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Archive for December, 2017

The information on this folder about the Guatemalan doctor who is treating me and my colon malady, Dra. Alejandre Tobia, is probably obvious to you who read only English. She’s a specialist in doctoring the colon and, uh, the hindquarters.

Odd new things are happening in my life these fading days of 2017.

The oddest thing being that I’ve lost 24 pounds since Nov. 15. I’m digging clothes out of the closet that I always thought, and hoped, I could fit into again.

Strange things, good and bad things, happen when you’ve been diagnosed with the colon malady diverticulitis (learn more about it here). The bad thing for me being that, until Jan. 8 when I return to a doctor for a followup visit, I have to take gobs of medications and fiber galore — and maintain a strict diet that includes nothing fun to eat during the holidays.

Merry Christmas to me, huh?

The good thing about this otherwise dreadful disease I’ll have for life is that I’ve been forced to commit the rest of my living days to maintain a healthier diet (and maintain this slim weight I’ve recovered). If I don’t, I’ll be getting as sick as I was for a month before I understood what was happening to my body and gastric system.

I do not, by the way, recommend the diverticulitis crash diet as a way to shed those pounds you’ve be trying in futility to shed for years so that you can fit into the skinny clothes you mothballed in a closet.

If you want to lose weight in a healthy way — especially if you’re a senior — count your calories and step up the exercise or call Marie Osmond who lost all those whopping pounds on that diet she hawks every five minutes in her TV commercial that has to be the longest-running commercial in TV history.

Maybe you’ve heard of diverticulitis. Perhaps you have this ghastly gastric thing yourself, or you have a parent, sibling, cousin, son or daughter, or a dear friend who has it and lives a good, active life with it, as I fully intend to do.

I never knew that so many of my own friends — and I mean a surprisingly high number of good friends and mere acquaintances who are healthy and active — live with this same disease I will gladly live with.

And I’ll gladly take this colon affliction over colon cancer any day.

For quite a few worrisome days, the possibility of my having colon cancer loomed over me in anticipation of an examination and colonoscopy by Dr. Alejandre (Ale) Tobia. Ale is the gastric specialist in Flores, Guatemala whom I saw last Thursday and Friday for medical attention.

The good doctor — a petite and peppy 30-something woman — said to me at the end of my consult and exam, in her so-so English: “Relax, MuKay. You no have cancer. One hundred percent I’m sure you have a disease you can maintain with diet. You heard of diverticulitis, yes?”

I said (in my best Spanish) to her, “You are saying I have a disease I can manage with healthy eating — a disease I can control with healthy eating?”

“YES! YES! Manage it! Control it! You can do this, MuKay!”

I got up from my chair and gave my sweet Guatemalen doctor — who’s as huggable as a little Spanish Kuala bear and happens to be a total hoot when she’s not in serious physician mode — a big abrasso

Un abrasso being Spanish for a hug.

“You do not have cancer” were the words I had been hoping and praying to hear in my road trip to the clinic in San Benito, Guatemala, a town just across the causeway from the colonial town and paradise island that is Flores.

The biggest bill for my consult and exam with the doctor, followed by a colonoscopy in her clinic the next day, came to about $5,000 Guatemalen Quetzlazes — which is about $700 U.S. bucks. The entire trip including a heart exam, lab work and the cost of three nights in a hotel brought the grand total of my three-day medical trip to about $1,000 U.S. dollars.

So let’s break down the entire $1,000 U.S. dollar bill I spent on a three-day trip for care from this private-practice doctor and her San Benito clinic in the Flores area of Guatemala.

Flores is a beautiful little resort island in north Guatemala that is only two hours and some minutes by bus from my home in Belize. It is accessible by a causeway that feeds traffic and tourists onto the island from the cities of San Benito and Santa Elena, both of which have all kinds of medical facilities, laboratories, general physicians, and many skilled specialists.

So I paid omy doctor on credit cards (I have low, limited income, good, unlimited credit) a total of U.S.$650 I owed her for all her two days of medical attention.

However, I paid cash for the lab tests and some cardio tests and lo! — I forgot to get receipts. But I will retrieve them on my return trip to the Flores-area clinic next month for a followup.

Because I have high blood pressure, I had some expenses for a cardiologist who did a complete cardio exam on me, plus the expenses of blood and urine test. (The doc said I have a strong healthy ticker and that’s always good to hear.)

I’m thinking that once I have all the bills and receipts in hand, it will show that I spend $1,000 for the three days in the Flores area, including the costs of three nights at a budget-resort hotel with a gorgeous view on a terrace of the lake surrounding the island.

Try getting that much medical attention — and a stay at a quality hotel with a view near the medical center you need — for a grand total $1,000 dollars in Houston or Anywhere, U.S.A.

The entire $1,000 I spent in my entire three days in Guatemala — and oh yeah, it includes round-trip bus fare — is less than I would have paid back home in Texas for deductibles and copays on any kind American health insurance these days, including supplemental Medicare.

Look, I’m not saying Guatemala and Mexico (and even Belize with its mostly awful medical care but dirt-cheap pharmaceuticals imported from the U.K.) are as advanced and civilized as the U.S., or . . . Canada, the ultra-civilized and progressive nation north of America.

Like Mexico, Guatemala is an extremely spotty country, with pockets of ultra-modernism and civilization and thriving tourism in (safe) spots here and there, but with thousands of towns and villages plagued by violence (especially against women) and rotten, wrenching poverty.

(Much of the poverty and violence south of the border, of course, is the result of sometimes hundreds of years exploitation by the United States government, U.S. corporations, and huge multinational companies that exploit and rape the resources of countries like Mexico, Guatemala and ultra-poor and violent Honduras to no end. America ceaselessly displace peasants who always managed to happily sustain their lives in thousands of villages and countrysides for thousands of years. But that’s another story for another day.)

A lot of Guatemalens, at least those not stuck in so many of the far-flung villages in the jungles, do have access to health care that is just about equal, by and large, to that in most of the United States and other advanced countries at prices that don’t bankrupt people who can access the care.

Americans continue to go broke, or stay home when they are sick and get dangerously sicker, because our health care is ever-less affordable who live in wealthy cities with the best of the best health care. (Thinking here of Houston’s famous medical center and the more famous M.D. Anderson Cancer Hospital.)

If you’re poor or homeless or slugging away at one, two or even three low-income jobs without insurance or the ability to pay copays or deductibles in America, you may very well die from some malady that a well-to-do and certain a wealthy American will obtain. You’re no better off than a poor peasant in remote Guatemalen village.

In a way, America’s health care has been being steadily “Guatemalagized,” if you will, for decades, always easily accessible to the rich and well-employed and, of course, to presidents and members of the U.S. Congress.

Again, in the political season last year, we were promised health care so great we would get tired of great health care — not to mention the kind of cheap prescription drugs I buy from my friendly pharmacist at even cheaper discount prices (I buy three meds in 90-day supplies) here in third-world Belie.

It’s a shame.

It’s a sin.

It’s an American travesty.

And it’s all about that old-fashioned American greed.

———
*On a more cheerful note, here’s a blog post a retired American couple, who travel the world in their happy retirement, wrote about their experience at Guatemala’s beautiful and rather quirky resort island Flores, and the cities of San Benito and Santa Elena. I don’t know the date it was written but it is slightly dated in terms of prices, but not much.

All in all it’s a fun and rather accurate look with lots of pictures of that little paradise island Flores, where I hope to have some fun and relaxation on my return trip for a followup at the doctor next month.

Click here: http://www.retireearlylifestyle.com/flores.htm

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I was heartened to see the Alabama crackpot-pervert Roy Moore, who in his own twisted mind is John Wayne and Christ Jesus all joined at the hip with him, went down to defeat for the United States Senate, albeit it barely.

Then a good Christian friend of mine in Dallas (hat tip to you, Mike Mason) pointed out some sobering statistics.

72 percent of white men voters and 63 percent of white women voters believed the walleyed crazy kook and clear child molester Roy Moore was the better choice for Senate.

Those are disturbing numbers to this pastor who worries a lot about the rapid, continuing erosion of true Christianity and the gospel that has kept it alive and progressing in spite of so much opposition (and internal damage by misguided Christians within the tradition) for 2,000 years.

Christianity will survive this as it has survived its long, checkered history.

But as a pastor who worries more about the health and preservation of Christianity than whatever the passing state of American politics is on any given day or year, I worry a lot that American Christianity might never recover the beating it has taken in recent years.

Especially in the past one year, thanks to the likes of godless Donald Trump and Roy Moore.

Nonbelievers including militant atheists look at those stats I cited and men like Moore and Trump and say to people — especially impressionable young people who are intelligent —

    “See there kids! Don’t let them fool you! Christians are all backward, mindless, dumb-ass hypocrites stuck in the far past!!!

I’m glad the little Alabama cowboy will be riding into the sunset on the horse “Sassy” that he rode into town on.

But I am disturbed and pray every day that American Christianity will rebound when Donald Trump and those of his ilk get the justice they are overdue on getting.

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I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been dealing with a health issue.

If you could see me you would see that there is a whole lot less of me than there was just a month or so ago. I’ve lost almost 25 pounds since Nov. 15 because of the aforementioned health problem.

It’s not the kind of diet I would hope on my worst enemy, who is Donald Trump.

Uh, well …….

But I’m doing good now.

I’ll explain more about this in a blog post I’m working on about the excellence — and crazy affordable cost — of health care in places south of the U.S. border like Guatemala.

I just experienced Guatemala’s medical care firsthand and it was superb. And you won’t believe how cheap the great medical attention was, as I’ll explain in the said post which I’m working on.

I don’t see any reason that America can’t have the affordable health care that countries some Americans now detest have, nations like Mexico and Guatemala.

    I sure as heck don’t understand why we Americans cannot at least the super-cheap pharmaceuticals we were promised we’d have in last year’s presidential campaign by you-know-who, the Promiser-in-Chief. He continues to perpetrate the biggest con in American history. Remember how juiced up we ALL were about him working with Democrats to fix THAT huge pocketbook issue?

    Where are our cheap prescription drugs, like the ones I buy in third-world Belize or in Guatemala or Mexico when I travel those countries?

Oh, well. For now I want to share a video with you of the late, great Sam Cooke. Yesterday when I was back home from Guatemala and strolling the streets of Old San Ignacio here in Belize, I was bombarded by the sound of all the usual Christmas music blaring from retail-store stereos for sale and from bars and restaurants.

But then I passed by one of the sidewalk cafes and stopped in my tracks and listened when I heard Sam Cooke’s classic song about hope for change.

Sam Cooke was one of the greatest American singers who ever lived — that’s all he was. And one of the coolest guys too.

I urge you to listen to the words of “A Change Gonna Come.” What a wrenching, poignant psalm it is about the pain and suffering that so many African Americans have suffered — and have continued to suffer. In places like, you know … Alabama.

This great song helped me prepare my heart for my morning prayers today at a time when the nation is torn over all things racial. Especially in Alabama, where backward, racist, homophobic, sexually perverted so-called Christian leaders get so much support from others who purport to be Christians.

And the Promiser-in-Chief has them covered politically.

Their day will come to face our Lord.

Meanwhile, a change gonna come.

I know that, as the folk back home in the black churches where I grew up in Texas cotton country used to say, “The Lord is always on time!”

God is good. Thy will and social justice be done.

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ADVENT defined

ad-vent

noun

the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.

synonyms: arrival, appearance, emergence, materialization, occurrence, dawn, birth, rise, development;

More
the first season of the Christian church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays.

the coming or second coming of Christ.
noun: Advent

ON THIS THIRD DAY OF ADVENT, here’s a wonderful Advent poem from her greatness May Angelou…

everything-is-going-to-be-alright

“Amazing Peace”

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes and lightning rattles in the eaves of our houses.
Floodwaters await in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and gray and threatening.

We question ourselves. What have we done to so affront nature?
We interrogate and worry God.
Are you there? Are you there, really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Into this climate of fear and apprehension Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.

It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Floodwaters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.

Hope is born again in the faces of children.
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth, brightening all things,
Even hate, which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

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After years of constant, debilitating pain, I began feeling much better. Opioid medication not only did a good job of relieving [my] pain, but along with hormone supplements and anti-inflammatory drugs, they also improved my quality of life, allowing me to do things now that I could not do before.

It may sound trite, but this man “gave me my life back.”

From an article written by my friend Louis Ogden about Dr. Forest Tennant for the Web site Pain News Network.

I want to tell you a horror story concerning a dear friend of mine named Louis Ogden, who takes a seemingly alarming amount of pain drugs.

My friend Louis (Louie Louie) Ogden, and his bride of 45 years Kristen. Because of a genetic issue that makes treatment with typical drug regimens ineffective, Louis lived most of his 67 years with what is called “intractable pain” before he found the leading pain management doctor in the country.

Let me say right off, however, that my buddy Louis–whom I affectionally call “Louie Louie” because of our shared taste in classic as well as more contemporary rock and blues music–is not a junkie.

Contrary to what the overzealous federal government agents at the DEA and some political leaders seem to believe–Louis and a number of his fellow pain patients who also take huge amounts of opioids–are not drug abusers.

They aren’t pill seekers or thrill seekers or drug dealers using or selling hard drugs on the streets.

I want to share more about Louis and his beloved wife Kristen and those fellow patients who take opioids under the guidance of a California physician named Forest Tennant.

Dr. Tennant is distinguished for being on the cutting edge of researching and controlling debilitating pain for patients like Louis who can’t find pain relief from their local doctors.

Before I share more about Louis’s case, I want to share some background on our country’s endless “War on Drugs” and what it has come to.

* * *

That great American conservative and Republican hero Ronald Reagan famously said in a press conference, “I think you all know that I’ve always felt the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”

Of course, the Reagan Administration then proceeded to wage the government-run War on Drugs that has been failing miserably, and draining the national treasury and our tax dollars, for more than three decades.

To be fair, however, I have to say that every president since Reagan has thrown more tons of good money after bad trying to deal with drug abusers and the dealers who supply them. And it wasn’t a Republican who built the enduring Prison Industrial Complex that locked up almost exclusively black crack addicts from neighborhoods that the politicians and corporations keep forgetting to invest and create jobs in–except when election time rolls around.

Believe it or not, there was a time when President Bill Clinton was a hero to the military and to every law enforcement agency in the United States.

Anytime the military or police leaders asked for a dollar, Clinton was prone to say, “Here, take two dollars.”

Clinton and the Democrats didn’t want to be seen as soft on foreign enemies and criminals and Democrats still don’t.

And for sure, the “law and order” Republicans never want to be soft on crime when they can oversee the creation of jobs with evermore prisons, private and public.

The more reasonable option of decriminalization and treatment never get far: the profits and political contributions for that option aren’t worth it to the powers-that-be.

* * *

Fast forward to now, and the national opioid epidemic. I recently posted about the unbelievable toll that pain drugs have taken in the last 20 and more years. That post was written from my point of view as a Christian and a United Methodist pastor. You can read it here if you missed it.

Because of a genetic issue that makes treatment with typical drug regimens ineffective, my friend Louis lived most of his 67 years with what is called “intractable pain.”

Intractable pain is the kind that is unbearable–beyond control with anything like a normal drug regimen. It’s the sort of pain that can make a stable, well-adjusted person suicidal.

And Louis, who managed for some years to make a living as a master electrician and earned a college degree before the pain became too much, was a well-adjusted man who had just about lost any will to live when I came to know him through this blog.

Then in 2010, Louis’s dreadful life with pain started to take a sharp turn for the better. That’s when he and Kristen were fortunate enough to find Dr. Tennant, one of the country’s foremost experts on pain and the prescribing of opioids.

Dr. Tennant and his wife Miriam have operated a pain clinic in West Covina, CA since 1975. He is also the Editor Emeritus of Practical Pain Management, a monthly medical journal about pain. His current research interests are inflammatory markers and the role of hormones in pain care.

Other doctors had always told Louis there was little to nothing they could do to relieve his constant pain, short of making him a junkie. So Louis (and 150 other fellow patients who go to Dr. Tennant for pain treatments and research) credits the physician with giving him his life back.

Ceaseless pain obviously wears and tears down the entire mind and body, straining everything from the heart to the spirit. So every three months, Kristen and Louis travel across the country to the clinic outside L.A. from their home in Virginia to see Dr. Tennant for a checkup and refills on prescriptions.

That’s a long way to go to see a doctor, but the Ogdens are only too happy to do it. (And Kristen does volunteer work at the clinic during their stays in the suburb where the clinic is.)

But now comes the United States government, eagerly wanting to get drug dealers off the streets. That’s commendable. I and you and Louis and Kristen and, I’m sure, Dr. Tennant, don’t want drug dealers selling opioids on the streets and making a deadly epidemic worse than it is.

But the bad news for Louis and other pain patients who need opioids to have functional lives is that the DEA recently raided Dr. Tennant’s office. Louis informed me of this in an email in which he told me:

    “My doc has been raided! I’m scared s——-. The DEA has my medical records. The ‘expert advisor’ to the DEA is not a specialist in pain–he’s a family doc.

    “I’ve read the warrant and he SPECULATES that all out of state patients receiving high doses (THAT’S ME) must be selling their meds because no one person could survive these high doses.”

I’m hopeful, and actually confident, that the drug enforcement authorities with the federal government will come to understand that one person’s poison (heavy pain drugs) is another person’s healing medicine.

Maybe it’s the eternal optimist in me, but I believe that Dr. Tennant, who hasn’t been charged with any crime, is going to be vindicated as the good guy in this raid.

I’m confident that when the authorities read Louis’s case history, they will find that he is not a junkie or a pill or thrill seeker. Kristen, in fact, is a retired civil servant who served in the federal government for 36 years herself. She has a degree from William and Mary.

She and Louis met in 1968 when she was 15 and Louis was 18 and started dating 15 months later. They married in 1973 after dating for three years. Her dad served a year in Vietnam.

Louis got his college degree when he could no longer work as an electrian, and was accepted to Syracuse for a master’s degree that he was unable to obtain because of the pain.

My point is that this is not a couple dealing drugs for money.

Now, all that said, I urge you to read what Louis had to say in the article mentioned at the top of the post that he wrote for the Pain News Network. Read it here for yourself.

There’s also this piece Kristen wrote.

Factual information is always good. I hope the federal Drug Enforcement Administration will obtain the facts before it makes any more assumptions about why somebody travels across the country to obtain opioids every three months.

I’ll keep you updated on this matter in the weeks and months ahead.

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Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen
—The Book of Common Prayer

The gospel scripture in Mark 13:24-37 (see text below) inaugurates us into the Advent season with terribly misunderstand apocalyptic language.

This scripture is not a Nostradamus-like timetable, but a hopeful call to keep hope and faith alive in what was a time of great crisis for believers in the first century.

As the theologian Martha Simmons puts it, eschatology–which is all about the end times–“is where the sweet bye and bye meets the nasty here and now.”*

In our times and in all times through the ages, Jesus speaks in this scripture to a church and believers whose desire for justice and a bright future appears hopeless.

But the early-church believers heard from Jesus in this apocalyptic language the promises that allowed them keep on keeping on through all the injustice and nasty persecution that they, like Jesus himself, would bear on the cross.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away,” he told them–and tells us in what appear to be bleak times. “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

“Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”

Stay awake, he told his followers.

Stay fully awake.

Mark 13:24-37
13:24 But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,

13:25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

13:26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.

13:27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

13:28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.

13:29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

13:30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.

13:31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

13:32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

13:33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.

13:34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.

13:35 Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,

13:36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.

13:37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.

———-
*Learn more about Martha Simmons here.

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