Sunday, February 27, 2011

Kidney Talk: Thomas E Starzl, MD, transplant pioneer

Selections from Chapter Six of Tom Starzl's book Puzzle People: Memoirs of a Transplant Surgeon, University of Pittsburgh, 1992.

Born in 1926, Starzl was 62 when the book was published in 1992, one year after he retired from the University of Pittsburgh Transplantation Center.

The center was renamed the Thomas E Starzl Transplantation Institute in 1996.

Intensive care as we know it today did not exist [back in 1956-58]. For patients whose kidneys failed, there was nothing to do but wait and pray for a miracle which usually did not come. The musky odor caused by the body’s growing chemical imbalance would fill the room as hope for a spontaneous recovery faded.

After the operation [removing a diseased portion of her lung] her kidneys stopped making urine. Seeing this beautiful and vital person edge toward eternity was a familiar experience. Then suddenly, she began producing urine in quantities that became voluminous after a few days. We were overjoyed and could not refrain from a daily war dance when we came to her bed.

A huge surprise is the anxiety which hounded Starzl for 30 years before every transplant operation.

For the past six years, I had honed my surgical abilities. At the same time, I harbored anxieties which I was unable to discuss openly until more than three decades later, after I had stopped operating. I had an intense fear of failing the patients who had placed their health or life in my hands.

Far from being relieved by each new layer of skill or experience, the anxieties grew worse. Even for simple operations, I would review books to be sure that no mistakes would be made or old lessons forgotten. Then, sick with apprehension, I would go to the operating room, almost unable to function until the case began.

Later in life, when I told close friends that I did not like to operate, they did not believe me or thought I was joking. Most surgeons whom I know have been able to protect themselves, either by rationalizing errors which they had committed or by promptly erasing the bad memories. I could not do this. Instead of blotting out the failures, I remembered these forever.

The incongruity was that I did not like doing the one thing for which I had become uniquely qualified.

Starzl was a leading researcher and surgeon in liver transplantation at the University of Colorado where he arrived from a previous position at Northwestern University in Chicago.

The main hindrance to successful transplantation was organ rejection by the recipient. In 1979, Starzl's team was the first to use the newer and more effective antirejection drug, cyclosporin, which became state-of-the-art.

His constant innovations continued after he joined the University of Pittsburgh Medical School in 1981, soon becoming its director. His efforts led to cutting edge liver transplants and introduction of the better antirejection drug FK506 or tacrolimus (Prograf and Advagraf, extended release).

Like cyclosporin, its active substance was found in soil fungus.

According to the Pittsburgh transplantation website:
In 1992 Dr. Starzl discovered that many organ recipients’ immune systems happily host cells from their donor organs, even decades after their operations. Theorizing that a less aggressive approach to antirejection treatment allows the organ recipient’s immune system to learn and accept the donor organ, Dr. Starzl and his team have been able to slowly and carefully wean transplant recipients to smaller doses of antirejection medications, maintaining their effectiveness while reducing side effects. Some patients thrive while taking antirejection medication as infrequently as once per week.

After I read this last statement, I decided to try and get in touch with Starzl himself. Here's an email I sent to the University of Pittsburgh:

Hi Jennifer,

I'd like to get in touch with Dr Starzl.

I'm going in for a kidney transplant on April 1, 2011. My daughter will be my donor.

Am reading Dr Starzl's great book The Puzzle People. He mentions that a kidney recipient need not be on antirejection meds his/her entire life if the initial dosage of the meds is done in a particular way.

I don't know if my transplant surgeons are aware of this and I want to let them know.

I'll be at Einstein Hospital in Philadelphia. Two of the surgeons are Radi Zaki and Stalin Campos.

Timing is crucial since the operation, again, is scheduled for April 1.

Coincidentally, when I worked as a reporter for a local paper, I did an interview on the first pancreas transplant which was done at Einstein Hospital by Michael Morris. Dr Starzl had been his teacher.

I called Dr Starzl at Pitt and got a nice quote about Dr Morris for my story.

Thanks for your help.Possibly you could forward this to Dr Starzl.

Ruth Z Deming

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Game nite - we couldn't find Pictionary - Poem: Tarp in Winter

This post is super-long. Here's what happened. My friends left and I went on the computer. As oft happens, once I go on, I can't get off.

Breadmaking time. How bout a flavorful Pumpernickel? Easy to make. Rye flour, whole wheat, honey, caraway seed...all kneaded w/white flour.

Made a quick trip to give Matt a loaf. He's the proprietor and camera tek at Authorized Camera Repair who is incredibly helpful each time I go in w/a prob with my camera.

Ya know what he said to me when I went in today? And I blush to repeat this.

Come back anytime, he said.

He had a roomful of customers. One old guy had just walked in w/ an old movie projector in his hand.

Rejoice! The snow melted and the foliage stretches its shiny leaves toward the heavens. Acuba says hello to y'all.

Caitlyn and mom Dana sell Girl Scout cookies in front of the Hatboro post office. Smart ladies, they had a sample plate of Shout-outs for passersby. I declined but bot a box of Peanut butter patties or Tag-alongs. I relaxed while cooking for Game Nite by munching on 7 of em. And reading an article about my new father, the father of transplantation Dr Thomas E Starzl.

His favorite organ seems to be the liver. He and other transplant surgeons contracted hepatitis from working w/infected patients.

He's also alive b/c of modern medicine, having had a major blockage in one of his heart arteries, fixed thru bypass surgery.

This photo does little justice to the silver tarp protecting an ornamental tree. Every time I pass I give it a brief glance, not surprising for a poet who wrote The Tarp in Winter. See poem at end.

What shapes dyou see in the tarp, a la Rohrschach?

I see a little girl w/ a hood on. BTW, once when I was manic-psychotic I looked out my window in the middle of the nite and thought a tree across the street had changed into a giant little girl. I was terrified and gulped down my antipsychotic.

Now the tree just looks like ... a tree.

When the first guest arrived at the party - Jim - he saw a deer in my backyard. We went downstairs onto the back porch and I snapped two shots, one worse than the next. Click a couple times on the pic and you can see the fawn in her brown winter camouflage staring at me thru the trees.

Jim is a hunter, a family tradition. He knows lots about these critters. I agree that we need to thin their population thru hunting.

He made a very astute comment on the subject of scatology. I'll share it w/ Scott whose birdfeeder is always licked clean by a family of 6 deer.

Jim said that deer are up before daybreak, depending on the weather. If it's windy or raining, they won't move. They try to find cover.

Usually when they're ready to sleep, they find a flat surface, under cover, and lie down. The next nite they'll travel somewhere else.

You can see where they slept

They sleep, they eat, they play, and they go back to sleep. Sorta like a cat. And when they sleep they just plop down.

They eat at nite.

Ellen and Tracey talk over Tracey's fruit salad.

Mike and Fontaine flank Noam who's checking scores of the pre-season Phillies. I know one fact about them: they've got four great pitchers. (I overheard Scott say this to his dad.)

Tony won the Scrabble game beating Linda, Ellen and Mark. Maybe while I'm recooping in April I'll play.


I had prizes for the winners. Tony chose a jigsaw puzzle of Ocean City NJ.

Tracey brot an electronic version of Name that Tune. We had three teams. My question to you is: who was the orig. host of the show?

I'll give you a hint. It was not Bill Cullen, who I used to watch as a kid.

Here's a hilarious account from Wiki of when Mel Brooks was a guest on one of the many game shows Cullen hosted.

The week of October 17–21 in 1966 - that would make me about 40 - was a special celebrity week on Eye Guess. Bill Cullen was the host. The game was very similar to Concentration. I was teamed up with Julia Meade. Remember her? Actress, very pretty young lady, blonde... Okay, never mind.

I don't think I won, but I did get the take-home game. Anyway, the show is over, and I start walking toward the podium to say good night to Bill, to thank him for having me on.

He starts coming toward me cross-stage, and I don't know what he's doing. His feet are flopping. His hands are flying everywhere. He's doing this kind of wacky walk-of-the-unfortunates that Jerry Lewis used to do.

So I figured, what the hell, I'll join him. I start doing, I dunno, this multiple-sclerosis walk, flapping my arms and doing the Milton Berle cross legs - my own Jerry Lewis impression... And Julia is whispering, "No! He's crippled, Mel!" I don't even hear her. Finally we meet in the middle, we hug, and he says to me, "You know, you're the only comic who's ever had the nerve to make fun of my crippled walk. Everyone's so careful, it makes me feel even worse." And I realize, Oh, my God, this guy is really crippled! It was my worst moment - and if you weren't me, probably the funniest thing that ever happened.[3]

Actually, Cullen, who was thrice married, was the second out of seven Name that Tune hosts. The show ran from 1952 to 1985.

And, yes, we did play Trivial Pursuit. Clare read the questions. Her name is spelt the Irish way like the county Clare.

Mike was the winner of Name that Tune. I offered him the bag of prizes and was so happy he picked a Chinese cut-out of a little red rooster.

The classic blues song by the same name is closely asso'd w/Howlin Wolf, tho credited to Willie Dixon. No good YouTubes were available of either of them, they were all 'stills' rathan singing live, so my next-best choice to listen to was the Grateful Dead.

I much prefer the in-your-face versions by Howlin Wolf or Big Mama Thornton.

Ron brot a portable chess set and taught Elena to play. Ron's daughter Zoe just switched jobs. From Google to Facebook.

Elena, who loves opera, looks a little like Maria Callas. What dyou think?

I always enjoy photograffing mom n daughter Fontaine and Veyonna. They came with little Sarah, who gave a beautiful diatribe against - oh no - Sarah Palin.

Linda brot a fascinating man to the party, her friend Dan.

I asked his last name.

Levy, she said.

Why, that's a Jewish name, I replied.

Yeah, he used to be Jewish.

But, hey, one day the Lord God Jesus Christ spoke to him. And Jewish Danny heeded the call. He's now a fine Christian man - who converted his parents - and quoteth the New Testament forevermore.

As for me, I quoteth my old poems.


Feather-light folds.
Beating back rain and
Knots tied by quiet hands.
Open at the bottom like a
flapping tent, sucking the
wind with bluejay plumes.

Nearly every neighborhood its tarp.
Blue tarps, black tarps,
Wide-shouldered silver tarps
to catch the falling snow.
A little wind, and puff -
the snow rides the wind.

Tarps confer a gritty grandeur
to our block: Porch furniture shrouded in blue,
ornamental trees trussed and pinioned;
boats, marvelous boats, like airplanes, docked,
and blanketed in the rain-soaked yard.

A bedroom, aloft during an
autumn facelift, got stuck with its walls wide open.
A mirrored closet reflects
The roofs of houses, silver maples
caught in the mirror, while
a kneeling man in work gloves
knots the tarp before winter comes.

From my warm bed, I hear them all,
All the tarps in the neighborhood,
flapping in the night air:

Friday, February 25, 2011

I actually remembered my dream - Tree cutters - 9 pm deadline for UMHA

This photo is dedicated to my friend Jim. Private note to Jimmy: It's not so hard to make a delicious breakfast. Dyou like eggs? Eggs are one of my favorite foods. In fact, I decided not to dress them up with fresh chives cuz I wanted to taste every mouthful of pure egg.

Our last guest speaker at New Directions, Scott McMaster, is an expert on sleep, having received his RPSGT degree at Stanford.

Contrary to popular notion, he said, the REM dream state does not occur when we're in deep sleep but rather a lighter sleep. That's why we can remember our dreams.

Rare is the time I remember mine.

In fact, after I woke up about half an hour ago, I spent a few minutes perusing the online newsletter for whom I freelance. I love this paper b/c it's all about local events.

Only after I'd been reading a restaurant review, a story about a youth panel to help young offenders (I was surprised to read that a volunteer worked for our tax office) and also a vine-clearing day at the wonderful Pennypack Ecological Trust, did I remember last nite's dream.

First, tho, an introduction. I had a really hard day at the office. By this I mean I worked all day yesterday. First, at 6 am, I put a chicken in the oven and baked it. Thanks to son Dan for providing me w/these delicious chickens from his vender via email.

Next I began typing up my notes from my latest assigned article from My deadline for the story was 9 pm that very nite.

Shortly before 10, I left for the Willow Grove Giant supermarket to attend our meeting there. Fortunately Helen was back in town (they go skiing in the winter) but on the way over, a tree was being taken down on a neighboring street.

It was a sight to behold! I drove back home, grabbed my camera and took lots of shots. The tree cutters were the same guys who removed the huge maple growing in my backyard.

The most impressive sight was the guy way high up in this very tall tree. I watched to see how he was secured in case he lost his balance. But I couldn't figure it out.

The approach

The tree-cutter is up there somewhere.

A branch is being lowered down.

See the progress of the limb into the chopper?

The owner of this place is a certified arborist.

Fini. I'm nothing but a dern stump.

Hmmm, that would be a GREAT story for Patch. Oooh, I could go over and talk to them at their offices on South Warminster Road.

Coincidentally, their location used to be Hapgood's Nursery which I wrote an article about for a local paper back in the '80s. One time the heater broke in the greenhouse killing thousands of plants. "Everything was black," Hapgood said, referring to his plants.

BTW, I learned, as a Patch reporter, that when writing online, you should write in short paragraphs. Never knew that. Much easier to read.

We had a terrific meeting at the Giant. Good turnout. Helen did her usual great job. Her husband Larry is the "voice" on our answering machine announcing the next guest speaker.

Went home, gobbled up a chicken leg after dipping it in mayo, made a salad with hydroponically grown lettuce I buy at Giant and red pepper. Gotta get my salads in, and grapefruit for dessert. Eat all you can Ruthie. Ain't allowed grapefruit when you're on your immuno's on April first.

Worked on Story all day, punctuated by visit to Upper Moreland Hysterical Association where I met with former prez Joe Thomas. Great guy. Dropped my camera on the rug in his office, the slippery little devil.

Came home at 3 and worked steadily on my article, finishing it at 8. Remember the deadline is 9. Then it was time to 'upload' it on the Patch website, including photos and captions. They make it very easy. It took 38 minutes to upload the whole thing, 22 minutes before deadline.

Makeshift desk where I wrote my latest Patch article. When I got up, every joint in my body was aching.

This is my new desk. Very comfy.

View from my ground floor office.

After I finished the article, I became Ruth Deming once again and hit the phones, returning calls. Then, book in hand - The Puzzle People by one of the fathers of transplanation Thomas Starzl - went to Scott's to spend the nite. He works the nite-shift at Septa.

I find it helpful when starting a book to look at the photos and captions first. Starzl was a handsome man. Born in 1926 and alive today at 85, he was a great athlete and the son of a newspaper publisher and a nurse.

I actually spoke to him in the early 1980s when I worked for the Doylestown-based Intelligencer and was writing a story about the first pancreas transplant. Surgeon was Michael Morris of Einstein Hospital (yes, that's where my transplant will take place) who studied under Starzl.

I remember exactly when the phone rang. I answered it up front at the receptionist's (Mildred's) desk.

Intelligencer, I said.

The voice said, This is Dr Starzl.

He never asked for me but just began talking. I was thrilled and got my quote.

In the dream I'm living in a different house than I do now. But it felt like home. Suddenly I discovered there was a third floor in the house, a sort of attic, that was habitable.

In fact, I myself had utilized it many many years ago but had forgotten about it.

There were many of my papers I'd been cleaning out. I began looking thru them and said, Stop it. These papers are interesting, but it's a waste of time to look at them. Just throw em out.

I also found lots of art supplies including chalk pastels. I am an artist (come see my living room some time with my hanging mobile made of PVC pipes, my mock drapes made of styrofoam cut-outs, my painted lampshades).

In fact, right there in that forgotten attic was the lace I used for years in my artwork.

My bedroom lampshade is decorated from these lace bits that were floating around in the parking lot the Alfred Angelo Bridal factory that used to be catty-corner behind me on Davisville Road.

There was the same bowl where I kept my lace pieces. And also bits of fancy materials out of which bridal dresses are made.

In the dream I was living with a guy who was my boyfriend. It was not Scott. It was not Simon. He was a big man, dark-haired, and we had a good relationship.

However, I was throwing a party and we sat down to eat in a dark room.

The boyfriend sat two people down from me.

I noticed for the very first time that he was missing his upper joint on the ring finger of his left hand.

How's that for symbology!

Mostly, tho, I was flabbergasted that I'd never noticed it before.

Funny, but I routinely look at people's hands and check for this very oddity. My neighbor Charley across the street lost a couple fingertips when he worked in the shop at Procter and Gamble.

My cousin Mark chopped off a piece of his thumb when he was preparing a canvas to paint on. Uncle Marvin drove Mark and thumbkin to the hospital for successful reattachment.

Joe Thomas, the local historian, had all his digits.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Naked Lunch and I [sic]

Was typing up my notes for my next article when, as a procrastinatory maneuver, I checked the TV listings.

At 10 pm, oh, I was so tired, Independent Lens on PBS was showing a doc about William S Burroughs.

It was 10:11 now.

And I was eating popcorn generously sprinkled w/nutritional yeast.

Caution: This snack food is highly addictive, speaking of Wm S., who was a lifelong junkie, traveling the world trying to give up his opioids.

Truthfully, this doc was painful to watch. Burroughs had an awful life. While he's considered a great writer - Time Mag called Naked Lunch one of the best novels of its era - one look at Burroughs' face tells a mournful story.

When I was about 20 or 21 I moved to San Francisco. Lived for a while with my Aunt Hy and her two sons Dan and Ray on Clinton Drive in Redwood City till I got my own place in SF.

What a wild and wonderful time I had.

All the while I earned my living as a secretary for Cal/Ink. D.R. Garrett was my boss. In his youth, this lovely sedate man who never called home during work hours, had been a drummer.

Set free from the constraints of home and family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, I roamed the streets looking at worlds I'd never imagined.

I loved looking in used furniture stores. Our home in Shaker was furnished with all sorts of fancy furniture which gave me a taste for beauty.

How I loved those seedy little shops and indeed the seedy side of life which I viewed for the first time.

One day I looked in the window of a porn shop. How exciting for a girl with everything from Shaker.

I went in and looked around. The owner welcomed me.

My eye lit on Naked Lunch and I began leafing thru it.

Take it, said the owner, it's yours. Since you came in, lots of men followed you inside. You're a good advertisement.

And that's how I got my copy of Naked Lunch.

I only regret that several months later I went into a huge warehouse of a store where books were on sale with their covers torn off. Junkie by Burroughs was in one of the bins.

I wanted terribly to buy it - 99 cents - but did not wanna read a book with no cover. So I passed it by and regret to this day I've never read it.

You read a book not only for its words but for the whole aesthetic experience.

Have you seen the cover of my daughter's book?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Poem: Brotherhood of the Front Porch

Slice of the Upper Moreland Township Building from police station steps.

In the dark, you can't see this one step, so I painted it with orange squiggle marks. "Anything to be different," said Karen from my high school class disparagingly. Yes, indeed! Anything to be different and original, I say happily.


ham sandwich in hand
i climbed the stairs
they sat there
and felt the breeze
of a warm summer’s day
so this is where the mumbling
schizophrenic lives
and the “white walker” who
pushes a mower about town.
it was gerry bid me sit,
and pulled out a metal chair
that rocked
sorta like the upholstered glider
we had back on marlindale,

his face grinned like the moon
as we gazed at the backlots
of our town:
the library,
the white township building,
with the clock that was always right,
the parking lot of marshalls,
from the high front porch of
kratcher’s boarding house
the last stop of the down and out.
climbing the stairs
i felt i’d crossed the finish line
and come back home,
to marlindale.
i unwrapped my sandwich i got
at heavenly ham
one taste and
you never went back.
gerry began at
a lively pace
big-eyed thoroughbred out of the starting gate
been a boxer
see these hands,

the size of baseball gloves,
“lethal weapons” he smiled
remembering his glory days for
me and the brothers with
sunken faces
been in jail from what those hands
could do
then asked me to his room

- tho, knowing me,
did i invite myself? –
the reporter in me longed to see
how these men lived
i have a house with a cathedral ceiling
on cowbell
minutes away from the mall
he unbolted the downstairs door
then more locks to
keep the opportunistic
viruses from the stately residence
of fallen men
i was a priestess who would bless them and
their windfall of atrocities
which, like
stinkbugs sneaking inside,
infested these boarders,

holding my honey-baked sandwich i mounted
the back stairs
unwrapped it on
the couch facing the television
and a huge tapestry of his sweet jesus
a hotplate warmed my coffee
and water pipes hissed overhead
gerry was nearly as old as me
hovering around fifty
each a loser in our own way
his wife’s photo fading on the shelf
dead two years now
a nurse who found the cancer herself
they lived in a house in horsham with
sliding glass doors that led to her
would you go out with me? i like
an educated woman, he said
tipping back his head and
pouring the beer down his throat like
a force-fed goose slowly becoming foie de gras

was it love i felt for gerry?
or silly words like
or lust
or the magnificent ‘desire’
no matter,
it was something
especially when
he defended the schizophrenic when i asked
why he mumbled
- he served our country in the second world war-
my kids and i saw him at mcdonalds
his fingertips huge
like lollipops
he never reached over for a kiss
or a feel
the more he drank the madder he got
his killer hands moving like the eighth round
am i scaring you? he seethed
of course not, i said and

ceased to listen
thinking of my house on cowbell
and settling into my gaudy pink armchair
i silently bid his room goodbye
with the picture of his wife
and of sweet jesus who owed him a
gerry’s moon face streaming
with beer breath instead of tears
as he unbolted the door
and i clopped down the backstairs
down those painted front porch stairs like we
had on marlindale
i still watch for his double-cab burgundy truck
in a moment of desire i left a note on
his windshield
tucked neatly under the wiper
and waited weeks
and then more weeks
for the call that never came.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Our Coffeeshop Writer's Group | Power outage on our street brings neighbors together

Right in the middle of working on a poem our electricity went out. A flotilla of helping vehicles appeared on our street.

I hadn't heard the explosion that occurred behind a house two doors down to the left.

I was working upstairs in my bedroom on my poem when there came a knock on the door. It was neighbor Pat with his two boys. They were out for a stroll to see the big trucks: an SUV police car, a huge shiny fire engine with Engine No. 10 on it, PECO truck with folding ladder, and Asplundh Tree Cutters.

We went out in the howling winds and walked down the street. Then I remembered I'm a cub reporter for Maybe Gerry, my editor, would let me write a story about the power outage.

He did. You can read it here.

What to do about my half-written poem? I did the best I could but couldn't print it out. No electricity.

I was gonna hand-write the whole thing, but then had a better idea.

Packed up my laptop and brought it to the Coffeeshop. I'd read my poem Brotherhood of the Front Porch off my battery-operated laptop, a feature I never use.

Now, before the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt came into the news, I had begun a novel called Brotherhood of the Front Porch. It's absolutely terrific but I'm too busy to work on it. Maybe when I'm 85 and living with three kidneys I'll get back to work on it.

So I figured, why don't I write part of it as a poem, which is what I did. The group liked it. Coach Iris liked it. But it's a poem in progress. I wanna get it good enuf so I like it.

Here we are, the Coffeeshop Writers' Group: Donna Krause, Linda Barrett, Kym Cohen and Beatriz Moisset.

Carly, we missed you! Chris and Bob we miss our very special guys! And Nurse Barb works on weekends healing the minds and souls of all nations.

Y'all submit poetry to Icing on the Cake, our forthcoming poetry journal, ya hear?

Beatriz, or as I say to myself Bee-a-TREE-chee, Dante's great love in L'Inferno. I don't think she'll mind if I start calling her that.

We're gonna publish our own journal and discussed names. Icing on the Cake won, suggested by Beatriz. A retired biologist who hails from the Argentine, her videos of little critters appear on YouTube. Lots of em. Here's one I liked of a caterpillar taking a long leisurely poop.
Donna, with the gorgeous nails. She publishes her work on IdeaGems.

Prolific Linda read a terrific poem called The Perfect Crime. The female narrator was gonna whack a former cheerleader over the head with a two x four and kill her for calling her "Tubby Tuba" in high school. God intervened, thwarting the perfect crime.

Kym read a lovely piece straight out of her journal. A multi-talented artist who's had minor roles in major motion pictures, Kym will most likely illustrate our front and back covers. She showed us two spectacular snow scenes she took, including one of a snow house in the darkening light.

And me, all's I do is write poems and paint carpet mats. In a bold and daring move, tho, risking everything I own and love, I went outside on one of the warm days, and painted the bottom step with my trademark splotches so people don't fall and break their necks.

Am trying to decide who should drive me to the arspital on April first. Dan or Ada. Without doubt, we'll have to be up at the crack of dawn. Ya know, I was thinking I wanted to get a good nite's sleep but it doesn't matter. I'm gonna be out for at least four hours during the operation. See how blogging helps me think?

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Summer Day in February - Babette's Feast

Le General and the woman he loved for many years though he married another.

My day began at 8 am by watching a film on my laptop, the exquisitely photographed 1987 Babette's Feast by Danish filmmaker Gabriel Axel.

Oh no! I said to myself toward the end of the movie. You mean I've got to photograph these scenes for my blog?

The images simply flung themselves off my laptop and into my heart. The sumptuous French feast that Babette prepared for the small party of 12 devoutly religious individuals served as a sort of communion wafer in uniting this quarrelsome bunch and bringing peace to each one of them. Over dinner they stopped their bickering and began to love one another.

I don't believe it! Grace Catherine was there in a highchair in the kitchen. Hadn't noticed her until now.

Babette had won 10,000 francs in the French lottery.

With her winnings, she ordered the finest ingredients from France to be shipped to Denmark so she could prepare her feast.

These ascetic Christians, who frequently quoted the Bible, were aghast at such fine foods - and drink - as they'd never seen before.

Only one person, Le General, knew exactly what he was eating and drinking. He was a man of refined tastes, having lived it up in Paris.

Mumbling under his breath, he said, I have only tasted food like this in one restaurant in Paris. The head chef, of course, was our Babette.

It must've been close to 70 degrees today. When I went outdoors I noticed this tiny crocus among the soggy ground in my front yard.

Then I walked across the street to talk to neighbor Nancy. We sat on her front porch and chatted. I learned a lot about Willow Grove before I moved here. Unlike today there was a thriving 'main street' with department stores like Lit Brothers and the Grove Diner and the Grove Cinema.

As teenagers, she and her friends would go to the movies. Black people would sit in the seats on the left. "We just thought, that's where they sit."

In fact, in a story I just finished for about former librarian Lillian Burnley, I took some photos of the library's art collection. They commissioned the well-known Joan Landis to create four historical paintings of Willow Grove. Here's one of em:

Landis worked w/Joe Thomas, head of the Hysterical Association, oops, Historical Association, who had scads of old photos of early Willow Grove. Landis produced this original which highlights the early days when the Willow Grove train was a stop on the Underground Railway.

Since Colonial times, pig farmers put their animals onboard to go to market in Philadelphia.

I learned this while researching my story.

Speaking of the past, my 88-year-old mother had a nightmare last nite. She dreamt she was still living on Marlindale Road in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and that an intruder was breaking in. She escaped onto an upstairs roof where she used to stand to wash the windows.

While still dreaming she cried out Help help help! My sister Ellen heard her and ran upstairs thinking mom had fallen out of bed.

Oy, the things that happen to us when we get old.

Quick, Ruthie, change the subject and think of something happy.

Well, I'm certainly not gonna tell them I had Roy Hacker out here to fix my refrigerator cuz I had a flood on my new linoleum this morning. He ordered new parts.

You know what? I smell coffee. There's no reason for this but I do love my coffee.

Oh, I forgot I gave it up five years ago.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

April 1, 2011: Scheduled Kidney Transplant Day / Poem: My Third Kidney

Hello young kidneys wherever you are. There are songs about the heart and about the mind. "She's got legs" is a great line from ZZ Top but where is a song about the kidneys?

Daughter and mother

My diminishing kidney function is the result of taking lithium carbonate for 16.5 years for manic-depression, which I no longer have.
Mine were plump pink pills, generic.

They warn you this can happen but you never think it will. Lab results must be checked every 6 months. I went off in 2001. At that time I had 38 percent function but two years ago my kidney function worsened.

One reason may have been I took forbidden over-the-counter pain medication for sciatica for months at a time, kidneys be damned. The pain was excrucating.

My unsullied belly. They'll make a small incision in my abdomen, keep in my two diminishing kidneys which work at 16 percent efficiency, and will add my daughter Sarah's left kidney, aptly named Odysseus, after his long journey home.

Read about Sarah's adventures on her blog.

There's always something to worry about, right? I have utmost faith in my transplant surgeons, Radi Zaki, Stalin Campos, and one other dude.

It's the immunosuppressive drugs I worry about. They suppress your immune system. Ah-choo! However, my friend Freda has been on these drugs for years, and assures me she doesn't get sick. As I've mentioned my friend Denis Hazam who runs a similar support group to mine had a transplant five years ago and his immune system was never compromised.

What me worry? Who said that? Why Alfred E Neuman.

Didn't you just love Alfred of Mad Magazine when you were 12 years old?

Radi Zaki, MD, transplant surgeon, graduate of Cairo University, go freedom go!

He is ably assisted by this American-born talented young lady, flawed only by her coffee addiction

Completing the triumvirate is none other than Stalin Campos from El Salvador.

Now you see why I have nothing to worry about.

PS - In November of 2008 when unbeknownst to me my kidneys were getting worse, I had a TIA, very similar to this news announcer's which is captured live here.

Unlike her, however, I surmised exactly what was happening. I was at the Sunoco station in Hatboro w/Scott and when I went inside to pay, I began speaking gibberish. I went back in my car and began to drive home in order to take an aspirin and then drive directly to Abington Hospital.

I did not say a word.

Anything wrong? Scott asked.

I shook my head but said nothing.

I ran into the house and took two aspirins, then went back in the car, and drove straight to the hospital.

By the time we got there, I could talk again.

They kept me overnite and put me on blood pressure meds and aspirin.

My pressure is very good. I'm on three meds for it.

I should add that, at the time of my TIA, I was under the care of a free clinic at Abington Hospital, having foolishly given up my private health insurance. The care I got was actually quite good until my doctor Jennifer Shih, a resident whose work is followed by 'real doctors,' failed to follow-up about my high blood pressure. In fact, she had me on Lisinopril, which my nephroloogist said was bad for my kidneys.

The moral is easy. See a good knowledgeable doctor.


the furious torrent
like summer rains
a drought in the
sunny sahara
reflect the sky
but i
shall be saved
and pat my belly
where my rusty pair of
still squeeze drops
from stone
still pump the soundless
rivers of blood
round and round
this old mother
like the grand mississippi
if it weren’t for voodoo potions
called pills
my inner channels
would laden be
with silt and rocks
too heavy to carry
and i quicker still
would rush headlong into
eternity’s sacred path
but for my daughter
my saviour
who once i carried on my hip
and watched her blue eyes turn
to brown and huge
will pass unto me
one of her sacred twins
thirty-seven years of
vibrant pissing
will now come back home
brave ulysses bound for his own penelope
restless, he will grow to like
his strange new home
i will pour libations
through his tender
every morsel i eat
dedicated to his glory
together we shall marvel at
the first daffodil poking her
head in the garden
just the three of us
strolling in my garden in
my white bridal gown.