Tag Archives: Support

A New Chapter…Still in Limbo

4 Jul

Lifestyle choices.

My wife just joined the “gig economy.”  She is driving for one of those services that connect driver and passenger through a cell phone app (in light of their vast reach and rather spotty record of employee relations, I will refrain from mentioning them by name). She has given up her regular and not insignificant paycheck, her employer subsidized health insurance, and regular contributions to her 403b (like a 401k for the non-profit world) in exchange for a greater sense of freedom and a workplace that consists of just herself and whoever happens to be sitting in the passenger seat at any given moment.

This is a new thing for her…a very new thing.  For almost two decades my wife was a cog in the vast machine that is organized Jewish life in Los Angeles. To be clear, my use of the term “cog” is not meant to disparage my wife or her contribution to Jewish Los Angeles.  Indeed, I would argue that over the past two decades she has played a critical role in a number of organizations—they literally could not have functioned without her or someone like her.  Rather, I think the term reflects how, over time, she came to see herself and the way that she, and perhaps countless others, became a kind of a large, faceless bureaucracy that made organized Jewish life possible in the third largest Jewish community in America.

I bet I know what you’re thinking. My non-Jewish readers are likely struggling to understand the concept of organized Jewish life, while my Jewish readers are certain that there is nothing organized about any Jewish institution—and they may be right.  Nevertheless, the Jewish community of Los Angeles is made up of a host of synagogues, schools, community centers, Israel programs, social justice organizations, philanthropic endeavors, and one vast, centralized collection, or federation if you will, that attempts (and fails) to oversee, or at least assist, them all in their diverse and important work.  Again, because of their vast reach and spotty history of employee relations, I dare not mention that last organization by name, but those in the know can guess the institution that I refer to.

For a number of years, Amy was one of the many employees who made these organizations run. She managed the comings and goings of a small synagogue in the San Fernando Valley, followed by a number of years as an administrative assistant in Jewish educational and philanthropic organizations.  Ultimately, she served as a Human Resources professional at one of the largest Jewish organizations in town (no, not the Council of the Worldwide Zionist Conspiracy—though their benefits package is quite good).  And for a while, her work and her consistent move up the ranks—which she accomplished while being a wonderful, supportive mother, the primary earner in our home at times, and while completing a long-delayed BA degree—seemed to be tolerable to her, if not always satisfying.  She got the Jewish holidays off. She helped a range of people address their personal and professional needs, and as a family we spent a fair amount of time invested in the broader Jewish community (which included my studies in American Jewish history, my daughter’s attendance at a large Jewish summer camp nearby, and a host of other professional and personal connections to Jewish LA). There were certainly very good moments in her professional life and very bad moments too, but they seemed to be no better or worse than any other average Jane’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their workplace.

But eventually, things changed.  Over approximately two years, Amy’s sense of professional satisfaction and above all her health and well-being deteriorated—sometimes gradually and sometimes with shocking rapidity.  Those who have read my work before know that over two years ago Amy suffered a brutal, devastating bout of pancreatitis that laid her up for much of the summer of 2015.  In some ways, she never recovered fully from that illness.  At the very least, the few communal, local, state, and national systems in place to support her recovery failed, and my wife—who by the time all was said and done experienced terrible mental anguish and physical suffering—was forced back into the workforce well before she had the strength or physical and mental wherewithal to engage with it.  On her return, she found a work environment, and perhaps a national culture of work, that had little patience, and even far less sympathy, for her condition and constitution.  The hardheartedness of her workplace and utter lack of sympathy for her health and well-being ultimately led to another, terrible physical deterioration, a lengthy and desperately needed enrollment in our state’s disability system, and, finally, a change in the way she earned money.

I think that I would like to rededicate my blog, which has become rather moribund over the past year, to contemplating and exploring how Amy’s life changes came to be, and how the changing health (both physical and mental) of one or more of family members can shake the family unit’s sense of calm, happiness, and stability to its core.  We are undertaking a new path—Amy, Emma, and me.  And I don’t know where it will lead or if it is sustainable.  If there is one thing that I have learned since my cancer scare, which took place almost four years ago, is that I cannot predict the future at all.  We do our best.  We plan for what we allow ourselves to believe the future might bring. We budget our money best as we can, visit our doctors, try to maintain robust physical and mental health, invest in school, or retirement, or some other such thing, but we simply cannot predict where our hopes, and dreams, and plans will lead.  We do, however, know something about the past.  Indeed, that is the primary reason that I became an historian, not because I wanted to use the past to predict or prevent the future, or even to make sense of the present, but because I have found that the past is the only moment in time that we have the vision and the leisure to review, reflect upon, and, to some extent understand.  So, now that my family seems to be shifting our future direction, I think that I would like to look to the past a little bit to understand how that came to be.  I would like to see what lessons I can learn about our systems of work, finance, and healthcare, the often inexplicable way that family binds us in good times and bad, and, above all, the very tenuous nature of human health and well-being.

A few logistical notes before I sign off.  I think that I will still call this blog Limbo.  It just feels right.  I think that as long as we live we are always between states (e.g., health and sickness, wealth and poverty, mental stability and instability, etc.) and in many ways, I have found great satisfaction in using the written word to contemplate that sense of in-betweenness.  So Limbo it is!  Also, I am not going to make a big deal about this blog. I am not going to post it on Facebook or talk about it a lot, like I used to.  Those who are already connected to my blog will likely get some kind of update from WordPress.  Those who are not connected, that’s fine.  In some sense, I am writing just to hear myself think (I know how contradictory that statement is, but it feels true).  I appreciate an audience (a lot, actually) but I do not require one, and I actually feel a little sleazy about the way that I used to promote my blog to the public. If people want to read my blog, great.  If they want to share it…that is their choice and not the result of me hawking the latest edition. If it just sits there in the ether unread, well…at least I said my piece. Also, I have no idea how often I can update my posts….so likely better to just keep this to myself and see who shows up for the party.  Finally, I encourage those who do read this blog to respond to it.  I have always hoped that the great promise of blogging would be the way that it can facilitate an exchange between the author and the reader.  Sadly, I have not been able to create fully the kind of exchange that I seek (at least not with any consistency) but maybe things will be different this time.  So please respond.  Just don’t be mean.  Life is too short for such nonsense.

As always….stay tuned!

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Returning to the Donut….MMMMMMM….Donuts.

11 Aug

About a year ago, I posted the news of my impending, and what now seems to have become an annual, Petscan. Well, it’s time for another one.  A text to my oncologist in late  June began the process.  Three weeks later, when I hadn’t even received a notice from my insurance company delaying the procedure (a common occurence),  I texted my oncologist again and learned that either he or the folks at the lab slightly misspelled my name.  So some guy named Eric Greenburg, or Erich Greenberg, or Erick Greenburgh got a referral for my scan.  So we began again.  This time, success!  A week after my text, the insurance company sent me an e-mail delaying my procedure by 45 days while they research the need for the test.  Then a week later, the referal arrived. Earlier this week I called the scan place,  spoke to the same guy I spoke to last year (which was kind of comforting), and made my appointment.  Thursday, August 18th, first thing in the morning. 

And so the process begins.  On Wednesday morning I start a 24 hour carb fast.  Not even a piece of fruit until I am done with the scan on the 18th.  On the 18th I am given radioactive sugar, and then placed into what looks like a large donut as they test the size and metabolic activity of my tumor (a structure that one of my friends assures me is my ancestors seeking to live close to my heart–I love that idea).   Then scantasia begins, my family’s celebratory embrace of all the carbs I couldn’t eat the day before.  A flavored coffee and muffin in the morning, Italian food at night.  Then we wait a week for the results, which I am always nervous about no matter how certain I am of thier positive outcome, and, God willing, have Scantasia part 2, the celebration of good news.

As you may recall, last year in an effort to drag all of you into my life and my concerns, I called on all of you to make the day before my scan a carb-filled wonderland for you and yours.  You may not think that stuff like that matters, but  I certainly can’t argue with the results of the scan.  So I am calling on all of you to return to this evolving tradition.  On Wednesday, August 17th, I call on all of my family and friends to double down on their carb intake.  Have some pizza, some pasta, a hoagie (or sub, or grinder). If you are a hipster, please curate a selection of locally brewed, artisinal IPAs and the drink every last one of them.  Or, if you’re like me, have a whole mess of cookies.  When you do, I will feel your good wishes, and that helps my state of mind a lot.  Maybe this year you could take some pictures of your carbs and share them on Facebook?  It might seem like a cruel taunt at my carbless existence, but I think I would dig it. 

Whatever you choose to do or not do, just know that I appreicate your interst, kindness, and support. Naturally I will share the results of the scan as soon as I get them.

As Always….Stay Tuned.

 

Back to Blogging

22 Jun

For the Blog

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post that explained my three week absence from blogging.  At that time a friend of mine asked on Facebook, “Am I expected to read a blog about why you didn’t write a blog?”  Good question, and I suppose he didn’t have to read my blog, but as a good friend, he did.  So I apologize to that friend in advance, because, once again, I write this blog to explain why I haven’t blogged.

 It’s been a long time since I last wrote and posted a blog….a very long time.  By my count it’s been about 10 months, when I announced the result of September’s Petscan. A lot has happened since then. In personal news, my daughter travelled to Israel, where she lived and studied for nine months.  Amy and I learned to live in an empty nest without too much trouble.  The New York Giants had an awful season, revealing their complete lack of an NFL caliber defense.  And I have spent much of the past academic year teaching California history at a local university part time, which is fun, but also very time consuming and frustrating.  In the broader world….well, you all know what’s gone on in the broader world—a dismaying election cycle that seems to signal the rise of the demagogue as a legitimate type of candidate in American politics, a growing divide between rich and poor that makes our current age seem very much like the late nineteenth century’s gilded age, and never ending violence and terrorism at home and abroad, just to name a few.  And all of this Emma’s trip, the changes to our household, the teaching, the election, all of it, has kept me from blogging for the past ten months. Let me explain.

First, I have found it difficult to blog for personal reasons. Like I said, a lot has happened over the past ten months, but not all of it happened to me.  My daughter has learned a number of important lessons about life and living on her own. My wife spent much of the Fall getting back on her feet after her terrible bout with pancreatitis and the other issues that arose from that horrible illness.  And Amy and I both spent nine months without a child around figuring out what married life is like when parenting is no longer the prime directive. All of these experiences are filled with stories—some painful, some funny, some depressing, others uplifting—but most of these stories are not mine to tell.  They happened to someone else, or they are personal moments that I shared with others, and so to tell those stories feels wrong, like I would be violating someone’s privacy.  That was never the intention of this blog.  Over the past few years the point of this blog has been to share my thoughts, my concerns, my fears, and my happiness and to see how that public sharing is received and how it helps me learn and grow.

The election has kept me from blogging too.  To be clear I have discussed politics regularly—especially on Facebook—but I have not found the experience beneficial. I have spent the past ten years or so of my life trying to keep my discourse and engagement reasonable and respectful, but these days American politics knows no reason nor respect. This is true for the politicians and the public, and for the right and the left.  Naturally Donald Trump and his supporters are the most severe examples of this new political tone, but one cannot ignore the vitriol hurled at Hillary Clinton from the left nor the frustrated jibes from Clintonites (like me) aimed at Sanders and the Sanderistas. Since the New York primary many of us believe that Bernie’s campaign and the actions and outbursts of the so called Bernie Bros have been driven by destructive hubris rather than productive care and concern, and our language has reflected that frustration.  I have gotten into a number of discussions and debates this election year, and each time I do I feel angry, frustrated, hopeless, and even a little dirty.  I am not naïve enough to believe that American politics are historically decent and noble, but these days the rules of political engagement seem to have changed considerably. People are angrier, meaner, less respectful, and when I find myself in the midst of these debates I feel angrier, meaner, and less respectful too.  I surely have no desire to spend my time blogging angry and feeling awful, and so politics have been off the table as well.

Even if I could find an appropriate topic for blogging, I have had very little time to dedicate to such an enterprise.  As I mentioned above, I have been teaching this year, this in addition to my full time job at the museum.  I have taught three back to back quarters of California history, which has been great fun, but my preparation, grading, and the demands of my students have taken up a lot of my free time.  As Amy can attest, I have spent most Monday evenings grading quizzes and most of the rest of the week grading papers or reading the week’s assigned readings.  Sure I have read this material in the past….numerous times, but I am also 51 and my memory is less photographic than I would like, so every week I read the homework assignments along with my students—well along with those students who actually take the time to read…there seem to be fewer and fewer of those students every year.

Throughout it all, Emma’s trip, the election, the teaching, and everything else that has happened this year, I have wanted to blog.  Blogging connects me to my broad network of friends (particularly those who live a great distance from me). Writing in a format lengthier than the average Facebook post helps me think things through, and as always, there is a lot to think about.  And of course, blogging has been a way for me to share the never ending saga of the lemon sized tumor in my chest and my, now, annual requirement to have my body scanned to see if anything has changed.  One of my greatest concerns about my failure to blog is that my little corner of the virtual universe will become merely a place for me to share test results. Indeed, sometime this week I will reach out to my oncologist to arrange my next Petscan (the first one in ten months). 

But I want this blog to be more than that.  I want to return to my earlier focus on writing, on the ability to communicate well, to be more vulnerable and honest, and to share my thoughts and thinking.   Recently one of my yoga teachers (yes I take yoga now, and I love it) described the practice as an investigation into two essential questions—what is my purpose? and what makes me happy? (I probably got that wrong, but I think I captured the essence of her statement).  Prior to her comments, I had always thought of yoga as bound up in other questions like, “Why does that hurt so much?” or “Will I ever be able to bend that deeply?” and other such inquiries.  But my teacher’s point resonated with me. Whatever its outward rewards, when I am at my most relaxed and engaged, yoga helps me to focus and think more clearly, and in my most successful moments of yoga I have had some initial thoughts about purpose and happiness.  I think our purpose in this world is to be as fully present and fully engaged with the moment and the world around us as possible.  Too often our ability to appreciate life and each other is obstructed by our inability (or at least my inability) to think about the here and now.  Too much of life, mine and the lives of other people I know, is bound up in endless worry about things that have happened or may happen in the future.  I think we are at our happiest when we can appreciate the moment, any moment, more fully.

Yoga helps develop the focus and calm necessary to being fully present and engaged (to say nothing of how great it’s been for relieving the many aches and pains that come with aging and being overweight), but blogging helps, too.  Sure, very often my blogs are obsessed with the unfixable past and the unknowable future, but the process still keeps me deeply engaged with my thoughts and the process of thinking. And coming to really know and understand my thinking has a beneficial effect on me. Writing a blog is a days-long enterprise.  I take an idea and I work it out on the page.  The more I write, reread, and edit my work, the more in tune I become with my thoughts, the clearer my focus becomes, and I am able to articulate my ideas more clearly and fully.  Overtime, I begin to understand things about myself that I did not know, and the comments from friends and other readers reminds me just how lucky I am to know so many wonderful, thoughtful people. It’s a kind of meditation, one that I have missed.  For the past ten months I haven’t had that experience in my life, and I really would like to regain it.  For now, I suspect, my blog will once again focus on my upcoming Petscan, but I am going to do my best to get back into the process of thinking and writing.  I apologize in advance for those of you who feel obliged to read my work.  I appreciate your patience and willingness to spend a few minutes reading my latest rant, and I thank you for your time and your friendship.

 

As always…stay tuned.

A Less Than Modest Proposal

2 Sep

Baagel Doughnut

In an effort to generate a little positive energy and test the boundaries of my considerable hubris, I would like to declare September 2nd“Eat Carbs for Erik” day.

As some of you may recall, I have my PET scan on Thursday the 3rd.  For those not familiar with the process, the PET depends upon the fact that tumors and other forms of inflammation metabolize sugar at much greater rates than the rest of your body.  The day before the procedure you abstain from all carbohydrates, and on the day of the scan, the medical technician pumps a syringe of radioactive sugar into your bloodstream, which then gets quickly metabolized by your tumor.  So that’s what I’m getting ready for, and it begins with a day without carbs…then a 6 am check in, a 7:30 or so injection, an 8:30 scan, and a 9:30 muffin and caramel latte.  Then we await the results, which I hope and pray are good, and then on to Scantasia!

I call on all readers of my blog, all people in my social universe, indeed all people on the planet to spend September 2nd ingesting and enjoying bready, sugary, creamy, carby treats. And when you do, please think of me. Have a bagel for me!  Have a doughnut for me.  Have a waffle, a roll,  or a pancake for me!  Have a cookie for me, actually, take two, they’re small.  Overcome your South Beach, Atkins, Paleo, Gluten abstinence, 21st century diets and dive into the cornucopia of carbs.  And when you do, when you taste that delicious sweetness, send some positive thoughts my way.  I swear I will feel them.  Who knows, maybe I will even taste them!  And I will be forever grateful. 

As Always….stay tuned.

I Live to Scan Another Day!

18 Jun

Erik Hat

 

For those of you who may have missed my last post, I announced that I was due for a PET scan and would receive the results this week.  Well, the results are in, and there is no surgery in my immediate future.  As my oncologist said, depending upon the angle that you look at it, my mass may have grown a millimeter.  And the only time he would recommend surgery is if I am not feeling well, or if the growth is significant (say, 7mm in 6 months).  I feel fine.  There is limited growth–so limited that my Dr. tells me there is no change in my mass at all–and so we do this all over again in 6 months.  Tonight, Scantasia, an evolving tradition in my family where we celebrate good scan results with a meal out and  the heaving of yet another heavy sigh of relief.  In all likelihood this will be followed by a brief, personal moment of panic and a tortured consideration of my own mortality, which seems to follow every one of these events (perhaps a mild form of ptsd).  I’ll write about it, and other less creepy stuff, too.  Thanks for reading.  Thanks for your continued good wishes, and thanks for your presence in my life.

 

As Always, stay tuned.

 

E

What, Me Brave?

1 May

Bravery

Over the past week or so I have received a lot of compliments on my writing.  While I am grateful for the kind words, I am saddened by the need to write the missive that led to those kudos.  The folks who said such nice things were volunteers at our museum, and the document they complimented was not my blog, but sadly a letter announcing the passing of the spouse of one of my coworkers.  His sudden departure from this world and the brief and difficult illness that preceded it hit many of us quite hard, to say nothing of his wife (my colleague) who undoubtedly will spend a very long time coming to terms with the terrible heartache she’s experienced over the past few months. 

Compliments about my writing have been fairly common over the past six months.  Whether driven by an obligation to say something nice to me or by a genuine belief that my work has struck a chord, many of you who read these posts have written or said some wonderful things about my blog.  I have received compliments on the clarity of my writing, the veracity of my insight, and the success of my occasional joke.  Your Facebook comments in response to my blog posts have portrayed me as wise, steady, funny, honest, and, most surprising of all, brave.    

This last point, comments about my alleged bravery, doesn’t quite sit right with me. Naturally I am pleased—flattered, really—that anyone would call me brave, because prior to this experience no one has ever described me in that way.   I am known for many things but bravery is not one of them.  I have never jumped out of a plane, climbed a mountain (or even taken a terribly difficult hike), slayed a dragon, returned the Ring of Sauron to the fiery furnace from whence it came, nor willingly taken on any adventure or task that might test my courage in any significant way.  In the realm of the mundane, I have similarly never really evinced any behavior that might be seen as brave.  I have never stood up to a bully, never eaten blowfish, never really shed the trappings of a tourist to live like “the locals” in some exotic land, and never done a whole bunch of other brave stuff.  Indeed, I have never even been on a camping trip since my last year at Camp Winaukee (in 1979, I believe).   While I deeply appreciate that some have characterized my blogging as an act of bravery, I suspect that my writing is more about neediness, about my profound fears concerning illness, age, dying, and about my fervent desire to be reassured that everything will be alright. 

I say all this not out of a sense of false modesty (no one has ever accused me of being modest either), but instead because I have seen real bravery up close.  This has been a tough year for some of my colleagues. One woman just lost her husband, while another coworker has battled cancer for well over a year now.  Both colleagues have done so with a tremendous amount of dignity and courage. They have done so quietly, without making a big deal around the office and, unlike me, without sharing their fears in a very public venue like the internet.  These are tough, brave people. My recently widowed colleague nursed her husband through an incredibly painful disease.  Over the last few months of her husband’s life she fought with doctors, hospitals, social workers, and her insurance company in an effort to fight his disease, then to ease his pain, and finally to insure that his passing would be dignified.  She did all of this while routinely showing up to work, which she says offered some respite from the unrelenting challenges she faced at home.  My friend with cancer has undergone one year-long round of chemo and never complained once.  Seriously, not once!  She missed one day of work, I think, because she was in the hospital with a fever from an infected port.  And now, as she undergoes a second round of chemo (a much more powerful cocktail), she continues to show up to work as if everything is normal despite the drugs’ obvious effects.  Just the other day I was exchanging texts with her and she told me she was quite nauseous.  I responded with some fairly pro forma words of support and then told her to take all the time she needs to return to work.  She responded by telling me that she plans on getting in as soon as possible.  Chemo is tough, she told me, but wallowing in self-pity made it even worse!  She is one tough, determined, and incredibly brave individual.  By contrast, I feel weak and whiny. 

I’m not trying to say that my friends’ assessments of my bravery are false.  For all I know, they may be right.  Maybe blogging is a brave act. Maybe being brave means not being afraid to ask for support in trying times.  Maybe each of us is brave in our own way and in our own time.  After all, what do I really know about bravery?  I suppose the point of this post is not to dismiss the wonderful things folks have said about me, but instead to acknowledge the courage and fortitude of some wonderful friends and colleagues who are going through tough times.  They have faced challenges that dwarf those I’ve encountered, and they’ve done so in this powerful and dignified manner.  I am continually in awe of their courage and bravery, and I pray for their comfort and recovery. 

As for me, I muddle through in a very different, very public way.  As I’ve said before, I live to scan another day, and that day is coming up in about a month.  I’m not scared of my approaching Petscan….yet, but when the fear does set in (which in some sense is inevitable) I will tell you about it here.  Because I’m brave that way…I guess.

As always, stay tuned.

Surgery Next Week…Oy!

7 Mar

WIN_20131105_064915

I’m having surgery next week.  There, I said it.  I haven’t been keeping my surgery a secret, mind you.  After all, I mentioned something about it on this blog almost two weeks ago, I think.  Still, I haven’t blogged about the fact that surgery is scheduled, that I’ve done my pre op visits and tests, and that this coming Wednesday, March 12th, at about five in the morning, Amy Emma and I will pile into a car, drive over to St. Joseph’s in Burbank, and I will undergo minor thoracic surgery.  Sounds funny, huh….minor thoracic surgery.  Kind of like fighting a little war, or getting a little pregnant.  But I digress.

Like I said, I have yet to blog about this, and that is unusual for me, since I have blogged about almost every procedure, every doctor’s visit, everything since this whole mess began back in late September.  And yet I’ve been electronically quiet about this.  Why is that? 

A few reasons come to mind.  The first is that I have been REALLY sick the past two weeks.  My family has been clobbered with a brutal cold, and I am just now emerging from  a dark hole of coughing, sneezing, nose blowing, and feeling crappy.  Indeed, it is conceivable that if I am not a lot better by Monday (which I think will happen) we will have to delay the surgery.  Also, I’ve been very busy working on a digital history project for my friends at UCLA’s Center for Jewish Studies (here’s a cheap plug…check it out). 

But I think the reason I have been so quiet, to date, about my upcoming procedure is that I am scared…REALLY REALLY scared.  I’ve never had surgery under general anesthesia before.  Sure, I’ve had a wisdom tooth out under sodium pentothal, and that was pretty cool, but I have never been deep under with a tube down my wind pipe to assist in my breathing.  Never ever.  And I am really scared about that.  Also, I am really scared about what the doctor may find.  Once again I find myself asking God that, if I am not completely healthy, at least please let me have one of three or four very curable cancers. Once more the bar for what I consider lucky is incredibly low. So, like a little kid frightened by the shadow in his closet, or the creaking under his bed, I have become silenced by fear.  Until now, of course.

 Something happened in the past day or two that has made me want to share my story again…to let the good people of my internet village know where I am and what’s happening to me…to ask for your prayers and support, and to let you know how much I have appreciated your support these past 5 ½ months.  I need it again. 

And so please know that I am having surgery Wednesday morning.  It’s outpatient, and so I hope to be home midday (maybe later).  As always I will let you know how I am doing, and I will share what I learn as I learn it.  If you’re praying people, please pray for me.  If you’re not, please just send me your good wishes. 

Thanks for your indulgence, care, and concern.

As always, stay tuned.