Monday, April 28, 2008

Help for the Uninsured

Around the end of October of 2006, I bought 2 bags of candy to hand out to trick or treaters. I live on a street where no children reside and we seldom get Halloween visitors. Few came and someone had to eat all that leftover chocolate. It was gone in days. Little did I know that, two weeks later, I would test my blood glucose on a dare and within a month, be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I have no idea how high my sugar went from eating that candy, how long I've had the disease or how much damage I've done, but many people could have diabetes or other conditions for many years and not know it. I had symptoms for quite some time and shrugged them off, like a lot of men do. I hate going to the doctor. Constant hunger with a sudden loss of weight, frequent urination and the tingling, numbness and sharp pains in my extremities from diabetic neuropathy were warnings I should not have ignored, but maladies that creep up with middle age and the lack of health insurance were good enough excuses for me to pretend nothing was seriously wrong. Until that day a lancet pierced my finger, those symptoms meant nothing. How quickly life changes. I needed help and I got it, but my thoughts turned to the countless others without health insurance. What about low-income families who don't go to the doctor because they can't afford to? Are they aware there's help out there? There is, but the trick is how to educate them about where to go for treatment.

In the Orlando, Florida area, there are clinics affiliated with PCAN, the Primary Care Access Network that specializes in health care for the underinsured. There's the Central Florida Family Health Center with locations scattered throughout the area. You pay according to your income level based on the US Department of Health & Human Services' poverty guidelines. For the homeless, there's HCCH, the Health Care Center for the Homeless. Also, try the Florida Association of Community Health Centers.

Thankfully, our community is also blessed with faith-based Shepherd's Hope, nonprofit clinics that provide free assistance in a family-practice setting. Their mission is not one of continuous-care. It is to provide non-emergency treatment to those in need. Presently, there are 8 all volunteer health centers and they are a godsend. Their website states that, of the uninsured population nationwide, 8 out of 10 people are not eligible for government assisted health care plans. Most are hard-working and many work several part time jobs to make ends meet. Putting food on the family table and a roof over their heads are primary concerns and not much is left over.

I did a search for “free Orlando clinics” and found Shepherd’s Hope in this area. In America, on the federal level, the Hill-Burton Act was passed in 1946 to help you find health care, regardless of your ability to pay. My advice would be to go to that site and explore clinics closest to where you live. I would further suggest you first do a search like I did, only replace “Orlando” with your town. If that doesn’t work, try using alternative key words along with your search, such as "medical" or "health", like “free health care decatur alabama” until something pops up. If your search yields nothing in your area, go to Hill-Burton and look through the facility locations.

Through local and national grants, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and dedicated volunteers, there are countless clinics around the U.S. and throughout the world that are willing to help those in need. Look in the phone book. Call your local government. Ask a friend for advice. All you need to do is seek in order to find and if all else fails, contact one of the organizations listed here. They might be able to steer you in the right direction.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


©2008 Dave Knechel
". . . on April 22, 1970, Earth Day was held, one of the most
remarkable happenings in the history of democracy. . . "
-American Heritage Magazine, October 1993

I remember the very first Earth Day. I was attending Hunterdon Central High School, now known as Hunterdon Central Regional High School and a lot of commotion was stirred by our teachers and fellow students preceding that day. The first thing to catch my attention, and those of plenty of my peers, was that all classes were to be suspended on Earth Day. Instead, we would have seminars in what seemed like a giant trade show, with local and state business and community leaders converging on our school to speak to us about our planet, how to improve our lives and what we could do to be positive forces in the world. We were in the middle of a terrible conflict in Viet Nam and drugs were becoming an ever present occurrence in all of our lives, whether we did them or not, and everyone was very much aware of those two things. At the time, I wasn't much of an environmentalist, although I never had anything against ecology and conservationism. My concerns lay more in the sphere of my social environment, so who we knew that went to Viet Nam and whether drugs were cool to do or not were more important issues than saving the planet from pollution. Remember, these were the days before the '73 oil embargo, Watergate and words like vegan and tree hugger had not yet parsed our lips.

I recall that about a week before Earth Day, we were given a form to fill out with explanations of each symposium. We had some that were mandatory to attend and many more that were electives. At no time during the day were we to have free time, except for lunch. That way, we were always accounted for, being carefree high school students and all. Just like regular classes, we weren't supposed to skip these meetings, either. Mandatory roll calls were to be taken, but they never were. After a while, we knew how to play the attendance game.

One I signed up for dealt with drug education. Of course, being high school kids and "hip" on the drug scene, a lot of my friends attended that one, too. I'm sure we knew more than the cops. Once there, we learned about the evils of marijuana, hashish, LSD, STP, heroin and whatever was big back then and the tools used to ingest them, like rolling papers, pipes and needles. We also learned how to detect users, how to turn them in and how to avoid frying our own brains from drugs. It was held in the main auditorium and there was a long table filled with all sorts of paraphernalia to view. Lou Rocco was the county drug czar back then and he was our lecturer. Several cops stood near him. I knew him well enough, too, because his daughter, Angie, had been the first to train me when I started working at the Weiner King restaurant in the fall of '68. He was a regular customer and Angie took a shining to me. She went on to be a nurse or something because she got a job at the Hunterdon Medical Center.

After his speech, good old Lou invited us to join him at that long table so we could get up close and personal with the stuff on display. We were allowed to pick up some things, but the real goods were kept at a distance. First, he explained what each item was, and then he prompted us to ask questions. I have always been known as a practical joker. During that question and answer period, I secretly swiped a piece of incense while Mr. Rocco's back was to me, answering someone's question. I don't know what the other cops were doing. This was no ordinary piece of incense, though. It smelled just like marijuana when burning and it was used to train police and narcotics agents. Oh boy, what do I do with my stash, I wondered.

When the seminar ended, I casually walked into the men's room by the main entrance, just beyond the auditorium. I waited for everyone else to leave and entered one of the stalls. The stalls, back then, didn't have doors on them in our school. Not the men's room, anyway. That way, teachers could make sure no one was smoking cigarettes. I carefully placed that valuable piece of pot incense behind the toilet and lit it. I hightailed it out of there before the stuff began to smell. It didn't take long before that became the biggest news at the high school that day. POT SMOKING STUDENTS USE HIGH SCHOOL MEN'S ROOM ON EARTH DAY! Imagine that, some stupid kids had the audacity to smoke pot with all those cops swarming about. They never did get caught, though, and Lou Rocco and the rest of his force never figured out a piece of their educational material went missing.

There you have it. My first Earth Day was spent smoking up the men's room with chemically manufactured marijuana. I'm sure it was filled with artificial ingredients. Since then, I've learned a lot about war, drugs and what we can do to keep ourselves and our planet healthy. I hope you have, too.

That would really be far out, man. Peace.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Pink Lemon Aid

I don't know if it's Murphy's Law or just my luck, but whenever I cut into a lemon, some of the juice will squirt into one of my eyes and cause excruciating pain. Big time. What synergy causes that liquid to always find a path leading directly to one of my eyes? What did I do wrong in life to be stung by a lemon? It's almost the same as when, on that one crucial day of a very important meeting, something will drip or splash onto my crisp, clean shirt, and create a nasty stain that will not come out - and there's no time to rush home to change it.

Years ago, I worked near a Cuban restaurant. Living in Florida, there are a lot of ethnic eateries scattered everywhere. Many are Hispanic and run the gamut from countries like Colombia, Peru and Argentina. Sure, there are plenty of Puerto Rican and Mexican places, but when I moved here in '81, I developed a penchant for Cuban bread. Many supermarkets sell it and I used to eat plenty more before I found out I was diabetic and had to cut back on my carbohydrates.

One morning, I stopped by that Cuban restaurant for a ham and egg sandwich on grilled Cuban bread. It was very tasty and rather inexpensive and it became habit forming, so I stopped there at least once or twice a week and sometimes, for lunch, too. They had one of the best Cuban sandwiches around. When you walk in the door, there was a counter to your right for ordering and beyond it, a counter to sit at and eat. There were also tables along the left side. Just when you walk in the door, there was an opening to the right of the ordering counter that led down a short hall and back to the kitchen. Along the wall was a solitary chair I had never seen there before. As I waited in line, a middle aged gentleman walked behind the counter and sat in the chair. I wondered what he was up to? A minute later, an elderly woman walked out of the kitchen and stood in front of him. She tilted his head back and used two fingers to keep one eye pried open. With her other hand, she took half a cut lemon and squeezed the juice into that eye.

"YEEOOWW," I exclaimed, "what was that for?" Why would anyone want to be tortured that way? Who would be stupid enough to allow someone to squeeze a lemon in their eye? There must be a reason, I thought. "Hello? Does anyone know why she did that?" No matter what I asked, it fell on deaf ears. I realized that I was probably the only English speaking person in the place. Finally, a voice sitting at the counter said two words.

"Pink eye."

"Pink eye?" I responded, but no one answered back. When my to go order was ready, I left and went to work. No one there wanted to believe me and no one had ever heard of such a thing. Occasionally, when I mention that event to someone from Puerto Rico or Cuba, I'm told it's an old folk remedy and some swear it really works. I'll take their word for it. Thanks, but no thanks.

Once, I spilled black beans down the front of my shirt, but interestingly, I've never, ever had pink eye. Maybe it's from lemon juice that's squirted in my eyes and antagonized me all my life. Maybe, it's not Murphy's Law after all. Murphy's Law probably has more to do with spilling something on your shirt right before a meeting. Hey! I wonder if it removes stains?