Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book o'the Decade: Savor, by Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung

I don't wanna talk about it.

Yeah, I know it's bad.  It's really bad.  Here's another article if you wanna read about what the state of Massachusetts just did to Justina Pelletier. And here's the court decision, which somebody leaked to the media (twas not I); juvenile court rulings are typically not available to the public, so go read it before it disappears. I think she'll be dead in six months, seeing as they won't get her medical treatment she clearly needs.  And I worry even more about her state of mind ("Hey, fifteen-year-old kid, guess what, you can't ever go home until you turn eighteen, if you make it that long.")  But I don't wanna talk about it.  Can't, really. I gotta let other people handle this one.  I'm not even supposed to be watching the news, much less following gut-wrenching custody battles.  My doc tells me there's nothing on the news that won't upset me, worry me or anger me and I don't need that degree of angst in my life, or, to put it more specifically, "Don't. Watch. The. News." Still, I'd probably wave him off if Thich Nhat Hanh didn't say the same thing.  

In fact I'm reading a Thich Nhat Hanh book right now, called Savor.  It's about "mindful eating."  You'd think just the eating of food wouldn't be a big deal, never mind a Buddhist concern, but it is, Blanche, it is.  The way we eat food in the modern world is completely messed up as far as what we actually need.  It's not only that everything is full of sugar, fat and salt (and I've been off sugar for a week now, so I can say that it's damned difficult to find foods that are less than 15g of sugar per serving and are therefore edible by Jen), but it's the way we eat stuff.  Like in the car, pouring it from a cup into our mouths without taking our eyes off the road.  Or at a buffet, scrambling to pack away as much food as possible so as to get our money's worth.  Not only have we lost track of the whole point of food, but we've lost our ability to--get this--enjoy eating.  Our ability to enjoy things is part of what makes us human, so I'm recommending Savor as my new Book o' the Decade, which will stand until I get another one.

And it's not just the eating of food that's a problem, it's the taking-in of all kinds of stuff.  A lot of what we read, hear about, decide to do and think about is toxic to us.  Ferexample, I've always been a big fan of horror movies, horror fiction, things generally scary. I think I read my first Stephen King book when I was about twelve. However, in the last couple of years, I've become very choosy about my horror fiction.  I only read/watch supernatural, ghost story type things, both Western and Asian (best possible example: Shutter, the original Hong Kong version.  Holy cow was that ever creepy--and when you get to the end you suddenly realize that you don't know if there was really a ghost there or not.  It might have all been his guilty conscience.  Seriously, see this movie.)  I don't do serial killer/slasher stuff anymore.  I don't do people being mean to other people.  The book Horns, by Big Steve's son Joe Hill, had a scene in it that upset me so much I talked about it in therapy (!).  And my therapist was a bit nonplussed; as he pointed out, if you read a lot of horror fiction, sooner or later you're going to find something that horrifies you.  Or, as we say outside the therapeutic world, "Well, duh."

So there's stuff you eat, and there's stuff you read, look at and hear about. Then there's the stuff you decide to do, and most important of all, the stuff you think about. (Or, to put it in Proper Buddhist Language, the Four Nutriments; edible food, sensory impressions, intention/volition and consciousness.) If you think about it (and did you know we humans are the only animals, as far as we know, that can think about thinking?), what you think about is everything.  The thoughts you have in your head make up your current mood, your beliefs about various issues, your ability to be there for your fellow human beings and the way you feel about yourself and other humans. 

If you spend much of the day thinking about what you need to do next, how you're going to get everything done, what might next go disastrously wrong and how to prevent it, and what to do if it goes wrong anyway, you're probably not going to be in a very good mood. What's more, you won't be there to do the things you are doing, never mind all the other stuff you have to do.  I mean, are you really there for your friends and family members? Or are you just squeezing them in between appointments? Do you actually spend time with them or do you spend the time you're with them worrying about how to get out of here in time to do the next thing?  This sort of stuff is out of control in our culture. We eat, listen to, read, think about and decide to do more toxic stuff than ever before in history, and it's not surprising that it might be affecting our health. 

I've had bronchitis for the past two weeks.  The doc never figured out if it was bacterial or viral, but it sure did hit me like a truck.  Besides all the cold-y symptoms, I couldn't effing breathe, which is sort of a problem if you, you know, want to do anything.  I missed two days of work, spent the entire weekend lying in bed resting, I haven't been to the pool for over a week and I'm still popping an array of exciting meds (including my least favorite, prednisone, which does horrible things to you but also helps you breathe when you can't).

Now, I caught the germ for this thing somewhere, but if you think about it, I'm coming off about a six-month period of walking around with a monkey on my back. This particular monkey had a gun to my head and kept saying, "Well, maybe I'll pull the trigger in December.  Or maybe in February.  Or maybe I won't pull it at all.  Or maybe..." I mean, you can learn to live with that, sort of. You can't be afraid of something at a high, insistent pitch full-time.  But that's a lot of stress to be under for a very long time, folks.  So it's not surprising, to me anyway, that I caught this thing. I was, as they say, ripe for it. 

Luckily, I am on the mend. I'm still hauling my nebulizer back and forth to work, but I think the day is coming when I won't have to do that anymore.  And I'm thinking about trying to go back to the pool on Friday or Saturday. One of the four nutriments ought to be chlorine, because I certainly don't feel well when I don't have enough of it in my system. Yes, I know it's toxic.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

I'm Ba--ack...

I'm blaming everything on the fact that I've had bronchitis for a week.  Even all the stuff that didn't happen two weeks before I caught bronchitis.  Seriously, though, I have been very sick, just lying in bed and sleeping and not doing much trying to get this thing to go away. I've been to the doc three times.  Antibiotics, steroid shots, breathing treatments, oh my.  One night I was wheezing so much that Joan wanted to take me to the emergency room.  I haven't been in the pool for eight days and my chlorine content is dangerously low.

And there was all that other stuff, the starting the new job, the getting Obamacare, the sister coming to visit soon, the cat's little health crisis (well, it's not that much of a crisis, just that he keeps losing weight and we don't know why). And then came the hot dry winds from the west of Texas, which are enough like the Santa Anas in California that they threw me into the same funk. And thus begat the spring cold, which became the spring bronchitis.  The last time I was this sick, it was 2006 and I had pneumonia. Missed two weeks of work (!).  Luckily I worked for the Feds at the time, and they have pretty strict rules about firing people that seem not to apply to the rest o' the human race.  Not so now, and it's just that, you know, it's kinda embarrassing when you're in your third week of a new job and you have to call in sick two days.  My first job out of college, I ended up in the hospital (!) on my third day of work, with abscessed tonsils (don't ask, it was gross).  Missed two weeks there, too.  But I kept the job. Stayed there for four years, in fact. So I've been lucky, I guess.

I've also been lucky in that the world's as fucked up as ever, so it's not like I lack for source material here.  Now we've managed to lose an entire airliner. Yes, I know the Navy sometimes loses aircraft carriers, but that's usually just on paper.  Although, considering how big the world is and how small airplanes are, it's really kind of odd that this doesn't happen all the time.  Flying's pretty safe, you guys.  Speaking as a kid who rode around in a four-seater Piper Apache with Captain Dad at the wheel (yes, once in a while he let me drive), in which everything that could have gone wrong did and yet I'm still here, big airliners are really safe.  What's not so safe are cargo ships.  Did you know, that for every WEEK that goes by on this planet, we lose two cargo ships?  Two ships. A week.  Not the local bulk cruisers mind you, I'm talking about the big Corellian ships now.  That's over 25,000 tons of freight, on average, just gone.  To say nothing of the crews, which I guess are considered expendable because most of them are from that other part of the world that we don't care much about and anyway, their skin isn't white.  But seriously. Two ships. A week.  If that were two airliners a week, do you think we'd be paying attention?

In other news, despite a bunch of State legislators jumping all over it and the Right To Life getting involved, Justina Pelletier is still in State custody in Massachusetts.  She's been very sick, has been to the ER twice in the last two weeks, and one commenter wondered if the State wasn't just waiting for her to die, since if she's still in custody then, the State can order no autopsy and say, "Oh, well, she died of pneumonia, too bad."  It's a grim but possible theory. A decision was expected last Monday.  Then Friday. Now Tuesday.  Boy, if I was waiting to hear if I got to go home with my parents I'd sure want the Judge to keep not issuing a ruling.  (Recap: She's 15. She's been in State custody for fourteen months. She's seen her parents less than once a week, hasn't seen her sisters or friends at all and spent most of that time on a locked psych ward with no cell phone, no Internet, no TV. So she couldn't communicate anything that was happening to her?  Or for her supposed personal safety?  Anyway, it all started when her parents disagreed with her doctors.)

Ironically, I think there are going to be changes in the law coming out of this case.  I'd like one of them to be that parents have the absolute right to choose medical care for their children absent obvious, malicious harm, that second opinions should be legally required if they're asked for, and that every hospital has to convene its ethics committee (they all have them, and you can ask for one) any time something like this happens, before anybody can call the authorities or make any final decisions about treatment. What's even more ironic is that while all these resources are being poured into this one case, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of children in Massachusetts who legitimately need to be separated from their abusive families as soon as possible.  But, as usual, there aren't enough beds in foster care, the evidence is sketchy, the social workers are in a damned if you do, damned if you don't position and foster care isn't necessarily going to be any better, considering these statistics. Kids in foster care are almost always appointed a guardian by the Court, but either none of them are doing their jobs or the civil rights of their clients are simply not a priority.  I promise you, if you tried to put an adult in a psych ward for over a year, insurance would pull out, there'd be Federal lawsuits and Glenn Beck would even raise his voice.  Oh, wait, he did.  Never mind.

People, be nice to each other. It's been a rough week.  Signing off.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mini-Post: Justina Pelletier and Bret Bohn

You guys, it's working.

It took a while for the media to pick up on the case of Justina Pelletier, a 15-year-old girl who was removed from her parents' custody by the state of Massachusetts last year because her parents were found "unfit" to monitor her medical care and were also accused of "medical child abuse."  Justina then spent most of last year in a locked psychiatric ward.  People, you don't spend a year in a locked psychiatric ward.  It's expensive, for one thing, and it's only an appropriate placement for people who are actively suicidal (or homicidal).  Once you stabilize, they send you to what's called the "least restrictive" placement, which is usually a day program, or home. If you take an entire year to stabilize from either of those states of mind, you are being treated by incompetent idiots.  Or else they've decided to throw you away because you're too much trouble.

Either way, an appropriate setting for a 15-year-old girl who's very physically ill?  For a year? Um, kinda NOT. So a bunch of bloggers like me, and lots of people on Twitter and Facebook,started sending angry letters and e-mails and stirred up enough interest in the case that the Boston Globe and other major media entities (empires?) started covering it.  Lately some conservative Christian organizations have gotten involved because of what they see as the State trampling on parental rights to choose medical care.  (Yeah, not my favorite people, but they have a lot of pull, and they can get a lot of protesters to show up, make phone calls, send angry letters, etc.  As Swearingen from Deadwood would say, "I don't want to talk to these c*cksuckers, but you have to.") And letters were sent. Protests were mounted outside the courthouse on hearing days. A couple of Massachusetts state assemblypeople are sponsoring a "Free Justina" resolution.  Glenn Beck even raised his voice.   When the Judge, who had finally ordered Justina moved out of the psych ward and into a residential care center, then decided to place her in a foster care facility even farther away from her home in Connecticut, protesters showed up at the new facility, waving signs and making noise.  And the facility, much to its credit, panicked and said it wouldn't take her.  Which is what I mean by "You guys, it's working."

Well.  Today, in its first official statement on the case, the state of Massachusetts announced that it is actively working to transfer Justina back to the state of Connecticut, and that the hospital of Justina's parents' choice, Tufts University Medical Center, will be in charge of her medical care from here on. Justina's not home yet, but I think we can take a victory lap anyway.  Because this is good stuff.  She's out of the psych ward, closer to home and there's some hope that she'll end up home full time, and soon.  So thanks, everybody who sent a letter or an outraged email or made a phone call or sent ten bucks to Justina's parents or even posted about it on Twitter or Facebook.  That's what it seems to take to fix problems like this.  Noise. Lots of it.

But too much noise can be a bad thing, so I hesitate to suggest lots of noise every time something like this happens.  (And, um, it happens a lot more than you'd like to think.)  So for a story I'm kind of on the fence about, let's go up to the great state of Alaska, where another kid--though he's 27, which by definition would make him a fully autonomous adult--is in a similar situation.  Bret Bohn, a hunter and mountain guide for other hunters, was taken to the hospital after suffering insomnia for over a week.  At the hospital, his condition deteriorated and he became delirious.  This is where things get interesting.  His parents have durable power of attorney over his medical care.  At the point where he became unable to make his own decisions, the hospital should have abided by their wishes, which were, among other things, that they cease treating him with high-test antipsychotics and come up with a diagnosis before they messed with his brain.  Instead the hospital tosses them out, says they're a danger to his survival, calls Adult Protective Services and has the "kid" declared a ward of the state. The parents haven't been able to see him for months.  Nobody knows how he's doing, though we can probably assume he's still alive.

A fifteen-year-old girl who might be a victim of child abuse, you can sort of see why the state might intervene, but a grown man and a professional mountain guide?  A graduate from the U. of Alaska's Aviation and Technology Program? And the hospital thinks his parents are trying to kill him?  This is just a weird story. I'd love to see some more noise, but I think we need some more FACTS first.  Why is this "kid" still in the hospital, if it's not his choice to remain there?  If it is, is he the one who doesn't want to see his parents, or did someone else make that call?  It's generally illegal to medicate a person without his consent.  If he's not consenting, who is, and why? Get on this, my friends in the frozen North.  I can only do so much with Google, ya know. However, this has me concerned:  “I think one of the takeaways is, this can really happen to anyone and people’s rights are regularly ignored when this sort of thing happens,” Jim Gottstein, a lawyer with the psychiatric rights law project Psych Rights, said. ”It’s kind of like their rights are ignored legally, like when the U.S. stole the land from the Indians fair and square."

Ouch. Seriously, Alaska: What's going on up there?