#WAD2014 – #Reagan, #AIDS, and ACT-UP

For those of you who don’t understand why I dislike Reagan so much, here’s a poster from 1987 protesting our president’s silence on the deadliest virus that America had seen.

AIDSGATE, 1987, posterThink about that for a minute. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were sick and dying, and the American president was silent!

Ronald Reagan’s silence led to the organizing of LGBT protest/action group, The AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, or “ACT-UP”. Their slogan, “Silence = Death” is based on Reagan’s silence.

AIDSIntroPicSilenceDeathSo the next time a conservative talks about how great a president Reagan was, ask them if they think it’s okay for an American president to ignore the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Ask them if they ever wonder how much closer we might be to finding a cure for HIV had Reagan actually done something.

If it sounds like I’m angry it’s because I AM angry. A whole generation of gay men from artists, writers, athletes, and teachers to doctors, lawyers, friends, lovers, and family, an entire generation was lost because of the callous attitude of Ronald Reagan and his successor, George HW Bush. Those of us who survived watched the ones we loved die all around us.

Gran Fury, The Government Has Blood On Its Hands, 1988, posterBoth Ronnie and Georgie Sr have blood on their hands.

I am dedicating World Aids Day 2014 to the fighters, the people who stand up for justice. From ACT-UP to protesters in Ferguson, we are all fighting for our lives. Never stop fighting. Sometimes shouting is the only way we’re heard.

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“My Mamma Taught Me Not To Pee On My Hands” is not an excuse!

When was the last time you washed your hands?

Was it this morning?

Did you wash your hands before leaving the restroom? Everyone says they do but I still see more people leave the restroom without washing their hands than those that do. The most common reason given for not doing so is, “My mamma taught me not to pee on my hands.” I have a real problem with that kind of arrogance. It disregards the well being of everyone you encounter for the rest of the day. It’s a giant “F- You!” to the rest of us. I wash my hands twice in public restrooms. The additional washing is on the way in because I want my hands to be as germ-free as possible before I handle the family jewels.

I am fairly obsessed with hand washing, not just around restrooms. I’m not really a gernaphobe. It’s just that, over the years, I’ve gotten used to washing my hands fairly often. From when I was a little boy helping my grandmother in the kitchen, to a teenager slicing lunch meat at the deli counter, and then as an adult working in the food and beverage industry, clean hands have always been very important. As obsessions go, hand washing is pretty mundane. But it does have it’s drawbacks. As any bartender will tell you, all that hand washing makes for dry, chapped hands.

One of my biggest pet peeves is the overuse of those stupid plastic gloves that have become the mainstay of the food service industry. Those gloves have made people lazy. I watched a deli worker at my local supermarket begin to fill my deli order wearing the same single use gloves I saw him wearing while wiping down his work area. Single use gloves are not supposed to take the place of hand washing. In fact, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, single use gloves are only effective if placed on properly washed hands and changed at appropriate times during the food operation. I told him to stop, change his gloves, and start my order again. He got upset, so I left without my order. Of course, I spoke to the manager first.

Another concern is the proliferation of hand sanitizer, which has become a substitute for hand washing. When used properly, hand sanitizers kill 99% of germs. But soap and water are still more effective than hand sanitizers at removing or inactivating certain kinds of germs, like Cryptosporidium, norovirus, and Clostridium difficile. Furthermore, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), hand sanitizers may increase the risk for outbreaks of highly contagious viruses.

“It’s widely recognized that improper use of antibiotics contributes greatly to the development and spread of super bugs in health care settings, but the link between hand sanitizers and bacterial resistance is less clear.”- Lauren Vogel CMAJ

However, according to microbiologist Stuart Levy of Tufts University School of Medicine, Antibacterial products leave residues where they are used. They linger and continue to kill the bacteria, but not effectively or randomly. The naturally stronger bacteria that survived the initial assault develop new defense mechanisms against the chemicals. This selection process gives rise to a new generation that is resistant to the offending compounds. (source)

I suspect Mr Levy is referring to alcohol-free antimicrobial hand sanitizers that are made with triclosan or povidone-iodine which, as shown in the video below, are ineffective at best.

In the following video, which aired in February 2013, ABC’s Dr. Richard Besser compares the best ways for killing germs, including E Coli.

So, in order for your hand sanitizer to be effective it has to be alcohol based (>63% alcohol), you must use enough to cover your hands, and you need to work it into your hands and let air dry for about 30 seconds.  Why not just wash your hands with soap and water?

How many times a day do you touch your face?

In a scene from Contagion (2011) Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) claims that the average person touches their face between two and three thousand times a day, or 2-5 times every waking minute.

According to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, the reality is closer to 16 times an hour. That’s still a lot. Each time you touch your face, you’re transmitting whatever is on your fingers to your face. Touching your face with dirty hands, or cellphone, is the most common way to spread diseases like Influenza and Ebola.

We’ve become so reliant on quick fixes and magic bullets that we’ve forgotten the basics. I don’t mean for this to be a rant. I’m just curious how we’ve come to rely on these products that were only meant to be used in addition to, not in place of, good hygiene. And it’s kinda strange to me that, with all the paranoia over Ebola, people aren’t taking the simplest precaution.  Just 20 seconds of soap and water. If that’s all it takes, why not wash your hands??

For more info, check out the CDC Show Me The Science Hand Sanitizer vs Hand Washing and the CDC Guidelines to Washing Your Hands.

You Have To Have A Sense Of Humor To Read Your Own Medical Records.

So, I went in for X-Rays last week as part of a post-procedure checkup to see if the Lithotripsy did what it was supposed to do. — For those of you just tuning in, I’ve been dealing with an uncooperative right kidney for almost a decade. After three procedures, each with varying degrees of success, I underwent lithotripsy in order to remove the last of the debris that was floating around in there.

According to the report, there’s still some “scattered calcific densities” floating around but the large 8mm behemoth is gone. Yay!

Here’s the thing, though. Have you ever read your own medical records? If you haven’t, you better make sure you’ve got a sense of humor. A cup of espresso wouldn’t hurt either as there’s a lot of repetition and technical language. But the sense of humor is important because, well… Here’s a quote from my X-Ray report…

The bowel gas pattern is normal… The bones are grossly unremarkable.

Say what!? For the sake of decency, I’ll leave my bowel gas pattern to the professionals, but my poor bones. — They say beauty is only skin deep but, apparently, my bones are “grossly unremarkable”.

Ah well. It made me laugh and I hope it did you too. 🙂

Recovering very nicely, thank you.

Dear readers, the following post was intended for publishing on Friday, the seventh of February  Unfortunately, as I was recovering from surgery, my close friend Fran passed away. I’m posting it anyway, along with an addendum, because it illustrates the kind of winter I’m having. 🙂

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So… I had Lithotripsy a few weeks ago. Was it painful? Not really, but I do feel as if someone kicked me in the back. The forecast for the day of surgery was heavy rain turning into wet snow by noon. Great!  My other half was thoughtful enough to reserve a room at the small hotel where he works. So, instead of having to wait in the rain for a bus at 4:30am, we could walk just a few blocks to the hospital.

I’m fortunate to live in Philadelphia, a city that has one of the largest and best healthcare networks in the country. We have Hahnemann, Jefferson, Temple, and the University of Pennsylvania health systems all within the city limits.

I was the first patient Monday morning. Lucky me! The staff was thorough. At every step of the way I was asked to recite my name, date of birth, allergies, and the Magna Carta, then recite it all once more as I lay on the OR table. This was my fifth kidney procedure, so I’ve gotten to know most of the Pennsylvania hospital staff pretty well. One of the pre-administration lab technicians has a wicked sense of humor. I guess you’d have to if you spent your day stabbing patients in the arm in search of a good vein.

So I was laying on this strange operating table with a cutout underneath in which a water filled gel pad that emits sound waves protrudes. The doctor maneuvered me over the gel pad. The technician strapped me in. The anesthesiologist joked with me that I keep coming back for surgery because of their excellent selection of anesthetics. I don’t remember anything after the oxygen mask was placed over my face. I suspect the anesthesiologist slipped me a Mickey.

The next thing I knew, a nurse was hovering over me with a big smile. “How do you feel?” Like I want to go back to sleep. “Fine”, I said. I really did want to go back to sleep, though. I also wanted some more of whatever it was they gave me for pain. The chorus of The Floaters’ classic “Float On” comes to mind. 

“Float. Float on…”

 

After an hour or so of “recovery time”, I was wheeled out to the lobby where the reality of the day’s snow accumulation stared back at me. While waiting for a cab, we saw a bus and took it.

It was good to get home.

I made myself comfortable on the sofa to wait for love to return home from the pharmacy, bearing gifts of antibiotics and pain killers. You know when you think everything is okay, but you feel just a little off? Not anything major, just ever so slightly off center. That’s how I felt. The more I moved around, the less like myself I felt. Maybe I’d be better off laying down in bed.

Oh right… freshly cleaned sheets. YAY!

I turned on the TV, changed into some comfy clothes, and climbed into bed. That was all she wrote. I was out! Gone! I awoke the next morning stiff and achy and determined not to spend the day in bed.

I still feel a bit sore, but I’m doing well and trying not to use the pain killers too often.

Addendum…

A week later, we took advantage of the break in the snow by climbing up and inspecting the roof and gutters. Because I have a longer reach than Love, I laid down on the roof and reached over the edge to attach the Roof & Gutter Deicing Cable. As I reached and stretched, I heard what sounded like a snap, followed by a sharp pain in my rib, which was pressed against the edge of the roof. I’m not gonna lie. I panicked. After a few moments, I took a couple of deep breaths to inflate my lungs. There was pain, but nothing that indicated a broken rib.

So, if you need you walk shoveled or someone to carry your groceries in from the car, please be kind enough to ask someone else. I think I’m gonna lay low for a while. 😮

Saying Goodbye To A Dear Friend.

I had intended a Friday post about my recovery from lithotripsy, which is progressing smoothly and without complications. Unfortunately, Thursday morning I received incredibly sad news. A very close friend lost her battle with uterine cancer. I am heart broken by the loss and angry at the circumstances around which she died. The rest of my day was spent in a fog. After not being able to sleep, I found it helpful to just start writing. The following unorganized mess is more therapy for me than anything else.

In the years that my other half and I have been living on this little South Philly block, we’ve established close friendships with our neighbors. With a few exceptions, we look out for one another.

I met Fran through a friend and neighbor who lived two doors down. She was moving onto our block. With her sharp wit and wicked sense of humor, Fran fit right in. She was the kindest and most generous soul I have ever had the privilege to know. That’s not hyperbole. There was nothing Fran would not do to lend a hand to anyone in need. If it was within her power, it was done.

First Friday Sushi Lunch

A perfect example of our First Friday Sushi events. 🙂

My friendship with Fran developed slowly. We bonded over our Italian heritage, and gastronomic pleasure, which included first Friday lunches with our friend Scott. I’ve often bored you with pictures of sushi and sashimi. Fran was a vegetarian, but that didn’t prevent her from enjoying her sushi. 🙂  She and I had an ongoing dialogue about ways to recreate meat-free versions of childhood dishes. It wasn’t uncommon to see either of us carrying plates of food from one house to another. Fran was the inspiration for some of my favorite epicurean experiments.

About eighteen months ago, Fran began to experience pain and bleeding. She was in her sixties so menstruation was out of the question. After a few months of doctors and tests and more doctors and even more tests, it was determined that Fran had stage 3 uterine cancer. It was emotionally crushing.

Our monthly lunch dates continued even as Fran started chemotherapy, but tapered off as some of her experimental treatments took their toll. She was listening to advice from conflicting sources, and people with no medical training who claimed a certain food, vitamin, or magic root was a cancer cure. She went gluten free, tried a macrobiotic diet, and went to extremes to find and eat only organic fruits and vegetables. Meanwhile, she was asking Scott to pick up bagels from Dunkin’ Donuts.

Now, let me stop here for a minute and assure you that I am in no way blaming Fran for her illness or worse, her death. That would be absurd and cruel. I am Pro-Choice. Being pro-choice means allowing a person autonomy. I’m angry because there is so much misinformation being disseminated out there. She was scared. She was reaching for anything that might give her hope. I feel, however incorrectly, that Fran was taken advantage of. I  mentioned the Dunkin’ Donuts because Fran needed to get food into her body. When you’re perpetually nauseous, any food is better than nothing. We encouraged her to eat whatever she could keep down. You’d be surprised at some of the odd things she craved. Fran had an affinity for pickled cherry peppers stuffed with prosciutto and provolone. We asked if she might not be pregnant. {:-)

Last summer, Fran found out about a Vitamin C therapy. It’s an alternative cancer treatment that involves massive doses of vitamin c administered intravenously. Since it could be administered while a patient was also undergoing chemo, Fran signed up. The treatments were hell. Chemo was bad enough, but on the days she received the vitamin C, she was in bad shape. It often took two days for her to recover from the therapy. By January, the oncologist was refusing to give her chemo because she was too weak. The best they could do was rehydrate her with saline and send her home. The vitamin C had done more harm than good. It was clear that Fran’s time on Earth was limited.

During the worst of her illness, it was Scott who did most of the heavy lifting. When Fran needed something, it was Scott she called. Scott taxied her to doctors, treatments, and trips to the grocery store.  Fran’s illness took it’s toll on him. Her death hit him hard. He’d been through this once before when longtime friend and neighbor Mary Ann died just a few years ago. This time was worse because he and Fran were real close.

Fran was rushed to the ER Tuesday night. She was in pain and having trouble breathing. She was admitted to the hospital, where they treated her pain. There was nothing more they could do. Her siblings took shifts sitting with her in the hospital room. Fran passed away 1:00 am Thursday morning. Her brother and one of her sisters was in the room with her.

There’s going to be a viewing next week, followed by a Wiccan ceremony. Fran was a Wiccan high priestess. I’m so proud of her sister, who is Roman Catholic, for adhering to Fran’s wishes.

I’m not sure how to wrap this meandering mess up, but I suspect you will all understand. This past year has been a rough one. There’s been enough sickness in our little burg. So you’ll forgive me if I tend toward the ridiculous sometimes. It’s a hell of a lot better than dwelling on the sadness. Besides, I’d much rather remember the happy, joyful soul that was Franny T.

This Is My Very First Time. Please excuse me if I ramble.

What a great weekend, right?

Saturday was a beautifully warm day in the midst of bitter cold snap, so I went outside. Not because I wanted to. I dislike crowds and as everyone knows, winter weary people flood to open spaces at the first hint of warmer weather. Saturday was no exception. The reason for my trek into town was to buy a couple of pairs of loose fitting, heavy weight (read ‘warm’) athletic pants that I can wear after my outpatient surgery on Monday. I’ll be having Lithotripsy, a process of breaking up kidney stones with ultra high frequency sound waves. I’m told there will might be pain, so loose fitting clothing is in order.

Stones1a

Broken 6mm kidney stone (left) compared in size to a dime (right).

This will be my fourth medical procedure to remove kidney stones. I’ve had more stents in me than I’d like to remember. But this is my first lithotripsy. I’m a little nervous, so you’ll have to excuse me if I ramble on. The procedure is fairly straight forward. I’ll lay on a platform with an opening through which a gel sub-woofer will blast death metal at my kidney. The stones will pulverize. The end. Easy peasy! The thing that makes me nervous though, is that one of the stones is 8mm in diameter, or about a third of an inch. I passed a 6mm stone last year (pictured on the left).  When you vibrate a large stone against the soft tissue of a human kidney you risk further damage to the kidney. Internal bleeding is a very small but real concern. The benefits vs. risks have all been explained to me, so I’m going into this with open eyes.

I’ve been dealing with kidney trouble for some time now. Technically, I have kidney disease. Though I prefer to think of my right kidney as a spoiled brat that is starving for attention. I don’t talk about it much because it doesn’t define me. When stacked against my friend’s end stage uterine cancer, my health is pretty damned good. I don’t like to complain about the small stuff. I can handle the small stuff. Every now and again though, my kidney makes itself known. That’s when you’ll here me, loud and clear.

2012 kidney surgery scar kinda looks like a railroad track.

2012 kidney surgery scar kinda looks like a railroad track.

Friends and family all have their “helpful hints”. The number one I receive is to drink plenty of water and cranberry juice. (For the record, I do drink plenty of water. I’m never without a glass of bottle of water, preferably with a slice of lemon.) The other big suggestion is to lay off the salt. Everyone blames salt. Poor Salt. My kidney stones aren’t sodium based. Nope. Mine are special. My kidney stones are made of calcium. According to analysis, my stones are Calculi composed primarily of: 40% calcium oxalate monohydrate, and 60% calcium phosphate (hydroxy- and carbonate- apatite). In other words, my body doesn’t break down calcium as well as it should. The lazy bum! It has something to do with my parathyroid, a gland I had no idea existed until just a few months ago. My doctor put me on potassium citrate and suggested I drink lots of lemonade. (Apparently, lemonade helps break up the calcium). My dentist however, is horrified by the thought of what all that citric acid is doing to my tooth enamel. I find this hilarious!

My doc put me on a “low oxalate diet” which means I can’t eat as much of those leafy greens that I love so much. Seriously, I do love my greens. I told my doc, “Good luck with that.” I’m willing to reduce my intake of leafy greens, but I just can’t give them up completely. I can go without sweets, but broccoli rabe and I are deeply in love.

Today, as per doctor’s instructions, I’m eating light. Salads, watery soup, and clear broth are the order of the day.  No dairy – not even with my coffee, which is frowned upon but not forbidden. Mayo and cheese count as dairy, right?  I can have juice, but no pulp. Why don’t I just kill myself now? Actually, it’s not all that bad. I’ve got plenty of homemade chicken stock in the freezer.Add a few carrots, some celery, and… dinner!

Did I happen to mention it’s Super Bowl Sunday? No wings for me! — Wait! Is killing myself still an option?

Instead of preparing for the “big game’ I’m doing laundry, setting clothes aside, and putting fresh sheets on the bed. After a hospital stay, so matter how brief, there’s nothing better than coming home to freshly cleaned bed sheets. It’s the little things in life that make me happy. Isn’t that what life is all about? Being happy? 🙂

Stay tuned, dear readers. Maybe I’ll take some more pictures. 😉

PS: Here’s a fun little video I found that demonstrates, in layman’s terms, what I have to look forward to…

What’s On My #GayAgenda Today?

  1. Check on sick neighbor.
  2. Grocery shopping.
  3. Pick up medication at pharmacy for sick neighbor.
  4. Pay some bills.
  5. Drop off medication to sick neighbor.
  6. Do laundry
  7. Make dinner.
  8. Bring food to sick neighbor.
  9. Run dishwasher.
  10. Write a thank you note to the Denver Broncos for the great time last weekend. ;p  <—- HEY!!! How did THAT ONE get in there???

With the exception of the Denver Broncos note, this was my agenda from last Saturday. These things occupy my time pretty much most days. My sick neighbor is a sixty-three year old woman who is in the end stages of uterine cancer, which has spread through her body. Someday I’ll write a post about it, but not now. I’m just not ready to put all that into words. I wrote this list to demonstrate that my life is pretty much like everyone’s. — With the exception of looking out for my neighbor, which I believe anyone would do, my life is boring as hell.