Monday, March 25, 2013

Am I a Drug Addict?

Raphael, is a tall, slender man with light brown skin.  He came to the U.S. from a small African country whose name I cannot spell.  It is on the Red Sea wedged between Ethiopia and Sudan.  He now works as chief technician at the dialysis center where I go three times a week, a job which enabled him to pay for his four children to obtain degrees from U.S. universities.     

On Friday he came to my chair and injected something into the tube of clean blood coming out of the machine and into my vein. 

“What are you giving me today?” I asked.

“EPO,” he said.

“That’s what Lance Armstrong took,” I said, “and they called him a drug addict.”

Raphael and I laughed.

I have been getting EPO shots, or the equivalent, for years.  My poorly functioning kidneys leave poisons in my blood, which must be cleaned by dialysis.  The kidneys also fail to convert proteins into hemoglobin, resulting in my becoming anemic.  EPO shots, which a nurse described
to me as “artificial blood”, build up the hemoglobin. 

Without EPO my energy level drops to zero, and I mope about the house like a zombie.  A few days after I have a shot, I feel great and zoom about town in my Hyundai like a 25-year-old kid.  When I went for my annual checkup, my primary doctor said that for an 83-year-old woman, I was “amazing.” 

I never thought of myself as a drug addict.  But I am totally dependent on those shots. My doctors agree that I will need EPO for the rest of my life.

During his treatment for cancer, Lance Armstrong received massive doses of chemotherapy, which messes up the blood the same way my bad kidneys do.  Armstrong’s cancer is in remission.  Do his doctors feel he still needs EPO?  If his doctors say that he needs EPO, then Lance Armstrong was right to say he never took illegal drugs.  But without doctors’ orders, then it was a “performance enhancing drug.”

Most people now condemn Lance Armstrong as a liar and a cheat.  As a person who is dependent on EPO, I see another way of looking at his situation. Armstrong is arrogant and a bully.  There is nothing illegal about that. 

Politicians make impassioned statements about lots of things – taxes, gun control, abortion – which deserve a closer examination.  Just remember: There are no simple solutions to complicated problems. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me

Everyone celebrates my birthday.  I was born on St. Patrick’s Day.   We had a party here at the retirement home where I live, with a bagpiper decked out in kilts and the whole regalia, blowing the pipes so loud even the dear, deaf old men could hear.  After blasting away at “Danny Boy” and a couple of other typical Irish tunes, the piper committed heresy and played “Scotland the Brave.”  Well, it is one of the best musical numbers for the bagpipes. 

Our new management did not know it was my birthday, so I did not receive any recognition at that party.  Neither my son David nor my daughter Martha could come this year, so I gave myself a party.  I put invitations on 13 doors of other residents.  Twelve came; I found chairs for all of them, filling the living room of my little apartment.  

My brother Don and his wife Mary helped serve cake and lemonade.  The chocolate cake with pale green frosting was delicious, although I ordered it from Tom Thumb through a young woman who did not speak English, and the shamrock decorations looked most peculiar. 

To complete my day, Martha and David both called to wish their old Mom, “Happy Birthday.”  David also sent a box of chocolates.  I don’t want any more “stuff.”  As the New Yorker cartoon said, “I have enough crap to last me the rest of my life.”

All in all, not a big celebration, as we had for my 80th, but a happy day.

I treasure birthday cards.  Besides the ones from Montclair friends, other cards came in the mail.  All lifted my spirits. 

Cards picturing cats (in honor of Charlie) came Barbara and Marjorie, friends since college more than 60 years ago, and from Lois, my Garland friend who found time to bring me a card, although she was moving that day.  Martha sent a picture of a big, white cat, very like Charlie.

My husband John Durkalski died 21 years ago, yet I still receive a birthday card every year from his sisters in Pittsburgh.  I also received cards and messages from Sally, my best friend since high school, who lives on a farm near Decatur, and from Emmy, my dear, dear friend from college, who recently moved to Round Rock, and from Joanie Woodruff, my writer friend, from Mountainair, New Mexico.  Gertrude called from New York and Doris from Albuquerque.  How many old ladies can claim five “best” friends like these?

It was a special thrill to receive a card and note from my 94-year-old cousin, Pat Lyle, who lives in a retirement home in Rapid City, South Dakota.  When I was a child, my grandmother was guardian of Pat and her sisters, Viv and Gee (Georgie Sue). My mother took me and my brother to their house  every day.  I knew Pat from my earliest memories  until she went away to college at Texas Tech.  Through the years we almost lost touch, but now we are the only ones left from those daily gatherings around the kitchen table on Lipscomb Street in Fort Worth.   Even the house is gone, a parking lot for the Association for the Deaf. 

I am 84 years old.  I have to go to dialysis three days a week.   But I am alive and thrilled to be remembered by all these good friends.  Life is wonderful.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Kilgore, Texas

My first job after I graduated from college was as “society editor” of the Kilgore News-Herald. 
Kilgore, an hour and a half east of Dallas, called itself “the city of skyscrapers” because of the many oil derricks in the center of the little town. 

In the 1930's Kilgore was the center of the East Texas oil boom.  There were no restrictions on how close wells could be to each other.  In Kilgore derricks were set up next to each other, like rows of small Eiffel towers, right against the foundations of buildings.  A couple of blocks from the newspaper office where I worked was the abandoned little brick building which had been First Presbyterian Church.  Oil derricks completely surrounded the structure.  The Presbyterians now worshiped in a handsome large new church surrounded by grassy lawns a half-mile outside the “oil dome” in the center of town. 

During the Great Depression, when throughout the rest of the U.S. people were starving, some families in Kilgore became fabulously rich.  

When I arrived in 1949, the boom days were over.  Many of the town’s residents were poor and lived in little frame houses hastily built during the boom.  As I walked home from work, I passed a row of “shot-gun” houses – a single-room wide, three or four rooms deep – in one of which lived Marie, the young woman who read proof for the paper.  A few blocks further I walked by the large, two-story brick mansion owned by one of the town’s “oil” families. 

As “society editor” I reported on women’s activities.  Every day I had to fill a full page in the paper with accounts of club meetings and other chit-chat.  Big news was a wedding at First Baptist Church with a reception at the home of the bride’s parents, where the refreshments were cake and non-alcoholic punch.  If a child had a birthday, I would print the names of every little child who attended the party.

Then there was the music teacher.  A big, matronly woman, in her cotton dresses printed with pastel flowers, she looked like a typical small town housewife, very different from the sophisticated “oil” wives who drove to Dallas to buy clothes at Nieman-Marcus.  She bustled in every month with a “report” of a little club she had for her piano pupils.  I duly took her list of the names of each attendee.  . 

One day, as she handed me the usual monthly report, she said, “You know Kilgore is the most musical town in East Texas.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You won’t believe the musical authority who told me so.”

“Who was that?”

“I really shouldn’t tell you.  He assured me that there was no other town in East Texas with as much music as Kilgore.”

I imagined the “musical authority” must be the music critic for the Dallas Morning News.

Then she told me.  Her “musical authority” was the organist at Kilgore’s First Presbyterian Church.  As she explained, “You know he lives in Longview.”   That was the next town, 15 miles northeast. 

One day I stopped by her house, twice the size of a “shot-gun” house but still a small frame house.  A baby-grand piano almost filled the living room.  Her son was practicing when I came in.  A lanky, baby-faced kid with wild blonde hair, at 14 he was already over 6-feet tall with hands and feet twice the size of mine.  He turned on the piano bench and sat quietly facing me while his mother told me about the latest activities of her little club.  She told me proudly that her boy was going to become a famous concert pianist.

Remembering her “musical authority”, I doubted this.  I thought I was being ironic when I said, “Yes, Mrs. Cliburn, I am sure you are right.”

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Independence Day

Today is Texas Independence Day.  Not important to anyone besides Texans.

Most of the residents at the retirement home where I live are folks who grew up in Texas and have never lived or been any place else.  We remember Texas history, which is taught in our schools as on a par with U.S. History.  As for European history, what happened over there that can compare with the Alamo?

On March 2, 1836, a small group of settlers, mostly farmers and ranchers, gathered in a little white frame church in Washington-on-the-Brazos, and declared Texas independent from Mexico.  The audacity of those men, most of them recent immigrants from the U.S.!  No true Texan questions that these newly hatched Texans were justified in taking control of lands that Spain claimed for 300 years.  After all, Mexico had gained its only a few years before and had been totally inept in governing the fast remote land.     

Mexico’s president, General Santa Anna, proved equally bad in trying to recapture the country.  In April, Sam Houston and a handful of men whipped the Mexican army, captured the general, and shipped him off – literally in a ship – to Washington as a present to Andrew Jackson. 

So Texas became an independent nation for the next ten years.  That’s why in front of every big building in Texas you will see two flag poles, one flying the U.S. flag and the other the lone star flag of Texas.  

Some Texans think the U.S. should still treat the state like an independent country, to be negotiated with and deferred to like France and Britain.  In November we elected a new senator, a Tea Party man named Tom Cruz. Within a month after taking his seat in the U.S. Senate, Cruz made a fool of himself, posturing and voting “No” on everything, even an act to protect women from abuse.  Even his fellow Republicans were embarrassed.

Last year at Montclair we had a big party to celebrate Texas Independence Day.  The dining hall was hung with lone star flags, and bouquets of artificial bluebonnets decorated every table.  A few months ago our new activities director cleaned out the store room and threw out all the flags and decorations.  She was from New Orleans and did not know any better.  While eating hamburgers at lunch today just a few of us old Texans reminded each other that March 2 is a special day. 

Maybe that is just as well.  We also have residents who moved here from other states.   They all acknowledge that Texas is – well, different – but are right to insist that this state is no more special than Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, Georgia, Mississippi, or Pennsylvania.

In my own lifetime I have seen Texas change from a mostly rural land dominated by rich white men to primarily urban (three of the ten largest cities in the U.S. are in Texas), where minorities are growing in number.  Huge numbers of blacks and Hispanics, with a surprising influx of Asians.  Not to mention young professionals from “up North.”   Most of the transplanted elders at Montclair moved here to be near their children. 

Politics is still dominated by old, rich white men.  We are stuck with Senator Cruz for the next six years.  But times they are changing.  Are you listening Congressman Hensarling?