Friday, December 31, 2010

Back to the Haiti!

We head out to the D.R. January 3 and cross over to Haiti soon thereafter on our way to the Partner's in Development clinic in Cite Soliel in Port-au-Prince. We're looking forward to leaving the safe reliability of the northeast and reuniting with our friends and patients in warmer lands. With any luck we'll even have internet and send out a few podcasts while we're there.

Thanks for waiting.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Mercury-Poisoned Hatter

Written and performed from the discomfort of my sick bed in Concepcion, Guatemala.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Engage with Grace

My former boss, Alex Drane, recently spoke at TedMed about the need for better conservations about end of life care and communicating with loved ones about the way, when the time comes, you would like to die.

I don't have access to the video yet, but here's what she said:

"So when I heard that I was going to be speaking with all of you about end of life, I was a little sad at first…even though end of life is an obsession of mine….because TedMed is such a sexy event, and speaking here is such an honor. I wanted to talk with you about something like vitality - feeling alive, being empowered, taking life into your own hands…but then it hit me… that’s what end of life actually is – that’s what it can be when it’s done well.

But … It’s not usually. 70% of people want to die at home, only 30% do.

Here’s another stat you might not have thought about recently – You only die once. Think about that for one second – You only die once. Not my words - Atul Gawande’s in his incredible essay on end of life – ‘Letting Go’- which I am now declaring as mandatory reading for each and every person attending TedMed.

End of life in the US has somehow failed to become personal. It’s like this thing we put on a shelf and ignore. And getting what you want at end of life has become synonymous with filling out forms and getting waivers and going to some lawyers office where you pay a lot of money and get excited when you get to keep the pen.

But that’s not what it’s about. Not at all. Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time there was this extraordinary woman named Za – short for Rosaria. Za was first generation Italian, breathtaking to look at, driven to become a pharmacist – the first in her family to go to college – and of course she was also human…She loved to enjoy…spending money she didn’t always have, generous to a fault. She was madly in love with her husband John and her two year old daughter Alessia, the apple of her eye. Deep within Za welled this enormous sense of joy – a deep gratitude for the life she had. As it turned out, deep within her also lived cancer – and not just any cancer – but the terrible and unforgiving brain cancer Glioblastoma – described by one of her surgeons as whip cream in a sponge – virtually impossible to eradicate. The seven month battle Za waged against her illness was a mighty one – she endured two massive brain surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy, all the related humiliations – but the cancer didn’t really care.

Can you imagine being 32, being in love, being a new mum, loving your job, looking forward to standing up for your brother as he got married on New Years Eve – and instead of putting on your favorite sexy dress and highest heels, being ambulanced from one hospital to another because they had found a mass in your head? Can you imagine waking in a hospital bed surrounded by the very family that had flown in for this wedding – many all the way from Sicily - and hearing from them that you had a tumor in your brain? Can you imagine - after six exhausting weeks of radiation –sitting on this cot covered with a crinkly piece of paper, freezing in your johny, hoping your two year old wasn’t wreaking too much havoc in the waiting room where she waited with your mum – can you imagine hearing that the radiation hadn’t worked? That the cancer had actually grown? Can you imagine knowing you were dying? At 32?

I don’t know for sure that she did know that she was dying. Even though we were there with her almost every night over those seven months, I don’t know because we never talked about it. Death just wasn’t something you talked about in the family. And all those doctors that took care of her? In this hospital that was number one for this very type of cancer? They never talked to her about it either.

They did ask us what we wanted to do when the end was near, however. We didn’t know for sure, we hadn’t discussed it with her. Our gut was she would want to go home - So that’s what we told them. ‘We want to take her home.’

They said, ‘You can’t. Her case is too complicated. She needs to stay here in the hospital.’ Now I work in the healthcare space, and I am not a shy and retiring wallflower - But when the head oncologist looked down on us and said, ‘You can’t’ – I froze. Just caved. And Antonio – her brother, my man, who had spent most of those seven months embarrassed by how frequently I questioned her care team - he stood up, thank god, and said, ‘No. We are taking her home. We are absolutely unquestionably 100% taking her home.’

And so we did. And that night - after two months in the hospital, two months of her daughter feeling afraid to lie next to, or talk to, or even touch this mum she had stopped being able to recognize – on the very first night we had Za settled at home –– and safely surrounded by the comforts, the familiarities, the smells of those sacred four walls - Alessia crawled up next to her in the bed, and for the first time in eight weeks, gave her mum her medicine. For the first time since Za’s 2nd surgery, she tucked her head into the crook of her mum’s neck. And Za – who had not spoken or opened her eyes in at least a week, woke up fully, and looked her daughter square in the eyes, and loved her in the way that only a mum can. And the next night she died, peacefully, at home.

I wonder sometimes, who got the greatest gift that night? Was it Za? Who may finally have felt some peace, at home, finally able to connect with her daughter? Or was it really Alessia – who is now 7, and who to this day crawls into my lap to hear stories of her mum, and how she was the very last thing her mum saw – how her mums face had softened in unbelievable peace on that last night? Or was it really the rest of us – honored to witness that incredible moment – knowing we almost missed it?

Reinventing the way we deal with end of life is a gift for everyone – for each and every person alive today. And it’s something we have to do. Unquestionably, 100%, we have to do this better.

So we came up with this idea…a way to help get the conversation about end of life started – a way to Engage in this topic with Grace. Just five simple questions about our end of life preferences that we could all commit to being able to answer – for ourselves, for our loved ones.

The thought was this – if we could answer the questions for ourselves, if we could answer just these five questions for our loved ones, then we could focus on making sure the intent they represented was honored - No matter what. Take a quick look – do you know how you would answer? Could you answer for your loved ones? Let’s take number two - If you were in this state – would you want to be at home, or in the hospital? There is no wrong answer. It’s only wrong if no one knows your answer, and no one is willing to advocate for you.

Since we launched over two years ago, we’ve seen that once this conversation does get started, once we share these thoughts with each other, the lawyers, the affidavits, the system that intervenes to bowl over our intent– it stops being intimidating – we become empowered. You only die once – die the way you want. Make sure your loved ones get that same gift.

Our time together has mostly been about furthering health and wellness. I would argue that that’s what better managing end of life is all about – vitality. Za didn’t plan to get brain cancer – and none of us are planning for anything less than living forever – so until one of us here is smart enough to make that happen – let’s at least commit to this: we live our life with intent – we can end our life with that same honor. And we can make sure our loved ones have that luxury as well.

But if we wanted, we could do more than that. Since Engage with Grace went viral – it has made a difference, but it’s not enough. Make no mistake about it - The power in this very room right now could single handedly change the way we as a nation deal with end of life. You could get this conversation started in a real way – in a game changing way. You are an amazing group of individuals – and most of you do a lot of talking, a lot of influencing… what if you added this one slide to the end of your talks? What if you became an ambassador for getting this conversation going? This room’s currency is the social networks we all have – if everyone here shared this with their own circle of influence, by January we could probably have touched the entire US. Commit to being able to answer the five questions for yourself, for your loved ones. Commit to advocating for each other. Then commit to spreading the word – take this on as a mission. Just one slide – just five questions – just two minutes to spread the word. Think of the enormous difference we could make together.

Help us Engage with Grace."

Check out more at: Engage with Grace

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Saturday, August 28, 2010

"My Balls Itch!"

San Pedro and the whole Atitlan watershed is a polar combination of indigenous Mayan culture and ubiquitous Western influence. All the women and a few of the older men wear bright traditional, hand-woven garb. Many sell handi-crafts and traditional food on the streets.

Side by side with these are teenagers in blue-jeans, backward baseball caps and sneakers. In gringo havens like San Pedro, even many of the stores are owned by Europeans and a few Americans. (At our favorite ex-pat haunt, the drunk Irish owner literally paid me (5 Quetzales) to add a Colombian, anise-tinted, clear moonshine to my tonic water.)

Despite all the English we hear here, some of the slogan-laden English language T-shirts we find people wearing are truly epic.

Por ejemplo:

"My other body is a temple."
"I Don't Recycle."
"I'm from the land of misfit toys."
"Magic Isn't Real."
"I see your lips moving, but all I hear is 'blah blah blah."

And my personal favorite: scrawled across the chest of a well-to-do 55-year-old, stony faced and, I'd like to think, proud man:

"My Balls Itch!"

I thought about telling him, but quickly realized my Spanish wasn't nearly proficient enough to translate such a nuanced cultural statement.

So we let him go on his way, reasonably convinced that no one whose respect he cares about can speak English either.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Guatemalan Footpaths and Writing Repentance

Sitting at a breakfast table in San Pedro, Guatemala, I am taken aback by how little I've written lately. With the inception off out podcast (, travel, learning Spanish and general scheming, I've been a bit short on literary excellence and corporate processing.

So, to update:

July was Haiti, and just as hot, horrifying and fulfilling as you might expect. Most of our earlier podcasts revolve around our time in Puert-au-Prince

August started out by living vicariously through two Australians we met in Mexico who traveled to the country it looks like the US is pissing on.

Last weekish we took a series of night buses through Belize and onto Flores, Guatemala, where we checked out the ruins at Tikal before jumping on another "bus" to Antigua.

In Antigua, we began treatment for Typhoid (Kate and I eat far more street-meat than can be considered healthy or safe.) and rekindled our love-affair with internet-television.

30Rock consumed the next few days of high fever and rebellious digestive tracts. It was awesome.

Yesterday we took a harrowing van ride to San Pedro, a gorgeous part of Guatemala sitting on lake Atitlan, where we'll do language school for a few weeks.

If you're still reading the most boring blog entry I've written in recent memory (ok, the only blog entry I've written in recent memory), good for you. I'm sure your stamina and attention span has been rewarded in the corporate world. We appreciate your future sponsorship of our international endeavors.

Tomorrow, I promise, I'll bring you fart-jokes.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Buyer's Remorse

Have you ever thought,

"If I just lie down on this incinerator full of medical waste, I bet I can pick up that goat by it's head?"

Until tonight, I hadn't either.

On our way back to the tent tonight, Kate heard a faint bleating. "Awe, poor lost goat," she said, making her way toward our destination after an exhausting day in the clinic.

"Uh, we should probably go visit," I said, grinning. I am more nighttime than Kate and at the equator it gets dark early.

After a bit of looking, we localized the sound to an underground concrete cistern used to incinerate the clinic's medical waste. It was half full of absorbent (absorbed) blue pads, used needles and one lost baby goat.

Only in Haiti.

Glimpses of Star Wars characters trapped in the trash compactor spring to mind.

We open the 4 foot diameter cover, and I say to myself,

"If I just lie down on this incinerator full of medical waste, I bet I can pick up that goat by it's head."

Kate went for some fresh blue absorbent pads to lie down on while I waited with the bleating goat.

She had brought the flashlight with her, and in the dark I realized just how clean the medical waste incinerator really looked. I went for it.


Toes gripping the edge of the cement rim and bare chest scraping against the concrete, I feel as though I may have acted hastily.

Still, I was in it now, literally, and that goat was mine. I just needed to earn his trust...

After some coaxing, patting and a little bleating of my own, I palm the little can-eater's head like a basket ball and pull him to safety (Safety is a relative term in Haiti, but I'd at least call it an improvement.).

Kate returned with the flashlight soon there after, and I used it to examine my belly. I was covered with a thick layer of black - we'll call it soot -and a thousand tiny scratches.

My skin still burns from the alcohol bath I took to disinfect my body from EVERYTHING. While I was still soaking in what I like to think of as a micro-abrasion locator, though, I thought, "How appropriate."

Writing this, I can't think of how exactly it was appropriate, but I'm sure it will come to me.

And now I sleep.

Bon swa.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

90 Second Counterstrain

Kate an I are in Haiti and already disastering with the best of em!

Today, I got to teach a young Haitian translator (named Showty - a self-made moniker named after "shorty," the prominently featured rap name for lil' ladies in the songs through which he learned English. I don't have the heart to tell him what his new name means...) to fix the PVC pipe he shattered, spilling our precious shower water on the barren land.

We made a jump-kit for travel to the "village" (6,000 person tent city - up from 3,000 when we were here in march), and introduced the medical records and treatment protocols Kate worked so hard on - both were met with much rejoicing.

We also published our first podcasts on!!!

90 Second Counterstrain is "a record of our lives recoiled" in minute-n-a-half segments by Kate, me and a few other players to be named later we find along the way. Showty already has his eye on an episode.

We'll be in Haiti for a month and the world for the next 11 months. Our year off officially began 2 days ago, and thus far it has been a dream.

We'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

One Take

(More on TED)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Friday, May 7, 2010

Optical Illusion

1. Turn your sound on.
2. Follow the directions.
3. Prepare to be amazed.
4. Be amazed.

HardTime :: Illusion from ze frank on Vimeo.

Jaustralian Busker

ze's page :: busker :: dubfx :: 'MADE'

I like this guy.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Movement Revisited

I've been taking myself rather seriously lately. I don't like that. In reading old blog entries, I came across this one from last summer. When I wrote it, I felt a little like I do now - or in the words of Johnny Depp's Hatter, like I'd "lost my muchness."

I think I'll be muchier this time around - much muchier.

Or at least, as my yogi tells me, to acknowledge my inner muchness and step into it.

This seems like as good a place as any to start.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I've been tinkering off and on this whole summer trying to find a glint of something writable. From old plot lines to recent dreams, I've sketched out the beginnings of a few too many rabbit trails to flesh out in the short time between now and August first. Allthesame (one word) with nothing to show for my efforts except missing out on a few cold and rainy summer days, I'm calling it quits on writing anything of significance this summer.

It's less like giving up than giving in. I just want to play these few days I have left of the Anti-School and enjoy the company of those I've missed this last year in my whirlwind of medical education. I'm still going to write - I'll probably blog more often - but as for the great unamerican novel I've been working on, I'm gonna leave that to someone with more time and fewer pressing ambitions.

The picture to the right is one I stole from my friend, Matt's website (shhh don't tell him). I think more than anything else, shots like this encourage me to stick with my own personal brand of playful uncommitted writing and leave the rest to the pros.

Lemmi splain:

For years I've considered myself a photographer, an artist let's say, with an eye and a talent for great candid shots. I've never bought a little digital point-and-shooter because I've felt like that would undermine my ability and be somehow beneath me. I took (stole) this photo from one of Matt's many albums - this one being 400 shots deep. I could never take (capture) this shot the way Matt has here (and in every one of his other 399 photos in the album). I'm just not that good. Matt has a talent and a commitment to photography and puts his lens to good use at every opportunity. I on the other hand never take pictures because my old Cannon SLR is awkward, bulky and costs a fortune to develop. What I should do - what I'm going to do - is put the ol' girl out to pasture and invest in a pocket sized, teeny bopper, fast action, digital Swiss Army Knife. Maybe then I won't be so stressed about the art and I'll just take pictures.

For me, writing has always been good for a short burst of self-importance and escapism. It helps me focus my thoughts, create something tangible and disseminate ideas screaming to get out of my brain. It's play, pure and simple. At Gordon, a psych professor told me the definition of play is "movement for the sake of movement."

I like that.

This summer, writing became movement for the sake of something far more tangible than just movement and thus more stifling and confining - more like work than play. I found that in my attempts to take myself seriously I lost the playful edginess that makes my writing worth reading.

--//Strike that//--

I found that in my attempts to take myself seriously I lost the playful edginess that makes my writing worth writing. And therein lies the tragedy.

I started this post with just the photo of the bike on the wire, thinking it would be the makings of a great story. I even titled the page "The Makings of a Story." In the end we didn't go there. We didn't have to. It's this freedom that makes writing worth writing for me - this writing for writing's sake.

While I have enjoyed reading some of my newer, serious projects more than old blogger entries, I enjoyed writing those point-and-shoot snapshots of life much much more. I do hope one day to pen the great unamerican novel. I hope to dazzle the world with hitherto unimagined literary grace, but

I can wait.

Today, today is more important.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Nuclear Schmooklier

Whelp - I posted in some time, but rest assured I have been busy.

Between a trip to Haiti and protocol writing for the clinic we worked with AND planning the kick-assiest "Condoms for Haiti" Party (stay tuned for more on that), I haven't come up for air in a while.

I did, however, catch the interview between Jon Stewart and the Ambassador in charge of world nuclear disarmament. I like that guy. So, if you've got the time, check out the link below and click ahead to about 2/3s of the way in. There's good stuff there and a bit of history that helps give perspective to the current politicking.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Paul Farmer Keynote on Haitin Post Earthquake (LIVE)

Watch live streaming video from global_health_equity at

Wii Curling

Apologies to anyone watching at work...

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Obama Q&A with Senate Republicans

"And here, friends, is where we remove the 4th wall..."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Supreme Court, You Suck! (well, 5/4ths of you anyway)

This week the Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 (Rep. Nominated v. Dem Nominated) to abolish a long tradition of capping corporate bribing of political candidates. I mean corporate funding of political campaigns. No, I guess i did mean bribing...
(Read the whole story here.)

The Majority Opinion:

But Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in a 57-page opinion, said the effort to divide corporate political spending into legal and illegal forms chilled political speech.

"When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought," he wrote.

Justice Kennedy wrote that, taken to its extreme, the restriction on corporate spending could silence media organizations or even allow banning such political-themed movies as "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

He rejected the view that government had an interest in preventing corporations or unions from "distorting" political debate by funding ads. To the contrary, "corporations may possess valuable expertise, leaving them the best equipped to point out errors of fallacies in speech of all sorts," he wrote.

The Minority Opinion:

In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens—part of the majority in the two previous opinions that were overruled—called the majority opinion "a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have…fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt." To underscore his distress, Justice Stevens took the unusual step of reading much of his 90-page dissent from the bench.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined the dissent, which accused the majority of seizing on a minor case dealing with the application of McCain-Feingold to upend a long history of statutes and judicial opinions.

The majority's rationale "comes down to nothing more than its disagreement" with precedent, Justice Stevens wrote, and its opinion "is essentially an amalgamation of resuscitated dissents" from those cases.

And you thought only Democrats could legislate from the bench... Actually, with new and improved political funding you'll probably continue to think that for a long long time.

(Majority and Minority Opinions were quoted from The Wall Street Journal Online.)

Friday, January 15, 2010


Saturday, January 9, 2010


I've been frustrated lately ((the only way to start a blog entry)) at the amount of right-wing, racist, bigoted forwards I've been finding in my inbox. Yes, there's the underlying loathing of ignorant, emailed, self-righteousness and the irksome reminder of my not to distant righty-tighty past -- but that's not it. It's not even the confusion at what folks were thinking when they FWD:FWD:FWDed the piece of drivel to me in the first place thinking I'd enjoy it.

What's really been eating at me is that I've had no place to vent my angsty frustration. No fellow frustatees. No commiserators.

And then I remembered you, my friend and faithful Reader, and this place we come to share and meet and feel together for a while.

And bitch about stuff.

Thanks, Reader, for being there even when all I can bring myself to write is a half-hearted title to an embedded Hulu clip.

Thanks for sticking it out.

I can't promise much for the next few months. School and all that is MS2 is not creative or life-giving or fun. It's less like fodder for writing and more like felled oak that needs to be split and seasoned before burning.

But if you'll last the winter with me - distant and unreliable - good things will come.

This summer everything will change.

I'm taking a year off.