We were sitting at an upscale bar in Richmond waiting for me to appear on the evening news. NBC. My book Learning to Live Again had just been published. It was a hot summer. Diana, my lover for three years and wife for two, and I had more than survived marriage. Would we survive the autobiographic book I had just published in 1983 describing a previous romance to Laura, the woman whose love made it possible to get through my first experience with cancer?
My egregious violation of the rules of gentlemanly behavior would never have happened if I were not a writer continually hell bent on publication regardless of the consequences. Thomas Wolfe had written Look Homeward, Angel unwilling/unable to keep the autobiography from his novel’s pages–revealing the secrets of his Ashville, North Carolina home town. In the process, he made it impossible to go home again. Later, Wolfe claimed all novels are autobiographical saying even Gulliver’s Travels was autobiography.
I made no pretense of hiding behind a novel. My chance at becoming a full-time writer of books was this one published by Holt Rinehart & Winston. It had been based on a New York Times Magazine article that had resulted in my appearing with great fanfare on Good Morning America. It was not impossible–nor a forgone conclusion either. As my friend Bill Gahr (and my boss at the General Accounting Office) had said, “When you have a chance at the brass ring, you go for it.” If Learning to Live Again succeeded, I could fulfill the dream of writing books for the rest of my life. This was my big chance.
Richmond television initially was the best I could do on the road for hopeful success. Diana had spent much of our years together watching me write and rewrite expressing the belief her love for me was so great eventually my passion for another woman would be transmuted by her love for me. Thus far her belief seemed to be working. We were happily married. Through the day of press, radio, and television interviews Diana was by my side supporting me totally.
Then the human interest clip at the end of the evening news appeared. The story line went on about the fear of surviving cancer and how a woman’s love had helped me through it. Neither Diana nor I had realized the interview, filmed in a park, had included (after we thought it over) a shot of Diana and me romantically holding hands as we crossed a bucolic bridge. Yet there it was.
Diana and I were sitting at the bar. Several others were also watching the news. The cameraman was not as expert as one might hope. The clip ended as Diana and I holding hands suddenly disappearing as if Merlon, the magician, had said Poof. “Where’d they go?” some of drinkers asked each other who were as puzzled as we.
Diana is a proud woman. Mixing our romance with another was a bridge too far. Never again did she appear with me as I hustled the book. Was this a defining moment? It did not seem so at the time.
The book received good reviews but did not earn enough to repay the advance. I published another book. This time on agriculture policy. One does not receive the kind of advances required to pay the mortgage and support children from a book on agriculture policy. Instead, I had to return to speech writing and then become a technical writer.
As for our relationship, did it matter? We did have two children and remained together as a couple for twenty years. Much of the time a happy time. Did Richmond matter?
It is 2:20 AM. I awoke Tuesday morning sick with a cold or the flu or somatic manifestations of despair–certainly not confined to the tax bill, but a sense of hopelessness that after Elizabeth MacDonough, Parliamentarian of the Senate, raised what is referred to colloquially as “the Byrd bath” before Christmas President Trump will sign a soak the poor bill with devastating economic consequences.
All day, sweaty and exhausted, I have been reluctant or unable to get out of bed–in and out of restless sleeping, hoping for a respite where I might set aside an hour to put my mind in order following the considerable distractions of the week. Seeking for focus now that I am hopeful that at this unlikely time this may be the appropriate hour, I ritualistically clean my glasses.
Ideally, this would be an excellent time to say my prayers or meditate making use of a mantra helpful for launching the wiping clean of temporal thoughts. The best prayer is already on my lips. In Hebrew. Designed to be said first thing in the morning but one I say periodically over the course of the day.
“I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.”
The appropriate mantra is the first of three rhetorical questions.
אם אין אני לי, מי לי
“[Rabbi Hillel] is popularly known as the author of two sayings: (1) If I am not for myself who is for me? And being for my own self, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when?’ and (2) the expression of the ethic of reciprocity, or ‘Golden Rule’: ‘That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.'”
Prayer and meditation are denied me. Instead, a jumble of distractions cause restlessness. If I begin describing one of the distractions, I may linger too long and fail to provide an understanding of the sense of being overwhelmed. Here are six concerns (not all, but an arbitrary listing of serious issues that readily come to mind competing and too often interfering with the focus required for resolution).
Here at Addison Court, the apartment complex where I live, the danger of fire and I am convinced more serious than fire itself the danger of panic when fire alarms go off in this partially defend in place building where a substantial number of residents are mobility disabled. Addison Court, in the heart of Downtown State College–across the street from Webster’s Bookstore and Cafe–is a low income residence for the elderly and for those with physical and emotional disabilities. At Addison Court, the designated fire escape route is not wheel chair accessible. Instead, those of us with mobility disabilities (especially those living on floors two through eight) must wait for a fire woman or man to rescue us in the event of fire.
According to Steve Bair, Centre County’s excellent fire chief, there may be as many as 30 residences in the Borough of State College where a portion of the residents should be mindful that defend in place is their best safety measure.
Addison Court is in the advantageous position of being constructed of brick and of having an excellent sprinkler system. Five years ago, with the enthusiastic assistance of Mayor Elizabeth Goreham and with Steve Bair working closely with then Police Chief Thomas King the dangers of panic–responded quickly and effectively. The panic was averted. The panic had manifested itself in such dangerous behavior as residents throwing wheel chairs down the stairs–were averted with education and other measures including residents establishing a volunteer group (patrols on each floor).
In January, with the assistance of Addison Court’s efficient property manager Jim Hook, fire safety education will resume in the social hall/bingo parlor (where Lady Gaga has yet to accept an invitation to perform). Two weeks ago, having set up a meeting with Steve Bair, I asked Tom King (now retired as a police chief but working full time as a Borough Council staff member) for assistance. Consequently, Police Captain Mathew E. Wilson and Police Officer with a community relations portfolio joined us at Alpha Fire Company–an encouraging meeting. It is also worth noting that the current State College Police Chief John Gardner, whose career has been based here in the community, is a strong supporter of cooperation with Alpha Fire and Steve Bair.
Last week, Fire Chief Steve Bair told me about the disturbing deaths on December 5th of two residents at a multi-story apartment building in Wilkes Borough–a building disturbingly similar to Addison Court.
“Smoke was seen pouring out of the balcony of a fifth-floor apartment as fire crews evacuated the building, a public housing complex run by the Wilkes-Barre Housing Authority, reported Bob Kalinowski for the Scranton-based “The Times-Tribune.”
“The firefighters really had their hands full. Hundreds of people live in this building. They not only had to go in and extinguish the fire, but they had to rescue the occupants,” Delaney said. “The firefighters did an impeccable job. Yes, there were two people who didn’t make it out, but 150 or 160 people did without injury.”
Initially, fire crews called for ladder trucks from surrounding towns to come rescue people who fled to their outdoor balconies, but they decided against that option after getting a good initial attack on the fire, Delaney said.
2. At Mount Nittany Medical Center and HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital, patient outcome would be improved as well as employee moral if professionals in the field were to incorporate art and music into our hospitals.
3. A major effort is required to reduce the infant mortality rate in central PA and promote efforts to prevent women from having avoidable deaths–as are taking place in Texas–during childbirth.
4. The Commonwealth must pass legislation to ensure the intentions of the Americans with Disability Act are made a reality. Currently, a restaurant in State College was able to receive an operating license because it complied with the letter of the law and not its spirit. The restaurant spent more than the $4 thousand dollars to meet its disability requirement. It fulfilled its requirement by installing a wheel-chair accessible toilet. However, it did not first make sure the entrance is accessible–which it is not.
5. Last week Ed LeClair, who is in charge of planning for the Borough of State College, told me his department has no information on the current and future impact on the economy of the Borough of Foxdale and other upscale retirement communities which are growing in size.
6. On Valentine’s Day 2018, I am seeking funds to visit Stuttgart, Arkansas to research a forthcoming book on how to feed the 20 million people in the world currently starving to death. Arkansas is the largest rice-producing state in the U.S. Stuttgart is home to Riceland Funds, an important grain and soybean trading company. The technical savvy of Arkansas’s rice farmers could be critical to helping Zimbabwe improve its rice production. Zimbabwe used to be the breadbasket of the region of southern Africa. Restoring its ability to help Africa be self-sufficient in food production is critical in any effort to prevent unnecessary deaths from starvation.
I am overwhelmed with melancholy. Generally, my ability to get through the day receives a great assist from the genetic gift of optimism received from each of my parents. My father’s optimism helped him survive the reality of pogroms in Russia where a focus on reality was counter productive. My mother’s optimism helped her survive the reality that my grandmother wished she had died in a miscarriage rather than be evidence of the guilt she felt for the conception.
These days I use logic to convince myself that there is a rational element within my environment that gives me cause for hope. However, it is now 7:05 in the morning. Last night I hardly slept. This is not a good time to question the optimism that keeps me going.
Yesterday, a Chanukah card slipped under my door began this ongoing period of doom. After reading the card, I returned to my computer to listen to voice mail. The grandson of a dear friend–part of my extended family–had died. My friend had left a Chanukah present on the other side of the door. Her grief was so great, she said, that she could not come in. She and her husband have yet to get drunk with me. Not that drinking bourbon is a great idea these days given the damage radiation has inflicted on my GI tract. Nevertheless, there are times when consuming alcohol is a necessary sacrifice. I have been writing in my head all night an obituary. When appropriate I will share it with you.
What began as a research effort to find out why millions of children, women, and men are dying unnecessarily of starvation in the developing world has now turned into an action plan. There is something I can do. I can help rice farmers in Zimbabwe.
In 1976, my research on rice farming in the U.S. began at the Subcommittee on Oil Seeds and Rice in a hearing room of the House of Representatives. In the wake of the Russian wheat deal of 1972, bad weather, and a host of bizarre catastrophes, such as a decline of the anchovy catch–critical in the production of fertilizers–near the coast of Peru, the U.S. and indeed the developed world experienced food shortages. Ever since the end of World War II, surplus was the biggest problem farmers faced. As it turned out, the global shortfall was about three percent. However, fear of the consequences led editorial writers to compare current conditions to the gloomy predictions of Malthus and The New York Times Magazine mused that it might be necessary to prioritize food distribution to the developing world–much as administrators in busy emergency rooms engage in triage–recognizing that large numbers of people might be allowed to die to protect the rest. In 1973, the Secretary of Agriculture embargoed soybean exports to Japan stating, “There might not be enough food left for the American people.”
As recently as October of this year, when I celebrated my 70th birthday, I still believed the conventional wisdom that the reason people died of starvation in the world was because of poverty and poor distribution. That is no longer the case. Crop failures of high protein wheat in the Dakotas and Canada, hurricanes, floods and fires, suicides among rice farmers in southern India as a consequence of climate change, and most significantly high petroleum prices (oil is the largest raw material used in food production in the developing world) point to an alarming new reality. 2018 may very well be the year that farmers are not able to feed the people of the world. International grain and soybean reserves are not large enough to fill in the deficit.
When my book The Politics of Food was published, a review on the cover of the Los Angeles Times book section said, “While hardly a cabalist, Joel Solkoff, a respected Washington-based, free-lance journalist whose work frequently appears in various national publications, spent a number of years on this analytic quest. And even if many policy mysteries still remain, Solkoff’s book will edify–and disturb–almost anyone with the slightest interest in U.S. agriculture.”
In the interim, I have been striving to become a “cabalist” working in the Food Group of the General Accountability Office and Congress’s Office of Technology Assistance, publishing in The New York Times, Newsday, the Altoona Mirror, and Pakistan’s Herald Express.
I have also focused on the problems of Africa–working for a Ford Foundation study on South Africa, being a UN election observer in Uganda. Uganda, according to Filippo Grandi and the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has the best refugee camp in the world. Uganda, after the disastrous regime of Idi Amin, has recovered its agricultural productivity.
The recent overthrow of the tyranny of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe ignites in me the hope that Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of the region, can restore its productivity. I have established a mental bumper sticker: “Zimbabwe or bust” in the hope that I might help the country regain its agricultural productivity especially in rice farming. I am in the process of putting together for my publisher a book proposal that will serve as a blueprint for helping farmers in the developing world reach self-sufficiency–the only solution to the food requirements of the developing world.
First, I am planning a Valentine’s Day return to the First Congressional District of Arkansas– now the largest rice producing state in the U.S. The research I will do there will focus on the assistance Arkansas’s technologically savvy rice farmers can provide to Africa. Of special interest is Riceland Foods–a grain trading operation in Stuttgart where expertise focuses on how to deliver food to where it is needed.
Please donate $18 .—a sum that has spiritual significance as a way of kicking off bold efforts—to what may seem a quixotic effort
No one in the world should die of starvation.
The developed world is currently awash in more food than can be consumed. Yet, 7.8 million people are in danger of starvation in Yemen because President Trump is supplying the Saudis with high technology arms and logistical air support to help kill civilians. Yemen has become Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam–an incompetent Saudi army is losing to smart and dedicated Yemeni guerrilla fighters. The Saudi response (with U.S. government support) is a de facto embargo of Yemeni ports halting the supply of medicine and food to a population experiencing otherwise unimaginable horror.
This review explores the relationship between engagement with the creative arts and health outcomes, specifically the health effects of music engagement, visual arts therapy, movement-based creative expression, and expressive writing. Although there is evidence that art-based interventions are effective in reducing adverse physiological and psychological outcomes, the extent to which these interventions enhance health status is largely unknown. Our hope is to establish a foundation for continued investigation into this subject and to generate further interest in researching the complexities of engagement with the arts and health.
Tomorrow is my last day of occupational therapy at HealthSouth. Last week, I completed the 28 weeks of physical therapy Medicare allows. I asked HealthSouth C.E.O. at Pleasant Gap PA yesterday as she prepared for a meeting and I for a 10th cup of coffee, how Medicare came up with the number 28. Susan Hartman said she thought it an arbitrary number. I speculated Medicare consulted with a palm reader.
The issue matters because I experience considerable pain over the course of the day. Last weekend, I figured the level (on a scale of one to ten) was over 7.
Two years ago, I would have dialed 911 and waited until the ER physician injected me with morphine. Not that I would get enough morphine. Not that it would be injected quickly enough. The principal relief was not the medication. Rather, the sense at least I was doing something rather than nothing.
A little over a year ago, I had a spinal stimulator surgically implanted. The device is manufactured by Medtronic of Minneapolis. Medtronic also manufactured the pacemaker which studies have shown my heart relies upon to keep me alive.
There have been times over the past three years pursuing specialized surgery in New York when, I thought I would rather be dead than experience the pain which on several occasions had me rolling on the floor in agony.
April 8th will be cause for celebration when my granddaughter reaches her second birthday. Ever since Juliet appeared in my world and hers, the idea of premature death (however relieving) has been replaced by a commitment to persistence whatever the cost.
I need to be alive for Juliet—at least until she graduates from college and architecture school and begins designing airports and wheel chair accessible jets.
In October 2016, I celebrated my 69th birthday at HealthSouth recovering from the surgery which has since kept me out of the ER. The sophistication of Mount Nittany Medical Center has reached the point where surgery once available only in New York and at sophisticated centers such as Johns Hopkins, MD Anderson, and of course the Silicon Valley’s facility in Stanford (where the Corporate Angel Network flew me a seeming lifetime ago for the expertise that resulted in my being on this planet and not in the world to come).
Now, sophistication has reached river city. Last year I received at State College the surgery that makes regulating pain achievable. However, the value of a vibrator in my spine reducing dependence upon opiates is most effective when coupled with physical and occupational therapy.
It helps reduce pain when I move my body—especially at those moments when I delude myself into believing lying in bed in a fetal position is preferable to transferring to my scooter, navigating to the kitchen sink, and standing safely. Standing is better than sitting. Using the parallel bars (not available at home) helps build strength and reduce pain.
Now that I have achieved the Biblical-described age of three score and ten, Medicare will pay for something.Given Medicare, the insurance feels happiest when it pays too much for relief best achieved at lower cost preventatively.
I paid into the trust fund with extremely well-paid consultancy fees from Silicon Valley companies for my expertise as a senior technical writer. I can resume well-paid employment to compensate HealthSouth for the $300 or so cost of an hour of physical therapy. I would rather do that than complain about Medicare. However, putting myself back on the money-making track requires patience and persistence—convincing potential employers reluctant to pay a 70 year old paraplegic.
The consequence of my not having access to 36 hours of physical and occupational therapy between now and January—when the arbitrary 28 weeks of rehabilitation resume—might very well mean that because of a penny wise and pound foolish Medicare, your tax dollars will pay for expensive hospital care that could easily be avoided.
Liz Beaulieu, my editor at HME (Home Medical Equipment) News, has commissioned me to resume my published work for HME News with a 750 word article on the subject of Medicare’s reimbursement policy on rehabilitation. Although Liz is a fan of long New Yorker articles (appreciation she sneaks into her editorial notes), I will need to be brief.
First, however, I need to be comprehensive. I have requested a formal interview with the able Susan Hartman, C.E.O. at HealthSouth’s Pleasant Gap facility. Naturally, I will be descending upon the press office of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Baltimore. I will start at the top seeking an interview with Seema Verma, President Trump’s choice to run the agency (who is pals with Vice President Pence).
I also will be seeking interviews with Mark J. Tarr, who runs the HealthSouth empire from its headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama. On its Securities and Exchange Commission 10-K form, HealthSouth (eventually to be renamed EncompassSouth) notes: ““We are the nation’s largest owner and operator of inpatient rehabilitation hospitals in terms of patients treated and discharged, revenues, and number of hospitals. We provide specialized rehabilitative treatment on both an inpatient and outpatient basis. We operate hospitals in 30 states and Puerto Rico, with concentrations in the eastern half of the United States and Texas.”
I will be arranging interviews with Senators Casey and Toomey. Next step is to follow the advice of Rep. Thompson’s excellent press officer Renee Gamela who wrote yesterday, “Hi, Joel! Yes, you should contact Barbara Ives in GT’s Titusville office.” Then, I will interview Rep. Thompson, who was a physical therapist before his election to Congress.
My current (ever changing) plan is to report all (in my customary dribs and drabs work in progress publication) in a posting on my website where my webmaster is the excellent Kathy Forer. Sarah, my one and only sister who knows me all too well, says writing long is my default. Hence, I will write long then boil it down to 750 words and submit to HME News.
Continually hat in hand, it would help if you were to send me $18 given the paltry state of my checking account which tomorrow (after checks are cleared) will contain $16.34. Yesterday, I had to pay Harvey Israel, my wonderful dentist, for emergency work. Yes, I have set up a crowd funding proposal. Need to set up more. The $18 figure is based on Jewish tradition. In the Hebrew alphabet, each letter has a number value. The alphabetical equivalent of eighteen is the Hebrew word for life—Chai. When my late mother Miriam (a Hebrew school teacher) wanted to donate to a cause, but did not have enough money to do so as she liked, she donated $18.
If I were not a [Jewish] Buddhist, this would be my Mad As Hell and I Can’t Take it Anymore moment.
It is 3:04 AM. I am making coffee. Washing the dishes. A shower is overdue. At 8:10 a Cataride para-transit bus will pick me up here in Downtown State College where parking (believe it or not) is a problem.
This is the parking lot at Addison Court–a residence for low-income elderly and disabled: A ghetto by any other name is a ghetto.
After riding through the astonishingly beautiful countryside of Centre County, PA, I will be arriving at HealthSouth, Pleasant Gap–one of an empire of 123 U.S. physical and rehabilitation hospitals based in Birmingham, Alabama. Coming soon, as a result of a recent merger, HealthSouth will have a new name: Encompass South. [East, West, and North still in the planning stage.]
Whenever possible, always go to the Securities and Exchange Commission 10-K form.
This is what the parking lot at HealthSouth is like when I arrive before 9 this morning.
At 9, I will begin the routine Pittsburgh-trained Occupational Therapist Christine Vuchenich has established. The routine consists of:
Stretching exercises at her wooden table.
Use of the Baltimore Technology shoulder stretching wheel
Push ups and other exercises.
On Friday, progress stops. Then, I have to resort to in-home exercises. No sophisticated equipment. No informed instruction. Just hours a week of exercise exercise exercise.
Last week, I completed the 28 weeks of physical therapy with Shannon Duranko who received her doctorate from Slippery Rock University. For the first time (last week) I walked the length of the parallel bars and back.
I do not have parallel bars at home.
What I have at home is persistence. Think of Medicare as city hall. I have already begun my plan to fight city hall. Medicare’s short-sighted cutback of physical and occupational therapy means that using movement to relieve pain likely will be replaced with using Oxycontin to relieve pain. Instead of continuing progress so I might use Lofstrand crutches and a walker for mobility–with the eye on the prize of being able to walk again–Medicare may once again spend unnecessarily for frequent trips to the emergency room or for hospitalization.