female of the pair is Pepper and Clove's mother, and has thus been dubbed Mama. Mama is the blue print for Clove with one big difference: instead of a gorgeous fluffy tail, Mama has a little tail stub. We don't know if it's part of a Manx heritage or from some misfortune that comes with being an outdoor cat, but it definitely makes her easily identifiable. The male, who we assume is the kittens' father, is a big ol' tom cat who I named Comet because when he first showed up, his pale gray and white tabby coloring made him look like a dirty snowball with a tail moving at a high rate of speed. Comet has almond-shaped, crossed, brilliant blue eyes that hint of a bit of Siamese in his background. He started visiting us quite a while before Mama allowed herself to be seen by making this wonderful trill noise -- half purr and half gentle meow -- before jumping up on the ledge of our screened-in porch to spend time nose to nose with the indoor cats. The resemblance of Comet's markings and eyes with Puddy's, and the similarity of his trill to the one that Pumpkin makes, makes us wonder if he might be part of their family tree. We've tried repeatedly to catch these two to get them spayed/neutered with no luck.

A lot of people think we're nuts to have taken responsibility for so many furry little lives. But we have the space and the means to give them a good life, and the love and joy they bring adds greatly to my quality of life.

(Note: Photos added on May 25, 2007.)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

I Don't Have A Drug Problem, I Have a Pain Problem

That statement was one of the best lines ever uttered by fictional TV doctor Greg House. For those who don't watch this incredible medical drama, House had an infarction in his right thigh muscle, which killed the muscle. Instead of having his leg amputated, which is apparently the standard course of treatment, House chose to have the muscle removed, which left him in severe chronic pain.

Now you would think that this guy would have no problem getting access to medication to manage his pain. I mean come on, House is doctor who works with other doctors who both know his medical history (his thigh muscle was removed at the same hospital in which he works), and the medical realities of his condition. Yet House must do constant battle with his colleagues to get prescriptions for pain medication, who accuse him of being a junkie, challenge his decisions believing that his use of opioids affects his judgment, and refer him to drug rehab every chance they get.

Sadly, the experiences of Dr. House are a dead-on depiction of many real people -- including me -- who live with intractable pain. I've fought those same battles for years, even when I was patient at Johns Hopkins hospital. Thanks to Nancy "Just Say No" Reagan's war on drugs and the well-publicized cases of people who abuse prescription drugs, doctors today are trained to treat anyone requesting pain relief as a drug-seeker. Many doctors are downright hostile to people complaining of severe pain, either dismissing them on the spot or forcing them to jump through hoop after hoop to prove that they are really in pain.

Here's one of the more frustrating experiences I had. After being in severe pain for more than a month after yet another non-narcotic medication failed miserably (and left me with every side effect known), I finally got an appointment with my pain management doctor. He asked me what I wanted to do, and knowing that asking for narcotics was a one-way ticket out the door, I told him I really wanted to find a non-addictive medication that would give me pain relief. This doc, the same person who had told me over the last year that there were "thousands of options" like that available, declared that I had totally unrealistic expectations. I broke into tears out of sheer frustration and fear that I would once again get nothing that helped, and finally said that if that was the case, we should try opioids. The doctor's response: I can't give them to you because you're depressed and might hurt yourself. He finally agreed to give me a prescription for low-dose oxycodone after I agreed to get a complete psychiatric work-up by a three person panel of shrinks and my husband promised to keep the medication away from me and dole out the dosage to me at the appropriate times.

Study after study has shown that people in pain who have adequate access to pain medication tend to use less than they did when they were uncertain if they would be able to get more medication. After Dr. Jack Kevorkian brought the issue of assisted suicide to the forefront of public debate in the early 1990s, experts across the country - and around the world -- testified that barriers to adequate pain relief caused severe depression, and that fears of patient addiction and/or investigation by the Drug Enforcement Agency kept doctors from prescribing narcotic pain medication, even to people expected to live for less than six months. Yet the same problems exist today.

Enough is enough. It's about time for doctors to worry less about people potentially developing drug problems and start being more concerned about their very real pain problems.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Great Drug War of 2007

With as many years of experience I have with getting health care for my large assortment of rare conditions, I was pretty sure I'd seen it all when it comes to the bizarre policies and practices one finds throughout the medical industry. Little did I know that a recent week-long stay in the only hospital on St. Croix would put me at the center of what will go down in hospital history as "The Great Drug War of 2007."

One thing I'd learned from previous hospitalizations is that it's pretty much a crap shoot as to whether or not the docs and the hospital pharmacy will ever get their act together enough to deliver the right medications to you at the right time. Since I take a lot of pain medications and cannot miss a dose without paying a huge price, I make sure to bring my own supply of meds with me just in case this seemingly basic task becomes FUBAR fast.

FUBAR doesn't begin to describe what happened after I was finally taken up to my room. Right after I arrived, a very nice nurse went over my list of meds with me to make sure everything was listed at the proper dosage. When she had a complete listing, she headed off to the hospital's pharmacy to get the drug delivery system rolling. She returned in less than 15 minutes to deliver the bad news: The hospital pharmacy either didn't carry the medications I take or didn't carry them in the proper dosage, so they'd need me to bring in my own supply to ensure I got what I needed when I needed it. Being the good natured person that I am, I said, "Sure, no problem" and thought that would be that.

Foolish, naïve, little me.

The next morning, shortly after the day shift of nurses came on, I received a visit from the head nurse for the floor, a very nice lady with a bit of mischief dancing in her eyes. She had come to tell me that it was against hospital policy for a patient to keep medications in his/her possession, so I needed to hand over my personal supply of drugs to her so a nurse could give them back to me when the time came to take each one. I laughed and told her as politely as I could that there was no way that would be happening. That got a nice little eyebrow raise from her, which was quickly followed by a lengthy explanation about how this policy was for my own safety, to prevent double dosing and possible interactions, etc. I nodded, smiled, and told her that's all well and good, and that I'd be happy to send my medications home with my hubby if the hospital were able to provide these same medications to me in a timely manner. But since that wasn't the case, I'd be hanging onto my personal supply of medications but will gladly let the nursing staff know what meds I'm taking and what time each was taken to avoid any safety concerns. Exit the head nurse.

About half an hour later, a doctor came in (not my attending physician), and he proceeded to explain to me once again that there was a hospital policy against patients having any medications at bedside. For the next twenty minutes, we replayed the same conversation I'd had earlier with the head nurse over and over. Each time I refused to comply, he seemed to believe it was because I wasn't clear and would then explain the policy again. I finally told him that I wasn't doing what he wanted because I failed to understand why he thought it was necessary -- I was refusing to go along with this policy because it seemed an insane request to ask a 44 year old woman to hand over medications that she has safely self-administered for years so a nurse could hand the medications prescribed by my doctor and paid for with my money back to me.. I added that given the fact that the hospital staff couldn't seem to keep track of the written health history I provided them numerous times when I was admitted, that I'd be damned if I would trust them with keeping track of $1500 worth of medications that I had already paid for, some of which could not easily be replaced (due to FDA regulations on narcotics) should they "disappear." He stammered and stuttered for a bit, then turned and walked out. This was a man who was clearly unaccustomed to having a patient call the shots. (I do this to doctors a lot.)

Shortly after the doc left, my nurse for the day and the Vice President of Nursing. show up. It seems that I'm now the talk of the hospital, and they're sending in some of the big guns to put this uppity little crip in her place. At this point, I am totally amused and really starting to enjoy this whole little drama.. Both of these nice ladies spent a great deal of time going over the policy again and again, adding what they clearly considered their most compelling argument for me to comply: this isn't just a hospital policy. IT'S THE LAW. I nod, smile, and say yes, I understand their reasons very well, but the fact of the matter remains that my reasons for hanging onto my meds were far more compelling to me than the reasons for handing the drugs over, and therefore they'll get my medications when they pry them from my cold, dead, spastic, hands. When the VP of Nursing started to once again explain the policy to me, I had had enough. I finally had to say to her, "Look, my lack of cooperation isn't because I don't understand why you have this policy, so please do not try to explain it again. To do so would be completely condescending, and I don't deal well with people who are condescending to me." Well that got her where it hurts! She got all huffy and hostile, and demanded that I hear her out. So I let her ramble out the rationale one last time. At the end of her monologue, she said, "So now do you understand why this is the law?" Me: "I certainly do - it's a law to help you all cover your collective asses. All of the reasons you recited are still less valid than my reasons for not complying, and therefore you won't be taking my medications from me."

This scene was acted out with numerous other players for most of the next two days. Eventually, the patient advocate and the hospital's director of risk management got involved. As this was more fun than I'd had in a while, I turned it into a true sport: the more insistent they got, the less ground I would give. I knew I was wearing them down when their demands shifted from giving up control of my medications to just having someone carry my meds down to the hospital pharmacy for their pharmacist to "verify" them. I told them that wouldn't be necessary as I had received these prescriptions from a licensed pharmacist with whom I had a long-standing relationship, and that I had verified them myself using the online drug identifier. Their reply: "Well we don't know your pharmacist." And I shot back, "And I don't know yours, so why should I trust him or her to tell me about meds they don't even work with but I've been taking for years?" They then stepped their demands back even further, offering instead to bring the hospital pharmacist up to my room to perform this verification. This battle had been going on for three solid days now, and I decided this was it - game over. I finally put an end to it all (at least to my part in these repetitive and unproductive back and forth discussions) by stating firmly that no one would be verifying anything because I was done, and I would leave against medical advice should one more person come to talk to me about this insanity.

I could hear the rumblings and buzzing in the hallways as word of the Drug Battle of 2007 was debated and discussed among the hospital staff. during the rest of my stay. However, no one said another word to me on this topic except for the head nurse, who popped her smiling face in one afternoon and said with a devilish little grin, "You are sure something else."

That I am. I'm a fat, little tattooed woman with pink hair and her own wheelchair who doesn't take shit from anyone. And I'm also the winner of the Great Drug War of 2007 - there wasn't one moment during my hospitalization in which my prescription drugs were more than two feet away from me.

St. Croix doctors never knew what was heading their way when I moved here three years ago, but believe me, the news about me is spreading.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

“Hey Hon” List #1: Best TV Characters We’ve Never Seen

My darling hubby and I are movie and TV trivia nuts. Our fascination with this absolutely useless information (unless one is a contestant on Jeopardy) often takes the form of challenges to develop the most comprehensive lists of answers within a specific category -- the one who adds the most or contributes the last answer before our brains are picked clean is claims the trivia god/goddess title until the next match plays itself out.

One of our earliest challenges, best TV characters we’ve never seen, was triggered by a rerun of “Cheers” -- Norm’s wife Vera became the first name on the list and we were off and running. Here’s what I remember of the answers we came up with. I’m sure there’s more that I’ve forgotten in the years since we played this category out, so I’m counting on all of the other TV aficionados to help me rebuild the list and make it better than it was before. (Please include both the character name and the name of the show.)

Look for more of our Hey Hon lists to come.

Best Never Seen TV Characters

  • Vera Peterson (Norm’s wife) – Cheers
  • Carlton the Doorman – Rhoda
  • Orson (Mork’s superior) – Mork and Mindy
  • Ugly Naked Guy – Friends
  • Tino – My So-Called Life
  • Maris (Nile’s wife) – Frasier
  • Morty Fine (Fran’s father) – The Nanny
  • Stanley Walker (Karen’s husband) – Will & Grace
  • Al’s mother – Home Improvement
  • Charles Townsend – Charlie’s Angels
  • Dr. James Wilson’s wife – House**
  • Mrs. Columbo – Columbo
  • Lars (Phyllis’ husband) – The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Phyllis
  • Mr. Bell (Drew’s original boss) – The Drew Carey Show
  • Bud (Nurse Thor’s husband) – E/R (1984)
  • Epstein’s Mother – Welcome Back, Kotter
  • Louise Burns (wife of Major Frank Burns) – M*A*S*H
  • Laverene (Klinger’s wife) -- M*A*S*H
  • Hawkeye’s Father -- M*A*S*H
  • Anoria (Charles Emerson Winchester’s sister) -- M*A*S*H
  • Killer (Geraldine’s boyfriend) – The Flip Wilson Show
  • Any Adults – Peanuts/Charlie Brown specials
  • Vern (friend of Ernest P. Worrell) -- Hey Vern, It's Ernest!
**Removed from the list on 5-17-07. Character appeared on the show during the May sweeps.