Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the category “Bullying”

A Misguided Protest, Also Misdirected


The majority of my posts, are usually off the cuff. When I reveal feelings, they raw and unedited. I do not have any problem being that open when I write. But occasionally, there are times, when I need to let “fireworks” exploding through my mind settle before I hit “publish.” Today’s post is one of those I was better of waiting to press the “publish” button.

In full disclosure, I have always disliked wearing seatbelts. I had only been driving for approximately five years when Pennsylvania joined other states, in making seatbelts mandatory in 1987. In 2008, following my heart surgery, my refusal to wear a seatbelt became more steadfast, even though it was the law, for one simple reason. My breast bone had been broken to access my heart, and the incision itself was very tender. The seatbelt rubbing against my chest hurt, A LOT!, but even more of a concern, in the event of an impact, a jolt forward against the seatbelt, I felt would snap my breastbone in half, something I never wanted to feel.

While I have gotten better at dealing with my rebellion, not so much in the beginning. My first traffic stop for it, was in Manhattan, and cost me nearly $300, just for the seatbelt violation. I did not care. I was not going to wear it. Other traffic stops, not in NYC, cops were a bit more sympathetic to my issue, as I explained in the same way to the NYC cop, and let me off with warnings.

Here is the thing. Do you understand why we are required to wear the seatbelt? I was given one reason by an officer, that it improves our driving, by making us more aware of our safety and our driving. I call bull on that one. I still have all of my other driving habits in tact. But the other reason, and repeated by the other officers, made me aware of something I had not considered.

A seatbelt will keep the driver or passengers secured in the vehicle, preventing an ejection from the car, and possibly a certain death. How many police officers do you think have had that experience? Worse, have you ever had this experience?

I cannot imagine what it is like, for an officer to have to be the one, to notify a family member, that a loved one had been killed in a car accident, and simply because they were thrown from their car, when a seatbelt might just have made a difference.

Oddly, even though I can recognize this “other side,” I still have the resistance to wanting to wear the seatbelt, and for additional reasoning. I will admit, it is not logical thinking, as at least my chest area made sense. But the bottom line, the officer made it clear, the seatbelt is not just about me, but how it affects others.

So, what had me so pissed off yesterday that I risked writing an “F-bomb” laden post? It could not have been about seatbelts, could it? Actually, while not about seatbelts, what happened yesterday, is totally relatable. And before I get into that, I want to preface the rest of this post, my commentary IS NOT POLITICAL nor is it meant to change anyone’s opinion. But rather, to produce an awareness that what we are going through today, really is more than just about us, but those around us.

I have been undergoing cardiac rehab for several months now, at a hospital facility. As any patient going through this, during Covid19 times, we are more than aware of the risks of being there and exposure. But I am also super appreciative of the efforts to keep me, and all of the other patients safe as we recover. At least most of us. One individual clearly does not. And yesterday, when I saw it, I was pissed off.

Again, this is not about Covid19, testing, vaccines, or even masks. And while I fully support the right to protest, ANYTHING!, when I saw what his mask actually said, I thought, “you are fucking disrespectful ingrate.” His mask reads, “worn by FORCE”, with “force” spelled out using the American flag, followed by “not by fear.”

Back in the beginning of the pandemic, I often said, those who were opposed to the recommendations or requirements of masks, this would be a perfect opportunity to post your opinions or whatever on the mask itself. What better way to let people know your position. And while I get that this jackass definitely is anti mask, that is not my issue.

Think back to the discussions I had with cops about why I wear a seatbelt. My opposition to wearing a seatbelt had the potential to affect others. And at least seatbelts are not contagious. As the title implies, his protest is misguided and misdirected. I do not have a problem with him wanting to state his opposition, and I do not care why. What I do care about, is those that are affected by this mask.

First, the misguided issue. His “worn by force” claim, using the American flag. The United States has nothing to do with him having to wear a mask during cardiac rehab or anywhere on hospital grounds. It is the policy of the hospital, to keep patients and staff as safe as possible, regardless if we have governor that appears to be pro-Covid in governing. But the second half of the protest, “not by fear,” again is a false trope. Those who do not fight the recommendations to wear a mask, are not living by fear. We are living smart, for ourselves, and others. Need proof?

As I began this course of rehab, just prior to the Omicron surge, one of the nurses said to me just a few weeks ago, “this is just so heartbreaking. We were done with this. The numbers had all gone down.” She of course was making reference to how Delta, the prior variant, had caused so much death and heartbreak, and finally the numbers began to look like we were finally getting through this. But then, the intro to our class given every morning went from “anyone exposed to or have a fever, cough, cold, or Covid?” to then include, “we really mean it now,” making reference to the wildfire spread of the Omicron variant.

I have spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals during this pandemic. I have personally seen all the efforts taken by the hospitals to keep everyone safe. I have heard of fellow Hodgkin’s survivors having procedures delayed not just because of lack of a hospital bed, but lack of staff to care for the patients. I have had conversations with nurses of all years of experience from decades to just out of nursing school, having experienced the worse their careers could ever have faced.

To say I was furious yesterday was an understatement. I am also really surprised my vital signs did not show my ire. But here was this moron, wearing a mask, protesting that he had to wear it inside the hospital, all the while, staff were following his sweaty ass from machine to machine, disinfecting it for him before the next patient used it, just as every machine was cleaned before he used it. And every member of the staff there, from nurse to therapist, was there at their own risk of exposure to Covid, including potentially from him, and he was going to gripe about it. His mask may as well have read “nurses are stupid.”

Look I said it, and I meant it, my issue is not that he is anti mask, anti mandate, anti whatever. And I support anyone’s right to protest. But in just the last week alone, stupid and insensitive decisions like this, have an impact on everyone else around. Look at the London bound flight from Miami, turned around and aborted the flight, an hour and a half into it, just because some stupid fought the flight attendants on wearing her mask, something she agreed to do when she bought her tickets. Or this one, a Virginia woman who was just arrested for threating a Virginia school board, that she would show up with guns if her kids were forced to wear a mask in school.

After two years of dealing with this, you either have common sense, or you do not. You either agree to mitigation and prevention or you do not. Not many at this point are going to be influenced to see the reason we are still dealing with Covid after all this time. We definitely know what works, and what does not work.

And what this patient is saying with his mask, has nothing to do with the false trope of “patriotism”, as much as he is flipping his middle finger at the staff trying to help him recover. And before you say, well, “well, what if that is the only mask he has?” There are plenty of disposable masks at the entrance to the facility. He could grab one on his way in. Like I said, protest all you want. I support that. But to do so in spite of those trying to help you, at their own risk? You’re an asshole. There is a huge difference between not wearing a seatbelt, not contagious, and fighting mitigation and prevention of something contagious. But with both, your actions have an impact on others.

“You Talkin’ To Me?”


I am going to use several movie references for this post.

In the movie “Taxi Driver,” actor Robert DeNiro is rehearsing some sort of dialogue he intends to have during a pending conflict. I am paraphrasing the lines, as he is looking in a mirror, repeating, “you talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? (He looks around himself) I don’t see nobody else here, so you must be talkin’ to me. I’m standing here. You talkin’ to me?”

One of my favorite comedy movies, with clearly the greatest one-liners, is Airplane. Throughout the entire movie, an air traffic controller played by the late great Lloyd Bridges, states the many vices he had given up, but during the crisis currently involved in, has relapsed with all of them from smoking to “sniffing glue.” The meme I have posted is my own, and will explain shortly.

As it turns out, my grandmother had actually prepared me for this particular day, more than forty-five years later. A smaller than average kid, I was an easy target for bigger kids looking to make an image or reputation known, for being tough, a bully. Not only was I small, but I was also shy, and then the worst of it, clothing I wore, bought by my grandmother, definitely was not cool or trendy. I had all the trademarks of an easy mark.

My grandmother had an interesting way to deal with the various efforts of bullying and taunting. “Just turn the other cheek, and walk away.” While clearly my size was against me, this strategy failed miserably, as I just got attacked from behind.

As an adult, I understand why she said what she did. It clearly did not help the situation though. In conversations with my daughters I have used my own philosophy, “a fire will only burn if you keep putting wood on the fire.”

Indeed, very “Mr. Miagi”-sounding, of course referencing the original “Karate Kid.” Yes, Gen Z-ers and millenials, there was a movie series prior to Cobra Kai. Focus Paul-son.

Getting back to my meme with Bridges, and the Coke reference, I found myself referencing all three movies the other night. And while I am sure I will hear from fellow cancer survivors and friends, all with their recommendations of the many other uses for Coca-Cola besides ingestion, none the less, that is what has triggered this post.

I walked into the convenience store, not like the Sac-O-Suds in “My Cousin Vinny”, though I have to wonder, was it much different given the mentality of the store clerk I was dealing with?

I needed to purchase some gas for my Camry, not a 1964 Buick Skylark, and while doing so, grabbed a bottle of Coke. I really should not be drinking it for several reasons, and have quit many times before, but at this point, was off the wagon.

Between me and the clerk, were sheets of plexiglass suspended over the counter, the purposes of protecting both clerk and customer during the Covid19 pandemic. In full disclosure, my hearing is often questioned, whether selective or actually failing. But in this particular moment, I am pretty sure my hearing was spot on.

I put my bottle of Coke on the counter and explained that I would like to put $20 of gas into my car. That was it. No other small talk, clearly neither of us were interested in that.

How is this for a reference? From “Dude, Where’s My Car?”… “and then?”

“Bah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah”

And odd thing for the clerk to utter, and honestly, I thought like many other clerks, who work with ear buds in the ears, he was likely listening to something and simply reciting along with it. But as I said, with my hearing, I was not sure what I was hearing, though it sounded like a sheep sound. And then he did it again.

“Bah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah”

Now, I could probably post a snapshot from the movie Clerks for this, but that movie was funny. What was happening right at this moment, was not.

As I looked around me, like DeNiro in “Taxi Driver”, there were four other people in the store besides the clerk and I. They all shared one thing in common, and different from me.

I was wearing a mask. They were not. I was 95% certain, this clerk was trying to provoke me. I was not sure what I had heard the first time, I was 100% certain after the second sound. And then… as if more confirmation was needed, Floriduh man behind the counter started putting words together, the first word I heard being “Covid.”

At that point, I knew what was happening, and unlike the lesson my grandmother had taught me, which never worked, I replied very DeNiro-like, “excuse me?” At that point, the clerk now looked up, had stopped mumbling his crap. I repeated myself, “are you talking to me?”, making him clearly aware that I had heard his provocation.

This jackass was making a reference that I was a “sheep” or “sheeple”, because I was wearing a mask, recommended in helping to prevent getting infected by Covid19, and from spreading it to others. Clearly, he was one that did not believe in wearing a mask, and the fact that the remainder of people in the store did not have masks, made him more brave to take a shot at me.

In fairness, this dope had no idea that I wear a mask, as one of the more vulnerable people to Covid19, having a compromised immune system, as well as other co-morbidities related to my cancer survivorship. And that is none of his business, just as my decision to wear a mask or not, just as it is none of my business whether he wore one or not.

He did not respond to me after I called him out. I grabbed my soda, and went out of the door to pump my gas. And then I steamed. I did exactly as my grandmother once taught me. As I child, I never understood the benefit to walking away other than I was not going to get my ass kicked. But, as an adult, I was getting more mad. I do not like leaving things unresolved. I was provoked. I wanted closure.

This situation is different than just a conversation between two people sitting in a bar, or passing by on the street. The was during a business transaction between customer and employee. And while I understand that employees can have cranky days, and end up reflecting that on the customers, this was not the situation.

Representing his employer, this putz decided to exercise his free speech, and acknowledge the division in our country over whether the wearing a mask is appropriate or control. I have long given up on this debate, especially after two years. After two years, we are where we are because of the decisions both sides have made, and hopefully not worse. But it is unlikely that any large percentage of people will change their minds as to their stance. If science is correct, which I believe in science, like the other viruses I have faced in my life during my survivorship, I will get through the pandemic. Sadly, too many still will not, yet to come. And then… for those who made the claim that Covid19 was “just like the flu,” will finally be able to make that claim, because like the flu, Covid19 will not be going anywhere. One major difference, is the number of people Covid19 has killed, and did not have to be that way.

We are divided, there is no doubt. And an employee like this does not help. And while I risk a “Karen” reference, which will not be allowed because I am only using movie references in this post, I did speak to the owner, who agreed that he did not want this issue having an impact on his business.

And with that, my final movie reference.

Wear a mask, don’t wear a mask. We know the difference masks make. We know the political inference by those opposed to wearing them. We are who we are. And just like Mr. Vernon in “The Breakfast Club” had to do, we have to just accept we are who were are in the world of Covid19.

What’s In A Number?


This is a boring meme that showed up across social media in recent weeks. I do not usually reply to these things, especially the ones that pretty much end up being password related. But admittedly, this one did kind of have me curious.

I am recognizing a birthday today. I do not celebrate them anymore, I just let them happen. I prefer no fanfare. The truth is, I consider myself lucky to still be here considering everything that my body has been through, due to the treatments that saved my life from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma over 32 years ago.

But I decided to give this one a go, just as a lighter post. Of course, when the meme came out, as I was at the age of 55, flipping the numbers did nothing. I remained 55 years old. Boring. And now I am heading into the upper half of my fifties. To be honest, nothing would thrill me more than to be on the lower half of this decade of my life, to get another crack during those times. I thought it would be interesting to reflect back on those younger decades.

I will skip my 5th year of birth, as I know there was nothing remarkable about my first year in school as a kindergartener, except that I was small, and some remark “oh how cute!”. Apparently, I was also a blonde.

At 15, I switched high schools. While it was somewhat intimidating, the opportunities given to me at my new school, allowed my life to take much different paths than what I had been going previously and I definitely do not think things would have turned out better. I will always remember the new friends that came into my life, as I am still friends with them today, more than forty years later.

At 25, I was beginning my life as a cancer survivor. That year was filled with constant fears of my cancer coming back. Wanting to move forward with my life, I got married to my fiance who had stood by me during my battle with what was called back then, Hodgkin’s Disease. I had resumed working. I was ready to get back to some sort of normalcy.

Age 35 was a transition year for me. My first marriage had ended, devastating as I had so much wanted to have a family, and this would likely reduce the chances of that happening. (spoiler alert – a second marriage not in my “five” years, I would end up blessed with two amazing daughters)

I experienced my first and so far, my only kidney stone at age 45. I had been put on a calcium supplement to deal with one of the late side effects from my cancer treatments, for a diagnosis of osteopenia and facet joint arthritis in my lower back. This was discovered during a medical work up for long term cancer survivor health issues, discovered in 2008, when I had to have emergency open heart surgery (see “CABG – Not Just A Green Leafy Vegetable). And yes, the pain of that large kidney stone, was worse pain than that of my open heart surgery.

55 is an interesting year as it has been somewhat uneventful, well, perhaps better described as par for the course as I dealt with two more issues related to my treatments. But, as usual, I have gotten through both.

Aside from that, 55 has a much darker cloud looming over it. On my father’s side of the family, longevity is not in our genes. Of my father and his four siblings, only he and his one brother lived past 55, both making it to 70. Ironically, as my father lay dying from lung cancer, he actually said, “all I want to do is make it to 70,” and he did, just like his brother. But the other siblings, and his mother passed away in their late 40’s and early 50’s. This alone rents enough space in my head as I have hit this milestone of 55, and then, factor in all the trauma my body has gone through health wise since 2008, a lot. I do not have good longevity odds.

So yes, I recognize my birthday each year. It is hard to celebrate, when I know the odds of a next birthday get harder and harder.

As I turn 56, let’s flip that number. I would be 65. Why is this number significant to me, besides approaching retirement age? Besides being only the third in the last three generations to reach this age, there is a bigger plan. And it is this plan that drives me. I want to get to age 65.

My doctors who care for the multiple health issues from my treatments concede that they cannot reverse what is happening to my body, and they cannot stop them. There are some issues that can be slowed down, and some that can be repaired, albeit temporarily (needing to be fixed again later on). But knowing about these issues, is half the battle. Dealing with them is the other half of the plan. And that plan is this. I want to see my daughters grow into adulthood. I want to attend my daughters high school graduations. If my daughters choose to go to college, I want to witness their graduations. If my daughters choose to get married, I want to walk my daughters down the aisles. And my final wish, would be to hear the name “grandpa” or whatever my daughters would have their children refer to me as. This promise had been made to me over 13 years ago, and I now have one daughter graduating from high school this year, and the other next year. If I have my way, and keep my attitude, my 65th year will be my greatest.

In all honestly, I do not expect to see 75 or 85, definitely not 95, whether genetics or cancer survivorship issues. But I seriously want to get to 65. It is not going to be easy as I know I will see at the least, several more surgeries, and likely additional diagnosis. I am okay with that as I am living each day, the best that I can, no regrets.

This was a hell of a writing prompt my writing coach would have been proud of. I miss having her weekly prompts. This was fun.

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