Thursday, February 28, 2013

About the Author - I had a catastrophic stroke 16 years ago. I couldn't talk. For seven years, I pieced-out words.

That's an old picture.

I'm Michaline Yezek Yankowski Schlueter-Schlueter (it's a long story) Roller, thrice divorced and my son is Jeffrey Yankowski. No alimony, thank you very much.  All three guys are the "black sheep", for what it's worth; all three guys were strong and exceedingly powerful mothers. Chercher la mere, it seems.  Frank Yankowski and Dur Roller died of a heart attack, respectively at 57 and 69. Ozzie Schlueter is at large in Beaver Falls, Pa. 

I dropped out at 19 from Maryland Medical Secretary School at Hagerstown. Md. in 1965. I dropped a lot of things, actually, for California State Teacher's College from Pennsylvania, a stint at University of Pittsburgh of Greensburg, Chrysler Institute from  Mount Pleasant, Michigan, Tarrant Junior College at Volkswagen-Fort Worth, Westmoreland County Community College ---a host of colleges. I never finished.

I worked as a medical secretary for two physicians, respectively, one and the other.  I was fired; too long lunch-breaks and never showing up. Doctors hate that. I was a transcriber for medical records in Frick Hospital and Latrobe Hospital in Pennsylvania.  February 1976, Volkswagen Manufacturing came, in New Stanton, Pa. I worked as secretary in personnel, moved up to personnel services-salaried, benefits analyst, and benefits coordinator.

VW-Ft. Worth, Texas, is a teeny hamlet of the plant.  I worked a secretary of personnel and it  was a colorless job. I graduated to Quality Control as a clerk, but it didn't work out.

I worked Chrysler Motors in Sterling Heights, Michigan, as a secretary, and a production foreman, body-in-white.  I built cars, the Sundance and Shadow; little silver cars in the body shop. I was exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.  I loved the body shop. The plant is a swiss watch, something is always going on, somewhere.

I foundered over job after job, always looking around the next corner.  I had a short attention span.  Scotch and vodka is my libation, the good kind---Chivas and Absolute.  The alcoholism numbed me. And Afib, heart-stopping, hammering-in-my-chest, no rhyme or reason for 20 years. Yes, I had myriad physicians.

My stint of jobs were all over the map; Production Control - Queen of E&O (excess and obsolete), Communications - a half-bad pretty-good speechwriter, (pithy was a good thing), Dealer Liaison for the Plant - Eight people traveled nationwide, concerned about the dealer and the plant. It was a Public Relations job. Chrysler cut back with budget cuts and disbanded the dealer liaison. I was Safety and Security, a trio of people dealing with, well, safety and security. It was a silly job and with nothing to do.

I took a buy-out for Chrysler and never looked back.

I shoveled excrement for a living, specifically, horse manure. Dur owns standard bred racing horses. Florida is muggy, sweltering and white-hot, even in the winter time.  However, I love the ocean. 

Oh, I almost forgot.  I worked as cub reporter, notwithstanding 40 years old.  I was terrible, although what, who, where, how and when came easily. I had good editor.  The Village Voice was the newspaper, a throw-a-way, in Richmond, MI. and The Advisor and Source was a throw-a-way in Shelby Township, MI.  I was a personal column and editorial writer for the Source.

Fast forward in 1997, I worked as a reporter for The Daily Courier, in Pennsylvania.  I won an Associated Press (Penna.) for editorial writing in 1999, six-months before the stroke. On Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1999 in Allegheny General Hospital I lay in Afib tachycardia as fast as 220 beats per minute and a stroke to boot. Twenty-twenty insight; I believe it's mercury fillings.

In 1995, I summarized depositions for lawyers from Interim Services in Fort Lauderdale and worked as a transcriptionist for a doctor and hospital for radiology. I worked at home for the doctor and hospital. I continued to Pennsylvania, worked as a depo writer and transcriptionist, completely free-lance.

I love the spoken word; the nuances, the inflection, and the connotations.  It's ironic, God's little joke. I couldn't talk, in 1999.  For seven years, I peaced out words. One word answers; food, haircut, water, Doritos, bed, thanks, please, etc. My mind was totally black, a blank slate.

The dentist extracted the in '05, fifty years of mercury fillings is a god-awful thing. And the Afib is completely gone, nyet, vamoose, nada. Twenty years of Afib. Yikes. Slowly but surely, I'm better.  Mercury fillings is beyond belief. I know.

I can talk again. I can converse again. I have a website. Who knew? Probably, it's fate. 

Spooky, huh?

I'm not a physician, or a dentist, or a science guy.  A stroke survivor? Yes. I know what I know.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Very Scaly Baby - Eczema. Jeff had golf-ball eyes crusted with ooze, profound itching and scaly skin with strips of baby feet peeled away with dermis.

Jordan, Brandy, Jeff

I had a stroke in 1999 and I believe it's mercury fillings.

By now, Frank and I were married, and Jeffrey is in the womb. It was 1969, and I was exceedingly pregnant, with Neil Armstrong orbiting on the moon in July 20 and a gallon of gas was $.35 cents.

I was ten days late, cranky and the feet is a distant  memory protruding over my immense belly.  Jeffrey was 8 lb. 1 oz., he howled all the time, and the nurses said he never closed his eyes. He was an alert baby, born August 12. 

I had a strange taste in my mouth, probably the anesthetic.  No big deal.  That's not good for baby, I reasoned. Bad breath is not good.  I gargled and rinsed and brushed my teeth. But the odor was there; kind of a metallic funky taste.

Mercury was there, lurking. I didn't know it at the time. I was 21 years old and I never heard of mercury. The mercury passes to the fetus and the placenta; hence eczema.  It's toxic, every organ, for example, the brain, kidneys, heart and skin, it stays there. My mouth is a vessel, teeming with mercury and approximately, 60% amalgam fillings.  That's a lot of mercury.

At two weeks, Jeff was a skinny baby. He was a bottle baby and regurgitated half as much milk.  The mouth, eyes and ears were crusted and he cried all the time. I called Dr. Pascal Spino, Greensburg, Pa.  Waiting is a chore, sometimes hours on end in the waiting room. The children were colicky, croupy, cranky and mom's were exhausted.  Dr. Spino is the best pediatrician in southwestern Pennsylvania. He worked tirelessly.
"The baby has eczema," Dr. Spino said, "see the elbow's and knees?," indicating.
Sure enough, the eczema is everywhere.

"But I don't understand. My husband and I never had eczema," I said.

Frank was illegitimate, so he never had a dad. The family history was sketchy, but the oozing, scaling  and weeping of eczema was nil.
Jeffrey had a milk allergy, Dr. Spino said.  Jeff's eyes, ears and mouth were crusted, and the knees and elbows are inflamed.  I mixed some Prosobee, is a soy-base product, and waited.  Nothing.  I called Dr. Spino yet again.
"It's been two weeks. The eczema is worse," I explained to the nurse.

Dr. Spino called Dr. Martin Murcek, an allergist in Greensburg, Pa., and he explained the situation; namely, a very scaly baby.
Jeff had golf-ball eyes crusted with ooze, profound itching and scaly skin with strips of baby feet peeled away with dermis. Not pretty.  He was two.  The itching was so bad, he wore mittens I gave him to ease the pain.  Kenalog cream helped, but it was a corticosteroid. He had a gamete of allergies, from trees, grasses, dust mites and milk.
Jeff is 46 now.  He graduated from Penn State University at State College and he is in Operations Management.  He works for McDonald's Corporation for 20 years and every spring and fall the dreaded eczema appears.  Every so often the obsessive-compulsive disorder rears it's grave head. The actions repetitive, ritualistic and compulsive.

Jordan and Jeff

My granddaughter Jordan is a reed thin sweetie, with angular features and long lines.  She's 14. She eats like a truck driver, craves sugar and she loves fruit.  She inherited eczema;  wisps of eczema from elbows and knees, ever so faint, in the springtime.

Jeff's married to Brandy, August 4, 2011.  Brandy's daughter, Tia, is 9 years old, and she's is a nurse for the Veteran's Clinic in Uniontown, Pa.

Frank (recently deceased) and I never had eczema. The family history indicates no eczema. Genetic? I don't know.

A Side Note: On October 3, 2014, Jeff went to the doctors in Morgantown, W.Va. for an allergy shot. It's routine. Jeffrey blew up like balloon. Anaphylactic shock. The nurses were amazing; three EpiPens, Jeff's blood pressure was nonexistent and, finally, was stable. The doctor said "No shots."

It's all connected.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Moosehead Gingerbread

I had a stroke in 1999 and I worked at Chrysler Motors in Michigan in 1985. I built cars for a living and I was a supervisor in the body shop. Sparks flew, no less. The little silver cars I assembled were the Sundance and Shadow.

At 5 AM, full of coffee and manic from the caffeine, I deposited $.50 cents for The Daily News for Detroit. I fired up the car and flung the newspaper. Romeo, MI to Sterling Heights Assembly Plant is a 1/2 hour trek, and the supervisors walk the plant for innocuous reasons for a half-an-hour, major breakdowns, the almighty gloves and no-shows from assembly workers. It's an unspoken rule from general supervisors. I'm ready to work at 6 AM.

At 5:55 AM, I hurried the newspaper; the horoscope is paramount (I'm a Leo) and the I love food section, specifically, Robin Mather. Two-minutes till six. Female supervisors wore neckties, an insane practice, and knotted the tie. One-minute. I loved the plant. I was exhilarated and exhausted at the same time. I spied Moosehead Gingerbread from the food section. It's 6 o'clock.

Baking is fun on the week-end, and the rigid time schedule for the plant leaves me tuckered. Just breathe. Moosehead gingerbread (as known as Robin Mather, from The Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham, Knopf, 1984) with molasses, cinnamon and dark brown sugar; the warm feeling of fall, or anytime.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 tablespoons Smart Balance Light Buttery Spread
1/2 dark brown sugar
1/2 cup of Egg Beaters (2 eggs) 
1 cup molasses 
1 cup boiling water

I substituted butter for Smart Balance and Egg Beaters (1/2 cup).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Land 'o Lakes 50% butter, every nook and cranny, and flour an 8-inch square pan.

Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, mustard and ground black pepper, and sift on waxed paper. Set aside.

Put the Smart Balance Light Buttery Spread and dark brown sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until smooth. Add Egg Beaters and beat well, then beat in the molasses.

Add the boiling water and the combined dry ingredients and beat until the batter is smooth.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 45 minutes (use your microwave timer), or until a toothpick (or a knife) inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then onto a rack (or, a clean tea towel).

Serve toasty-warm with applesauce, soy vanilla ice cream and decadent whipped cream.


Yummy Paczki-Lite


Fifty years ago, I was a tot, poking around Mom's kitchen. With yeast, sugar and lukewarm milk, the rising dough covered the bowl. It's warm, tasty and delicious and I couldn't wait. Scrawled on the back of the invoice pad (Dad was a plumber), Mom had a paczki recipe.

It was Fat Tuesday, just before Lent and no sweets of any kind, not even Juicy Fruit gum. The sweet dough packed full of fruit filling, powdered sugar glaze and fried lard lipids; I was a happy little kid. Fast-forward fifty years? I learned.

The old-time paczki is a heart-stopping, artery-clogging and begging-for-an-angioplasty. Who knew? Before you count your lipids, consider this.  Paczki-light.

3 packets (x1/4 oz. ) active dry yeast granules
1 cup fat-free milk, lukewarm
1 cup flour
Let it rest for 1/2 hour

1 1/4 cup Egg Beaters
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick margarine, melted
2 teaspoons of vanilla
1 teaspoon of salt
2 1/2 cups of flour
Let it rest for 1 hour

Jelly, (strawberry, apple, apricot)

Peanut or vegetable oil

Step 1:  I use three packets x 1/4 oz. active dry yeast granules,1 cup fat-free milk (Calories: 80), lukewarm.  Mix well and the yeast is frothy.  Use 1 cup of flour.  Mix well. Let it rest for 1/2 an hour.

Step 2:  Punch out the yeast mixture.

Step 3:  Add 1 1/4 cup Egg Beaters. (Note:  Shell eggs, 210 mg. of cholesterol, 75 calories per egg.)  Egg Beaters:  0 mg. cholesterol, 35 calories.

Step 4:  Use a 1/2 cup of sugar.  (Sugar: 385 calories.)

Step 5:  2 teaspoon of vanilla.  1 teaspoon of salt.

Step 6:  1 stick of Blue Bonnet (Calories 720, cholesterol 0%) margarine (any oleomargarine), melted. (Note:  1 stick butter, salted, calories 810, cholesterol 243 mg.). 

Step 7:  2 1/2 cups flour.  Mix well.

Step 8:  Let it rise again, double the size, 45 minutes. 

Step 9:  Punch it down, yet again.

Step 10:  Transfer the mixture to a floured board, use a rolling pin 1/2 inch thick.  Use a biscuit cutter or water glass.  Sprinkle flour.

Step 11:  Place a dollop of jelly: strawberry, black raspberry or apple. Whatever. One spoonful is plenty.  Pinch edges over the filling and be sure it's sealed. Use tennis-ball paczki, please.

Step 12:  Let it rest for 20 minutes.

Step 13:  Use peanut oil or veggie oil, medium-high, (48 fl. oz., about 10 minutes), screaming hot.  It's a rolling boil when a piece of dough rises up and floats.  Use a big slotted spoon and be careful. Two or three minutes, (use your judgement), turn over. Use an absorbent paper towels.

Step 14:  Sprinkle a sugar or confection's sugar.

Step 15:  Yields 15-20 paczki.

Useless fact:  "Plant bud" or "pak";  it comes from a derivative of the Polish language, hence, paczki.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It's a mix of sadness, humor, my grieving son, my anxious Dad, black-suited mortician with no sense of humor and the ethereal event on the mirror.

Say Goodbye to Grandma

(Mom (Jo) and me.) 

As I turned away from the mirror, something caught my eye.  

I snapped back to see what it was. There, returning my gaze, was a familiar face.  It was more of an image, actually:  an expression, a tilt of the head, a flash of the eyes.  Not my face, but my mother's face, translucently superimposed, for lack of a better description, over my own.  Like a hologram.  No alarm, no sense of foreboding, no feeling that seeing two faces in the mirror was the slightest bit unusual.

The hour, I would remember later, was shortly after noon. I exited the ladies' room and returned to my desk.  It's 1991.

My telephone rang at about three o'clock, and at first I didn't recognize the voice on the other end, but then I realized it was Jeff.  My college senior son, whom I thought had headed back to Penn State for a week-end of beer, women and general rowdiness, called.  His voice sounded strange until it suddenly occurred to me that he was choking back tears.

His Grandma, my mother, he related through spastic sobs, had suffered either a heart attack or a stroke. He and Dad had been with her.  Death tried its best strike instantaneously, but following a call to 911 the paramedics appeared, dutifully wielding drug-filling syringes, shock paddles, and an artificial air supply.  They quickly transported her to the hospital, only a few minutes away.  Unfortunately, between the time Dad found her and the time help arrived, her brain had been without oxygen for nearly ten minutes.  But even so, in the emergency room, with my father and son pacing about the waiting room, resuscitative measures persisted on this seventy-four-year old woman, an insulin-dependent diabetic with a history of congestive heart failure and aortic aneurysm.

An ER doctor appeared.  Success.  They had a pulse.  Sort of.  She was on her way to Intensive Care.

So, on that sunny midsummer afternoon, my octogenarian father had found his wife sitting before the television in her favorite chair.  Her head was flung backward.  Her mouth and eyes popped wide open, no doubt in astonishment at her own sudden death.  He had witnessed the paramedics' furtive work, and followed her ambulance to to the hospital, where he paced and hoped.  And now,  his mate of fifty years was being rolled to Intensive Care.  She was unresponsive to pain stimulus, her pupils were fixed and non-reactive, and she had little or no blood pressure, but the doctors had done their job, and her heart was pumping, more or less, with the fragile, thready, non-rhythm of an electrically-induced pulse.  She was breathing with the aid of a ventilator, and clinically, they said, alive.  Another miracle of modern medicine.
My Dad, Charlie.

My family lived in the Pittsburgh area, six hours away by car.  I could drive, or I could spend two hours getting to Metro airport on a Friday night, sit on a runaway for an hour, fly for an hour, and have Jeff picked me up the airport for the hours drive to my small home town.  Simple math, coupled with my abject terror of airplanes, convinced me I should drive.  But first, I had to pack.
Mom always said she wanted to be cremated with no viewing.   She insisted she did not want to subject her family to the weeping, wailing. and general circus atmosphere of a three-day post-mortem ritual, but I've always suspected she simply cringed at the prospect of being mourned over by an odd assortment of people for 72 hours, in a situation where a stranger had taken posthumous control of her hair and make-up, possibly using frosted blue eye shadow.  I lean toward cremation for much the same reason.  That, and my paralyzing claustrophobia.

But I wasn't sure how my dad would feel about cremation.  We'd never discussed it as a family.  I hung some suits and dresses in the back of my car, just in case I was called upon to host a wake.

Before I left home, I contacted my mother's treating physician, not to be confused with the miracle-worker in the emergency room.  He confirmed my fears:  oxygen-deprived, unresponsive, not breathing on her own, likely to fail during the night.  He gentle but firm, offering sympathy without false hope.  I appreciated his candor.  He also suggested that should she have another "cardiac episode" the kindest thing to do would be to let her go.  I agreed.  Then I drove east.

My home town hadn't changed much in the years since I'd escaped:  the same old bank high on a hill, presiding over Main Street from its corner lookout, the same  monument standing sentry in the middle of town, wreaking havoc on out-of-town drivers who huddled around it defensively, never sure who had the right-of-way (nobody did), the same guys I'd slapped at the drive-in back in high school, perched on the same bar stools they claimed the year I left for college.  Now though, they had lower bellies and higher hair lines.  But as I turned down Washington Street at one A.M., the peeling paint of my parents' house was barely visible in the darkness.  My mother had always left the porch light burning for me, no matter how late I got it.  So I guess something had changed after all.

The Intensive Care nurses had been alerted that I would be arriving well after midnight, and that I should admitted.  Dad I rang the requisite buzzer well  and then proceeded down the dark, narrow hall to Mom's cubicle.  The monitoring equipment flashed like the cockpit of some futuristic space craft.  The withering bedridden body tethered by plastic tubing, swollen, purple tongue displaced by a hose forcing what were most probably unwanted breaths, was not the mother who drew the blinds and read to me during thunderstorms so that (and she) wouldn't be afraid.  That person was gone.

I spoke in hushed tones with the ICU nurse, about the massively distended abdomen (internal hemorrhage?), about the blood in the urine, about lines on the monitor becoming flatter with each heart beat.  Dad, in the meantime, was balanced on the edge of a chair, hair uncombed, hands folded between his knees, listening to our words and alternating worried glances between his wife and the numbers flashing on the digital gauges.

"So, how's her blood pressure?" he asked, looking up hopefully.

On the blood pressure monitor, where numbers should have been, there was a digital question mark.  He either did not see this, or did not wish to.  It was time to take him home.  I told the nurses I would be back shortly to spend the night.

Dad spoke very softly on the way to the elevator.  He shuffled across the cold tile in a pair of old terry cloth slippers.  He had forgotten to change into his shoes.  "She's gone, isn't she?"  he asked.

I put my arm across his rounded shoulders.  He is barely as tall as I am, which is practically elfin, but his hunched posture and his hung head diminished him even further.  "She wants to be,"  I said.  "And if she isn't by tomorrow," I continued, "I think we have to help her."

When Dad and I returned from the hospital, I settled him onto the couch with a cup of warm milk, which he fortified with a hefty splash of Jack Daniels.  I coaxed him to try and sleep a little.  There was nothing he could do.  Jeff was in the living room, waiting for us.

"So how's Grandma?"

"Not good," I replied.  "I'm going back up to spend the night.  Do you want to come?"

He did, and we returned to Intensive Care.  The blips on monitor were slightly flatter.  There was still a question mark where the blood pressure reading should have been.  Mum was gasping for ragged breaths, as if to say, "Okay, if you want me to try, I'll try."  With each failed attempt, a yellow warning light on the ventilator announced a mechanical breath instead of a natural one.  The yellow flashed were becoming more frequent and closer together.  The nurse offered us chairs.  We accepted.  Jeffrey was in tears and inconsolable.  His Grandma had been like a mother to him.  More like a mother, I had to admit, for most of life, than his own mother.

"You should have seen her,"  he said.  "I knew she was dead.  They knew she was dead.  Why didn't they just leave her alone?  Look at her!  She's hate this!"

I agreed that she would.  I also promised my grieving child that if she didn't leave us during the night, all this equipment would be disconnected as soon as we could reach her doctor.

"I just never though Grandma would die,"  he said, sniffling.  "She's always been there."

Everyone handles grief differently, I suppose, and Jeff's way was to blurt.  So he blurted.  Never raising his eyes from the floor, he related how, if it weren't for Grandma, he'd probably be in prison, or at the very least a drug rehab center.  He reminded me how I, when he was 14, left him in the custody of the father and moved to Texas with Husband #2, (recently divorced also).  He pointed out that while he was growing up I spent untold hours pursuing a pointless career which had ultimately resulted in my being laid off from an unrewarding automotive job in Detroit in the dead of winter.  But through it all, there was always Grandma.

I listened and said nothing.  The ventilator whooshed.  The monitors blipped.  He continued.

"You know how I'm always telling you how I want to run a corporation and buy a BMW?  You know how important money is to me, right?"

Unfortunately, I did.

"Well, " he continued, wiping away tears, "I'd give all that up if I could just bring her back.  You know, I never ever told her that I loved her."

"I never did either, Jeff."

"Well, you should have!  I should have!  And now it's too late."

The nurse tiptoed in and related that the patient's "complexes were changing."  That translated to flatter lines on the monitors.  Big surprise.

"Do you want us to push IV meds.?"  she asked.

I shook my head.

"If she goes into arrest, do you want us to try to convert her?"

"No,"  I said.  "Just let her go."

"Please,"  said Jeff.

"Do you want stay with her now?"  the nurse said.  "Some families do, but some would rather not be there when..."  She trailed off.

Nobody would say the word "death."  But nobody had to.  It was all around us and long overdue.

She slipped away when we least expected it.  The conversation had grown lighter, regressing to a discussion of football, a subject of which I know nothing, and wish to know even less.  Jeff was relating how an individual named Bubby Brister had bought him a beer in a local bar.

"Who's he?"

My son shook his head, amazed at my ignorance, and blew his nose.

"It's the Steelers' quarterback, Ma."

"No kidding?"  I retorted.  "Wow.  How long has Bradshaw been gone?"

He groaned.

A figure appeared behind us, hands folded and resting on the front of her white uniform in a very proper and professional manner, waited until we noticed her.

"She's gone." the figure said softly.

Sure enough, she was.  Flat lines were everywhere.  The yellow light flashed in vain.

I had been holding her hand as best I could throughout the night, in spite of the tape and tubing and the needles in her veins.  I stood beside her now and brushed the hair back from her forehead.  Even at 74, Mom had the softest, smoothest skin.  She had always attributed this to daily use of Noxema, which she foisted on me as a teenager.  I think Mom just had good genes.  I gently kissed her cheek, and moved away from the bed.

"Say goodbye to Grandma," I said to my son.

He did, through many tears, and a final peck on the forehead.  We left the hospital.

Jeff said, "I can't believe she's gone. She's really gone." Yes, rice with milk, (Jeff loved that.), soothing lullabies, (Born to Lose, by Ray Charles, weird lullabies) and Mom's favorite chair from morning till night; she slept in that chair, sitcom after sitcom.

"Everybody dies, Jeffrey." Absolutely everybody. News flash.

Let me give you some advice:  Never, under any circumstances, go see anybody lying on a slab in the preparation of a morgue.  Especially if it's someone you wish to remember in a context not associated with the House of Usher.  I speak from experience.

Dad not only agreed with cremation, he was adamant about granting her that last wish.  We were seated in the conference area of the local mortuary, attending to details and reciting information for the endless paper trail required before any departed person is permitted by the bureaucracy to be legally dead.  A somber young woman in a black suit and a Rolex wrote in fluid black lines with a fountain pen.

"A mass?"  No, just a simple memorial service.

"Embalming?"  No, just cremation.

"Flowers?"  No flowers.  Memorial contributions to the Humane Society.

"Excuse me?" said the black suit.

The Humane Society.  You know?  Animals.

My mother had lovingly fed every stray that wandered into town, and her bread-and-seed-strewn backyard was legendary among the local bird population.

"An urn?"  No.  She wanted her ashes scattered.

"Scattered?  Where, exactly?"

We weren't sure.  Somewhere in the mountains.  Actually, she had wanted them scattered from an airplane, a small aircraft.  Her brother, an aircraft mechanic, would be at the funeral.  I planned on asking him to enlist one of his pilot buddies to do this.

"I'm afraid you'll need special permission to do that," said the black suit, temporarily resting its pen.  "You see, it would constitute pollution."

I've always had a talent for laughing hysterically at inappropriate times.  I did not disappoint myself.  When I calmed down, I continued.

"Let me get this straight.  The federal government permits...even encourages...mammoth corporations to spew toxic waste into the water and air on a daily basis, annihilating entire ecosystems in the name of profit, and the remains of one tiny little white-haired lady constitutes pollution?  Give me a break."

The black suit responded with an icy, vacuous glare.  She glanced at her Rolex and finalized the paperwork with minimal comment.  The cremation would take place on the morning of the memorial service.  She would personally deliver the remains in a cardboard box, and that would be the end of her involvement.

There was still one more thing to do.

Since Dad was at home when Mom passed, he hadn't had the opportunity to say goodbye.  He wanted to go down to the prep room and do this now.  I wanted nothing less than to accompany him.  I also didn't want him to go down there alone and pass out.  Or worse.  I went.

As we approached her, I felt only calm, clinical detachment, observing how quickly the human body, lacking prompt infusion of man-made preservatives, begins to deteriorate when the soul leaves it.  She was covered with a sheet up to her chin.  Her head was supported from behind and held upright by some sort of U-shaped brace.  Her mouth had been sealed shut and her hair brushed back from her face.  She appeared to have shrunken considerably in the last several hours.  Her skin had the color and texture of cement beginning to dry:  mottled gray and dirty white.  I didn't want to touch her, but I had to.  The skin felt as it appeared.

Dad leaned over and kissed her, and then, for the first time, broke down and cried.  I took his arm and led him back up the stairs.  That was the only time I had ever seen my father kiss my mother.

The black suit walked us out to the front porch and said goodbye, but not before pointing out the benefits of my father's pre-planning his own cremation, making the arrangements now, and locking in the cost to hedge against inflation.  I wondered how much the price of matches could go up.

The arrangements were made on Saturday, and service wasn't to be held until Monday morning.  We spent Sunday accepting condolences from friends and relatives, looking through old photos and generally cleaning up the house, which had deteriorated badly in the past few years, partly because of Mom's failing health and partly, I think, because of apathy.  So I filled a bucket with hot, soapy water and Murphy's and went to work.  I remembered when I was a tot, our small apartment virtually shone.  I used to follow Mom around with a dust cloth every day to help her clean. and when she thought I wasn't looking, she would go back and re-do what I had done.

Over the years, I've tried to use that early negative experience to justify my being the worst housekeeper who ever hid pizza crumbs and enormous tufts of cat hair behind the couch until some far-off cleaning day.  But I think the truth lies a little closer to the surface.  I concur wholeheartedly with sentiment expressed by my second husband.  Quite possibly the most astute thing he ever said, was spoken as he flung a wet dishtowel into a basket containing my best silk blouses.  "This domestic crud really sucks," he declared.  That was, I think, the only thing we ever agreed on.

From Sunday morning, until Andy Rooney closed Sixty Minutes, I scrubbed and Windexed.  Dad did laundry.  Jeff carried garbage bags out to the fence.  Somehow, we got through the day.

The morning of the service dawned sunny and hot.  I arrived at the mortuary slightly ahead of everyone else, as I wanted to place a small vase of rosebuds; three red ones, one from each of us, and a photograph.  While ferreting through desk drawers on Sunday afternoon, we had found a picture of Mother taken when she was about 19 years old.  She was wearing spike heels and a slim skirt and sweater, dark. curly hair tumbling around her face, leaning against the porch of an old ramshackle house that was home to her family and the previous generation as well.  She looked gorgeous.  I knew at once that was how she would like to be remembered.  I also wished for a moment that I had been born with my mother's looks instead of my father's brainy mind.

Although open to the public, the service was sparsely attended.  Long-lost relatives drifted in.  Mom had very few friends.  She had been agoraphobic before anybody had a name for it, barely leaving the house except for medical reasons, for at least 15 years prior to the death.  She wore dark sunglasses and closed blinds.  Those at the funeral who were not family, were, for the most part, business acquaintances of my Dad, who had been the town plumber for 30 years.

Jeffrey had been dating the same girl for nearly five years.  Becky sprang from an enormous, excruciatingly Catholic family, which had produced eight offspring.  I finally had the opportunity to meet some of her siblings at the funeral, as well as her mother, who had been raising children while I had been raising hell. Becky introduced me to two brothers and two sisters, impeccably groomed, poised and polite.  I extended a welcoming hand to the mother, an ex-cheerleader and homecoming queen who had married her high school sweetheart and then began to reproduce with alarming frequency.  My son was clearly comfortable surrounded by the manner of family of which, he felt, he had been deprived. (Uncle Bill)

As the small crowd milled, I sought out Uncle Bill, my mother's baby brother, wiry, white-haired, bearded and fifty, although he could subtract at least ten years from his age and no one would question him.  I asked him if he would take Mom for a final plane ride over the mountains.  He said nothing would make him happier, and we agreed to confine our plans to no one in the Environmental Protection Agency.  Dad and I would deliver the remains the next evening.

The black suit, true to her word, appeared at our door shortly after noon the following day, carrying a white cardboard box about the size of a half-gallon of milk.  We placed on the dining room table, where she spent the rest of the afternoon while I grocery shopped, wrote thank-you notes and, finally, showered and changed for the trip to see her brother.  Jeff popped in on the way to his summer pizza-delivery job.

"What's in the box?" he asked absently-mindedly.

"Grandma," I said.  "We're taking her to Uncle Bill's.  Do you want to go?"

Jeff rolls his eyes and then he declined.  He had to work, probably grateful that the pizza-delivery with fast-food to rude people with big dogs; this, compared to a deceased grandma packaged in a corrugated container, was probably downright refreshing.

We were ready to leave.  Dad was clearly uncomfortable.

"Where should we put it...her?" he asked.

"Oh for Pete's sake," I groused.  "Put her on your lap."

He did.

Uncle Bill still lived in the house where he was born, in a minuscule town inhabited almost exclusively by Polish Catholics.  It was also the the town where my mother grew up.  We took her for one last ride down Main Street.  We crossed the Everson Bridge, traversing the railroad gorge which still supported the splintered remains of the house where she was born, teetering on a creek bank; the house in the picture I had taken to the funeral.  The family had had moved uptown to Maple Street just a few years before Mom and Dad got married.

We passed the Polish Club, where, every Friday night, my grandpap would send her home from the dance at 10:00 PM sharp. "Go home, Jo" he would order.  "Nice girls are home by now!"  She would obediently hike up the hill to the rhythm of polka-band music in the background.

We passed the market where my grandmother had shopped on the last Saturday morning of her life.  She was only 63; far too young.  After carrying stuffed, paper grocery bags up the steep incline to her home, she had simply sat down in a chair and succumbed to a massive stroke.  The date was April 12, 1958 and she was obese.  The family doctor, some 30 years ago, appeared with his little black bag, and quietly pronounced her dead in the family parlor.  This was decades before anyone in the medical community had discovered the direct relationship between false hopes and huge profits.  Hers, like her daughter's, was an abrupt departure, but my grandma passed quickly, with peace and with dignity.

On the final leg of the trip to Maple Street, we circled the cemetery where Grandma and Grandpap had been laid to rest.  They died of stroke.

Uncle Bill was waiting for us.  We left his sister in his care. He assured us she would spend the night on the dresser beside him, comfortable for one last time in her family home, and that he would telephone us when the ashes had been dispersed.

The call came at about 7:00 AM the following morning, as I was packing for the trip back to Michigan.

"She's gone," he said.

Uncle Bill and pilot friend, both with an apparent wanton disregard for the environment, had honored the last wish of a fine lady.

The sun had just begun to rise over the mountains, he related, the moist mist of dawn still covered the lush, rolling land, and everything was absolutely quiet, save for the invasive whine of their engine.  They flew to a mountain ridge which remained. amazingly, uninhabited by anything but wildlife, without so much as a utility pole to mar the pristine landscape.  Then he slid aside the window of the compact Cessna, opened the box, and let her go.

Dad helped me with my luggage and walked me to my car.  We chattered about superficial things, safe things, but the conversation soon came back to Mother; more practical items this time, like insurance, legalities, and death certificates.  He said he knew that the time of was officially listed at 3:12 AM, July 13, 1991, when she expired in the hospital, but in his mind he knew she had actually left us the previous afternoon, in her living room, when he found her a few minutes after noon.

A few minutes in afternoon?  The time I saw the face in the mirror.  I suddenly realized she had said goodbye to me.

My father and I said our goodbyes, too.  I gave him a hug, and not wanting to make the same mistake with both parents, I said, for the first time in the life, "I love you, Dad."  He considered it, and shuffled off toward the house to spend his first night alone in more than fifty tears.

I started my car.  I glanced in my rear view mirror, and saw that the sun was now high in the sky, radiant over the mountain range to the east.  She was out there, somewhere, free and at peace, and scattered among the birds and animals she had loved so much.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Every so often, waves of dread came over me; impending doom, far beyond reason.

Strangely Out of My Mind

Mercury fillings is, metaphorically speaking, brain fog. The stroke is a part of it with paralyzing palpitations, funky metallic taste and nagging fear. 

Every so often, waves of dread came over me; impending doom, far beyond reason. And just like that, it's gone. I'm lucid, normal, able to function; then it's back with a vengeance. Strangely out of my mind. Brain fog. I was 21 and alarmed. It's 1999, nearly 30 years ago, I had a stroke in 1999. I was 52 with Afib, thundering and pounding in my chest, rank metallic taste and, well, Doom City. Not good.

Conservatively, the fillings in my teeth were 40 to 50 percent. That's a lot of mercury for a teenager. The silver amalgams are actually half mercury, 50%.  Silver fillings contain a mix of zinc, copper and tin. My mom didn't know; I didn't know.

My ex-ex-ex-husband Frank, he related, every spring and fall, he was disoriented, befogged and he "wasn't here", an aura of confusion, a sense of place, time and identity. Brain fog. He dreaded spring and fall.

It's 1976, and I called the psychiatrist with an appointment. I worked in Volkswagen Personnel at the time.  Frank is fearful doctors and described the aura.  The doctor furiously wrote about the symptoms and prescribed a sedative.  But he has no clue, as did Frank and I. The psychiatrist scrawled an arcane "depressant", but Frank worried about... um... erectile dysfunction and he threw it out.

I divorced Frank in 1979 and the brain fog is a moot point. Coincidentally, the dentist filled the teeth with mercury fillings, sometime ago, in the 1960's, after the shrink. Could it be mercury fillings? I never heard of mercury fillings.

Frank threw a lot of things, specifically, heart medication.  At 42, a shiny helicopter transported Frank to Pittsburgh hospital tout suite. He had a heart attack. He tossed the medication again.  At 57 in 1999, clutching his heart and eating a submarine sandwich and a Miller Lite, he succumbed. Two days later, bloated and swollen, Jeffrey (my son) found him.  Frank called 911, but never made it. 
Brain fog is insidious, it wears you down. Before the stroke in '99, I couldn't, reluctantly, drive a car; what if my palpitations start?  Something's going to happen, but what?  The breathing, sweaty hands and overwhelming calamity?

In 2004, I had caregiver, Carla, for accessAbilities in Greensburg, PA.  Carla's Dad had leukemia for two years. No family history to speak of and dad was failing and, of course, died. She and I perused the internet for leukemia, toxic waste, polluted arsenic, mercury and onerous bad stuff.  Mercury?

I know mercury.  The light bulb moment is mercury. Of course. The stroke flipped the switch;  flooding back to 60 Minutes, heart-stopping palpitations and cataclysmic destruction. I knew. My heart is racing in a good way.  It's the mercury.  I'm grateful to Carla and Dad.  Perhaps it's written.

The dentist pulled the teeth in 2005. I still can't talk. Pull? Dentures? One-word answers. A crazy lady with a stroke. The dentist understood.
The stench in my mouth was unbearable. One by one, the dental forceps extracted the teeth. Forty years is a long time. Cell by cell, organ by organ, took it's toll. The long, slow, process is over and I was overjoyed.  Dentist placed the dentures in my mouth.

In 2012, for 20 years, give or take, I have no palpitations. (Side note: Lopressor reduces the heart rate. I get that. In 2000, I came home to Bear Rocks; still the palpitations are heart-stopping, volatile and vehement, pounding on my chest. I took the Lopressor religiously. It's not the medication and it's not the heart rate, although Lopressor is a nifty drug. I know my body.) It's a wonderful feeling; no brain fog. The fog lifted.

Everybody's looking for a quick-fix.  Let the body heal itself.

Little silver fillings of mercury, amalgam fillings. I didn't know. Nobody knew. Well, the dentists, apparently.

Mercury Fillings and the Stroke

The ambulance pulled up from the hospital, the swinging doors opened on the ER and the physician reviewed the chart.  The time is 1:31 AM, Dec. 20, 1999. I'm in the hospital and I was in "observation".  Diagnosis:  syncopal episode.  (Read: I don't know.)

I was on a monitor bed with catheter, IV's and a shockingly low blood pressure at 63/28.  I was hypotensive, dehydrated, lethargic and weak. The diarrhea and violent vomiting stopped. The right arm and leg were dead. I couldn't speak at all.
Two hours later, approximately 3 AM to 5 AM, I had "nebulous" stroke. The doctor said that the may have resulted from a relative dehydration and hypotension during this intestinal illness, "possibly" contributing to the stroke. 

Shuffling through the paper for medical records, nearly ten years ago, I noticed something. Shigella syndrome. I never heard of it. Shigella is a myriad of symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargic, dehydration, hypotension, and the list goes on.  Shigella can lead to vital organs, such as the brain. Stroke comes to mind. Shigella is negative. 
Meningitis effects the headache, neck stiffness, fever, confusion, altered consciousness and vomiting, although the physician ruled it out.
Addison's disease, among others, hyperpigmention of the nails and diabetes insipidus (excessive thirst) were possible, although the nails were fine and I am not parched, per  the hospital.

The doctors saved my life. I'm exceedingly grateful.

Mercury poisoning symptoms include:  depression, anxiety, foul breath, metallic taste, vomiting, diarrhea, vision impairment, irregular heart beat and pulse, changes in blood pressure, persistent cough, swollen lymph nodes in neck, excessive perspiration and host of signs; symptoms that I had.

Okay, let's review:  In the ER, diarrhea, (bright red blood, yet...hemorrhoids) violent vomiting, bradycardic, blood pressure 68/23, dehydrated, lethargic, and weak as kitten.  The hospital revealed salt-wasting (urine) and evidence of adenopathy of the neck. The carotid duplex revealed that the proximal left internal carotid artery is 80-99%. A new central nervous system "event" since admission, ischemia stroke would be possible. And palpitations so heart-stopping, so volatile, with 220 beats per minute. I am mute.

I'm absolutely convinced about mercury fillings and the stroke... however, I have no proof. 

The evidence mounts, though... funky metallic taste, paralyzing fear all the time, constantly; excessive sweating, and palpitations, so heart-stopping, for 20 years. About 5 years ago, the doctor prescribed a mercury urine heavy metal screen for the lab. The urine is negative, however, I waited a month for the urine. I urinated in the medium, but the reagent evaporated. Hence, the "negative".  I never had a toxic screen for a blood test.

I'm not a physician, or a dentist, or a science guy. That said, here's my events about the stroke and mercury fillings. I obtained medical records for the hospital. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration in December 14-15, 2010, discussed mercury fillings in pregnant women, young children and alternative methods for tooth decay.

I have the stroke gene. My Mom's brood was plethora for cerebral vascular accidents and my Dad and his uncles died of old age. You pick. In the emergency room in 1999, I had a massive, blown, left middle cerebral artery, with an acute infarct. The infarct is the loss of adequate blood supply, and absolutely no headache.

I have soft teeth as a teenager, always going to the dentist. Filling after filling, tooth after tooth, the drill cleaned out the cavities and silver fillings intruded insidiously.  
Conservatively, the fillings in my teeth were 40 to 50 percent. That's a lot of mercury.  I called in 2009 for my dental records in 1960, a long time ago, but the old records were gone. Seven years is the maximum.  Fifty years is a long time.

The mercury was there, lurking. I didn't know it at the time. I had a baby at 21 years old. There's no family history for eczema. The mercury passes to the fetus and the placenta;  the mercury triggered it. 

My son Jeff had golf-ball eyes crusted with ooze, profound itching and scaly skin with strips of baby feet peeled away with dermis. Not pretty. He was two. The itching was so bad, he wore mittens I gave him to ease the pain. Kenalog cream helped, but it was a corticosteroid. He had a gamete of allergies, from trees, grasses, dust mites and milk. 
Jeff is 46 now; he has a daughter, 16. 

My granddaughter Jordan is a reed thin sweetie, with angular features and long lines.  She eats like a truck driver, craves sugar and she loves fruit.  She inherited eczema;  wisps of eczema from elbows and knees, ever so faint, in the springtime.
He graduated from Penn State University at State College and he works for McDonald's Corporation. Every spring and fall the eczema appears.  Every so often the obsessive-compulsive disorder rears it's ugly head. The actions repetitive, ritualistic and compulsive. Jeff never had eczema and OCD.  Ever.  

I was a transcriber for medical records 40 years ago.The kidneys worked overtime, sometimes I urinated in intervals of ten minutes or more. To the typewriter to the bathroom, I couldn't stop peeing.  And excessive sweating with no rhyme or reason; I was soaked to the skin.  Secret, Sure, Ban; nothing works. The aluminum zirconium were no match. I resorted to Mitchum's and under-arm pads. I had profuse sweating.  

A foul-smelling odor permeated my teeth and my mouth, a metallic taste in my teeth.  Doublemint gum, Tic-Tac and Altoids were in my purse constantly.  

And palpitations, so distressing, so dire and heartsick, for 20 years. I thought I was going to die.  

The doctors prescribed Tenormin.  It's a beta-blocker, prevents heart attack and reduces the heart rate.  But the palpitations continued with a vengeance.

Twelve years down the road, at 52, I saw physicians and cardiologists and Holter monitors, EKG's, whole-body ablution and new-age therapy. Scoping the internet, I saw magnesium tablets for heart palpitations. I tried everything.
The dentist pulled the teeth in 2005. The stench in my mouth was unbearable. One by one, the dental forceps extracted the teeth. Forty years is a long time. Cell by cell, organ by organ, took it's toll. The long, slow, process is over and I was overjoyed. The  dentist placed the dentures in my mouth. A crazy lady with a stroke. 

The metallic taste was gone instantly and the dentures were healing.  No pain to speak of. The palpitations have subsided and no panic attacks. I'm speaking again. Before the stroke, I had at least once-a-week palpitations; pounding, heart-stopping, life-or-death palpitations.  It's a wonderful feeling. It's gone. It's the Lopressor? You be the judge; I defer to the doctor.  I don't know.

Today, 25 mg. in the morning and 25 mg. in the evening (metaprolol tartrate) (Lopressor) and one aspirin, per the doctor. It's a miniscule amount. I have "benign blood pressure".  I take Chlorella, a micro-algae supplement (chlorophyl) for (mercury) toxins, D-3 (the sun) CoQ10 (antioxidant) 100mg and B12.  I eat bunches of cilantro and garlic. Cilantro helps detox heavy metals. Mercury stays with you for a long, long time. It's infinite.
I'm 68. I walk with cane. My right leg and arm is, essentially, dead and use Walk Aide for my right knee. The peroneal nerves lift the foot electrically.

The physicians and dentists need to talk to each other.

Mickie Yezek Roller