Ouch! That Hurts!

So, this morning after making my Happy Meadows rounds I wandered into the family room where Mike was watching one of those Sunday AM news talk shows.  They went to a commercial break that seemed to go on forever. Mike said if he knew it was going to be like that he would have timed it and counted commercials. As it was, amidst the enthusiastic promotion of financial services, automobiles,  personal products, and so on there were no less than 3 commercials for stomach acid remedies. Four actually, but one of them was shown twice, so I’m not sure how to count it. Mike said it reflects the expectation that people who watch these kind of programs will get heartburn as they consider our country’s political situation. Watch the news and reach for the Tums. It’s the new popcorn.

Mike brought home the December issue of Arizona Highways this past week. It featured the photography of Barry Goldwater, that fellow who ran for president and lost in 1964. It was probably good for everybody, including him, that he lost. Our country was going through another rough patch back then, and it got worse before it got better. Mike says Goldwater was the first politician he can recall who made a point of believing in conservative values as though that was a good thing. He was labelled an extremist, I think. Maybe he was, and no doubt there is something to a point of view that resists change, even if it is doomed. Everything changes, even the climate. (I saw a news clip last week I think it was, where Spoiled Donald assured the American people that we are going to have a great climate. I’m serious, he really said that.) Goldwater was  passionate about the West, Arizona in particular, and a hell of a photographer. And if you have never been to the American West, put it on your bucket list. Mike and Judy went to the Grand Canyon with friends one November day, and then returned to Phoenix via the Oak Creek Canyon and Sedonna. There is a chapel in Sedonna carved into the red rock. They lit a candle for their friend Michael, who was fighting a battle with cancer. He lost the struggle a year later, but I don’t know that he really lost. He told Mike near the end that his body wasn’t of much use to him any more, and that he was looking forward to what comes next. Mike gave the eulogy at his memorial service, an experience that moved him deeply and will stay with him always.

I hope you are not a chronic pain patient. If you are, you’re screwed if you live in the good old US of A. A year or more ago the CDC, right here in Atlanta, issued some guidelines about chronic pain management. It included a suggested maximum dose of opioid pain medication, based on opinions shared by some doctors that no one, or almost no one, should be on high dose opioid pain management. The context  of this CDC action, of course, is the serious opioid epidemic that has hit our communities. Many doctors, insurance companies, government agencies, and pharmacy management plans have treated the suggested maximum dose (which really is not that high, according to Mike) as a mandated maximum dose. Some patients have been cut off immediately, and others tapered over 3-4 weeks. I don’t think anyone is tracking this, but as powerful as fear of pain can be, a great many of these patients have contemplated suicide, and no doubt some have ended their lives. Other people have turned to illicit sources of opioids, a highly dangerous practice, and more can be expected to do so. They go from using pharmaceutical-grade products that are accurately labelled, to God-knows-what pills or powder that they get on the “street.” Mike says you can detox an opioid addict quickly, but pain patients require weeks to months if it is to be done humanely and successfully. And nobody wants to take care of these patients now. The bulk of pain management has always been done by  primary care doctors. Now, many of them are unwilling to continue managing these patients for fear of intrusion into their lives by insurers and regulators. And many pain doctors don’t want to treat them either. Mike knows of cases in which patients were not accepted into a pain management practice because they refused to have injections and other procedures for which the insurer is billed thousands of dollars. He even knows of patients who have been dismissed from pain management practices where they have been treated for years for the same reason. It is a good example of  the Law of Unintended Consequences at work. Something good could come of all this, though. Medical science has not had a major advance in the treatment of pain, especially chronic pain, for decades. Nothing materially new has come out since the appearance of morphine and aspirin. A lot of research is underway right now that could break new ground. Mike has been saying for years that he hopes to see opioids go the way of  leeches and lobotomies in his lifetime. While science is working on this, society (government) is going to have to figure out a way for these new medications or procedures to be affordable. Let’s hope for better things.

And how ’bout them Dawgs?

I’ll keep it short and sweet today. Best wishes from Happy Meadows!

The Wrestling Match

So, if perchance you are following the weekly calendar of Torah readings, you will know that the section read this week is Vayeitzei. The storyteller here has created a dramatic situation. Jacob, who has cheated his brother, Esau, out of his birthright and fled to a foreign land, is now returning home with his wives, children, and flocks. He anticipates an unfriendly welcome from his brother. Indeed, his brother might kill him. Nearing their destination, Jacob sends his entourage across the Jabbok river, while he stays on the other side for the night.  Why does he do this? Good question. But, clearly, he needed some time to himself. In the night a stranger comes to him and they wrestle through the night. Neither prevails, but as dawn nears, the stranger insists that Jacob let him go. In return Jacob demands a blessing. The stranger asked his name, and then told him that he will no longer be called Jacob, but now will be known as Israel, because he had striven with God and prevailed. Jacob then realized that it was not a man he had wrestled with, but rather, God, and he named the place Peniel because he had met God face to face. Jacob came out of the battle with a dislocated hip which presumably pained him for the rest of his life. In the morning he crossed the river, made peace with Esau, and they went their separate ways.

Jacob had expected his battle to be with Esau, but instead it was a struggle with God.  Or was it? Rabbinical teaching generally holds the stranger to be an angel, rather than God. It was only Jacob who took him to be God. Of course, the entire incident could have been a dream. Or it may not have happened at all. This is Mike’s view. It falls into the realm of prehistory and allegory. In fact, there are remarkable similarities to the story of this wrestling match and that between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Mike says he read an interesting article about this written by Esther J. Hameri, and he would be glad to give you the reference if you are interested. The story of Gilgamesh is the oldest story known, and elements of it seem to appear in the Hebrew Bible. This suggests not so much that the Hebrew scribes copied the story, but that the story was known from oral tradition and fed their notions of their own history.

There is much to unpack here, and the story leaves room for a variety of interpretations. On one level, the story may exist to firmly establish that it is Jacob and his descendants who are God’s chosen people, and not Esau and his descendants, the Edomites. All people wonder about their origins, and would like to think they are noble, blessed by the Gods, and entitled to at least what land they already have, if not more.

If you were a cat like me, you would have the benefit of our informative feline mythology, and would have spent thousands of hours in meditation, leading to some level of enlightenment about the nature of things. In the beginning there was God, an infinite force of creative loving energy. As such, the material world was created by God to provide a necessary object of love for God. Sentient creatures like cats and humans evolved, capable of wondering about their Creator and having the choice of loving Him in return. Along with the capacity for love, however, came other pleasure instincts including, hunger, sex and power, and negative soul traits like fear and anger.  And thus came the potential to forget about, ignore, or even wish to be God. So within every cat or person lies two potential inclinations. One is to love God, and thus to love and take care of his creation, and the other,  alternatively, is to reject God and to pursue one’s own ego-gratifying desires.

This dichotomy is represented in mythology in various ways. In one manifestation, a person is represented as two separate people. Esau and Jacob could be an example. One child became two in Rebecca’s womb. One child came out red and hairy, a wild, aggressive man who hunted game and gave little consideration to anything beyond his animalistic desires. He was the child of his father. The other child came out smooth and cunning, adopting his mother’s nature. Everyone knows that we are the product of two parents, so naturally we derive from two natures. In story, this can be represented as two separate people. Another example from the Hebrew Bible is Adam and Eve. As I’m sure you know, Adam was split by God into two people when he took one of Adam’s ribs and made a woman.

The rabbis talk about people having two inclinations, yetzer ha’tov, or the inclination to do good, and yetzer ha’rah, the evil inclination. In our Jacob story, there is rabbinical teaching that says that the stranger that wrestled with Jacob was, in fact, his yetzer ha’rah, his evil inclination.  Another opinion is that the story was a metaphor representing his fear-based wish to disobey God’s will which would have him present himself to Esau and make amends  for cheating him. At the end of the night, though, his yetzer ha’tov prevailed, and he made the right choice. So in the end, Jacob’s real struggle was with himself.

I believe if you think about it, everyone can somewhat relate to these things out of their own life experience. We all are torn at times between doing the selfish or wrong thing and the altruistic or right one. We all sometimes do something more than what we naturally expect of ourselves, whether good or bad, and then wonder where that came from.  Most of us have a moment in our lives where we have a self-defining choice about what we believe about ourselves and what our values are. In that moment we are changed. We may not necessarily wind up with a dislocated hip, but there is an unmistakable  change along with a clear and lasting memory of the occurrence. People in recovery from addiction, for example, can tell you the exact moment when the intolerability of their lives peaked (hitting bottom), followed by a choice to allow something greater than themselves into their lives.

So, enough of that. On another note, it is prime season for college football, another source of mystery. Why, for example are there only 10 teams in the Big 12, but 14 teams in the Big 10? And of the 10 teams in the Big East, three are in the Central Time zone, one as far west as Omaha. It was a big day today for big rivalries, and I hope your team won. And on yet another topic, although I am a big fan, as you know, of most things black, Black Friday is not among them. Good grief! But I hope your Thanksgiving was a blessed one, and you are enjoying your leftovers. Be well, and so long for now from Happy Meadows!

Oops, Sorry, Mr. O’Ree, but I’m Glad You’re Still Alive

So, oops. Mike has always told me that I can rely on about 95% of what he says as true. Not that he lies, but he can be mistaken about things. So when he told me that Willie O’Ree, a subject of my post 3 days ago, had died earlier this year I believed him and mentioned this non-fact in my blog. So while I am embarrassed about the foul-up, I am very happy for Mr. O’Ree.  He remains very much alive. As with a similar happenstance with Mark Twain, rumors of his death have been greatly exaggerated. Even though I am blaming Mike, more or less, for this unfortunate faux-pas, in the interest of the whole truth, I do take full responsibility for the error. It is after all, my blog, not Mike’s. Nuff said. Be well, and if I don’t post anything else before Thanksgiving (or if I do), have a great holiday. Farewell from Happy Meadows.

Here is the video of Willie O’Ree’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STpRn0MCOs8

A Tale of Two Willies

So, Mike and Judy were gone for a while recently which threw off my schedule. I don’t remember being asked if it was okay that he take a vacation (although he would say that it was in no way a vacation). I have managed to piece together where he went. It’s been a year since his mother died and they all went up to Minnesota for the dedication of her tombstone. They call it an unveiling. It’s a Jewish thing, I guess. He said he thinks his mother would have been pleased. Three of her six grandchildren came as well as several cousins and friends; and of course, Mike and Judy. It’s always good for family to get together to share memories and reinforce their bonds, especially people that rarely have a chance to be with each other. Mike’s family can be found all over the world. They all had the opportunity to stand there in the cemetery in a steady rain and 36° while the Rabbi delivered a eulogy. Then they all said the Kaddish. (See “The Kaddish, April 1, 2018.)  When Mike got back he was pretty tired and a little cranky for a few days but he seems to be back to himself now. He said that the turbulence was bad on the way back and they were sitting in the last row so the seats would not lean back, and they got to smell the disinfectant from the lavatory the entire trip, both ways. Air travel I guess is just getting better and better.

So, Mike saw in the sports page that Willie O’Ree is about to be inducted into the National Hockey League Hall of Fame. He was a black hockey player who was the first man of his color to play in the National Hockey League. He broke in with the Boston Bruins  in 1958. He had more time with them playing in 40 some games in 1961. His presence was not well received by the American fans who shouted out racist comments at him. Fans were much more welcoming north of the border. Mike heard he took quite a physical beating as well while he was on the ice. He was blind in one eye but kept that a secret fearing that he wouldn’t get a chance to play if people knew he could only see out of one eye. Mike spent some time in Seattle in 1966 and he went to a hockey game where he saw O’Ree playing for the Los Angeles Blades. Mike can’t remember the name of the Seattle team at that time. There was a team in Seattle that won the first Stanley Cup by a team south of the border in 1917. I think they were the Seattle Metropolitans. There is a piece of trivia for you. Speaking as a little black cat, I have to say that I’m glad to see O’Ree being honored by the league. He has received a great many honors through the years which were well deserved not only because of his skill as a hockey player but because of his courage in facing adversity and not backing down. He only died recently in March of this year at age 82 or 83. Interestingly, there is another hockey player who is said to have broken the color barrier years before O’Ree. His name was Larry Kwong, an ethnic Chinese man from Canada  who in 1948 got one minute of ice time with the New York Rangers. He went on to have a good career in both playing and coaching hockey in Canada and in Europe. Strictly speaking, I don’t know if this is the color barrier or not that he broke but it was certainly an ethnic barrier. Good for him.

Speaking of Willies, Mike saw very recently that Willie “Stretch” McCovey has died. He is a member of the baseball sports Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 1986. He is on somebody’s list of the 100 greatest baseball players ever. He was a left-handed hitter whose brute power was legendary. Casey Stengel, while managing the New York Mets once made a visit to the mound and asked his pitcher “where do you want to pitch him, upper deck or lower deck?” McCovey was once asked how he wanted to be remembered. His answer was that he wanted to be remembered as the player who hit the line drive over Bobby Richardson’s head in the ninth inning of the 7th game of the 1962 World Series to win the World Series. Bobby Richardson was the New York Yankees second baseman. McCovey had come to bat with two outs in the ninth inning with the Yankees winning one to nothing. There were runners on second and third so a hit would have at least tied and probably won the game. McCovey hit a screaming line drive towards right field.  Richardson leaped and caught it, ending the game and securing the World Series for the Yankees. That winter Charles Schulz drew two “Peanuts” cartoons showing Charlie Brown wondering why McCovey could not have hit the line drive two or 3 feet higher.

By the way, Mike has some suggestions, with input from me, about how to improve the game of baseball. Mike finds it excruciatingly slow, and hard to tolerate for that reason. The Atlanta Brave’s new stadium is close by, but Mike hasn’t been there once in the 2 years that the Braves have been playing there; and, there is a good chance he will never go. Mike can get bored and restless fairly easily. He is well-known for getting shpilkes.  This is a Yiddish word which translates as “pins.” It’s the Yiddish equivalent of being on pins and needles. If he’s watching baseball on TV and he gets bored he can get up and do something else. At the stadium he is stuck. His worst experience was in 1993 when he took Michelle to a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. They got there when the stadium opened at 5:30 in the afternoon. I think the game started at eight. They walked around, had hot dogs, and had a nice relaxing time until the game started. Then in the second inning, if Mike remembers correctly, Tom Glavine who was pitching for Atlanta gave up eight runs. Game over. Mike was just sitting there thinking that he wished he could be someplace else, doing something else. I think the Braves were still down eight runs when he and Michelle left around 10:30 in the fifth inning. That’s another thing about baseball in Atlanta. The day games are too hot and the night games are too late. It just doesn’t suit him and his old man schedule. And Mike isn’t the only one. Attendance at major league baseball games is slipping. The average game takes about 3 and 1/2 hours to play. It seems to Mike that when he was growing up an average game was a little over 2 hours. One thing that slows the game down is when there is a runner at first base who takes a lead off. The pitcher will throw the ball over to the first baseman with the idea of preventing the baserunner from taking too big of a lead. This can happen over and over again. Mike thinks that the pitcher should get 2 free chances to pick off or just hold the runner close.  If he doesn’t pick the runner off with the third toss the runner should automatically get second base. I like this idea. Another thing that slows the game down is when the batter steps out of the batter’s box between pitches. Some batters will do it every time to engage in some obsessive-compulsive ritual like unfastening and re-fastening the Velcro strap on their batter’s glove, ala Nomar Garciaparra. Obviously, if the batter is injured or if he has to dive out of the way of a pitch there should be no penalty. Otherwise, the umpire should not grant him a time out, and if he is not ready to hit the next pitch, too bad. They should also enforce the pitcher’s requirement to throw the next pitch within so many seconds, whatever the rule is. Mike would charge the pitcher with a ball if a pitch is not delivered on time. I like the idea. Another thing that I would do is make it illegal for anybody to spit during the game unless a tooth gets knocked out or something. Mike remembers years ago being at a baseball game in Milwaukee. He was panning around looking through his binoculars and looked into the Milwaukee dugout just in time to see Harvey Kuehn, the manager, spit a rope of tobacco-colored mucus that must’ve hung 2 feet down from his mouth before it fell. It was a totally charming sight. I think the penalty for spitting should be automatic ejection. That should put a stop to it immediately. I can’t believe they let this go on. It’s like when Mike first got to Atlanta and was director of the addiction treatment program.  They were still allowing the patients to smoke during group therapy. His first official act was to put a stop to that. When Mike was in medical school the medical students were allowed to smoke in the hospital and the hospitals had cigarette machines selling cigarettes for probably $.30 a pack. There’s certain things people just get used to and don’t think twice about it, but if you thought about it you would be horrified. Spitting is on my list. So is the burning of witches, and of black cats.

I can’t end without mentioning that today is Veterans Day. Or at least it would be if Veterans Day wasn’t tomorrow. What today is is the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice which ended the first world war, the war to end all wars. People all over the country are remembering our veterans and giving them the honor and respect that they deserve. Don’t forget, freedom isn’t free. Well that’s all from Happy Meadows for now. Be well, and  don’t take any called third strikes.