Bush’s last kick at women’s healthcare on his way out

December 20th, 2008 § 9 comments § permalink

While we’re all distracted, retching at the official White House Christmas Video, this is what the Bush administration is up to.

Cecile Richards writes in HuffPo:

… despite the written opposition from more than 200,000 Americans, 150 members of Congress, a bipartisan coalition of governors and attorneys general, the American Medical Association, and women’s health organizations like Planned Parenthood — the Department of Health and Human Services issued a last minute regulation that will undermine health care access at nearly 600,000 pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals across the country.

This sort of “take the drapes on your way out” approach is the final chapter of an administration that has prized political ideology over health care for their entire eight years — and the rule issued yesterday, with little more than 30 days left in office, is the ultimate holiday gift to the extreme right.

Under this new rule, doctors and health care workers of all kinds can deny patients vital health care information and services, without the patient even knowing. No patient is exempt from the reach of this rule: sexual assault victims could be denied information about emergency contraception that could prevent unintended pregnancy, moms hoping to time their pregnancies can be denied contraception at their local pharmacy, young adults hoping to be tested for sexually transmitted infections could be denied treatment by health care employees who oppose premarital sex.

In short, this rule is likely to create total chaos in an already stressed health care system, and for low-income women and families, this rule may spell the end of the few available health care options. Essentially, any patient that utilizes health care at a provider that receives any federal funds will be subject to the luck of the draw in terms of what kinds of reproductive health care they are offered. This might seem far-fetched, until you realize that groups like Pharmacists for Life have campaigned nationally to have pharmacies refuse to provide women birth control prescribed by their physician.

If you had any doubt that this rule is about politics, not health care, just watch the high-fives among the far right. “This is a huge victory for religious freedom and the First Amendment,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

The Cruiser, RIP

December 20th, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

Yesterday’s NYT carried the obituary of Conor Cruise O’Brien. Although he was not particularly well-liked in his native Ireland, I always had a soft spot for him, because I loved his books. States of Ireland had a profound effect on my view of Irish nationalism, and his To Katanga and Back was, to my mind, the best book ever on the UN Congo mission, which was a really big deal in Ireland. My father was in charge of the airlift of Irish troops to and from the Congo — much to his disgust, as the only aeronautical engineer in the Air Corps at the time, he was too valuable to be sent there himself — and I remember that the whole family had to be given the smallpox vaccine when the first wave of troops was coming home. It made them all sick as dogs, except for me. I was given the vaccine one more time, to make sure mine wasn’t from a dud batch, and, when I still didn’t get sick, the Army medic told me, “If we ever have a smallpox outbreak here, I’ll want you as my nurse!” Those were interesting times, when the word Baluba became a household word in Ireland.

I had the pleasure, many decades ago, of sharing a train journey from Dublin to Galway with The Cruiser’s father-in-law, Sean MacEntee, who was in his early 80s at the time. We had a great conversation, roaming far and wide, from Irish history to gnosticism. He introduced me later to someone as “well read,” and was highly amused when I contradicted him with, “widely, not well.” That was during the height of my pretentious intellectual period, as you can tell.

What the Iraqi shoe-thrower actually said …

December 19th, 2008 § 3 comments § permalink

“George Bush talks to dogs!”

Bitter Memories III

December 17th, 2008 § 12 comments § permalink

The diagnosis, when it finally came, was shattering. H had inoperable lung cancer, and the prognosis was six months, maybe twelve. There followed the usual fruitless round of oncologists, radiation experts, chemo experts, etc. The advice was that direct radiation of the tumour, whose location smack dab between both lungs rendered it inoperable, would shrink it and give H some extra lung capacity. But it was small comfort, since her lung capacity, by this point, was pretty damn’ low. There was also a push for her to undergo chemo, but with no guarantee that it would achieve anything. After a few radiation sessions left H with agonizing internal burns, she nixed the idea of chemo on the entirely reasonable grounds that, while it might give her an extra three months or so, she would have to go through an equal number of months of hell to achieve it.

For me, the most shocking part of the next few months was how quickly H succumbed to the disease. There was no grace period at all, no time to make a farewell trip to England as she hoped, or to spend a last, carefree holiday with D before embarking on her final journey. Within days of her diagnosis, the cancer was spreading to her bones and H was in terrible pain, for which she was given Oxycodone, aka Hillbilly Heroin. The oxy, of course, carried with it all kinds of side effects, for which she was given more drugs that had their own reactions for which she needed other drugs, and so it went, round and round. The radiation therapy completely incapacitated her, and she began spending her days lying on a sofa, trying to keep in touch with her far-flung step-family by Skype and email. Despite years of working in administration, H was a hopeless Luddite around computers, as was D, and I spent hours trying to simplify the new laptop D bought her to replace the steam-driven 2 meg computer they’d been using to this point. Since there was damn’ all else I could do to feel more useful than a one-legged man at an arse-kicking party, computer geekery and ironing became my contributions to the household. H was the only other person in the whole of Canada, we reckoned, who was as daft as I am about ironing.

And, because I have never hesitated to call a spade a fucken shovel and was not at all shy about discussing the less savoury aspects of her situation, we talked. God, how we talked. We walked through likely scenarios, and how she wanted her obituary to read; we discussed hospice and whether it was a good idea or not. We laughed a lot, surprisingly. And sometimes we wept bitter tears. Although, the only times H really wept inconsolably were when she worried about how D would cope after she was gone. She also worried about how hard the end might be. If possible, she wanted to die at home. I promised her that TFH and I would be D’s friends, and that I would do everything I could to look after him for her. Which inevitably led to jokes about the kind of woman we would find for him, and how any candidate would have to pass muster with me and her other close girlfriends. And I promised her that I would be with her at the very end, even if I had to move into her basement for a few weeks.

I was not H’s only friend during this time. She had one of the largest and most diverse bunch of friends I have ever known one person to have. Most of them rallied round, called and send flowers, came by with casseroles and cookies, and brought her books, oh so many books. A few dropped off the radar, unable to handle her disease. And she also dumped a surprising number, for the oddest of reasons. One friend, who went back many years and had been very close to H, was declared persona non grata after she asked H if she had talked to “her minister.” Because D was a Christian and went to church, H had always gone along with him. They were married in his church, and her mother’s funeral had been conducted by his minister, so it was a logical assumption on the friend’s part. But H was furious. “How can she know so little about me, after all these years, to think I would get religion, just because I’m dying,” she stormed. When I mumbled something about there being no atheists in a foxhole, she rounded on me too, but then decided I was joking and let it pass. She had decreed that there was to be no negativity in what was left of her life, and some friends did not fit that criterion, so they were given the old heave-ho, much to their surprise and distress.

One old friend, B, came from BC to stay with her for several weeks, and they had a grand old time, re-living the days when they were room-mates. I think D felt pushed aside, partly because H & B went back a long way before he came on the scene, and partly because B took over much of the intimate side of nursing H and monitoring her increasingly complex regimen of meds. I stepped back a little, too, to give them time together, but I stayed in touch with B by telephone and spent at least one evening a week with H.

I was surprised and relieved, when H suddenly told me she intended moving into a hospice before the end. Although it was charming, D&H’s house had a little too much character for an invalid at death’s door, with pokey, steep stairs, and dark, rather gloomy rooms. On December 12th, a week before B was scheduled to return to Vancouver, H decided it was time to make that move, the doctor concurred, and a place for her was found in a small, informal nursing home close to her house.

Which is where this saga began, with me trekking down the QEW Highway every day to sit with H. And it brings me to the bitter memories that title these posts. I have nothing but wonderful, warm and funny, shake-my-head memories of H. Not a single day goes by that I do not think of her, prompted by something as simple as coring a tomato the way she showed me, or fluffing up the little cat pillow she gave me as a birthday gift one year. I dream about her quite often, and none of these memories or dreams are distressing to me, because they make me feel she is still a part of my life and always will be.

I’m bitter because I was unable to keep the two promises that I made H. On the last day of her life, D had a meltdown, and threw me, H’s stepmother #3, and the step-brother she adored, who had travelled from Denmark to be with her, out of the hospice. He and his sister, whom H loathed, were with her at the end.

A month and a half after H died, D had a girlfriend, some 15 years younger than him, and she is now living in H’s house. The house is being renovated, to prepare it for sale, and a move to a new house, closer to the girlfriend’s hometown. The boat has been sold and a bigger boat bought, so that they might do some major cruising, including a plan to sail along the East Coast to Halifax, although D gets seasick on Lake Ontario. Plane tickets have been booked for a trip in January, to London and to Dubai — both trips H really wanted to make, but D refused to go with her. And, after being introduced to the girlfriend, when they sailed into our club for the Canada Day fireworks (ouch!) last July, I have been jettisoned. D talks about me a lot to mutual friends, banging on about how wonderful I was to H and how much it meant to him that I accepted him moving on, yadda yadda. And he’s right, I did accept it — when he finally told me about the girlfriend, I told him life is for the living. Some of our mutual friends believe D is avoiding me because I remind him of H. Others believe he is avoiding me because I remind his girlfriend of H. Either way, I’ve lost another friend, and I broke my second promise to H.

That’s why I am bitter.

Bitter memories II

December 16th, 2008 § 6 comments § permalink

About ten years after H had arrived in Canada, her parents both followed; her father with his second wife, and her mother, still bitter about the divorce, alone. I never quite understood why, having more or less abandoned H at the tender age of 6, they had to follow her all the way across the Atlantic to be near her after she’d grown up and gone her own way. But H adored her father, who was very dashing in a Ronald Coleman kind of way. He was a bona fide hero, having fought with distinction in the Burma campaign during the Second World War, and he was very affectionate with his daughter in that off-hand, old-style Brit “dahling” kind of way. He and the second wife divorced after a few years in Canada, and he soon found a third wife and settled down in Hamilton, about 50 kms away from H.

Her mother, in the meantime, had found an apartment in North Toronto, from which she sallied forth regularly to criticize H, her life, her friends, and her husbands — both of them. Although H had very little liking for her mother, she felt obliged to keep an eye on her, making her part of Christmas and Thanksgiving celebrations, introducing her to her friends. When I first arrived in Canada, I had a Toronto apartment quite close to H’s mother, and I used to see her frequently, as H would drop by whenever she took her out for coffee or a meal. About two years after I first met her, H’s mother began a slow descent into Alzheimer’s, until she became totally dependent on H.

To her great sorrow, and her mother’s unrelenting scorn, H never had any children. But her loss was to prove her mother’s gain; as she became more confused and child-like, H was a far more tender and forgiving caregiver to her than her mother deserved. After D had sorted out his marital affairs, and he and H bought a house in a village outside Toronto on Lake Ontario, H moved her mother into a private nursing home nearby. Every day, before and after work, H would visit the nursing home to wash and dress her mother, spoon-feed and read to her, coping with her querulous complaints and sanguine about her refusal to show any affection to her only daughter. She spent every weekend with H and D, which, to D’s great credit, he never seemed to mind, despite their guest’s difficult ways.

When her mother eventually died, H was devastated. She began beating herself up about her shortcomings as a daughter, agonizing over how to dispose of her mother’s ashes. She had left her job at the time, and was trying to start up a holistic nutritional practice, and she would come to visit me two or three times a week. I had taken a year’s sabbatical to finish my degree, and her business was slow in taking off, so we had the time to drink gallons of coffee while she berated herself and I made lunch. For years afterwards, H would remind me of the day when I suddenly lifted my head out of the fridge and roared “Fuck your mother’s ashes! Stick them in the garden shed until you feel like doing something with them, and just get on with your life!”

Fortunately, she forgave me. She also took my advice, and waited until some years later, when she scattered the ashes in a park by the lake where her mother had liked to walk.

H was a health fanatic, and, long before the current 100 mile fad, a great believer in eating local, all natural, free-range, no pesticide produce. She was also a terrific cook, had studied Cordon Bleu for fun, and could whip up a gourmet meal from fridge leftovers. We loved going to her house for dinner; not only would we be fed like game cocks, we could also count on a grand old knockdown, take-no-hostages barney about politics, religion, the environment, which usually meant H and I would wipe the floor with our respective spouses. We were always on the ‘left’ side of an argument, while the two contrarians invariably took the more socially conservative route, to their cost.

D, in particular, just liked to be contrary for the heck of it. He has a laconic — some might say smug — attitude to most things and he loved nothing more than poking H, sometimes to the point where she would break down in tears of rage because he was being so obtuse. There were times when The First Husband and I drove home thinking, uh-huh, that marriage is in trouble. But they seemed to settle down after a few years, mainly because H refused to let D get her all riled up any more.

Despite all her health fanaticism, H was a smoker, as was D. She had tried several times to give them up, but he kept puffing away, which was no help. Finally, she persuaded him they should try to do this together, and they did manage to quit smoking for a few years. But then they each began separately to sneak the occasional OP (other people’s ciggies) and they went back on the demon weed together for another few years, until they finally kicked the habit for good, about four years ago. H also gave up struggling to make a go of her business, and went back to working for someone else, while D retired early from his semi-government position. They were both keen sailors, and The First Husband and I enjoyed going on summer cruises with them on Lake Ontario. H wanted them to buy a bigger boat, so that they could do more cruising, and she also believed they should sell their house, while housing prices were sky-high, and move further away from Toronto, to where housing prices were still reasonable. She wanted to have money in the bank so they could travel; her step-siblings were scattered around the globe, and she had cousins in Abu Dhabi, Spain, and England that she wanted them to visit. But D, who was comfortable and didn’t like travelling, dug his heels in and refused to budge, although he went through the motions of looking at bigger boats and checking out houses. He always managed to find some fatal flaw, and H confessed to me that, if they were ever to make a move, she would have to move up her planned retirement date and make things happen herself. In the meantime, D confessed to The First Husband that he worried about them having enough money to ensure a comfortable old age for them both, especially as he feared H would get Alzheimer’s, like her mother.

Early last year, I began noticing that H had a hoarse quality to her voice, and I worried that she was back on the cigarettes again. When I broached the subject, she told me she had a chest infection that she just couldn’t shake, but she was seeing a doctor soon, who would probably put her on antibiotics. In March, she and D had to leave our annual Paddy’s Day party early, because she had a pain in her back and was feeling rotten, and she said her doctor was sending her to a respirologist to check her out for asthma. This continued for a few months, and every time I saw her, she looked thinner and more worn, which she put down to fretting over her cousin in London, who had been diagnosed with oral cancer. He was undergoing treatment, and she was planning to fly over to London to stay with him for a while, just as soon as she could get rid of her own chest infection.

We had an annual tradition, whereby on Canada Day, July 1st, D&H would sail over from their club to ours, we would have dinner and drinks on our boats and watch the fireworks, and they would sail back the following day. Last year, H was not feeling well enough to sail, so they came over by car. I had not seen H for a few weeks, and I was shocked by the little old lady who stepped out of the car. H had jet black hair, shot with dramatic white streaks, and I had never seen her without her signature scarlet lipstick. On this day, her hair was grey, she wore no lipstick, and she had a stooped, fumbling walk. But she reassured us that she had spoken to her specialist’s office the day before, and had been told her recent CAT scan was fine, so she knew she did not have “the dreaded Big C,” as she put it. Their thinking was that she had Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) which she felt she could live with, although she would have to make certain lifestyle changes.

H was too ill to stay for the fireworks that evening, and they left almost immediately after dinner, of which she ate very little. As we were getting ready for bed that night, TFH said “I think she’s not telling us the whole truth,” which made me furious, because I had been wondering the same myself. But, the more I thought about it, the more certain I became that she would not keep something like this from me.

The next day I had a call from H, telling me she was about to leave work, because she had just received a call from the specialist’s office to say they had “misread” the CAT scan, and she should go to see her doctor immediately.

To be continued

Bitter memories

December 15th, 2008 § 6 comments § permalink

A year ago last Thursday, my best friend H entered a hospice to die. Every day for the next three weeks, until she died on January 5th, I travelled up the QEW Highway to spend at least part of every day with her. I had promised her, when she became sick six months before, that I would be with her to the end, and except for two/three days when she had a full roster of visitors or relatives coming in, I made that trip.

Her husband, D, spent every night at the hospice, sleeping on a lounger by her bed. She told me how much she enjoyed those quiet evenings together, as they lay side by side, holding hands, just talking quietly about “stuff.” I usually relieved him in the mornings, when he would go home to grab a shower, a nap, and do some laundry or shopping. I would sit there, sometimes reading to her, other times just yakking about more “stuff.” It became my mission in life to make her laugh at least five times every day, and I generally succeeded. We also wept some bitter tears. Laughing and crying together — what else are friends for?

I had met H a month after I came to Canada. In fact, she interviewed me and gave me my first job here. Although I only stayed with the company for six months, we became and remained friends, bonding over a shared cultural identity. Although she had been born in England and spent her childhood in West Africa, where her father worked for a huge multinational, as a teenager she had acquired an Anglo-Irish step-family that she adored, and one of them was also called Tessa. She used to spend part of the summer holidays from her boarding school with them in Ireland, sailing, swimming, and generally mucking about. This was something quite new to her, as an only child, with a cold and unloving mother, who had taken her back to England and dropped her off with a total stranger, when H was only 6 years old. This was a woman who would be paid to look after H on breaks from boarding school, and with whom she spent every holiday for the next ten years, except for the few weeks that she got to spend with her step-family.

H preferred not to talk about that time, but I don’t think she ever got over her sense of abandonment. She only saw her parents together once during those ten years, when they made a trip from West Africa and took her to Germany for a holiday, where they told her they were divorcing. To pour salt in the wound, H’s father informed her he had only stayed with her mother because of her — which was a bit much, since she hadn’t lived with them for seven years at that point.

H dropped out of school when she was 16 and moved about from job to dead-end job for a year or two, before deciding she wanted to travel around the world. As it turned out, she never went beyond Canada, after stepping off the ship in Montreal and falling in love with the country. At the time I met her, she had been here for twenty years, and was in the process of divorcing her first husband, a jolly wee man from Northern Ireland. He was also called D, and she cared deeply for him, but she had fallen in love with the second D, with whom we both worked. Like everybody else in the office, I did not know about H & D at the time. I found out when, some months after I had left the company, I called H and he answered the phone at her apartment, while she was out.

D was married to someone else, although separated, but was dragging his heels about getting divorced and making a commitment to H, so she eventually threw him out. She and I spent many late nights, crying on each other’s shoulder over the two bastards we were later to marry, while making huge inroads on bottles of Irish whiskey. Fortunately for both our livers, D came to his senses after a month or two, got his divorce, and they bought a house and moved in together. They should have lived happily ever after, but then lung cancer reared its ugly head, which is why D and I were spelling each other at the hospice last year.

To be continued

iDiot Savant

December 14th, 2008 § 4 comments § permalink

I hate grocery shopping with a passion. I look back with longing to the days when my mother would phone the grocer, read him a list of items, and a messenger boy would come puffing over the horizon on his bicycle, an hour or so later. Because I hate shopping so much, I put it off until the last possible minute and end up sallying forth, tired and grumpy, in the evening when the cashiers are just as tired and grumpy. Thank goodness for self-serve cash spots, say I.

And even more thanks for iPod, and a nifty newish program, Genius – or, as #1 Son calls it, iDiot Savant. You open up Genius, tap a song you like, and it will put together a playlist along similar lines. Today, I made it through the shopping without biting anyone in the soft part of their leg thanks to these songs:

  1. Daydreamer Adele
  2. The Finish Line Snow Patrol
  3. I Have Seen the Rain Pink
  4. The Guy Who Leaves Alanis Morissette
  5. Unchained Melody Sarah McLachlan
  6. Homebird Foy Vance
  7. Mississippi Bob Dylan
  8. Breakable Ingrid Michaelson
  9. Videotape Radiohead
  10. The Shining Badly Drawn Boy
  11. When We Were Young Dolores O’Riordan
  12. How My Heart Behaves Feist
  13. Love Joni Mitchell
  14. Paper Bag Fiona Apple
  15. Baby Can I Hold You Eva Cassidy
  16. Lonelily Damien Rice
  17. The Great Escape Patrick Watson
  18. Quicksand Sleeping At Last
  19. Transatlantique Beirut
  20. The Night Starts Here Stars

I wuv my iPod.

Come again?

December 14th, 2008 § 2 comments § permalink

Britain’s Plain English Campaign, has chosen this year’s winners of the Golden Bull, awarded for “the worst examples of written tripe.”

Among the recipients for 2008 was the financial services department at McGill University, for this priceless piece of gobbledygook:

This cycle will inherently deliver an incessant flow of process and systems assessment, improvement, and communication with the related development, distribution, and implementation of necessary tools, education, and support.

Also chosen, Scottish Life, for this response to an endowment policy query:

The growth of the policy is calculated through more than one area of the plan, the annual reversionary bonus is only one area of this growth, the part of the growth rate of this policy is the increased rates of the terminal bonus rate for a policy with a term of 24 years is currently 24% of the basic sum assured and the total bonuses attaching. The terminal bonus is only applied at the end of the plan and is not known to ourselves until this is applied.

And this little gem, from HM Revenue & Customs in a letter to a customer, is deceptively simple at first glance:

Thank you for your Tax Returns ended 5th April 2006 & 2007 which we received on 20th December. I will treat your Tax Return for all purposes as though you sent it in response to a notice from us which required you to deliver it to us by the day we received it.

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