Monday, March 31, 2014

PBS, the Beatles, and Memories

I've always liked PBS. Some of my favorite shows are on PBS such as “Keeping Up Appearances” and “Idaho Reports.”

I was watching a PBS show on Barbra Streisand recently. Though I abhor her politics, I love her voice.

I recorded that PBS Barbra Streisand performance. Often I record PBS shows so I can enjoy them later. Some of my favorite performances on PBS are when Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, and Barbara Streisand perform.

Part of the reasons that I would record those shows was to talk to my stepfather Karl Brown, my mom Faye Dunham Brown, and Carolyn Helland Root, a wonderful friend of mine. I would call them and say “Hey! You should watch PBS tonight because one of our favorite artists will perform.  After that, I will call you to discuss the show.

However, the problem is they are gone now. Sometimes, I get excited about a PBS show, and then I realize they are gone.   But I still record those shows out of memories of them. Old habits die hard.

I also hope some times that my wife and my son will watch shows with me. But they are not really interested especially my son. He has no concept of eclectic music and shows.

I have also realized that my taste in music stems from four people. 

Karl Brown was my stepfather. He instilled a love of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald etc. He encouraged me to read as well. When I was a kid he would buy two copies of the same book. Then we would read it together, and he would discuss the book with me. He would ask questions to make sure that I understood the books. In that way, I would research so much to make sure that I understood the books so I could discuss them with Karl. It was a great incentive for me to research so many books!

Carolyn Helland was like a second mother to me. She would encourage me to read a lot. We would go to Lucky Peak. Carolyn would ask us to lay her blanket on the sand near a big woman. And she would laugh saying “I will look good in comparison.”  Then she would play her portable radio and read books. Her son (who is like my little brother) and I would play in the water. She loved Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Neil Diamond, Johnny Nash, Simon and Garfunkel, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, etc. Even now, when I think about Lucky Peak in the summer, I can hear Carolyn laughing, playing her radio and singing along with Neil Diamond’s "Sweet Caroline."

My next musical influence was my mother, Faye Dunham Brown. I didn't really like a lot of her music because she loved country, but she would sing around the house a lot and she was a wonderful singer. I have wonderful memories of mom's singing along to the radio. Patsy Cline, Jody Miller singing “Queen of the House,” Buck Owens, Charley Pride, Tammy Wynette, etc. Mom laughed that Tammy Wynette’s biggest two hits were “DIVORCE” and “Stand by Your Man.”  

I have a distinct memory of Mom dancing with one of my brothers. The song was “8 Days a Week” from the Beatles. She had a white blouse and black Capri pants. She was probably 35 at that point. She was laughing.

When she died, her funeral music was HER recording of “Danny Boy” and “Ava Maria.”

That takes me to my fourth musical influence: my brother Dirk Dunham. He loved and still loves the Beatles. It is fitting that a memory of Mom dancing with my brother Steve with a Beatles’ song. 

My first memory of a song was “I Want to Hold Your Hand” from the Beatles. I was probably three years old.
Throughout the 60s, the soundtrack of my life was my brother Dirk and the Beatles. Watching Ed Sullivan in 1964 and later in the late 60s performing “Hey Jude.” Dirk is with me. When my parents were divorced, we lived in a small rental with Mom. That was the winter of “Abby Road.” I would walk home after school, and I would play “Abbey Road” making sure that I did not scratch the record. Later, John Lennon was a major influence for me musically because of my brother Dirk. 

 The first album I purchased was Tree Dog Night’s “It Ain’t Easy.” It cost $3.99 at Grand Central in Boise. It was Christmas and Dirk took me to the store. I was 10. Of course, Dirk took the album later, and I never got it back!

Certainly I have branched out in my musical tastes. I love Pink Floyd, Elton John, R&B, hip-hop, some opera, and classic rock. 

But when I think of those four people, I cannot imagine what my musical tastes would have been without them.

It's amazing that music has been a huge part of my life. In happy times and in sad times, my musical influences helped me to cope in so many ways.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Strokes, Smoking and Children's Arteries

Stanford Dunham about 1988
When I was a child, our parents smoked. Some of my first memories were of my parents smoking and my efforts to get away from the smoke. I would rush through my dinner because Mom and Dad would “enjoy” a smoke after dinner. 

Driving to Kalispell, Montana for vacations (where our parents were from) was torture for me because of the cigarette smoke.

My dad was the worst, and he started smoking when he was about 12. He smoked for years until his health deteriorated. He smoked about 50 years.

Mom stopped smoking years earlier than that. She stopped smoking in her late 30’s and she remarried. After that she was so health conscious.  Mom and my stepfather Karl exuded health.

However, Mom smoked when she was pregnant with me. She didn't smoke when she was pregnant with my three older brothers. I was born in 1961 before the landmark report published on January 11, 1964 by the Surgeon General's Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health.

I had pneumonia several times before I was 6, and croup was always a worry. I had major earaches for years.  Even now I worry about pneumonia and bronchitis. As an adult, I have had many bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis.

Perhaps the damage to my system when I was a child was so severe, it might have been part of the causes of my strokes.  Who knows? I have thought about that sometimes though I would never blame my parents. I can't blame them. They didn't know. I didn't know.

They were great people. But, this new study makes me wonder about my health and my strokes. People should never smoke, and kids should never be exposed.  

The Children’s Medical Center in Dallas just released a study called “Passive Smoking  Causes Irreversible  Damage  to  Children's  Arteries.”  This is a long article but I am going to post this on my blog because it is important.

Exposure to passive smoking in childhood causes irreversible damage to the structure of children's arteries, according to a study published online in the European Heart Journal.

The thickening of the arteries' walls associated with being exposed to parents' smoke, means that these children will be at greater risk of heart attacks and strokes in later life. The researchers from Tasmania, Australia and Finland say that exposure to both parents smoking in childhood adds an extra 3.3 years to the age of blood vessels when the children reach adulthood.
The study is the first to follow children through to adulthood in order to examine the association between exposure to parental smoking and increased carotid intima-media thickness (IMT) - a measurement of the thickness of the innermost two layers of the arterial wall - in adulthood. It adds further strength to the arguments for banning smoking in areas where children may be present, such as cars.
The study was made up of 2401 participants in the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study, which started in 1980, and 1375 participants in the Childhood Determinants of Adult Health study, which started in 1985 in Australia. The children were aged between three and 18 at the start of the studies. The researchers asked questions about parents smoking habits and they used ultrasound to measure the thickness of the children's artery walls once they had reached adulthood.
The researchers found that carotid IMT in adulthood was 0.015 mm thicker in those exposed to both parents smoking than in those whose parents did not smoke, increasing from an average of 0.637 mm to 0.652 mm.
"Our study shows that exposure to passive smoke in childhood causes a direct and irreversible damage to the structure of the arteries. Parents, or even those thinking about becoming parents, should quit smoking. This will not only restore their own health but also protect the health of their children into the future," said Dr Seana Gall, a research fellow in cardiovascular epidemiology at the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania and the University of Tasmania.

"While the differences in artery thickness are modest, it is important to consider that they represent the independent effect of a single measure of exposure - that is, whether or not the parents smoked at the start of the studies - some 20 years earlier in a group already at greater risk of heart disease. For example, those with both parents smoking were more likely, as adults, to be smokers or overweight than those whos parents didn't smoke."

The results took account of other factors that could explain the association such as education, the children's smoking habits, physical activity, body mass index, alcohol consumption and biological cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels in adulthood.
Interestingly, the study did not show an effect if only one parent smoked. "We think that the effect was only apparent with both parents smoking because of the greater overall dose of smoke these children were exposed to," said Dr Gall. "We can speculate that the smoking behaviour of someone in a house with a single adult smoking is different. For example, the parent that smokes might do so outside away from the family, therefore reducing the level of passive smoking. However, as we don't have this type of data, this is only a hypothesis."
Dr Gall and her colleagues had shown previously that exposure to passive smoking in childhood reduced the ability of the main artery in the arm to dilate in response to blood flow in adulthood. This new study adds to the evidence on the dangers of passive smoking for children.
In the paper, the authors write: "Together, these studies suggest a direct and pervasive effect of exposure to environmental cigarette smoke during this period on both the vascular structure and function in adulthood."
They continue: "Reducing young people's exposure to tobacco smoke is a public health priority. Legislation can reduce passive smoke exposure, with restriction of smoking in public places reducing hospitalizations for cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Home smoking bans specifically benefit young people and data from the USA suggest such bans have increased from about 50% in the mid-1990s to 85% in 2006-7, suggesting that exposure to passive smoke at home is declining.

Unfortunately, these reductions have largely occurred in higher socio-economic groups, meaning socio-economic inequalities in passive smoke exposure remain. Banning smoking in cars where young people are present, which is enforceable and targeting an environment where exposure is high, could reduce these inequalities. Such legislation already exists in Australia, Canada, and USA. Our results support adoption of all measures that protect young people from passive smoke."
In an accompanying editorial, David Celermajer, Scandrett Professor of Cardiology at the University of Sydney, Australia, and Dr Edmund Lau, clinical associate lecturer at the University of Sydney, call on legislators worldwide to do more to protect children from the harmful effects of tobacco smoke. "Much more work needs to be done to control the tobacco epidemic and it is up to legislators backed by the support of clinicians, scientists, and advocates to end the tobacco epidemic in the 21st century. Today, this is one of our greatest health care priorities," they write.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Old souls, and father and a son

This month, our son is the “Student of the Month” for his third grade class at Sacred Heart. We are very proud of him. He gets mainly “A’s” and a couple of “B’s.” We are grateful that he is doing so well in school.

He is a tough kid. When he was 5, we were robbed, and that was an emotional thing for the whole family. Even now, we have an alarm to make our son feel secure. Then, I had my strokes which was a ordeal for everyone. For my son, seeing his dad scared, not talking right, and other assorted issues, it was tough for a 6 year old boy.

Years ago, I was on a business trip with a coworker, and she said that “Mark, you have an old soul.” I took that as a compliment. I always thought I was old for my age. As my mom would often say quoting “The Raiders of the Lost Ark, It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage.”  I have a lot of miles in me.

For our son, I hoped that he would not get too many miles before his childhood ends. But, his life so far is more eventful that I would have liked. I fear that he might have an old soul like his dad.  

But the good news, he is a great and funny kid. As I said, great grades, great friends, and an irreverent sense of humor. Here are some of his latest comments that make us laugh.  

Several months ago, our son was complaining about his knee. At that point, he was playing fall baseball. Because of pain, we scheduled an appointment to the Idaho Sports Medicine Institute. But before the appointment, he participated in the Sacred Heart Jog R Walk, a big fundraiser for the school.  
He participated even though it was painful for him. Turns out he does have an injured knee and a hamstring growth plate strain. I feel I am the father of the year....

Ethan said......"I want to trick or treat old people...I said why....and he said. "CUZ THEY GIVE OUT FULL SIZE CANDY BARS!"

Ethan was on Xbox and we overheard him tell his buddies. "Hey guys, I gotta tell ya something....remember when I said my dog ate my homework.....he didn't, I did!” We do not have a dog anyway.

Heather was grinding coffee but the coffee grinder trigger button is broken so she used a pencil to trigger the grinding process and Ethan saw his mom and said, “Is that a pencil sharpener?”

Ethan asked his mom, "Who's that lady? The Queen of plants?" His mom said, "You mean Mother Nature?" He replied, 'Yes! If I were her, I have a snow day every day!"

Ethan and his mom were studying for his social studies test talking about Canada and the borders. His mom said, "No fruit or vegetables can go over the border." Our son said, "Well what about cookies? What about chips and dips?"

Shopping with his mom at Fred Meyer, someone broke a bottle of Gatorade on the floor of the store. Ethan said in a loud voice, "Cleanup on aisle six! Cleanup on aisle six!"

After my seizure in January, Ethan excitedly asked, "Do we get to park handicapped spaces because of dad!"

Ethan this discussing college and he announced that he and two of his best friends are "going to Boise State and going to stay in the "domes" together." We said, "Our 'dorms' not 'domes.!" "Whatever," he said.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Stroke and loss of friendships

When you have a stroke, relationships change. It is inevitable that friends sometimes cannot deal with the change.

Depending what kind of stroke you have, I assume friendship after stroke "depends."

When my first stroke happened, we were all in shock: me, my wife, son, brothers, extended family, parents, friends, and, admittedly, the public because I was well-known and an elected official.

The first day or two, I was getting better quickly, and my biggest concern - other than worrying about the stroke and my recovery - was keeping my mother and the public out of the loop. And also trying to reassure our six-year-old son that dad would be okay.

I simply wanted to keep this low-key and to not make a big deal of it.  Several of my closest friends visited me at that point.

Three days later, when I had a massive stroke, it all changed. When I was struggling to understand what was happening to me and I could not communicate. I know the waiting room was filled with friends and family concerned about me. I know there were lots of tears spilled -- including my own.

After the massive stroke when I was too scared to be alone, wonderful friends and brothers took shifts in the hospital so I wouldn't be scared.

Three months after my stroke, my friends and family organized a huge benefit for me. Over 500 people came, and they raised so much money for my rehabilitation. Even now I am dumbfounded and humbled. Two years later, that money is still paying for my rehab.

My rehab was initially very intense. I could not communicate at all. I had aphasia -- still do  -- and apraxia. Reading is still a struggle. I cannot work, and now I cannot drive for awhile.The seizure last month was a surprise, and I have residual issues with that.

I started to notice that I was somewhat isolated. Part of that admittedly was because of me. I was depressed and mad. I didn't really want people to see me. As a communication major who made my living speaking and writing, I did not want people to see what I became because of the strokes. I didn't want people to think that I was a pity case rather than a survivor.

But as the months passed, I started to notice that some of my closest friends didn't come around as much. 
These were not my Facebook friends (I have 1,000 of them).  Some on my closest friends treated me just the same which was wonderful. But some of my closest friends seemed that they were like mourning the loss of their friend.  

It was like a death but there was no corpse. 

I found some friends judging the life choices my wife and I made for our new life. Ironically, those friends who had so much advice rarely came around.

I did a test. I usually initiated the contacts. So, I did not contact them just as a test. Sometimes weeks go by with
 no contact. When I did see them, we would laugh together and sometimes have dinners.

And then like a phantom, they are gone. It seemed like a penance like going to church at Christmas and Easter.  "Great! I did my time so I won't feel guilty for a while."

I have researched a lot about lost friendships and strokes. I found a simple article that I am going to plagiarize because it is the best example how I feel.

I asked several survivors, caregivers, and professionals about why they thought friends disappear after a stroke. Here is what they said.

•       Some friends are uncomfortable seeing a once strong person that is now suffering with a disability which is sometimes extreme. It might be similar to visiting a cancer patient that has little time to live. It is easier to avoid the discomfort.
•       A stroke alters a person’s life. It can change the survivor’s values, goals, attitudes, etc. When these changes occur, whatever the survivor and friend had in common in the first place, may be lost after the stroke.
•       Sometimes, different emotions that are the result of the stroke, such as depression, unexplained crying, anger, etc., can make it difficult for the friend to remain a friend.
•       Sometimes it is just that friends have moved on in their lives. They get married; they move; they have children; they are involved with a host of activities, or their job becomes demanding. Perhaps they now have someone in their own family that needs their attention. The point is, they have moved on to life’s changes and the survivor has not.

So what should you do if you, the survivor, would like to reconnect with old friends and establish new friends?

•       Old Friends     Even if married, having friends to do things with is very rewarding and it is important to give the caregiver a break. First, you must take on an attitude that says, “I can handle rejection and I will become an initiator.” Start out by trying to re-connect with old friends that you haven’t seen for awhile and that you think you would like to see. You will know soon enough if they are interested or not. Remember, rejection is OK.
•       Facebook        Many people in your circumstances have found friendship on Facebook. Friends on Facebook do not provide the same type of friendship as an in-person friend, but it may be a good supplement. You can accomplish the same thing by participating in a stroke chat site.
•       Support Groups
Another way to meet new friends is to join a support group. I have talked about the value of a support group in previous articles that I have written for Strokenetwork.  Invite someone from the group to have lunch, or better yet, start a once a week lunch group. You get to pick the people that you think might be interested.
•       Class   Take a class in an adult night program that you can handle and would interest you. It is another opportunity to meet new people. The same can happen at a house of worship if you are so inclined.
•       Get Out There!  The main message here is to get out and take the initiative. Don’t wait for people to contact you.  The more you get involved with community groups and in groups with other stroke patients, the more you can expand your social life.

I'm so grateful to have my wife and my brothers. I am happy that I have some friends stayed friends! I am appreciative that I am on so many boards and helping people. Most my friends have no idea what my family does every day. For those friends that do, I'm indebted.

Certainly the loss of friendship is hard often. But I'm looking forward to forming new friendships that will last in great times and bad times. Isn't that what friends are for anyway?