Saturday, October 5, 2013

Keeping Shoes On, Pesky Mushrooms, A 6th Birthday, Navy Yard Shooting, Nairobi Mall Attack, Cuban Prisoner on Hunger Strike, A Whole Town Is Shutdown, Peacenik Putin, Interpreter as Comforter, Facebook Pal Gabriela from Romania


My great-grandson, De’Andre, is now 6. I cannot believe it (see photos above).

On my last plane trip, I happened to notice a sign I’d not seen before, saying that people 75 and older don’t have to take off their shoes going through security. So, that’s one less thing I have to do.  Statistically, the odds of a person over 75 being a shoe bomber are probably very slight.
In Hawaii, the geikos on my daughter’s kitchen walls reminded me of Honduras.
 What do you do about flowerpot mushrooms that keep popping up overnight?  Just keep in plucking them out, I guess.
Last time, I failed to mention the mass shooting at the Navy Yard near my home on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. At the time it happened, I was actually in Honolulu, a much gentler place. It’s another example of the results of failure to enact simple, common -sense background checks and registration requirements, which a majority of Americans support. But apparently the gun lobby, anxious to sell weapons, thwarts these measures at every turn through threats and campaign contributions to lawmakers, taking advantage of people’s fear after a mass shooting to sell even more weapons as a result.  I don’t think most Americans love their gun rights more than their lives, but unless there is some control over who may own and use a firearm, we are all at risk, especially in any place where people congregate.
 Of course, right after I came home, the Nairobi terrorist attack occurred. I’m fairly sure I was at that mall in 2006, on my way to Sudan, when I was taken there to show it off to me.

Last time, I mentioned a Cuban Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, Ivan Fernandez, (shown above) who has been on a hunger strike since July 30. A former Cuban political prisoner who lives in the DC area tells me he is getting an IV solution, which, while not a substitute for food, can keep someone alive, if not very well, for some time.

There may indeed be kinks in “Obamacare,” but since it is already law, they should be remedied to make it work better, rather than setting up obstacles designed to thwart it completely and make it fail. Shouldn’t we want everyone to have the health care coverage that most of us have already? The kinks will become more evident when it is actually underway, allowing future tweaks in the original law (and future fights, no doubt). Any measure so complicated and with so many interest groups involved is bound to need revision. But we don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as providing more universal health coverage for Americans is a worthy goal. Frankly, I would have considered preferable a single-payer federally administered health care system, a much more straightforward, comprehensible, and less administratively costly alternative, something more like Medicare, but it was not to be. There’s a cartoon showing the Obamacare train chugging along full speed while gloating Republicans, including an elephant, have removed the tracks ahead, warning, “It’s a train wreck!” Short of outright repeal, the efforts to derail the law help no one except perhaps Tea Party Republicans like Ted Cruz who has cruised to fame on its coattails—just to mix metaphors. Where is pay-back for Democrats, many of whom weren’t crazy about GW Bush’s Rx drug scheme? Once it passed, they didn’t keep trying to sabotage it.

Of course, the sun still rose on the morning of Oct. 1, but many damaging effects of the federal government shutdown are definitely being felt in this town with so many federal employees, monuments, and museums. It’s been pretty devastating all over in the DC area, where the federal workforce is concentrated. The daily loss to the local economy is estimated to be running at $200 million per day, providing our citizens with a truly manmade calamity—I say “manmade” advisedly because most of those actually causing this totally unnecessary calamity are men. Even in faraway Hawaii, my son-in-law, doing research and interventions to save the endangered native Silver Sword plant, has had to stop because so much of his work takes place inside national parks.
 A tweet has been making the rounds:

Can I burn down your house? No

Just the second floor? No

Garage? No

Let’s talk about what I can burn down. No

You aren’t compromising!

While some lawmakers have announced they are donating or deferring their paychecks, not so, two Republican Congress members who voted to shut down the government, Kevin Cramer of ND and Renee Elmer of NC, who said they needed the money and were continuing to work. Under pressure, Elmer changed her mind and said she would defer her paycheck after all.
 Republicans’ tactics remind me of the Solid South’s resistance to racial integration. They saw integration coming but held it off as long as possible and many are still fighting that old fight by saying that Obama is a Muslim and born in Kenya. Likewise, many of the same folks are resisting immigrants’ rights, gay rights, and restrictions on gun ownership even though they know they are coming. Of course, I guess if I felt as they do, I would do the same. Once this recalcitrant generation passes on, political skirmishes on these matters will let up, but others will no doubt take their place. I like what Republican Congressman Michael Grimm of NY said, “If anyone is not essential, it’s the U.S. Congress.” Amen to that. I hope the Democrats will benefit in the next election, though most of the hardheads are in very safe conservative districts, where constituents are probably egging them on.  Maybe we need a parliamentary form of government!

Now some face-saving plan must be fabricated  and accepted, something that allows Republicans to say, “We fought the good fight and we got something out of it.” Maybe it’s the elimination of the tax on medical devices, even though that increases the debt ? Maybe Obama should say, OK, he’ll offer a one-month delay on the start of Obamacare, even though that would hurt some people waiting anxiously for coverage, anything to let Republicans say, “We fought Obamacare and we won a concession.”  Of course, Obama doesn’t want to set a precedent of rewarding recalcitrant political behavior by allowing a de facto change in the way that laws have always been enacted. Really, if your side loses, you have lost on an issue, and should move on to the next.

Meanwhile, poor Evaristus, a father of four and a Nigerian fabric artist staying at my house, was nvited by the Museum of African Art to do research on its collection. But now the museum is closed. How to explain that?
This may seem like nitpicking, but last time, I mentioned a woman born in Peru, now living in Spain, who just could tolerate staying at our house and how grateful I was that she had left. Now the room that she had briefly occupied is home to Evaristus, who spent some time in a hostel waiting for me to come back from Hawaii so he could move in. But, it appears, the pillow cases that went with the sheets for his bed (previously her bed) are nowhere to be found. Did the disgruntled lady take them, accidentally or on purpose? In any case, that adds insult to injury regarding that distressing and fortunately unique saga.

Vladimir Putin for the Nobel Peace Prize? A Russian advocacy group has actually nominated him, believe it or not.
While it’s not possible to have a personal companion available to comfort everyone during a scary medical procedure, it certainly has helped my interpretation patients feel calm and protected when I am with them every step of the way, providing an extra bonus for non-English speakers . Usually family members—except sometimes in the case of children—are not allowed the same access that I have because I’ve undergone certain prior medical clearances and instructions. Of course, medical personnel are also with patients, but those folks are busy sticking in needles and IVs, taking EKGs, doing scans, and drawing blood, so the patient—at least in my experience—actually relies on the interpreter for moral support, especially since the patient doesn’t speak the same language as the practitioners and cannot directly express concerns.  Patients often grab my hand during and afterward and thank me profusely for standing by them—some even try to give me money later, which, of course, I can’t accept. I always tell them: “Es mi placer y mi deber,” that is, “It’s my pleasure and my duty.” Of course, with the government shutdown looming, that affects the work of NIH, which schedules many of my patients.
Amazingly, through Facebook, I’ve reconnected with Gabriela, a Romanian orphan adopted by a Minnesota family.  When I was working at the American Occupational Therapy Association, I was invited to Romania to evaluate children’s institutions in the post-Ceausescu era. Of course, they were in dismal condition then, as has been documented by others. When I returned, I wrote an article for our association magazine, OT Week, that including a photo of a little girl living in one of the institutions.  A Minnesota family saw the photo, fell in love with the child, and eventually managed to adopt her (after a 2-year struggle). Among the many services she required after her adoption was occupational therapy. She became such a success story that we invited her and her mother to one of our annual conferences, where, as still an elementary school child, she boldly took over the mike and answered questions from the sea of occupational therapists out in the audience. Now, according to her photos on Facebook, she is a lovely young woman with a devoted boyfriend (also pictured) and is a student of Spanish and math at the University of Minnesota (my parents’ alma mater) and also tutors other students in math. She and I have exchanged messages in Spanish. Actually, Romanian and Spanish are both Latin-based languages, so are not so very different. When Gabriela arrived in the US at age 7, she refused to speak Romanian ever again, but perhaps some memory of it has remained in her young brain and has helped her to master Spanish.


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