Free Market Healthcare or “How Republicans Want Flying Pigs When Pigs Ain’t Got Wings”

Most conservatives talk about free market health care, but the only aspect of healthcare that can be free market is the purchase of health insurance.  When you break your arm or your kid is having some major medical issue, the free market goes out the window.  Instead, you rush to the nearest appropriate healthcare provider.  That is true whether you are insured or not insured.  The one difference between those two is that if you are NOT insured, you go to the most expensive provider there is, the emergency room.

Meanwhile, on bigger issues, like cancer or other catastrophic illnesses, your inability to afford health insurance means you die.  To put that into perspective, over 25% of American women live in poverty, which by definition means they cannot afford health insurance.  And the free market is out the window there, too, since the ability to purchase insurance (and participate in free market healthcare) requires that you have the money to buy the product.

The marketplace most certainly should play a role in the healthcare arena.  The nations with the most successful healthcare outcomes are a blend of government and private.  But the argument for a free market system void of government input/regulations is a philosophical one, not a practical one.

Short and Sweet about a Dick

I just saw the Justin Bieber deposition regarding some lawsuit filed by the paparazzi.  (I think that’s what’s going on, but I don’t care enough to make sure that fact is correct.)  After seeing that little shit smart off for six minutes, I created a simple rule that I would like put into place:

When pricks with more money than God let it go to their heads, we get their money and they get a hundred bucks and a used Toyota and sent on their way.

’nuff said.


Goodnight, Irene

I went to north Austin yesterday.  Mother called.  She has a friend, Irene, who had been rushed to the hospital after a fall in her bathtub.  They think it was her bathtub.  Nobody is really sure.  Odds are, even Irene isn’t sure; she’s 102.

Irene and her husband have been married since 1932.  They’re from east Texas.  They met at church.  They’ve been together ever since.  It’s just been the two of them, but that wasn’t the plan.

When they were young, Irene and her husband tried to have children, but she had miscarriages, a number of miscarriages.  When it became clear she wasn’t going to deliver a child of their own, she wanted to adopt.  But he didn’t.  So they never had children, just nephews whom Irene and her man have done a pretty good job of outliving.  All that are left are my mother and a financial adviser, one nephew who lives out of town who doesn’t see them very often, and some people who showed up and said they’re long-lost relatives but whom strike Mother, instead, as opportunists who read about Irene and her husband’s shared 100th birthday party in the newspaper – the story that mentioned they have no children.

The night before last, when Irene fell, she broke her spine at the C2 level.  C1 and you’re dead.  (It seems reasonable that C2 at 102 will have the same prognosis.)  But somehow Irene isn’t paralyzed.  In fact, from what I was told, she spent most of her day kicking her legs and demanding to get up.  Mother said, “She’s really strong!”  And she is alive.  She’s also restless and confused, and she wants to go home.  But even more than a trip back to the assisted care facility, she wept that she wanted God to take her to her real home.  Yet as of this writing, God isn’t ready for her, not yet.

My mother is 90.  She still drives around her small town, still works a part-time job, still teaches Sunday School, and still makes four hour road trips to Houston (with her 91-year old friend, Doris, manning the GPS and telling Mother where to turn).  Around their town, Mother takes Irene and her husband to eat fried shrimp and to Wal-Mart, and she buys Irene underwear and clothes that she then never wears – which irks Mother to death, like it would any daughter.  And when Mother was notified yesterday morning of Irene’s fall, she ran to her car and met the ambulance driver at the retirement center.  She told him to drive as fast as he needed to, that she would be right behind him, and she was for the 30 mile drive to the emergency room.  In the ER, Mother sat with Irene, held her hand, and talked to her, although Irene didn’t hear.  (Her hearing aids were at the retirement center.)  Mother finally called me at three.

By the time I arrived, Mother had handled most of the issues, but there were others she wanted help with.  Mostly, she wanted me to ask questions, tons of questions.  It didn’t take long for me to understand why: There were issues. 

First, I found Irene’s ICU nurse and told him that she was trying to turn her neck and sit up in bed.  “She has a C2 fracture,” I reminded him, “and I’m afraid she’s going to paralyze herself.”  He looked at me like I was speaking Greek.  “When are y’all planning to take her to surgery?” I asked.

“The surgeon’s seen her.  They’re not doing surgery.  She’s too old.”

“Is she on pain medication?”  His answer was no to that, as well.  At her age, he said, she couldn’t excrete them through her liver or urine.  They would build up.  ”So no surgery and no pain meds for a 102 year old woman?“  No, her nurse repeated.  I wondered if the doctor who prescribed this plan would have wanted his 102-year old grandmother going through a spinal fracture without pain meds, but I couldn’t know.  He wasn’t there, nor did the team of doctors that the ER promised ever show up.  (A lone internist would make his way to Irene’s room at 5 o’clock.  He would speak English, sort of.)

My first question was the immediate one, “How will you keep her still?”  The nurse followed me to Irene’s room and watched her move her head.  He said she needed a vest that would immobilize her neck.  He would order it.  “Why hadn’t this been done before?”  A C2 neck injury on a 100-plus woman with dementia and enough spunk to get in and out of her bathtub alone made the question a no-brainer, but the vest still hadn’t arrived when Mother and I left two hours later.

“What about bed sores?” I asked.  Irene had been on her back since ten that morning.  The nurse gave me a tacit admission that maybe they should roll her to her side, but that turn hadn’t happened by the time we left.  She’ll have a sore by tomorrow morning.  You watch.

“Who has the medical power of attorney?”  The nurse and the staff at the nurse’s station didn’t know, and so Mother and I had papers faxed from the retirement center so they would know.  “Do you see who has the power?” I asked them after the faxes arrived.  They said it looked like it was her 102-year old husband.  “He isn’t in a position to handle that,” I told them.  “He won’t understand.”  (How can a hospital have a 102-year old patient in their care and not have the protocol in place to immediately discover who possessed the authority to make the medical decisions for her?)  We had Irene’s power of attorney conveyed to Mother.

“Does she have a Do Not Resuscitate order?” I asked.  They didn’t know.  We made sure she had one before we left.  We also made sure she had an order for pain meds.

“Do you know what medications she’s on?”  They didn’t know she was on any meds.  Would their assumption have been yours, that a 102-year old woman was cruising along without any medication at all?  A fax we asked for provided them with a list.

I’m not positive that Irene had eaten when I arrived or that she had been provided any other form of nutrition that day.  It’s to my shame that I just now thought of that, although you wouldn’t think that would be a question you would need to concern yourself with in this situation.  That is what professionals are for, right?

A couple years ago, this same hospital chain began prepping my mother for surgery when she was an inpatient in their care.  Thing was, she wasn’t scheduled for surgery.  They tried to give her pain meds during another visit, pain meds that she was allergic to and which were listed both in her chart and on the white board mounted on the wall at her feet.  Thank God Mother was alert.

Twenty years ago when my father was a very weak and sick patient there, the hospital went three days without giving him any of his meds.  He died on the fourth day.  Yet this chain, local to Austin, runs half the hospitals here and in the region.  They don’t deserve to, of course, but who’s going to stop them?  Death, I suppose, but nothing else.

This is a post script to my post:

I spoke to my mom after writing what I wrote above, after she spent a second day with Irene, after the small lady had been transferred from the ICU to a standard ward.  Mother said that on the standard ward Irene’s care/neglect was even worse than in the ICU.   That’s hard for me to believe, but my mom isn’t into hyperbole, and it makes me wonder if I won’t stand a better shot at getting well next time by staying at the house and using home remedies.  While I’m at home sucking down tree bark and ginger root, and while American citizens continue to give their money to insurance companies and profiteering hospital management companies that suck money from the system, every other industrialized country will be spending less on medical care than we do and getting far better results.

But I didn’t write this post to propose solutions.  I wrote it to tell you what happened to Irene.  And if she had not been extraordinarily lucky, the lack of attention she received would have left her paralyzed from the neck down or, more likely, dead.  And despite being 102 and without children to love her, she deserved better than that, even if she is ready to see her Lord.  My mother deserves better than that, as well.  And you and your family deserve better than that, too.

The Mall at Easter (or “How I Had to Park All The Way Down By Sears”)

It’s around 4 o’clock on Good Friday, and I was at the mall an hour ago.  I had to get tickets for Titanic in 3D at the IMAX.  Yeah, seriously.

I was talking to 24-year-old Chris on the phone as I pulled into the parking lot.  Chris is like our kid, except we can send home when we’re done playing with him.  We’re like grandparents that way, except my wife and I are far too cool to be grandparents.  Far too young, too.  (Don’t do the math.  Seriously, don’t.)

The mall today was like Disneyworld over spring break, New Orleans during Mardi Gras, Hooters during a NASCAR event.  To paraphrase a bumper sticker I once saw: One cannot shop if one cannot park.  It was that kind of packed.

The wall-to-wall cars took me by surprise.  On Good Friday at 3 o’clock in the heart of the Bible belt?  Not to be too sanctimonious about this, but isn’t that pretty much exactly when Christ was dying on the cross?  Man, I hate to burst the Religious Right’s bubble, but unless trying to find a size 2 polka dot pollover at J. Crew is part of the twelve stations of the cross, America’s status as a “Christian Nation” might be on the block.  (Could I have an Orange Julius with that crucifixion?)

So I’m driving across the lot, and I’m watching kids running in and out of the entrance to the mall.  Teenage kids, little kids, toddler kids whose parents really should have put a leash on them, all jacked up over a day off from school and a holiday that Chris said people give gifts on now.  (I would have liked Easter a whole lot better as a kid if presents were involved.  Instead, I got candy, and I never really got into candy.  I preferred pie, sometimes cobbler, but really pie.  And before the candy-not-pie came the obligatory Easter ham with butter sauce and raisins, since, of course, nothing says “Jesus died an excruciating death” like pork with raisins.  To quote my brother, Jules, from Pulp Fiction, “I just don’t dig on swine.”  Ditto candy.  Easter sucked.)

I eased my van around the front of the mall near the multiplex.  Still no parking spot.  So I kept driving while attempting to avoid unleashed offspring and an old guy in a scooter.  (Interesting fact about scooters: Manufacturers only make them to last around a year, since most people who end up in one die within 13 months.  Remember that when you’re relegated to a scooter.  Time is short.  Get your will in order.  Have one last 8 or 9 minutes of really great sex.  Eat some pie.)

As I was coasting down the drive searching for a parking space, I found myself watching this little blonde girl of 6 years or so balancing on top of one of those yellow concrete posts meant to keep terrorists and drunk soccer moms from plowing into the mall after their tour at a terrorist training camp or happy hour, respectively.  And as I watched that kid parked on that concrete post, it reminded me that one of the failings in my life is that I never got around to being a dad.

That dad thing has come to bite me lately.  One reason is that I’m an only child.  I’m it.  No more Leona (Mom) or Bubba (figure it out).  No more me.  My family’s DNA train running out of track, and I’m the caboose.  That’s come to haunt me.  I’m not sure why, since there’s adoption, and the adults kids become are only partly defined by genetics.  But it still bugs me.  A second reason that I’ve been bitten by the dad thing was represented by that little blonde girl and the packed parking lot on Good Friday afternoon:

The kid.  Everyone should have a memory of their little girl playing outside the mall or on a swing or with the dog.  That’s what makes the time one marks here tick.  Without it, the clock stands still.  Life moves on, but not for you, at least not in the same way.  (I realize not everybody believes this, but I do, and this is my blog.)

And then there’s that Good Friday thing.  Besides the little memories, the stuff that parents remember that, objectively, should be unmemorable, at the heart of parenthood is the reason for Easter, Christmas, and every other holiday within the Christian calendar that, despite my potty mouth, I believe: That a father loved his children so much that he became frail like them in order to befriend them and die for them so they wouldn’t have to die themselves.  That is parenthood.  And that selflessness is what I see in my friends who have become parents that I do not see in myself.  And without the catalyst of a child, how do you ever muster enough of a connection with the world to sacrifice your life for another?  How do you become like your maker?

And that, if not a decent parking space, is what I saw at the mall today.

Sleep, Margaritas and Bufferin

So I was laying in bed a few minutes ago.  It’s early for me to be in the bed.  12:15 AM.  I’m a night guy, always have been.  My mother says that I was born at one in the morning and haven’t been to sleep before that since.  I’m 51-years-old.

Anyway, I was in bed and had a headache.  I was horny, too, but we’ll save that for later.  Back to the headache.  I don’t get them often.  My wife feels the need to correct me anytime I say that by insisting I get them more than I realize.  She’s wrong.  I rarely get them.  So I’m laying there with a headache.  I know why I have one.

It was the tequila.  No, it wasn’t a bender.  It was the Margarita I had with my TexMex at dinner.  I used to pop a half dozen shots of Jose Cuervo with a sixer of beer and fall asleep happy.  Yeah, that’s not happening anymore.  One shot of tequila in my Margarita (because, of course, they pour a full shot of tequila into Mexican restaurant Margaritas), and I get a headache a few hours later.   Did I mention I’m 51?

So I got out of bed and went and found the aspirin. (I had to look up how to spell aspirin for this post.  That’s how rarely I take them – wife!)  And then I decided to look up what a full dose of aspirin really is.  Was two baby aspirin more than a single dose of regular aspirin?  (Yeah, I know, but what do you want from me?  I had a shot of tequila tonight.)  In quest of this knowledge, I went to Google and typed “Bufferin” and then clicked on a WebMD link.  Interesting.

The above link said there was a manufacturing issue at the factory up in Lincoln, Nebraska.  The glitch affected low-dose Bufferin.  And come to think of it, I had noticed that an inordinate number of the aspirin in my bottle were split in two.  I read on.  I always read on.  Hypochondriacs do that.  The article said the ingredients in Bufferin aspirin and Excedrin may have been mixed up.  Also Bufferin and GasX.  The Bufferin and Excedrin I get.  They’re kind of the same.  But Bufferin and GasX?  That’s kind of weird.  And then there was the possible mix-up of Bufferin with NoDoz.  It’s 12:18 AM.  Ever seen the description of NoDoz?  Let me help:

“A safe and effective way to help you stay awake and alert.”

Their words, not mine.  Did I mention what time it is?

Now I’m a liberal, but a liberal with a sense of reason: Big corporations make big money for a few really rich guys while they toss us peasants some change.  I get that, and I’m okay with it.  I’m even okay with there being a ruling class that controls us like puppets.  As long as they give me a decent wage and health insurance and 2-3 weeks a year of paid vacation, their controlling my Pinocchio ass is a win-win I can live with.  But if they’re going to screw up my baby aspirin, then I expect a goddamned phone call when they realize what they’ve done, and I expect them to tell me during that phone call (recorded messages are fine) that I can bring my GasX-laden NoDoz Bufferin back to the store for a refund and a replacement that won’t keep my ass up all night.  And they’d better not tell me they can’t, because if they’re my puppet master, then they’ve got the skills to trace my phone number down by the credit card I used to buy their product at Walgreens.  Just to be clear: As an obedient puppet, I do not expect to have to read about this shit after I’ve taken the medicine three months after the notice went out over the Associated Press.  Do we understand each other, Mein Puppet Masters?  Do we?!

PS: The good folks in Lincoln also mixed up my Bufferin with Percocet and morphine and other opiate painkillers. Of course, maybe those will counteract the NoDoz.  (However, I’m a little uneasy about the possible effect of the GasX.)

Jessica Alba and Me


  • I roll into the bedroom and tell Wife I’ll be there in ten minutes.  Leave bedroom to brush teeth.  Stop to check email.
  • Roll into bedroom two hours later.  Look at Wife sleeping, her Kindle at her side, her cat curled within her arm.
  • Look at my side of the bed.
  • Pull covers up on my side of the bed so they look pretty.  Pull covers down.  Wipe cat hair from the bottom sheet on my side of the bed.
  • Turn on TV.  Mute TV.  Turn on cable box.  Place remote on my pillow.
  • Turn off beside lamp.
  • Bask in glow of the television.
  • Take off shirt.
  • Park wheelchair beside bed.  Raise armrest of wheelchair.  Lower armrest.  Pick up shirt and put it on.
  • Go to washing machine and retrieve large bath towel. Fold. Return to bedroom.  Place towel on pillow.
  • Park wheelchair beside bed.  Take off shirt.  Raise armrest of wheelchair.  Lower armrest.  Pick up shirt and put it on.
  • Go into kitchen.  Get glass of water.  Return to bed and pick up bottle of baby aspirin from bedside table.  Take aspirin.  Return glass to kitchen.  Go back to bedroom.  Park beside bed.
  • Stare at bedside table.  Silently ask if I forgot anything.  Realize I have shirt on.  Take off shirt.  Raise armrest.
  • Flop onto the bed. Worry about mild sports-like concussion.  Lift legs onto bed.
  • Place towel on wheelchair.
  • Take off pants.  Toss pants on top of towel.
  • Pull covers on top of me.  Yank at comforter to get my fair share from Wife. Blow cat hair out of my mouth.
  • Look over at Wife, asleep.  Listen to Wife snore on nights she took sleeping pill. Ask myself if I can plow through that on my way to dreamland.
  • Put on my TV glasses. Read captions beneath the extraordinarily entertaining Piers Morgan.  Take note of nearby snoring. Thank God for closed captioning.

Two nights ago, I was reading Piers.  I paused the TV.  Rewound.  Sure enough:

Jessica Alba discusses the middle class

I hold nothing against Jessica Alba.  That she was passed over for a Nobel Acting Prize (they give those, right?) for her near nude scenes in Machete is a lapse future generations will look back on in disbelief – her body was fantastic in that role.  And then there was Sin City… Damn the injustice!

But while I feel nothing but admiration for her acting skills and hips, she isn’t one to speak for me, the average middle classer, the guy who shops at Target, the one who has to decide whether I’m buying gasoline this week or cat food.  Speaking of which, the cat’s looking skinny.  I wonder if I’m making the right choice.  I digress.

A couple weeks ago, George Clooney was at the White House speaking to the president about the plight of Africans.  I respect George (yes, first name basis) for trying to bring attention to the desperate situation Africans face.  But is he the one to bring that news to Obama’s attention?  I mean, our president has relatives who live in Africa, like close relatives, aunts and first cousins and such, and not just the distant ones you point to at parties and go, “Mom, are we related to them?”  And then there’s the Secretary of State.  She was married to the first black president.  So again, do we really need the nephew of Rosemary Clooney, that woman who danced with Bing Crosby, the King of White, telling the the first black president about the plight of Africans?  And to make it worse, didn’t Mr. Clooney (I’m pretending we’re not friends here, since I do not in the least respect what he next did) turn around and get arrested the day after he met the president?  His dad was there, too, and so were the cameras.  Put the clues together; he wasn’t informing Obama about Africa, he was using him like Leno, his White House visit nothing more than a publicity ploy the night before a premier.  Dammit, George!

Meet with black president about African situation the day before getting arrested protesting the African situation.  Check!

What Mr. Clooney did was was crass and white, really white!  (And really Hollywood!)

I don’t have a problem with celebrities spouting opinions.  Unlike the anchors at Fox News who have strong convictions against celebrities speaking their minds while dismissing actual convictions like Oliver North’s perjury indictment, I’m glad George is fighting for Africans in Africa (in a metaphorical sense) like he did for Bernie Mac in Hollywood.  I’m glad, too, that Jessica Alba is worried about my car payment and that Kim Kardashian is raising awareness about the horrific outbreak of genital herpes in sub-Saharan dictators.  But they should remember that while starving Africans and African dictators (and the late Bernie Mac) may at some point need high profile voices speaking up for them, what middle class Americans need even more are elected representatives who give a damn about us, and not a Mexican-American pixie (even Jessica – speaking of which, I need to give her a call) acting as though we haven’t heard that we’re being buried alive out here.

…and I really am worried about that skinny cat.

A Way We Go

I was just reading about how China has turned the Water Cube from the Olympics into a family water park.

I grew up during the American boom.  I’m one of those Boomers.  And as those other post-war babies and I were coming up, America was maturing as the world’s Powerhouse.  I’m telling you, we were the bright and shining star.  We owned it, Baby.  We had Disneyworld, and we built the world’s baddest cars and its tallest buildings and, hell, we even went to the moon.  Back on earth, our middle class was the envy of the world.  Everybody wanted to come here.  And, frankly, they would have been fools not to have wanted that.  Our blue collar guys worked their asses off, but in return they were able to buy a decent house, have two cars (one new), and maybe a boat or a small vacation house where they could go during their two weeks vacation and that slurry of federal holidays.  In addition to that, their kids could go to college and their wife could stay home and take care of the place while dad took care of the finances.  That was America when I was a kid, and it was a rockin’ place.

Fast forward thirty years.  Hello!

So I was reading about that Chinese water park, and I found myself looking at the New York skyline without the twin towers.  And that made me think about Dubai and the world’s tallest tower standing over there now and how we don’t have that honor anymore and how I don’t think we’re in the mindset anymore to care about being the tallest, baddest, most daring, most exciting, or coolest nation in the world.  We’ve become too petty to do that, be that, want that. Meanwhile, China’s hacking our computers, building 300 MPH trains, and doing shit that, while it’s not exactly going to the moon yet, is pretty damned trick.  They’re the new smart kids, and they own half our debt, and so they don’t care what we think or what we do, they’re running with their own goals, everybody else be damned.

The British used to be the bad asses.  It was said that the sun never set on the British Empire.  Now look at ‘em.

I don’t think America’s going to be great anymore.  It’s not because we’re in debt up to our eyeballs.  Debt can be dumped with some smart choices and decisive action.  And it’s not because the Chinese outnumber us something like 5 to 1.  No, the reason that we’re not going to be great again is because we hate each other.  Conservatives hate Liberals and Liberals hate Conservatives and we don’t give a shit what happens to the country as long as we 1) get our way or 2) screw over the other guys.  Meanwhile, the Chinese are cranking along as one nation not under God, indivisible, with a little liberty and really no justice at all.  But since we sold our nation to the highest bidders thirty years ago, I’m not so sure justice is something we have here, anymore.  And liberty is pretty useless when you can’t find a job, can’t afford to send your kid to college so they can have a better life than you, and when you hate your fellow countryman.  And as for God, well, talking up God is merely lip service when we’re bombing innocent Muslims because someone with their religion killed a bunch of us one day and now we’re scared of all of them – and so we kill them, you know, because that’s what we should do, partly because of where they live, but mainly because of the God they worship.

So like Great Britain, maybe we deserve to have the sun set on us, too.  After all, children need their sleep.

Terrorism, Part 1

1970 – 1976

Terrorism isn’t the destruction of a building.  It changes your priorities far more than it changes your skyline.  Terrorism is the plundering of everything but that singular necessity: Survival.

From Within

It begins with a spinning sensation, and then your brain feels like it’s becoming fluid and has begun to slosh around inside your skull.  The room continues to spin.  Your hearing and eyesight no longer convey accurate representations of the space and sounds around you.  Then comes an overwhelming fear.  And, finally, if these signals accurately represented what was going on within the wiring that is your brain, you sense nothing at all; and you won’t, until you regain consciousness.

When the episode is over, you wake in a pool of your own urine.  It’s wet and warm underneath you, or cool if it’s been a while.  You cannot cognitively put words to your name – at least not at first, nor the day, nor the month, or what just happened or where you are; words and their foundation, concrete thought, elude you.  When you’re asked questions, even the most simple questions, your response is “I don’t know.”  But you do know the people whom you love, if they’re in the room around you.  At the sight of them, you are comforted.

Once the shock and fear subside, you are very, very sleepy, and you should be.  Your brain has just run a five to ten minute marathon, and it has nothing left to spend.  Your body, too, has thrashed and pushed and contracted and contorted until it burned every ounce of fuel it had in reserve.  Your panic turns to peace.  Within that sense of sweet calm, you fall asleep.  When you wake a couple hours later, you have never known a feeling of such complete and perfect rest.  You have never felt better.

Once every four to six weeks, during my childhood, I had a grand mal seizure.  They began in Chicago in 1970, a day after a change in the dosing of my Prednisone and a week after a hard fall in a friend’s garage.  We didn’t know if one of these was the cause of the convulsion or if it was something else completely.  I was nine years old when that first seizure struck.  They would control my life for the next half dozen years, not because the seizures were daily, but because the risk was.

Auras.  They sound pretty or spiritual.  But to an epileptic like I had become, they were the precursor, the known quantity that came before my abeyance.  Auras signified that I was on the cusp of a seizure.  They were the red towel before the bull, the warning that sent me fleeing for safety within a dark, quiet room so that my body and mind would be free of every known trigger.

The routine became, well, routine.  Daddy rushed to silence the living room television.  Mother hurried my wheelchair into the bedroom and helped me lay down.  The shades were drawn shut; even the smallest gape in the curtain was a cause for panic, “Close it over there.  Hurry!”  A dry washcloth was placed across my eyes to remove light’s final opportunity.  Daddy came in with a second towel, cool and slightly wet, which replaced the first.  I remained motionless in bed, afraid to move for fear of triggering a seizure.  Mother whispered words of comfort, but I shushed her.  Silence.  Complete silence.  And darkness.  I remained still as my mother sat with her hand near mine.  Daddy stood on the opposite side of the room.  Together, they silently watched over me.

The dark and quiet would last for a few minutes or fifteen or twenty, whatever the episode called for.  Sometimes, I began feeling clear headed, and we returned to the living room.  Other times, I fell asleep.  At others, I went into ferocious convulsions, during which my parents watched and waited.

After I woke and regained my vocabulary: “Did I pass out?” (My term for seizures.)

Occasionally, the answer was no, “You just went to sleep.  Everything was fine.”  Those days, I was the victor who slayed the dragon.  But rarely did I simply fall asleep.  Usually, the answer was not victorious.  Usually, I awoke to a sense of overwhelming failure.  “You did,” Mother would say sweetly – always sweetly – and never without her touch accompanying the news.  “But you’re okay now.  We’re here.”  Daddy would motion to her, and she would take the wet cloth from my head.  Daddy disappeared, returning with a freshly cooled towel.

“Here you go, Pal.”  Daddy’s strong voice was soft as Mother placed the cooled towel on my forehead.  His large hand, cool from the water and panic, would touch my leg or hand, somewhere to make sure I knew he was there, “How you feeling?”

“I don’t know.”  It was my standard and honest answer.  Uncertainty was all that I was capable of.  His nod and slight, brokenhearted smile were love.

“Why don’t you go to sleep?” Mother would ask.  She would then stay beside me, Daddy beside her, until I drifted off.

The Herd

“Don’t tell anyone,” he said.  Daddy drilled that into my head from my earliest seizure.  The Epileptic Code of Silence.  If they knew, he implied, people would think I was crazy.  “They won’t understand,” he told me.  He had never been so grave.

My childhood, like that of any child, was one in which the desire to conform rose to levels that adults can never again fathom.  All I wanted was what every child wanted, to blend in with the herd.  Evolution 101 – The Security of the Pack.  We think we’re so evolved and independent, our own man or woman.  We forget the ingrained herd instinct that we knew so well as children, and deride it later as something that is no longer applicable to us.  In that, we lie.

But during our childhood, before we create the illusion that we are autonomous and strong, we crave to fit in.  And five minutes of shaking and writhing and electrical charges flashing through my brain’s wiring would bring to mind nothing holy but everything sinister that threatened the young herd in ways that it would not understand.  Convulsions, that lack of personal control, are the bane of those who seek conformity.  People were imprisoned for this.  Feared for this.  Killed for this.  And when a child among children exhibits this demonic-like activity, other children become even more scared than the epileptic.  Yet the epileptic child fears the one thing that is even more terrifying than his seizures, and that is ostracism.  My fear of rejection and the quiet seriousness of my father’s admonition kept my secret our secret.

While the fear of ostracism kept my lips sealed, the fear of the seizures themselves kept me close to my parents, always with my parents.  Until my late teens, except for my hospitalizations, I was rarely out of their sight, never out of the perimeter of their protection.  Just in case.

Yet, I still didn’t understand my father’s passion and deep insight into my condition, why he had been so emphatic and certain in his admonition until, in my teens, he told me.  It happened when he was sixteen, a car wreck on the outskirts of Granger, Texas.  The car flipped.  My father was thrown head first from the old convertible and…

Rochelle Dirt

Summer, 1967

Granddad and Grandmother, 1950s

The bright white dirt felt hot. We had nothing like it in Michigan. Our dirt was dark brown and moist. But like everything on the old Texas ranch, this was dry to the touch. It blew easily in the wind.

I was a small child, not short but thin. My hair was closely cropped, per my father’s dictate, and dark blond. Granddad and Grandmother’s ranch had been my mother’s childhood home. There was nothing around it, just land and rumors of neighbors and friends. The house was small by modern standards, but felt large and airy to me then. It had two bedrooms, one where my grandparents slept and one where Mother and I slept. Our room was big with two double beds and banks of windows on two walls. The breeze they offered kept us cool at night. When we weren’t sleeping, we were in the living room trying to watch TV when there was nothing on it but snow, or we were in the kitchen.  The Kitchen smelled like fresh farm eggs and produce.  It was old and comfortable and somewhat dirty, not in an unclean way but in a human way that smelled of nature and not Clorox or Windex.

Mother and I spent evenings on the front porch snapping peas listening to stories about people and relatives who I didn’t know. There was comfort there that reflected the happiness my mother felt in the presence of her family. Yet they seemed so different than her. She was lively and animated. They were reserved, and their laughter seemed to come less easily.

Granddad was in his eighties for as long as I knew him. His quiet demeanor was gentle. I loved him and trusted him. I completely trusted him. He was my mother’s father and my grandfather and I knew that he cared deeply for me, but still I struggled to understand him. He was different than the people I knew and so much older in so many ways, but still powerful.

Granddad was a tall man that reached above six foot.  He was lean but strong with large bones and thick muscles that seemed to have diminished little with age; his strength of movement spoke of his years on the ranch. To the touch, his skin was hard and dry.  To the eye, it was blotchy and red.  And he smelled of the old west.  A thirty-second degree Mason and a Baptist deacon, he was soft spoken, but neither bashful nor timid. Just quiet with an unwavering spirit. My brief exposure to him assured me that he spoke honestly and directly whenever was necessary, and yet kindly and thoughtfully whenever allowed. His laughter was as proper as his demeanor and his smile when it came. That smile still seems extraordinarily large some forty years later.

Grandmother was the soft matron to Granddad’s strong lean build. She was around my mother’s height, five foot four, and generously filled out without being what most considered large. She had a series of short stiff whiskers on her chin and her hair remained in a bun in the day. At night, her gray hair fell far down her back and Mother stood with her at the vanity in our bedroom and brushed through it as they talked about Aunt Jean and my cousins. Those nights with Grandmother’s hair were tender mother and daughter moments that even then I sensed the value of.

Grandmother was even less vocal than Granddad. And so despite our visits, which were brief (less than a week each year) and few (there are less than a half dozen in my memory), most of what I knew of her I knew through my mother, who spoke of Grandmother’s keen mind and how different her life would have been if women of her age had gone to college then like they do now. She told, mostly through anecdotal stories, how Grandmother was strong and loving and gentle toward her two daughters. She had been extraordinarily beautiful, as well. I saw a picture of her as a young woman, and she was as striking a woman as I had ever seen. In addition to her beauty, she had been a good woman. Mother made sure I grasped what decent people they both were. But she didn’t have to tell me. Their goodness was evident.

Rochelle, Texas, is on few people’s maps. Around a hundred people resided there back then; a general store, a gas station, and a school and a church, too.  There wasn’t much to notice when the two-lane highway took you past the old mostly empty buildings, what few there had been. But that was where my mother’s life began and so, in a very real sense, where my life began, as well, where I inherited half of what formed me; in some ways, Rochelle comprises more than half, as the funny stories came from my dad’s side of the family, but the measure of the man I’ve always wanted to be came from my mother’s side, and is encapsulated in Granddad and Grandmother and the ranch they built through hard work and sacrifice, strong ethics and relentless drive, and the daughters they raised to be good women during very hard times, one of them my mother.  How lucky a son I have been.