Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Halloween Story (True)

This is the story I wrote last year. I am reprinting it because of the holiday. Don't be frightened.

The Night I Screamed On Halloween

Recently, I was telling my mother about my scariest Halloween moment. She questioned whether she would have let me venture out on my own at the tender age of 6. I was with a friend from the neighborhood and we were in the same class at school, so I wasn't really alone. I told her, sure, why not? Times were different then. You left your windows open at night. During hot summer months, most houses were without air conditioning and the only thing that separated you from the rest of the world was a screen door. Crime wasn't something that was ever present in your mind. It was a different time...

It was a chilly autumn night, that 48 years ago when I lived in Somerville, New Jersey. It was my first foray out with a friend on Halloween. No moms allowed! I was a man this night, or so I thought. Howard and I went out to make the rounds just as darkness fell. There were lots of kids in all sorts of costumes running around, stopping at each house. Some homes were decorated and they seemed like the most inviting, the ones that would give out the best candy! We saw the flickering of candlelit pumpkins with each eerie twist and turn throughout the neighborhood. Skeletons hung from trees and porches, swaying in the gentle breeze. We talked of ghosts and goblins and tried to stay away from dark alleys and back yards. No way! Oh yeah, houses with their lights off, too, because that meant they were going to grab you and take you to the basement where you'd never be seen again. Or else, they weren't home.

I had a double shopping bag to stuff all that tooth rotting goodness in. There were no paper or plastic options at the grocery store back then. These were the days of old when the milkman left glass bottles of milk at your doorstep and on freezing winter morns, the cream would expand and push the cardboard cap up and out a few inches. Brrr. Rabbit ears were the best way to watch our round screen black & white TVs.

Howard kept insisting that we finish the night at his house. OK, I said, you already stopped at mine when you came to get me. That was our first treat and my mom always had good ones. He lived five or six houses up and across the street from mine. When you're six years old, that's pretty far away and I wasn't too crazy about being almost out of sight of my own place. I was approaching unmarked territory. At least, at night. Halloween night! We'd been out long enough and had plenty of goodies to last a long time. We probably had bewitching hours, anyway. There might have been school the next day.

"OK. Let's go to my place," Howard said.

"I'm ready," I replied. Besides, I was getting tired from all that trick or treating and having to rip off my mask to show everyone who I was. "Oh, you're Sam & Dottie's boy."

We walked up the sidewalk and scaled the stairs to his front porch. It was dark and spooky and I sensed evil lurking about. We knocked and suddenly the door opened.


"I want to see a trick!" his father exclaimed. A trick? I didn't know what he was talking about. Saying trick or treat meant I was going to get candy. What was this trick thing all about?

"When you say trick or treat, I can ask you to do a trick first. Then I give you a treat. Do you have a trick?"

Howard and I gave each other a puzzled look and said, "Huh?"

"Well, then, I have a trick for you," and just like that, his top teeth popped out and back into his mouth in an instant. I froze in my tracks and just stared up at him. Then he did it again. Those teeth popped out of his face and dangled for a second and then zipped right back into his mouth.

I let out a blood curdling scream that woke the dead at the cemetery down the street. Every police department in the county would come to the rescue if they heard it today. I turned to run, when all of a sudden, Howard's mom came from behind his father and quickly came out the door to comfort me. Whatever his name was, she sure did scold him.

"He shouldn't have done that." The guy was rolling on the floor in laughter. Howard didn't know what to do. "Sometimes when people's teeth go bad, they get pulled and new ones won't grow in like they do after your baby teeth fall out. They're replaced with fake ones so you can chew your food and have a nice smile. That's what happened to Howard's dad." She turned to him. "Apologize right now!"

I don't remember if he said anything or not. He was still laughing. I was pretty rattled and couldn't stop shaking in my boots. She said she would walk me home. I was not about ready to venture out of that neighborhood by myself. When we got back to my place, she explained to my mother what a horror filled trauma I had just gone through. I sensed a snicker or two and I'm not talking the candy variety.

"Mom? Can I sleep with the light on tonight?" I asked. "I'm never going back to that house again," and I never did. "Mom, would you lock the front door, just in case?" For the longest time, I wouldn't even look at that place and I sure was glad when we moved.

When I was older, I wondered how the father of a six year old could have lost his teeth so young. Maybe, he ate too much Halloween candy.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Odds & Ends, Blood Test Results - Taking the good with the not so good

Odds & Ends

If you would have told me a year ago, "Hey, Dave, a year from now, you'll be taking 5 prescription medications a day, you'll hardly ever put a drop of alcohol to your lips and you will no longer be smoking," I would have laughed in your face. Some fortuneteller you are.

I recently had a discussion with my sister-in-law about one of those mysterious liquid supplements that are meant to cure you of all sorts of ailments. I didn't pay much attention to what it was because I don't believe a cure-all exists anywhere in any form. We read about some never heard of fruit that Amazon natives have been using for hundreds of centuries. We hear it cures cancer, diabetes, hypertension, liver and kidney diseases and bad breath, to mention just a few. Then, and on the other side of the spectrum, we'll learn about all kinds of supplements, each designed to perform a certain function to enhance your life and health. Ginkgo biloba for the mind, for instance. My best advice to you is to not believe everything. For one thing, since the FDA (or any other country's equivalent) doesn't necessarily regulate natural cures, i.e., herbal supplements, how do you know what it will do if you don't let your doctor know first? Every person's body is different. No one pill will work for everyone. Some people have allergies, others don't. Blood types vary. Men and women are different. Men don't suffer from iron deficiencies, for example. Supplements don't always mix well. I've often read to not take St. John's wort with ginkgo biloba. Did you know that? The list of reasons can go on and on and it is impossible to take supplements that promise an eternal life, free of maladies. Besides, my prescription blood pressure medication is derived from snake venom. South American variety. I have a printout that tells me of possible interactions.

"I take Peruvian Ma La Qua Potion every day and I haven't been sick in 48 years." - Ellen B., Baltimore, MD

Do you know Ellen B. or anyone who does? I didn't think so. She doesn't exist, but her fictional testimonial does.

I average anywhere from 80 - 130 visitors a day now on this website. Am I bragging? No. A good chunk of those hits are from people searching for information on diabetes. One such search is on "coconut cures for diabetes" and one of the very first things a doctor told me after being diagnosed with type 2 was to avoid all coconut like it's the plague. I know for a fact that I ate a Thai soup for dinner one night before I was officially diagnosed, but testing my glucose levels twice a day, and my sugar skyrocketed. The culprit? Coconut milk in the soup base.

Blood Test Results

Every diabetic must undergo blood work every three months for the rest of their lives to show how glucose levels are and how your kidneys and liver are functioning. The doctor will prescribe and adjust your medications accordingly. A short time ago, I went in for tests and had a follow-up visit a week later.

"No really bad news to report," my doctor told me soon after he entered the room.

"Good. Then I can leave?"

"No, there are a few things we need to discuss."

The fasting level of my glucose on the morning of my test was 140. That's high. My overall level for that 3 month period was 5.6, up from the previous test of 5.5. Not bad at all (Previous test results and ranges can be found here). He proceeded to double my Glucotrol/Glipizide medication, but, at least, I'm not on Metformin yet. Glucotrol stimulates insulin production in the pancreas. Metformin slows glucose production in the liver. As long as my pancreas is functioning modestly, I'm in better shape overall.

"You know I take cinnamon capsules everyday, right?"

"Cinnamon shows a lot of promise in diabetics," he responded. I used to take 3,000mg a day, but have since dropped it to 1,000. I give some credit to cinnamon for that 5.6 number.

My cholesterol went up. Originally, I was put on 40mg of Lovastatin. That brought those numbers way down, but at the same time, greatly reduced my good cholesterol, too. He put me on a combination prescription of 500mg Niacin/20mg Lovastatin. This time, my overall cholesterol was 181, triglycerides were 184, LDL was 101 and my good cholesterol (HDL) jumped from 29 to 43. He doubled my medication to 1,000/40. Niacin helps bring good cholesterol up and it did, but 20mg of the statin wasn't enough to keep the bad down. One of the unpredictable consequences of diabetes is that medications are constantly adjusted and when you think you've gotten it under control - POW - something else pops up.

"Your urine was very yellow and thick."


My blood test said TURBID. That means cloudy. My specific gravity was low. He wasn't too concerned, but these might be signs of excreting red blood cells, which leads me to his next discussion.

"I'm a little concerned about your platelet count. It's been testing low, but not too low to warrant further testing at this time. I wouldn't worry about it yet." YET? When a doctor brings up something that concerns him, you tend to get a little bit nervous. "If it remains low or drops, we'll have to set you up with a (bone marrow) biopsy. In the meantime, we'll keep a close watch on that number from now on." My red cell count was low, but he didn't mention it.

"Oh, great news! I noticed that on my previous tests, especially since my brother-in-law went through AML (leukemia) and his platelet counts were really bad."

"Well, you don't have leukemia because your other numbers are within range."

"Are there any supplements I can take to increase my platelets?"

"No, but there are prescription medications available. Like I said, don't worry about it yet."

OK, I won't worry, but it will be on my mind. "Does it have anything to do with the diabetes?"

"No. Are you ready for your prostate examination? Remember, we discussed it last time?" Oh, yeah, how could I forget?

It ain't fun getting old. Does anyone know where I can order that Peruvian Ma La Qua Potion?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

New National Park Will Open Soon

(API) Big Oyll, Texas - The George W. Bush National Forest & Wildlife Preserve, in honor of the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush, is scheduled to open to the public soon. "We have to clear out more trees, but it shouldn't take long," a park ranger stated, on the condition of anonymity. "Next year, the Dick Cheney Hunting Preserve will be open in Buck Shot, Wyoming."


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Rated R for Rectum

We've known each other for a number of years and our relationship has always been professional, although, he has told me things that I would say are rather intimate. I haven't seen him in months and he told me then that it was time. "I'm not ready," I responded. "Next time." Yesterday was that special day.

Other than high school gym class and the showers we took together, I had never been naked with a man, certainly not in an intimate fashion by any means. Actually, it was my high school doctor some 40 years ago. Women, I love them. Men? Never.

Somehow, he convinced me to unbuckle my belt and slowly drop my pants. What compelled me to do such a thing? Could it be that, after all these years, I needed to get this done? To put it behind me, so to speak, so I could get on with my life and to feel like the manly man I truly am? You know, men doing manly things together. Bonding.

He touched me. He touched me again. I coughed. I coughed again. He asked me to turn around. I acquiesced for the simple reason that it was a friendly request and I liked his demeanor. He made me feel calm. Besides, it wasn't like he was just a stranger in some back alley, probing and chipping away at my masculinity. Assume the position! I was not looking forward to what he was about to do.

He penetrated me from behind. I could not gaze into his eyes. Ooh, I silently moaned. It was a new sensation and I sensed that this man knew what he was doing. I've been touched there before, but this was the first time it was a guy. For a fleeting moment, I felt like a woman. "You should have had this done years ago." I didn't know what to think. He was right, but I didn't quite know how to respond. How should I react? What should I have said? Before I had a chance, it was over.

"Is that it?" I asked.

"Yes," he said. "Your prostate is a little spongy, but not bad for a man your age."

I pulled my pants up. After all that anxiety and trepidation, it turned out to be a simple procedure. "You know," I said, "that was nothing compared to that barium enema you put me through months ago for polyps I didn't have."

"Yes, but we did find out you have diverticulitis. I would recommend that you start taking saw palmetto to help keep your prostate healthy. Other than that, you're good for another year." I felt whole.

"Great!" I exclaimed, as I limped out of his office. I can't wait to mark it on my calendar.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Should restaurants be required to list calories and fat grams on their menus?

Again, this was a matter of debate at Helium.com, where writers are invited to express their opinions, for or against. This is what I wrote.

Should restaurants be required to list such information on their menus? I can think of a simple way to circumvent that problem. Have the wait staff memorize and recite each item instead, but then I would probably have to listen to all sorts of disclaimers about the increased risks of heart attacks and strokes from consuming one of those meals. My ears would clog and my blood pressure would rise from having to listen to all those asterisks. You want cream* and sugar* with your coffee*? Here, you'd better read this first.

Time for a reality check.

I used to make a marinade I sold in the Orlando, Florida market. It was my own recipe and the first thing I did was call the FDA to find out what I needed to do to make it shelf stable. The advice the kind man at the other end of the phone gave me was just that. What he told me was common sense and not governed by law. One of the things I remember was that I should put a lot number on each bottle to protect me in case of a complaint. That way, if I produced a thousand bottles in a particular batch and there was only one complaint, certainly, I was not at fault. 999 bottles stood behind the integrity of my product and, obviously, other factors were involved, such as whether the person marinated the food in the refrigerator, as I clearly instructed on the label.

He told me to take random bottles to a testing lab to ensure that bacteria levels were safe. They were and this protected me and the consumer. Back then, small batch food goods did not need labels listing "Nutritional Facts", but I thought it was only right to provide information anyway and it made me look more big time than I was (the FDA defines a small business as one with food sales of less than $50,000 a year or total sales of less than $500,000.) Needless to say, it was not cheap. I had to give up my secret recipe to a different type of testing lab in order to determine the nutritional values, but my secret was safe with them. When you make thousands and thousands of bottles of marinade over a period of many years, one should feel compelled to offer practical and educational information to allow the consumer to decide, whether law or not. Besides, the cost was passed on at the wholesale level and given the price of the lab work, it didn't amount to too much in the overall scheme. Initially, yes, but not so much in the end because it worked by volume sales.

Since the FDA's effective date of May 8, 1994, I have been reading nutritional labels on all sorts of packaged food items I buy. I have been aware of trans fats for a long time and I insisted that nothing of that nature would ever go into my product when I made it. I used olive oil. My marinade was low in fat, sugar and sodium and packed with flavor. Since being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes last year, I am even more keenly aware of what I eat and I read labels with a vengeance now. Have you heard of "interesterified soybean oil" or "high in stearic acid"? I have and I've written about it on a diabetes post.

By replacing one fat with another less saturated one, has it made it safer to consume? Labels on packaged goods don't tell you that and they aren't required to do so. For example, a recent study of interesterified fat was found to depress the level of HDL (good cholesterol) more than trans fat. In addition, it raised blood glucose levels and depressed the level of insulin. This suggests that interesterified fat could lead to diabetes. The nutritional panel alone does not paint you (oil base, of course) an entire picture, so you've got to read the list of ingredients, too, to formulate what may or may not be healthful to eat. I wonder what type of fat is replacing partially hydrogenated ones in the restaurant industry as many of them now tout ZERO TRANS FAT!? Something to chew on and I guarantee it won't be listed on any menu.

In the late sixties, through the seventies, I was in the restaurant business. I think we can all agree that it is a very competitive industry, but do you have any idea how much it would cost to produce such information? OK, perhaps the big shot corporations can absorb the cost and pass it on through a modest increase in price since they deal in volume, but what about the small Mom & Pop shops? How can they cost effectively do what the Dardens of the world can do? If Olive Garden sells a spaghetti with meatballs dish with nutritional info for $8.95, how can Momma Lombardo down the street compete after paying the cost of a lab test? She has to sell her dish for $13.95 to recoup. Where went the competitive edge? What about daily specials? Would poor Momma have to send off a list of ingredients for testing before she could offer it? How can a profit be made on a one time special, made up that day at the whim of the chef because an exotic fish became available if the proprietor must send the recipe out first for scrutiny and inspection? Meanwhile, the fish and tomatoes are rotting while she awaits the results. Maybe, the chef makes up the dish as he goes and continuously samples and adjusts it. Needs a little more wine, less chicken stock, he thinks. Oops, I smell a lawsuit because the data doesn't match the end result. The food police are on their way!

What about government sanctioned standardized guidelines instead, made readily available (for a fee) to businesses and open for the taking, so that a particular dish sold at any restaurant should approximately contain this amount of calories, fat and everything else required by law to disclose? Offer different versions on the list, from rich in calories to guilt-free. Categorize lists according to cuisine. Remember, I did not have to place nutritional facts on my marinade bottle. That was left for mass produced products. Some restaurant chains already list information on the menu or on a separate sheet and it helps with sales as more and more diners become nutritionally savvy, but big chains can afford dietitians. A lot of their food comes out of regional commissaries. Would I want to require it? No. Let supply and demand dictate whether it is offered. If customers demand it, restaurants should supply it. Or don't eat there. Soon, the message would become clear by the empty tables if that's what people want. Personally, I don't want to ruin my appetite by having to read what I already know might not be good for me. Not on the menu, at least.

Lobster Bisque....................................................................................9.00
Our secret family recipe, just the right serving size of 637 calories, made with 68% of your total fat 25g (100%), saturated fat 15g (60%), trans fat 3g (15%), cholesterol , etc., etc., etc. % of your daily values, based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Yummy.

Prime Rib..........................................................................................28.00
Depends on whether you eat the fat or not.

Offer a separate printout if it must be required and place it on display for consumers to take or leave. Does the government really have to tell me this menu is USDA, United States Disclaimer Approved, before I order Momma's special, Fettuccine Alfredo, made with cheese, heavy cream, egg yolks and a dash of statin, and it's about to fill me with a month's worth of badness at one sitting? It kind of takes the fun away from eating out. Maybe, I'll call for takeout instead, but then, I'd have to listen to all those asterisks over the phone first.