Running down a dream: Merry Christmas

It has been kind of a quiet, slow Christmas Eve for me. I went for a walk because it’s been such a beautiful day outside although I didn’t get very far because of my incessant back pain.

I’ve got this cornucopia of chronic pain problems which my Department of Veterans Affairs doctors have yet to sort out, or rather, I have yet to get those doctors to dissect them  for me. One of the biggest concerns I have right now is having those medical minds figure out whether my back pain is from “structural issues” as one neurologist stated or from a perhaps not-so-rare but still relatively unheard of spinal cord injury condition known as “arachnoiditis.” It is an inflammation of one of the spine’s different membranes which can result from a number of situations and for which there is ultimately no cure. In its most repugnant forms it bears a resemblance to progressive neurological diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis. Paralysis can develop and it is incredibly painful.

My last MRI revealed that I have arachnoiditis but my previous neurologist believed it to be “scarred over.” Thus, not a particular issue. That neurologist now has moved on and my most recent neuro specialist believes my back pain is caused by the spider-sounding arachnoiditis. Perhaps some of you might wonder why I am concerned, but, really?

With all my health-care providers “practicing” medicine hoping to eventually get it right (I’m sorry that was just too easy, kind of like lawyer jokes), I have been given a variety of potent concoctions which these medical personnel surmise will help me in one way or the other. I have come to the conclusion that one of those drugs should perhaps be stricken from the shelf.

I speak of Neurontin, actually the generic form Gabapentin. It is a drug that has long been used for treatment of epilepsy. However, it has also had a fairly lengthy history for being controversial. This is especially due to instances where drug company reps were accused of encouraging doctors to use the drugs for non-approved uses such as in chronic pain. I took Gabapentin previously when doctors decided to pile one pain drug continually on top of the next until I just had to say “No to drugs.” At least no to nothing but drug therapy. The result was my having a non-VA doctor perform a procedure known as “anterior cervical diskectomy with fusion (ACDF)” in a non-VA, Catholic-run hospital. It was my second cervical disk operation and in this one the doctor removed disks and replaced them with a titanium plate grafted with a piece of bone from the illiac crest of my hip.

A lot of different pain later in nine or so years I was prescribed Gabapentin again, this time for neuropathic pain in my foot and hip. I can’t see that the particular drug does anything to improve my conditions but it definitely takes me for a wild ride in dreamland. These are not nightmares per se. I can describe the dreams as disturbing at times and certainly vivid. I will spare several of the adventures into “Neurontinville” I  have taken in recent months but will try to describe this morning’s strange story line.

In the dream I was at a courthouse  like the one of my youth.  Everyone came outside to observe a ceremony, for what I couldn’t tell you. But the main feature involved firing a “Polaris missile” at a no longer used or unwanted structure in a harbor. I can just about bet you the missile wasn’t really a Polaris missile as it was more the size of a MK-44 torpedo. (On which I sat once. Don’t ask.) At the last second, the missile was accidentally spun around and fired into the surrounding neighborhood, creating a very breathtaking explosion and fire. A fireman, whom I think I knew, came by talking on a walkie-talking saying there was a conflagration in progress. When I say breathtaking, I mean vivid and in living color. I felt it was my duty as a former firefighter to go to the scene and don a bunker suit and join the fight. I did all of that except for the fighting part because of my rather long absence away from the job (27 years) I had some retraining to do. That was where I was stuck — looking at manuals — until waking up. Oh the humanity.

Well, at least I can say I wasn’t dreaming about people like Texas State Rep. Leo Berman, whose rerun trainwreck of an interview with Anderson Cooper earlier this year was replayed on Copper’s show last night. I can only describe Berman, who despite apparently being educated and being a retired military officer, as clueless. Berman introduced legislation to require presidential candidates to show their full birth information. Not that this particular issue is of a major concern to the Texas House of Representatives.  Which reminds me, all new candidates for especially high-profile elective offices expect some challenges, but the office of Neil Abercrombie the Democratic governor of Hawaii since Dec. 6 apparently has become the repository for all things relating to the birth — some such as Berman think happened in Kenya — of President Barack Obama. I have to say from the story I kind of like Abercrombie given he called the reporter back at 11:30 p.m. worried about deadlines. You don’t see too much of that any more.

Well, thanks for letting me talk out all the things which have been on my mind lately. You, whomever you are, are  great listeners. I know a few of those readers, whether all the time or just occasionally, and I’d like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, brothers Ted, Robert and Dennis, and other readers, Tere, (Hope to see you in a week), Judy, Kenneth, Egberto (I got your book today and just started reading it), Sally, Suzie, anyone else who are good friends whose names begin with “S,” Bruce, if you ever read my blog anymore, Ross, likewise, Diane, Philip, any of the other Texas Progressives who bother to read and last but not least Paul who helps make this whole thing work. Back in the USA for Christmas? We will be looking for how the nation looks after a long absence.  Ho, ho ho,  ho, ho, ho.

Not so happy with the Houston VA today

It is a tiresome day after the jerk-around-o-rama at the Houston VA. You’d think that with the proposal to freeze VA employees’ salaries along with the rest of federal workers as well as the public’s ire aimed at government employees, that some of the bureaucrats out there at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Hospital would lighten up a bit. But no, there are still plenty of sullen workers out there who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about their jobs. Plus, the VA apparently thinks they can save money by scrimping on specialists by filling those positions with young physicians assistants and residents. Want to see a urologist or an orthopedic surgeon? You might be seeing a PA or a nurse practitioner.

While there are plenty of good people in the Department of Veterans Affairs medical system, one should not believe all the good things they hear about  the VA until they’ve experienced its practice of everyday medicine. I’m afraid that certainly goes for the DeBakey VA Hospital in Houston.

A bloodless coup for suckers. Time to call the plumber.

Shellac to have a nickel? Shellac to have a dime?

The word of the day, boys and girls, is “shellac.” Even the president says that his Democratic party took a “shellacking” in Tuesday’s general elections. It wasn’t because voters had an unabiding affection for the Grand Old Party. Perhaps it is closer to the description written by John Dickerson of Slate, saying that the election was not so much a victory as it was voters throwing their hands up in the air.

But what are voters so pissed off at? Is it big government? Is it the deficit? Is the taxes raised by Obama? To begin to answer these questions, one must ask: Do you go to bed at night worrying about big government? Ditto the deficit. I bet it keeps millions up all night long. And the taxes. What taxes?

Welcome to America — Land of the All-Day Sucker!

The candidates selected Tuesday elevate the electorate from All-Day Sucker to All-Term Sucker.

This election has probably been the greatest propaganda job since Dr. Joe Goebbels and Kristallnacht. It started with the 24/7 saturation of anti-health care reform commercials on cable. Of course, you have the conservative talk machine on radio and Fox News as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican Party. The Tea Party was invented and the national media jumped on it like stink on s**t. The national news media had a ready-made drama and since they don’t like searching for the real Mr. Bigs of the operation they have plenty of Mr. Littles. The nuts, who mostly and thankfully weren’t elected, were just what the media needed for the Miracle Whip on top.

Hyperbole was the watchword of the day this mid-term election. And drama. News can no longer be explaining policy, it’s the drama that’s important. The public wants to know if Paris Hilton went panty-less last night so they also require something that will keep them entertained, but mostly worry, worry about politics. The national media chases the drama. Their suits chase the money. Oh my God, so much money, that the candidates spend on TV ads. Except at the local level, you hardly ever see a “My name is Joe Schmoe, I have done this and now I want to do that. My name is Joe Schmoe and I approve of this message.” Instead, you see a story that looks like it is real and may have some basis in reality, but is played by actors on the commercial, which is paid for by some entity of which you’ve never heard called “Americans for Growing a Sound and Sane Government.”

The voters have been suckered, ladies and gentlemen. Once again, Charlie Brown fell on his butt trying to kick the elusive football held by Lucy. You think you’d learn.

A good many voters were convinced Obama’s health care plan was heavy-handed or would change their current insurance plans, which continue to rip their customers off left and right. Others may have liked parts of the plan but were leery about how it was to be implemented.

Big money, big business, the  U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who now seeks to rule America, seized upon the unhappiness with so-called “Obamacare.” It didn’t help, of course, that the recovery from the greatest economic panic since the Great Depression was way too slow for the Americans who expect everything to be done yesterday. The powers that be, along with Goebbels’ own modern-day ideological ancestors, made the concerns and fear into their own little Holy War. “I want my country back,” says Clueless McEuless. Uh oh, where’d it go. Where’d they put my country?

This all sounds like a lot of paranoia, I know. Rightfully so. I can’t confirm all that is going on behind the scenes among the folks who engineered what in some countries might be called a “bloodless coup.”

Maybe it is paranoia but unlike those people who don’t sit up all night worrying about the deficit or big government, I have to sit up at night worrying if this Congress will try to take away my Veterans health care or at least put it in the hands of some Third-w0rld country. Am I ever going to see that damn orthopedic specialist or am I just supposed to walk around until my knee melts into a big lump o’ protoplasm?  I also worry whether those  who made threats of shutting down the government will do so, which will really make me stay up nights, wondering if the government will pay what they owe me or will my creditors run roughshod over me?

There is really nothing I can do about it now. Obviously, the politicians will not listen to me. People like my congressman for the last four or five years, Rep. Ted Poe,  surely aren’t listening. Our governor sure as Hell won’t listen, but he’ll probably run for president in 2012. Good Hair for President! Maybe a Moose Lady Sarah Palin–Good Hair Rick ticket. That would be perfect. The reality is that with Republicans in charge of our state government and the U.S. House, I am pretty much disenfranchised, in all but certain matters which require the assent of the Senate.

The onus is on you my friends. That is “onus” with an “o” an not with an “a.” You are the ones who wanted to “throw the bums out.” So you have to do your part to participate in government, or else, the government goes down stinking (yes, I said “stinking” and not “sinking” although I could see both terms applicable.) Save us from the big bad, government my opposition friends. Save us from ourselves.

Oh, and when you wake up some day and see what a mess that has been made by the bozos you elected, don’t despair. We all make mistakes. Some only cost us dollars. Others cost us dignity. Still others, like some folks who recently departed after almost a decade, cost us lives. It’s your problem now. It’s your time to call the plumber.

Ironic that the VA is encouraging HIV/AIDS testing these days

It is a little bit funny — and certainly not in the ‘ha ha’ way — that one of the top features on the Department of Veterans Affairs Web site touts regular testing for HIV/AIDS testing. Make that downright ironic.

Now more than ever would be a good time for some veterans to get tested, especially if they are VA patients and especially if they had dental treatment at the John Cochran VA hospital in St. Louis. More than 1,800 patients received letters from the VA saying that sterilization of some dental equipment had not been up to standards and could have created a “low risk for infection.”

This is not the first such breakdown leading to risk of diseases involving the VA. In 2008, the VA reached out to more than 10,000 patients who might have been exposed to diseases such as Hepatitis through “cross-contamination” of endoscopes at three different hospitals across the country. The VA has also received a bevy of bad publicity over the years because of issues such as substandard care of elderly and with cleanliness problems at several hospitals.

These are just a few of the many problems the VA has had to deal with ranging from veterans benefits claims stacking up to long waiting times to see medical specialists. It is hard to imagine the ones not reported. Many problems, big and small, never see the light of day because so many of the VA patients are of that “greatest generation” and some slightly younger whose  habit it is not to complain. “Things were screwed up in the Army,” some of these old timers think. “So it is sure to be screwed up in the VA.” And sometimes, thing are really screwed up.

I have to say that I am disappointed with retired Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shenseki, the secretary of veterans affairs. I would have thought he would have brought some good ol’ Army butt-kicking with him to the cabinet post. Yet, I have seen no indication that the VA has vastly improved under his tenure.

I sure hope that changes before people start actually catching these diseases like HIV from behavior no more risky than going to the dentist.

Houston VA: MEDVAMC H1N1 AFT; Plus: Time for 'Horns HC Muschamp?

A memorandum dated Jan. 4  from Adam C. Walmus, director of the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center (MEDVAMC)  in Houston, and e-mailed Jan. 8 by MEDVAMC spokeswoman  Bobbi Gruner announces vaccinations are now available for the 2009 H1N1 flu virus.

All I can say to this is reflected in one of the acronyms used in the headline above, AFT. The acronym, pronounced in the phonetic alphabet we used in the military, is pronounced “Alfa Foxtrot Tango.” I don’t know if that is a widely-used acronym but it’s one I chose to use of the ilk popularized in the Stephen Coonts book and later movie “Flight of the Intruder.” That acronym was “Alfa Mike Foxtrot,” for “adios mother f***er.” I use the acronym “AFT” to mean “Alfa Foxtrot Tango,” to stand for “about f***ing time.”

I am sure there is an explanation why just now, in January 2010, the H1N1 shots are now finally available. The VA has known about the so-called “Swine Flu” for quite some time. A Houston VA press release from October noted:

“The H1N1 Flu is of concern to experts in the medical community because it is so new that very few people have any protection or “immunity” which means the virus may easily find vulnerable people to infect. As a result, it may spread rapidly to large numbers of people. Therefore, health care facilities may find it difficult to care for large numbers of patients with severe illness.”

The October release went on to say the hospital had received 300 doses of the vaccine and listed the priority of those who should get the vaccine. What they didn’t say was did the patients in those priority groups actually receive the shots? What do you want to bet that if I asked the Houston VA who, in fact, received the 300 initial doses I would be told that information cannot be released due to privacy laws?

I said there was probably an explanation why it’s taken so long to get the H1N1 shots to the general patient population within the MEDVAMC kingdom which includes outpatient clinics in Beaumont, Lufkin, Conroe and Galveston. I didn’t say it was a good explanation.

Fortunately, no large outbreaks of the Swine Flu have occured among veterans in this portion of Texas, at least no large outbreaks that come to mind. But the H1N1 is still a pandemic so it’s fortunate there aren’t more dead, especially older or our youngest, veterans.

When the pandemic is over, I hope the VA as a whole will do a thorough after-action review of their reaction to the outbreaks. I’m sure they will, but hopefully it will be honest and not just the same old glazed over horse s**t one seems to see coming from one VA report after another. The whole VA pharmaceutical system needs a careful going-over as well.  I can’t help but think — with such vast differences in medication given from one VA hospital system to another — that the acquisition of medications might be ripe for some kind of corruption. I’m not saying that’s the case, but it’s a suspicion.

Nevertheless, it’s AFT that the Swine Flu shots are available and unless I get the flu first or the VA runs out, I plan to get my vaccine during my next regular appointment in two weeks.

Something’s rotten in Austin

Only a few thoughts to follow up on last night’s “Pasadena Massacre.” I am talking about the Citi BCS National Championship in which Texas QB Colt McCoy was knocked out of the game the first rattle out of the box. I think The Regents should just pay Mack Brown all those millions and move defensive coordinator and heir-apparent Will Muschamp up to head coach.

Man, the game just turned to Bevo poo after freshman Garrett Gilbert was sent in to replace McCoy. I don’t fault Gilbert. I think he showed some flashes of not-badness. It just seemed the game had been choreographed like a Broadway production starring McCoy and the stand-in hadn’t been properly trained to know where the other cast members were supposed to stand.

Gilbert made a few bad passes. He was supposed to, he is a freshman. He also threw some passes that should have been caught. It was if the hearts and souls of the remaining offensive players flew off to the locker room when McCoy departed with his injured shoulder.

Although the score, 37-21 Alabama, doesn’t really reflect it, the Texas defense looked pretty awesome. Alabama QB Greg McElroy was sacked a season-high five times. That is why I think the loss falls mainly on Mack Brown. It was like he never thought of the possibility his star quarterback and field marshal would get hurt. And since the defense was the bright  spot for Texas and that Brown has made defensive guru Muschamp his replacement, Brown should have himself replaced, at head coach at least. They could keep Brown in recruiting and PR. He seems to really excel there.

After watching the game, I believe that Texas could have won if McCoy had not been knocked out of the game. But that’s not a given. Running back Mark Ingram brought back visions of “The Earl of Texas,” that being Earl Campbell. Both were backs which reminded me of Hurricane Rita blasting her way through the Pineywoods. There wasn’t anyone able to stop her. The same goes for Earl and the Tide’s Ingram. As I heard one caller to a sports talk show say this afternoon, the game was one “played by boys against men.” In a way, the caller was right.

Still, you have to wonder what would have been had McCoy not been injured. And you wonder what round McCoy will go in the NFL draft who picks him. Also, I heard it said that Alabama’s McElroy had never lost a football  game since the eighth grade. How do  you think he will feel when he gets to the NFL and finally loses that first game?