What’s it all about? And why would anyone want to read it? Well, let me try to explain without losing your interest too quickly. Basically, it’s all about me. Shameless self-promotion: of my writing, of my novels:
Where Are the Cocoa Puffs? and Reis's Pieces, of my amazing ability to come up with clever captions on photos of my travels . . . And also, a blatant representation of my stupidity when it comes to spelling, editing, and computer-type stuff.

My debut novel:
Where are the Cocoa Puffs?: A Family's Journey Through Bipolar Disorder was released in September of 2010. My second novel: Reis's Pieces: Love, Loss, and Schizophrenia, was released May, 2012!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Best Health Care Money Can Buy

So there I was, holding up my own IV bag, sitting in an ER in a strange place, surrounded by ailing Texans and looking to kill someone. If this is how they treat someone brought in with chest pains by ambulance, then how do they treat someone with a broken toe? Might you wait a week for someone to look at that toe? There was no bed for me, no wheelchair, no IV pole, no one the least bit interested in the fact that I was there. The EMT had poked me with probes and needles and then left me to my own devices.

My mind turned to Esmin Green, the woman who’d died while waiting to be seen in the Kings County Hospital ER. It took over an hour before anyone noticed, or apparently cared, that she was dead. I fantasized about that TV show. You know, ER, where three or four doctors run out into the pouring down rain to meet the ambulance. I looked at all the full chairs in the waiting room. No one had been called since we’d arrived. I turned to my husband, Paul, and said, “I’m going to rip this f-ing IV out of my arm and get the hell out of here!” Because, I knew, even then, that allowing them to bring me to this hospital from the airport in Houston, Texas, was a mistake. At this point, Paul felt it necessary to go up to the desk and ask again how long it might be.

And thus the first leg of our journey home from Belize was interrupted. I’d had severe chest/shoulder/stomach pains in Belize a few days prior to our trip home and had survived, but when the pain hit me again as we rushed from one terminal to the next, we stupidly thought someone should check me out. And that’s how I ended up in this overcrowded Texan ER.

Paul came back and told me that all the woman at the desk could tell him was that the longest anyone had waited that day was six hours. I started pulling on the tape holding the IV onto my arm and Paul said, “Really, Karen, I don’t think you should do that . . .” Then, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, they called my name. And that’s when it happened. I was sucked into the vortex of modern medical care and barely escaped with my life!

Every test they did was normal: the blood tests, the urinalysis, the x-rays, the electrocardiograms, more blood tests . . . yet they wouldn’t let me leave. I was 24 hours into my hospital stay and I still hadn’t seen the cardiologist or been told why (when it was pretty darn obvious that I wasn’t having a heart attack) I couldn’t just go home. I told Paul that I bet if we were uninsured the door would be hitting me in the ass as they shoved me out of the hospital; but as it is, we have very good insurance.

Finally, the evening of day two, they promised me that if my echocardiogram and the radioactive cat scan of my lungs were normal that I could leave the next morning in time to make our 10:15 flight home (we’d rescheduled it twice already). So, night two: I in the hospital bed, Paul in the lazy boy chair. I am abused every few hours by nurses: more blood needed to be drawn from my poor bruised arms, heart monitor batteries replaced, temperature checked, blood pressure taken . . . Then finally the cardiologist shows up at seven a.m. and tells me that my last two tests were normal. “I’m going home!” I feel like Dorothy!

Then in walks a phlebotomist, steps right between the doctor and I, and throws three empty blood vials on the bed and stretches that rubber armband thing at me. “What are you doing?” I ask in my best pre-murderous voice. “Oh!” she chirps. “I’m drawing some blood for your blah blah levels!” “Oh no you’re not,” I say. “I’m going home!” The doctor throws in, “No. She doesn’t need that.” The phlebotomist perhaps notices the doctor for the first time; and I go in for the kill. “Besides,” I say, “if you get another needle anywhere near me, I will be forced to kill you.” She gathers up her torture equipment and hightails it out of there. I’m pretty sure I ruined her day. Really, I was kidding -- sort of.

Then, on top of everything else, Paul gets into a big fight about the rotten state of medical care in the US with the Texan taxi driver who drove us from the hospital back to the airport. The Texan, of course, is going on about what an idiot Obama is for wanting to have the government control our health care; and Paul arguing that our system is very broken; and the Texan saying that Canadians all come to the US for their health care ’cause they die waiting in Canada (I have a good friend from Canada. She assures me that Canadians do not wish to come to the US for medical care and that their system works quite well, thank you!); and Paul trying to convince this guy that something needs to change; and I just wanting them both to shut up! Did Paul really think he could change this idiot’s entire Texan mindset during a $7.00 cab ride?

So I am home, finally. And fine. It was probably that conch ceviche, which was delicious, but perhaps too much for my sensitive stomach. Was I over tested, over poked, over insured, and over treated? Absolutely! If they’d found something truly wrong with me would I feel differently? Maybe . . . But let’s face it, what’s really sick is our health care system. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this tiny first step that our government has taken towards a healthier health care system is just that -- a first step.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The People of Hopkins

We sit outside, under the overhang, at our table facing the life of the Garifuna village of Hopkins, Belize. We order our food and sip our drinks and watch as a world we only think we can imagine passes by. Bikes, toting entire families -- dad peddling, mom on the handle bars, baby on her lap, sister somewhere in between; round women walk by with floral dresses, their large breasts swinging towards the ground; laughter and the friendly call of goodnight; Garifuna children, their hair in pretty little braids, their simple white dresses dulled with road dust, play baseball with a piece of driftwood and a small coconut. A base hit! -- the child screeches with glee and runs towards second. A Rasta man strolls by, his braids swaying to the tunes from the restaurant; more bikes, bare feet pumping lazily; and dogs, always dogs, looking plaintively our way, tails wagging a slow wag -- have we received our food yet? Would we feed them? Our restaurant mates yell sharply from another table. The dog slinks away and I am saddened. I might have slipped her a little food. Two young chickens cross the road; flip flopped feet stroll by; a quick and noisy flock of parrots wing overhead; the soft Caribbean breeze kisses my neck as I swat at a sand fly; and I am disinclined to ever go home.

The Garifuna are just one of the many cultures that define Belize. This culture, descendents of Carib, Arawak and African peoples, created by man’s inhumanity to man, by greed and circumstances, have survived all that time has thrown their way. Beginning with a shipwreck on the island of Saint Vincent, would-be African slaves, never reaching American soil, blended their genes, their knowledge, their tenacity, with the already intermingled Venezuelan Caribs and island Arawaks -- and the Garifuna were born. They lived in relative peace with the French colonists for years until the British came, sparking death and war. The victorious British forcibly removed what was left of the Garifuna people to Roatan, one of the Bay Islands off Honduras, where they eventually migrated to the mainland and colonized along the Caribbean coast forming small peaceful fishing villages. And they brought with them their drumming and their cassava; their stories and their love of the sea; their warmth and their hardships. Now, two hundred years later, they are still struggling to keep their language, their history, their traditions and their place in the world.

And this small restaurant, owned by German expats, called Thongs, sits in the center of this Garifuna village; and it is charming. Often, we eat at one of the many Garifuna restaurants which are attached to the owner’s home, but tonight we chose to eat something different than fish or stew chicken or rice and beans. Thongs is a place that looks safe to a tourist -- foreign, yet not too foreign, painted a pretty orange, welcoming front porch, cute little tables -- so that we are not surprised, as we eavesdrop on their conversations, that the other patrons are all first time tourists.

The young waiter comes to one of the other tables to take their order and I chuckle to myself in an arrogant sort of way as these Americans answer him in clumsy Spanish. Do they not realize they’re speaking Spanish to a German in an English speaking country? But I know I am very wrong to think this way. No matter that I’ve been to Belize a dozen times and I own a house here -- I too am a tourist. And even when we move here fully and I can raise my status to expat -- even if I obtain my residency as so many of our friends in Belize have done -- I will never truly be part of this village, full of culture and rich history; and I will never know the conflict of walking the dusty pot holed streets of my ancestors -- now mingled with foreign investment, Chinese grocery stores, ‘fancy’ restaurants, condos and change -- and watch as the tourists and expats and foreigners eat their dinner while watching me back.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Strutting His Stuff!

In my opinion, this photo, which my husband snapped, deserves its own post.