Saturday, October 27, 2007

Have You Hugged Your Kid Today?

Experts in child development say that by the time we are two--certainly by the time we are three--we have developed our "world view". Is the world friendly? Welcoming? is comfort offered when there is pain? Enough to eat? Is the world topsy-turvy, sometimes with care and food and warmth and sometimes with slaps and being left alone, sometimes for hours? are basic needs met, but nothing extra? is the world dangerous, with a need always to to try to go unnoticed? Environment can change much of this, one way or the other,but at our core, these beliefs are solidly a part of us very, very early. If we are ignored early enough, long enough, we lose the ability to attach to other human beings at all. Some very specialized therapy in short supply is available, and a few of such ignored children can re-learn how to attach. But a lot don't.

In my work with dysfunctional families, I remember a visit to a foster home where the foster mom told me exuberantly she had taken the baby in for his second round of shots, and "he howled the walls down." I shared her delight, not at the baby's pain, but his response to it. His first round of shots had been shortly after he came into her care. Four shots, four painful shots, and he never reacted. He never whimpered. His expression never changed. His life experience had already taught him, "don't make a fuss." Now, a few months later, he had gotten used to a regular routine of food, bath, hugging, rocking and playing. He had learned if he cried, someone came and made it better. So the vaccine shots absolutely enraged him. And he bellowed.
And, of course, he was hugged, soothed and comforted. He was still under a year of age. Plenty of time for his expectations of the world to improve.

I remember a little boy about 3. His mother was a druggie who allowed her home to be used by a number of drug dealers in return for her free access to the drugs. And, of course, they would all indulge and party in the evenings, with this toddler just kind of wandering around. His first year of life wasn't so bad. His father was there, made sure he was cared for during the day, feeding, bathing and loving him in the evenings and weekends. (Mom was already disappearing for weeks at a time to do her drugs.) But when Joey, let's call him, was about a year old, his dad was killed in a traffic accident. And Mom moved in with her drug dealer friends. She paid almost no attention to him. He had no toys. She would bathe him and change his clothes occasionally, and she went through the fast food drive through for hamburgers and french fries. So he WAS fed. No one told him to go to bed or took him there. No one called him to eat. No one talked to him much other to tell him to move faster or get out of there. Toilet training? Forget it. Mom DID change diapers fairly regularly. Mom was arrested. There was no family, so he came into foster care.
Toward the end of the case, when it all began to hang out, I learned one of the drug dealers, high one night, had pulled a gun and aimed it at Joey, threatening to kill him for "making little boy noises." When I confronted Mom, she denied at first, then admitted it. Her lower lip stuck out. "He aimed the gun at me, too!" she said. But it never occurred to her to move the guy out. He was her supplier.

We knew she was probably going to go to prison for a number of years(which she did). Joey would be adopted. So I went by the foster home frequently to observe him and get a handle on his needs. He didn't know how to play, I learned. He would fiddle with a toy for a couple of minutes and move on. He didn't know how to play with other children. And he showed absolutely no separation anxiety. He fit into the household happily and never asked about his mom. He did have trouble eating at first. The foster mom made meals like meat loaf or baked chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans or broccoli, or some such thing. He had never seen food like this, and only began to eat after several days of refusing the food. This was also probably a test. Nobody yelled at him or grabbed him by the arm and threw him in his room when he didn't eat. Over time, I became convinced his attachment ability was pretty badly damaged. His permanent home was going to take parents with a whole lot of time to devote to him.

And we found the home. They had already adopted two children with fetal alcohol syndrom (which occurs when the mom drinks heavily throughout the pregnancy.) Such children take infinite patience and a 100 percent commitment to routine. Their girls were doing phenomenally well. And they wanted Joey to make them his "forever" home.
The adoptive mother was busy in church, school, and community. She dropped all her activities to be with Joey 24/7. While her girls were at school, she played with him, read to him, sang to him, rocked him. When they got home, they did family things involving all three children. She was just always there. And after three months, he finally slowly began to respond. He attached to her first, of course, then to the rest of the family, one by one. A year later, they were a bonded, happy family.

His birth mom relinquished her rights. She wasn't much more attached than Joey was to her, but she wished him well. She was pleased he was "happy in a good family." And he was.

Which brings me to a news story I heard last night. A woman has received the death penalty after police performed a welfare check and found her passed out on the floor amidst numerous beer cans, and her six-week-old and 16-month old babies dead in their beds from starvation, apparently days before. She had formula, diapers and bread in the house. She simply didn't feed the kids. She also had a two-year-old who was still alive. Authorities said he survived by eating dry rice and noodles he foraged from the cabinets. These kids fell through the cracks. It's true they wouldn't have made much, if any, noise. Neglected children, as I said, have learned not to cry. And in any case, they were slowly weakening as they died. Thry weren't noticed for far, far too long. I get that helpless, "this didn't need to happen" feeling, but exactly what? We can dream up scenarios all day long, but that doesn't mean any of it would apply to this case.

I have worked with many, many families who were deemed risky, but not so severe that the kids needed to leave, and I have also dealt with the whole extended family in some homes where the kids did leave to live temporarily with a grandmother, aunt, or uncle while the parent or parents untangled themselves. When I began this work, sometimes I just had young, or incompetent parents. I would say in my last five years, way more than 90 percent involved alcohol or drug use. A lot of the addicts' children may have been exposed to drugs in utero (fetal alcohol is easier to recognize). Such children often have learning disabilities. Some lack much ability to control anger or other emotions because that part of their brain didn't finish developing.

It makes me wonder about the society my grandchildren will deal with. But surely there aren't as many drug-affected kids as it seems. Surely.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Little Plate Works

Please read the comments on "A Canadian Describes His Health Care System." This is a flawed e-mail I posted, and the comments include two lengthy comments from Canadian residents. Very informative.

My Little Plate diet is going well. I've lost another five pounds, which puts my weight lower than it has been in 15 years. Sigh. When I weighed then what I weigh now, I was two dress sizes smaller because I worked out and walked a lot then. But I can exercise now only very gently and can't walk any distance at all. My knees are very happy, however. And Little Plates keep my food costs pretty low.

I suspect this diet will work even if your preference is starches and fried meats. Fortunately, I really groove on broccoli,squash and brussel sprouts, not to mention salads, carrots and asparagas. But I do eat bread, and desserts, and garlic mashed potatoes. Just not very much of them. My rule is: if it fits on a salad plate, no stacking, I can eat it. And the longer I do this, the less I find myself wanting french fries or fried chicken. My doctor told me several years ago I shouldn't eat a helping of meat larger than the palm of my hand. Currently I couldn't eat more than that if I had to. Generally, smaller.

As fried foods go, Mexican food is my downfall. Again, I can't eat large quantities, so that helps. Recently, I ate a bean chalupa with lettuce and tomatoes, and on another day got a crispy(corn tortilla) chicken taco which came with chips and queso, most of which I threw away. Just learned about a new restaurant that serves a slice of pizza and side salad. Need I mention these meals cost under $3 apiece?

The thing is, I don't ever feel deprived. I can eat anything. Just not very much of it. And that's okay. I don't know how this would work if I were more physically active. Maybe I would enlarge the helpings to a luncheon plate.

Still, Little Plate is working. And I am really glad.

When I started, I had 4-5 plates a day. As my stomach became accustomed to the smaller meals, I reduced the number of plates.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Before modern medicine came along

I remember my father trying to explain the wonder of having been a boy who harnessed up the family buggy every Sunday for church, and as he told me this, he had just returned from a business meeting in New York City. Flying, it took a few hours to get home. As a child, I wasn't too impressed, but enough that I remember the story. The changes in his lifetime were huge.
The changes in my lifetime have, I think, been more subtle, although the advent of the personal computer has changed society radically.
In one area, the changes have been huge: Medicine.
Most of the first 10 years of my life, Dr. Fagle made the trips to our house when I was sick. And I was sick a lot. I was 35 before I learned I have exercise induced AND allergy induced asthma. I don't wheeze. I just shut down, have trouble breathing and start coughing. When I was a child, the doctor simply diagnosed it as croup or bronchitis. I would run a fairly high fever for days and cough and cough. Sometimes I had trouble breathing. Mother had a rocker in my bedroom that had the most comforting creak sounds, and she would hold me on her lap and rock, the better for the vaporizer to puff eucalyptus-scented steam into my face to ease my breathing.
Only once did I have to endure a mustard plaster: some friend of my parents' recommended it as absolutely a remedy to break up the chest congestion. It stunk, it stung, and my parents discerned no appreciable difference, so I didn't have another one, thank goodness.
There were no pharmaceutical medicines. Got it? None. In the 30s, doctors got sulfa, which they didn't know very much about using (Interviewing a long-retired doctor in the 1970s, I was surprised to learn that overdoses of sulfa were common. The telltale symptom, the old doctor told me, was that the patient's ears would turn a deep, navy blue.) Penicillin came along in the early 40s but was not available, for the most part, for civilians. Penicillin was reserved for the soldiers. And doctors didn't know very much about when to administer penicillin, either. We did have aspirin, at some time or another.
But back to the "medicine" that was available.
I remember the time Dr. Fagle came out to examine me and pulled a prescription pad out of his big satchel. He proceeded to write his prescription--a recipe combining lemon juice, honey and raw egg whites beaten into soft peaks. (All three are soothers for the throat). Mother made up the recipe in a big bowl. I couldn't wait for each dose. And, since long-term coughing roughs the throat and bronchials, the soothing mixture actually worked a bit.
The doctor continued to come to the house when I was sick, when I had chicken pox, when I had measles. Generally, I would miss a week or two of school. My parents would pick up my assignments for me to do at home, except when I had measles. Measles required dim light to prevent eye damage, it was thought. Measles was really boring. No reading. And we didn't have a TV, either.
In fifth grade, I started feeling sick on the last day of school before Christmas break. When I got home, Mother took my temperature. Yep, up and rising. I had a slight rash. My tongue was strawberry pink.
Dr. Fagle had moved away, so Mother called the new doctor, Dr. Baumgartner. She was indignant to be told the new dcotor saw patients only in his office, so in we went. I had scarletina. So home I went to bed for the entire Christmas vacation. I was allowed to get up on Christmas morning and for Christmas dinner. Otherwise, I was confined to bed. No antibiotics, and it took that long for the illness to run its course.
(A few years ago I worked with a family where all four children had varying degrees of immune deficiency. On one visit, two of the girls were sick and feverish. The oldest had a slight rash, and yep, a strawberry tongue. I urged the mom to get them to the ER, where the oldest was the medical wonder of the afternoon.The young docs had read about scarletina, but almost none of them had ever seen it. They all came by to see her. With antibiotics, of course, she was over it in two or three days.)

Anyway, life changed. The doctor never again made a home visit.
Antibiotics began to appear. And antihistimines. And all kinds of treatments for all kinds of ailments. When I was growing up, a child contracting leukemia had a death sentence. Not so true today. Medicine has continued to evolve. I continue to be amazed at some of the treatments today, particularly the surgical procedures.
Medicine has come a long way from a bowl of lemon juice, honey and egg whites.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A Canadian Describes His Health Care System

This is an e-mail I received. It seems in line with the comments AD posted to me, so I thought I would post it. Can't vouch for the veracity. Can say it rings true for a bureaucratic health system. Don't mean to be a Sally One-Note, and will get on to other things next.

Health Care in Canada

"This comes from a friend of a career Marine, who just happens to be a Canadian. His thoughts on the recent health care proposal might be of interest to some."
"Hey Guys; I saw on the news up here in Canada where Hillary Clinton introduced her new health care plan. Something similar to what we have in Canada. I also heard that Michael Moore was raving about the health care up here in Canada in his latest movie. As your friend and someone who lives with the Canada health care plan I thought I would give you some facts about this great medical plan that we have in Canada.
"First of all:
1) The health care plan in Canada is not free. We pay a premium every month of $96. for Shirley and I to be covered. Sounds great eh?
What they don't tell you is how much we pay in taxes to keep the health care system afloat. I am personally in the 55% tax bracket. Yes
55% of my earnings go to taxes. A large portion of that and I am not sure of the exact amount goes directly to health care - our #1 expense.
"2) I would not classify what we have as health care plan, it is more like a health diagnosis system. You can get into to see a doctor quick enough so he can tell you "yes indeed you are sick or you need an operation" but now the challenge becomes getting treated or operated on. We have waiting lists out the ying yang some as much as 2 years down the road.
"3) Rather than fix what is wrong with you the usual tactic in Canada is to prescribe drugs. Have a pain - here is a drug to take - not what is causing the pain and why. No time for checking you out because it is more important to move as many patients thru as possible each hour for Government reimbursement
"4) Many Canadians do not have a family Doctor.
"5) Don't require emergency treatment as you may wait for hours in the emergency room waiting for treatment.
"6) Shirley's dad cut his hand on a power saw a few weeks back and it required that his hand be put in a splint - to our surprise we had to pay $125 for a splint because it is not covered under health care plus we have to pay $60 for each visit for him to check it out each week.
"7) Shirley's cousin was diagnosed with a heart blockage. Put on a waiting list. Died before he could get treatment.
"8) Government allots so many operations per year. When that is done no more operations, unless you go to your local newspaper and plead your case and embarrass the government then money suddenly appears.
"9) The Government takes great pride in telling us how much more they are increasing the funding for health care but waiting lists never get shorter. Government just keeps throwing money at the problem but it never goes away. But they are good at finding new ways to tax us, but they don't call it a tax anymore it is now a user fee.
"10) My mother needs an operation for a blockage in her leg but because she is a smoker they will not do it. Despite her and my father paying into the health care system all these years. My Mom is 80 years of age. Now there is talk that maybe we should not treat fat and obese people either because they are a drain on the health care system. Let me see now, what we want in Canada is a health care system for healthy people only. That should reduce our health care costs.
"11) Forget getting a second opinion, what you see is what you get.
"12) I can spend what money I have left after taxes on booze, cigarettes, junk food and anything else that could kill me but I am not allowed by law to spend my money on getting an operation I need because that would be jumping the queue. I must wait my turn except if I am a hockey player or athlete then I can get looked at right away. Go figure Where else in the world can you spend money to kill yourself but not allowed to spend money to get healthy?
"13) Oh did I mention that immigrants are covered automatically at tax payer expense having never contributed a dollar to the system and pay no premiums?
"14) Oh yeah we now give free needles to drug users to try and keep them healthy. Wouldn't want a sickly druggie breaking into your house and stealing your things. But people with diabetes who pay into the health care system have to pay for their needles because it is not covered by the health care system.
"I send this out not looking for sympathy but as the election looms in the states you will be hearing more and more about universal health care down there and the advocates will be pointing to Canada. I just want to make sure that you hear the truth about health care up here and have some food for thought and informed questions to ask when broached with this subject.

"Step wisely and don't make the same mistakes we have.

"The saying is: "If you think Medical Costs are high now, what till you see what it costs when you get care for free."


Monday, October 8, 2007

A Sign to Live By

I was amused to see a line of pegs outside the men's room at a local grocery store with a hand-lettered sign: "Please remove aprons before entering." When I asked about this, staff told me earnestly that this was simply compliance with a federal rule for all grocery staff. (ahem) There were no pegs or signs outside the women's facilities.
Yep, sometimes being a woman really CAN be more convenient. I snickered all the way to the car.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Never rolled down a sand dune? You've missed something!

You trudge up to the top of a tall, steep sand dune and lie down carefully, your body horizontal to the ground, squinch your eyes shut, and throw yourself, rolling, over the dune.
Whappity!Whapity-whap-whap-wha=wha-whap, faster and faster as you careen towards the foot. An historical thrill ride, at the least, maybe even prehistoric. And still a whale of a lot of fun. And you dust off the loose sand, trudge back up, and do it again.
The Tularosa Basin of New Mexico is a pretty good place to grow up. Alamogordo is on the east side of the valley, nestled at the base of the Sacramento Mountains. On the west is the Oregon Mountains, or more formally, the San Andres.These jagged, purple-blue spiky mountains are dry, and a pleasure to the eye.And below them is a long, white line on the horizon.
White Sands National Monument.
When I say that, I feel formal and pretentious, as if I'm making a formal introduction for our neighbor, Miss Caroline, who I have known for years, by her more formal name, Mrs. Woodrow Mcneil-Forrest.
The White Sands were simply where I played when I was growing up. We always got an annual pass, and we went several times every year. I don't think we ever went without a picnic packed. It's not like there are restaurants out there.
But the sands are special. For one thing, they aren't really sand. They are pure, white gypsum, which matters enormously in mid-summer. As A kid, I neither knew nor cared. All I knew was, when we got there I could pull off my shoes and socks and immediately run onto the dunes. But it is important, because gypsum, unlike sand, doesn't retain the heat. It might be warm on a 100-degree day, but it won't burn the feet.
Dig down a foot or two, and you may even find wet "sand", nice and cool. If it isn't wet, it will still be cool, pleasing on a hot summer day.
I'm not sure if its like exists anywhere else. Over millenia, the gypsum cystals have gathered until now 275 square miles of white gypsum are humped into dunes that are sometimes 80 feet. And you can stand on top and look as far as you can see, and not see a thing but white dunes with undulating wind ridges, with the mountains in the distance. It is beautiful.
But the real point is--it is fun.
The little museum up at the gate is interesting to visit, with its rodents,lizards, toads, rattlesnakes and some insects that have morphed over the centuries into albinos.
Back when my father was a boy in the early 1900s, he told me, a group from town would hitch up the horses to several wagons and they would head for the Sands on a Saturday morning. The dirt road wound 13 miles through the valley before reaching the dunes. It would take a couple of hours to reach the dunes and then travel some distance in--probably not too far, for concerns about getting lost, but far enough that the sand no longer had any plants here and there, and dunes were tall. Then the women and kids waited in the wagons while the men explored the site, killing off any snakes. Dad said one time, the men found 13 rattlers before the women and children got out. The men used pickaxes to dig troughs in the gypsum. The water table, about three feet down, would fill these with brackish, salty water the horses could drink. Boards and sawhorses had been brought along to set up a long, rough table. Remember, this was before paper products or plastic, so each family had to bring their plates, silverware and glasses. Jars wrapped in burlap bags to keep them cool were joined by jugs of fresh lemonade and tea. A watermelon transported with a block of ice was still cool when they arrived. The men played baseball. The women tossed their heads and a number "wickedly" took off their stockings and shoes to play in the sand with the kids. A few even rolled, and of course, the men did, too. And just as in my childhood, the kids climbed to the top of the highest dune and rolled and rolled and rolled. We dug caves in the side of the dunes, we walked "no more than two dunes over" I imagine their parents said, as they said to us. Two dunes over, and it was complete wilderness. No one in sight but us. Way cool.We played and we romped, and we got hungry.
White Sands National Monument was created in 1933. My father's memories are before any formal park was created. With the park came rules, and better roads into two major picnic ares, and concrete picnic tables with aluminum roofs, and small, durable barbecue grills on the sites. And park employes, and of course, a fee to enter. Not a very big fee, even today.
With the big groups, like a church or town group, came the fried chicken, meatloaf, pinto beans, ham, salads, green beans, breads, cookies, pies, cakes, and of course, the watermelon, which we could eat by the slice sitting on the dunes just spitting the seeds out. Familes on their own might bring hamburgers or hot dogs to grill or, gee, even steaks and chicken.
Our Fourth of July fireworks were always at the Sands. Why not? Great viewing, nothing to burn.
Thousands still visit every year. If you go, try to stay for a sunset. A New Mexico sunset seen from the top of a dune is very special.It is a good place to be with someone you love very much.
During the summers, the national science labs in the areas come out weekly and do a lecture on the dunes, using modern equipment to show pictures of some of their work. Astronomy is very big in the area. There's some neat stuff, no extra cost for the Ph.D. talking, and no need to move from your comfy seat in the sand in your cutoffs.
Who first explored the dunes or discovered the fun?
All I know is, there is a 400-year-old legend of a headstrong young bride from Spain who insisted on coming out to marry her sweetheart, who was part of Coronado's entourage as he explored the Southwest looking for treasure. She brought with her a beautiful wedding dress packed in its own trunk to wear when she was married, and being wealthy, had her own entourage to follow Coronado to where they were camped near the Sands.
Just days before she arrived, her sweetheart was sent out with three other men to explore the area. They were told to take a quck look at the dunes' interior. They never were seen again.
The headstrong young bride was beside herslef. No one could stop her in her grief. She donned her fine wedding dress, took her horse, and headed into the sands to find her love. She also was never seen again.
Such passion! such tragedy! the story has woven into the fabric of the Southwest for 400 years now. And it is said, if you are there just at twilight, when the wind may lift the sand just lightly into the air, you may hear her soft call for her lover, and see her form, slightly bent as she hurries over the next dune, still searching for her love. I have met several people who say they have seen---something. They can't swear it was just a gust of wind.
Is there a reason the legend still lives after 400 years?
I do not know.