Thursday, March 31, 2005

Are those trees, or a forest?

I might be out of the woods with this dread disease - some sort of viral bronchitis with many other joyous side-symptoms. It's going on three weeks for both my daughter and me. We're still hacking like 92-year-old tobacco junkies, with revisitations of earaches, sore throats, and runny noses. My wife just came down with it today. Gad what a plague. Half of the school, teachers and students, are still out. A friend's kids have all developed pneumonia from it, the baby landing in the hospital. The local children's hospital is so full of kids with this, they are forwarding new cases to a hospital out of town. This is Denver, folks, so think about that: A major metropolitan hospital is FULL and sending kids to the burbs for beds. Why is this not on the news? It makes me wonder if the avian flu or Capt. Trips did sweep the nation, would it be missed because the media was still enamored with political scandals? (Can't you just envision that meeting? "Why are the ratings down so drastically? Go investigate!" ...some time passes... "What? Half the population is DEAD? How did we miss that? Oh, look! Bush is signing a bill that will make all doctors liable for murder if they fail to resuscitate emergency room victims! Especially if they're Republicans! Get the liberal reaction to THAT!")

Of course, the medical story in the news is the woman whose feeding tube was pulled, according to her wishes. My take is this kind of thing is exclusively a private family issue. It's too bad the parents and the husband didn't agree, but they didn't, and now this mess. My family is all on the side of living wills and have signed, sealed, and submitted documents that all scream "KICK THE PLUG OUT OF THE WALL, DAMNIT ANYWAY," so this is just a circus as far as we're concerned. We're all Christians by the way. We don't agree with the fundie and Catholic take on this issue (well, to be fair, there are fundies and Catholics on the other side of the issue, but they aren't making the news). They scream about saving her life. If the brain or the body is damaged to where it can't live on its own without life support (which includes a feeding tube), is that truly life? I would expect atheists to chime in on the side of never giving up since they think this is all there is, but for those of us who believe the soul never dies, why would anyone want that soul trapped in a mindless shell for decades? Especially if we don't know if they are suffering or not inside that shell? For some, this goes back to the question of following God's will. The fundies and Catholics chanting outside of the hospice have decided that any human intervention that causes death is de facto thwarting of the will of God. I dunno. Is keeping a body alive through breathing machines and feeding tubes thwarting the will of God? Because if we weren't there to provide such support in the first place, it would die. These issues are complex, and so I feel this should have remained a family issue. But you can't undo what's done. May she rest in peace.

TLD: By the way, one of the real tragedies in the end-of-life hospice world is that the management of pain, say from cancer or inability to eat or sepsis, is a hit-or-miss deal due to the drug war. Because all drugs that do a great job of managing pain are controlled substances, and so are monitored by the DEA, someone's comfort level will be directly affected by their doctor's views of and fears of the DEA. Doctors have to let the DEA know when and how much of any narcotic they prescribe for any reason, thanks to the drug war. The DEA doesn't really pay attention to what the reasons are, but if a doc suddenly throws a yellow or red light from prescribing close to or above set limits, they get a nastygram, a visit, or even have their license yanked if the DEA is taken with a whim to do so. Some doctors are courageous and will prescribe what the patient needs; others have a reasonable fear of the DEA and choose to be safe, but the patient then usually suffers pain that is unnecessary. If you find a loved one or yourself on the long slide down, probe the doctor on their opinion of this issue and find out whether there will be adequate pain management or not. Get specifics on how they intend to manage it and don't accept vague generalities like "we will do our best to make you comfortable." Also, don't wait until hospice care has started to find this out. America is behind both the first and third worlds in this issue because other developed countries have figured out that if someone is terminal, it doesn't matter if they're on heroin or cocaine (both supposedly superior to morphine for pain control - did you know that our military generals cruise into the void on cocaine rather than morphine, for instance), and hospitals in third world countries use whatever works.

I've had little peace myself in the last week or so, staying up all hours, hacking away on the couch downstairs so as to not wake the rest of the family. From the run of Sat through Tues, I had approx 2 hours of sleep per night, incessantly surfing through the dregs of nightowl TV. It's always been a wasteland, but any more it's just, well, sick. Porn is openly advertised, with barely pixilated blurs pretending to hide the naughty bits. All the condom and lube commercials tout a new "warming sensation" chemical, which just makes me wonder two things simultaneously: 1) Are there really people out there whose genitals aren't warm enough whilst in the act, and if so, shouldn't they be seeing a doctor about it rather than applying heat rub on their pink parts?; and 2) who thinks it's healthy to have a chemical that makes perhaps some of the most sensitive tissue on the body experience burning sensations? Aren't burning sensations in our pee pees something most of us actively strive to avoid? Dave Chappelle, though funny, gets old upon the 5th rerun of "I'm Rick James, bitch!" MTV and VH1 are back to playing about an hour or so of videos in the wee hours, but it's mostly (c)rap and hiphop, with rock getting maybe one slot per hour, which makes the ratio of rockin' time to commercial time 1 to 5; how sad is that? To my dismay I've seen NO movies during this sick vacation because my wife wants to see all the movies we have rented (meaning I can't watch them alone), and since the child is home sick, too, we can't watch them during the day. I am in serious withdrawal. I almost watched a Hallmark/Lifetime Special movie the other day, it's that bad.

Because of lack of entertainment options, I've been reading the paper a lot. The local big deal is this schmuck-on-a-stick "humanities" (Identity Politics, Minority Studies - take your pick, they're all the same animal) professor, Ward Churchill, who labeled the victims of 9-11 "little Eichmanns," which means, for those of you in the cheap seats, he called them Nazis. This guy is a prime example of how fucked up these departments have become. If you can mangle logic to the extent that innocent people blown up at work by terrorists equate to evil bastards who purposely killed fellow human beings they had downgraded to animals through massive disassociations and putrid justifications, to quote the late great Bill Hicks, "You ARE Satan." Yeah, Churchill has the freedom of speech on his side to say such idiotic and cruel things, but he has to expect some consequences for the same. Many want this bastard fired, as do I. I don't want him fired for what he said, but for what he represents. If you identify a cancer, cut it out, I say. (Maybe I should just go up to the Boulder campus, find Churchill and cough on him. With his butt habit, this nasty virus would probably take him out in a week.)

Oh, a couple more notes on Churchill just to further emboss how twisted this guy is: He pretends he's a Native American (or an American Indian if that term does not offend) even though there's damn good evidence to the contrary. His claim for being an NA is based on his grandma telling him he was 1/16th Indian once and some tribe giving him honorary membership. Even the tribe that gave him that honorary membership won't go so far as to claim he's actually a Native American, they just had fun partying with him once or twice. Many suspect that he claims to be NA because it provides him the legal protection of being a minority and because apparently some college chicks dig it. He doesn't have a degree in the field he teaches either; he has an art degree (which he employs to create Native American paintings that he sells for cigarette money, natch). His tribal drumming leaves a lot to be desired by all reports, too, as his talent for rhythm is in as short supply as his honesty. You'd think someone living such a warped, corrupt existence would eventually perish from his own asshole rising up and engulfing him out of utter shame. Apparently his first two wives, including the one who has a restraining order on him, concur with opinions approximating this one. His third wife died by wandering into traffic while intoxicated, which friends say was due to her remorse over her marriage to Churchill.

So some say fire the bastard, but I'd like to take it further: Rout the whole damn department. These Identity Politics/Humanities/Minority Studies departments are all just little bastions of hate mongering, and their profs will stand in front of a class and say shit like: "White people have no culture" or "All of white culture has been stolen from people of color." How is this different from a white supremacy rally? You tell me. (One of Churchill's more odious pronouncements of this type (and I paraphrase) is he recommends that yuppies who push their baby strollers up to him and chastise him about his chain smoking should kill themselves and their children if they really want to do the world a favor, because the resources they consume would help about 70 Chinese people. Think I'm kidding? Search down to "Using this method" and read the two following paragraphs.) A while ago these departments pulled of the coup d'etat of making their classes mandatory for graduation. These departments would shrivel like poisonous mushrooms in the bright sun if they were no longer mandatory. That's all it would take. Let's roll.

The other big deal in the news is Bush baby and his minions are continuing their purging of undesirables from public meetings. (Yes, I actually typed those words in America as an American describing the current American government.) They did this during the last campaign stating that since it was a campaign for their reelection, they were in their rights to purge hostiles, which was dubious enough. But now, these are public meetings regarding proposed policy paid for by citizen's taxes. Any and all citizens should be allowed to attend. Even Al Sharpton or Pauly Shore. (Ow, that hurt.) What we have here is bullshit people. This simply shouldn't be happening. I dare anyone to defend this behavior of our elected officials; but think twice if you do, because you have to consider that it might happen to you.

Now some may think I'm experiencing cognitive dissonance if on one hand I can state that college professors should lose their jobs for controversial stances and on the other condemn politicians for curtailing free speech and fair representation. Well, let's give postmodernism yet another heave-ho and hope it will just wander off and die, because context is everything here. On the one hand you have a group of people so rabidly fucked in the head that everyone who's not a self-proclaimed minority victim should euthanize themselves for the greater good (gosh, who's solution does that resemble?), and on the other, you've got a supposedly democratic government actively excluding from participation citizens with differing opinions. In other words, they're the same thing, the same evil: one group declaring the other group is not worthy, and therefore excluding them or (suggesting) extinguishing them. This is not what the dream of our nation is about. We are about liberty, equality, and justice. Let's try to get back to that, huh?

[Deep breath.]

[Cough. Cough.]

The high spot in all this dross was I finally got a copy of Dean Koontz's How to Write Best Selling Fiction, his long out of print and now expensive second cook book. It's pretty darn good. Stephen King's On Writing is still the best, and John Gardner's The Art of Fiction is the other standard-bearer, but this joins them as yet another must-read, if you are into cook books. ("Cook book" is my adopted term for "how to write" tracts.) Koontz's takedown of "literary fiction" and the myth of "The Great American Novel" alone is worth the read, but the highlight is the chapter on plotting. Lotsa good stuff there; good practical advice on do's and don'ts. For instance, one of main characters has to be likeable to give the reader someone to associate to, something that literary fiction authors just can't seem to understand. (I'm looking at you, DeLillo.) And this seems to be obvious with so many real-life parallels. If you're at a party, do you want to be trapped talking to a boorish asshole who cheats on his wife and suggests that yuppies kill their children or would you prefer someone who's fun, upbeat, and tells good stories? Perhaps I'll put some excerpts from it up later (if I can find a way to boil it down). One interesting note is that all three authors mentioned here have little or no patience for the dreck that academia touts as serious fiction, which alone I think proves their mettle and worth.

And, btw, for all the slamming I've done on college academia, I still think everyone should graduate from college if they can manage to. There are many good professors and classes to be had that are invaluable towards having a good and prosperous life. Just watch out for the poltroons is all.


I suggest you read the first comment to this post. Sharon straightens me out on what should have occurred for Ms. Schiavo in accordance to the wishes of the Catholic church.


Sharon said...

Dang. My first visit to your blog in months, and you manage to completely piss me off in your leading post.

Spare me the bit about screaming Catholics. Have you read the Traditional Catholic blogs lately? The lesson being extracted from this whole disastrous tragedy is that you don't marry a non-Catholic, because this is what happens. Maybe Terri Schiavo really did say she didn't want extraordinary measures taken, and maybe she meant that to include being starved to death if it came to that. But Michael Schiavo deprived her of Viaticum (sorry, sticking it in a tube a few feet away doesn't cut it; we're into the whole "your body actually matters" thing), and she was only permitted Communion when there was no danger she might screw things up by showing she could swallow.

She was deliberately deprived of a priest at the hour of death, as well as the presence of her direct family members. This matters to Catholics. He's going to have her cremated, despite plenty of money for burial. She's not going to be given a Catholic burial; no priest, and her parents won't be told where she's being buried (he says it will be in a private plot in an undisclosed location). Am I really supposed to believe that she wanted to be deprived of a Catholic death and burial?

Do you have no idea how Catholics are interpreting this? Terri Schiavo is one of *ours*, a daughter of the Church, whose choice to marry a non-Catholic deprived her not just of food and water but of those things that the Church can do even for those for whom nothing else can be done. Michael Schiavo was made to promise things when he married Terri in the Catholic Church (besides just the bit about not pretending to be widowed and "marrying" someone else just because the "for worse" part actually comes about); he had to promise not to interfere with the practice of her faith.

And then I read you taking the same attitude, like the Church is some interfering busybody third party, and not Terri's spiritual Mother. Frankly this whole thing makes me feel like warning my own daughters about dating non-Catholics.

BTW #1: It's simply not true that Catholics believe "any human intervention that causes death is de facto thwarting of the will of God." Surely you know this is a straw man.

BTW #2: There were, as you suggest, atheists in the "don't starve her to death" corner. See Nat Hentoff's column,,hentoff,62489,6.html

Man, you really did piss me off. I think I need to go make clear to Eudoxus that, just because I'd prefer not to be severely disabled, it doesn't mean I'd prefer to be slowly starved.

Yahmdallah said...

First off, let me just mea culpa myself all over the place, because I was obviously writing from a place of ignorance regarding the Catholic viewpoint of the issue. I had read some, but nothing that outlines the things you say here. (They were usually along the lines of "how dare they!" without a delineation of what should have occurred.) Thanks, even though being angry at me, for taking the time to spell out how things should have gone according to Ms. Schiavo's faith.

I would agree that her husband did not do what he should have to allow her passing without allowing the mercies and care offered by her spiritual mother, as you put it.

I don't want to amend the post because I don't really want to cover up my mistake, especially when it's been corrected as you have. I will put a message to make sure and read your comment, though.

All I can do is apologize for my ignorance and attempt to do better in the future.

Yes, everyone should discuss with husbands and family exactly how they want to be managed should they become incapacitated, and it should be written down and witnessed so if the eventuality should arise, wishes and intentions can be followed.

(And, not so much in my own defense, but just something you should know about, my one experience with the Catholic church with a loved one who was terminal was anything but what a loving spiritual mother would have done - with the exception of the last rights. The priest from my grandmother's church didn't visit her once as he was dying of cancer. And, luckily, he was out of town when my grandmother needed the last rights, because a great priest from a neighboring church came and performed them, and did a wonderful job. He was supposed to do the funeral, too, but the other priest came back early and insisted on doing it. My grandmother wanted to be cremated, she was very clear about that, and of course the Catholic stance is that's not to be done. So, the whole funeral was the priest ranting on how horrible it was that my grandmother had gotten cremated, nothing about her life, and how caring she was, how she'd helped the church and was good friends with many of the sisters (nuns). And he refused to come out to the grave to help bury the ashes - just outright refused. So, my experience may be a little jaundiced in that regard.)

Sharon said...

No, I'm the one who should apologize. My little rant there falls into the category of "things you wouldn't say to a stranger, but will let loose on a friend." A phenomenon all us married folks are familiar with, I'm afraid. I'm sorry for taking out my anger and frustration on you.

Adding to it all, I got to listen on tv last night to Michael Schiavo's sleazeball* lawyer, Felos, explaining that he banned the family and priest from the deathbed because he wanted Terri's spirit to have a peaceful, harmonious environment when passing on to the next world. Yeah, her brain is so entirely gone she won't notice being starved to death, but he knows her spirit will be distressed by having people who hate each other in the same room. I must have missed the class in law school where we learned to read spirits. Otherwise I would have known how to tell that what she really wanted wasn't the traditional comforts of her faith at the hour of death--family and priest--but some new agey Oprahfied crap instead.

But again, no reason to let you have it with both barrels. Like any of us could really do anything about any of it.

I'm so sorry about your grandmother's experiences. Some priests are total jerks. Some of them, frankly, go into seminary because it gives them an excuse for not getting married that covers the fact that no woman with her asshole-detectors functioning would ever have them, but with a cassock on it makes it look like some sort of noble sacrificial choice. A good friend of mine died after a long battle with cancer a little over a year ago, and I thank God we have a good priest who was with her family all the way.

Anyway, I'm sorry again. We're off to First Friday mass, where we get to dodge the Channel 8 news crews again. (Anytime the pope is in the news they're all over the cathedral because the visuals are so good, explaining into the microphones how wracked with fear and anxiety we all are because we just won't know what to do with ourselves if the Holy Father should die. Like we won't just pray for his soul and place our bets on the next conclave.) Forgive me; I don't want to go to Communion having been so snarky to someone who didn't deserve it. (Notice that I don't repent my snarkiness toward lawyers and worthless clergy.)

*This isn't partisan prejudice. They're all sleazeballs. It's a graduation requirement.

Anonymous said...

In the context of high versus low church believers, Lewis observes that you really ought to see each deferring to the other, as they purport to be christian and the emphasis on self-will is the hallmark of hell. There was very little of that deferent spirit between the husband and the family. I agree with you that clinging to a clay casing for the eternal soul, when that body cannot maintain itself, is unseemly. Perhaps it is to be justified by the effects that caring for you have on others, but from a personal perspective, I'm for death under the circumstances.

A point to be made about the sociopath Ward Churchill is that CU permits, expects, encourages job applicants to 'self-identify' on gender and ethnic issues. But you are to indulge in 'reflection' before you self-identify. So, let me be a white instructor for 40 years at $24,000/yr, or let me be an 'indian' for $92,000/year. Which to choose, which to choose? You couldn't design a system more apt to be defrauded if you assembled a grand congress of grifters and set them to crafting it. It kind of makes me want to out my inner surgeon. I _feel_ a lot like a surgeon.

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chronic stress