Last Minute Midterm Week Survival Plans

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Next Tuesday is election day. On Wednesday I have a root canal.

Clearly, something’s wrong with my planning mechanism. For all I know, I scheduled a colonoscopy for Thursday and just forgot to write it on the calendar. There is a limit to the amount of pain one can endure; I’m hopeful about the midterms but not unrealistic. Next week should at least have included a spa day, if I had only hired a scheduler.

In the olden days there were Secretaries.

CEOs, district managers, sales representatives, all those guys — they were all guys — had secretaries. (Who were all girls. The olden days were before girls became women. You could’ve been 75 years old, but if you were a secretary, you were still one of the girls.) Secretaries kept their bosses from missing meetings or dinners, knew where everything was, found stuff. After a root canal, any good secretary would’ve scheduled a spa day.

I was never a secretary, and certainly never had one. Reporters had editors who seldom created order and usually complicated daily life. I did, of course, immediately after picking up a BA in Art, go to night school to brush up my shorthand. I can still cover a mean story with the help of my efficient speedwriting, but the rest of what they taught at secretarial school passed me by.

And today I just need a secretary. Secretaries were displaced some time in the 1980s by electronic organizers: digital diaries that straightened out address books and calendars and dental appointments. These were eventually displaced by computer systems way too complicated for anyone who can remember what a secretary was. Computer organizers were eventually displaced by old-fashioned humans who discovered a whole new career choice: the professional organizer.

I actually have a professional organizer. For a very large fee she occasionally breezes around my apartment collecting stuff, say to take to the tax accountant so I don’t lose my mind or go to jail. Worth every penny of that fee, she replaced the organizer/financial secretary I did have, who was called a Husband — the very top of the household line. (He, however, may he rest in well-earned peace, operated with amazing efficiency out of seeming chaos, probably because he used to have a secretary.)

If I live long enough to master the switch from my beloved PC to this MacBook Air that threatens my sanity and blood pressure, the theory is that I will then have a brightly lit computer calendar synchronized with my iPhone and life will suddenly be ordered and peaceful.

This, however, will not happen before the midterms. Prayer may be my only hope.

Last Flight Home

by Fran Moreland Johns | Oct 18, 2022 | Movie Review | 0 comments

(This is reprinted from an End of Life Choices California blog just up. A wonderful story I was delighted to be able to tell; and a great movie. See it when you can!)

“It was like light from a lighthouse,” says David Timoner of the call he got from End of Life Choices California (EOLCCA) when he and his family were facing the toughest time of their lives.

“The wisdom we got from those final days we will carry with us forever.”

Ondi Timoner with her father

David’s 92-year-old father Eli was in the hospital. He had reached a point at which advanced COPD, CHF, and other health issues had become intractable and meant he would have to transfer to a care facility. But Eli knew he wanted to die at home surrounded by those he loved, and he asked about medical aid in dying. His family understood and supported his decision but didn’t know where to turn for help. Vaguely aware of a California law, they still had no idea what to do next.

“The day is a blur,” David says. “I think I googled something like ‘How to end your life legally . . .’ and EOLCCA popped up right on top. I called the number, left a message, and had a call back within the hour.” Lynne, the volunteer at the other end of the phone, was everything David needed at that moment: “Calm, empathetic, and with the answers to all of our questions. Lynne explained how the California law works and reviewed the eligibility requirements.” These, in brief, include the requirement that the patient must be diagnosed as terminally ill, with a six month or less prognosis by two doctors, must make the request himself, be able to self-ingest the medications, and be of sound mind. “Lynne also recommended that my father consider enrolling in hospice care,” David says. She was able to recommend two hospices in our area that she knew had doctors who participate in medical aid in dying. We chose one and brought Dad home.”

Ondi Timoner, an award winning documentary filmmaker, decided to record those days during the then 15-day waiting period mandated after Eli first requested aid in dying medication from the hospice doctor, until he could receive the prescription. She initially intended just to have a family remembrance. After all was over, however, she realized she had the makings of something important.

Ondi’s remarkable film, Last Flight Home, tells the full story. In the ensuing weeks, the Timoner family – Eli and his wife Lisa, their children David, Ondi and Rachel, their grandchildren and friends–would spend invaluable time at home together celebrating Eli’s unique life’s journey. The profound, intimate, loving farewell afforded Eli and his family by California’s medical aid in dying law, is the outcome we at EOLCCA wish for anyone who reaches out to us for similar help and information. That this Southern California family’s experience would be recorded by daughter Ondi and edited into a powerful documentary now being released to widespread acclaim, is a visual testament to the value of medical aid in dying.

At a screening in New York, daughter Rachel told a New York Times interviewer, “And then there is the idea that this film could change laws.” Many of us with EOLCCA worked hard to get the California law passed, and we continue to support expanding the law throughout the U.S. To have had a part in helping Eli Timoner and his family gain peace at his life’s end, and to know that they now join the fight for everyone to be able to make such a choice, is doubly gratifying for EOLCCA.

California is one of a small number of states fortunate to have a law which enables its residents to access this compassionate end-of-life option for the terminally ill. But, from call after call we receive every day, it’s clear that few terminally-ill Californians are even aware of the law, or know enough about it to even begin the process of requesting medical aid in dying from their physician.

Last Flight Home is a film we hope will receive all the top accolades in the film industry for its many-layered and beautiful story. The story behind the film has been well documented in the New York Times. It is one we urge our readers to see as soon as possible and then recommend to friends and family everywhere.

Deliver Us from Updates . . .

Photo by Cookie the Pom on Unsplash

How to ruin someone’s day? Update her computer while she sleeps.

Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom, enjoys doing this. Don’t Turn Off Your Computer, it advises when you’re trying to turn it on. We are updating . . .

This is a signal just to go back to bed and pull the covers over your head.

I mean, really. Has any Update ever been invented that didn’t drive its victims up the wall? Has any Update actually updated itself into something better than whatever it updated, which was something the user knew and understood? OK, I was unfortunately born (long ago) without a left brain and understand zilch about technology. But still. Those of us who have journeyed from manual typewriters to PCs would like a little stability.

AND NOW. I am adding the journey from PC to Mac, which is dangerous to the health of anyone over 60, and I am wayyy over 60. (Why, you ask? Well, ask my children, and all those geeky friends who assured me how much I will love this Mac. Or ask Microsoft why they forced the issue by closing those lovely stores I used to go to for help. One can get help from the Genius Bar geniuses — I believe; that’s still an open question.)

Technology, the wise people insist on saying, is making our lives better. The wise people probably spend their spare time thinking of things to update on the computers of the unsuspecting – and frequently unwise.

Here’s the thing about manual typewriters: No one could Update them while you slept.

Just Don’t Get Sick on Friday, After 12 Noon

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

Early Friday morning — OK. But after, say, 11 AM, either convince yourself you’ll be fine until Monday or just go ahead and drink the hemlock. It will save untold humanoid hours.

Medical providers provide only sketchily after Friday noon. By Saturday morning, forget it. They’ve all gone to the beach for the weekend, or they’re taking their kids to soccer games, or one way or another doing things regular people do after Friday noon. These just do not include responding to the needs of the puny, so deal with it.

I, unfortunately, was feeling puny on a Saturday morning; and of course I exempt myself from all advice given to the rest of the populace. Therefore, I commenced a program to reach a Prescribing Physician for some drugs of which I felt a great need. This was about 9 AM.

If you are unwise enough to ignore my advice and follow, instead, my pathway, here’s what you may expect:

An hour or so of leaving your name, phone number, insurance information and intimate details of your lifelong personal history on assorted phone-trees. The chirpy voice requesting all this will assure you the doctor/clinician/pharmacist/whoever will respond within the hour. This is a lie. But in the grand scheme of lies one encounters when feeling puny on a Saturday it is negligent. I mean, really. Looking back, did you honestly feel as terrible as you told the chirpy voice at the outset?

Then, a few more hours of texting with your children, friends and the occasional perfect stranger who seemed medically knowledgeable on Instagram. They will all have excellent suggestions for stuff you never heard of, like probiotics that you can pick up at the nearby health foods store; so plan for another few hours of discussing your healthcare needs with the friendly health foods store people while you wait for the healthcare person who was going to call back by 10.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

It is now supper time, but you’re too sick to eat anything so what does that matter. If you’re really lucky, someone will by now have broken through to the healthcare person who just got back from his kids’ soccer game, so he will actually text you a response. Something like “Oh, the XYZ isn’t working? Well I’ll write a prescription for PQR!” Relief.

But of course, all reputable pharmacies are now closed.

You will still find a pharmacy. Can I help it if it’s in the sketchiest or nuttiest part of town? You should’ve gotten sick 12 hours sooner. Well, anyway. Most cities will have an all-night (or Open Until 9:30 PM) pharmacy in one quaint area or another. If you’re in San Francisco, for example, that will be in the heart of the Castro District, where liveliness does not calm down a little until about 3 AM. On arrival to pick up your meds you may encounter an apparently dead person in the middle of the sidewalk, but another person standing near will say, “Nahh, he’ll be fine. . .” when you make polite inquiries. So you get in line — the lines will be very long, considering all the people who need drugs at 9 PM of a Saturday night — and you are eventually rewarded with a prescription.

Author photo of formerly dead person with rescuers

Outside again you will find the paramedics have arrived to collect the formerly dead person on the sidewalk and deliver him to wherever users of weird drugs go to sleep it off.

So. Everybody’s OK now. Go home, take your own weird drug and feel better in the morning. But next time, try to get sick on a Monday.

Miracle Drugs, Miracle Products . . . Really?

Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

“Surefire cure for erectile dysfunction!”

“Lose 10 pounds this week!”

“Lower your A1C!”

“XYZ Brand cured my (fill in the blank)!”

The ads bombarding you 24-hours a day via the internet, TV, social media and every known pathway all have one goal: to get you to buy their product. Some of them are true. Some are truly misleading. Some of them are downright dangerous.

Chances are there’s a product out there that could be useful. Chances are even better that there are things that would be a total waste of your time and money, or downright damaging.

How can one rational person sort it all out?

Three experts recently appeared at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco to offer help: Dr. George Lundberg, founder and president of the Lundberg Institute (designed to build better-informed patients, physicians and relationships between the two;) Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, Editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA😉 and Dr. Kamran Abbasi, Editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ.)

Commonwealth Club Humanites Forum Chair George Hammond with Dr. GeorgeLundberg (seated.) – Author photo

“There’s information overload,” said Dr. Domingo; “there’s disinformation, there’s spin. We need clear, consumable information.” Dr. Abbasi added that thanks to social media and the proliferation of non-medical sources, it’s hard for ordinary consumers to find evidence-based medical information.

All this is thanks to Direct to Consumer marketing. Every country in the world bans DTC marketing — except the U.S. In 1997, during the second Clinton administration, the Federal Trade Commission relaxed its rules, allowing such ads to take hold. They’re unlikely ever to go away. Some estimates put the amount spent annually on DTC ads at nearly $10 billion.

Those ads are required to carry disclaimers in small print. Or they’re read at warp speed so nobody hears. “Common side effects include nausea and diarrhea, muscle ache, headache and joint pain. Rare cases of paralysis, brain disease or death have been reported.”

Dr. Abbasi offered two bits of wisdom:

1 — Consider the source. Where’s that information really coming from? You can always check with JAMA or the BMJ; but if that’s too much trouble you might just check with your own physician or healthcare provider before you listen to Dr. Oz.

2 — Follow the money. Who paid for that miracle drug, that claim, that ad?

In other words, read (or listen to) the small print before you buy. JAMA or BMJ are two good places to start; either can direct you to answers of your medical questions.

The ads promise nirvana, but failure to question can be harmful to your health.

Nighttime in the Lonely City: A photo essay

(All photos by the author, from her 7th floor balcony across the street)

A city dweller is alarmed by the terrible sounds drifting into her window. Dark, guttural cries. No words, just frightened, frightening cries. They seem to be coming from below ground, probably the stairs that go from the sidewalk to an entry into the garage of the building across the street, below her seventh-floor balcony.

Finally, the watcher calls 311. 311 is unquestionably the best thing the City of San Francisco has going for it. An actual, real person answers your call, and sends it to the appropriate other real person. “Someone’s in distress,” says the caller, watching (and holding the phone out) from the balcony window. “It’s been going on for some time and I’m worried about him.” Within minutes a red van and a white car quietly approach.

Four men get out of the van. They begin talking in soft voices to the stranger in distress. The watcher only picks up occasional words, but it’s clear they are trying to talk him into coming up. He’s no longer shouting.

Eventually, a forlorn figure emerges from below. The would-be rescuers gather around him, keeping far enough away that he won’t be frightened further. For 10 or 15 minutes they plead with him to let them take him somewhere for shelter, perhaps medical attention. He is having none of it.

Finally the figure shuffles off into the darkness, into the streets of the city which are, the watcher suspects, his only familiar. The red van and the white car drive away. The watcher goes back inside her warm apartment, feeling grateful for her city’s resources, but sorrowful for humankind.

Should You Still Be Driving?

A CLOSE LOOK AT THE UNIVERSAL QUESTION

Photo by Jan Baborák on Unsplash

I am slowly talking myself into giving up my car.

Though still, I honestly believe, a very good driver, I cannot escape a tiny, nagging question: Could I live with myself if I were involved in an accident in which someone is injured or killed? Even if it were clearly not my fault, could I avoid suspecting some failure of eyesight or reflexive response or yet unknown factor had played a part in an accident that might not have happened if I weren’t driving?

So I have begun this conversation with myself.

It starts with the memory of former conversations, one in particular. For years my three sisters and I discussed who would get our widowed father from behind the wheel of his car (none of us wanted to volunteer.) “Never had an accident in fifty years!” our father would declare. None of us wanted to point out the chaos in his wake. We were saved by a family friend who undertook to explain to our father how much money he could save on gas, insurance, repairs, etc.; he threw in a list of small town neighbors happy to be on-call chauffeurs. My father died 12 years later, at 90, never having injured a fellow creature.

This background conversation relates to the personal relationship I have with my 2001 Volvo S40 The Bud. Less intimate than my relationship with its predecessor LilyPad, a forest green 2000 Volvo S40 that was demolished by a 14-wheeler in 2020. The LilyPad and I were turning right from the right-turn lane; the 14-wheeler was turning right from the center lane blithely unaware of the legal maneuvers of that little car below. I consider it a testament to good reflexes that I was able to get out of his way after he demolished the front of the LilyPad and before he demolished the rear; the driver’s side and I survived unscathed.

But two more years have ensued. The conversation continues:

How certain are you that your reflexes are really as good as safety requires? Suppose someone’s beloved dog darts into the street and you don’t hit the brakes quickly enough. Could you live with that loss — knowing that a better driver might have avoided it?

And how about eyesight? I have, like much of the over-70 population, macular degeneration. Cataract surgery several years ago greatly helped my vision, but still. I have AMD and my eyesight is only going to get worse. At what point do I decide it’s worsened enough?

I think there is no magic moment when one can say, Today I should quit driving. Occasionally a driver receives a signal. My sister Helen, for example, was in her early 70s when she went to get the family car from its parking space in a Boston street lot. Instead of backing up a few feet as she had done countless times before she went forward, rolling to a stop against a sidewalk sign.

Everyone said, “Oh, that’s a common error. Your foot slipped.” “Nope,” said Helen, as she handed the keys to an attendant. “Someone could’ve been on that sidewalk. I put my foot on the wrong pedal. I am never driving again.” She never did.

There are, of course, good drivers in their 80s — I continue to consider myself among them — or perhaps older. There are plenty of bad drivers in their 20s or 30s. But those of us in the older category should be peculiarly attuned to the questions about when we turn from good to bad. It’s unlikely to be one lightbulb moment.

So we might all do well to have the conversation. What are the pluses? All that money I’ll save on no more insurance, gas, repairs (you might figure from the age of my vehicles that car payments are not an issue.) Parking meters. Garage fees. Fastrak fees and miscellaneous tolls. And even as little as I drive it, The Bud is not helping the environment; its namesake worked hard for the planet.

The minus? It comes in handy. There’s the convenience of being able to zip off to the park or the grocery — almost the only places to which I frequently drive. Freedom? A lot of drivers cite their car as a symbol of freedom; actually, I feel most free when walking a few miles, carrying stuff in my backpack.

I live in a city where public transportation is quite good for the most part; taxis and ride shares are everywhere. For what I’d save on the costs outlined above I could take an awful lot of cabs. My father’s small town had no public transportation — but neighbors beat light rail any day.

You can see the direction this conversation is going. Before my next birthday — still nine months off — when it’ll be time for driver’s license renewal and close to time for new smog check, registration etc, I think I will have taken the leap, gotten the airport-effective Real ID, sold The Bud and adjusted to a new life of being chauffeured when necessary.

I believe the car-free life will be just fine.

The Never-Ending Perils of Motherhood

Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

My baby daughter likes scooters. That would be okay if this were on the playground in 1967 when she was three. But now she is 58 and scooting around in the whizzing traffic of downtown Washington, DC. This is not easy on a mom.

When they were still quite young my children and I adopted a fine system called “Tell me about it afterward. So by the time I learned someone had spent the night alone in the Gare de Lyon because she didn’t have money for a Paris hotel room — well, at least I knew she had survived. This may not be a parenting style appropriate for everyone, but it worked for me. It’s probably still helpful that my children and I live on separate coasts, so our parental notification system continues to be effective.

Now that they’re older, my children’s risk tolerance has receded somewhat anyway. My son flies airplanes, but he’s a careful, confirmed Type A and you will want him to fly your airplane. The fact that he’s nearing retirement and insists on playing pick-up soccer with his buddies — well, that’s for his wife to worry about. (She does. She’s a mom.) 

My older daughter, retired and living the good life, is into calmer, low-risk adventures like snow-shoeing and fly fishing. Plus, what she retired from was running her own spin studio so her fitness and safety are not that much of a thing for anybody to worry about.

The baby girl, Pam, though — she may be 58, but she’s still my baby girl — is in a category apart. I have been known to say I raised two yuppies and a free spirit. I made it through a decade or so of Pam’s rock climbing period by diligently not thinking about it. But one memorable time, on a weekend holiday, I found myself at the foot of a sheer mountainside she had recently scaled. (Long’s Peak, 14,259′) Across my brain suddenly flashed an image of my daughter — who is about 5’ tall and 100 pounds wringing wet — a mere speck in the middle of a wall of sheer granite. Sheer terror. But I did at least know she had quit rock climbing after that.

Currently, Pam, a nurse, is living and working in DC. For a while, she had two floors of covid patients. But she survived, along with most of her patients, and on a recent visit, we had the loveliest of times enjoying gentle pursuits like strolling around historic rose gardens and visiting museums. Walking home from the National Gallery, one day when she was working and I was roaming around on my own, I managed to get caught in a sudden rainstorm. (Living in bone dry California one forgets about rainstorms.) I waited it out in a building overhang — having cleverly left my raincoat in the hotel room — until Pam, just getting off work, rescued me with her ever-present umbrella. By the time we got back to where I was staying the rain had somewhat abated and darkness was quickly falling.

Author photo from the third floor window

Not to worry, she assured me. “I’ll hop a bus right here.” The bus stop was across the street and directly below my third-floor window. “And if a bus doesn’t come along soon I’ll just grab a scooter.” Nurses in DC get a lot of appreciation and free scooters.

The photo above was taken at dusk in the rain from my window. If you squint you can spot a small person in nursing scrubs (no helmet) scanning a scooter lock, or whatever one does in preparation for scootering. It was taken a moment or two before she hopped on, wove her way across three lanes of moving traffic, and turned left toward home. Throwing her mother briefly into cardiac arrest.

Some things, I explained the next day, seeing her still alive and in the bloom of health, are much better left un-witnessed by moms.

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