Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It Didn't Even Hurt

"Strategic planning is worthless -- unless there is first a strategic vision.” –John Naisbitt

Today, I took the latest step on my stumbling path of trying to make decisions out of love instead of fear.

I faced my fears of paralysis, mercury poisoning, needles and eggs-oh yeah, not eggs. I caved in and got the H1N1 vaccine today. I am usually dead set against getting the flu vaccine. This is only the third time in my life that I have. The first time was the last time that a variant of H1N1 was scaring the poop out of people in the late 1970s, also known as the “swine flu”. The second time was after my chemo but before my surgery, because my oncologist wanted me to get it. Then, this time I got it today at school. Oddly, even though the media and the government are fear mongering around this virus, I am far more afraid of the vaccine than the flu itself. I have always had a strong immune system, despite the harm I have done to my body over the years. I was not going to get the vaccine, but I realize that I have people around me that could die if I get the flu. So, out of love, I got the shot. It didn’t even hurt. I’ll let you know later if I die or get paralyzed or anything from it. (If you want a report from me about it after I die, you will have to summon me into your dreams or have a séance to get it.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Walking among the Ghosts of Flint

(written October 29, 2009, sorry so late)

As a field trip for my psychology of death class, today we went to Glenwood Cemetery on Court Street. After wasting a quarter of a tank of gas by driving around in circles, several times taking the wrong fork and ending up in Grand Blanc once, I finally pulled in to the drive. Despite my agitation and frustration at being half an hour late, as soon as I got out of my car and stepped on that sacred ground, I felt at peace.

I was surrounded with burial markers so old as to be difficult to read and others, shiny new, as if recently placed. The ground is dotted with soft green moss and bright orange maple leaves. And, there was a calm silence surrounding the place (which, at that moment I needed badly because the young woman I had given a ride to barely took a breath or shut her mouth during our entire circular, frustrating tour of the streets of Flint).

As I walked along the one lane drive looking for our classmates, I passed by familiar names: Mott (I said a small thank you at that one for their family’s generosity which continues on to this day), Whiting, Dort, and even White, my mom’s maiden name.

Finally, we caught up to our class, our professor, and the sexton who was giving them a tour. He was going over the who’s who in the great history of flint and the history of the motor car industry and lumber baronies of 150 years ago. So many of the names mentioned weren’t on my radar as being of significance, but without these brave and resilient souls, Flint wouldn’t be what it is today- or what it was in its heyday. Decker. Payne. McCreery.

Each grave marker has a unique beauty, even those that started out plain but have been worn at the edges by time and the elements. My favorite was what I at first thought to be trees that had been cut to stumps. There was a whole family of markers in the shape and texture of trees that had been felled. My professor said that during Victorian times, the chopped tree motif was a common symbol for a life cut short. I left the lane to touch a couple of these, to feel the stone of them and get a closer look at their striking, simple beauty. If I were going to choose a grave marker for myself and a living tree were not a possibility, these beautiful markers could be used as a model for my monument. Interspersed here and there among the stone grave markers are similarly shaped stone objects with metal chain loops sticking out of the sides. These stone hitching posts are there so that we can secure the horse we rode in on. Whitwam. Bergin. Lake.

I was really surprised among the older markers, before antibiotics or sterile anything, how long some of these people lived: 70, 80,90 even. Of course, these seemed to be the monied folk who could afford the extra expense and care of a doctor or a midwife to attend births and illnesses that the poorer folks couldn’t afford. (Things don’t seem to have changed much in that regard.) McCall. Burlingame. Durand.

We were given worksheets to fill out to draw our attention to different aspects of how death memorials and lifespans have changed through time. Since I was so late, I will probably go back on Monday to take a slower look, a more mindful walk at my leisure. Decker. Bishop. MacKinnon.

As I drove out through the wrought iron gates, I posed the question to the chatterbox: “I wonder if there are any black people or Native Americans buried here.” She shrugged off my query and said that you can’t really tell from the names. I think, from the political, social and economic power of many of these families, it is safe to answer “probably not” to my question. During the time of some of these deaths, the underground railroad was very active in the area and, by the 19 teens, a lot of poor white and black folks were migrating here from the South, bringing jazz and Jim Crow. Fenton. Burton. Smith.

Many of the graves are planted in goupings, where the largest marker is in the center, memorializing the family name and patriarch. Smaller headstones are arranged around it naming men and their wives, gathered around the larger marker, like family members roasting marshmallows around the campfire flames reaching toward the stars and making wishes for the future. Aldrich. Northrup. Hess.


(Article published in the online paper Baltimore Chronicle and sentinel:)

How does an old man get arrested?

Here’s the story. I joined 30-some folks in front of a high rise building those houses offices of Carefirst in Canton. Our collective energy brightened up a damp, drab October 29th at lunch hour. Marching and chanting slogans like; “Patients, not profits!, Singlepayer now, everybody in, nobody out!, we weren’t welcome. Front doors of this public building were locked so we couldn’t enter.

Later, a group of 4 walked to the back entrance to confront a Carefirst spokesperson. We continued marching in front.

Heading the small delegation, Kevin Zeese, Executive Director of Prosperity Agenda, US. He organized our little adventure locally for the national group called Mobilization for Healthcare for All. So far there have been 26 sit-ins in 23 cities across the country. 138 arrests have occurred while over 200 willingly risked arrests. Dr. Margaret Flowers, a staunch Medicare for all activist accompanied Kevin. She suspended her pediatrics practice to work on this cause fulltime. Margaret’s sparkling personality and intense dedication inspires many to join us to work toward a singlepayer medical system. Dr. Eric Naumberg, a pediatrician from Columbia, went with Kevin and Margaret. Eric, a quiet, compassionate man, is single-minded about singlepayer. He contends that too much of his time and energy trying to be a healer was sucked away by fighting with insurance companies over denial of necessary treatments. Rounding out the group was Maryland State

Delegate, Jill Carter (D-Baltimore).

They demanded, “An end to insurance abuse and immediate approval of all doctor recommended treatment.”

On returning to us, Kevin reported the Carefist response. “He told us to send it in writing and we’ll consider it.”

My silent response, “Fat chance!”

Four of us decided to risk arrest. The plan was for our entire bunch to fill the spacious lobby in the back. However, as we approached the entrance, a rushing tide of Baltimore police, ran for the doors to block our way. In the excitement, Margaret and Eric, along with a Millersville teacher, Patricia Courtney, slipped in and sat down. A policeman and I, simultaneously, spied an unattended door. The race was on. This creaky-kneed old body got there first. Huffing and puffing, I fell on the floor with the others.

When asked to leave, we smiled politely but refused. Officers seemed reluctant to arrest, except the young stud that I beat. Of course, they did their duty. We really tried to be dignified as they marched us to the awaiting paddywagon, but it’s tough to do with handcuffs on. On the ride to Central Booking, we tried to laugh about our situation. Don’t know how the others felt, but I was a bit queasy anticipating this new and mysterious experience in my life.

Why submit ourselves to this degrading aggravation? Let me recount only a few of a myriad of well-known reasons;

- 47 million of our fellow citizens are uninsured.

- 120 Americans die every day from lack of coverage.

- One million of us go bankrupt from medical debt, and 78 percent of those had insurance.

- Sometimes those insurance denials are a death sentence for sentence for patients who trusted their insurance company to protect them from harm.

Health insurance injustices should raise your blood pressure to dangerous levels. We should want to buck the political-corporate establishment that shames our country now. If that arouse frustration and anger, you need to be resuscitated.

Here’s an example of bypassing the present madness. One of my sons lost his medical coverage because the small construction company he works for could no longer afford to carry it. He is an excellent interior house painter and drywall installer.

His teeth became painfully infected. They began to rot, loosen and fall out. He couldn’t afford to get them fixed. On Craig’s list, he found a dentist who was willing to trade dental work for painting the walls in his house. So, the dentist got a great paint job, and my son got a new set of choppers and a healed mouth.

A young father I met just this week recounted his Care first story to me. When his daughter was born, his wife’s water broke earlier than expected. He rushed her to the hospital. His doctor found no pulse in his wife’s tummy. Something was terribly wrong! An emergency caesarian section was performed. The baby’s umbilical cord was positioned so that it cut the flow of blood and life giving oxygen. The doctor’s quick and heroic action saved her life.

There seemed no reason the deny payment for great medical treatment. Ah, but, the insurance company manufactured one. They denied payment on grounds that the young dad did not seek a second opinion! Took him a while, but he did pay cash for the life of his, now, healthy, vibrant 4 year old daughter.

Back to our arrest story.

Central Booking was very busy that day. Eric and I waited in a long line of handcuffed men. Margaret and Patty were processed in another area.

When we finally got in the door, the first person we were required to talk to was a nurse. She carefully took our vital signs and asked us about our general health. Next we were shuffled to a physician’s assistant who grilled thoroughly on our entire medical history. Finally, we faced an extensive review of what we had revealed earlier.

Can you see the irony? We protested for a Medicare for all system with no pay for treatment. Going to jail gets you exactly what we have been fighting for. Any incoming inmate with any kind of medical problem can count on a whole team of medical experts to give the full spectrum of needed care.

Eric and I were put in a small, crowded, smelly and very cold holding cell to await a hearing. Our younger cellmates were fascinated and questioned us eagerly about why we were among them. Despite being bored, detoxing, miserable and cold, this mixed-race bunch of so-called, “bad guys”, coexisted peacefully. No nasty name-calling and no fights. Complaining was directed at people outside the cell. Surprisingly, we became a quasi-impermanent family.

Everyone, other than we two old guys, was arrested for drug offenses. If marijuana were legalized, we would have had the miserable place to ourselves.

It took approximately 7 hours to get our hearing with the Court Commissioner. When we rose to leave, many of our young brothers stood up, slapped hands and wished us luck.

The Commissioner quickly set our trial date and released us on our own recog. That’s recognizance to those of you not educated in a jail cell.

After picking our belongings confiscated by police, we were greeted by the smiling face of Kevin Zeese. We found out he had called several times to track our progress through processing. Thank you Kevin!

Would I do this again? Yes if the cause was righteous.

Did I learn anything? Yes, that we are all One family, and we ought to take care of each other.

Charles Loubert
Retired Counseling Psychologist
Writer of two unpublished books
Community Mediator