And in case you need more of her… (You do.)
Here is our story:
The bride-to-be, Sheryl, demurely pulled me aside, and asked if she could borrow my husband, Gary, for a dance at her wedding reception the next day. I was taken aback by the gentleness of her request. Normally she was not the type of person to ask permission to do anything she cared to do. This aspect of her personality served her well while she was battling two life-threatening bouts of leukemia several years earlier.
She carefully explained to me her special plan for her dance with my husband, but before long he came bounding up on us, and we quickly changed the subject into wedding chitchat. Sheryl intended for her plans to be a surprise to Gary, and now we were co-conspirators. We had traveled far to Detroit for the weekend of her wedding, and Sheryl’s request for the dance with my husband jolted me back into understanding the impact of Gary on her life, and in getting her to her wedding day. I realized that I would be witness to a lifecycle event of miraculous proportions, made possible by a generosity of spirit on the part of Gary that defies description.
In 1995, Gary received a call from the National Marrow Donor Program that he was a preliminary match for a potential bone marrow transplant that was needed to save the life of an unrelated stranger in another part of the country. Signing up years earlier in a drive for a sick child, before that call he had forgotten that he was on the national registry of bone marrow donors. Once he learned it was a matter of life and death, there was no question in his mind that he would give his marrow. He found out that he had to go through general anesthesia and surgery to remove his marrow, but not only was willing to do that, he wrote a note with his prayers for the health of his unknown patient to be given to his recipient along with his bone marrow.
Most of the thousands and thousands of people on the national registry never match an unrelated patient needing marrow. It takes a miracle of matching six out of six blood antigens, something akin to winning a lottery by matching six out of six numbers.
Gary did not know who needed his bone marrow at the time, because the identity of the patient and location is kept confidential for a one-year period. After the one-year period, if the recipient survives, he or she could opt to contact the donor, only if that was mutually acceptable. For Gary, the pain and inconvenience involved in having the surgery meant nothing in comparison to his fervent hope that his marrow could save the life of a person sick with leukemia. He included the patient in his prayers and whenever he was asked about donating marrow, he always turned around his giving of the gift of life by saying it was a gift to him to have the opportunity to save someone’s life.
After the one-year waiting period, Gary received notice that his patient had survived thanks to his bone marrow, and she wanted to contact him. He readily agreed. That was the beginning of the long distance friendship of my husband Gary, and his bone marrow recipient Sheryl, a young woman who lived in the Detroit area.
Following the transplant, Sheryl continued to struggle with various complications of her illness and her long road to recovery, and due to her focus on survival, apparently she felt she could not properly express her gratitude. Perhaps she thought the giving of such a precious gift perhaps warranted a thank you on a grand scale. She would have to find her own time and way to express how she felt.
Just three years later, in 1998, Gary was called that leukemia cells had invaded Sheryl’s bloodstream again, and this time they needed a donation of his white blood cells to tackle her bad cells. Again, without hesitation, Gary donated his white blood cells to Sheryl in a half-day intravenous procedure.
Sheryl fought this latest battle as all her battles with leukemia like a tiger and emerged victorious. Now, as she was fully recovered and preparing her wedding, she wanted, surrounded by all the people in the world she loved and cared about, and who cared about her in return, to properly thank and honor her generous life saver. As yet another wedding detail that needed intensive planning, she went about finding the perfect tribute for Gary. She found a special poem on angels and had a special frame engraved with Gary’s name to hold the poem. An angel figurine was purchased to accompany the poem.
A perfect and peaceful late summer wedding day arrived, and following the ceremony, the reception and celebrating began. Just after the meal was finished, the lights flickered for a special presentation. The disc jockey, playing the role of master of ceremonies, called up both sides of the bride and groom’s immediate family. Sheryl took the microphone in front of them. “I hope I can get through this next part,” Sheryl said to the rapt audience, her voice starting to tremble. “I’d like to call up one other member of my family, an honorary member, and someone very special who came with his wife from Houston to be here for my wedding. If it wasn’t for this special person, I wouldn’t be getting married today and in fact I wouldn’t be here at all. Gary please join me up here.”
Surprised, Gary walked to the stage. Sheryl briefly explained Gary’s role in her life to those assembled, and then read him a poem on angels, and told him that he was her angel who she loved. In front of the crowd of celebrants, they embraced. It was a powerful thank you and the audience, myself included, were humbled for the moment, pondering the difference one person can make in another person’s life.
Then music swelled with Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath my Wings, which begins with the words, “Did you ever know that you’re my hero?” As they waltzed around, locked in an embrace, looking at each other lovingly, they seemed to be sharing a bond that few of the rest of us could ever know or understand. Related by shared bone marrow and white blood cells, they danced the wedding’s first special dance together.
Last weekend, West Hollywood officially became the first city in the country to ban the sale of wearable fur in retail stores. City council members passed the law by unanimous vote 2 years ago, and it finally went into effect on Sept. 21, 2013, ABC reports.
The ban will apply to all articles of clothing — anything made to be worn — but not to furniture items, blankets, or leather products.
West Hollywood is a city known for its animal-friendliness, with ordinances banning the sale of cats and dogs, cat declawing, and more recently, wild animal performances, according to the LA Times.
However, this latest law butts heads with another one of the city’s great loves — high fashion. In spite of some retailers’ vehement objections though, officials are remaining firm.
“This city is not in the business of curtailing business,” John D’Amico, West Hollywood’s mayor pro tempore, told Al Jazeera. “We’re in the business of creating an exciting place. Someone who is connected with the ideas that keep this city together will have a business that thrives. Someone who is disconnected with the goals of the city and has a rigid point of view (on fur) may have trouble.”
According to the Humane Society of the United States, the fashion industry’s fur trade results in more than 50 million animal deaths per year, a figure that the city has put before its coveted title as West Coast fashion capital.
“We’ve consistently worked to enact cutting-edge animal welfare legislation,” city spokeswoman Tamara White told ABC. “This is in line with our values.”
Readers of this column know that I was once diagnosed with schizophrenia and that I was hospitalized twice in psychiatric wards in the late 1990s.
Like the vast majority of people with severe mental illness, I have never been violent in my life. I do not own a gun, and I do not want one. The reason is not because I am a threat to anyone else. It is because I could be a threat to myself, and studies show that suicides and accidental deaths, as well as homicides, increase when someone has a gun in the household.
On Wednesday, Sept. 25, I gave a talk at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital in Glendale, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles, on the occasion of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the overall rate of suicide in this country in 2010, the most recent year for which statistics were available, was 12.1 per 100,000 people. As it turns out, 45-to-64 year olds (my age group) were the sector most likely to commit suicide, doing so at a rate of 18.6 per 100,000. Those 85 and older were the next most likely to take their lives, at a rate of 17.6 per 100,000.
USC VHH is in some respects unique in that its psych ward, known as the Stepping Stones Program, treats only “geriatric” patients, which, believe it or not, means people as young as 50 years old.
The hospital, which was recently taken over by USC, also represents a case study in the growing trend among community hospitals to seek partners and merge with larger research facilities. Mergers such as this should help smaller hospitals compete more effectively in the new era presaged by the Affordable Care Act, notwithstanding the efforts by some members of the GOP to defund Obamacare, efforts that are doomed to fail.
Before I gave my talk at USC VHH on Sept. 25, I met with Purnima Panchal, Stepping Stones’ Community Education Manager. Panchal, who has an MBA as well as a Masters in Psychology and who hails from India, introduced me to 25 health care administrators, case managers and clinicians in a conference room near the lobby of the hospital.
When I spoke, I focused on my psychotic break in 1999, the more psychotic of my two episodes.
I described a harrowing, six-hour trek I took across the streets of Los Angeles, in which I feared that I might be assassinated and blamed for a series of murders sweeping the country. Fortunately, I got back on my meds at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute. That helped to stabilize me after a 72-hour hold. More importantly, from the perspective of my long-term health, I had a job as a proofreader in the newspaper business, a field I love; a compassionate and wise boss; and an angelic girlfriend, Barbara, who is now my wife.
As I have noted before, Freud was right when he said that work and love are keys to a fulfilling life.
After the discussion, one attendee asked me what signs of depression I had shown as a child. I mentioned that I had been traumatized by a few birthday parties when I was very young and that for years I was extremely reluctant to socialize with anyone my age.
Another attendee, an African-American woman, told me that there have been two suicides in her family. The stigma is so deep in her family and community that her mother still claims that her sister was killed, when in fact she killed herself.
If the stigma of mental illness and suicide remains acute for African-Americans, it is even worse for men, irrespective of their race.
Given that my talk was on “Men, Mental Illness and Suicide,” it struck me as a sad yet predictable irony that only one man attended the event. More so than women, men need to gain awareness of these issues, shed their self-defeating macho attitudes, and learn that it does not make them weak if they suffer from depression, psychosis or suicidal thoughts.
That so many men refuse to discuss these problems helps to explain why men are four times more likely than women to commit suicide. As I pointed out in my last piece, men also tend to use more inherently violent methods, such as a gun, for the fatal act.
Angry people and those with severe mental illness have been with us since the beginning of time and will always exist on this planet. We will never be able to legislate away anger or mental illness.
What we can do, though, is make it much more difficult for anyone, angry or not, mentally ill or otherwise, to obtain guns in this country.
And if a person has a history of serious mental illness, that person should be barred from owning a firearm. Once again, the primary reason for this is the threat of suicide, not homicide. The vast majority of those with severe mental illness are never a threat to anyone but themselves.
1. Our culture promotes stress. With modern technology we never leave the office. Nobody takes much vacation and everyone works 24/7. With our American work ethic even the word relaxation seems un-American! If you’re not “crazy busy” there must be something wrong with you.
2. There’s a mindset against managing stress. Managing stress and taking care of our health always comes dead last. And as a result, our perception is that there is never enough time in the day to take care of our own health needs.
3. We cope with our stress counterproductively. We drink, we smoke, we eat and we spend money on things we can’t afford, all in an effort to let off a little steam at the end of the day. Trouble with these methods of managing stress is they lead to even more stress and more problems.
4. Doctors receive no training in stress-related illness and even if they did, they wouldn’t have the time to dispense any advice. According to the American Institute of Stress, 75 to 90 percent of all doctor visits are for stress related concerns and yet when was the last time you ever heard a doctor even mention the word stress? Doctors don’t want to touch this subject with a ten foot pole. They’d rather send you home with a pill. It’s quicker and easier for all parties. And what about side effects? Just pretend they don’t even exist.
5. The stress management message is way too complicated. Dr. Hans Selye, the Canadian scientist who popularized the word stress defined it as the body’s nonspecific response to demands placed on it. What does that mean? Ever tried to explain the difference between good stress and bad stress? It’s confusing. You can’t even recommend one form of stress management (like meditation) for all people, since according to the experts, no one method is right for everybody.
6. The science of stress needs updating. The fight or flight response (used interchangeably with: the stress response) is over 100 years old. Few people know that we’ve added the word freeze to the lexicon of stress (e.g., the fight, flight or freeze response, which is particularly apropos to any discussion of PTSD) and even fewer people know about the female response to stress dubbed: “tend and befriend.” Still more troubling to me, is that there’s a level of stress (I call it social stress) that doesn’t activate a full-blown fight-or-flight response, and because it doesn’t, exists below the radar screen almost like a kind of phantom stress.
7. Stress management follows the mainstream medical model. People use stress-management techniques reactively, just like taking a pill. Even though stress management gets grouped in with wellness and prevention, people tend to use it like a Band-Aid — as a way of getting through a particularly stressful day.
8. We don’t acknowledge stress sensitivity. Some people are more sensitive to stress than others. This is an important topic that gets completely overlooked. People react to stress differently, and some people are highly sensitive to it, almost like a person who has PTSD. In other words, the sensitivity is built in and can’t really be addressed with standard stress-management training techniques.
9. Corporations are in denial about stress. Job stress is the #1 source of stress in the U.S. and yet corporations for the most part behave as if it’s entirely up to the employee to figure out how to manage it. As if they, the corporations, had nothing to do with causing the stress that occurs in the workplace and undermining work-life balance.
10. We’re looking for stress in the wrong places. We need to look deeper at underlying causes. Once you start looking below the surface at issues like job redesign, disorganization, financial concerns, time pressure and relationship problems that’s when you start getting at the root of most stress-related problems.
Hopefully this list of ten problems will get you thinking about stress and stress management. In my next blog I’ll write about the possible solutions to each of these ten problems and how we’ll tackle these problems in the future.
For more by James E. Porter, click here.
For more on stress, click here.
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