Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the category “Politics”

How Is This Still An Argument?

A couple notable things occurred today. In the county where I live, today was the ending of a mask mandate for helping to prevent spreading of Covid19, which our country is still dealing with in numbers as large as last year this time. You do not need to be a mathematician to figure out, that is not a good thing, and a huge reason if any to continue the mandate until we get down to numbers that are at least 20% of what they currently are (this would have been the equivalent of February or March of 2020.

Businesses had already ripped up the floor stickers and taken down any signage about social distancing, equating the ending of the mask mandate as the “all clear” to go back to the way we behaved in December of 2019, when we never heard of Covid19.

There is no doubt, vaccines have made a huge difference in this pandemic. And we have made the progress faster than ever could have been imagined. At this point, it is a matter of outpacing new cases with vaccine administrations. Consider this analogy, you battle a brush fire, by trying to contain it, not chase it. When you hear that a brush fire is 100% contained, that does not mean it is out, but rather, not expected to spread any further. If we could just hold on a little longer, get our new daily cases below 10,000, while vaccinating, we will have contained this Covid19 “brushfire.”

But we are tired. It has been so long. The fact is, it did not need to be. We spent so much time arguing with each other, denying reality, and too many, made it clear, losses were going to be acceptable.

I am glad not to shake anyone’s hand anymore, or greet anyone with a hug or kiss. I have never liked these traditions and it has nothing to do with being a germaphobe. And crowds, I avoid them like the plague, pun intended with the current situation, so social distancing for me is no big deal. And seriously, was it really that big of a deal to expect people to wash their hands, or for businesses to clean if not better, at least at all?

But the mask thing, that was a line that was going to separate our country. The ironic thing, and again, we study history so that we do not repeat it, the mask issue was a major problem when our country dealt with the last major pandemic back in 1917. People protested masks back then as well, although to be honest, the current mask protest was more linked to politics than it was safety concerns.

I had posted before, the only mask that we were going to be able to use that would guarantee prevention, was an N95 respirator. But it needed to be properly fitted and worn. Which usually takes someone showing you how to do so. But we had a shortage of this equipment, and officials made the mistake of not being up front with the recommendation that masks would do nothing, in hopes of preventing us, the common folk, from buying all the masks, leaving none for first responders who needed it to work with Covid19 patients.

Then we learned that any kind of face covering would help, not prevent, but help. Seriously, what do we sneeze into? A tissue. Perhaps the crook of our elbow. When we cough, what do we cover our mouth with? Or at least we should cover our mouth. This is why the mask was so important. For the lazy slobs who did not cover their orifices when they sneezed or coughed. Of course, the concern included general conversation and anything else expelling air.

The stories that came out why not to wear a mask were down right stupid and selfish, and nothing had to do with nothing. “You get sick from the masks”. No, you don’t. “Because they are not clean and you touch it with your hands which are dirty,” yada yada yada. That falls back on the wash your hands thing. “You breath in your own air, and that makes you pass out.” No, you don’t. Doctors do it all day. Nurses do it all day. Dentists do it all day. The list goes on.

How about the real reasons? “The person I respect the most discouraged wearing a mask.” “This virus isn’t real.” Or my favorite, “I will look silly in it.”

As you can see in my photo, I am not wearing a normal “surgical” boring looking mask. I prefer to “accessorize”, make it less sterile looking. I have several masks with different designs. Some actually end up conversation starters. The one pictured above, recognizes my Native American heritage. I could wear the boring blue surgical mask. I choose not to. And I have not gotten sick once from my mask from Covid19 or any other germ.

For those who were protesting the masks, there was a huge opportunity that was missed. Just like I chose to make my mask a little more easier to look at, as political as the mask situation got, it was an opportunity for mask wearers who object to anything, to put their message on a mask. Be a walking billboard for their cause. We saw this in Congress after the election. We saw it after the murder of George Floyd. The point is, the mask does not have to boring, or ugly to you, it just needs to be worn to be effective.

I guess time will tell, just as the rush to reopen businesses to full capacity, if trusting people to wear the masks on their own, will have the same effect. The fact is, our daily new Covid19 cases are too high not to be impacted by the relaxing of this mitigation effort.

The other big news, which of course I am sure the Anti-vax movement will jump all over, is actually a move that should be hailed for its precaution. The government recommended pausing the use of the Johnson and Johnson, one dose vaccine for Covid19. Of course, the AV movement is going to use this opportunity to smear the entire vaccine program at all costs. They already use an unfortunate tactic taking information that is displayed on the actual CDC web site, a system for reporting side effects of vaccines called VAERS, and swearing it as gospel. But the AV movement is “cherry picking” as they say, only issuing information that they want you to see. The AV movement does not share the disclaimer information how VAERS works, that information supplied is just reported and not necessarily factual or confirmed, and can in fact be biased. So, just shut up anti-vaxxers with this. The vaccines have enough to work through without your misleading claims.

We all know that vaccines were rushed. In fact, they are not even approved. Nor is it likely that they will be approved soon. The vaccines are simply “authorized” for “emergency use.” And let’s face it, we would be dealing with a lot more fatalities without them. Studies that have been completed, allowing vaccines to proceed, were based on healthy people receiving them. Evidently, in the beginning, there were no notable issues, because recipients were healthy. But now, as other sects of our populations are getting vaccinated, that means less healthy people may react differently to the vaccine.

And then there is the difference between the vaccines authorized for emergency use authorization. Moderna and Pfizer are mRNA vaccines with no virus in them, and the J&J vaccine has inactive virus in it (in other words, a vaccine normally made the way other vaccines have been made in the past). With well over a hundred million Americans being vaccinated, we are on the path of getting through this Covid19 crisis.

I will admit that I do not have the exact number of how many have received the J&J vaccine, but it is believed somewhere around seven million. And out of that, six women have developed blood clots. What has not been determined is if the vaccine was the cause for the pause. Here is what has been explained as to why the action was recommended, and there is nothing conspiratorial in it, sorry anti-vaxxers. It is likely only to be days, but experts are waiting to see if anyone else comes forward having experienced this side affect of the clotting syndrome. Many may not have been aware that this was related to the vaccine. Let’s say that many more women in this issue come forward, then the decision is definitely the correct one, the safe one. And if not, this is what does come out of the pause, time and education. It is understood, this clotting “syndrome,” is not like normal clotting requiring the use of heparin. In the case of this “syndrome,” medical experts need to be aware of other therapeutics before treating the patients they see with this syndrome with heparin. And that could make the difference between life and death.

Try to keep it in perspective. No vaccine and no medicine is ever going to be risk free. Some may have more than others. When it comes to blood clots, six women out of seven million so far have developed this issue. That is one in more than a million. And that is not trying to lessen the concern. But when you factor in other causes of blood clots, women who use birth control and smokers all have higher risks of blood clots. And then of course, there is Covid19 itself, with no vaccine, you go from less than 1% blood clot risk to over 16%.

But again, you have to keep things in perspective, especially when it comes to risks. Myself, I am on blood thinners because I have stents in major arteries as well as my double bypass. But I have other issues from my treatments for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma over three decades ago. I have a medicine I take to control my acid reflux, which impacts not just my entire GI tract, but my lungs and heart. I need this medicine, yet, as some of the doctors of my team will argue, that medicine risks interfering with my blood thinner which could result in, you guessed it, blood clots. But without that stomach medicine, the only one that provides me relief, there is no quality of life.

The risk of the clotting from the vaccine, versus the risk of clotting from the virus is a no-brainer. Get the vaccine. I am sure this pause is only temporary. Cases are rising again, and yes, you can argue hospitalizations and deaths are going down. And that is because the vaccines are doing what they are intended, to reduce the severity of the disease to the most vulnerable. Until cases get low enough, the virus is still going to spread. And that is why the race to vaccinate versus the speed of the spread is so important.

One Year Later

Although the warnings had been coming for a couple of months already, this is the time of year that changed for most of us, a health crisis that most of us had never witnessed before, perhaps not even read about in the history books.  Personally, I would rather just enjoy some meatballs or a nap.

Our country was facing a pandemic like never thought possible, for one reason.  We should have learned our lesson over a hundred years earlier.  But we did not.  Just as a hundred years ago, we faced a virus with no vaccine, no known treatment.  What we did have, was the experience of what we knew not to do as this virus would spread worse than wildfire.  And yet, instead of learning from history, we repeated it.

There was no plan to deal with the virus really.  Science was pitted against politics.  Soon, our country would be at its most divided point ever arguing feelings over facts.

Science is not exact.  It is trial an error.  The vaccine for polio did not happen on the first shot (pun intended).  A pill for insomnia was not discovered overnight.  I could go on.

But instead of recognizing the “trial and error” process of science, it was just easier for many to just say, “see, they don’t know what they are talking about.”  And then, enter the political rhetoric, because, those who took feeling over fact, saw any concern expressed by those side with facts over feeling, shouting concerns of the need to do more, prepare, prevent, protect, instead was an attack on their president.  And the only way to protect that president was to deny reality.  It is what it is.  And now, we have over 525,000 dead Americans, over 2 million world wide, from Covid19.  That is fact.

But a year ago, those of us who live by fact over feelings, made conscious decisions.  We heard the experts, scientists.  Sure, some politicians, and plenty of our neighbors and friends contradicted the scientists, but we knew that we had to have faith in those that knew what to do.  Sure, mistakes were going to be made.  But in the end, we expected to get through this.  Certainly, we did not expect it to reach a year, hoping for maybe one or two seasons.  Yet here were are, and though an end is in sight, we still have a ways to go, and still so many disagree with each other.

When it comes to having to sacrifice, I, and many others may have an advantage, being cancer survivors.  We have already gone through life, having to restrict our activities for our own good.  In fact, it is our own experience with science, that saved our lives.  This is why I trust science.

I made the difficult decisions last year, and continue them today, because they are what has been recommended.  Some of these changes have been good ones, long overdue.  Eating in.  My doctors are certainly pleased with weight loss resulting from not eating out, where I would dine on salt and fat loaded foods.  At home, I cook with no salt, and lean portions of meat.

Honestly, I do not miss “greetings” with hugs and kisses at all.  These things always gave me the willies because these gestures I felt were always meant for people that you felt strongly about.  Not as a general salutation.  Just seems so fake and awkward to me.  Even the handshake, while in general I do not have a problem with, I am okay with saying “goodbye” to it.  I will say over this year, I have seen way too many hands go up to mouth and nose, and then not get washed.

I have missed movies and concerts, but even now, many have learned how to stay relevant with streaming services.  The best thing?  Great concessions, free parking, and no traffic once it is over.  But I miss going to the local music scene as well.  Music is how I relax.  In fact, one of my favorite activities I like to do, and need to do, is karaoke.  I use this to exercise my lungs, damaged from my treatments for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Beats inhaling and exhaling with a spirometer.  And, given the nature of Covid19, it is important I keep my lungs as good as they can be.

But the hardest thing for me to deal with over the past year, was my children.  Being divorced, we live a great distance from each other, far enough to require flying.  In the beginning, as we dealt with nothing but unknowns, I had decided that it would not be safe for me to travel to see them, because of my obvious vulnerabilities, nor, to have them travel to me.  I would miss each of their birthdays, Father’s Day, and a couple of other visits.  Being older, my daughters understood the risks and agreed, that until more was known about how to deal with the situation, we would just have to settle for video calls like Facetime and Houseparty.

During the Summer, as more became known, and more precautions being taken, it was time to see what could be done about getting to see my daughters again.  After serious considerations, and all things considered with risks and precautions, both with human mitigation and engineering, we felt it would be okay, following the precautions, to fly.  Wearing masks and washing hands is one thing, but the one concern, being inside the aircraft, that went against guidelines for being “indoors” in close proximity more than 15 minutes was the only thing to be addressed.  And it was addressed through engineering with an air exchange system, circulating the air rapidly enough, not to allow transmission.  It made it possible to see my daughters again in person.

So here we are, a year later.  And just like many other outbreaks I have lived through, and lived with over the years with my vulnerabilities, I am learning to live with this.  I know we are finally heading in a direction that will get this under control finally.  I do feel that we will likely have at least one more hiccup as people “touch the trophy before playing the championship game”, celebrating too soon.

When I saw this image, which occurred in Boise, Idaho over the weekend at a “burn the mask” rally, this is what confirms the likelihood of another hiccup.  And what is worse, besides the fact that it makes a mockery of all the first responders who have cared for patients who had Covid19 or died from it, but is completely disrespectful to the millions who have lost their lives.  And this is what these children have been taught by this act.  I get it.  Some people don’t want to wear a mask, but it is not because they don’t believe it has some protective qualities at the minimum.  It is more of a statement against, and that is a foolish stance to take, and why we are still dealing with this a year later.


31 Years, An Odd But Very Important Milestone

March 3, 1990, I woke up that morning from the most challenging time period of my life (at the time any way).  This day, just following breakfast, I took the last of my oral chemotherapy drugs (having finished the IV part the day before).  I was done with my nine months of chemotherapy (originally scheduled for eight, but low blood counts stalled me a month) for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

That was thirty-one years ago today.  Unlike last year’s anniversary, which I definitely celebrated as a milestone (30 years), actually, thanks to Covid19, was the last thing I celebrated before mitigation efforts were enacted, I am not making a big deal about “just another year” until I hit my next recognized milestone of forty years, which to be honest, my goal is to hit fifty years.

But today is a milestone for a different reason.  It was a time I was told not to expect to see, not just from possibly dying from cancer, but issues related to the side effects from the treatments.

I was told that due to the toxicity of my treatments, it was unlikely that I would be able to have children.  Not something a newly married twenty-two year old wants to hear (or his fiance).  And back in 1990, there was not much said about options to becoming a family.

Science would rule out the possibility for me officially, as I call it, “no chocolate chips in the cookie dough” how I explain it when mixed company is around.  A decade later, science would take another crack at me, after learning how to possibly reverse said infertility issues, but came up blank again.  One final option to consider, was adoption.

Unfortunately, in the United States, we like to discriminate against people, for any reason.  If there is an opportunity to tell someone “no,” and crush a hope, there are just too many willing to do it.  And so, because of my health history, even if ten years earlier, adopting from the United States was a “no,” because I had cancer, a long time ago.

And then things changed, an opportunity coming from the last place I would have ever thought, and from the farthest reaches, China.  The international program recognized that I had a cancer history, and asked only one concern, “will you live an expected, normal life?”  It had already been twelve years at that point, and I was healthy, no sign of my cancer.

In eleven days, I will recognize the seventeenth year, since my oldest daughter was placed in my arms.  I have already recognized the fifteenth year for my younger daughter.

I am not necessarily recognizing the seventeen years as the milestone, but this month is going to recognize a bigger milestone, as my older daughter, will turn eighteen.  I will then be a parent of an adult child!

Again, this was a day I was told never to expect to happen.  And I have been blessed this way twice.

How I hate being told what I can and cannot do, or what I will or will not do.

Just as I had been advised that I may not see parenthood, in April of 2008, my daughters almost lost their father.  One of the late side effects from my treatments had crept on me, up until the point I had been diagnosed with a “widow maker” level heart blockage.  I had emergency open heart surgery to save my life within thirty-six hours.

This was the time period that would change my life forever.  It was discovered that I had damage from my radiation and chemotherapies from back in 1990.  And it was likely there would be more.  The problem was that even in 2008, there were hardly any doctors that knew about these issues and how to handle them.  And then…

I would meet the doctor that would change everything.  He was my needle in a haystack, having been found several hours away at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan.  This doctor, and all who work with him, specialize in the late developing side effects from treatments.  At the point I met him, he had already been researching this issue for over three decades.  I found the best doctor for these issues I possibly could have.

Together, he reviewed what he could of my health history, as half of it had been destroyed by fire (according to my former oncologist – fancy way of saying they incinerated my records).  He assembled a plan to research all potential issues, some based on what he confirmed with my remaining records, and then assumptions for conditions he could not confirm from medical records, but rather common protocol back in 1990.

The bad news was, these issues are progressive.  As he explained to me, he cannot reverse what is happening to me, for any of the issues, and there are a lot, that would be discovered.  But he felt, he could help manage them, and even slow down the process by recommending certain therapies and changes in lifestyle.  And then he hit me with this,

“My job, is to help you see you children grow up, graduate from high school, and college (if they chose, and I hope they did want to), possibly get married, and perhaps, give me grandchildren.”

As my children were of the ages of two and four at the time, becoming a grandfather was definitely the last thing that I thought possible.  To go that far, would mean that I would have to have survived my cancer at least another twenty or thirty years.  I just could not get my head around that concept.  But I liked his thinking.

Each milestone I would reach in my survivorship, I convinced myself that my doctor not only knew what he was talking about, but I was definitely going to get to see that time period in my life.  And it will be great when that happens.

I would face even more health hurdles along the way, defying the efforts to help me reach my goal of becoming a grandfather, waiting to see what my new title would become… Pappy?  Poppop?  Grandpop?

Two battles with septic aspiration pneumonia.  Another heart surgery.  And most recently, a surgery to one of my carotid arteries, blocked severely enough to risk a stroke.

It was one thing to be told, I would likely not become a father.  It is totally another to face opportunities that would strip me of the most important loves of my life, my daughters.

Soon, my older daughter will turn 18, and my younger daughter, not far behind.  Together with my doctors, I am going to achieve that goal.  So, it may be an odd number to recognize for an annual anniversary, but my daughter turning 18 in my 31st year as a survivor of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a pretty big deal.




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