Bad News


Atina in her post-op coat, checking for mice

My readers already know that Atina’s kidneys are bad, that I knew that within 24 hours of her purchase, and proved it by taking her to the vet and having blood and urine tests done immediately.  We knew that the broker I bought her from, along with her trainer, and along with their veterinarian, cooked up a cockamaimie story that I was somehow responsible for Atina’s kidney failure because she sniffed some of my arnica oil.

Over $5,000 later, just in vet bills, not including travel, camping, food, and other strictly Atina-related expenses, we finally have an answer.  And as we might have guessed, it has nothing to do with arnica.

The initial biopsy report came in today.  More will trickle in over the week.  But the news is not good.  Really, really not good.

Kidneys are made up of a lot of different structures.  The ones that have to do with filtering out bad stuff and keeping good stuff in the blood are called nephrons.  The biopsy consisted of a wedge shaped chunk of kidney.  This chunk was divided up into several smaller chunks, each destined to be tested in a different way.

The first test is simply to look at the architecture of the kidney.  This is the result we got today, and it’s shocking, and horrifying.

The chunk of kidney tested contained 27 nephrons.  Of those, only two were normal.  The majority of the rest were fetal nephrons.  The rest were basically dead, having been worked to death from trying to compensate for the undeveloped ones.

The pathologist wrote that this was likely due to something that happened to Atina’s mother, either while she was pregnant or nursing, that affected Atina’s kidneys and stopped them from going ahead and developing.  These fetal nephrons will never develop.  They will calcify, or just turn into scar tissue.  There is already scarring.

My poor girl is somehow continuing to chug along on 7% of normal kidney function.  It shows.

She doesn’t have much energy.  Her appetite waxes and wanes.  But show her a frisbee and boy, she will chase that thing two or three times, before she tuckers out and I make her stop.  I learned the hard way, though.  One day I let her play all she wanted, and she tried to die on me.

Today we’re camped at a State Park.  Two young adolescent boys came along, bearing a toy football.  Atina went up to them, and they froze in their tracks.  She looks so scary!  But she went ahead and took what she wanted: she stuck her head under each boy’s hand and demanded that they pet her!  First one boy, then the other.  They were petrified.

I wanted to say, You’d better pet her, or she’ll bite you!  But I didn’t.

Then we had to part ways, because Atina realized that there was a ball involved…And I said to the boys, don’t throw that ball till I get her out of here, ’cause she will pop it if she gets hold of it!

Tomorrow another part of the biopsy will be in.  At this point it’s purely academic, since we know most of the story from today’s result.  Her vet at the University gives her several months to live, maybe a year or two if we’re lucky.

The Power of Unconditional Love

Listen, I don’t pretend to be a perfect practitioner of unconditional love. I wish I was. My loved ones would have had such better lives, had I had any notion of what unconditional love could do.

For example, on July 20 I bought a skinny, sick, fearful dog, for a ridiculous sum of money. I was in a terrifically needy state, having lost my beloved dog Aress to a freak accident. I looked into this pitiful sick doggie’s soft brown eyes, paid the sum, and took her home.

It was clear that she had never been in a real house before. OK, I don’t really live in a “real house,” since I make my home in a fancy van. But it is undeniably a home, and it was clear that she had never been in one. She lived in a kennel outdoors, was taken out to train, and put back in her kennel. From her lamentable condition, it was also clear that nobody had ever paid much attention to her.

In the six or so weeks that I’ve had her, she’s become a sleek, happy pup who loves almost everybody except people she deems untrustworthy. This is her job, and she does it well. She’s affectionate to the point of occasional annoyance, since there are things that must be done (according to me), like writing, doing chores, paying bills…but to Atina, these are annoyances to her, for damn the torpedoes, the play must go on!

An old buddy of mine stopped by to camp for a few days (hi, pal, in case you’re reading this!). I showed him the picture of Atina when I first got her. You could count her ribs and all her vertebrae, and the bones of her pelvis stood out like a sick cow’s. Her coat was dull and ratty: so much so that I had her tested for mange.

My friend asked me how I had managed to rehabilitate her into the sleek, happy girl she is today. I shrugged.

“Love,” he said quietly. I nodded, tears stinging.

Although he gets furious when I bring up the topic and vigorously denies it, my son is a very high functioning autistic. He learned to speak before the age of one, and before that, he developed his own version of sign language. By 19 months he could count to 19, and by three he could tell you the names of every dinosaur known to man, where they had been discovered, and what they did, their diets, their habitats, and what era they lived in. By four he had taught himself to read and do basic arithmetic via “Reader Rabbit” and “Math Blaster” on our desktop Mac.

On the other hand, he hated anything to do with other children, refused to participate in preschool, and whenever possible isolated himself in corners, absorbed in a book or playing with his plastic dinosaurs or action figures. At three, he was already seeing a child psychologist. We managed to get through private kindergarten in five-minute segments. If he cooperated and sat in the circle with the rest of the children for five minutes, he got to go to his corner and be alone for fifteen minutes. Later in the year he discovered the school office and became enamored with the laminating machine, so he became more motivated to sit for five minutes so that he could run to the office and laminate for fifteen.

First grade was a bust, as far as the teacher was concerned. We enrolled him in a progressive Quaker school: small class size, emphasis on art and music, compassionate teachers–what could be better? Nothing, I guess. Literally nothing. My son staidly refused to cooperate with anything whatsoever. His teacher, a caring and earnest young man, could not get him to do anything. He retreated to a corner and refused to come out. Somehow he managed to ace all the tests, though. But he would not come out of his corner, nor would he speak a word. The teacher called me on a weekly basis.

“He refuses to participate. What shall I do?”

I was busy, harried, frustrated and sleep deprived, so my stock answer was, “You’re his teacher. YOU find a way.”

This did not work.

Finally I had a brainstorm: “Make him the class scribe. Give him a tape recorder, and have him sit just outside the class circle and record everything. This way he’ll feel like he’s got an important job and is not simply one of the (muggles, but that word had not yet been coined by Rowling).”

It worked. We managed to make it through first grade without any further conflict.

In later years, I experienced what happened when I tried to force my son into anxiety-producing behaviors using negative consequences. He either withdrew, or else he simply sat down on the floor and crossed his arms, earning him the nickname “Sitting Bull”. When he got older, he became threatening and intimidating. I was not about to knuckle under, so I upped the ante, and so did he. Soon a full-blown war was in progress.

Now, I don’t believe in accepting bad behavior, not even from a “special” child. But there are ways, and then there are ways.

My moment of epiphany dawned upon reading Karen Pryor’s amazing book, Don’t Shoot the Dog. Pryor was the head porpoise and Killer Whale trainer at Sea World for many years. Now, you can’t make a large sea mammal do anything it doesn’t want to do. You have to make doing the desired behavior so attractive, that said mammal would rather do it than just swim around and play, like porpoises like to do. You have to make it fun to do what you want them to do.

Pryor’s book, as its title implies, carries this philosophy over to dog training. At the time her book was published, most dog training was based on negative reinforcement: You don’t do what I want, you get your neck jerked, you get yelled at, you might even get hit with a rolled-up newspaper for doing your business where you’re not supposed to.

Pryor applied what she had learned as a sea-mammal trainer to dog training. Thus, lucky dogs found out that doing the desired behavior resulted in treats and praise, while negative behaviors got them…nothing. Ignored. Exactly what a social mammal desperately does not want.

Of course, psychology students already knew this from getting rats to do things that humans had a hard time with, by simply having a tasty treat at the end of the maze. But applying methods that worked with “lower life forms” to humans? How insulting. Humans ought to just know that what they were doing was good or bad. Adam and Eve, right? Tree of knowledge of Good and Evil, and stuff like that.

The Behaviorist School of Psychology, pioneered by B.F. Skinner, showed that positive behaviors rewarded with positive reinforcement produced more positive behaviors, while negative reinforcement inhibited negative behaviors. A third strategy was called “extinguishment.” You do what I want, you get left alone to do what you want. You don’t do what I want…nothing. The behavior “extinguishes,” for want of reaction. In many cases this worked better than negative consequences such as electric shocks. (N.B.: a rumor somehow began that Skinner experimented on his own child by placing her in a “sensory deprivation” cage. This is not true.)

Pryor capitalized on Skinner’s Behaviorist School of psychology and its “behavior shaping” model in her sea mammal training program. She then morphed it over to dog training…and concluded her book with a chapter on shaping the behavior of humans.

I can’t say that I ever mastered behavior shaping, either in dogs or in humans, but I have tried to incorporate it, when I remember.

What I’ve learned through the years, though, is to assimilate and practice the art of “Love the person, even if you hate the behavior.”

I have always loved my son, completely and passionately, even when I was dodging head-butts when bear-hugging him through an autistic melt-down, or once again leaving a cart full of groceries in the checkout line when all those people were just too much for him, or agonizing through the time he was in and out of countless outpatient and inpatient addiction programs as a teenager, or sitting up nights worrying when his stepmother threw him out and he lived in a drug house, on the street, in a homeless shelter, in a psychiatric ward zombied out on legal drugs.

Finally he got arrested, and this was my chance to save his life. I called the judge, whom I knew from my work with the court system (yes, this was taking advantage of my position), and begged him to remand my son to long-term inpatient care. The judge reprimanded me for calling him, but honored my request.

After a long period of searching, we found the perfect place. The students were held to a strict policy of personal accountability. Positive behaviors were rewarded with increased privileges; breaches of the rules resulted in suspension of free time, which was instead spent writing a paper examining the undesirable behavior, why the kid did it, what the internal meaning of the behavior was, and why this was counterproductive to the kid’s development as a productive, independent, successful individual. The student then presented the paper to a mentor, who helped process the ideas and helped the kid internalize them. There was still a consequence in terms of loss of privileges for a finite period, and a defined way to regain the lost privileges.

In this way the teens learned that self-determined productive behaviors resulted in more freedoms. In addition to these interventions, the kids had daily group therapy, thrice-weekly individual therapy, a staff mentor who was always available for processing issues, family therapy monthly, and many other interventions. It turned many lives around. It gave my son tools that he is still using, ten years later.

For me, it reinforced that the power of unconditional love moves mountains and saves lives.


And You Think You Know What Weird Looks Like?

Guffaw, guffaw

Just get a load of Quasi, Anita, and vRollo, and don’t forget to check your weird meters. 😨

“Max Fleischer- The Cobweb Hotel”

My favorite carton of all time….Well, my SECOND favorite.  Just wait till I find #1!

My Day Today

Hup hup….

Yogi Berra: He went right ahead and died anyway

I was having a really, REALLY bad day when I learned that Yogi Berra has died.  Somehow it seems like him.  After all, he was only 90.

The 17 most memorable quotes from Yankees legend Yogi Berra

Yom Kippur

As the sun sets today, Jewish people all over the world will don their robes of pure white.  Even now they make their way to the Mikveh, the solemn bath of Living Waters that purify body and soul, in preparation for the Day of Awe, where we stand fasting before the King of Heaven and Earth to confess our sins and beg for forgiveness.  On this day our sins are forgiven, we are released from all vows, the slate is wiped clean for another year.

We wear white, because we are buried in white robes.  In fact, the men wear a kittle, a lightweight embroidered garment, in which they are married, and in which they will be buried.

We fast, and we wear white, because on this day we are like the Angels, who neither eat nor drink.  We wear our burial garments because on this day we are judged, as we will be on our deathbeds.

We fast for 26 hours, both from food and from water.  It’s a hard fast, especially in the Land of Israel where the air is hot and dry.  To add to this hardship, we stand for much of the day-long service.  Some people take on a personal service to stand during the entire service.

It is a day of examining the heart, a day of much weeping, a day of release from the burden of sin.

This Yom Kippur marks the first anniversary of Dad’s departure from this world.  His death.

I don’t know where Dad went when he died.  He didn’t know where he was going.  All he knew was that he was on his way out, and he was terrified.

He was sure he was going to be punished.  For what, he didn’t say.  He couldn’t say.  All he could do was shudder.  He was that terrified.

I have some ideas.

I know that he felt overwhelming guilt for things he had done in the war.  World War II.  He was sure he would have to pay for those things, one way or another, and the not-knowing gave rise to all kinds of imaginings.  He was a man who lived by imagination, by visions, by images, in the shadow-world.  It was the magic of his art, and the plague that visited his dreams.

I knew he would choose this day.  It was the deepest, darkest, most awe filled day.

Why not?  Dad never brooked folly.  If he was to die, it would be on the heaviest day of our year.

As evening approached, he gripped my hand for hours.  My hand screamed with arthritic pain, mine and his.


Darkness fell.  His lips were dry and cracked.  I took some of the Hospice lemon flavored gel out of the cooler and brought the spoon to his lips.

He clamped his mouth shut, with the slightest shake of his head, “no.”

“Your food is spiritual now,” I suggested, knowing that this, his last Yom Kippur, would be his first and last fast.

He nodded.  It was nearly the last movement of the symphony that was his life.

He slipped into a peaceful dream, and I lay down on the vacant bed in the room reserved for dying people.

I must have drifted off, for near midnight an agonized cry jerked me awake.  I rushed to his side.  His face was twisted, his body arched.  I wanted to throw myself upon him, but I knew there was no way to save him from his pain, so I sent him wordless messages…I’m here….I’m with you…I won’t leave you…

Then I knew.  One more thing….

“Dad, it’s Yom Kippur.  Your sins are white as snow.  You are forgiven.  You can go.”

His breathing changed from the near-death Cheyne-Stokes pattern: a period of no breathing followed by several deep breaths, to the imminent-death pattern of rapid air-hunger breathing.  I called the Hospice nurse.  She gave morphine.  I called my mother, and in my doctor calm voice asked her if she wanted to be there.  At first she said no, then thought better of it and said yes.

Soon after she arrived, Dad had grabbed my hand again and I stood there, watching him struggle with the Angel of Death.  At last he knit his brow, and with a determined effort, made the leap.

Oh, how many times have I seen that look, when steeling himself for some odious task!  Dispatching a dying animal, gripping his usual weapon, the shovel…

And now, gripping his own soul, as he let go and tumbled out of his body, into….what?

His grip on my hand disappeared.  I looked at his hand, so tight just a moment ago, now flaccid and white.  His fingers, now blue sausages.

“Lower the bed.  All the way to the floor.”  The Hospice nurse and my mother obeyed.  I got my Siddur, the Hebrew prayer book, while I cried out,

“Shemah, YIsrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Ehad…” 

Hear, O Israel, Adonai is Our God, Adonai is One….


Yitgadal ve’yitkadash Sh’mei Rabbah…

May The Great Name be glorified and sanctified…

As the Deathbed Prayers stretched on, and my mother’s weeping grew louder, the Hospice nurse grew impatient and she called the mortician, who arrived with his impatient gurney.

“The mortician is waiting,” announced the nurse, just as I finished the Deathbed Prayers and was beginning to wash the body that used to belong to my dad.

I should have said FUCK OFF, this is my dad’s body, this is our religious tradition, this is Yom Kippur!

But I didn’t.

I watched them load him up, like a piece of meat.  They were casually chatting.  His dead face hung out; I pulled the sheet up to cover it.  My mother screamed.

His precious blue arm, the one that used to give me jovial hugs, had got caught between the gurney and the strap that held him on.  I pointed this out to the mortician and he fixed it, visibly irked.  My mother had declined a casket, since Dad was to be cremated.  Why waste money on a casket, only to burn it up?  No money in this deal for the mortician.

Now we have finished the twelve months of saying Kaddish, to help his soul make the journey into the Next World.  I am pretty sure I don’t believe in any Next World, but since I won’t know until I make that final leap, I leave the subject open.

Yitgadal ve’yitkadash Shmei Rabbah.


Aw Nuts!

Everything sucks.  Everything is fighting me!  Words!  Appointments cancelled!   Physical illness!  Ultra-rapid cycling!  Feel like shit!  Dog has been in fucking heat for two weeks and can’t understand that I don’t have what she wants!  Stuck in this stupid RV park with a bunch of stuck up assholes (except for one or two, who have real jobs and I don’t)!  Waiting for things to happen and nothing is happening!  Brain rebelling!  Body rebelling!

AW, NUTS!!!!

Danish Teen Murders Own Mother After ISIS Radicalization | Clarion Project

Read and weep…..

Party of One: How to Stand Strong in the Truth When No One Believes You

Wow, another blockbuster post from The Invisible Scar! Timely, too. I have been out in the forests of Colorado thinking about how my mother brags about the time I accidentally swam too far out on the lake on a windy day, when I could not hear my parents yelling for me to come back in. I was ten years old. I remember being absorbed in diving under the waves, as my father had taught me to do. When I finally got tired and swam back to shore, they put me in the hot car with the windows rolled up, as punishment for…what? Not hearing them because the wind was drowning their calls out? Enjoying myself doing something they had taught me to do, and encouraged me to do? My mother boasts about using this punishment again when I ran away from her verbal and physical abuse and hid in a corn field. Didn’t they know that their “punishment” was not only openly abusive, but could easily have been fatal? How about the times when they both smoked in the car with the windows rolled up and accused me of coughing just to be annoying? My mother claims that never happened. It’s especially important for her to deny that now that I suffer from severe asthma. Of course she tells her friends how wonderful I am. They all adore her, and tell me what an “angel” she is.

This article also addresses the issue of the parents killing the child’s pets. Amazing. I never knew that was a common occurrence in abusive parents. One time when I was about 12, I went to visit a relative for a few weeks during summer vacation. I left my pet bird with my parents. When I got back my bird was gone. “She flew away,” says my mother. I couldn’t believe that my birdie would ever do such a thing, because she was so tame and social. Years later, my mother laughed as she told me the real story: she got sick of caring for the bird, so she put it out in the screen porch with her cat.

Likewise with my own cat, which I sadly left with them when I had to go for an interview: they left him outside when the neighbourhood dogs were in the yard. The last they saw of him, my father told me, was his black form streaking across the field across the road, a pack of dogs in hot pursuit.

No wonder I’m fucked up.

OK, I admit I wasn’t the best mother, but I can say this: I never purposely abused my child, or did anything to cause him pain. I took care of his pets, I never called him names. I listened to his concerns and took them seriously. I stood up for him when he was bullied for being different. I took on school systems to make sure his special needs were being met. I did neglect him sometimes, because I worked long hours and spent too much time at the gym trying to work off my manic energy, but at least I never locked him in a hot car, and the worst I ever said to him was that he was lazy for refusing to do his farm chores, which was true. I still feel guilty for saying it, though. I’ll stop now, because I really could go on and on about this whole thing.

The Invisible Scar

150915-stand-strong-in-the-truthAfter you’veawakened to the truth that you were emotionally abused as a child (and perhaps continue to be as an adult child), you will definitely encounter some hard-coreresistancefrom some disbelieving people. These people either have known you as a child and believe the image of a happy family that your parents propagated; are enmeshed in relationships, whether as relatives or friends, with your parents; are in denial of their own abusive pasts or are in similar abusive relationships; or are not sufficiently emotionally mature or loving to be a good friend during your awakening and subsequent healing journey.

Those people will often try to coax you back into a state of slumber. Your emotional awakening is too messy for them to handle. They want you to stay in your box, under your label, not bustling out in passion and growth, but confined to the definitions of…

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