Friday, January 20, 2017

Religion in the form of Ecclesiastes and The Golden Rule Combined with blog-Related Housekeeping Chores

It's a hard-knock life around here. Bring your A Game or go back to where you came from.



At least one of my dear friends, and perhaps more, would prefer that I not say some of what I will say here. My presumption is not that my friend and/or anyone else would take issue with the content of what I have to say but, rather, would see what I am conveying here as a response to criticism or as defense of previous writings. I've been advised, with very good reason, not to defend what I have written when criticism or opposition appears. I won't go into the reasons for such, because I think those of your who read here semi-regularly already have a grasp of where I am going with this.

I recently referred to  a fellow student -- one with greater seniority than I but a fellow student nonetheless, as a "cunt." While I'm the first to admit that scooping so low into the lexicon of the English language to find a descriptive noun so fitting for the "peer" in question does not necessarily speak well for my grasp of the English language and does not cause me to feel pride in my level of linguistic skill, I stand by my use of the term in description of the person in question.  At times an unconventional shoe -- perhaps even one that can be purchased at Walmart, of all places --  fits the foot of a particular person, in which case it seems -- to me, anyway --  utterly senseless for me to scour the shoe racks of the most exclusive stores on Rodeo Drive to find another shoe or pair of shoes that might possibly fit almost as well, but almost certainly will not be a better fit if even as good. If future interactions between myself and this person are of sufficiently noteworthy nature to merit inclusion into this blog, the peer in question will likely be referenced by the same crude term. It is my guess that most who read here (I don't advertise this blog to pre-adolescents) can handle the figurative use of the word cunt on occasion. I am speaking for myself right now, but I would not choose to regularly read a blog that was filled with almost nothing but expletives and crudities indicative that the writer's mastery of his or her native language was such that he or she had few options in making his or her points or any other literary references without resorting to gutter language.  In my own case, I feel that the use of this word cunt is the exception rather than the rule in terms of demonstrating my ability to express myself in conventional English terms. If you, as one of my readers,  find my sparing use of the word cunt to be unaccountably coarse to the degree that it causes my blog to be difficult for you to continue to read, please leave either a message here or an email to me at aleximerc@aol.com or a Twitter DM @theAngelAlexis . Perhaps some sort of compromise may be reached.  Let me reassure you, though, that even with the occasional inclusion of cunt as the moniker of choice in referring to or describing a particular one of my colleagues, I have no intention of taking this blog all the way to the depths of the Bowery section of blogs. 

Much verbiage has been created -- by those ranging from authors of religious tomes now having been elevated to the level of scripture, all the way down to those working for the Hallmark corporation and its lesser competitors, who would use sentimentality and greed to guilt all of us into believing that the only way we could ever truly let our loved ones know that we think of them during times of celebrations both major and minor, that we love them, or to convey to those we've wronged  the totality of the depths of sincerity of our admissions of wrongdoing and desire for retrenchment, is by shelling out our hard-earned cash for all the merchandise Hallmark and it competition are manufacturing and hawking. The bottom line here is that many of our religious leaders, along with our modern-day cultural leaders of morality, who would include but not be limited to greeting card manufacturers and crafters who stitch inspirational maxims onto decorative pillows and wall hangings, cling to the concept that love conquers all, that the only way to have a friend is to be a friend, that incivility must always be returned with kindness, and that if a person behaves in an unkind or otherwise unacceptable manner either to you or to me, the only correct way to respond is with kindness and love. It is our responsibility as the recipients of ugly, uncivilized, and abusive  behavior to kill the perpetrator with our own kindness. He or she has not learned to love himself or herself. Only by the attainment of such knowledge of self-worth and self-love will the person be able to recognize his or her own true worth, and thus rejoin the human race on terms that might be compatible with the standards of you or me.

I'm saying here and now that I'm not buying into this particular brand of masochistic pop-psychology.  We've all had hard knocks in life.  No parents are perfect. With such being the case, not one of us received everything we needed from our parents throughout our childhoods and youths. Some of us did better in the parent lottery than did others of us, but not one of us had the advantage of escaping childhood unscarred by errors made by our parents. Likewise, not one of us escaped childhood and youth entirely unscathed where treatment from our peers was concerned. Each and every one of us was, at some point in our earlier lives, a bully to someone else. Similarly, each of us has suffered at the hands of at least one bully, whether it was physical or psychological abuse.  

I don't think I believe the cliche of that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger. In the cases of some lower forms of life, there is something to be said in favor of the immune properties an organism encounters through exposure in formidable  yet ultimately defeatable dosages from challengers. That's the theory (which has essentially transcended theory to become law) behind antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. The bacteria has been exposed to so many antibiotic substances in just the right  strengths so that it, in effect, becomes invinceable, not unlikely a young prizefighter being provided with a opponent of the perfect strength for each succeeding match until he has developed the strength and skill set to ultimately defeat any opponent who might ever be thrown up against him.   With humans in their natural states, though, I assume it's possible for one to be beaten down, physically and/or mentally, to the point that one continues to exist though not necessarily to thrive. Still, those of us who have made it as far in education as medical school have, for the most part, if not having actually overcome the scars from earlier negative encounters with imperfect upbringings and negative experiences we may have encountered with educational systems and with peers, have dealt and/or made  peace with traumatic experiences from our respective pasts to the degree that it is assumed we can conduct ourselves  professionally. We are expected not necessarily to like each other but to treat each other with professional respect and courtesy, including, to a degree, those who may be somewhat beneath us in the pecking order.

My initial encounters with the cunt were ones of one-sided respect, with the respect coming from my side.  I do not know what it may have been about me that caused her to come at me with, in a verbal manner, all claws bared. I've been told that these sorts of conflicts are, more often than not, female versus female, not that all male-on-male or mixed-gender encounters in our program have been 100% civil and professional. Still, a disproportionate amount of the conflict that has taken place in our program has occurred between women of non-descript physical attributes and average-at-best achievement in the medical program itself versus those who, at the very least, pay close attention to detail in terms of cosmetics, fashion,attire, and accessories, and who excel in most or all components of the medical school program, which is not to say that they're inherently in possession of raw material that would make them better-looking or smarter than others, but it may perhaps seem that way to soe of the others. 

I excel in the program though i am considerably younger than the oldest in the program, and am noticeably younger than the youngest in the program other than Matthew. Most material comes easily to me, but I also put in a huge number of study hours. I make a reasonable effort to look presentable whenever I'm on duty, however early than may be. I'm not a mirror hog, nor do I spend a disproportionate amount of money on clothes of make-up. I don't buy an outfit, wear it once, then get rid of it. I've been seen in the same outfits multiple times each quarter.  I do, however, style (or at least thoroughly brush) my hair each day before lecture or work. 

I've had a few breaks which have caused me to gain attention. One was the sexual harassment incident early in the quarter. The other was the flukish hospital parking lot delivery of the baby. I sought out neither of those incidents, yet made myself appear in the best light possible when they happened to me. Sometimes things just happen, and all one can do to mitigate once's circumstances is the best her or she is able to do.

If these things, and I can only guess that it is such things that have gotten under the skin of the cunt and the couple of other students who have behaved less than professionally toward me, have caused sincere distress to the three students in question, and to the cunt in particular, I would encourage A) that they evaluate whether or not medical school is a suitable match for them; an B) that they perhaps seek professional psychological assistance. It is not my job to provide that psycholgical assistance, not that I am in any way qualified to do so. 

This is not like when I was a substitute teacher in a high school summer school math class,  when some of the girls were a bit jealous that the boys in their classes were looking at me in a way that would have been far more appropriate that the boys look at their female classmates. In that situation, I felt that it was my responsibility to mitigate some of the discrepancies that existed between myself and my temporary students. I made it a point to compliment each girl in the class each day on some aspect of her physical appearance, hoping not only to make the girls feel better about themselves, but to cause the boys, also, to take notice of their female peers. As far as the math was concerned, of course I was better at it than either the boys or the girls. I held a university degree, while they were mere high school students.  In any event, I had a responsibility to these young people - children, really, though soon to be adults. I took very seriously my role both in teaching them and in keeping the girls in the class from being jealous of me.

This situation in which I'm currently involved was nothing like my substitute teaching gig. I have no obligation whatsoever to do anything to help these women who dislike me to feel better about themselves. That's on them, their own advisors, and their own mental health professionals, if they have been wise enough to engage the services of such;  they most certainly are in need of them.

I did not bring this situation on myself. I said or did did nothing to start this supposed feud. I was not the one who called out a peer whose Halloween costume featured "the slut look," nor did I suggest that "the slut look" was not a good look for anyone. I would never say something of that nature to anyone else, much less in the presence of peers. It is not my job to say anything to the person who said those things to me to make her feel better about herself because I care about her or for any other reason. If she or either of the other two women who have spoken inappropriately to me this year have serious intent to pursue careers as physicians or surgeons, in addition to brushing up on their studying skills, they need both to grow up and to devote time toward the development of social skills as well. I am a mere third year medical school student. It is neither my right nor my responsibility to say anything to say or to do  accelerate either of these processes in any of these women.





Thursday, January 19, 2017

On Call Nights, Breaches in Protocol, and Cunts

Related image
This is obviously not I, but it is an approximation of how tightly my "shrunk"
scrubs fit me. P.S. I'm a bit less endowed, btw.




Tonight was one of my on-call nights. It wasn't supposed to be, but someone else got sick. It's in my orders that I'm not, until my status changes, to be called to fill in for sick or otherwise unfit-to-work colleagues unless not calling me leaves positions inadequately staffed. Because we're there for our own benefit -- to observe and to learn from the observations, and not to make any staff-to-patient ratios legal -- the position should have been left unmanned rather than my having being called to staff it.

Situations such as these put me in predicaments. If I work through too many consecutive nights and sleep too little, I'm more likely to get sick. No one else usually is walking around with the knowledge in his or her head to speak up for me when vacancies pop up and someone is called upon to fill them. Yet it is clearly coded in the computer system whenever my name is selected from the database that I have limitations, and the person who calls me to fill in is ignoring restrictions that are impossible to miss. 

In the morning, when my preceptor and/or the Director of the Year 3 Clerkship program logs in, it will be apparent that someone ignored codes. Who it was that ignored codes will also be apparent. Will that person blame me? Will my preceptor or the Director blame me? I wouldn't mind having it clarified once and for all as to whether  I'm supposed to speak up when my lower-level superiors screw up and assign me for fill-in slots  despite obviously written orders to the contrary, or whether I'm supposed to do as I am ordered and allow it to be sorted out later. In more clear-cut issues, as in once we've reached the point that we're not mere flunkies and that our presence serves a purpose to preserve patient safety and to protect  hospital liability, obviously I'll do whatever is necessary, then deal with the repercussions after the fact. but when we're little more than mere gawkers, I'm not sure I should go to quite such lengths.  In any event, it will be sorted out in few hours, as I'll be on the hospital floor by 6:00 a.m. at the very latest, which is less than an hour from now.

My skin decided to becoe sensitive to certain fabrics again all of the sudden. The previous time it did that and my dad ordered several pairs of hypoallergenic scrubs for me, the condition lasted just long enough for me to wear each pair of scrubs just once. When I put on a set of them for the second time, it became clear that the washing/sterilizing process had shrunk them ever so slightly, not to the point that the pants were high-waters or that the scrub top was too short, exposing my mid section. It was just that the scrubs fit me "very well," if my intent in dressing myself was to impress others with my slight curves. (I know it's the scrubs and not any recent changes in my body dimensions, as every other garment in my wardrobe fits me in exactly the same way it did before winter break. If anything, my other items of clothing are just a bit looser, as I haven't entirely regained a few pounds that I took off when I was sick.)

Wendell (pronounced wenDELL), a male surgical technician who is very openly gay, spotted me from down the hall wearing my flaming-pink scrubs. "Miss Alexis," he called out, "I don't know if you've been shopping recently or have just gained a few curves in the right places, but I must say I LIKE your new look!"

Just around the corner was, unfortunately, the cunt who took exception to my Minnie Mouse costume that I wore on Halloween. Her curiosity picqued by Wendell's outburst, she took a few steps to look at me from around the corner. 
"Alexis," she said in what I presume was her most officious voice, "I though we had discussed this earlier and that I had made myself perfectly clear. The slut look is unbecoming to you both personally and professionally. I expect you to take note of this and to dress more appropriately from this point forward."

Unbeknownst to the cunt, the Director of Nursing was standing on the other side of the corridor in an alcove. She stepped out to survey the situation. I should add for purposes of clarification that the Director of Nursing does not technically oversee medical students in any way, but that her words concerning our performance in any way when shared with our superiors tend to carry a great deal of weight. 

The Director spoke first to the cunt. "And who might you be?" The cuni gave her name. "And what is your position in thes hospital?" The cunt identified herself as a 4th year medical student. "And who is the person about whose attire you are so concerned that you would use crude and derogatory terminology in describing it?" The cunt pointed at me.

"And what is your name, Miss?" the Director of Nursing asked. I identified myself.
"What is your position?" I identified myself as a third-year medical school student. The director of nurses asked me to turn around slowly. I was hesitant to do this, as it doesn't fall under the job description of the Director of Nursing to critique the attire of medical school students. Still, I sensed I had an ally, so I complied, doing a slow 360-degree turn. 

The Director of Nurses smiled at me. She then turned her attention to the cunt.
"I see nothing in any way inappropriate in this woman's attire. If I did see something of concern, however, my action would be to report it to the young woman's job superior, possibly discreetly snapping a picture of the area that I found to be in violation of uniform code. Were I you, I would not ever loudly call her out on any supposed uniform infraction, especially within the earshot of patients and visitors, particularly using the vulgar language used by you, and especially when you may have seniority in your favor but otherwise have no direct authority over her. Are we clear, Miss (cunt)?" 

"Yes," she replied, red-faced.

"You should be forewarned that I will speak to the Director of Clerkships in regard to this incident," the Director of Nursing forewarned the crab*.

Tacitly the crab nodded.

Numerous personnel had stopped to observe the spectacle. "You can all go back to what you are supposed to be doing now," the Director of Nursing called out to the gawkers.

Wendell fist-bumped me as I passed him in the corridor. As the cunt and I passed, she hissed "slut" at me. I would have liked to have hissed "cunt" back at her, but her cell phone was in her hand and looked as though it might possibly be in "record" mode. I instead admonished, "We should probably avoid vulgar language while on the job."  Not only did I not use the "c"word. but I said just enough that it would be difficult for her to doctor the tape and insert someone else's voice saying what she would have preferred for me to have said. 

Even though I had finished my final of three calls over the night (deliveries of three healthy babies -- 2 vaginal deliveries and one c-section, which is about par for the course these days) sleep was out of the question due to adrenaline flowing freely following conflict. I returned home to shower, dry my hair and dress for today. I don't usually wear scrubs to the office unless I am anticipating an early delivery, but I packed the periwinkle pair of the hypoallergenic scrubs, which have been sterilized and will fit me especially well. If I'm called in to observe and assist in another delivery and happen to run into the cunt, once again she will see me attired in a manner of which she does not approve, not that it is any of her concern. 








Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Butt Doctors and Related Matters

I don't own this photo, but I do love it.



For numerous reasons but due primarily to the luck of the draw, I have somewhat lower-than-average immunity to many of the pathogens that surrounds all of us. My mother did not want me to pursue medicine as a career for that reason. My other primary vocational consideration was law. My dad's response to my mom was that courtrooms, jail conference rooms, and other places attorneys frequently hang out are not the most germ-free places on the planet, either. In the end, the decision was not either of theirs to make, and I chose medicine over law. Now that I'm in the thick of a clerkship rotation [OBGYN] that I am not thoroughly enjoying, I may be having second thoughts and thinking my mother may be smarter than she looks, but it's really too late to turn around now, and, furthermore, this is just one lousy rotation.

Actually, were it just the OB (or "obstetrical") half of the specialty, I might actually like this rotation. Hearing a baby's very first cry is an utterly awe-inspiring experience. Though it's something I've experienced only fifteen times (thirteen times here and twice with the births of my Godchildren), I don't think it would get old if I heard it every day of my working life. It's the GYN (or "gynecological" portion) that I'm not particularly enjoying. Not everyone feels as I do, though. Some doctors find the hours connected to delivering babies to be unmanageable, particularly after too many years in the field. After just over a week into the OBGYN rotation, I can attest to the lunacy of the hours obstetricians work. Babies will begin the labor process when it is convenient for them to do so with no thought whatsoever as to to how their timing is going to impact anyone else. Some doctors will attempt to circumvent babies' self-chosen schedules by inducing labor or by arranging for c-sections for highly dubious causes, including not only a preference for a 9:00 to 6:00 workday but for boat payments that will soon be due or Bentleys that need work. (C-sections result in larger fees.) Some scheduled C-sections are for perfectly sound causes, obviously, and I'm not criticizing the obstetrician who schedules a caesarean delivery for a mother who dilated a full ten centimeters yet couldn't push out her previous six-pound baby, and who is now ready to deliver baby #2, who is over seven pounds. That's a no brainer. Why torture, the mother, the baby, or the doctor? Get the scalpels ready. Additionally, malpractice insurance coverage is especially costly for obstetricians. An OBGYN who cuts his job description in half can still usually find more than enough work, and can do so working more reasonable hours and seeing more of his or her patients' fees deposited into his own account as opposed to the payment going in large amounts to his or her malpractice insurance carrier.

We need doctors to fill all specialties, so I'm not complaining about those who settle on proctology, or urology, or the gynecological half of the obstetrics/gynecology spectrum.  Sometimes I'm really tempted to pull the individuals aside who fulfill these specialties and ask them, "Confidentially, just what was it that led you to choose to look at and or up people's butts all day? You can tell me the truth. Your secret is safe."  Of course I'd never actually ask that, because the people in these specialties are usually highly sensitive about their lines of work. I'd be ratted out, and if I weren't bounced from my program, I'd be severely reprimanded at the very least. I'm not suicidal, professionally or otherwise.

Still, I wonder what calls doctors to these specialties. My guess is that the pay is quite competitive. I've never visited a proctologist (though my gastro man has done a bit of related work for me, and my insurance carrier alone  has forked over a good portion of his first kid's undergrad education fees) but I would guess that he is compensated quite fairly for his work.  I wonder if, in communistic countries, the system allows either those who score highest on exams or who praise the despots in power the most effusively to fill the choicest specialties. "You!" says the med school head-honcho, pointing at the guy sitting in the back row, "Got piss-poor score on exam. You be piss doctor, or what is it they call that in America? Urologist! You be urologist!" . . .   "You!" he says next, pointing at guy with sarcastic expression on his face . . . "You laugh at Kim Jong Il's hair cut  when you seven years old. You be butt doctor." Maybe that's how it goes down in such places. I really don't know. Regardless, I wouldn't place a high premium on the quality of medicine practiced there. For those of you who are world travelers who sometimes venture inside borders of countries ruled by dictators, you would be well-advised to ensure that you have at least one cardiologist and one general surgeon in your traveling party and that they are carrying the equipment and medications they need to get you through a basic procedure until you can be transported to a place that practices at least 19th -century medicine.

I haven't yet decided on a specialty, assuming I'm in a position to have much of a say in the matter. If our system changes much here, I may find that I'm assigned to be a butt doctor for having criticized President-Elect Trump's hairstyle. Just to keep my bases covered, I shall go on record as saying President-Elect Trump has a most stylish haircut (at least as compared to Kim Jong Un or his late father Kim Jong Il). I'm giving compliments freely because I really don't want to be a butt doctor.


in the event that you were wondering how they perfected their technique before trying it out on you



Monday, January 16, 2017

Another day, another . . . nothing, because i don't get paid for this




I've just finished my final call for this on-call series. I'm theoretically on call for the entire long weekend, with today being Martin Luther King Day, but my supervising attending has taken me off remaining calls for the long weekend because we've been hit so hard that I'll be useless this week if I don't get a bit of rest.

My last delivery for this on-call block resulted in a baby boy with Down Syndrome. (Note: it's Down Syndrome, not Down's  or Downs Syndrome. Even parents of children with the condition often get this wrong.) Some lab work needs to come back to confirm the diagnosis officially, but it's a done deal where this baby is concerned. The baby's father is an RN (we've worked together), and he recognized it before anyone said anything. No one did actually say anything about it.

Down Syndrome occurs with abnormal chromosomal division. A human cell typically has twenty-three pairs of chromosomes, with one set coming from each parent. When a baby has Down Syndrome, a third chromosome # 21 is present. Most often this third chromosome comes from the mother. This form of Down Syndrome is known as Trisomy 21, and is responsible for roughly 95% of all cases of Down Syndrome. There are variations of Down syndrome. One rare  type, known as translocation, happens when a part of the extra chromosome breaks off and attaches itself to another chromosome (usually 13, 15, or 22, if it matters to anyone.) The outcome of the translocation form of down syndrome in terms of the child's prognosis is typically the same as the basic Trisomy 21 form. Its difference is really significant only in that one parent is usually an asymptomatic carrier of the trait. This might significantly influence a couple's decision as to whether or not to have more biological children. A third form of Down Syndrome, known as mosaicism, occurs when, for some reason, not all cells in the child's body contain duplicates of chromosome #21. When such is the case, the degree to which the child is impacted by the resulting disability varies widely.

Down Syndrome is usually diagnosed at birth because of physical manifestations, though the diagnosis must be confirmed through lab work, as some children or even adults possess physical traits consistent with the syndrome without actually having it.

The baby whose delivery I participated in today had a smallish head. I believe that was what first set of the father's radar. He then reached for one of the baby's hands, and traced the crease across the palm. Without even really thinking about it, I reached for the little guy' foot and felt between his first and second toes, where there was a noticeable crease. The father made eye contact with me. I'm not certain exactly what was meant by the look we exchanged, but I assume he was confirming what we both knew, and maybe he was silently imploring for me not to say anything aloud. The mother may not yet have been ready to hear it. Regardless, it's not the place of a third-year medical student to announce the diagnosis, whatever the diagnosis may be.

The Apgar measures were low for muscle tone, and the baby's cry was weak. He was stable, though. We cleaned and wrapped him and handed him to his mommy. the father whispered a question to the OBGYN and pediatrician about lab testing. the pediatrician said they would get a blood sample right away.

The baby and his parents were moved to a more comfortable room. As we left them, the father squeezed my hand and told me thanks in a whispered voice. I just nodded. I'm not sure why he was thanking me, unless it was for not blurting anything out. I just nodded.

The prototypical Down Syndrome baby has a mother  thirty-five years of age or older at birth. This little guy's mom is twenty-six. At this point, no actions on the part of either parent are known to contribute to the likelihood of producing a baby with Down Syndrome. A mom can drink like a fish throughout her whole pregnancy and use every banned substance known to man. That will cause a host of other conditions for the baby, but it does nothing to increase the baby's chances  of Down syndrome.

The way the age factor works, as best we understand it, is that the older a mother is, the more negative exposure her eggs have had. while we don't know what specifically would cause Chromosome #21 to split, we do know that older eggs are more likely to be damaged. The odds are still slight in favor of Down syndrome, but  the chances of the condition occurring increase with maternal age.

Amniocentesis is recommended for mothers 35 and up because 35 is the initial age at which the chance of Down Syndrome is greater than the chance of miscarriage due to amniocentesis (or chorionic villi sampling -- a similar prenatal test in which cord blood is s; there's still an abdominal injection required, but the risks of miscarriage due to the procedure are slightly lower). Not everyone who opts for either amniocentesis or chorionic villi sampling automatically plans to terminate the pregnancy if the results of the testing indicate that the child has Down Syndrome. Some parents just want to be prepared in advanced for whatever it is that they are facing. Regardless of their choice or of the reason they made the choice, i'm not there to judge them. I just feel for them. as one pediatrician told me early in my thrid year, with everything than can possibly go wring between a child's conception and birth, it's a mircale that any baby escapes the process unscathed.

I desperately need the day off tomorrow. I'm so exhausted that I'm typing gibberish and having to go back to make sense of it. I typed something last night about Fiji to a friend. I haven't a clue as to what I was typing about. Why Fiji, of all places?

Tomorrow I shall mostly sleep, eat, and play my instruments. I will probably make a quick trip to the hospital to check on the new little family whose baby I just helped deliver. By now the mom should have been told. I hope they're OK.




Sunday, January 15, 2017

Music Lessons, the People Who Teach Them, and Those Who Pay for Them

This is not I. We don't have an early picture of me playing the piano.



I've taken a lot of piano lessons in my day, and I've given a few as well. The vast majority of the lessons I've both taken and given have taken place without money changing hands. My mother taught me until I was twelve. She was skilled enough, and our relationship as piano student and teacher was pretty much free of rancor,  that I didn't really need to upgrade to a new teacher.  It was just that, from her experience, at a certain point a student learns most of what he or she will ever learn from a given teacher, and there comes a time for change. We were, fortunately, living in a university town. The university had a sufficiently high-quality music department that a decent piano teacher was easy enough to procure. I wouldn't say that the new guy was any better than my mom (he had essentially identical credentials for the job, which would have been a PhD in piano performance. It was a lateral move for me. The new guy didn't hold me back, nor did he necessarily accelerate my progress. It was, if anything, probably good to hear someone else saying the same things my mom had said, thus reaffirming basic principles.  It was also a break for my mom. We didn't have conflicts during my piano lesson, but passing the burden of  my lessons off to someone else might have freed us up from the necessity of being civil to one another for thirty consecutive minutes out of every week, which might have been more of a strain than either of us could have borne.

Incidentally, it's been strongly recommended by several of the gurus of education that there are three things a parent should not attempt to teach his or her own child: reading, swimming, and playing the piano. I learned to read independently, but my mom taught Matthew to read. My dad taught both Matthew and me to swim. My mom taught me to pay the piano, which I, in turn,  taught Matthew. This leads to one of two conclusions: A) the educational gurus do not know what the hell about which they are talking; B) we are one fucked-up family, and our failure to follows these basic directives as given by leading experts in the field of education only served to make us even more fucked up than we otherwise would have been. I'll leave it to each of my thirteen or so readers to form his or her own conclusion.

I taught Matthew to play the piano. At somewhere around the time we were five, after I had already been playing for a few years and could play simple Mozart compositions, Bach Two-Part Inventions, and anything that didn't required large hands, my mom decided that it was time for Matthew to learn to play the piano. She was patient at first, but it soon drove her to distraction that Matthew did not master the basic concepts of piano as easily as I did. At some point after a month or two of lessons, she concluded that she couldn't teach him any longer. I don't know if she considered hiring another teacher for him, considering that the parent-child relationship might be interfering with her ability to teach him, but she didn't rush out to find another teacher for him. Then, before long, she noticed that he was playing the simple tunes and scales she had tried to teach him. "Where did you learn to play that?" she asked him after hearing him play a two-octave B-flat scale with both hands.

"Baby Lexus showed me," he answered her. She was shocked but decided to leave well enough alone. Matthew's level of piano skill never quite approached mine, but he played better than most of our peers who studied piano at the time. He ultimately moved on to guitar as his primary instrument, but still plays simple classics proficiently. 

My other experience in teaching piano came when I was receiving in-patient treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. A requirement for high school graduation at my local high school was to devote 100 hours throughout the final two years of high school to community service. Prior to my senior year, i had completed over forty of those hours. Once I was in the facility, my options for service were limited. I suppose I could have scrubbed floors or emptied trash cans, but assisting others with their academic studies and teaching piano to those who were interested seemed  great deal more appealing.  Because the nature of the service was "volunteer," again, no payment was involved.

A friend of mine is now attempting to complete her master's degree in vocal music performance. She has a few grants and is receiving a bit of help from her parents as well, but she would prefer to teach music on the side as opposed to taking on shifts at Starbucks or flipping burgers at In & Out or wherever else burgers are flipped. She is qualified to teach voice lessons to an undergraduate college student or lower. She is also qualified to teach flute lessons to from high school level down, and is qualified to teach basic piano lessons, as in to anyone who has mastered less than five solid years worth of piano curriculum.  She has printed flyers and business cards, and she had posted at actual venues and on-line sites where her prospective clientele might be found.

My friend has had numerous inquiries, but  the point at which she loses clients seems to be over the cost for lessons.  She is requesting a flat rate of  $25 dollars per half-hour lesson. I've told her I would consider it to be a reasonable rate, and it's what everyone I know pays for starting level music lessons.  For some reason -- maybe because of Internet tutorials or other things available elsewhere -- people do not seem to want to pay the going rate for piano lessons. Some people get around paying the going rate by just a bit in signing up for (in my opinion) slightly funky group lesson formats. Again, just in my opinion, kids spend a lot of time standing around in lines waiting for their turns to play, and instructors spend as much time disciplining as teaching. I see this as neither an efficient way nor a cost-efficient way for a child to be taught music.  If others are having success with this manner of piano instruction, more power to them, but I'd love to see this model taught in a way that it actually works.

I have a friend who is a recently retired California public school teacher. Her pension and savings are such that she isn't in any grave need of supplementing her income. She is a virtuoso pianists and has been asked for many years about giving piano lessons.  She has always said that she would consider taking on a few piano students when she retired, but that the money she earned had to be worth tying up an afternoon ir two  in her week in order for her to consider teaching.piano. She, too, has announced the $25.00 rate, with a family rate of $20.00 per lesson for two or more children in the same family provided that the lessons are on the same day and are consecutive. She will teach the lessons at the client's home for an additional five dollars (the five dollars is applied only one time for families with multiple students on the same day).  This friend of mine is highly qualified. She has the right, and she has utilized that right, to use the university's logo in her lesson flyers and on her business cards.

 She has had many inquiries but few (as in zero)  takers once the fee schedule is announced. She even offers to give the child's or family's lessons for free  for the first month as sort of a trial run. Still, that $25-dollar-per-lesson fee scares people away.

My friend, the retired one, said that much earlier in her life, she gave lessons free of charge to children in families where to money might have been a hardship. What she found was that families took the attitude that what they got was what they paid for. Because the lessons weren't costing them anything, they were far less likely to see to it that their children practice. children, to, valued the lessons less because their parents did. She saw next no no progress in those students who received free lessons.

(On an only mildly related note, my mom considers the same principle to be at work in private education versus public schooling. When parents are shelling out their own hard-earned bucks for their kids' education, they A) think it's a superior product because they are paying for it. They hold their children accountable both for meeting academic standards and for meeting behavior standards; and B) they believe that because they are paying for it, it must somehow inherently be superior to that which is provided gratis by the public schools around them, and they, again, insist that their children apply themselves to their work and take advantage of what is offered by those private schools.)


When I took cello lessons briefly, I paid $35.00 dollars for each 1/2-hour lesson. I am in an area where the cost-of-living is higher than it is where my friends are proposing to teach, which could account for the accelerated cost of the lessons. Still, I thought nothing of paying the $35-per-hour fee. Music lessons - except for the group lessons public schools provide -- are not free. If a person wants his or her child to achieve at a high level in musicianship, private instruction is essential. A person may labor under the illusion that his or her child is a modern-day Mozart whose skills will turn into glorious music without outside intervention, but that person is, for all intents and purposes, a fool. Furthermore, even Mozart received instruction in basic music skills. The concepts may have come more easily to him than to most, and the instruction may not have continued for as long as it was continued with most musicians of his calibre, but suffice it to say that  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was not entirely a self-taught musician. 

Furthermore, if one intends to take music to a higher level, fees for various services are going to pop up on a regular basis. Methods books, even in public school music programs, must usually be purchased by students' parents. Instruments may need to be rented or purchased. (The easiest way around this is to join choir, as no one can charge a person rent for his or her own voice; not quite, but almost equally automatically free, are the use of a school's baritones and tubas. Hardly anyone wants to play baritone or tuba, so many schools have a few baritones or tubas lying around, available for student use free of charge. The methods books will still need to be purchased, but those are minor charges in comparison with actual instrument rental fees. If your child plays clarinet, saxophone, oboe, or bassoon, reeds will need to be purchased, The reeds seem to split on a regular basis, usually at the worst possible times, so extras need to be kept on hand. My friend Megan admits to having had a fascination with her older brother's saxophone reeds when she was about four years old, and single-handedly shredded dozens of the things with her bare hands before anyone figured out that it was she who was doing it and told her to cut it the hell out or else . . . Strings of violins, violas, and cellos are similarly lacking in sturdiness, and seem to snap regularly in the hands of inexperienced players attempting to tune the instruments.

As the skills of a musician build, likewise do the opportunities for him or her to spend money in honing his or her craft. Master's classes, in which an individual musician appears with two to ten other student musicians to be briefly instructed by the expert or "master," but also benefits from the pointers the master gives to his or her peers, happen multiple times each year and  may be a required part of a musician's tutelage. Solo performance festivals, at which musicians play in the presence of a panel of experts and are critiqued and given pointers, but sometimes given honors as well, are also a regular part of a young person's musical education. Perhaps a musician plays an instrument for which accompaniment is needed. Do not delude yourself into thinking that those accompanists crawl out of the woodwork and beg for the honor of accompanying your young musician just for the pure pleasure of the experience and for the bragging rights of having done so. The accompaniment for a senior recital to fulfill that portion of a bachelor's degree typically costs $400, payable (usually in cash) either on the night of the rehearsal, or, at the very latest, on the day or night of the rehearsal, prior to performance. Accompanists are not expected to resort to small claims court to recover their fees, which is why they payment typically precedes the performance. And accompaniment fees are  one of many fees related to the senior recital. The hall must be rented. If the hall is not in pristine condition following the recital, a fee covers cleaning the cleaning. The programs must be printed, adjudicators in many instances must be paid. Even ushers and an M.C. in many instances have to be compensated. A fee covers the estimated cost of the utilities used for the building during the evening. The accompanist fee for a master's recital is even more, though if the musician for whose musical education you are footing the bill has reached this level, by now you're well aware of the costs, both overt and hidden, connected to a high-calibre music education. you know even about the post-recital reception that the music student and/or his cash cows are expected to cough up the money to cover. The reception need not be  elaborate, but your music student does wish to be the one everyone talks about each time there's another recital, as in, "Remember the girl who served generic Oreos and Kool-Aid after her recital?"  Beef Wellington isn't required, but it's best to stay at least a cut above popcorn and powdered lemonade, with paper towels purloined from the staff restroom serving as party napkins.

Music instruction fees start out small, though $25 dollars apparently doesn't seem all that small to some, and grow commensurately  as a musician's skills grow.   Thus the need need for an instructor of greater skill increases, and with that greater level of skill in an instructor, the size of the fee will logically increase. Ultimately these fees are paid as part of university tuition. Still, university students who pay thousands of dollars per semester for private music instruction would laugh at parents who grumble at having to shell out a mere $25 per half-hour lesson.

The piano teacher who is asking for a mere $25 per lesson had to shell out a cast-of living-adjusted version of that $25 fee himself or herself doe several years a long time ago, along with countless hours of practice. The piano fairy obviously didn't just visit his or her room and sprinkle magic dust on him or her one night,  declaring,  "You shall be a great pianist and have all that goes along with it, including the necessary method books and sheet music, an adequate instrument on which to play, and free music lessons."  The piano teacher obviously had to pay for all of those things himself  or herself, usually with the help of others - namely, parents.  Now, not only is he or she, the music teacher, asking in that $25 piano lesson rate, for a return on all the costs he or she incurred through the years, but for the opportunity to put bread on his or her own table, and perhaps  even for the opportunity to give his or her own child opportunities to study in fields the piano teacher is not qualified to teach. Perhaps the piano teacher's child would like to study gymnastics.  Is the gymnastics instructor willing to give the piano teacher's child a cut in  tuition rate because many parents think $25 dollars is too much to pay for a piano lesson?  I haven't asked any gymnastics teachers about their policies lately, but my guess is no, they're not willing to be flexible.

Perhaps your child has no interest in piano lessons. If such is the case, great. The world probably already has too many people who were forced to take piano lessons as kids who had no interest in learning. If your child expresses an interest in learning to play the piano, however, and purchasing a new or used piano is within your means, do considering picking up a piano and making arrangements for lessons. Also require a minimum commitment from your child, which may be three months, four months, or a year, depending upon your family's finances and other logistical considerations. Please, however, do not let the $25 or $35 lesson fee be the deciding factor against you child's having lessons.  Allowing the piano teacher's  fee, which usually amounts to far less than what your family pays for cable television, for manicures and pedicures, or for pizza in a given month, would seem to me to be an imbalance in a family's priorities. I'll discuss this on another day, but even if a child never approaches mastery the piano, just by virtue of having a piano in a child's home and by his or her been given a few months of lessons, both his or her verbal and performance IQs will have been raised by roughly 5%. That number rises dramatically if the child  actually achieves some degree of musicality, but even if the piano remains essentially decorative furniture -- played by a child a couple times a month when he or she has tired of video games, it is serving a constructive purpose.

Moreover, while not every child will grow to be the next Vladimer Horowitz (quite frankly, hardly if any of them at  all will be), your refusal to adjust your family's budget  in order to pay a piano teacher a measly $25 per week  (or, God forbid $30 or $35 if that's the going rate in your neck of the woods), will, in the end, cost you more than whatever it was that the  piano teacher  requested for his or her services. 


                                         I do not own this video.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Somewhat Educated but Even More Opinionated Post Regarding Caesarean Deliveries







  It's just after 4:00 a.m. PST, and I've been out of the house on my fourth call since I left work at 8:15. I left work later than usual because a baby announced its intent to its entrance into the world just as I was headed out the door for home at 6:05.  If anyone missed the news in an earlier reference, I'm nearly through the first week of my OBGYN rotation.

     OBGYN is not a branch of medicine that is well-suited to those who like and/or insist upon regular working hours. Babies choose to make their appearances into the world at whatever hours are convenient to them through some process that is still a mystery to all of us.  Doctors use  measures to reduce the inconvenience. They trade on-call nights so that any given doctor's sleep isn't disrupted every night. Some doctors attempt  lot of labor inductions during normal working hours. Some obstetricians perform a disproportionate number of caesarean section deliveries, the majority of which happen during normal business hours, in order to reduce the number of times they'll be called in at odd hours to deliver the babies.  

     This, in my opinion, isn't as terrible as it sounds to some. Any given baby in the United States has almost one chance in three of being born via c-section regardless of the best-laid plans of mothers and doctors. Some mothers are predisposed to a greater likelihood than others of delivering via the surgical route. Some caesareans happen through the luck of the draw. Some doctors resort to surgical deliveries at the first sign of difficulty. Whether the baby in question is dealing with his own odds or those of his or her obstetrician, there is an element of wisdom in determining what would have been the forty-week point of gestation for the baby (which is actually thirty-eight weeks, but that can be discussed at another time), shaving a day or two off the time so that labor doesn't start, and scheduling a c-section delivery.  I AM NOT SAYING OR EVEN HINTING THAT EVERY BABY SHOULD BE BORN BY C-SECTION. I am saying, however, that if a surgical delivery is safer for mother or baby, it should happen.

     Gone, in most parts of the U.S., anyway, and even in most parts of the world, is the idea of a woman delivering her baby in a potato field, then carrying him in her apron to the farm house, where eventually someone might come to her aid. (That actually happened to my great-grandmother in giving birth to her third child.) That happened because it was the best people could do with the circumstances they faced. It in no way meant such was the ideal way in which to bring a child into the world.

     Pregnancy and childbirth are now very much dealt with in medical capacities. From the diagnosis to early care to late care to delivery itself, the medical profession is involved.

   There are those who would have it otherwise. Some of them are actively fighting medical intervention -- even actively fighting others' right to medical intervention. Others are quietly going about their own lives, hoping their own rights to use widwifery and to bear their children at home will not be taken from them. I feel they are endangering their own well-being nd the lives of their own unborn children, I'm still willing to champion these women's rights as long as they do nothing to undermine my right to treat pregnancy and childbirth as a medical procedure.

     Where I feel that these women and their families have gone wrong [in my opinion]  is that they seem to value to the process of unassisted labor itself over the end product of producing a healthy newborn. To my way of thinking, it's all about producing the healthiest baby one can have. The simplest and most logical way of doing that is not to stay home for the birth and to give birth on one' toilet [although I do suppose that's one way of exposing the neonate to bacteria right away] or to kick all the doctors out of the birthing setting.

     While there's no reason for a child to be born in a more harsh environment than is necessary, when my day comes, I'll keep the lights dim util the OBGYN says he needs brighter lights in order to see what it is he's (or she's) doing. I'll have soft music played in the background, but if the doctor gets a bit loud and causes me not to be able to hear the Mozart or Bach that's playing softly in the background, I'll consider it a natural casualty in the name of modern medicine. If my OBGYN suggests that things are not moving along a quickly as they should be, and insists a caesarean is the safest way to move things along, he or she will not get any argument for me.

     The reasons for this are that most medical personnel do their bast work following a decent night's sleep and knowing in advance what is scheduled for the day and time. Healthy babies are born all the time, whether vaginally or abdominally, at odd hours.  A tremendous advantage to the baby in this process is that most labor ad delivery personnel, from the doctors to the nurses to the technicians of various sorts, genuinely thrive upon bringing new babies in the world at whatever hours the babies manage to be born.  I can understand the mentality that goes into this. There is a rush present at the birth of a healthy baby that I've never seen  and probably never will ever see elsewhere. 

     Caesarean section deliveries (the name supposedly came about due to Julius Caesar having been delivered in this manner, though much debate surrounds the origin of the name) were major surgeries at one time. They're still considered as such, as any opening of the body to major organs is typically classified as "major surgery."  The procedure, though, is now also considered routine, and, depending upon the nature of the hospital in question, is often the most frequently performed surgery in any given day.  Unexpected complications can arise in a caesarean delivery, and recovery time is definitely longer for a caesarean delivery than for a vaginal delivery, but I personally do not believe that it can be rationally concluded that a vaginal delivery is safer for the baby than is a caesarean delivery, particularly when a surgical delivery of the child has been anticipated in advance. While a baby whose is delivered vaginally works mucus and fluids out of his lungs through the natural process, which is a good thing, modern medicine is equipped to deal with any issues related to the absence of this happening due to the manner of birth. Additionally, a child born vaginally is exposed to bacteria through its mother while traveling down the birth canal. While the idea of bacteria may seem like an automatic negative to some, we all need exposure to bacteria in order to develop our immune systems. This is especially true for newborns, and the initial exposure to the newborn to bacteria through its own mother is probably the least harmful way such can happen. Nonetheless, it is my opinion that the positives of a vaginal delivery for an infant are outweighed by the negatives, with the negatives, in my opinion, is that throughout [in particular, a lengthy] delivery, so many hazards are present that, even disallowing for human error, a baby is usually safer through a surgical delivery.

     Where the mother is concerned, more risks are, at present, associated with Caesarean delivery than with vaginal delivery. The single greatest risk for the mother is the risk of death due to blood clots, which is at present  three times greater for mother who delivered by c-section as opposed to mothers who delivered vaginally. The rate of maternal death in childbirth or following childbirth is still incredibly low in the U.S. Other risks cited include frequent delay in breast-feeding by mothers who have given birth surgically, the greater pain as associated with a surgical delivery, and the economic impact of longer hospital stays. As far as economic impact of extended hospital stays is considered, it should not be a concern, in my opinion, if the surgical delivery is otherwise better either for the mother or for the baby. Where breastfeeding is cited as having been interfered with by surgical delivery, I personally do not believe it. yes, it may be delayed by up to a dy, but my experience is that it happens when it would otherwise have happened irrespective of the manner of delivery.  Where greater maternal death is taking place due to blood clots, this is obviously not something to be taken lightly.  It's a reason not to automatically sign up for caesarean deliveries when no other indications for surgical deliveries are present. Still, women develop blood clots or otherwise bleed out following vaginal deliveries as well.  

     Many studies detracting the practice of caesarean section deliveries are paid for or otherwise promoted by insurance carriers. This is a fact that should not be taken lightly in forming conclusions regarding the safety of one manner of childbirth over another. Insurance carriers have a vested interest in slowing the rate at which caesarean deliveries because the norm as opposed to the exception. Because there is a considerable difference in cost to the insurance carrier for the more invasive surgical delivery, it is entirely reasonable that an insurance carrier should not be forced to bear the full cost of a purely  elective surgical delivery. It seems logical [and is current practice] that the patient should pay the difference between the cost of a caesarean delivery and a vaginal delivery in cases where the choice to opt for a caesarean is entirely elective. That alone will not solve insurance carriers' cost issues, though, as doctors have been known to be creative in advocating for their patients' needs; it's not inconceivable that  the most elective caesarean ever performed was done so at full cost to the insurer through skillful wording on the part of the obstetrician. It would be nice if a happy medium could be found here. I know that there is supposed to be discomfort associated with giving birth to  baby. If I elect to have the pricier option that gives me the least amount of agony through the actual labor/delivery process (the pain may be greater later than if I had opted for the more natural process of delivery itself) I should expect that it will come at greater financial cost to myself. 

     On a not entirely unrelated note, when I was taking civics and economics my tenth-grade year (I would have been thirteen and fourteen at the time, but most of my classmates would have been seventeen or eighteen), a girl who sat directly in front of me was in early stages of pregnancy at the beginning of the school year  but by June, was great with child. The child was conceived quite legitimately. The mother's own parents, in their infinite wisdom, had allowed their daughter to marry the love of her life  on Valentine's Day of her junior year of high school.  The baby that appeared as a result of his parents' love was due to make his official appearance into the world on whatever day in june graduation for which graduation was scheduled. (That's how little importance I placed on lower acadaemia; I cannot even tell you on what day I graduated from high school, and it hasn't even been six years since the big day took place.)

    Our economics instructor was in his twenties, and his wife, also in her twenties, was expecting her first baby close to the time my classmate's baby was due. (As it turned out, my classmate's baby beat the instructor's baby by six hours give or take a few minutes, but the two babies were roommates in the hospital's neonatal nursery.) Our instructor  was especially interested in his student's and my classmate's pregnancy. Each day as she dragged herself into the 7:55 a.m. class (her attendance was exemplary that year, as she had been told that if she experienced undue absences due to pregnancy-related matters, she would be transferred to an alternative high school program) our instructor would first ask her how she was feeling, but would soon launch into his daily speech, which he supposedly picked up from his wife's OBGYN, that pregnancy was neither an illness nor a medical condition, but  instead, was a perfectly normal part of life. This must have been difficult for my classmate to hear at the various phases of her pregnancy. Early in her pregnancy, there wasn't enough concealer or foundation to cover the shade of green that her face had become.  I recall following her out of the classroom on numerous occasions to offer water, damp paper towels, breath mints, or whatever else she might want as she sat in the damp dirt of the flower beds outside our classroom on cool October mornings after having tossed up whatever breakfast she had been able to get down. The two of us had not been especially close prior to being seated one in front of the other in this class. I don't think we'd even before been enrolled in the same class previously. It was simply a mother-of-invention sort of thing. Melinda needed someone to attend to her needs, and I, in addition to being seated nearby, could afford to miss a few notes from the teacher's lectures. He lectured straight from the book and I, unlike most of my older classmates, had actually read the required readings.

     Things got better for Melinda for awhile -- I hear that the second trimester of pregnancy is often the easiest -- until they got worse. She wasn't sleeping well; each morning the circles beneath her dark brown eyes seemed to grow a bit darker and more deeply ingrained. If the pregnancy itself hadn't done her in had the pregnancy exceeded its estimations by more than twenty-four house, suspect the heartburn would have killed her., the heartburn probably would have killed her had the pregnancy gone on for twenty-four hours beyond the doctor's initial estimation of the length of the pregnancy. Melinda's walk progressed to the classic pregnancy waddle, which no one dared to make fun of her for primarily because of our civic/economics teacher, who, while spouting nonsense about pregnancy being not an illness or infirmity but  a perfectly natural condition, was also hearing another side of things from his wife. The teacher's wife understood that pregnancy was sufficiently uncomfortable as experienced on her living room sofa. She couldn't have imagined what it would have been like as a barely-eighteen-year-old, dragging herself from one high school class to the next while feeling pains in places she didn't even know existed. The thoughtless comments from dweebishly immature high school jocks, not to  mention the snide cat-like commentary from too much of the female enrollment -- not about what landed her in the state she was in, but, rather, pertaining primarily to her resemblance to a whale and her difficulty in making her way for one class to the next, were almost more than Melinda could tolerate, and Mrs. Roche, our instructor's wife, had heard of Melinda's tormentors. She - Mrs. Roche -- made it her mission to insure that her husband took it upon himself as his personal crusade to put a stop to any and all harassment of Melinda.  Sexual harassment laws had been recently enacted, and Mrs. Roche saw to it that those laws were used to for the benefit of melinda's protection. Eventually other faculty member got on board, and it became difficult for anyone to make the most benign of jokes at Melinda's expense without soon realizing that the few laughs one might get from such a joke were not with the faculty harassment and possibly even office involvement Melissa still had to face the near-terminal heartburn,  the baby's favorite trick of stomping on his mother's bladder at the most inopportune of times, the awkwardness of her body's vastly different dimensions as compared  a year earlier, her related dwindling wardrobe, and other related indignities almost too numerous to count. Still, she was spared harassment of the student body, which was only fair. While I have as much a problem with slut-shaming as does the next person, Melinda wasn't guilty of it. She was, as far as anyone in our high school could prove, as pure as newly fallen snow on the night she married. While her choice or non-choice (I have no idea, nor have I any need to know, how "planned" this pregnancy was) of conceiving her child so that she would be in a state of enceinte throughout that vast majority of her senior year of high school, it was of no one's concern other than hers and her husbands. The reason it was treated as such was largely because of the commitment on the part of Melinda's civics/economics teacher's wife  to insist that her husband act as a protector to this seventeen-to-eighteen-year-old girl. No one could spare her the physical discomforts inherent to pregnancy, but she was at least protected from the vast majority of demeaning comments from the student body.

Credit for one aspect of Melinda's comfort belongs chiefly to my own father. He was at this time out of the air force and was flying commercially. I casually mentioned at dinner one night (even though it was just the two of us at home, we usually ate dinner together whenever his schedule permitted it) that melinda could no longer fit into the desk that had a chair attached to it. Her midsection had grown so large that she didn't fit into the space allotted for a body any longer. He didn't even appear to be paying attention as I told him of this situation. nevertheless two mornings later, about an hour before class was to start, he appeared on campus with a local furniture owner. They carted in a not-inexpensive plush recliner. After custodians were located, the classroom was unlocked, and the previous desk was moved out, the recliner, complete with matching cushions and a board of sorts which Melinda could hold on her lap in order to write as she needed to , was loaded into Melinda's spot in the front row.  I recall her actually crying when she came into the room and saw it. It hadn't occurred to me jut how self-conscious she must have felt in trying to squeeze her body into the old wood-wire-and -plastic model student desk.

My teacher may have felt that he was doing the right thing in telling Melinda that pregnancy isn't an illness and that it is a very natural biological process, but the truth of the matter was that he was incorrect. There was also a time when -- while I don't think anyone was saying it wasn't an illness, dealing with cancer was a very natural process as well. Since not much could be done for anyone suffering from it, in the end, a whole lot of morphine was injected until the victim finally succumbed. The same probably could have been said of numerous illnesses. 












Wednesday, January 11, 2017

RIP, Alan Thicke



     At some point in the midst of finals and the wedding in which i participated just before going to Europe,  Alan Thicke left this world.  He had  a relatively varied career - singer, composer of TV theme songs, talk show host, actor, and I don't know what else. I knew him primarily through watching reruns of his sitcom Growing Pains.

     Growing Pains initially featured two parents and three kids. (At some point the brought in a fourth and maybe even a foster kid.) The only kids in the series to which I paid any attention were the oldest two - Mike and Carol. The character of Mike could have been loosely patterned after my brother -- a bit of a cool jock trouble-maker. carol's character, on the other hand, so eerily resembled me that one might have thought the creators of the show had bugged our home for character development ideas were it not for the fact that the show predated me by a few years. Carol Seaver was the quintessential brainy nerd.

    The Seaver parents were so much cooler than my own parents were that I wanted to escaped to the land of TV and be adopted by them. There were many people, both real-live people and fictional characters, whom I would have paid my entire inheritance (which may not be much; I know neither how much money my parents have, what they plan to do with it when they make their final exits, nor, for that matter, if I'll even outlive them).  Suffice it to say I would have given anything to be spirited away by the Witness Protection Program to the Seavers' set that pretended to be their house.

     Part of my affinity for Mr. Thicke would undoubtedly be a "Canadian pride" thing. I'm U.S.-born but hold dual citizenship due to my father having been born a bit unexpectedly on a trip back across the northern border for a family funeral after his parents had already relocated to the U.S. I'm American to the core, but there's a part of me that clings to things that are and people who are Canadian as well.

    With the deaths of both Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, among others,  it's been a rough season for celebrity deaths. Still, I didn't want to let Alan Thicke's passing go without any notice. I hope you're still out there somewhere, Mr. Thicke.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Odd Relatives I Have Previously Neglected





too small to be my actual extended family on either side, but it gives the reader an image with which to work





     I've ragged about my father's family almost ad nauseum, and for good reason. They're some of the strangest creatures ever to walk the planet. In using -- perhaps even overusing -- this obvious source of mirth, I may have neglected another source that, while not quite so pure a personification of Theatre of the Absurd, is still noteworthy in its aberration. In short, my mother's family has not received its due share of attention in this blog. I shall attempt at this time to correct this injustice ever so slightly.

     My mother is technically the youngest of seven. I use the term technically to note that in the caesarean delivery that produced both her and her twin brother, Kevin, she came in second (and last) in the lottery or the coin toss or the placement in utero or whatever influenced the OBGYN to pluck her brother out first. As far as I know, it was the very last time she came in second to Kevin in anything. She walked earlier, talked sooner, learned to escape cribs and playpens at an earlier age, outran, out-jumped, and outscored her brother in virtually every known measure. Despite having no intention whatsoever of joining the military (that would have made Private Benjamin by comparison to appear as a documentary), she took the ASVAB (the test that is given to prospective military candidates) and thoroughly kicked his butt on that measure as well. 

    At the time my mom was twelve and in eighth grade, she drove herself (and her brother, too, if the two of them were on good terms) to school each day in the new TransAm that she purchased with winnings from a gambling ring. Her football betting operation was successful in part because she was able to start out with large bets due to having banked a large sum of money from organ-playing jobs at church services, weddings, and funerals. She probably could have paid for the car solely with her earnings from musical gigs, but she saw a source of income (high school boys who thought they knew a great deal more about college and professional sports than they actually did at a time before the Internet was up and running) too promising to pass up, and in possession of the capital to back up potential early losses, she was able to start out full-steam. Early losses by her clientele seemed to compel them all the more to want to win their money back, but their bets seemed to grow increasingly desperate, to the extent of taking ridiculous underdogs. All my mom had to do at this rate to make money was to bet on the favorite unless the opposition was willing to give up a ridiculous number of points. She closed out her shop after football season of her junior year, before any authorities had even caught wind of her operation. At that point, in addition to her car and steady gas money, she had put away enough cash to pay for the first two years of her college education. She chose to end her high school career after just three years at the age of fifteen, and her nest egg was even not needed to fund her education because of the amount of scholarship money she earned.

     My mom's twin Kevin stuck around the high school for an additional year until he was admitted at the age of sixteen to the U.S. Air Force Academy's prep school. (Perhaps it was one of several prep schools the academy operates or operated, or it may have been just the one; I really don't know.) At seventeen, he moved on to the actual academy, and made it through in the typical four years, graduating as a pilot. He's still in military service. I don't want to interfere with his career, so I'll hold off on sharing the juiciest bits of information about him. Let me just share with you that he irons his underwear, that he won't eat anything that is yellow in color, that he takes his own bedding to hotels (even really nice hotels) because he doesn't trust what is provided, and he carries a pair of dice with him in his pocket at all times (I don't know if he wears pjs with pockets or keeps the dice on his night stand when he sleeps) because he cannot force himself to make decisions -- major ones, minor ones, any decisions at all -- and is thus forced to settle matters by the roll of dice. I'm sure it would be highly comforting to many military personnel (and to their parents as well) that many decisions concerning the lives of Uncle Kevin's subordinate military personnel are made on the basis of the roll of a couple of dice. In the interest of preserving U.S. military security, I shall not dish any additional dirt pertaining to Kevin. Kevin is married to Diane, who supplements their family's income as a belly dancer when opportunities for her service are available.

Next in the chronological rankings of my mother's siblings is Uncle Brian. He did his stint at the U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, too, and also became a pilot.  After fulfilling whatever the minimum of time for military service is or was following receipt of an education at a U.S. Military Academy (Six years seems right, but I wouldn't insist upon that as fact. Perhaps Knotty knows. I could call one of my relatives, but I don't think any one of them particularly wants to hear from me at this moment, so I'll leave the definitive answer concerning length of time for mandatory service following an academy education up in the air for now) he chose to take his talents to the private sector, working for a commercial airline. One of Brian's distinctions is that he was considered too tall at 6' 6.5" to be a pilot and was required to obtain a waiver. Certain jets he was not allowed to fly due to his inability to fit comfortably into the cockpits;  other planes were found that he could fly. I don't think the height thing has been a problem in the commercial airline field. 

     Uncle Brian, a lady's man, thrived in the life of an airline pilot. At one point, the family believes he had "serious" girlfriends in at least eleven different cities. At least he didn't knock any of them up as far as we know. I may have cousins I don't even know about all over the place. If or when I decide to get serious and consider marriage with someone, I probably should have the prospective suitor's background very thoroughly checked, because it would be an utter shame to be set to walk down the aisle to marry some guy, only to learn that the man of my dreams is actually my first cousin via Uncle Brian. It would be even more of an utter shame for any children we might produce to be defective due to fallout from consanguinity. Just the idea of boinking someone [particularly if it was good, if you get my drift] only to find out he's my biological first-cousin is enough to give me a serious case of the creepy-crawlies. The odds are against it, but odds have been defied before. It happens all the time in soap operas, not that I base my reality on soap operas.  Uncle Brian dislikes red hair, which, unfortunately, is his natural hair color. He rotates between shaving his head all the way to the skull (which is a bit odd for a man with a full head of hair) and dying it various colors. All of this hair treatment makes him appear almost as a member of the witness protection program. Brian has allegedly given up on his womanizing ways and has married a beautiful woman -- we'll call her "Nancy" in order to protect the innocent. As far as we known, the leopard has changed his spots, or the zebra has changed his stripes, or whatever, and Uncle Brian is faithful to "Nancy." But do leopards ever truly change their spots? Time alone, and perhaps the services of a private investigator if "Nancy" has reason to be suspicious, will tell.

   Aunt Victoria is next in the pecking order.  When my grandfather was stationed at Castle Air Force Base in central California and she was still in high school, Aunt Victoria met up with the love of her life, an Azores-Portuguese Future Farmer of America. He was technically a future dairyman, but that's not what the organization is called. He was and is a cowboy as well. Looks can be deceiving. He's also an uncannily shrewd businessman. When dairy families all over central California were living the high life until the day their dairies were foreclosed and they lost everything, Aunt Victoria and Uncle Ralph were quietly buying the foreclosed dairies. They were able to take advantage of properties on which pesticides and not been used within X number of years, which made the properties eligible to be organic dairies. Organic dairies were thriving while other aspects of the dairy industry were going belly-up all over the place. Aunt Victoria worked for public utilities long enough to buy the modest home they were living in outright. They lived on her salary alone for several years so that their share of the  dairy money was able to go back into the dairy. They were able to buy land connected with riparian rights (water is now, and will be for the foreseeable future, an issue in California agriculture)for pennies on the dollar. They were then able to diversify a bit, getting some of their money free and clear of agriculture. In the event that every dairy or farming operation they own goes under, they have sufficient solid assets elsewhere that they and even their children are essentially taken care of for life. 

     My aunt and uncle are legitimately wealthy by the standards of almost anyone, with the possible exceptions of Donald Trump and Bill Gates. Agricultural wealth is usually quite different than wealth in other forms, as money in an agricultural operation is a commodity as much as it is capital. Because my aunt and uncle have been so astute and have diversified to the degree that they have done, they're beyond their wealth being merely a commodity. They're bona fide rich people. Most of us have preconceived notions concerning rich people -- of how they conduct themselves, how they dress, how they speak, etc. Aunt Victoria and Uncle Ralph defy these notions. They lived within a small city until it became impractical for them to be so far from all of their dairies. At that point, they sold the house my aunt had purchased with her salary as a public utilities worker and moved into a house on one of their dairy properties that was intended to be a dwelling for one of their milkers and his family. In most modern dairy situations of which I know, dairy owners no longer treat their workers as though they're Dust Bowl relocatees straight out of The Grapes of Wrath, housing them in tents or worse with no running water. Nevertheless, a house intended to be occupied by the family of a milker would be considered modest at best by most of us. It would typically have one bathroom, two bedrooms (three bedrooms if the milker is highly esteemed by the dairy owner), a small living/family room, and a kitchen. (I know the typical design quite well, because my family lived in a milker's house for two years. It was clean and adequate, but it was a downward move from the most basic home in which we'd ever lived before.) The house in which Aunt Victoria and Uncle Ralph lived was a very typical milker's  house, and was very much a step down from the modest home in the small city in which they had previously lived. The plan was for this home to be temporary. Land was already purchased for a more substantial home. The land had lain dormant for six years, and as far as appearances indicated, it would remain dormant for at least another six years.

     Uncle Ralph had his recliner, his remote control with Direct TV, providing him with every sports competition he would ever want to watch, good food that my aunt cooked, and a comfortable bed. Why would he want more? His motivation to build the house he had promised his wife receded by the day until he reached the point that he finally declared, "I have everything I need right here! We don't need a new house!" 

     My Aunt Victoria, a large part of the dairy operation's success, wasn't so dumb as  to blandly go along with her husband's proclamations. Charitable functions, organization dinners, awards banquets, and such are held and hosted  by people of their stature on a regular basis. Often these  events are scheduled far in advance. In November of 2009,  Aunt Victoria volunteered to host at her home in December of 2012 the annual recognition dinner for the local chapter of the Grand Holstein Dairy Society (or something like that; there are too many organizations of that ilk for me to properly track).

     Aunt Victoria played it very cool. "We don't have an actual driveway. Maybe we could clear out a barn for the guests to park,"  she mused brightly. "We can set up tents over there," (she pointed in the direction of a pasture). "The port-a-potties can go over here," she pointed to the family lawn. "The guests can enter through our front door, pick up their complimentary gift packages from our kitchen," [which would hold maybe a 2.5' by 5' table at best], "and walk out through our bedroom door to the tent holding the cocktails and hors d'ouvres, then on to the dinner tent. It will be quaint."

Uncle Ralph had an epiphany of sorts -- a mental picture of the expressions on his colleagues' and their wives' faces when they beheld for the first time his actual home. Within forty-eight hours, he had hired an architect. Eleven months to the day that my Aunt Victoria announced the hosting of the annual dinner for the Grand Holstein Dairy Society, the family moved into a 5,300 square-foot home at which the event was actually hosted.

But lest I paint a picture of my Aunt Victoria as being a cut-and-a-half less eccentric than her siblings, I shall share with you a recent conversation concerning a bridal shower for her future daughter-in-law.  The morning bridal shower, which will be held in the garden setting of a restaurant, will be fashioned after an English Tea. The restaurant opens up to the covered garden,which features a full-sized grand-piano in the opening. Aunt Victoria thought it would be perfect for me to play the piano  to add to the ambience of this shower.  I am more than happy to oblige. "What sort of music do you think would be fitting for this 'English Tea' shower?" I asked her.

"Country music, of course," she answered. Of courseWhy didn't I already know that? How could one have an English Tea without country music? When Queen Elizabeth gets up every morning, she puts on her slippers and does a line dance to "Achy Breaky Heart." Everyone knows that. 

I wouldn't even know any actual country music except that a very good friend of mine sent me The Great American Songbook -- Country Edition for my most recent birthday. I will try to Muzak the country music a bit and slip in a few semi-classy things that aren't country, but I believe I can make everyone happy since I am in possession of this marvelous book.

Moving on next is my Aunt Elizabeth.  She raises meerkats. She has a habitat for them in her backyard. She cannot understand why the rest of us aren't interested in spending time out in her meerkat habitat. Her husband, Uncle Todd,  has little interest in even looking out the back door. Once the habitat got so unwieldy that the meerkats formed rival gangs and, for all intents and purposes,killed each other off. It was a dark day in Aunt Elizabeth's life. Now she controls the population and staves off future meerkat holocausts by trying to give away meerkats to unsuspecting friends and relatives. Matthew and I each got one for Christmas when we were eleven. They went straight to the SPCA. She and Uncle Todd have a son who is willing to spend time with the meerkats and to help his mother interact with them. His name is Chalmers. It isn't actually the meerkats Chalmers enjoys spending time with. Rather, it is his marijuana garden, which grows just beyond the meerkats' back fence to their enclosure, that occupies Chalmers' interest.

     Nest in line is Aunt Colleen. Her full given name is really "Mary Colleen." Actually, all the daughters in the family have "Colleen" as a middle name. There's Erin Colleen, Victoria Colleen, Elizabeth Colleen, and Mary Colleen. I suppose my grandparents  thought they had a good thing going, and that they might as well stick with it. They were similarly uninventive in naming their sons, all of whom have the middle name of Patrick. With all the names out there, I'm not sure why parents would limits themselves to one male middle name and one female middle name for seven children. Hell, if they were going to do that, they should have found a unisex name (maybe Shannon, since they're partial to Irish names) and given all seven kids the same middle name. Or they could have done the "George Foreman II, George Foreman III, George Foreman IV, Georgetta Foreman"-like theme. I asked my mom whose idea the middle name thing was. She said she's sure it had to have been her mother's doing. Her father would have been happy naming all seven kids after his favorite racehorses or the Green Bay Packers' offensive and defensive lines.

     Anyway, Mary Colleen, otherwise known as Colleen, is a wonderful, kind, generous person. She is also the most gullible person I've ever known in my life. (Could there be some correlation between her gullibility and her being the only member of this side of the family to convert to Mormonism?) Someone could walk through her front door on a 100-degree day in July and announce, "It's snowing!" and she would run to the door or window, fully expecting to see snow falling from the sky. Her husband, my Uncle Douglas, is a medical doctor who pulls in a decent salary, but despite his decent salary and the fact that they have only four kids (I say only because they're practicing Mormons; four is a small number of kids in a Mormon family) because Colleen wanted to invest in every sales pyramid scheme that came along, and a whole lot of those sorts of things seem to materialize in areas where Mormons proliferate. We often have received as gifts  products from the multi-level marketing schemes with which my Aunt Colleen has affiliated herself. She's not being a cheapskate in giving the gifts to us. She legitimately thinks we'll benefit from Neo-Life vitamin supplements, or LIV International supplements, or Nerium skin products, or DoTerra essential oils, or XanGo wellness products. She never really tried to sell the stuff to anyone. In a way, she was the prototypical worst nightmare to all of these MLMs because she had no interest in selling. She just bought as much of the stuff as she could and gave it away.

     Fortunately for Aunt Colleen's and Uncle Douglas' bank account, Aunt Colleen has an incredible singing voice and a doctorate in music performance with vocal emphasis, and they live in a university town. Now that chicken #4 has flown her coop, Aunt Colleen has become a full-time professor of vocal music at the university in their town. She has less time to be hustled by church members trying to get her to buy into just one more pyramid scheme. 

     Uncle Kent is the oldest of the seven offspring my mother's parents produced. He, too, went to the Air Force Academy.  He stuck around for several years afterward, teaching and coaching. When his service obligation had been fulfilled, he went to work as a professor and tennis coach for an Ivy League university. He spent the bulk of his career there. while at the Ivy League school, he had the opportunity to buy into an existing Tennis Camp for kids and teens. (I think they run a few adult and family sessions as well.) Matthew and I used to attend the camp until my scholarship was rescinded because my uncle did not think I had what it took to become a legitimate tennis prospect. (He was right about my not having the physique to succeed as a high-level tennis player, but I had misunderstood the intent of his gift. I thought it was to help Matthew and me to be the best tennis players that we could be while having fun at the same time. My uncle was apparently more serious about it. Matthew got even with him the next year by choosing baseball over tennis when the choice had to be made in high school.) Uncle Kent was and is, in addition to a tennis coach, a serious wine connoisseur. These two vocations/avocations didn't blend all that well. Consequently, Uncle Kent wouldn't make it to the courts until he had sufficiently nursed his hangover from his previous night's indulgence. This was usually around ten o'clock, after the campers had already been on the courts for two hours. At noon we would break for lunch and a brief rest period, then be back on the courts by 1:15. Uncle Kent would make it to about 2:30, at which time it was time for him to once again begin connoisseurment (made-up word- I know) of wine.We wouldn't see him again until the following morning. 

     One summer my brother cut his leg when he ran into a jagged piece of the chain-link fence. The nurse on staff concluded that it needed to be stitched and cleaned out better than she could clean it without anesthetizing it, which she didn't have the supplies to do. My mother had authorized only Uncle Ken or his wife Natalie to give consent for medical care for Matthew or for me. This would not have been a problem except that A) Aunt Natalie wasn't usually within seventy-five miles of the place, and that day was no exception, and B) It was well after 2:30 when Matthew cut his leg. Uncle Kent would have been into his third bottle by then. The nurse drove in the camp van. A counselor rode shotgun. I sat in the second seat by Matthew, holding a towel over his leg to control the bleeding. Uncle Kent was, for all intents and purposes, passed out in the back seat.  When we arrived at the local hospital, whose personnel had been notified we were coming, the camp nurse and I helped Matthew into a wheelchair. Then the accompanying counselor and the nurse practically carried Uncle Ken to the registration desk, where I basically held Uncle Kent's hand on the pen and moved it into some form of a signature. The nurse and counselor helped Uncle Kent back to the van, where he remained semi-comatose until we returned to camp to hours later. By then, he was coherent enough to ask both what had happened and where his wine was.

     The evening activities went off every night without Uncle Ken's presence. For five years in a row I won the talent show by dislocating my arms at the elbows, then putting them back into place myself. I don't know what counselor thought it was a good idea to allow a little kid to do this, but I still have the trophies to prove it. When my parents saw the "Talent Award" trophies I brought home, they probably assumed I had played the piano, but they assumed wrong. Matthew kept his mouth shut because he thought it was really cool. It was probably the only cool thing about me as far as Matthew was concerned. I was about the un-coolest sibling a boy could have.

     People are still sending their kids to my Uncle Kent's tennis camp. They think their kids are getting high-quality coaching. They may be receiving it, but not from my uncle. My uncle has a diagnosis of geo-aphasia supposedly brought on by traumatic brain injury incurred through years of high school and college (1 year of college) football. It's not impossible, but I suspect another diagnosis is more apropos. It begins with a and ends in m. I'll leave you to fill in the blanks.

     So you, my few readers, see that if I am ever-so-slightly off-center, I come by it quite naturally from both sides of my parentage and heritage.