Monthly Archives: September, 2011

Overnight Parking–Providence City Council

The Dreaded Orange Tag

From all the fuss on the internets I thought there would be a crowd at City Hall where a plan for citywide resident permit parking was on the agenda.

I went to a very crowded and contentious meeting several years ago where the Summit Neighborhood Association had scores of people lined up to oppose resident overnight parking. I had all my arguments ready this time, but there was no one to argue with.

About fifteen members of the public were there, several of us took the signs handed out by a supporter. Since we were not allowed to speak, we held them up.

For two hours.

I did not see any parking opponents, for what that’s worth.
The acoustics were terrible and I heard very little of what the City Council members said, although the chairman kept pointing his finger at the man who was describing how the plan would work.  It was kind of like watching a silent movie without captions.

I had a lot of time to think–approximately 120 minutes, but who’s counting?

One intense internet brushfire going today concerned the $100 fee for the proposed permit. A new tax. How dare they?

But it’s actually a money saver, here’s why–

If you have a space on your property to park your car, you don’t need to buy a permit. Just keep on parking your car in the same place.

If you don’t have a space and are renting, and you pay less than $10 a month, that’s awesome. What a good deal. Don’t buy a permit. Keep on renting.

If your parking is not secure and convenient, you are probably paying much more than $100 a year, and getting the occasional parking ticket as well. You’ll save money with a permit.

I’m not unbiased. My house was built in 1918 and it was assumed you’d just hop on the trolley if you needed to go anywhere. Maybe you could park your machine on the street if you could afford one.

Those days are gone, but the houses remain. More meetings are planned.

It’s So Hurtful

I’m taking a lunch break at Stop and Shop, using their network and checking out my stats and my friend’s blogs.

Or trying to. Nomi’s blog, ‘I Dreamed I Saw Grace P. Today’ is forbidden on this network. Likewise ‘Echidne of the Snakes’.

Has Nomi spent too much time hanging out with ‘Jesus’ General’? The General does get into some personal matters every other sentence or so. And his gladiator obsession is kind of much.

Kmareka is not forbidden. Possibly because our editorial policy bans any language that Kiersten’s kids can’t see.

But maybe that’s not it. Maybe compared to Nomi we are harmless and uncontroversial. Maybe we’re not important enough to be banned in the Stop and Shop. It’s so hurtful.

Obama is the Antichrist–What Else is New?

CrooksAndLiars says that a heckler screamed, ‘Obama you are the Antichrist’ as the president spoke at a fundraising event in Los Angeles.

To a former Pentecostal, like this writer, the heckler’s outburst is unsurprising. It would be shocking if the extreme Christian right did not declare Obama to be the Antichrist. I’m not a Biblical scholar, but I’ve read my Revelations, and I have a pretty good idea how it works.

A lot of people are upset because Obama won the election. They might conclude that it happened because more people voted for him, but that’s too simple. It makes more sense that this is a sign of the End Times. The evidence is indisputable.

When Obama had soaring approval ratings, his political success was proof he had superpowers. When he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that confirmed it, because the Antichrist will bring world peace. When he escalated the war in Afghanistan, that was more proof, because the Antichrist starts wars. And his current low approval is because we’re a Christian nation, and Obama is the Antichrist. See how it works?

Unfortunately, there’s quite a lot of competition for the title. If you include the undead, the dark throne is going to look like a game of musical chairs. I listed some contenders in my previous post,


Antichrist Hall of Fame…

In rough chronological order…

John F. Kennedy Some fear that he was up to something when he got himself assassinated.

Jimmy Carter He promoted peace in the Middle East, when we all know that nuclear war is in God’s plan.

Ronald Reagan Supernaturally charming–at least to some people, it was lost on me.

Mikhail Gorbachev He had that funny mark on his forehead, although if he used Rogaine it probably wouldn’t have showed.

Bill Clinton Nobody we knew voted for him and he won anyway.

Vladimir Putin He’s Russian. And he was able to fool President Bush with his soulful gaze.

George W. Bush Took 666 vacation days in his first 4 years.

John Paul II He was a Catholic. And he lived in Rome.

Pope Benedict He lives in Rome too.

John Mc Cain Saw that funny photo of him sticking out his tongue.

You can see it’s a crowded field. President Obama has a lot on his plate, trying to get his jobs bill passed, and was probably more focused on raising campaign money than on putting the Mark of the Beast on the dollar bill.

But you can’t be too careful. The state of Virginia considered legislation to protect citizens from The Mark, and all the unholy nurses and doctors waiting to implant it– I’m not kidding, the link is here.

Banned Books Week

Thanks to friend Nomi for a reminder that once again, it’s Banned Books Week!

There’s a cool map of censorship actions, with blue balloons marking the locations. I thought Rhode Island was a beacon of freedom, and, with the exception of some school officials who got cranky in Cumberland, we are.

Here’s the top ten banned books for 2010–

2010: 1) And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson; 2) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie; 3) Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley; 4) Crank, by Ellen Hopkins; 5) The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins; 6) Lush, by Natasha Friend; 7) What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones; 8) Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich; 9) Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie; 10) Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

Are any of your favorites on this list? I vote for ‘Nickel and Dimed’ as most dangerous, because it frankly exposes what goes on at work. Talk about too much knowledge to lay on high-school, or even college kids. Better a nice, diverting vampire fantasy like Twilight.

Some of my favorite books these days are graphic novels. Art Speigelman has just published a book on the making of ‘Maus’, his classic story of his parent’s survival and escape from Nazi Germany. That’s next on my list. I also plan to buy Pope Benedict’s book, ‘My Life in Hitler Youth’ as soon as he writes it.

Pope Benedict Hears it in German

What was it like to hear the truth in his own native language?

Pope Benedict XVI met victims of sexual abuse by clergy on the second day of his visit to his German homeland, an encounter that left him “deeply shaken”, Vatican officials said.

During a 30-minute meeting with abuse victims in Erfurt, the pope said he was “moved and deeply shaken by the sufferings of the victims,” the Vatican said. Church officials described the meeting as “very, very emotional”.

“The Holy Father expressed his deep compassion and regret over all that was done to them and their families,” said a Vatican statement.

Nothing will change except in places where ordinary Catholics take charge and bring the institution into line with secular laws that protect children and parents. That is happening all over the world as the Church trails behind and tries to put the issue to rest.

I wrote some speculative fiction about what might happen if the Pope confronted his own seduction by a vicious regime and the abusive frenzy of the adults and authorities around him. A fourteen-year-old boy in Nazi Germany didn’t have choices, but the Nazis depended on the complicity of German Catholics and Protestants in the murder of their Jewish neighbors. If, in his advanced years, Joseph Ratzinger could speak honestly of this history, he might give real moral leadership to the world.

Kmareka occasionally reports the news before it happens, so we post this book review from next year…

New York Times Book Review, June 24, 2012
My Life in Hitler Youth by Pope Benedict XVI
Translated from the German by Sophia Magdalena Scholl and Hans Scholl
With commentary by Steve Biko, Rabbi Hillel, Badshah Khan, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and the Ven. Mahaghosananda
Forward by Archbishop Oscar Romero

While confessional literature has won an enduring readership, it is unusual to find a religious or political leader who is willing to attempt it. Most are less given to autobiography than to self-promotion.

It is all the more surprising that Pope Benedict XVI, whose tenure had been characterized by autocracy, even, some would say, arrogance; has humbly and honestly laid bare his experience as a teenage German boy caught up in the Nazi war machine.

In today’s world child soldiers are cannon fodder in countless civil conflicts. Teenagers are recruited to sign ten, or even twenty-year contracts with the privatized militias favored by the developed nations. The desperately poor allow their children to be implanted with RFID chips and fed psychotropic drugs to increase their value on the mercenary market.

Pope Benedict’s book stands as a powerful challenge to our 21st century way of war.

The catalyst for this amazing book was a 2010 meeting in Rome with survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
“I prayed with them, I assured them that never again would such violation of innocence be tolerated. Committees would be formed, the guilty would be routed out. I thought I was doing all that I could, but there was no mistaking the disappointment in their eyes. They wanted to hear something more from me.”

From that day, Benedict began to suffer from insomnia. He was tormented by nightmares in which he was visited by the ghosts of his Jewish playmates who disappeared in the Nazi violence. A letter from ‘Konrad’, a boyhood friend and fellow Hitler Youth, triggered a spiritual crisis. Benedict flew to Germany, secretly and under high security, to hear his friend’s confession and to give last rites.

“Konrad needed to unburden his soul to someone who knew what we did, and what was done to us. Our souls were violated, we were seduced by hate. Only to each other could we admit that we sometimes enjoyed the seduction. We were robbed of our innocence, and the loss did not diminish with time. It was not for me, his fellow sinner and fellow victim, to grant absolution. We prayed together for God’s forgiving grace. We wept together. Then we forgave those who had done this to us. They themselves were seduced.”

The Pope returned to Rome with a new resolve to address the needs of the world’s children. His Encyclical, ‘The Sin of Obedience’, shocked many in the Catholic hierarchy, but did much to mend relations with parishes torn by the sexual abuse scandals. His eloquent stand against war, previously muted by his close relationships with the world’s aggressors, was broadcast worldwide. Benedict’s frank conversations with Rabbi Hillel concerning the abuses that occur when religion becomes handmaiden to politics led to a change in direction that some call ‘radical’. His account of that conversation is not only a heartfelt apology for the failure of the Catholic Church to effectively oppose the Nazis, but an admission that political expediency corrupted the Church’s response to the atrocious acts of that regime.

“Christians had forgotten that the greatest Rabbi, Our Lord and Savior, spoke truth to power, even at the cost of his life. Being truly Man, as well as truly God, he suffered as we all do.”

The Pope’s incognito visit to Brazil, where he met some of the poorest of his flock in the favelas (slums), celebrating Mass in a tin shanty, washing the feet of meninos da rua (street children) will go down in history as an act of saintliness.

Since then, the Pope has led his flock in a direction that is changing the global Church. The Pope’s recent encyclicals have drawn criticism as well as praise.
‘A Little Child Shall Lead Them’ prompted one conservative commentator to remark that the Pope, who was formerly known as a crusader against abortion “now expects us to waste our tax dollars on snot-nosed welfare brats.”

But despite accusations of betrayal from many of his former allies on the American religious right, this pope is enjoying a surge of popularity not seen since the reign of Pope John the XXIII. The attrition of the past few decades is reversing as the Church gains more new converts and lapsed Catholics return to the faith.

The rumor that the Vatican will soon make priestly celibacy optional has sparked a renewed interest that promises to alleviate the dire shortage of priests in the developed nations; and if implemented would legitimize the de-facto priestly marriages that are common in Africa.

Meanwhile, in Central America, the revival movement known as ‘Caridad’, endorsed by the Church despite its strong resemblance to the ‘Liberation Theology’ that was dismantled by Benedict just a few years ago; promises to take the wind out of the sails of the Protestant Evangelical revival as former Catholics return to the faith of their childhood.

Here in the US, it is interesting to see some of the same politicians who enjoyed support from the pulpits of their local Catholic churches now invoking the principle of separation of Church and State.

Worldwide, the Catholic church has undergone a profound shift in emphasis. New orders of nuns and other religious operate with a freedom and authority unimaginable just a few years ago. With the goal of protecting children, nuns have organized on behalf of women in practical ways–health care, literacy, employment, respect.

‘Space Your Children’ a family planning pamphlet by Liberian nun and midwife Sr.Grace Wah, has been tacitly approved by papal authorities despite its frank endorsement of birth control. Sr.Wah would have been facing censorship, if not excommunication, for such views prior to Benedict’s change of heart.

Pope Benedict continues to reach out to those who have suffered the most from global war. His conversation with Hussam Abdo, a teenage would-be suicide bomber disarmed by Israeli police, and Zawadi Mongane, a rape survivor from the war in Congo, is still being parsed by theologians for its affirmation of living a whole and healed life in the wake of unbearable wrong. Truly, Pope Benedict has become a voice of conscience for the Christian world and extended the hand of friendship to other faiths.

This Pope, who began his reign determined to roll back the changes of Vatican II, now stands in the shoes of John XXIII, and promises to take his legacy farther than any thought possible.

Ugly Questions for Ron Paul

I thought Dr.Paul might have been a little mis-understood, when some Tea drinkers at the Republican debate cheered the death of the hypothetical uninsured 30 year old man. But TPM quotes him confirming his philosophy that health care should be completely privatized, and regulations are just bad for business–herbs and charity will fill the need.

Ron Paul told TPM on Wednesday that even if there’s a “case or two” that makes Americans uncomfortable, the government should stay out of the health care business. Even if one of the cases in question is his former campaign manager, Kent Snyder, who died with $400,000 in unpaid medical bills after being unable to secure health insurance due to a pre-existing condition.

At a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, Paul took questions from reporters on Snyder, whose story surfaced in the press after Paul said in the last Republican debate that the government should not intervene even to save a comatose 30 year old who did not have insurance. As Gawker noted, Snyder died in June 2008 without health insurance, leaving behind $400,000 in bills. His friends and family set up a fund to raise money to pay off the debt. It’s not clear how much money they were able to raise: a site set up by Ron Paul aide Justine Lam to track the medical fund stopped updating in 2008 with only $34,870 in donations.

Later in the interview–

He also blamed the government for regulating medicine: “The federal government comes in and closes down shops that try to sell nutritional medicine and vitamins because the drug companies don’t want competition. That drives the prices up.”

And he’s aware that his stand can sound too cold-blooded for most Americans–

Paul added that “to twist it around and say that we have no compassion and we just throw people on the street, that to me is getting pretty ugly.”

I have some ugly questions for Dr.Paul, right here–

1. Who picked up the remaining bill for your campaign manager? Did it come anonymously from principled Libertarians, or from the government? Who do you think is already paying for uninsured people when they show up at the emergency room? How much free care could hospitals give to save lives if they didn’t get government money to provide it?

2. Did you know Kent Snyder was sick? Did you offer him any advice or help as he worked for you? Young people do die of pneumonia, but more often it’s treatable. Do you think lack of insurance might have kept him from seeing a doctor early. Do you blame him for that?

3.Do you agree that insurance companies should deny people with pre-existing conditions to maximize profits? Will that be one of your campaign platforms?

4. Can you give an example of an herb or alternative store that was closed down and why? I see them doing business all over the place. Does the government ever have the right to close down an alternative business for say, selling a cure for cancer that doesn’t work? Selling tainted or mis-labled medicine? I had a patient who was blinded by an eyedrop he got in his home country, where he had no conventional medicine to help him. Should we protect the public here from dangerous and quack remedies?

5.Does your belief that medicine should be ‘pay as you go’ extend to babies and children? If not, why not?

6. As a doctor, do you see a problem in the lack of continuity when people are forced to seek care from charity clinics and emergency rooms? Do you think we waste resources and lives by starting from scratch every time the patient seeks care, rather than having one medical home where their records are on file and they know their providers? Would you trade your own secure health care for this kind of ‘freedom’?

7. Do you see prayer as a substitute for medical treatment? If parents use prayer instead of medicine for a child’s treatable illness and the child is at risk of death, does the government have a right to take custody of the child? These cases come up regularly, and even worse, children die because parents refused to take their child to a doctor. Do you think that lack of access to conventional care will drive people to faith healers and ineffective but cheap herbal remedies?

I have to hit the road now, I have clients to see for home care. I’m grateful every day for Medicare. Seven adult children are very tired these days caring for our sick father, and Hospice has given us help and support that make it possible for him to stay at home in comfort and dignity. It’s interesting seeing this situation as both a provider and recipient of help.

Ron Paul says we won’t throw people out on the street to die, and he’s right. We are not that kind of society. But people will die– killed by neglect, by too little too late, quietly and un-noticed unless it’s someone you love. Some will kill you with a fountain pen, as Woody said.

So, how do you think Dr.Paul would answer these questions?

AND ANOTHER THING: There’s something funny about the way Rep.Dr.Paul keeps talking as if herbs and alternative medicine were in a fugitive underground somewhere. You can buy herbs and alternative medicines at the supermarket– though I’d put a word in for Providence local business Farmacy Herbs. When you go to Whole Foods or GNC, you are protected by laws that say the ingredients have to be listed on the label, so you know what you’re getting. And unlike the good old days, you can’t spike some herb tea with opium and sell it as a cure-all. We’ve been there, done that, don’t want a re-run.

REMEMBER STEVE MC QUEEN: Brilliant and handsome actor, died tragically of cancer. He tried an alternative medicine called Laetrile. Remember that? Naturally derived from apricot pits, miracle cure for cancer. The only problem was that every reputable drug trial showed it to be ineffective and poisonous in large doses. Laetrile never passed the first step for any new drug in development– a Phase 1 clinical trial that tests for safety, never mind the Phase 2 for effectiveness…

As Laetrile became newsworthy, several cancer victims treated with it drew widespread media scrutiny. One was Chad Green, who developed acute lymphocytic leukemia at age 2. Although he was rapidly brought into remission with chemotherapy, his parents started him on “metabolic therapy” administered by a Manner Metabolic Physician. When Chad developed signs of cyanide toxicity, Massachusetts authorities had him declared a ward of the court for treatment purposes only. His parents then brought suit to reinstitute “metabolic therapy.” When the court ruled against them, they fled with Chad to Mexico, where he was treated by Dr. Contreras. Several months later Chad died in a manner suggestive of cyanide poisoning. Dr. Contreras stated that the boy had died of leukemia, but was a good example of the effectiveness of Laetrile because he had died a pleasant death! Chad’s parents stated that he had become very depressed because he missed his grandparents, his friends and his dog.

Follow this link for an epic story of unfounded claims, conspiracy theories and shady practices around Laetrile.

I have the greatest sympathy for parents of a sick child, and for people facing a serious illness. They are in desperate circumstances and should be protected, not thrown into the mix of legit medicine and quacks with no advocate or defender. Medicine fails, people die, humans are not gods. All we can do is make the best choices we can with the knowledge we have. When people seek alternative remedies they deserve transparency and accountability from the providers, and protection from false claims and tainted ingredients, protection from exploitation and the consequences of delaying conventional treatments that offer a known chance of cure.  It’s possible to be pro- alternative medicine and anti-quack. I am.

I actually think some of Rep.Paul’s critiques of our over-technical, expensive, pill-pushing medical system are valid and deserve discussion. But using the flaws of the present system to justify triaging the poor and working class out of care so that the rich can enjoy top-shelf services is truly ugly, and there’s nothing Rep.Paul is saying that offers a real answer to the millions of Americans who do not have secure access to care.

MORE: Susan at Daily Kos cites examples of adults and children who died for lack of timely care, including her own brother. This is not the America we want to be.

Dispatches from the Bunker

Something very silly but made me laugh this morning. From Bill in Portland, Maine via Daily Kos…

“Morning, Al.”
“Morning, Mr. Perkins, sir!”
“So the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy has been off the books for a full day. What are you hearing from your operatives in the field? Is it as bad as we knew it would be?”
“Um…no, sir. All sectors are quiet, sir.”
“What? That’s impossible! Gimme that radio! Sector Bravo! Sector Bravo! This is Jesus’ Bosom! Come in Sector Bravo, this is Jesus’ Bosom!”

“Sector Bravo here. Hi, Tony! You’re not gonna believe this—it’s quiet as a church here.”
“What do you mean quiet? Do the personnel on-base know homosexuals are now serving openly?”
“Yes sir. Doesn’t seem to faze anyone. Everyone’s takin’ it in stride.”

More from the frontlines of the Apocalypse here.

Re-name Old Crisis to get a Nifty New One

Wow! ‘Alarm Fatigue’. A new buzzword!

Did we need another buzzword, or would some boring old word describe this situation better…

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) – UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester is stepping up efforts to prevent nurses from tuning out monitor warning alarms following the death of a patient whose alarms signaling a fast heart rate and potential breathing problems went unanswered for nearly an hour.

The patient who died was a sixty year old man. He should not have gone ten minutes without a nurse responding to his serious symptoms.

Why did an epidemic of ‘alarm fatigue’ break out in that hospital? Why so many alarms? To allow a stretched staff to monitor the maximum number of patients possible on an average shift, without reserve capacity for a bad shift where all the alarms are going off at once– that’s my guess.

When corporations brag about getting ‘lean and mean’, you better worry that things can get thin and nasty.

Alarms are dumb. They do not have the power of reason or any of the perception of a trained human being who comes to the bedside. They have their place, but are not a substitute for adequate staffing.

‘Understaffing’ is a boring old word we are tired of hearing, since nurses keep going on about it for decades of labor disputes and public lobbying. It’s hard to get a catchy headline going about understaffing. We’ve heard it all before.

But look at the obvious. When there’s constant screaming alarms and the staff is fatigued they need more staff.

5,000 Nurses in Ten Years

That’s the estimate of what Rhode Island will need for the health care work force. A new charter school is focused on vocational training…

PROVIDENCE –

They are the nurses of the future in a classroom setting that’s unique.

The Rhode Island Nurses Institute Middle College, a new charter school in Providence, opened Monday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“A brand new model that creates a bridge from high school to college, and that’s a very exceptional thing,” said superintendent Robert Pilkington.

The school incorporates grades 10, 11, 12 and something called 12-plus.

“And during that fifth year of high school, the students are dually enrolled. They stay in the high school environment for safety and supportiveness, but they’re challenged with the college curriculum so that when they graduate from our 12-plus year, they’ll be college sophomores,” Pilkington said.

So many students sit in classrooms with no clear idea of how education translates into vocation. These students know that jobs are waiting for them, I wish we could say that to all our youth– give them a sense that they are wanted and needed.

There will inevitably be students who complete this program, and realize that nursing is not for them. What will they have to show for their five years? A solid grounding in math and biological sciences, a habit of thinking of how education can translate into skills that benefit society. They’ll have a head start on college.

I hope Nurses Institute makes time for some liberal arts. You don’t get through a nursing career without something to feed your soul.

Divorce, Alzheimer’s and Pat Robertson

So why is anything Pat Robertson says worth listening to? He has been spouting hateful nonsense for years– reliably blaming the latest natural disaster on the gays, the feminists, the pagans. He makes wack predictions about who is on God’s hit list, and the Lord continually fails to come through with tsunamis on the West Coast or nukes in Jerusalem. He has a worse track record than the Reverend Tillman Gandy Jr., who accurately predicted that we would all eventually die.

But unlike Rev.Gandy, who dressed to the nines as he exhorted on Westminster Mall in all seasons, Pat Robertson is a rich man and a political player. I regularly see his evil leprechaun face on the tube as I visit the elderly. His 700 Club mimics network news so closely that it is often indistinguishable from Fox– which is a paragon of journalistic excellence in comparison.

Robertson’s international meddling would be called out for what it is– pulling an end run around US diplomacy and playing with fire– except for one thing. He delivers the votes. He has a following.

Life is hard, unfair and complicated. You can deal with it in one of two ways. You can accept that we are all in the same boat and invested in bailing– or look for someone to blame until the Heavenly Coast Guard appears to rescue the worthy and drop a nuke on the floating sinners Left Behind. From my vantage point, as a provider of services to the disabled and elderly, Robertson’s simple narrative looks like a seductive con.

My clients and patients are those who are dealing with the very issues Robertson raised when he said that divorce would be an option for a man whose wife had Alzheimer’s disease. And my clients have shown me why Robertson is wrong on two counts. 1. Dementia is not death. 2. Divorce is not the answer.

I once worked in a nursing home where I cared for a woman who was unable to pick up a spoon to feed herself. I noticed her clear complexion and unlined face, the look of top-shelf plastic surgery. Someone told me she had been a Rockette. If not for dementia she would have been beautiful.

Every day her husband came in to feed her lunch. One day I heard him ask, “Do you know who I am?”
She struggled to remember.
“The handsome guy.”, she said.

Alzheimer’s is nothing to snark about– there’s no easy answers and we boomers are in the middle of this horrible epidemic. Some of us are seeing our parents fade away, others are suffering themselves, or watching their life partners lose their independence and abilities. William Saletan, at Slate.Com has a compassionate take on what Robertson really said, and meant, in his advice to the man whose wife was far advanced in dementia. I see Saletan’s point, but I don’t agree with Robertson’s advice.

Robertson, quoted by Saletan, says this–

I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again. But to make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her—

There’s the catch. Unless you are on a level with Robertson and his high-rollers you do not reach retirement age with the resources to support long-term care for a disabled spouse while starting a new marriage. You and your spouse are tied legally and financially, this illness is a financial disaster. Good traditional wives who stayed at home with their families depend on their husband’s Social Security and Medicare, or Medicaide if they are low-income. Divorce is not just cutting loose from a conjugal relationship, it’s cutting off financial support.

Another catch is that Alzheimers is a cruel and unpredictable disease. While it may be true, as Robertson says, that the affected spouse has suffered a kind of death, they are very much alive. They can suffer. They can have moments of happiness. They can unexpectedly clear and be whole for a time. They are still human.

I have seen many spouses, partners, relatives and friends faithfully visit their loved ones in nursing homes and I want to say this–it really matters. Sick is not dead. Even if it seems the visit is forgotten in minutes it was the bright spot in a day of confusion and lostness. Love is never wasted.

If everyone who had a spouse with dementia took Pat Robertson’s advice, it would be a lonelier world for people adrift in illness. It would also be a financial mess for our health care system. Who would pick up the slack if healthy people decided to separate their affairs from their disabled spouses? The government, of course. The couple are probably already on Medicare, but this would add to the burden on state Medicaide, and raise questions as to who would be the power of attorney for health decisions. The kids, if there are kids, will not take this well. They are trying to get their own children through young adulthood and are not looking to take responsibility for their sick Mom so that Dad can marry his girlfriend.

I have a reality-based alternative to Robertson’s advice to seek a divorce and re-marriage.

Stay married. You vowed to stay faithful through sickness and in health. There’s reasons for this and it’s not about romance. It’s about survival. As our gay friends have been trying to explain for the last few years, marriage is a legal contract that gives recognition and protection to the couple who take those vows. In the course of life, the best we can hope for is to survive our parents. Marriage is our way of making a family for the rest of our lives. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health. We need that commitment.

Secondly, a pagan word of advice. Commit adultery.

I have seen husbands and wives visit their spouse daily, sometimes several times a day, when the loved one was unable to converse, or to do anything except appreciate that they were in the presence of someone who cared about them. There was no hope of recovery, this was devotion in the long haul. The able partner faithfully gave what was needed.

I don’t think a person in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s needs their spouse to sit alone at night. They need them to visit during the day. That’s no small thing.

Robertson’s idea that it satisfies morality to cut loose from a disabled spouse so you can marry someone else doesn’t match up with reality. A disabled person in the medical system needs an advocate and defender. They need someone who has the authority to speak up for their interests. Again, this is one of the reasons gay people want the right to full legal marriage. Children, friends and social workers might care, but no one else has the power that a marriage partner has. Keeping faith may not be about sex anymore, but that connection is a lifeline, sometimes literally.

I don’t think that ‘handsome guy’, who was not young himself, was spending his evenings cruising for chicks. I hope he had old friends, family and companions to help him through the loss of his wife. It’s cruel when the loss is by inches. He probably needed some care, himself.

The forecast is that a silver tsunami is approaching, and these troubles will get worse. Retirement expectations have diminished with this bad economy, maintaining one household is going to be a challenge, never mind two. It’s a good idea to withhold judgement on how couples manage their changing relationships, and focus on the essentials. How they keep faith is an individual thing. But that they must keep faith is clear. There’s no one else to pick up the slack.

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