controversies, dogs, ethics, healthcare

The surprising judgment that comes with seeking advanced veterinary care…

The featured photo is of Arran and Bill, just a few days ago… As you can see, they love each other very much. Arran is glad to be here with his favorite person. I’m glad we can afford to treat his cancer and keep him comfortable for a little while longer. And I’m grateful that living in Germany allows this outcome for us.

A month ago, I wrote a post about our decision to treat our dog, Arran, for B-cell lymphoma. I was inspired to write that post after reading an article in the Washington Post about the cost of treating major diseases in pets. The article in the WaPo was written by Kim Kavin, whose dog, Blue, was diagnosed with cancer. She decided to pull out all the stops to treat Blue, and it cost a lot of money. Blue initially responded to the treatment, but then suffered a relapse when the cancer came roaring back with a vengeance. Kavin’s piece ran in the paper, and lots of people had negative opinions about it. I felt badly that she was getting so many brutal comments, so I wrote my own post about our decision to treat Arran.

At this writing, Arran has had six chemo treatments. If we hadn’t done these treatments, I feel pretty sure he would have died by now. When we started the chemotherapy on October 13th, he was starting to get sick. He wasn’t eating much, and looked very sad. He spent a lot of time sleeping, and could barely manage a short walk around the block. Now, he eats, sleeps, takes walks, jumps on the furniture, and tears things up. The chemotherapy hasn’t made him feel sick. The only thing I’ve noticed is that he sleeps a bit after he gets Vincristine and/or Endoxan. But he doesn’t have diarrhea or issues with vomiting. He hasn’t lost his fur. He doesn’t even have to take medication every day. And you’d never know he has cancer.

What has his treatment cost us so far? So far, we’ve paid for six weeks of treatment, which consists of weekly IV pushes of Vinistrine, a chemo drug. He takes two Endoxan pills per week– on Thursdays and Saturdays. Every other day, he takes three 5 milligram tablets of Prednisolone. This regime will continue for another two weeks, and then it will change to one that is less extreme. Total cost here in Germany? Still less than 1000 euros. And he feels much better with a great quality of life, while we’ve been able to enjoy his company for a little bit longer. I think he’ll make it to his tenth anniversary with us. That’s all we could have ever hoped for.

This was Arran’s first chemo bill. It covers two treatments. As you can see, it’s very reasonable. The following week, we were billed another 445 euros for four more treatments.

A couple of days ago, The Atlantic ran a story titled “How Much Would You Pay to Save Your Cat’s Life?”, by Sarah Zhang. The story was about the veterinary hospitals in the United States that give cats kidney transplants to save their lives. Their owners shell out $15,000 for the surgery, which involves using a donor cat’s kidney, implanting it in an often elderly cat. Many times, the owners end up adopting the donor cats, too, as they are typically young and healthy and in need of a home. As it is for most humans, cats can get by just fine with one kidney. In one case, the prospective donor got adopted anyway, when the cat that needed a kidney passed from heart failure before the surgery could be done.

It was noted in the article that kidney transplants are the only transplant surgeries available to cats. The donors are not killed. Apparently, transplants are not yet available for dogs, because “the canine immune system is unusually reactive, leading to kidney rejection.”

Zhang wrote about a 16 year old cat named Strawberry who got a new kidney. Strawberry’s owner did not want to be identified, as she feared backlash from people about the cost. The surgery alone costs $15,000, but with travel, follow-up care, and other costs, it can end up being twice as expensive. And Strawberry’s owner didn’t want to deal with a bunch of negativity about her choice to spend that money. Zhang writes that she interviewed a dozen cat owners who had opted for the surgery and also wanted to remain anonymous. One person quipped, “I wouldn’t think of saying to somebody, ‘Wow, that’s an expensive car,’  But people seem pretty free to say, ‘Wow, you spent a lot of money on a cat.’ ”

I remember the very negative and judgmental comments on Kavin’s article in the Washington Post. I expected to see similar comments on The Atlantic’s article. Much to my surprise and delight, The Atlantic’s readers seem to be a lot more open-minded. Or, at least they aren’t as full of judgmental bile about what people will spend their money on, as well as the mistaken belief that cancer treatment is always unpleasant and leads to sickness, as it often does in humans. And one person wrote a very astute comment, which I think really highlights why people tend to have strong reactions to other people’s choices to treat illnesses like cancer in their pets. Facebook user Isaac Suárez wrote:

The issue is not “is a cat’s life worth saving.” A cat is a companion, to be loved and cared for. There is no shame in wanting to preserve this bond and prevent unnecessary suffering.

Rather, the judgement comes from the fact that some have $15k to burn on pet care while the vast majority of people don’t. I know many people who’d happily pay the price to help a friend; I know very few who have the money to do so.

Sadly, a cat with kidney failure is just one of innumerable occasions where the stark class divide of our country manifests. Instead of talking about “are cats worth the price” we should be asking “why is the price so high” and “why do some people have the freedom to make this choice when the vast majority don’t?” As with many topics covered by Atlantic, the question is misframed and a valuable opportunity to address a visceral and important issue is sidestepped.

Another Facebook user liked Isaac’s comment, and responded thusly:

Brilliant and eloquent response! Its heartbreaking that so many must choose to have their beloved pet euthanized because the treatment cannot be afforded or people take on a hideous amount if debt in order to save their pet. Either way, there is a great deal of needless pain.

I also really related to Isaac’s comment, especially as an American who lives in a country where healthcare and veterinary treatments are much more reasonably priced than they are in the United States. If Bill and I were living in the United States, Arran’s treatment would no doubt cost a whole lot more. It would probably be undertaken at a high speed referral center, rather than at our local vet’s office. And we would be paying much more for his medications, as well as every single thing that would be done for him. We love Arran very much, but we’re practical people. He’s already an old guy. I can’t see us spending many thousands of dollars to keep him going. But in Germany, we can easily afford the treatment, and it makes him feel better. So he gets this comfort care at the end of his life, which will allow him more time with us, and give the vet more valuable experience treating lymphoma. It’s a win-win.

Arran and Noyzi welcome us home two weeks ago. You’d never know Arran has cancer, thanks to canine chemo. Isn’t this a result worth paying for? Especially when it’s pretty reasonably priced?

Many Americans resent how some people can afford to provide such advanced care for a pet, while human beings are going without care because they can’t afford it. And yet, so many people continue to vote for the same leaders, who do nothing about this problem. The United States is among the richest countries in the world, yet so many Americans lack the ability to pay for their own healthcare, let alone that of their pet’s. But a lot of us would never bat an eye at buying the latest iPad or tennis shoes. We don’t roll our eyes when a neighbor takes a trip to Hawaii or buys a Tesla. A pet can give a family intangible things that an iPad or a Tesla never can. Why should anyone be ashamed to spend money on their best friends? And why should anyone feel the need to judge someone negatively for making that choice? It’s not as if that person who can afford the advanced veterinary treatment for their dog or cat is going to be paying for their neighbor’s treatment.

I am probably not one of those people who would opt for a kitty kidney transplant, especially on a cat who is 16 years old. But now that I’ve experienced giving a dog chemo, I might opt to do it again for another dog… if I think the dog is well enough to be treated and wants to fight. I would probably pay a fair amount for that option, even if I’m living in the United States, where it will undoubtedly cost a lot more. Here in Germany, it’s a no brainer to give chemo a chance, although not all dogs respond the way Arran has. The response depends a lot on the animal and the type of disease. In Arran’s case, he is resilient, and he has a type of lymphoma that responds to treatment. We have the money. Why not treat it? What makes it any different than treating him for heartworms or diabetes or any other disease that people don’t think twice about treating in their pets? And if someone else has the ability and the desire to pay for advanced treatment for their cat, who am I to judge them? I’m not involved in the aftermath of that decision, and it’s really none of my business.

Anyway… I found Sarah Zhang’s article thought provoking on many levels, especially since we’re dealing with a pet who has cancer now. Arran is our fourth dog to get cancer, but he’s the first one we’ve been able to do anything for… and it really does feel good to do something. I can see, every day, that Arran is glad to be here. No, it’s not fun for him to get intravenous medications every week, but that’s only for about a half an hour. In a couple of weeks, he’ll be getting the IV meds less frequently. We’ll see how long he can make it before it’s time to let him go. I’m just glad we have the luxury of being able to prepare for the end, and enjoying every minute with our beloved Arran. If we weren’t in Germany, I’m not sure we’d have that. This shouldn’t be something that other people judge us negatively for doing, simply because our healthcare system is so fucked up and prices for humans and animals needing medical care are so ridiculously high. It seems to me that Americans ought to be demanding lower healthcare costs. I know that’s the way I’m going to be voting from now on.

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disasters, ethics, healthcare, modern problems, poor judgment, silliness

“I was born free… I’ll die free.” But Chad, dead people don’t need freedom…

Bill went to Stuttgart yesterday afternoon, leaving me alone with my thoughts in our big German “mansion” (ha ha ha). Actually, compared to our last house, it kind of is a mansion. It’s also priced accordingly, but we’re mostly a lot happier here, so at least we have that going for us, right? I do really miss some things about Stuttgart, though… like the beautiful scenery in the cute towns, and knowing my way around a lot better than I do here. Also, in Stuttgart, we didn’t have to deal with COVID-19, because it didn’t yet exist, hence the reason why I know my way around better down there. I got out of the house a lot more.

Like a lot of people, I am super weary of this stupid virus running my life. I’ve been doing my best to try to avoid getting sick, although I’m mostly living the way I have for the past fifteen years or so… basically as a shut in. That’s just the way life turned out for me, personally, for a lot of reasons. The one thing that has changed, though, is that I choose to stay home a lot more, mainly because here in Germany, we have a lot of annoying rules and restrictions that I prefer not to deal with. And since that means I’m social distancing, I count it as a responsible move. Yes, I am triple vaxxed, and I wear a stupid fucking mask when I’m required to, but I just don’t put myself in situations where that is required. Fortunately, I’m still basically healthy… as far as I know.

The same isn’t true for a 38 year old Hickory, North Carolina man named Chad Carswell. I read about him yesterday in the Washington Post. What makes him notable enough for a big newspaper article? He has severe kidney disease and desperately needs a kidney transplant, and apparently, there are over 100 people who have offered to donate a kidney to him. He also claims to have the money to pay for the surgery.

After almost two years on dialysis, Mr. Carswell’s kidneys are reportedly functioning at 4 percent, and they aren’t going to last much longer. Carswell applied for a kidney transplant to extend his life. But Mr. Carswell is currently not vaccinated against COVID-19, and the hospital where he wishes to get a transplant requires that he be fully vaccinated. Although I don’t remember reading it, my guess is that Carswell’s donor would also have to be fully inoculated. Mr. Carswell steadfastly refuses to get immunized against COVID-19, having already survived two infections, one of which put him in the hospital. Carswell “reasons” that he doesn’t need the shots. He told the post:

“There is not a situation in this world that I’ll get a vaccine. If I’m laying on my deathbed, and they tell me, ‘You have a kidney waiting on you if you get this shot,’ I’ll tell them, ‘I’ll see you on the other side.’”

Based on what I’ve read so far about this man, he says that this is a matter of “freedom” and his “rights”. And that’s fine. I totally get that some people are affronted by being told that they must be vaccinated, or they must wear masks… and they see these requirements as “government overreach”. In fact, I can even agree that a person should ultimately have dominion over what goes in or out of their bodies. However, just as Mr. Carswell has the right to refuse vaccines; his doctors have the right to declare him unfit for surgery because he’s not vaccinated against COVID.

I know a lot of people think COVID-19 is just a “bad flu”, never mind that the flu still kills people most years. I mean, I haven’t had the flu since 2013, but the last time I did have it, I really felt like dying. Indeed, that year, a lot of people in Texas, where we were living at the time, did actually die of the flu. There were even healthy teenagers who died that year of the so-called “bad flu”. In my case, it took me weeks to get over my sickness, and I was basically “healthy”, though unvaccinated against flu. Bill also got sick, but he did get a flu shot that year. He got well much faster than I did. I still remember being too exhausted to stay out of bed for more than a few minutes at a time. It took months to get rid of the hacking cough and lingering fatigue, and that was just the “flu”.

Carswell has already had COVID-19, and he’s been living with kidney disease for awhile… and he says he’s had health issues for years. So obviously, getting COVID-19 doesn’t scare him. I wonder if Mr. Carswell has really stopped to consider what would happen after he gets a transplant. I’m sure he’s been told that he will have to take powerful anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life. Those drugs basically drastically suppress one’s immune system, meaning that an illness that most people would consider mild could actually kill a transplant recipient. I’ve read a couple of excellent books about people who had organ transplants.

Author Amy Silverstein, who had a heart transplant, very bluntly wrote that getting a transplant is like trading one serious health problem for another, even though her new heart has made it possible for her to survive for many years beyond her initial operation, which took place in the 1980s. She wrote extensively about how the most minor cold bug would send her straight to bed for a couple of weeks. Friends would tell her to do things to “boost” her immune system, not realizing that boosting her immune system could kill her. Being constantly sick and concerned about her health even caused Amy Silverstein to consider suicide, even though she had been given the “gift of life” from a healthy 13 year old girl who had died in an accident at a “fortuitous” time for Amy. Fortunately, at this writing, Amy Silverstein has overcome her depression and, miraculously, is still alive and relatively well after having had a second heart transplant. The first heart lasted an incredible 26 years.

I went looking for more on Chad Carswell last night. I discovered his personal Facebook page, which has a few public posts open about his situation. It appears that he’s well loved in North Carolina and, perhaps around the rest of the country, for his steadfast refusal not to be pushed around by the Democrats… (eye roll). I came away with the idea that Chad Carswell and his friends are actual morons. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but that’s seriously how I felt as I read some of the comments left by him and his champions. These folks are apparently NOT mental giants, although Carswell appears to be physically rather imposing, from the chest up anyway. I read that he’s already a double amputee, thanks to his health problems.

There were so many comments about medical freedom and how Carswell was “fighting” for it. I want to ask him… what the hell good does “freedom” do for the dead? And why should someone give up a kidney to someone who doesn’t respect the sacrifice enough to do everything possible to see to it that the transplant is a success? As of yesterday, both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have been declared safe and are fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration. That was one complaint the anti-vaxxers had about the shots. Now, they don’t have that complaint anymore. Moreover, although vaccinated people can and do contract and spread the virus, it’s clear that vaccinated people don’t usually get nearly as sick as the unvaccinated do, and they are much less likely to be hospitalized for COVID. I’ve already mentioned that donated organs are very precious, and taking the medications to keep those organs functioning will make Carswell medically fragile. So why wouldn’t he want to do what he can to ensure that the donated organ doesn’t go to waste?

Personally, I think Carswell is really enjoying the attention he’s getting. I suspect that this unusual turn of events– Carswell’s health problems, our current ridiculous political situation, COVID-19, and the annoying restrictions people are having to tolerate because of how quickly and easily it spreads, have come together to make the “perfect storm” for a man whose life probably hasn’t been especially noteworthy under other circumstances. I know some have said maybe he’s “afraid” of surgery or of needles, but it’s obvious he’s already endured other medical stuff, to include amputations of both legs. So I don’t think he’s “afraid”. I think he’s enjoying being on the Trump train, getting attention, and being held up as a poster child for the unvaccinated and their “rights”. There’s power that goes along with fame, and this is Carswell’s fifteen minutes of fame. I’m sure it’s intoxicating to experience that kind of fame. But refusing a safe vaccine to protect his donated organ and his health is probably going to cost him his life.

Below are some very telling quotes from Carswell’s very public Facebook page:

“If I DIE in pursuit of my magnificent OBSESSION then so be it I went out FIGHTING for what I love! But today while I’m here I will show you I’m still a LION and I’m still KING of the jungle! I’ll show you how hard I can FIGHT ! “ c t fletcher Pretty stoked about this afternoon! Even more blessed that god showed me along time ago my purpose on this earth and gave me and showed me the strength I needed to stand up and fight for those things but also the ability to help others . This journey isn’t about me I’ve said it 1k times over if it was I would have quit along time ago. It’s about the countless messages I get randomly telling me I help and this journey helps them . It’s the tons of people telling #lifeon daily. It’s not just a saying it’s a movement that just simply means FIGHT! The switch was turned on and now we must LIVE!

And…

You know I’ve been asked a few times the last few days why I keep going . What makes me keep
Fighting . And I told everyone as I always do the same thing it’s not about me it’s about others. But this message I got just a few min ago brought tears to my eyes not just bc the absolute amazing voice behind the song that was recorded just for me but for the sheer thought of a stranger in another state cared for me enough to send me this. All while telling me that she’s had her own struggles but seeing my journey has inspired her to get up stop feeling sorry and FIGHT! This isn’t about me it’s about the ability to change the world and impact people all across the country! If i get a kidney great if I don’t and i help motivate people to keep fighting then I’m just as blessed in heaven! Just take a min and listen to this stunning audio . Thank you to the one who sent me this she didn’t want any credit but I couldn’t let it go without being shared!!! This is why I keep going this is why I fight !

He says he wants to FIGHT, but he’s not trusting the people who can help him win the fight. His situation makes for “pretty” Facebook posts, though. I do hope the woman who wrote to Chad doesn’t follow his example.

The excitement of the story being shared has been dwindled by the sadness that I just found out my sweet dear Mrs Mary Byrd Voss passed away earlier this afternoon. She was a blessing to me and my life she called me her “Greek God” . She’s at peace and with her son billy and her husband now. I love you Mrs Mary and am grateful and thankful you were placed into my life . I’ll cherish our friendship forever ! See you soon! #LIFEON

Yes, Chad, if you keep doing what you’re doing, you will indeed see Mrs. Mary again real soon. But you go on with your bad self.

🚨🚨UPDATE🚨🚨 Listen friends idk for sure yet BUT! Something very promising may be in the mix real real soon! I just had a phone call that may allow us to reach even more people than we thought ! The meeting with the paper went well . Hopefully they do the right thing and right the article it’s like I told her this isn’t about me or for me or for me to get a kidney . I’m prepared to die over this this is about reaching more people and continuing the journey and mission to help others . And I wanted to make sure they knew it wasn’t about me it was more for getting my story out there more to continue to inspire others . But the phone call I got after I left there could be even bigger ! So shoot up a prayer that if the lords will be done this happens so the mission can continue to grow and reach othersUPDATE so was waiting on this call before I said it but Dave Faherty reached out from Channel 9 news and I am meeting with him here in about 15 minutes ! I’ll keep y’all updated !!#LIFEON

And… (“Life on?” Reminds me of “Be Best”.)

Lol so some people think this is me being selfish or this is me wanting attention or this is me whatever the ones who know me know I could care less about that I just want to help people ! But remember when I said today it’s a vax but what’s next ? How bout kids over the age of 5 with cancer being forced to move out of the Ronald McDonald house if not vaccinated by the end of the month ? WAKE UP PEOPLE! The choice we make today effect the life we live tomorrow !!#LIFEON — with Chad Carswel.

These are just a few public statements Mr. Carswell has made. It’s clear to me that he’s quite pleased to be newsworthy, and he’s enjoying the power he’s getting from taking this stand. And as a fellow American, I certainly support his right to “freedom”, although I think if he really wants to commit suicide, there are more efficient ways to do that than languish with kidney disease. I want to ask Chad how his being very sick and facing death for want of a vaccine is “helpful” to anyone, especially to those who really do want to live and are willing to do what they need to do to make that happen. Millions of people have had the COVID shots and the VAST majority of them are fine.

As far as I can tell, no one is forcing Chad Carswell to get vaccinated. At this point, no one is forcing anyone to be vaccinated. What’s happening is that conditions are being placed on those who choose not to be vaccinated. Those conditions are being placed to protect those who are willing to think of the community as a whole instead of just themselves. COVID-19 is extremely contagious, and as a medically compromised person whose body has already been through hell– to include having had COVID twice– I want to ask Chad why he doesn’t value his own health more. And why is he seeking help from medical experts if he won’t follow their advice? Why go to a surgeon and ask for a donated kidney if you don’t trust doctors when they tell you that getting COVID-19 when you are extremely immunocompromised is a terrible idea that will likely lead to tragic consequences? Why should medical professionals waste their time, energy, and resources to help someone who apparently won’t help themselves? If Chad won’t get a vaccine, how do healthcare professionals know that he’ll take anti-rejection medications?

And better yet… why should I give a shit? Well… I think I give a shit because of comments like the one below, which I’ve seen being shared on social media.

Double amputee Chad Carswell of North Carolina must have a kidney transplant to live.Multiple businesses raised funds for the surgery, and more than 100 people have offered to donate a kidney to spare his life.But Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem told him he can’t have the life-saving procedure unless he gets vaccinated! The vax has proven completely ineffective and doesn’t protect those who got the jab from getting it…yet the hospital requires it or will let the man die. The facility that should be helping save his life is now preventing that help. Think about that….

The person who posted the above comment is clearly not a medical expert. I looked at her Facebook page, and these were her credentials:

Someone please tell me how someone with these clearly “artsy” credentials is qualified to comment about someone else’s health status? What does she know about organ donation, virus transmission, or vaccines?

But the person who wrote the above post can obviously write. She has worked in public relations, marketing, and “ghost writing”. She’s studied music. So that tells me she can put on a performance. She can write coherently. If she’s done public relations, she probably knows how to influence people and spin a narrative that will cause less informed people to care and share her wrong-headed conclusions. So that makes her a potentially dangerous source of disinformation. This person isn’t a medical doctor. She isn’t a nurse. She hasn’t studied public health or epidemiology. She does public relations! I don’t even know if she knows Mr. Carswell personally, or has any real knowledge of his medical situation or even the general needs and concerns of people who need organ transplants. Yet she’s trying to rally the troops to his cause, which is almost surely bound to end in death if he doesn’t get with the program. To use her own words, “think about that.” Especially since, at this writing, the above post has 148 “likes”, 284 reactions, and 65 shares. And every time someone shares her post, the potential for it going “viral” increases, which means that more people will possibly be misinformed. (Incidentally, for anyone who wants to accuse me of the same thing, I actually DO have a master’s degree in public health and used to work in epidemiology. No, I’m not an expert, and I don’t claim to be one, but I do have faith in the people who have been to school for much longer than I have, studying medicine, public health, and related subjects.)

Below is a post from one of Carswell’s lifelong friends…

I’ve known Chad Carswel my entire life! As kids we use to crawl through the drainage pipe under his grandmas driveway pretending to be army men! Chad is a stand up man, and an inspiration to all who know him! If anyone deserves a kidney he is definitely on the top of the short list! To refuse him life saving medical care over a vaccine that isn’t even effective at preventing infection is absurd and asinine! How is refusing life saving treatment “doing no harm” as the oath states? My hope and prayer is that he will find a doctor with half a brain and an ounce of sympathy and perform this surgery for him! Please friends and family lift him up in prayer! Pray for healing, and for a doctor that will stand by his oath!

Friend, if you really think Chad is a “stand up man” (impressive, given his double amputee status), and “deserves a kidney”, then take a moment to ask yourself why someone should donate an organ to a person who doesn’t follow medical directives by people who have studied for years to become medical experts? Why should people who have given so much time, money, and energy to study medicine do surgery on someone who stubbornly refuses to take their advice and, in fact, spreads disinformation about a deadly virus in his PR campaign against vaccines and, frankly, liberal politics? This really shouldn’t be about “owning the libs” or anything else political. This is about a man’s health– life and death– as well as the well-being of those who are following this story. If something isn’t done soon, your friend who needs “life saving medical care” is no longer going to need treatment, or freedom. Dead people, in fact, have no need for “life saving medical care” or freedom.

Anyway… in spite of this lengthy screed I’ve written, I genuinely do think Chad Carswell has every right to make his own decisions. But that right extends to other people, too. Right now, the evidence is clear– worldwide, mind you, not just in Biden’s “liberal” camp– that COVID vaccines are essential for preventing severe disease. The vast majority of competent healthcare professionals, and obviously the ones in charge of Chad Carswell’s case, agree that the vaccines are absolutely necessary. And yes, most of those people do have more than “half a brain”, and I’m sure a lot of them have sympathy and, more importantly, empathy, for Chad’s half-baked position on COVID vaccines. But even Donald Trump has said vaccines are good, and God knows, Trump wants every vote he can get in 2024. He got vaccinated, too, but if things keep going the way they’re going, his base is going to go extinct. As much as I despise Trump, I do have beloved friends and relatives who support him. I hope they have, at least, followed Trump’s lead on COVID vaccines.

So… to Chad and his followers, I would say, if you don’t want to get a vaccine, that’s certainly your choice. But surgeons can also choose to declare you unfit for surgery, just as they might if you were determined not strong enough to survive. Freedom isn’t a one way street that just works for YOU. It goes both ways. And rules must apply to everyone; otherwise, we’ll have anarchy, which I understand Trump is against– he did call for “law and order”, right (except on January 6, 2021, that is)? So, I genuinely wish you luck, and I hope all of those thoughts and prayers lift you into miracle territory. Maybe there is a benevolent surgeon working at a less restrictive hospital system who will give you what you seek. If I were you, I’d start looking far and wide. Time is most likely not on your side.

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Ex, family, rants

This letter in Carolyn Hax’s column really hits home…

This post has brought out some of my deeply ingrained, still raw anger toward Ex. It comes out in this post, and there is profanity… Proceed with caution. And please, if any readers feel compelled to lecture me about how inappropriate my anger is, do me a favor and buzz off. My anger is perfectly reasonable and justified, and I can write about it on my blog if I want to. That’s what blogs are for.

As some readers know, I like to read advice columns. One column I read fairly regularly is Carolyn Hax’s. I think she’s very sensible and gives good advice. A recent letter in The Washington Post gave me pause. Here it is.

Dear Carolyn: We never spent time with my dad’s extended family, but one of his siblings and I have a lot of similar interests. I emailed her once to ask something, and we now exchange emails regularly. We haven’t spoken since I was a teen and I’m in my 30s now.

My parents are Not Pleased. My mom is actually really upset that I am talking with her; in high school she made me stop talking to her completely. My father just tells me she will eventually hate me, give it time, she’s a horrible person and not really interested in me at all.

Let’s skip over the emotional baggage that comes from all the times my parents told me people have no interest in me and are just using me. There’s clearly something that really bothers my mom but she won’t openly discuss it with me, so I can only guess what the issue is. I would not be surprised if my mom actively sabotaged my relationship with this person in ways I don’t know about when I was younger, and now she’s afraid it’ll come up.

Am I wrong to continue talking with her?”

I was glad to see that Carolyn gave this writer good advice (in my opinion). She reminded the writer that she’s in her 30s, and she has the right to speak to anyone she wants. If her parents have a valid reason to discourage the connection, they need to explain themselves honestly. And even then, it should be up to the letter writer, who is in her 30s, for God’s sake, to make the choice as to whether or not she should speak to her relatives.

If you have followed my blog for any time, you probably know why I feel the way I do. It’s mainly because my husband and his daughters were estranged for many years. Ex wanted to punish Bill for agreeing to her divorce demands, so she sabotaged his relationship with his daughters. That was absolutely wrong for her to do, although it was not surprising that she did it. She did it to her first husband, too. Then, she claimed that both of her ex husbands were awful people and she was simply protecting the children from their “shitty fathers”.

In the one and only email I ever sent to Ex, I explained that if she was being truthful about her exes being shitty fathers, then she clearly has bad judgment and terrible taste in men, and she should not have married a third time and had more children. Every time she divorces, she forces her kids to be estranged from their fathers and their families. That’s very hard on them, and totally unfair. If she was really as good of a mother as she claims she is, her focus should have been on raising her “traumatized” children, and helping them recover from her poor choices in fathers for them. Otherwise, she’s just a liar, and is simply being spiteful and mean. And that makes her a shitty, toxic mother. Having been married to Bill for 19 years, I know, without a doubt, that Bill is definitely not an irresponsible father, as Ex tried to make him out to be. His ex wife just hates her exes more than she loves her kids.

When a person becomes an adult, they have the perfect right to make their own choices. But having parents who impose their petty bullshit grievances with other people on their children, simply because they’re their children, and they demand “loyalty” from their children, can cause making those decisions to be difficult. I know Bill’s daughter didn’t summon the courage to speak to Bill until she was about 23 years old and married. And even then, she was terrified to speak to him, even though she remembered him to be kind and loving.

Bill and his younger daughter missed out on about twelve precious years together, all because Ex imposed her hateful craziness on her own children. Younger daughter could have lost Bill forever when he went to Iraq, or when 9/11 happened. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and now they can bond. Younger daughter is also talking to her grandmother again, after Ex tried to ruin that relationship. Younger daughter and MIL have a lot in common, and they clearly love each other. They never should have been forced into estrangement simply because of Ex’s manipulative and toxic ploys.

I remember when younger daughter and Bill started talking again. She said she didn’t want to tell her mother about it. She said it would be an “unhappy conversation”. Ex eventually did discover that younger daughter and Bill were in contact. Quite predictably, Ex gave younger daughter a ration of shit, telling her that Bill had really “hurt” her and that the divorce was “so painful” for her.

But Ex is the one who initiated the divorce in Bill’s father’s house over Easter. She’s the one who shacked up with #3 in a house Bill paid for. She’s the one who practically forced Bill to join a restrictive, culty religion, and caused him extreme financial distresses in the forms of bankruptcy and foreclosure. She’s the one who tried to ruin his relationship with his family of origin. And she is the one who sexually assaulted him. She has some nerve claiming that Bill ever “hurt” her. She was not the one who was left with literal scars in private areas of her body.

I think it’s interesting that Ex seems to have absolutely no concept of how painful it was for Bill to be divorced, forced to pay her half his salary for years, and was STILL prevented from having a relationship with his daughters, whom he has always loved very much. There was no reason why Bill should have been denied visitation with his daughters. I have often wish he’d taken her to court and either forced her to comply, or taken custody of them. But he allowed her to leave his finances so depleted that that option was out of the question.

Ex told outrageous lies about Bill to those girls, and even forced them to write hateful letters to him, disowning him. Yes, I am still pissed off about it. I was there to witness the pain she inflicted with her lies and vengeance. She lied about me, too, and made me out to be a horrible person… or maybe just a whore. And yes, I know the truth about myself, and I know that being angry about what’s already done isn’t productive. But I can’t help it. Reading letters like this one bring up the pain again, and piss me off anew.

Older daughter is still estranged, and continues to miss out on knowing her wonderful father. Maybe older daughter wouldn’t think he’s as wonderful as I do, but she’s never tried to find out for herself. She just takes her mother’s word for it. And, you know what? It’s her loss. All I can do is hope she’s happy.

It’s hard to tell why the letter writer’s parents have such an acrimonious relationship with the writer’s extended family. Whatever it is, it’s obviously between the parents and the relative, and the letter writer has never been clued in to what happened. Seems to me the parents need to come clean and offer a *rational and provable* explanation as to why there is so much strife, if they expect their daughter to consider heeding their wishes.

If they aren’t willing to explain what the problem is, then she should tell them to mind their own business. I did that with my own dad when he tried to involve himself in my personal affairs. It was very liberating for me, and shocking for him.

Either way, the letter writer should still initially proceed with caution, in case there was a good reason for the split. But my guess is that the rift was due to someone being stubborn, offended, or just plain petty. And there’s no reason why an adult should be compelled to choose a side in a situation like this one, especially when the person who is imposing the shunning can’t or won’t offer an explanation.

I also don’t think there’s any reason why the writer’s parents need to know who she talks to, particularly if she isn’t living in their home. It’s simply none of their business.

I wish this letter writer well. I understand her dilemma. It sounds like she’s doing some healing within her family, which is a great thing to do. She may find that reconnecting with this long estranged extended family member brings her much joy, and new insight into her own origins. As an adult, she has the perfect right to seek this healing and potential joy. Her parents need to butt out… or, as I frequently like to put it in my profane way, they need to fuck off.

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book reviews, politicians, politics, Trump

Reviewing Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House…

I finally got around to reading Washington Post reporter, Bob Woodward’s 2018 book, Fear: Trump in the White House, even though I bought the book when it was first published. I still have a bunch of other books about former U.S. president Donald Trump that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet. I have a bad habit of buying books and letting them stack up, sometimes waiting to be read for years. But I also find reading about Donald Trump particularly difficult, mainly because I find him disturbing and depressing to read about, even if he is also kind of fascinating. I mean, it saddens me that so many people think he’s so great, but it also fascinates me that people don’t see what I can see so plainly.

This morning, after a concerted effort, I finished reading Fear, and I have Woodward’s follow up book, Rage, waiting to be read. I think I finally read Fear because there has been so much press about Woodward’s more recent book, Peril, which was published last month and is about the transition of Trump’s administration to Biden’s. I haven’t purchased Peril yet, but the reviews made it sound like a compelling read. I figured I should read the previous books before I get to that one. I did start reading a new book this morning, but it’s not about politics. I need to take a break after reading Fear. I guess the title was appropriately chosen.

So… on with my review…

Bob Woodward is an award willing journalist and associate editor who has worked for The Washington Post for 50 years. So far, he’s written at least 20 books that have been national bestsellers, and he’s shared in two Pulitzer Prizes. The man has quite an impressive pedigree as an author, as fourteen of his books have been on The New York Times bestseller list. Having just read Fear, I can attest to Woodward’s ability to write. Fear was easy to read and understand, and I never found myself skimming, as I did when I read John Bolton’s book, The Room Where it Happened. Bolton came off as kind of pompous, writing for himself and, more pointedly, his ego. Woodward, on the other hand, writes for his readers. That’s the kind of writing that is a pleasure for me to read.

Fear tackles the beginning of the Trump era. It’s mainly about Trump’s staff, and the lengths they went to try to “handle” him– harnessing the tremendous power Trump suddenly and surprisingly got when he was elected president. Woodward explains how staff members were chosen to work with Trump, as well as the difficulties Trump’s staff faced as they tried to deal with Trump’s overwhelming personality. Many of the people who worked in Trump’s White House were experienced professionals, particularly within the military. On the other some staffers were people who got jobs because of how they looked, or because they were friends of Trump’s… or because they were his relatives.

Steve Bannon gets a lot of coverage in this book, although Woodward was probably kinder to Bannon than he should have been. I always got the sense that Steve Bannon was a bit of a manipulative snake, but Woodward makes him seem more professional than he ever appeared to me in this news.

In straightforward, clear prose, Woodward uses his investigative journalist skills to uncover Trump’s early days in power. Woodward clearly tried to be impartial and often gives Trump more credit than he probably deserves. I can appreciate the attempt at trying to be fair and impartial, especially given the fact that Trump is the most polarizing president I have seen in my lifetime. It could not have been easy for Woodward to maintain such decorum.

I think Fear is a well-written and researched book, and I learned new things by reading it. However, I agree with some of the reviewers who mention that there’s nothing particularly “earth shattering” or deliciously juicy about Fear. The trouble is, Trump was so heavily covered in the press that a lot of what’s in Woodward’s book, while easy to read and digest, is stuff that was already in the news.

I probably waited too long to read Fear. If I had read it when it was first published, I might have gotten a lot more from it. I might enjoy Peril more, simply because it covers the end (hopefully) of Trump’s political career, when things really got weird. But, as I mentioned earlier in this review, I felt like I should read the first book of Woodward’s highly touted trilogy. I did learn some new things, and there were some entertaining passages about some of the interactions Trump had with some of his staff. I particularly enjoyed reading about Trump’s long suffering lawyers, who did their best to get Trump to take their advice rather than simply acting on impulse. Many of Trump’s staffers were the “adults in the room”, but they could never seem to get him to settle down and get to work. Most of them were always “putting out fires” and dealing with Trump’s tantrums.

Anyway, according to Amazon, most people thought this was a good book. Some people thought it sucked. I didn’t think Fear: Trump in the White House was bad at all, but it could have been better. I did feel like the end of the book was a bit abrupt. I was reading about Trump’s lawyer, John Dowd, deciding to resign from Trump’s service. Then, suddenly, the book ended, and I was knee deep in footnotes and sources. I do think Fear is a good reference for those who want to read more about Trump. There’s plenty of associated reading to be explored.

I think if I were giving this a rating between one and five stars, I’d give it a 3.5. I found it easy to read and mostly interesting, but I wasn’t too shocked or surprised by much of what I read. If I had read this in 2018, I probably would have had a slightly more favorable reaction to Fear: Trump in the White House. But in September 2018, I was about to move and had a lot of other stuff going on… and frankly, I remember not being able to bring myself to read a book about Trump, because I found him rather terrifying. I still do, to be honest.

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ethics, healthcare, politics, rants

“My body, my choice…”

Just to be clear… I am not in agreement with today’s featured photo. I’m just posting it because it’s an idea I’ve seen floating around since COVID-19 started. I don’t think being in favor of allowing abortion of an unintended pregnancy is at all the same thing as the prospect of potentially making a vaccine mandatory is, especially during a global pandemic. Maybe I’d be more in agreement with the comparison if pregnancy could be caused by breathing.

This morning, I read an interesting comment thread on an article in The Washington Post. The article was about how so many people have gotten vaccinated against COVID-19 and hoped that things would be getting back to “normal”. But, as the Delta variant continues to spread, and people stubbornly refuse to get vaccinated or take other protective measures against the virus, no one is able to “relax”. Sadly, the vaccines are not proving to be as protective against spreading the sickness as we’d hoped, although evidence suggests that the vaccines help prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death.

The comment thread was full of the usual finger pointing and nastiness. But then I saw a comment that echoed a common refrain during this pandemic. It was about being “pro-life”, and how people who refuse to take COVID-19 precautions aren’t really pro-life. The last comment in this thread belongs to me. Because I’ve seen the lame responses from Republicans about how vaccine mandates violate the idea of “my body, my choice”.

I am truly baffled by this.

Do I really need to explain why someone who is considering having an abortion is not in the same situation as people who want others to get vaccinated against a disease that spreads through the air? Okay… I’ve got nothing better to do, so here goes.

Everybody has to breathe. There is not a single person in the world who can live without respiring. But COVID-19 primarily spreads through aerosols in the air, and the virus is proving to be extremely wily. Every one of us needs all the help we can get to avoid getting seriously ill. Each new incarnation of the virus is proving to be more contagious than the last, and while many people have gotten COVID and survived, there’s a significant number of people who are winding up in hospitals, seriously ill and dying. Healthcare workers and undertakers are EXHAUSTED, and families are being devastated as family breadwinners are suddenly dying. These are people who are young and were previously perfectly healthy. And they are leaving their spouses and children bereaved and struggling.

An unintended pregnancy, or a pregnancy that threatens a prospective mother’s life in some way, is not a threat to anyone except the person who is gestating. A developing fetus takes up residence in another human being. I’ve heard and read many Republican legislators referring to pregnant people as “hosts”. As distasteful as the word “host” sounds, there is an element of truth to that concept. A pregnant person is “hosting” a developing person, and that fetus relies entirely on the “host” until it’s born. Many times, the pregnant person is happy to be gestating, but sometimes the pregnancy comes at a bad time. Maybe the person isn’t prepared to be pregnant and is dealing with health and/or economic issues that make pregnancy an insurmountable challenge. Maybe the person is pregnant due to being a crime victim. Maybe the developing fetus has a serious birth defect that would make being born crueler than being aborted.

Lots of issues can come up that would make someone consider ending a pregnancy. Any of the issues that would make someone consider having an abortion are, frankly, no one else’s business. Time and again, I’ve read disgusting comments by conservatives about personal responsibility. So many of them seem to think someone who unintentionally gets pregnant should have to “lie in the bed they made for themselves.” I’ve got news for them, though. NO ONE unintentionally gets pregnant without another person’s participation. That other person isn’t the one whose health is affected by the pregnancy, nor are they the ones whose names are on the medical bills.

Other, uninvolved people don’t want to be responsible for making sure the gestating person gets proper medical care and financial assistance, if it is needed. A lot of the people who think the pregnant person should be forced to gestate against their will also believe they should be shamed and humiliated for being in that situation. Meanwhile, the person who got them pregnant frequently gets off “scot-free”. I might be more willing to accept the pro-life stance if more people actually cared about those babies once they’ve been born. But a lot of people truly don’t care, especially if the baby turns out to have special needs and needs a lifetime of financial and medical assistance.

COVID-19, unlike unintended pregnancy, is spreading like wildfire among unsuspecting people. And no one knows how the virus will affect them. Some people get it and never know they had it. Others get it and are dead within days or weeks. So, to me, it makes perfect sense that the so-called “liberals” are pushing for everyone to be vaccinated. At this point, vaccination seems to be our best hope at arresting this menace before more people die. Maybe someone will come up with an effective treatment, but at this point, that silver bullet hasn’t yet been discovered. People are exhausted by the depressing COVID-19 lifestyle because, for a lot of people, it just plain sucks. So they heap on the pressure for others to do their parts to end the pain. That’s where all the finger pointing and demonizing come into play.

Personally, I’m not a fan of blaming others. COVID-19 is a notoriously easy to spread virus. I don’t think the vast majority of people mean to get infected. A lot of people are doing “everything right”, and they’re still somehow getting sick. But people are frustrated and angry, so they point fingers at others. Finger pointing doesn’t seem like a helpful thing to be doing, in my opinion. But you know human nature… It would be better, of course, if we all came together and cooperated. Fat chance of that happening.

If COVID-19 weren’t so easily spread, I think I would be much less concerned about who’s been vaccinated. I read this morning that the current version of the virus is as contagious as chicken pox. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that having COVID-19 gives anyone permanent immunity. The vast majority of people who get chicken pox will not get it again, although they can get shingles (varicella zoster), which is also pretty shitty. I had shingles when I was 26 years old. It was a mild case, but I sure didn’t enjoy it. It would have been better if I could have avoided being exposed to the varicella virus; that way, I wouldn’t have to worry about getting shingles next time my immune system is on a downward spiral.

I think today’s youngsters, who can get the chicken pox vaccine, are very fortunate. My generation was lucky to get the measles and mumps vaccines. I don’t know anyone who had measles when I was a child, although it was a pretty common childhood illness in previous generations. Lots of people got measles and survived just fine. Others got it and died! Some years later, when being “anti-vax” came into fashion, measles cases went up as some parents, who had never known the horror of measles, stopped vaccinating their kids. Guess what? Some unvaccinated kids started getting measles, got really sick, and were sometimes dying again.

The measles vaccine made what used to be a common childhood illness so rare that people forgot how dangerous it could be. I suspect the same could be true for COVID-19 as it continues to develop and mutate and vaccines and treatments improve. Hopefully, COVID will eventually turn into something much less threatening than it currently is.

Pregnancy, you see, is not spread through the air. People get pregnant, most of the time, by having sex, and one doesn’t have to have sex in order to live. A lot of times, the sex is consensual. Sometimes, it’s not. Sometimes, the sex is consensual, but the birth control fails. Sometimes, the sex is consensual and the pregnancy is wanted, but the developing fetus has catastrophic birth defects or the mother’s life is in peril. In no case, is another person’s decision to have an abortion harming anyone else or threatening their very life. The only person who is truly affected by the decision to have an abortion is the person who is gestating and doesn’t want to be, FOR WHATEVER REASON. I get that sometimes the father is distressed by the abortion decision, but it’s not his body or health on the line. It’s not his name on the medical bills. It’s not his bladder being danced upon or his blood sugar or blood pressure being raised. ALL of that stuff solely affects the pregnant person.

Unintended pregnancies really only threaten the person who is gestating. I know some might argue that the fetus is also threatened, but the reality is, over 90 percent of abortions occur early in pregnancies, and at that stage of development (under 13 weeks), the embryo or fetus is completely unconscious. Abortions that occur later in pregnancy happen at a much rarer rate, and the ones that happen at beyond 21 weeks gestation make up about 1 percent of the total… and they usually happen because there’s a serious medical issue involving the pregnant person or the fetus.

COVID-19 affects everyone. COVID-19 threatens everyone. People who don’t take precautions legitimately put others at risk.

I don’t think the “my body, my choice” argument often heard from people who rally for abortion rights really applies when it comes to COVID-19. I recognize that not everyone can safely take the vaccine, and some people have had adverse or allergic reactions to it, just as some women have adverse reactions to being pregnant. The difference is, you’re not going to get pregnant if a pregnant person breathes on you. Exposure to a COVID-19 positive person might cause you a serious illness, and you might even get sick enough to die or suffer permanent disability, or spread it to someone else who will get very sick. A COVID-19 positive person might not be recognizable, since he or she can be asymptomatic. And again, every single one of us has to breathe, or we’ll die. COVID-19 is spread through breathing. COVID-19 causes people not to be able to breathe anymore.

“My body, my choice”… when it comes to this virus, there really is no such thing. So, until we come up with an effective treatment or something else that greatly reduces the risk of spreading this disease, I am going to be on the vaccination bandwagon. I think it’s our only hope at this point. And I pray more people join me, although I feel a bit pessimistic about the future. This is probably going to get worse before it gets better.

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