Archive for October, 2011

Having a child that has a chronic medical condition is challenging.  Dealing with the actual medical aspects and doctor appointments is one thing, but trying to reconcile the emotions associated with the situation is a whole new challenge.  My son has had epilepsy since he was 3 1/2, Tourette Syndrome since 2008, non-epileptic seizures and an anxiety disorder since third grade, and was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes last year.  On top of all of this he has some learning disabilities. 

I sometimes wonder whether anyone understands what we are growing through.  Dealing with these medical issues is overwhelming.  With my son, you never know when a seizure is going to happen and you have to be in standby mode until it happens.  Then diabetes has turned a spotlight on him. It is there in your face, when you exercise, when you eat, when you drink and when you sleep. Always there, always present. 

We were also hit by another blow when it was determined my son had learning disabilities.  After five years, this is still a shock for me.  Both myself and my husband graduated from college.  I have a great career.  Both of us excelled at school.  For me school was easy and I had dreams for my son.  The learning disabilities pretty much destroyed those dreams.  It is not so much about the education. I knew my son was smart, but needed to learn things in a different way. My fear really was around quality of life. Life is not easy and education gives a slight advantage ahead of the masses. I wanted my son to have those advantages and possibly not struggle with life. I had to come to turns that my son’s life was going to be different from what I expected.  It was really hard getting my head around this.  I kept thinking he could get well and he could “catch up.” 

I often wonder what it would be like to not have to explain to my boss that I have to take my son to a doctor every other week, or that the school has called and I need to go pick your son up because he is having some medical issues, or that my son has had a really rough night and I need to stay home with him.  My boss hates this.  I even got on intermittent family medical leave, but he still hates it.  Every day I worry about whether he is going to get rid of me. 

As we have been going along this challenging journey, I thought about how you change depending upon where you are in the cycle of dealing with chronic medical illnesses.  It is almost like the stages of grief.  At first you go through denial.  When my son was first diagnosed with epilepsy, I was constantly doing research to identify how and why this happened.  It wasn’t until almost two years later when I realized it didn’t matter.  He had epilepsy and learning how this came about was not going to lead to a cure.  I also spent years going from one specialist to another, hoping one would have the magic answer that would put all of this in the past.  Yes, I was in total denial.  Rather than focussing on living life with epilepsy, I was stuck on researching the why’s and how’s, which was a useless endeavor. Even if I found out why and how, how was that information going to help the situation? We are still stuck treating the symptoms and mitigating their effect.  Each specialist we saw was just another flavor of the same thing.  We saw medical doctors at Children’s Hospital in Ohio, the Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, a New Jersey specialist in movement disorders, and lastly an Epilepsy Clinic in Minnesota.

I also went through a period of anger.  I didn’t understand why doctors couldn’t first of all make a diagnosis and secondly determine a treatment.  We were stuck in this trial and error mode while we were trying to find the right anti-epileptic drugs that would have a positive affect, and reduce or end my son’s seizures.  It was frustrating.  They were the experts.  Later, it was even more frustrating when I couldn’t get a neurologist to look at the whole picture of my son’s medical condition.  There were so many things happening and they would just react to one symptom or another.

We have also sought spiritual guidance with this situation.  We have worked with pastors from several churches from around the world.  Everyone was praying, praying for a cure.  Looking back, I think we should have been praying for a life, a life with medical issues, but a life of living, rather than grieving.

Parents and children also can get caught in a state of depression.  At times nothing seems to be good happening.  Your thoughts go to “why me.”  My son will beg me to make it all go away.  I don’t think we are quite through this stage of grief.  These medical conditions have engulfed our life.  I am always telling my son to look toward those things that are good in his life.  Think about those moments that bring happiness.  Sometimes, one gets so focussed on the bad, that it is hard to see the good.  I haven’t quite figured how to get unstuck from this stage.  Talking to other people doesn’t seem to help; it is just another reminder of the problem.  When there is a medical condition that reminds you of its existence every moment of your life, it is hard to get away from it.  For my son it includes taking his medications for epilepsy, testing his blood seven or eight times a day to check his glucose levels, avoiding those situations which trigger his tics, and then if they do happen constantly trying to suppress them.  It is stressful.  It is tiring.

I look forward to the time when both myself and my son reach acceptance.  We recently decided to take control of his education and made the decision to home school.  Perhaps this step toward homeschooling is the first step of acceptance.  We know it will take hard work.  We also know that we will do it together which will strengthen our bond.  We now have control.  We can do what his school could not do.  We can pursue education when he is fit to be educated.  I could also mold his education around his needs.  We could also focus on his talents and I think we will find his abilities are far beyond what the schools had pigeon-holed him as.  I also think we will have many opportunities to experience joy while we are on this journey. 

So, dealing with chronic illness can affect every member of the family.  The effects can follow the stages of grief. Denial.  Anger. Depression.  Acceptance.  Both the child with the chronic illness and the child’s caretakers go through each of these stages.  I also suspect that these stages recur as you fight the challenges of the chronic illnesses.  It is true one may reach the state of acceptance, but I am quite sure something will happen and one will be thrown back into that mode of denial, and so forth.

I think understanding that this is happening is probably the best way of getting through this.  By having an understanding, one will know that how one feels is perfectly normal.  It is expected that you would feel the way you do.  It is what makes us human.

I grew up in the age when America began its first steps of controlling pollution.  Who could forget the slogan, Keep America Beautiful.  It was a time that America recognized they needed to protect their environment.  The first public service announcement happened in 1956 which encouraged people to not litter.  It was also the time when the Environmental Protection Agency was created.  We all have seen the numerous anti-littering public service messages, which include some memorable scenes, including the crying Indian.  Since those days there have been many discussions about ecology and most recently the encouragement to recycle.

Susan Spotless 1963 adThough many Americans have embraced the world of recycling, I still think we have taken a step backwards as it relates to littering in general.  Just take a look at the sides of a highway.  There is trash everywhere, and I think it has gotten worse in the last few years.

I wondered what could have caused people to begin littering again.  What has changed, for this generation to begin littering again.  Is it the fact that businesses have reduced the number of outdoor trash cans.  I can remember the days when you parked in a lot of retail establishment within a short walking distance amongst the parking spots there were trash containers.  Today a trashcan in a parking lot is unheard of.  If you are lucky you may find one at the entryway of a retail establishment.

The other change in our society is the fast food consumption on-the-go.  Cars line up at a drive through for fast food.  With fast food comes trash.  And where does the trash go.  You are in your car and you don’t leave the trash in the car.  Do you bring it in your house or your household trash cans?  I suspect most of this garbage becomes the litter in our streets.  In my hometown there is a local fast food restaurant, which has a very busy drive through.  Looking over the area, there is only one trashcan available and it is a trashcan designed to have you drive near it and throw your trash in it.  The only problem is this it is located on the passenger side of the car.  It is frustrating enough that there are no trash cans, but even more frustration when you realize that the trash can is strategically placed to dissuade you from throwing your trash in it.  The other thing that drives me crazy with this fast food restaurant is if you are ordering more than one drink they insist on giving you a beverage container.  This is 2011 and most cars have cup holders.  The minute they give it to me I take the drinks out and put them in the cup holders, and am stuck with a piece of trash that was unnecessary.  This is the same establishment that won’t give you ketchup for your fries unless you ask for it, but continue to give you a cup holder that you do not need.

The impact of littering is enormous and affects each of it.  As taxpayers we pay millions of dollars to City, Counties, States, National Agencies, Forestry, and Park and Recreation Departments to clean up litter.  This money could have been spent on the State’s roads, bridges and thousands of potholes.  Without the help of volunteers and Adopt-A-Highway, the cost would be in the billions.

If you have ever had to research a new area to see the viability of living in the community, the first thing one sees is whether the neighborhoods are kept up.  If there is a lot of litter, it is unlikely you would select this place for your home.  The same is true for tourism; who wants to visit a litter strewn city or park.  These places will not be a candidate for a vacation.  Litter discourages economic development. Litter impacts real estate values. Good stores and important businesses will not locate in a community which lacks the pride to effectively control litter.

There is a myth that only “certain types” of people litter.  Litterbugs are everywhere!  “Litterbugs” can be found among people of every age, sex, race and geographic location, and in every level of society.

Litter Facts :

  • Litter is a safety hazard. Litter is a breeding ground for fire and disease.
  • Litter impacts car insurance rates because hundreds of thousands of auto accidents are litter-related.
  • Ingesting litter causes injury or death to thousands of pets as well as wildlife and farm animals.
  • Litter is a breeding ground for rats and disease-causing bacteria.
  • Litter Finds it’s way into lakes, streams, oceans, groundwater
  • Litter and Waste are partially responsible for the following: (From the EPA)

-50% of United States lakes are unfit for swimming and fishing
-40% of United States waterways are polluted
-35% of United States sewage ends up in marine waters

  • Beverage containers comprise 40-60% of litter.
  • 1/2 of litter is deliberate and 1/2 is caused by materials being “accidentally” lost from vehicles.
  • Males do 72% of deliberate littering and are responsible for 96% of accidental littering.
  • 69% of deliberate litterers were accompanied by one or more people.
  • 60% of deliberate littering is done by pedestrians and 40% is done by motorists
  • Composition of highway litter is as follows: 59% paper, 16% cans, 6% bottles, 6% plastic, 13% miscellaneous.
  • One mile of highway contains approximately 16,000 pieces of litter (estimated cost of pickup is 30 cents per piece of litter)(statistics from the EPA)

Why do people litter?

  • People are too lazy to dispose of trash properly
  • People are more likely to throw litter on top of litter than drop litter in neat surroundings
  • Don’t Care
  • Others will pick it up
  • Not aware they are littering

Primary sources of litter: (KAB Research, 1998)

  • Pedestrians
  • Drivers
  • Household garbage cans
  • Commercial dumpsters
  • Demolition Sites
  • Loading Docks
  • Trucks With Uncovered Backs

Main Types of Litter:

Type of Litter Percentage
Fast Food Waste (33%)
Paper (29%)
Aluminum (28%)
Glass (6%)
Plastic (2%)
Other (2%)

How long does it take to decompose?

Object Decomposition Time
Styrofoam container > 1 million years
Plastic jug 1 million years
Aluminum can 200-500 years
Disposable diaper 550 years
Tinned can 90 years
Leather shoe 45 years
Wool sock 1 year
Paper bag 1 month
Banana peel 3-4 weeks

Source: Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) survey of Adopt-A-Highway volunteers – 1994

The floating island of plastic slush

Did you know that there is a massive plastic island floating in the Pacific Ocean?  It now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States.  This world’s largest rubbish dump is held in place by swirling underwater currents.  This island of death is killing millions of seabirds and marine mammals.  The plastic is decomposing which is releasing chemicals such as bisphenol A and substances known as polystyrene-based (PS) oligomers, which are not found naturally. Bisphenol A has been implicated in disrupting the hormonal system of animals.  The styrofoam releases toxic substances called styrene monomer, which is known to cause cancer.

It is time for a change, again!

The best way to fight against this problem of litter includes:

  • Knowledge and awareness
  • Environmental education
  • Sense of community and an empathy with the needs of others
  • Ease of disposal
  • Law enforcement


It is troubling times these days. People have been facing devastating disasters including floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, and drought. Man fighting against man is happening throughout the world in Afghanistan, Somali, Iraq, Pakistan, Mexico, Sudan, Sudan and Syria. People are demanding a change in India, Philippines, Laos, Turkey, Nigeria, Thailand, Egypt, Libya, Iran, Burma and Sudan to name just a few.  The whole world is balancing a financial crisis, both in the industrial and developing countries.

In the United States people struggle for the basic necessities of life such as healthcare and education. Our educational system is less than desired and is under the microscope of everyone’s observing eyes. It has been deemed that a change is required and it is  necessary for our children to be leaders of tomorrow. Education is being challenged more today than ever because we expect more from the individual to be able to compete in this world’s economy. Schools are also struggling with other challenges. Children with Autism and ADHD is an epidemic. Children needing special educational resources are increasing every day.  Meanwhile budgets are beyond tight, and the educators are struggling to meet the demands of the people in this country.

As a result of these economic challenges, schools are trying to work more efficient while at the same time continue improving the results of our educational system.  To meet this challenge some programs have been eliminated including band, orchestra, choir, and art.  It is a grave error in eliminating these programs.  The arts are just as important, if not equally important, as reading, math and science.

There have been many  eras with economical strife, and many of them more serious than what we face today.  In 1929 the United States was in a depression which affected the whole world and lasted until the late 1930s.  With the Great Depression came  immense human suffering.  People were unemployed, homeless, starving and challenged by illnesses.  But even with this despair, out of the Great Depression we have the novels of John Steinbeck and William Faulkner, the poetry of Langston Hughes, and the plays of  Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. It was also the time for Babe Ruth, Louis Armstrong and Amelia Earhart.

Jonathon Swift was prevalent during the Irish Potato Famine in 1740 where there was mass starvation and disease.  From 1348 to 1350 the Plague killed approximately fifty percent of Europe’s population and reached beyond its borders.  There has been famine throughout human history including the Egyptian famine in mid-22nd century BC resulting in several decades of drought, the Angola famine in the 16th century that lasted 70 years, and Ethiopia’s Great famine lasting from 1888 to 1892 resulting in the death of one-third of its population. World economics have been affected by the fall of Rome, the fall of Chinese dynasties, the fall of  Mayans, Aztecs, Incas and the Islamic Golden Age.

Yet still, out of these years of tragedy we have the philosophy of Cicero, Aristotle and Plato;  the dramatic works of Ovid, Homer, John Milton, and William Shakespeare; the teaching of Moses, Confucius, Martin Luther, Jesus Christ and Muhammad; the music of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky; the paintings of Da Vinci, Renoir and Van Gogh; and the sculptures of Donatello, Michelangelo and Bernini.  All ages have had their turmoil, whether it be war, famine, or environmental disasters.  Yet in all eras we have our masters of art, music, philosophy, and spirituality.  Tragedy does not necessarily mean the end of the arts.  With the arts come dreams, creativity, aspirations, and innovation.

Without the arts the world would be a different place.  Without these dreams and creativity we would not have paper, gun powder, the number zero, printing, morphine, electricity, telephone,  the airplane, braille, the automobile, penicillin, nuclear power, space flight, insulin, computers, genetics, and stem cell research.  Without the arts where will we be tomorrow?  The arts are a part of each and everyone one of us.  They are our conciliators, our call to arms of action, our joy, our celebration, our lamentation, and our tomorrow.  Today’s dreams and stories become tomorrows reality.

It is very sad that our educational system is abandoning the arts.  In the meantime this abandonment may resolve the budget issues, but in the long-term what invention won’t be invented, what musical composition will not be written, what poem will not be wrote, what scientist won’t invent, and what leaders won’t lead.

Thankfully for us, the existence of the arts is not dependent on our educational system.  History has shown us that the arts will survive and will not be dispelled  by mere budget cuts.  The arts can be taken out of the school systems, but it can not be taken out of human kind.  Arts in the school systems have little effect on the child who is amazed at the colors in  bubbles, or building forts out of the couch cushions, or dancing and singing to the latest tune, or doodling on a notebook, or pretending to be a scientist exploring concoctions and sticking them in the freezer. The arts in the schools system would be nice, perhaps even ideal, but not necessary.  Just as in the past, the arts will always survive. They must.  They will.  They are a part of us.  They are the basis of our tomorrow.