Friday, July 16, 2010

September 11, 2001: Stories From Survivors

Where were you when you realized our country was under attack on September 11, 2001? 

I was at our home in Las Vegas, were we had resumed living that past July after four years trying to make a go of it with our family in Attica, New York.  I rarely turn on the television in the morning, but did so that day and tuned on the Today Show.  I watched the images of the towers burning although I am not sure if both had been hit by that time.  I know that I watched with a detachment, not realizing the brevity of what I was seeing.  As I listened to the newscasters reporting, it began to sink in that something very terrible was going wrong.  I went and woke my husband up and together we watched as the horror unfolded before us. 

The rest of the day and on into that week, a somber pall hung over us.  But we were 3,000 miles away from the epicenter and could not know the depths of the tragedy, nor what our fellow humans were experiencing. 

Last month during a visit to California I went to the Camarillo Library, one of my favorite places to go.  They have a great bookstore and there I purchased September 11: An Oral History.  The editor of the volume, Dean E. Murphy, compiled stories from survivors of the tragedy.  The stories are told from the witness perspective: people who worked in the towers, the rescuers, and those that were near ground zero.  It is a difficult book to read.  I reserve the reading of it for mornings as I have my coffee, surrounded by a couple of my cats for company.  As an oral historian myself I was naturally drawn to such a book, but I find reading the graphic details is hard to do; I can feel the fear, guilt, and sorrow reach me through the pages, but I am making myself read the book until the end.  These brave survivors deserve to be heard.

There is a morbid curiosity in reading the tales: The man who says he was talking to the living dead, a woman who for all intents and purposes should not be alive, much less talking and shouting, "I'm not dead!" (Tormented by a Conversation with Death, pgs 149-155).  This woman did not live.   The woman who was standing amongst a crowd of people trying to get out of the building when one of the towers collapsed; when the air cleared she and only one other person was left standing (A Prayer to Die Quickly and Painlessly, pgs 10-15).  The firefighters who cheated death more than once only to realize their colleagues did not, or the man who locked eyes with another, a jumper who took his life in his own hands. 

I am only reading what these people have gone through; I cannot imagine what it is like to have those images, sounds, smells, and memories to haunt them for the rest of their lives.  For no other reason than to honor them and those that perished, I will finish this book until the end. 

To find out more and to be witness to the heroic stories of our fellow Americans who survivied to tell their experiences check out September 11 Digital Archive.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Can Acupunture Cure My Allergies? The Jury is Still Out, But I'll Try Anything!

A small measure of distrust in western medicine is a smart approach toward maintaining one’s health is my belief. For me the practice started years ago when I opted to give birth naturally and went up against the medical establishment and took an active role in the kind of treatment I received. I also became very interested in herbal medicine and did a lot of studying and experimenting on how to treat and cure health problems with what nature provides. While I’ve relaxed my stand about western medicine some now that I’m older and have come to appreciate the advances in medical technology and the benefits of certain medicines, I am still drawn to discovering alternative ways of dealing with health concerns. That’s how I found myself in the offices of an acupuncturist and came home looking like I’d been beaten with a baseball bat.

For several years now I have suffered from the allergies one inevitably becomes afflicted with living in the Mojave Desert.          

My particular problem is persistent and constant post-nasal drip. It is an insidious condition where, excuse my gross description, the mucussy blobs that would normally exit the nostril via a good nose blowing instead hang in the area of the throat that goes to the stomach with a swallow. In my case, however, the mass doesn’t move. No, it just hangs there like that uvula-thingy that is supposed to hang there. It drives me crazy and drives the people around me nuts, too. I try and ignore it, try not to clear my throat all day long, especially when I’m with others; when I do try and dislodge it I sound like Felix Unger, the annoying character from the Odd Couple.  Mistaking my hacking sound for a sneeze, I often get, “God Bless You.” I am grateful it sounds like a sneeze because I don’t want anyone to know I’m trying to cough up a booger-ball (kind of like a hairball, if I were a cat).

I’ve tried all sorts of remedies: pills (Allegra and most recently Claritin-D); neti-pot nasal flushing, 

A Neti-Pot
Yoga, inhaling steaming Eucalyptus leaves, and even in desperation shoot Nasonex up my nose; all to no avail. Nothing, nothing! helps! So a couple of years ago I decided to try something new.

Actually, I had come down with a nasty cold that involved my usual case of bronchitis. This was a bad one and my throat felt like I was swallowing broken glass. My husband had told me about a co-worker who had gone for acupuncture to treat allergies. I figured this was as good a time as any to establish a relationship with such a practitioner; if they can cure my illness they are sure to be able to help me later with my allergies. Fortunately, my insurance covered the visit so off I went. What an experience!

The medical office is located in a little building and inside the practitioners include Dr-Mr. and Dr-Mrs. Lo and their son, Dr. Lo, a chiropractor. I have always been interested in Chinese medicine so I was anxious to see what treatment I would receive. I was in a great deal of pain and could barely speak and tell them my symptoms so Dr. Lo (the woman) took me to a small room and got to work on me. This included pricking the nail bed of my thumbs; this is to get the blood flowing. It hurt but I am a willing, open-minded patient. Next, small acupuncture needles were inserted in various locations on my face, near my nose and forehead.

 Then, to my horror and utter discomfort (excruciating pain, actually) she instructed me to open my mouth and lift up my tongue. Using what I can only describe as an instrument that looks like those round needle-things used to test for TB on one’s arm, she punctured under my tongue – twice! What the heck? These methods, she explained in her Chinese-laden English accent were to help with the throat issue. As if this all weren’t strange, painful, and different enough, she had me lie down on the bed in the room. Before I did so, I had to take off my shirt. What next?

In she wheels a cart loaded with what looked like dozens of those little fish bowls you see holding goldfish at the carnival. She rubbed my back with what I assume was alcohol and then proceeded to ignite a lighter, wave the flame under the opening of the bowl and then slap it onto my exposed back. Many bowl-sucking sticks later (maybe ten, fifteen?), I was instructed to lie there and relax. Yeah, right. Lying on my stomach with needles sticking out of my face and cups drawing my skin tight I was supposed to relax?

I asked Dr. Lo to get a picture

But the optimist, open-minded part of me tried to concentrate my mind into healing me; after all, I’d put myself in the position and what choice did I have? I couldn’t move. Dr. Lo returned three times to remove, then reposition the many cups. Would it never end, I asked? This damn well better work, I said in my head.

Once released I was given an appointment for two days later. As my condition had not improved and I really wanted to give this alternative approach a try, I went back. Pretty much the same procedure took place. This time, Dr. Lo was more aggressive and the “cupping” took place not only on my back but on my arms, neck and chest as well. After the first visit, I did not show my husband my back, which was full of perfect circle bruises. After my second visit, however, I knew I wouldn’t be able to hide the results. I had a “hickey” the size of an orange on my neck; I had to wear a scarf to cover it; that or risk people thinking I had a large-lipped lover who didn’t care a whit about public scrutiny. My husband, upon looking at my purple body, just shook his head; he’s used to his wife’s ways.

After-effects of cupping

The result of this little experiment? It took two weeks for my back to look normal again, and I ended up filling the antibiotic prescription I had received from my “regular” doctor before I tried out this new approach. The jury was still out on how I felt about alternative medicine, specifically acupuncture. I have been told by many people that it really does work, but in this case it didn’t. It was my discomfort and frustration with these allergies that had me return to Dr-Mrs. Lo.

I have had one treatment so far that included the needles on the sides of my nose, in my forehead and at my hairline. Cupping was also included and for the last couple of days I’ve had to ensure the back of my neck is not exposed when I go out into public; trying to explain the bruising is something I don’t wish to discuss with total strangers. I have another appointment this Friday and I’ll once again go with optimism. The nasal drip hasn’t subsided as of yet but perhaps like other types of medicine and therapy, it takes time to cure (the irony is that the word, “cure” means it is a process, right?). At this point, with the failures of everything else I’ve tried, I am willing to give this method another chance.

No one can say that I’m stuck in my ways; I’m always open to new things. That’s why I make such a good anthropologist; I’m willing to see how others do things. There are things I won’t try though and the minute Dr. Lo brings out the leeches to bleed me more aggressively, I am out of the door!

To find out more about cupping, check out this article.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Grandma's Soap Secret

Early portrait of Elizabeth Wleklinski Oberlander, 1960s

My maternal grandmother died in 1998. From the time I was a year old she was my “mother” and her influence in my life, the lessons she taught me and the things I learned from her are ingrained in my life to this day. Although she is gone her ways continue on in those of us that were listening and watching, who take the time to repeat what she taught, and continue to pass on what we learned to those that are coming after us.

This past week was one of those moments where I felt as though my grandmother had taken over my body and mind and through me passed on the wisdom she was so great at imparting. My youngest grandson, Noble, age 8 weeks was constipated. He is a fussy little baby and we are trying all sorts of things to try and cure him. One of those methods is to incorporate Similac infant formula into his diet, supplementing his mother’s breast milk. As a staunch breastfeeding advocate I am surprised at my willingness to supplement with formula, but Noble is a challenge that requires the testing of all things that might work. It helped I think, giving him a full belly that allowed him to sleep more restfully. The problem with this artificial stuff is the side effects and constipation is one of them.

I suggested a remedy to my daughter, one that I learned from my grandmother years ago when my own daughter was constipated. She told me to cut a sliver of soap and use it as a suppository on the baby. I was appalled! I balked at the idea and just like my own child did, I refused until the baby’s discomfort persuaded me to rethink my stand. Her idea worked and I always remembered the wisdom of my grandmother’s home remedy.

It was going on two days since Noble had a bowel movement and finally Adrian agreed to let me try. I took the little one into the bathroom. I laid him on the table on his tummy. I sliced the smallest piece of Ivory soap and placed it in his little tush. He screamed bloody murder, but then again that is Noble’s normal way of communicating his feelings. I put a diaper on him and held him upright against my chest with his feet on my palm. Within minutes his face contorted in effort, he turned red, grunted several times and viola! he pooped. I called Adrian, who had at first refused to watch, not wanting to see her baby in distress, and together we watched Noble relieve himself of the bad stuff clogging up his system.

Four diapers later and he was cleaned out. He nursed heartily then slept peacefully for two hours. My daughter thanked me as I am sure I did when I followed my grandmother’s advice.

This was an incident where my grandmother was foremost on my mind as I performed a remedy that is required only on occasion, but I know that in my daily life her teaching is with me always. It is with me as I work in the kitchen making meals. Like her I rarely use a recipe book; rather I put a pinch of this and that, I experiment with what sounds good and almost every time what I make is delicious. She is with me in the garden as I look on my blooms with satisfaction. Her admonitions come pouring out of my mouth when I say the Polish translation of “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!”

My grandmother is a decade gone but only in the physical sense; she lives on in the forty-some years she had to teach me her ways. Her legacy will continue on as the memory of me, soap, and Noble’s relief one day in the year 2010 is recalled some forty-odd years down the road. Traditions are meant to be carried on and I am grateful I had someone in my life to teach me theirs. Thank you, “Mom.”

Grandmother with my two daughters, Erin and Adrian (Long Island, NY, 1982)

Bonding with Erin (age 2 months)

Giving Erin her first taste of meat!  I wasn't happy about it at the time, but she knew best.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Memory of them lingers in my heart

I’m sitting in the back yard where I was married for the first time thirty years ago this July. The home belongs to my first husband, the father of my two daughters although he doesn’t live here, our girls and their own children do. I’ve been coming to stay with them for a few years now and since both of them have infant children, I’ve been here more these past months than ever. Sitting here reminiscing I find the circle of one’s life to be a fascinating study. Who knows what encounters, events and incidences that one experiences in life will be the ones that stick? Who would have thought that when I signed divorce papers just six years after that first marriage that I would still be in close contact with the father of my children when most divorces end in a huge rift that divides, or that the friends and family connections that I expected to last a lifetime have since drifted away over the years and all contact has been severed? Life is sure an interesting and mysterious thing, don’t you think?

There are so many people that I thought I would know forever but have no idea where they are or what their life has been like. The girls I grew up with for nearly a decade when I lived in Clarence and with whom I played probably every single day of those childhood years are all middle-age now. I have no idea if they realized all or any of the dreams they shared with me, their neighborhood friend. Where is “Bucky” Buchanan, the boy who gave me my first kiss back in the sixth grade? Or David Deloy, the scrawny twelve-year-old boy I believed was my “first love” who gave me a chain bracelet that is still in my keepsake book? Where is my college roommate, Holly, who was witness to so many of my life choices that brought to the place where I am today? The last time I saw or spoke to Holly she was at my wedding (to my second husband) with her baby boy, who I know is all grown up now as are my own children. Did she and Matt stay married? Are they happy? I am just as curious to know how the cousins I was so close to in childhood, who know just what went on in our crazy, dysfunction-filled extended family, have fared in life. I wonder if I am on their minds as they are on mine.

There are a good number of those early friends and family members that I still am in touch with, but just as many I have no idea where they are or how to reach out to them. That saddens me but it is the nature of a life lived, I guess. There are now social networks online that allow for greater opportunity to seek and find lost friends and family. Searching for them is not always successful, however, so there are some that I believe might be lost for good. I may never see or hear from them again. Why are they lost to me when others who logic would predict would fall away, are still in my life? I believe it comes down to mutual desire to stay connected; I nurture relationships with those that put the effort forth to maintain contact with me. I must provide something that initiates willingness or need to keep me in their life and vice versa.

Whatever it is, it remains a touching mystery for me.  Although there are those that have come and then gone from my life, their presence always remains in my heart and in my memories.  Vaya con Dios, my friends, Go with God.