Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Gifts

When you get to be my age, there is little to get excited about Christmas.  There are no little children in the family to fill the house with their joy and wonder.  My grown children are far away.  David enjoys Christmas with his family in California, Martha with hers in Illinois. 

As for my son Karl, I had not heard from him in eight years, since I refused to pay all the bills and he took his guns and moved out of my house in Albuquerque and went to Arkansas.  From time to time I sent him a check or a gift of fruit and/or cheese, without ever receiving a thank-you note or telephone call. 

David lets me know how Karl is coping; he pays for Karl’s telephone.  But not hearing from Karl directly broke my heart.

There was nothing I could do about that.

At Christmas time it cheers me to hear from old friends and to know they are still alive.  Old in two ways – I’ve known some of them for more than 60 years, and most are truly old, in their 80's and 90's.   On Christmas Eve, an old college friend, Betty, called from Galveston, where she lives in a retirement home similar to mine in Garland.  I remember her smooth black hair, but she tells me she is gray, like the rest of us.

On Christmas morning Doris called from Albuquerque.  A tiny little woman, she was an English war bride who met her husband, a New Mexico Hispanic, when he was an Air Force cook stationed near her home in Cambridge during World War II.  She learned to make chili, speak Spanish, and adapt and love her Hispanic in-laws.  Now she is in bad health and will never again see England and her sisters.  Yet she cheerfully told about the adorable little dog her daughter gave her.  Empatheticly, she asked about my big white cat, Charlie.

With calls and letters to cheer me, I went to the mail box and found a small package.  Inside was a Christmas pin, a tiny white cat next to a Christmas tree.  It was from my son Karl!

I called David to get Karl’s telephone number.  I phoned him, and we talked pleasantly for 30 minutes.  For the first time in eight years!  That was one of the best Christmas gifts ever!

David called this afternoon to wish his Mom “Merry Christmas.”  He has four years of work to do in the next six months, but he will try to come for my birthday in March.

Martha arrives tomorrow to spend a few days with me before heading back to Chicago and her own busy schedule.  She just completed her second M.A. degree, this one in tax accounting.  She is responsible for U.S. corporate returns for an international company, plus she has a husband and two boys at home.  Yet she finds time for Mom.

Receiving love is the best Christmas gift.  I do not need anything else.   

Friday, December 14, 2012

Me and My Kidneys

Three days a week I go to the dining room at 11:00 a.m., gobble down my lunch, and at 11:30 rush out to climb in the van and go to dialysis.   

The other day, as I waved goodby to my friends who were lingering over their chicken and potatoes, someone said to me, “You are so brave!”

No way.  There is nothing brave about my routine. 

My kidneys do not work well.  Also, I have sleep apnea and sleep with a CPAP machine.  I have a ridiculous body, topped with a flat chest (due to a double mastectomy) plus a bulging belly.  A freak intestine makes me look like an eight-months pregnant great-grandmother.  Otherwise, I am in excellent health.

I asked the doctor, “Couldn’t I skip dialysis for a week and take a little trip?”  (I would love to spend a week in San Antonio or on the beach at Galveston, or, best of all, return to see my friends in the mountains of New Mexico.)

The doctor said, “If you miss dialysis treatments for a week, you will die.”

That is incentive to continue. 

Hey!  I am 83 years old!  Still driving my car.  Still writing my own checks and balancing my bank account.  Still walking without leaning on a walker.  I do not have to be “brave” when I am still active. . 

I am in much better health than everyone else I see at the dialysis center.  My kidneys were damaged by medication and still function (i.e., I pee freely); they just do not filter the poisons out of my blood.  The other patients all have more complicated medical problems.  Many are diabetic.  A hefty gray-haired man is brought in on a stretcher; his torso is big and strong, but he lost both legs due to diabetes.  I talk to a patient, an older woman, her legs swollen to three times the normal size, who has not peed in ten years.  A 21-year-old comes in munching on bags of chips; he was born with non-functioning kidneys and has been on dialysis all his life.  

For me dialysis has become routine.  Just as at 10:30 every night I brush my teeth and go to bed every night with Letterman on the television, three days a week I go to the dialysis center, climb into my recliner, let the technician stick two needles into my left arm, and sit for three hours and 15 minutes watching “Family Feud” (I have my own little tv screen and ear phones).  I also read the weekly editions of Time and The New Yorker, the latter with cartoons as an antidote to the depressing news in the former.

The only problem is that with dialysis consumes three days a week.  I have little time for anything else.  When am I going to complete the two books I am writing?

One of the old ladies who lives with me at the retirement home is a tall, distinguished looking black woman, a former school teacher.  When I ask her, “How are you doing?” she always says, “I am still kicking.  Not very high, but I’m still kicking.”

That’s me, too.

Monday, December 10, 2012

My Yellow T-Shirt

On Friday I wore my new yellow T-shirt. At breakfast everyone who saw it burst out laughing.  Across the front is a picture of big brown Hershey bar and the words, “I could give up chocolate, but I’m not a quitter.” 

At the dialysis center that afternoon I stood in front of Patsy, the big black woman who sits in the chair next to me.  She, too, laughed out loud when she read the inscription on my shirt. 

I sat in my own chair, and Janell came to stick me with the needles.  I said, “Look at my new T-shirt.”  When the expression on his face did not change, I said, “Read what it says.”  

He read the words aloud but did not even smile.   Janell is from the Philippines.

One of the Indian nurses came to check the machine which cleans my blood.  She read the words on my shirt.  She also seems puzzled by the meaning. 

Except for two black women, all the technicians and nurses at the dialysis center are foreign born.  Most are from India, although a group is from the Philippines and one young woman (a favorite of mine) is from Ethiopia.  The head technician is from Eutreia, a small country on the east coast of Africa that he and I seem to be the only ones who can locate it on a map and only he can spell correctly. 

I won’t speculate here on why there are not more native-born Americans in these jobs, when so many people are looking for work.  The technicians at my facility skillful in programing the machine which cleans my blood and in sticking the needles into my arm to draw blood from the artery and push it, cleaned of poisons, back into the vein.  They work incredibly long hours, starting at 5:30 in the morning and sometimes staying until 11:00 p.m.  I do not now the pay scale, but one young man is going to school to become a licensed vocational nurse, saying he can earn more that way. 

All the technicians and nurses at the center worked on my left arm at some time.  I thought I knew each of them, when they came to the U.S,, the ages of their U.S.-born children.  All came to America seeking a better life for themselves and their children.  Raphael, the man from Eutreia, has paid for all four of his children to graduate from U.S. colleges.  Angie, who earns little as a dialysis technician, has a son who is a doctor in residence at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

All of them talk fluent English of a sort, but for some it is limited.  The doctor ordered the use of a longer needle to reach the deep vein in my upper arm.  The technician kept saying she would use a “big” needle.  She used the right length, despite not understanding the difference between “big” and “long.”  

I should not be surprised when none of them got the joke about eating lots of chocolate because “I’m not a quitter.” 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Remember Pearl Harbor

President Roosevelt called it, “a day which will live in infamy.”  It was the day that catapulted the U.S. into World War II, and hundreds of thousands of young Americans died. 

Everyone who is old enough to remember can tell you exactly where he/she was on December 7, 1941.  Mariam, who is 92, was a young woman working in Bloomington, Illinois.  That Sunday she went home to her parents’ farm; the happy family dinner was interrupted by news of the surprise attack.  Even Layton, who was only six in 1941, still remembers exactly where he was.  

I was twelve, and even as a child, riding in the back seat of my father’s car and hearing on the radio a man say that Japanese planes attacked U.S. Navy ships at a place in Hawaii, I knew that my life had changed forever.  

I had another shock this morning – a mild one, like static electricity when brushing my hair, compared to Pearl Harbor, which was like being electrocuted.  I live in a retirement home with 100 other “old folks.”  Sitting at breakfast with three men, I realized that all three were born after the war and have no personal memory of the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

For most Americans, World War II is ancient history like the Civil War.  Two days ago Bobby was telling me about his time in the U.S. Army and how much he enjoyed his service in Germany.  “I liked Germany.  The country is beautiful, and the people were so friendly.”

It is comforting to know that the Japanese and Germans are now our friends. 

In spite of today’s problems, I feel optimistic.   The Middle East is in turmoil, as usual.  Our economy is in a recession, and most people do not understand economics.  In Congress recalcitrant Republicans oppose anything Obama proposes.  By three votes, Santorum and his bunch blocked the treaty to protect people with disabilities – a treaty which 125 other nations have signed and which received bipartisan support from reasonable Republicans.

What gives me hope?

Look at history.  We had quite a few mediocre presidents.  Franklin Pierce, Martin van Buren, Zachary Tyler, Chester Arthur, Benjamin Harrison.  Dare I add George W. Bush?  And then there was our paranoid leader, Richard M. Nixon. 

The country survived.  And thrived.   In 50 years the turmoil of 2112 will be forgotten.  I wish I could be here to see it happen.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dear Mr. President

Even my Republican friends agree that we need a simplified tax code.  I’ve written to President Obama several times stressing the importance of a simplified tax plan and urging him to present it to Congress. 

The President receives thousands of letters every day.  I doubt that the minions who read his mail will even forward my letter to him.  But here it is.

                                    Garland, Texas
                                    November 30, 2012   
Barack Obama, President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

When are you going to present Congress with a simplified tax code? 

This is what 99% of the American people want.  Give Congress no alternative but to vote for it.

Don’t ask for a “small” increase in taxes on the rich.  Demand a return to pre-Bush taxes on those with incomes between $250,000 and $1,000,000 a year.  But a BIG increase in the tax on incomes over $1,000,000.   How much money does a man need, anyway?  We’ve seen that giving the rich more money does NOT create more jobs.  Don’t let the Republicans continue to use that argument.

DO NOT LET CONGRESS CUT BENEFITS FOR SOCIAL SECURITY OR MEDICARE.  The public does not want that.  Insist on more cuts in the Department of Defense.  No more $185 million dollar fighter planes.  Such aircraft are out-of-date in today’s battles against terrorists. 

A small way to help Social Security: No income cap on FICA payments.  If a person has a salary of a million dollars, he/she should pay into the Social Security Fund on ALL of it.  But there should be a cap on Social Security payments.  Suggestion: $2,000 a month for an individual, $1,000 a month for dependents. 

Again: Please tell me WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO PRESENT CONGRESS WITH A SIMPLIFIED TAX CODE?  This is a simple question that deserves a simple answer.  Give me a date.

                        Yours sincerely,

                        Ilene Durkalski

Monday, December 3, 2012

Dear Congressman

Texans are conservative.  In the 2012 election the Democratic Party simply gave up Texas to the Republicans.  They did not support any opposition candidates.  I did not know the name of the Democratic candidate for Congress in my district until I saw a name on the ballot.    

My Congressman is a Tea Party Republican, one of those who votes “No” on everything Obama proposes.  Even since the election he refuses to compromise on anything.  I wonder if he will reply to this letter I sent him on November 30, 2012:

Congressman Jeb Hensarling
129 Cannon House Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Congressman Hensarling:

What’s with you Republicans?  Don’t you listen to the people? 

You live in North Dallas, surrounded by rich neighbors.  You attend St. Michael and All Angels, also known as St. Mink and All Cadillacs.  Are they the only ones you listen to?

I live in your district, on the border between Garland and Mesquite.  I am surrounded by blacks, Hispanics, and working class whites.  Most of them voted for you because the Democrats gave them no alternative. 

As Barnum said, “You can fool all of the people some of the time.”    Beware!

Giving your friends, the rich, more money does NOT create jobs.  That’s obvious to anyone who has really looked at what has happened in the last 12 years.  It is time for the rich to pay more taxes . . . and time for you to recognize this and vote for Obama’s tax plan. 

Under no circumstances should you vote to cut benefits – even future benefits – in Social Security and Medicare.  To do so would end your career in Congress, even in a “safe” district like yours. 

                        Yours very truly,

                        Ilene Durkalski

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Keeping Cool

December 1 and the air-conditioner is whirring in my apartment.  Incredible!  Even for Texas.

Before I went to bed last night I opened the door from my bedroom to my third-floor patio.  The room was so warm I could not sleep.  At 2:00 a.m. I climbed out of bed, closed the door, and turned on the air-conditioner.  I heard the noise of its blowing like a hurricane keeping me awake until I moved into my recliner in the living room at 5:00 a.m. 

Actually, it isn’t that hot outside.  The television weatherman said the temperature was 65 at 7:00 o’clock this morning. 

So why is my apartment uncomfortably warm?  I think the heat rises from the apartment below.  The woman who lives there is a tiny, frail little thing.  An old woman with no flesh on her thin bones.  To feel warm she holds the temperature in her apartment at 85 degrees.   

I would rather open my doors and enjoy fresh air.  Instead, I waste electricity to keep cool.  That’s life.  We make adjustments to have a comfortable life.

David missed Thanksgiving with his children to come be with me.  While here he spent one entire day on the computer putting into a special document all the blogs about the trip to Europe when he was 13 years old.  Now I can spend the next six months editing it for publication as a book. 

I could get fresh air by sitting on my patio and enjoying the plants in my flower boxes.  Thinking it would freeze by now, I had my sister-in-law Mary bring me pansies to replace the begonias Martha planted in March.  But the begonias are still blooming like mad, and I do not have the heart to pull them up and plant the pansies. 

A trivial choice for me.  Not like the hard choices awaiting Congress.  Do any of those old men have the courage to make real changes?

I wrote to President Obama and to my Congressman (a Tea Party Republican) advising them on the tax situation.  I’ll post copies of the letters next week. 

Yep!  Ilene is ranting again.  Are you ready for this?