Thursday, December 20, 2007
Thursday, December 13, 2007
He was brought down by the mistakes of his doctors, whom he trusted. They prescribed powerful drugs, too powerful, more powerful than an eighty-two year old could handle. They didn't warn him of side effects, passed the buck about how he landed in the hospital, and now won't return our phone calls.
So add anger to the normal grief I feel at seeing Papa-san, world traveler, laid up in the plastic pink sterility of a nursing home bed.
Yes, he's eighty-two. Yes, he's had multiple cardiac problems for thirty years. But he was up and working and shopping and cooking, zipping around town in his little white Suzuki (nickname: "the ice cream truck"), buying duck eggs and smoked salmon and stuffed olives and heirloom tomatoes from the same people every Saturday, and turning out reams of copy on his industry, reviewing unreleased prototypes, going out to dinner with Mama-san. Only a couple of months ago. But all the time, he was being overdosed with Crestor, growing weaker and weaker without knowing why.
At his age, with his heart, it was a tightrope act. It's a tightrope act with us all, of course. As you near the end, the rope is narrower, your balance more delicate. But it's possible to keep going for quite a while, all the way to the end, unless something knocks you off the tightrope.
That's what these doctors did: they knocked him off his tightrope, early. Maybe it's greedy or unrealistic of me to want more for him, of him. But I want it. This is not how his life should finish. The hospital and nursing home rounds of fear, humiliation, fear, humiliation. And his internist of more than 20 years, who is the same age as my father,and who retires at the end of this week, was supposed to see him; Papa-san has been having some problems. The internist's office called the nursing home and cancelled the appointment. They didn't suggest one of the other doctors in the practice; they merely said that Dr. Ch----- was no longer seeing patients.
When I was a little girl, I could not hang on to a pair of socks. Neither could my brother or father. Mama-san, obsessively methodical as she was, could not understand why we never removed both socks in the same place. She said she never thought she would marry into a family of one-legged people, but the evidence was clear that she had.
Really, of course, it was the Sock Eater who lived in the deep recesses of Papa-san's closet, beyond the shoe trees. At night it would make the rounds, camouflaged among the dust bunnies, incorporating one of every pair of socks into itself, and retiring to its lair to digest all that cotton, wool and nylon during the day. I don't know what it excreted---buttons, maybe.
We children didn't worry about the Sock Eater. Mama-san sighed over it but she had to accept it and its voracious appetite. It was our only under-bed monster--there wasn't room for anything larger or more sinister, what with the extra cot and all the Woman's Day magazines.
We didn't fear monsters. We didn't fear the dark. We didn't fear spiders, or bats, or fire or floods. We lived in a stone house in the woods, up on a hill where floods or tornados never came. It seemed impregnable, a fortress. And none of these things ever hurt us.
It wasn't impregnable, of course; time crept in. That was to be expected, but we didn't expect it. More than that, though, a tiny oval marauder was brought in, disguised as a friend.
Monday, December 10, 2007
He really did see the Hindenberg. He was at Admiral Farragut Military Academy in New Jersey. I suppose they were all watching for it, and it floated right over on the way to its historic immolation.
I wonder if that image was transmuted into the dream he told us about years ago, when we were all sitting around the kitchen table at breakfast. Here it is:
It is a holiday in a small New England town. People are standing around, waiting, as for a parade. A shadow forms in the distance. Slowly, it takes over the sky, darkens the sun. Looking up, my father realizes it is the underside of a giant elephant. The shadow passes, and as it goes, the crowd breaks into applause, and cheers, "Elizabeth's done it again!"
This is the best dream I ever heard. Most people are more entranced with their own dreams than with each others', but all my friends have to admit that this is one really great dream.
He is in the rehab center, which looks awfully like a nursing home. I've come down with a cold and can't see him, so I'm sending him this.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Thanks to his doctors' near-fatal enthusiasm for a powerful statin drug (see 'Crestorfallen' in November), he is in a rehab center now. Today was his 2nd day of physical therapy. I won't tell you his exact progress; that's his story. We don't know how far he'll go, or how long it will take to get there. But nobody has put a limit on his possibilities, and so we go on.
Monday, November 26, 2007
For the last two weeks, I have walked past this little brass panel on my way to my father's hospital. It's part of the ticket window. It's a little grace note from 1913, when Grand Central was constructed to uplift the spirits of the throngs passing through.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Every Christmas I try to find dirigibilia for my father: postcards, tin zeppelins, and, thanks to Ebay, a silver captain's pin, though the airship in question turned out to be a mere blimp. (Blimps lack the discipline of a rigid frame. And they aren't filled with such volatile gases.)
One New Years', my parents went to a costume party. Papa-san went as Dr. Hugo Eckener, the father of the Zeppelin. Unsurprisingly, the other guests were unaware of Dr. Eckener's importance, so my father printed up the above card to distribute. His Dr. Eckener costume was further enhanced by false beard, mustache and pince-nez. He won a prize for most original costume.
I don't remember what Mom wore. Besides a rather miffed expression.
Now he is in a hospital bed, trying to survive his cardiologist's love for "cutting edge" drugs like Crestor. It looks like he will be there for a while--he's not in pain, but recovery is slow, and interrupted by fevers from hospital-acquired infections. The cardiologist comes in and sings hymns to the wonders of Crestor, very safe, this is totally anomalous, and other forms of ass-covering.
Some days Papa-san doesn't care for reading, or TV, and just lies there, alternately dozing and worrying. There is a contraption above the bed for lifting patients into wheelchairs. It is at the right height, just the right height, I believe it could serve as a mooring mast for a very small dirigible.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
- Four months ago, Papa-san, my 82 year old father, was striding through Grand Central Station, green cloth briefcase over his shoulder.
- Three months ago, his cardiologist started him on a new cholesterol-lowering drug, Crestor. It worked like a dream; his cholesterol numbers dropped where they should drop, instantly.
- Two months ago, my husband said, "Your father seems much frailer than the last time we saw him." I didn't want to admit it, but it was obvious; he had trouble lifting his feet up the steps to my brother's house, and he needed to nap frequently.
- One month ago, my father fell off the bus to the station, hitting his head on the sidewalk. He was rushed to St. Vincent's, where they MRI'd his head and Krazy-glued the wound closed.
- Three weeks ago, he stayed home from work.
- Two weeks ago, he had trouble getting up the stairs to bed.
- A week ago, I finally found all this out and called his internist, who said, "What can I do at my office? Tell him to go to the emergency room."
He had to be carried to the car. He's been in the hospital ever since.
His doctors were mystified. They ran blood tests, cat scans, MRIs. The blood tests showed elevated levels of muscle enzymes.
It was Crestor. Crestor attacks muscle fiber even better than it attacks cholesterol. The cardiologist finally admitted that my father was "overmedicated."
Doing a search on Crestor turns up warning after warning that it can cause rhabdomyolysis, a terrible assault on skeletal muscle tissue, if given in high doses, or to Asian patients, or to people over 65. There are multiple law firms looking for Crestor victims' business. Consumer Reports, Public Citizen, and Health Canada all have advisories against the use of Crestor.
My neighbor, a 63 year old, had to be taken off it and is now in rehab.
My friend Dr. Dan, an ER doctor, said, "We had a woman in last week in her 50's who had myopathy and it was Crestor. Her doctor said, 'But she's taken it for years, and she never had a problem!' I said, 'Well she's got one now.'"
"Overmedicated"? Or should he ever have been on this medication at all?
I have found, buried in some literature about Crestor, information which the cardiologist said was outdated Internet stuff. "The problem with the Internet is that old information just sits out there."
The "outdated" information warned that Crestor could cause muscle weakness, inflammation and kidney damage, particularly in the elderly. Papa-san is lying in bed doing an amazing simulacrum of an old man with muscle weakness, inflammation and kidney damage. The "outdated" information also noted that while Crestor does amazing magic tricks with cholesterol numbers, no link has been established between taking Crestor and actual incidence of heart attack. It's like a carnival barker's trick.
The Crestor website proudly boasts that the link between Crestor and reduction of atheroschlerosis (or as Crestor calls it, "athero") has just been established. Fabulous. But it has yet to be proven that Crestor will prevent anyone from actually dying, (morbidity and mortality) and it also confirms that Crestor spent a considerable time on the market before there was any proof that it even worked against "athero."
The cardiologist evinces all the signs of being in love with this medication. "I'm on it, and so is my wife," he told me. He seems a nice man, seems to care about my father ("I live vicariously through Dad's travels"--when he talks to me of my father, he says 'So you're worried about Dad?'), but sees only the magic of the numbers game that Crestor pulls. He might very well have almost killed his own father with it, he loves it so.
The internist has implied that my father was so advanced in years and illness (he is a Cheney-level cardiac patient), that this whopping medical mistake could hardly make much of a difference. He said to my brother, "Oh, by the way, you might want to consider a DNR, just for the future." That's a Do Not Resuscitate order.
The patient was at that moment sitting up in bed reading the New Yorker.
The Crestor website says doctors should warn patients to watch out for any sign of muscle weakness or pain, and report it to the doctor. But my father's doctors didn't warn him. And he, being 82, assumed the weakness was old age at last, and didn't want to let on. He struggled through Grand Central Station as long as he could. He struggled heroically.
We don't know what the future will bring. Papa-san is slowly improving, but when you're knocked to the ground at his age, it takes a long time to get up.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
You can find out if you are well-equipped, tongue-wise: paint a little blue food coloring on the front of your tongue. Your fungiform papillae will stay nice and pink while the rest of your tongue turns blue.
Naturally I had to test my tongue. I ran to the kitchen and dug out the powdered coloring I'd gotten for cake-decorating experiments leading up to my home-made wedding cake (a very bad idea, by the way; the night before my wedding, I was covered in flour, sweat and tears. Raspberry jam seeped through the marshmallow fondant icing, which I tried to cover up by tying a ribbon round it, prompting a guest to ask whether it was a ribbon or a bandage).
Just popping open the bottle of powder caused a cloud of it to settle on my hand, so I licked it, aware that an observer might infer I was ingesting deep blue cocaine. The results of the test itself were inconclusive; the powder was so strong it gave everything a bluish tinge, and my tongue looked like a forest of miniature blue toadstools.
Going by behavior, since I don't find broccoli bitter, do enjoy a glass of wine, and am able to tolerate moderate heat (that's chili pepper heat; when it comes to wasabi, I'm an absolute thrill-seeker, not satisfied until an unholy sensation has crawled through my eye sockets), I think I'm a middling taster, with a middling palate.
This would make my husband the supertaster in the family. His fine palate causes him distress, expressed thusly: "Yick." Green vegetables are yick. Wine is yick. He maintains that nobody really likes wine, but everybody pretends to enjoy it lest they be thought unsophisticated. It's a vast worldwide conspiracy.
He is not the ideal companion for crawling the hot night spots. Nor for savoring the fine tasting menu. But I have affection for him that exceeds my desire to do these things.
I once went to le Bernardin with a voluble artist. He was a raconteur of unrelenting hilarity. Le Bernardin is an exquisite French restaurant, the best in the city. Eric Ripert, the chef, specializes in meditations upon seafood, that should be savored and reflected upon.
The voluble artist filled the air with verbiage till my head spun. I thought I should have to stop the spinning by plunging a fish fork into my breast or his. I don't remember eating anything after the first course (fluke, 3 variations increasing in complexity) because the artist took it as an insult if I broke eye contact. Somehow, he hoovered up the most glorious culinary offerings set before him and never stopped talking for a nanosecond. And none of it about the food.
Were his tongue to stop long enough to be tinted, I am sure he'd be classified another middling taster. But what of the tongues of the great chefs? What of Eric Ripert? Would he be a sport and let us paint his tongue?
Monday, November 12, 2007
- The pans will be heavy, stainless All-Clad. They have obviously struck a product-placement deal, and in every program, TV lights play on their brilliant, polished surfaces. These monsters are seductive and curvilinear, but in use will break first your wrists, then your spirit, then your heart. High heat discolors them, brief encounters with scrubbies mar them, and a bit of burnt garlic will enter their pores to be breathed out forever.
- Plain salt is not good enough. It must be Kosher, grey or black, hand-gathered crystal by crystal from the salt flats of a little French seaside town by bent old men in black sweaters, and must be redolent of the sea creatures that lay down and died in it. What it doesn't contain is iodide. That is why Food Network enthusiasts are easy to spot: goiters.
- There will be zesting. The very most outer covering , the zest, of your citrus fruits has the highest concentration of citrus oil, and is worth harvesting. The favored zesting device of the F.N. is the Microplane, originally a carpenter's tool. This is actually one item worth having: it is relatively inexpensive (abt 12 bucks), much more effective than its box-grater brother, and multi-purpose. I use mine for grating cheese, nutmegs (whole spices keep better, and work out to be cheaper in the long run--I've been grating the same half-dozen nutmegs for years), and soap, for homemade laundry detergent.
Once I read an article about tastebud size. On some peoples' tongues, there is a concentration of enlarged, sensitive tastebuds called "supertasters". These people may be picky eaters as children, because of this sensitivity. When I inspected my tongue, I didn't see very many "supertasters", which explains a lot. It explains why my brother became a wine enthusiast and I just like the stuff. It explains why I can drink coffee that was not made in a French press, with spring water and fresh roasted, just-ground-that-instant Blue Mountain beans.
It explains why I can consider eating a casserole.
How fine is your palate? If you will not be transported by the multiple overtones of the salt on your cracker, you might be able to save enough to visit the French marsh where that salt was extracted.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Then another of Mr. Trump's massive, "the quality is unbelievable!" condoliths will block out more of the view for unhappy downtown residents. No doubt the views from the units will be almost as breathtaking as the prices, but the location is, frankly, unwonderful.
Having lived right next to a highway (the BQE), I can tell you that it is:
- Not restful. The incessant vibration may not be immediately noticeable, but it's ultimately nervewracking. My spider plant trembled constantly, and, I realized, so did I. And that's leaving out the crashes, sirens and helicopters.
- Unhealthy. On the softest spring day, or the crispest fall one, I had to keep my windows closed. The Trump location is at the intersection of two great highways, one at ground level to assault the lungs of the lower floors, the other the raised bed of the Manhattan Bridge, the better to get those lead particulates into the lungs of the penthouse units.
- Filthy Dirty. As if regular NY air weren't dirty enough. Half the maintenance will go to window-washing. Anyone with a balcony should only get black furniture. And respirators.
In addition, the location is removed from city street life. It's surrounded by projects, the poor residents as usual getting dumped in an outlying region by a highway where they can develop their asthma in peace. There are no shops, no super----oh but wait! Considering the convenience to the highway, visibility, the poor air quality, disturbing vibrations, you know what would be really good there?
Sunday, November 4, 2007
One of the few scenarios in nature which requires a virtually all-female cast, and once again the protagonist is a boy. FYI, movie people, all the bees in the hive are female except for a few boys who are supposed to mate with the queen. The boys lounge around eating honey until their nuptial flight with Her Majesty, and after she’s in the family way, lady bee-bouncers kick the boys out.
After all, Her Majesty’s honeymoon flight is good for two years worth of bee babies.
I hope Mr. Seinfeld’s daughters come home from school and, while sitting on his lap reading the Bee Movie Children’s Book Tie-in, look up into his face with their large dewey eyes and say, "But Daaaaddy, all the best bees are girls! Why didn’t you make the movie about a Girl, Daddy? Why?"
Bath towels. Much less bath sheets. An average hand towel will dry an above average size (that's how I like to think of it) woman, with medium-length hair, easily. It's a more easily manipulated size cloth, takes fewer resources to make, purchase, and launder----and you can slip into your cushy bathrobe afterwards.
Introducing the concept of focussed spending:
Nobody is insisting you give up your bath towels, if you really love your bath towels. But do you really love them?
Amy Dacyzyn, founder of the Tightwad Gazette, was constantly dogged by accusations of extremism. Her experimentation in pennypinching sometimes pushed the envelope of practicality or even comfort, but she did not insist that everyone adopt her way of life wholesale, you should pardon the expression. She opened up possibilities for people, some of whom couldn't imagine how to make ends meet. What do you really love? What do you really want? What you have, do you use it? Do you enjoy it?
I had a friend who rose very quickly in his company, and suffered from sudden onset overcompensation-induced delerium. In other words, he was paid too much. He could buy almost anything! His restless eye swept every establishment he entered for spending possibilities. In the window of the corner liquor store was a dusty bottle of vintage port, with a seven-hundred dollar price tag. "You know, I could buy that," said my friend, "I have the money. I'm thinking about it." He was all of twenty-seven at the time. He'd had port twice before in his life, but he was a fan of nineteenth-century novels in which country squires were always saying to their dinner guests, "A glass of port with you sir!"
I was able to coax him away from the port, only because I persuaded him that the corner store's window wasn't temperature-controlled. But if he had bought the port, he would have had to pretend to enjoy the faded, raisiny syrup.
For the health of the planet, for the health of your wallet, it would be good not to buy more than you need, than you really, really need. But if that sounds too difficult and spartan, how about starting with not having more than you can enjoy? Is that too radical?
Saturday, November 3, 2007
You start a blog, of course!
Welcome to my blog. I toyed with the idea of starting one for simply hours. I was bothered by my underqualifiedness at first, but after a moment's reflection I have come to terms with it. You can either forgive me any errors because I'm so well meaning, or flame the daylights out of me (but please don't; I get weepy), or skip away to one of those talking-cat videos. Hilarity!