Welcome 5780

So, in just a few minutes the year 5779 draws to a close, and we welcome 5780. Mike is avoiding crowds, so he is not going to temple in person this year. He will watch services streaming from his synagogue on the computer. He is feeling quite well, and the rash is much improved, as are his eyes. Thanks for all your prayers.

Mike finished the book about the history of Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore. It is entitled “Jerusalem, the Biography.”  He says it reads easily. What is not easy to take is reading about the horrible suffering inflicted on innocent civilians by the kings and assorted military rulers. You read about one massacre after another. It seems that for some people, the more passionate they are about their religious beliefs, the less tolerant they are with those who hold alternative beliefs, and the more willing they are to torture and kill them for their “wrong” thinking. Some of this type of killing has to do with revenge for past atrocities, some with pure hatred of the “other”, and some seems to be just because they can. So it isn’t really all about religion. Some of it is about acquiring and maintaining absolute control, wealth, and power. There is an innate potential for cruelty in some individuals, and some such people have the personality characteristics to assume great power. One of the Jerusalem kings had a practice of mutilating people who displeased him. During his reign, it was commonplace to walk along the streets of Jerusalem and see people with their noses cut off, or people with only one eye, one ear, one arm, or some combination thereof.  Part of what is distressing about this mayhem is that it doesn’t seem to be that difficult for authoritarian rulers to get people under their command to kill, mutilate, or otherwise torture other people. You would never see a cat treat other cats like that. If I am completely honest, though, some cats do have a tendency to play with their furry little victims before they kill them. That is not too pleasant. I have a theory about this. Maybe this only happens when the cat isn’t really hungry, because its people feed him, and it is just acting on its genetically driven instinct to hunt. Or maybe not.

Last night it started to thunder and rain just as I was getting home. Everything went dark up and down our street. Mike and Judy got out some electric battery powered candles so they could see where they were going, and they kept on reading just as if nothing had happened. The lights came back on just as they were turning in for the night. Mike was up later than usual. He and Judy had gone out for the afternoon, and he was very tired when they got home. He lay down in bed, fell asleep, and didn’t move for 3 hours. But, he is fine today. He keeps bringing stuff home from his office. Yesterday or the day before he brought his big club chair home. He went next door and recruited his neighbor, Eugene, to help him get it upstairs. Eugene is a very nice man, and was happy to help. Mike brought his desk chair home today, which he handled by himself. The office is closed. Everyone has moved out to other locations to continue their practices, except for Mike, who has closed his practice. He admits to being sad, but life brings change, and the time for change is sometimes now. Mike’s friend Norm assures him that he will love retirement. Probably so. I hope so. Mike will continue working a half day per week at the Berman Center, so he is not going to be completely retired. He may need to be careful not to let this get to be too much. You may be familiar with Parkinson’s Law which states that the amount of work expands to fill up the available time. I don’t think this will apply in Mike’s case. He will hopefully have enough sense to limit his hours. I will keep you posted.

It has been very hot and dry in Happy Meadows this summer. I think we have broken the record high for the day nine or ten times this month. We have failed to reach at least 90 degrees on only 5 days, and we are way behind on rainfall. Mike has been watering the front lawn, and so are a lot of the other Happy Meadows neighbors. I hear people talking about climate change. I think it is real, but I hear other people talking about it as though the idea is a hoax. The feelings held by some people on both sides are strong. People find the stupidest things to get mad about. I was watching the television earlier this year when there was some big weather disaster somewhere. I heard Spoiled Donald, a climate change denier, assure reporters that “We’re going to have a great climate.” Give me a break.

Speaking of Spoiled Donald, I heard him say that he had a “perfect conversation” with someone recently. It was “the best conversation.” What does that even mean? I can tell you what it means. Everyone is getting angrier and angrier, that is what it means. How about chilling, y’all. If everyone would spend 5 minutes a day meditating we would all be a lot better off.

So, that’s it for now. May you all have a safe, healthy, and blessed 5780. Until next time, so long from Happy Meadows.

# 100

So, Mike went for chemo Thursday.. He broke out in a rash again after 6 days on the lowest dose of Revlimid. He wants to continue the medication anyway, and for now, that is the plan. The dexamethasone that they gave him as a component of his chemo has helped, and he has a prescription for a medrol dosepak which he will take, if necessary, next week. Yesterday morning he saw an eye surgeon who did a minor procedure on his right upper eyelid, which hopefully will take care of the stye. He goes back in 2 weeks, and if the stye in the left lower lid persists he will treat that one as well. Mike still thinks he is getting off very easy when it comes to chemo side effects. Nothing serious, and no nausea. Your continued prayers are appreciated.

So, I think I told you that we have a weekly AA meeting at the Happy Meadows clubhouse. Sometimes I go with Mike, not because I need an AA meeting, but because I am both friendly and nosy. When I came home yesterday afternoon one of the ladies who attends the meeting was there, along with her husband. They had asked to come over and ask Mike’s advice about their 10 year-old daughter, Sydney. Sydney has severe behavioral problems and they were at a loss about where to turn. Mike was just getting them some coffee when I got there.

“Here you are, Cindy,” said Mike, “skim milk and Sweet and Low.”

“Thank you”, she replied, setting the cup and saucer on the coffee table. She sat on the couch. James selected a chair across the room from her.

“This is yours, James,” said Mike, “Black coffee.”

“Thanks, Mike,” said James.

Mike sat in his chair where Jackson immediately jumped up on him. Shayna Maidel jumped up on the arm of his chair, maneuvered Jackson out of the way, and started making biscuits on his tummy. “So what is going on?” Mike asked. “How can I help you?”

They both hesitated momentarily, but James spoke up.

“It’s about our daughter, Sydney,” he said. “We’re having terrible problems with her.”

He stopped and took a sip on his coffee. Cindy sat holding her cup, trembling.

“What kind of problems?” Mike asked.

“Well,” said James, “she has always been somewhat slow in her development. She does poorly in school as far as her grades are concerned. She has trouble making friends and getting along with the other children. And for several months her temper tantrums have been wearing us out. You just never know when she is going to lose it. It can be at school, but more often when she gets home. And we are taking a chance when we go to a store or go out to eat with her. She can throw herself on the floor and start howling like a banshee, kicking and screaming, and she can throw things. You should see the looks we get. And, she is making life miserable for our son, James Junior. He is 13. He isn’t getting nearly the attention he needs from us, and he avoids coming home as much as possible. After dinner he retreats to his room and doesn’t come out unless he is hungry.”

“Have you discussed this with your pediatrician?” asked Mike.

“Yes, we have,” replied James. “She referred us to a child psychologist who met with us, examined her, and did some testing. “Dr. Simmons is her name. She said she thought she had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and suggested a few things for us to try. And she sent us back to Dr. Fahey for a prescription for ritalin.”

“So, did you get the prescription for her?” asked Mike.

“Yes, we did,” he replied.

“And,” Mike asked, “did the medication help?”

James paused and sighed. “Well,” he said, “In some ways it did. She did concentrate better on her school work. It had been impossible to get her to focus on her homework when she got home from school. That improved. On the other hand, she was up much of the night at times, and her behavior was sometimes more difficult to deal with. She was destructive of property, left the refrigerator door open, and left the front door open after she decided to take a walk at 2 in the morning. She let our cat out.” He glanced over at me, and I returned the stare.

“Did you call Dr. Fahey and let her know about this?”  asked Mike.

“Of course,” James replied. “She tried a different medication. It was Focalin, I think.” He glanced at Cindy who nodded her head. She was on the verge of a meltdown herself. “That was no improvement at all. So, she referred us to a child psychiatrist, Dr. Jablonski.”

“I know him,” said Mike. “He is a good doctor. What did he say?”

“He called Dr. Simmons and asked about the test results. Then he sent us back to Dr. Simmons for more testing. Then we met with him again. He had stopped all medications until he could get a better fix on what was wrong.” James paused and looked at Cindy for a few seconds. “Then he said he thought Sydney was bipolar. He said this would explain her meltdowns and mood swings. He put her on some different medication.”

And?” asked Mike.

“And, she had trouble staying awake at school. And, her behavior didn’t improve noticeably.” James stood up for a minute, paced around for a few seconds, looked out the window,  and then sat back down again. “We love Sydney so much, but she is wrecking our lives. I am not getting enough sleep. I have a stressful job. When I am work Cindy calls me in distress almost on a daily basis. Thank God she hasn’t started drinking again. I don’t know how much longer she can take this.”

Cindy spoke up for the first time. “James, I am not going to start drinking. I wish you would trust me.” She looked down again.

“Cindy,” Mike asked, “if you don’t mind my asking you this, when did you last drink?”

She continued to look down, hesitating, but then she replied without looking up. “It was about 3 months ago. I drank some vodka for 2 or 3 days. Before that it was probably 6 or 7 months.”

Mike looked at James. “Did you know about this?”, he asked.

“No,” he said. “I suspected it, and I asked her if she had drank, but she denied it and I let it go. I guess I should have insisted she tell me if something had happened.”

Mike looked back at Cindy. “I know Sarah is your sponsor. Does she know about this?”

“Yes,” said Cindy. “I tell her everything.” She glared at James, who met her glance briefly and looked away.

Mike continued. “Are you on any medication?” he asked.

“I get Prozac from Dr. Hayes, my gynecologist. And he gives me Xanax,” she answered.

“Xanax could become a real problem,” said Mike, “if it hasn’t become one already. I strongly suggest you see an addiction psychiatrist and get properly medicated. Do you know of Doctor Rasmussen?”

“I know several people in the program who see her,” said Cindy.  “They say she is very nice. I just didn’t think my problems were that bad that I needed to see a psychiatrist.”

James made a sound that was somewhere between a groan and a snort. Cindy glared at him again. Mike continued.

“Cindy, were you drinking when you were pregnant with Sydney?” he asked in his gentlest voice. He looked directly at her, but took a couple of quick glances at James. Cindy started to cry, and nodded her head quickly a couple of times.

“I tried to stop, and I did cut back some,” she said. “I have always been afraid that Sydney’s problems are all my fault.” She sobbed uncontrollably. Then she looked at Mike. “Do you think it is possible that I have done this to her? I could never forgive myself, and I don’t think James could ever forgive me.” Now her head was moving from side to side, and James got up and sat next to her on the couch. He took her hands in his.

“Come on now Cindy,” he said. “Whatever the problem, we need to face it together.”

Mike took a bit of a deep breath, and said to them both, “While it is important to make a proper diagnosis, the reason is to prescribe the proper treatment. There is no value to assigning blame. What happened in the past is in the past. Let’s proceed one step at a time. Have you ever heard of the Marcus Autism Center? It is affiliated with Emory University.”

“Do you think Sydney might be autistic?” asked James. “I have wondered that myself. In fact, I had asked Dr. Jablonski that very question, and he didn’t have a definite yes or no.”

“I don’t know what the diagnosis is,” said Mike. “She could be autistic, bipolar, ADHD, or she might have a disorder they are calling FASD, or Fetal  Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. This is something that not too many people know how to differentiate from the other things we have talked about. Or she may have some combination of disorders, including autism. The best approach would be to get an expert evaluation.”

“Would they be able to make a diagnosis of FASD at the Autism Center,? asked James. “Or do they just treat autism?”

“I think they have the expertise to make a correct diagnosis, ” said Mike. “And they have the resources to put together a plan of care that should get things moving in the right direction in your home. You are being challenged by a child who needs your help in a big way. I’m glad you came to talk to me. Help is available, and you can’t let your fear, anger, guilt, or any negativity get in your way. Blaming is out of the question. There is no place for blame in relationships.”

“Thank you,” said Cindy. She had stopped crying. She looked around the room. “You have nice cats.” By now Ladybug had joined us, and had jumped up on the couch next to her.

“We do love our cats,” said Mike. “They improve the quality of our lives. You mentioned that you have a cat.”

“Yes,” said Cindy, “we have Molly. She is very sweet, but she is afraid of Sydney right now. It breaks my heart.”

James stood up. “Come on Cindy,” he said. “We have taken up enough of the doctor’s time”

“Mike,” said Mike. “Please call me Mike.”

“Mike it is then,” James replied. He extended his hand and Mike took it in his grasp. “I will let you know how it is going with us. Thanks for your advice, and for the coffee.”

“You are more than welcome, said Mike. “I have some other ideas, but we can talk later after you have taken these first steps.”

Cindy gave Mike a hug, and she and James left. I went upstairs, relieved myself, and had some kibble. Then, it was time for a nap. After my nap, Mike and I put this blogpost together. This one is a milestone blog, the 100th since I started almost 3 years ago. It has been fun, and I am not even close to running out of things to talk about. I hope you are enjoying the time we spend together. Stay tuned for more from Happy Meadows.


The Deed is Done

So, Mike has seen his last patient at the office. It happened was this past Wednesday, today being Sunday. So far, nothing seems to be that different.  The next day he went for chemo, as usual, and Friday he went to the Berman Center, as usual. Tomorrow, though, when he doesn’t have to go to the office, that will be different. Except, he says he is going to the office to pack up some things, and probably because he can’t stay away. Mike says he has always wondered who his last patient at the office would be. It turned out to be a very nice lady that he has seen for several years, helping her with her chronic pain and depression. She was there with her husband, as usual. Her husband has always been very protective of her. He is the man who managed to get to Mike’s office on Snowmageddon Day, when nobody could get anywhere, a few years ago. She needed a prescription, and he got it for her. That was the day that Mike was trapped overnight at the office. I think I have already written about this.

Mike, Judy, and Michelle met with the genetic counselor at Emory on Thursday. The information given was useful, but much is still unknown about the genetics of his situation. The best thing that Michelle and other close family can do is live healthy (diet, exercise, no smoking, etc.) and have regular check-ups. They should do that anyway, and most of them are conscientious about their health. The counselor said if research turns up new and relevant information she would contact Mike about it. Also, he started that other chemo medication again Friday night. It’s the medication that he had to quit before, twice because of a rash, and once because of a bad cold. He is on a lower dose, and determined to stay on it this time. By the way, his eyes are much better, thanks for asking.

So, the Georgia Bulldogs made short work of the Arkansas State Racers, yesterday, 55-0. But the real story was the support that bulldog Nation showed to Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson, whose wife, Wendy,  died recently after a battle with breast cancer. Usually the color one sees when looking at the stadium filled with fans is red, with all the fans wearing their team-colored red jerseys. Yesterday, though, was a “pink-out.” It was proposed a few days ago that everyone wear pink to the game, and the idea spread through social media. The dogs have a history of supporting breast cancer awareness. A charitable organization, “Bulldogs Battling Breast Cancer,” was founded by the parents of a Georgia football player. The team got behind the charity, and they have raised a lot of money for a good cause. Mike is a big sports fan, but what he likes the most is how sports can bring out the best in people’s character.  This is not always the case, however. Here in Georgia, and probably elsewhere, it is getting harder to recruit and retain referees for high school sports because of the abuse the officials have to take from some parents and coaches. Come on, folks, give it a rest. Sportsmanship trumps winning all day long, if you ask me.

Did you see the harvest moon last night? I sure hope so. It was stunning. Things like that make you realize how remarkable is the world that we live in. It has given me something to meditate upon for a while. I hope you all have a wonderful week. We send you much love from Happy Meadows.

King Farouk

So, Mike had his visit with Dr. K. at Emory Thursday. He has been advised that there has been no further improvement in the myeloma, and that it is time to resume the chemo treatment that had caused his skin to break out. They will start at a much lower dose. Mike is not worried, and will involve his dermatologist, another Dr. K., as needed. Mike continues to feel fine and does not appear to be sick in the slightest. There has been a new development, though. Mike is starting to get styes, and it is thought to be a consequence of one of his chemo drugs. He sees his ophthalmologist next week. Stay tuned for updates.

Last night Mike, Judy, the other 3 cats, and I were watching the Great British Baking show on TV. They were making a pastry known as stollen. This is a German pastry traditionally made and eaten during the Christmas season. This brought to mind an incident when Mike was in high school, and was at a friend’s house one Saturday after lunch. He and Ed were friendly but not close friends, and Mike had not been there before. Mike’s parents were also somewhat friendly with Ed’s parents, an engaging and well-traveled couple. Ed’s father, Leon, was very obese. That afternoon he came home about 3PM with an enormous collection of pastries he had just acquired from his favorite bakery. The family invited Mike to join them, and proceeded to consume vast amounts of said pastries, one of which was a stollen. Mike had never heard of stollen, and doesn’t ever remember having stollen since, nor has he acquired a huge appetite for pastries as a result of that incident. Mike recalls a story his father told him about Leon that occurred when the couple was traveling in North Africa. I think they were in Morocco, and Leon saw in the morning paper that King Farouk was visiting the country. Leon hired a carriage, rented clothing similar to what the king might have worn, and toured the city waving at people. He has a grand time. Mike says that he can’t imagine anyone doing anything like that today. This event must have occurred during a time when the king was increasingly unpopular after world War II. Ultimately he was overthrown and forced to leave the country in 1952. So, it is not hard to imagine Leon, appearing to be Farouk, and completely unguarded, inviting a bullet from an opportunistic politically motivated assassin. But, no such thing happened, fortunately, and all he got was a fun afternoon and a great story. Farouk was notorious for his lifestyle which included prodigious eating, all night gambling at casinos, lavish vacations, and collections of coins, art, concubines, and what must have been the largest collection of pornographic materials in the world. While he was disgustingly self-indulgent, at least he wasn’t the murderous sort of monarch that has appeared in history all too many times. His was the sort of life-style that appears in the complete absence of meditation. People who pray only, to the exclusion of meditation, can become trapped in the bondage of their own egos and not be able to see beyond themselves. A cat would never make a mistake like that. Although we do have healthy regard for ourselves, probably too much so, we see the value in love of our fellow creatures. I hope that you all learn how to meditate if you haven’t already done so. It will bring you a measure of peace in these angry and stressful times.

So, that’s all for now from Happy Meadows. Be well, be safe, and enjoy your weekend. I will talk to you again very soon.