Monday, July 30, 2012

Tenacious G: Swinging With the Methodists

Tenacious G(randma) shares her wisdom.
Often, the older a person gets, the louder and less inhibited their comments tend to become in public places. They have grown old and wise, and now they want to share that with everyone within earshot.

Such is the case with my mother, aka, Tenacious G. She is 86 years old and ready to let anyone she encounters indirectly know how she feels about their tattoos, ("Why do people do that to themselves?"), mode of dress ("You can see up her shorts when she bends over, and it's not a pretty sight.") or whatever else ruffles her sensibilities.

Every Sunday during the summer, I take Tenacious G to free concerts sponsored by our town and area donors. If it's a sunny day, we take our portable chairs and sit in the park with our water bottles. Thankfully, in this wide-open setting, her sage comments fade on the wind. If it rains, however, the area United Methodist Church graciously hosts the concert in its building, which unfortunately has outstanding accoustics.

The sax player dons a stylish black hat.
This week, I took Mom to see a swing band. While the musicians were tuning up, she loudly announced that the drummer in the band looked like a woman. I quietly informed her that, no, he was a man. When she insisted that the drummer was a woman, I decided it was safer to agree. We were sitting in the pews of a church and her voice carried quite well.

Just as I was beginning to relax, she informed me and the surrounding community that the saxophone player should take his hat off since he was in a church. Then she modified her stance. He was dressed in black and wearing a black hat, so, she said, "He must be Jewish. If he's Jewish, he can wear his hat."

"No, the hat he is wearing is part of the swing dress style," I said. Big mistake. When will I learn?

"No, he's Jewish," she insisted a notch up in volume. Mind you, she is not antisemitic. Despite being an evangelical Christian, her late husband was Jewish. She just wants the world to share in her astute observations, as her mother did before her.

Finally, the band started up and played some wonderful swing classics. They were scheduled to perform from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Around 4 p.m., Tenacious G pointed to her watch. She had to get back to her assisted living facility for one of the highlights of the daydinner.

The raucous crowd breaks out into spontaneous dancing.
We were sitting up front. I suggested that we wait until the band finished their current number before we noticeably got up and walked down the aisle of the church to the parking lot. She agreed.

On the way home, she smiled sweetly and said that she had really enjoyed listening to the band and was looking forward to the Oldies band playing next week. I was, too.

Hopefully, next Sunday, it would be a nice, sunny day in the park.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Communing With St. Thérèse

A rosary hangs near the chapel's altar.
Having grown up in Boonton, New Jersey—a working-class town—I always thought of nearby Mountain Lakes as being the place where the rich people lived. What I didn’t know was that it was also the site of St. Thérèse of the Little Flower shrine—a little-known pocket of peace hidden down at the end of a sleepy dead-end lane.

I’m not Catholic, so why bother visiting such a place? Curiosity. It was the site of a local miracle and I wanted to see the place for myself.

The Story of Achille Arci

The small shrine represents a promise kept by Achille Arci back in the 1920s. 

Arci became very sick and was told by physicians bereft of bedside manner that he was incurable. Arci didn’t want to accept that prognosis, so he prayed fervently to St. Thérèse for help. He promised her that if he was cured, he would build a shrine in her honor and visit her home in France to pay his respects. Apparently, St. Thérèse liked that idea, because after a five-year battle with his illness, Arci was suddenly and miraculously cured.
Stained-glass windows grace the two side walls of the shrine.

Keeping his promise would require the help of friends. He formed a small society of devout Catholics to build a modest shrine to St. Thérèse. The group solicited donations and volunteered labor to make the small shrine a reality. In 1933, it was erected on what was then Arci’s property.

In October 1952, Arci traveled to Lisieux, France to visit St. Thérèse’s home. When he returned, he continued tending to the shrine until his death in 1957.

A halo of bricks encircle the front door.
The shrine property ownership was eventually transferred to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Boonton. Arci’s family continues to maintain the grounds in loving memory of their father and out of their devotion to St. Thérèse.

Who Was St. Thérèse?

Not being Catholic, I had to do some research to find out about the woman behind the saint. St. Thérèse of Lisieux was born in 1873, the same year a cigar-chomping President Ulyesses S. Grant was presiding over a post-Civil War United States.
Born Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin, she was a French Carmelite nun. Perhaps due to her sense of religious commitment at an early age, she is also known as “The Little Flower of Jesus.”  In 1888, at the age of 15, she became a nun and joined two of her older sisters in the cloistered Carmelite community of Lisieux,  Normandy.
During her nine years as a Carmelite nun, she wrote The Story of a Soul, a collection of autobiographical manuscripts. In 1897, she died of tuberculosis at age 24, at which time her writings were printed and distributed. They quickly spread, making her one of the most popular saints of the Twentieth Century. She was beatified in 1923, and canonized in 1925.

The Shrine in Mountain Lakes

St. Thérèse smiles down on everyone who enters.
Thanks to Google Maps, my friend, Zoë, and I were able to find Rock Lane, a small side road off of the main Boulevard in Mountain Lakes. At the entrance to Rock Lane is a modest sign for the shrine. We drove up a hill through a residential area and at the end of the road sat a small white chapel with a halo of bricks encircling the front doors.
Inside, were five or so rows of folding chairs facing an altar. And in one corner of the room was a large statue of St. Thérèse, holding a bouquet of roses and smiling down at us. A donation of 50 cents was suggested to help maintain the shrine. I lit a candle for my deceased relatives. Then I used the suggested prayer to ask for personal favors. Since I prayed for four people—asked for four favors—I left four donations.
Zoë and I sat there for about a half hour, enjoying the peace of this local, out-of-the-way gem. The names of families I had grown up with in nearby Boonton were listed at the bottom of the stained-glass windows on both sides of the chapel.
I guess it might not be the type of sight that would be listed in the entertainment section of the local newspaper, but it was a serene diversion for one humid, summer afternoon in the ritzy wilds of Northern New Jersey.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Dismembered Medicine

“Despite all our toil and progress, the art of medicine still falls somewhere between trout casting and spook writing.”—Ben Hecht, Miracle of the Fifteen Murderers

Mom makes friends with another patient.
As the official booking agent and taxi service for my 86-year-old mother’s numerous doctors’ appointments, I have noticed something peculiar about our medical system. Our doctors tend to be parts-specific. Let me explain.

I asked my mother’s primary care physician’s assistant, Karla, about intestinal bleeding my mother was experiencing.  It rightfully upset my mother. Karla recommended I take my mother to a gastroenterologist because she was not qualified to comment on intestinal bleeding. She also recommended I take Mom to a cardiologist since she has a pacemaker, and Karla is apparently not qualified to make any observations about the cardiovascular system.

“It is a mathematical fact that fifty percent of all doctors graduate in the bottom half of their class.”—Author Unknown

So I made an appointment with these specialists. After weeks of waiting, we first visited the gastroenterologist, who reviewed my mother’s list of medications and looked disgusted when she saw she was being given baby aspirin once daily. She called Mom’s assisted living facility and had them discontinue the aspirin immediately. Soon the bleeding stopped.

Next, we visited the cardiologist, who read my mother’s records, then commented that she noticed that my mother was taken off of her baby aspirin—a necessity for her heart health. I pointed out to her that while my mother used to take the aspirin, due to intestinal bleeding, a gastroenterologist highly recommended that we discontinue that medication.

“One doctor makes work for another.”—English Proverb

The cardiologist strongly disagreed with this because she was not concerned with my mother’s digestive tract, just as the gastroenterologist had not been concerned with my mother’s heart health. You see, doctors only focus on whatever dismembered section of the human body that they are trained to treat.

This means that specialists don’t tend to concern themselves with the body-wide consequences of a treatment, as long as their particular section of the anatomy is following AMA guidelines. This is how my mother ended up having a brain hemorrhage back in 2004.

“Poisons and medicine are oftentimes the same substance given with different intents.”—Peter Mere Latham

Her cardiologist at the time was obsessed with the statistical fact that someone with atrial fibrillation has an increased chance of stroke, so they should be given a blood thinner (which is actually a derivative of rat poisoning) to keep that clot from forming. Unfortunately, while the blood thinner effectively prevented a blood clot from developing, it caused the opposite, a brain hemorrhage, to happen. Had my mother not been taking anything at all, she may or may not have developed a blood clot, but she most certainly would not have had a brain hemorrhage. Her brain hemorrhage is what the medical profession refers to as a trade-off.

Most studies that support the medicating of patients are sponsored by drug companies. It is in their best interest to justify long-term therapies because these regimens offer a constant stream of drug revenue. Doctors tend to take these studies very seriously because they are just about the only source of science available in their field. The consequence is that people are often prescribed ongoing drug regimens that may or may not be in their best interest.

“A drug is that substance which, when injected into a rat, will produce a scientific report.”—Author Unknown

Only after many years of study, usually by the manufacturer of a competing medication or due to numerous reports of death or side effects to the FDA—do we find out that, say, certain painkillers cause strokes or certain blood pressure medications don’t really work and can damage the kidneys. Some adjunct drugs for cancer were actually shown to make the cancer worse rather than the other way around. A recent study refuted, once and for all, the theory that gum health is related to heart health. It isn’t. Period. So any doctor who tells you it is, has not read the latest studies showing that the original study was based on flimsy evidence that was essentially invalid. How many years did any of these revelations take? In some cases, up to a decade or longer.

So when my mother’s cardiologist protested that Mom be put back on the aspirin, I understood her very real concern, but told her that I would prefer to err on the side of less medications rather than more. My personal rule at this point is, if the drug causes problems, I don’t care what benefit it offers.

“Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.”—Erma Bombeck

Perhaps, someday, Western medicine will learn to look at the entire human body rather than pretending that it is divided up into numerous discreet sections. When that enlightened day dawns, I will relent to the advice of a holistic practitioner. Until then, as the official advocate of my family members’ health, I will be operating under a strictly patient-beware policy.