Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fall Season

Today begins the Fall 2007 season, one of my favorite times of the year. A song that often comes to mind is "September Song," one many musical artists have performed, but as he aged, I think the rendition sung by Frank Sinatra became especially poignant including lyrics:

"Oh, it's a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn't got time for the waiting game"

I've always been fascinated with the bright vivid changing colors of the leaves I recall from my youthful years in the midwest. I remember raking fall leaves, making a huge pile in the back yard, then running and jumping in them. We could even build a bonfire with them in a large old circular oil drum once our playing finished and thoughts of food prevailed. Those days preceeded the awareness of environmental issues so prevalent and of concern today. We whittled small stick branches to a sharp point on one end, on which we impaled hot dogs and marshmallows to create our desired treat and satisfy our hunger.

Years later as as a young adult I fondly recall a fall traveling in the northeastern states well known for the most spectacular of all seasonal colors. The U. S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service provides some reference dates for viewing fall colors in various parts of our country for all who might seek such pleasure.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Pleasure Fulfilled

There is a never-ending unwritten list in the back of my mind of small pleasures I look forward to experiencing. One such item on my list is highlighted below. I expect many of you have your own uniquely appealing list.

BOOM ! ! !

The cannon roared unexpectedly drawing our eyes skyward. A gigantic frothy grayish smoke ring slowly moved higher in the night’s moon lit sky toward cloud layers in the atmosphere before fading from view. The amphitheatre crowd cheered. The one hundred person Pacific Symphony Orchestra continued bombarding us with the increasing tempo and volume of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture." Mesmerizing sound punctuated violent musical crescendos as though the sky was quickly embracing this offering to the gods and goddesses of sensual pleasure. Then there was a sky splitting crackling sound simultaneous with the explosions of sparkling colors including red, silver, gold fireworks shooting upward like rockets, then spreading across the sky in a long sequence of firings. The residual flaming sparks gradually dimmed, faded from sight, then suddenly a second cannon BOOM followed by the appearance of another smoke ring, soon drifting off in search of its predecessor. Another long-desired pleasure fulfilled for this witness to the end of summer’s amphitheatre concerts.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Pleasure Triumps Over Tribulation

I'll likely be spending another weekend out of town with friends soon. We usually have a rollicking good time laughing at the most ridiculous events. For example, one weekend we had a bit of a ticket crisis for a concert we were to attend that night. The tickets were not where my friend expected them to be in her incoming mail basket. She had looked for them earlier, but couldn't find them. After I arrived, while we were chatting, she resumed her ticket search. She unsuccessfully leafed through the contents of that basket a second time, reporting, "Here's the envelope -- but there are no tickets inside." She wondered, "Do you suppose they never sent the tickets?" I volunteered I thought I recalled her telling me in a phone conversation she had received them.

She carefully looked through opened letters just one more time, "Ah!" she held up tickets, "Here they are! Oh, wait a minute, these are tickets for plays we're going to this fall." She paused, "Do you suppose when these tickets came, I mistakenly thought they were the concert tickets?" She hastiliy added, "Oh, I don't think I would have done that -- on the other hand..." Having found an envelope in which she thought the tickets had come, my friend was confident she would readily find them just mixed in with some other letters and papers she could look through later, so we relaxed to talk some more.

Her husband shortly joined us, having earlier turned on the grill in preparation for the casual relaxed unhurried dinner we planned before we left. My friend made another quick, but unsuccessful check for the tickets, as she reported, "I'm sure I remember seeing them when they arrived in the mail weeks ago." She was quite exasperated by now, and decided to elicit her husband's magical ticket locating powers. He took on this challenging task with the self-assurance of someone who knew one of his primary reasons for being in life was to solve problems -- especially his wife's. He confidently initiated the ticket search as the grill continued heating while he looked through the in-basket's contents.

Shortly, he said, "What time is it now?" When he was told, he became even more concentrated on his searching efforts. He began sifting through the same papers, looking in those envelopes again, in a slightly more frantic mode, accompanied by an escalating rapid sequence of hand movements and sorting, sprinkled with, "Should we keep this?," or "Why are we keeping this?" and later, "Can't we throw this away?" Then, "No, we better keep this." Across the room his wife said, "I'll check this junk drawer, just in case, though I'm sure I wouldn't have put them here." But no tickets there. "Well, there is one other drawer that's a possibility, though I really don't think they're there." And, they weren't!

One of them suggested the tickets had probably slipped down behind the cabinet where the in-basket resided. After all, they both agreed, the basket was pretty full and they really did need to take care of all those papers. The basket didn't look that full to me, and didn't even seem to be spilling out over the top, but it was fairly deep. In order to access the area behind the cabinet, he removed a couple wine bottles from a shelf and set them on the table. We laughingly discussed that perhaps we should just open the wine and forget about the tickets, when examination revealed no tickets or even any papers had fallen out of the in-basket to slip down behind the cabinet.

Voices began to assume a slightly tense anxious quality when another time check revealed we should have started eating dinner earlier and were now behind schedule. A rush to the grill; soon salmon, hastily prepared salad, corn on the cob, and other food ultimately made it to the table. The previously intended lengthy relaxed dinner hour became one of "eat as fast as you can so we can get out of here." I proved to be the slowest of all at this task and the next thing I knew my plate was removed from in front of me the split second my fork raised the last bite a fraction of an inch off the plate's surface.

We marveled at this newly created genteel social custom of table clearing, and my host laughingly wondered if he had jeopardized how I would now view their warm hospitality. Of course, I hastened to assure him "It won't have an adverse effect at all, other than I won't be visiting you any more, or if I do come, I certainly won't be eating with you." Then, I observed, "Or is that what you were angling for all along?" I didn't even give him time to respond and quickly retracted my declaration. They weren't going to get rid of me that easily. We were all laughing so hard at this turn of events, it's a wonder I didn't choke on that last bite of food and need the Heimlich Maneuver.

Earlier there had been some discussion about whether or not we should even bother driving into the amphitheatre traffic congestion, since we were behind schedule, and probably wouldn't be able to attend the concert anyway. My friend said, "We can't phone the amphitheatre 'cause the tickets all come from somewhere else and that office isn't open now. I don't think they're equipped to replace tickets at the theatre, either." She paused, then said, "Well, if we go and try to explain at the amphitheatre ticket office, they probably won't believe our story, much less let us in." As an after thought she laughingly commented, "Maybe we should just not even bother to go." We all agreed those unopened bottles of wine that hadn't been put back on their shelf were starting to look more and more attractive in preference to the traffic jam we anticipated, and the likelihood we might not even be able to enter the amphitheatre anyway.

Still it was not in the nature of any of us to give in too easily on this venture. Surely we could believably plead our cause and succeed where others with lesser drive might give up much too readily. The driving force within us dictated that we must at least try, despite the hardship we might endure. We must risk learning the outcome by going there. Besides, those wine bottles would be awaiting us, if we had to return home in abject defeat.

We continued laughing incredulously at our situation, as someone said, "Oh, what the heck, we can park in the lot and maybe hear the concert from the car." The Problem Solver said, "Look, once we get through that bottleneck heavy traffic to get into the parking lot, you drive me up close to the entrance, and I'll get out. I'll walk up to the ticket office and see what I can do about getting us in. Maybe I can buy some more tickets if I have to, and they're not sold out." He then directed her, "You quickly find the closest parking spot you can, stay in the car, then watch for me. I'll come back and signal you with a wave if we have tickets. If I don't wave, come and pick me up as that will mean, 'no tickets' and we can't get seats."

During this conversation, we were hurriedly darting about, as some of us were busy making a last minute pit stop, then gathering our jackets for needed warmth from the cooling ocean breezes that would flow in later in the evening, if we were lucky enough to get into the amphitheatre. We were well past our designated departure time by now. I'm feeling quite non-plussed by all this hoopla, and share that "I'm really not stressed out by this turn of events at all. My attitude is, this is just another little blip in life and we'll either hear the concert or we won't." So, we left on our mission, encountered traffic even worse than we had imagined. When we turned into the amphitheatre, we were forced to play auto chicken with all the other latecomers being funnelled from four or five driving lanes into two.

The stars must have been aligned in our favor though, as we were admitted to the concert with little or no difficulty. The remainder of the evening was delightfully enjoyable listening to the marvelous performance of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra. conducted by Carl St. Clair. The Shelly Berg Trio was featured; jazz samples can be heard on the link. I so enjoyed the music that I probably should write about the experience. But, the concert did come to an end and off we walked to our car. We did have to play auto chicken again driving out of the parking lot, then funnelling into too few lanes.

Several days later, my friend phoned me that her ticket source was going to send her replacement tickets for future concerts we planned to attend together. Furthermore, she said, after talking with that office, indications now are that she never received the tickets in the first place. I don't know what the implications of that turn of events are for my friend, so I assured her not to worry about it, as probably all it means is that she's losing her mind -- again. She's been pulling bizarre acts like that since I first knew her some thirty years ago. Of course, I've exhibited my share of them, too, but no point in mentioning that now. I'm sure I'll give her reason to once again question my sanity, any day.

I must say, the next concert experience for which I joined my friends seemed deadly calm by comparison to that previous one. We left really early, missed a lot of traffic, took along quite tasty prepared sandwiches we ate there, shared fruit. All but the designated driver sipped champagne. We even had a good parking spot, and avoided much of the exit traffic jam. Personally, I felt a little nostalgia for the excitement, uncertainty and chaos of that previous experience.

I can't help wondering if the fact I had a "whatever happens, happens" attitude of acceptance toward our ticket dilemma that first time, is a reflection of how I don't allow life's unexpected events to be quite as hand-wringingly distressing as they might have been in my younger days. Perhaps with aging, though I pursue all avenues to resolve any problems, I realize that if I'm unable, there are other pleasurable choices on which I can focus my attention. I wonder if others find that to be true for themselves, too?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Health Care Patient Rights

I remember only too well some years ago, when a friend phoned me in the wee hours of the morning, from her relatively new southeastern home across this continent from my Los Angeles area residence. She shared in great detail how one night earlier she couldn't sleep, that concern about breast cancer was on her mind, though she faithfully had regular mammograms and even had one quite recently. Still, she was uneasy, since ever-present fibroids made new lump detection difficult, plus there was a history of breast cancer in her family.

She related how she engaged in breast self-examination that night; described the uncertain but anxious feeling she experienced when she thought she had discovered a new lump. Finally, she woke her husband, whose examination of her breast was cautiously confirming that the lump did seem new. Subsequent medical consultations, examinations, tests, biopsies and all that entails, revealed she did, indeed, have a new lump; one her recent mammogram, and earlier ones, had failed to detect. Periodic phone calls from her kept me apprised of medical results, and then late one night, there was the dreaded call informing me of the unwanted malignancy diagnosis.

When we concluded that conversation, I thought of how we first met. We happened to move into neighborhood homes across the street from each other at about the same time. She came to my door to welcome me to the community, but as she soon confided, she was seeking someone she thought she could trust, with whom she could talk in confidence. She was having fibroid pain which raised breast cancer concerns in her mind.

During the years she lived in our town, another of her family members did develop breast cancer, which only served to heighten her self concerns. Twenty some years later, after having moved from our community, I received that late night phone call from her home in the southeast. I heard her pronouncement about herself, using a word I hoped I would never hear her speak, "malignant."

Ultimately, her breast had to be surgically removed and she went home with her husband to their relatively new residence. They did not have family in the state, but were gradually making friends in their new community. Their adult children resided on the opposite northwest coast from where my friends had moved.

We talked numerous times as she chose, using the three hour time difference for late calls west to me, to her advantage. Then, she phoned me again late one night, well into her battle against this ravaging disease. She described how she had to come home from the hospital with draining tubes protruding from her body, for which her husband was having to provide the care. She described feelings of distress, concern for his physical welfare due to the challenge of caring for her, despite some medical issues of his own.

I thought, for optimal gains during this time, she really needed to be thinking only about her own recovery, but not easy for her to do under the circumstances. I recall the sense of surprise and concern I felt that she had been sent home from a hospital setting still requiring all the care she described, not to mention the risks associated with possible infection.

Health care today, all too often, has workers other than the doctor and patient making medical care decisions. The insurer third party decision makers can be influenced more by financial considerations than what may be best for the patient. One medical problem that has aroused concern over just this issue is that of women who undergo breast removal surgery like my friend did.

My appreciation and thanks to DiAne Gillespie artist/musician who brought to my attention an important "Lifetime TV" article on the matter. A nurse's reality-based free verse emotional account of her thoughts and feelings associated with care of mastectomy patients is also printed there.

Reading the article, I am encouraged efforts are being made to address quality of care issues for women who have mastectomies, but our help is needed. We have an opportunity to sign a petition declaring a desire for bipartisan political support in passing Congressional legislation to benefit women who have mastectomies. The "Lifetime TV" article reports:

"In January 2007, Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Representative Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT) reintroduced the Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act of 2007 (S. 459/H.R.758). The bill would allow a woman and her doctor to decide whether she should recuperate for at least 48 hours in the hospital or whether she has enough support to get quality care at home following this emotionally and physically difficult surgery."

Last year Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Jewel was joined by "Lifetime TV" in delivering 12 million petition signatures to Congress supporting the bill. Now they have 5,000 more signatures. Additional signatures are requested from any of us who share the desire to let our Congress persons know we want this bill passed and signed by the President.

Women and the men who care for them can sign the petition
at this "Lifetime TV" link urging Congress to pass the Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act of 2007 (Senate Bill 459/House of Representatives Bill 758) " ensure no more women are forced to experience a 'drive-through' mastectomy."

There are many worthy causes deserving of support. I won't always attempt to write about all of them, but this particular issue is of special significance to me.

As for my friend of strong character and courage, she participated in a medical research study at a highly respected hospital in her area. She entered the study with the expectation she would be one of the small minority, despite her high level stage of disease, to overcome her renegade cancer cells. In spite of chemo treatments, a bone marrow transplant, the strength she derived from her religious faith, her husband's, family and friends' support, supplemented by a local support team comprised of medical staff and others, she was unable to overcome the head start her cancer had in her lymph nodes before its detection.

She is another friend who has continued to be missed these years, just as far too many of us experience in our lifetimes and at any age.