Monday, December 13, 2010

Voodoo or Voodon't?

I keep promising to myself that I'll get back to blogging on a regular basis, but instead, I find myself sucked into Facebook and Twitter...and, well, work.

This past semester I've been teaching at three different schools: alternating mornings at Sophie B. Wright and Carver with the Bard Early College program and afternoons teaching creative writing at NOCCA. It's been quite an experience, and I enjoyed being busy for the first time in years, but I've also realized that working full-time means having to cut back on all the volunteer work I've become accustomed to. For the past few years, in addition to my own organization, The Sula Foundation, I've been on the founding boards of two other organizations. No more!

Another by-product of being over-extended is that it has made me more productive with the little scraps of time that I do have. And so, I've finally, finally managed to finish a book proposal I'd been struggling with--and a piece of that proposed book is currently online at Salon.com under the somewhat provocative title "What brought me to the voodoo priestess." And as might be expected, most of the comments, at least the early ones, are responding to the headline rather than the story itself. But, to answer some of the more serious questions raised: the gris-gris bag is considered a hoodoo tradition but this one was, in fact, made by an ordained voodoo priestess; my father's request for me to go to the priestess was not based in any belief in her practices, but more an attempt to convey the desperation he was feeling (also, he knew she lived next door); I didn't have the bag made immediately because I wasn't sure how serious anyone was--and later, I didn't deliver it in a timely because I live more than 1000 miles away from my parents; also, several visits were delayed due to illness (which is mentioned in the essay).

By the time I found a way of writing about this particular episode, I realized that it was really about my parents' relationship with each other, not voodoo. I think most readers understand that too.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's time: Pre-order your 2011 Pit Bulls of New Orleans Calendar

It is that time of the year again; we're racing around town with volunteer photographers, putting together our 2011 Calendar which will be on sale October 16th at the Bark Market at the Bywater Art Market, which once again benefits The Sula Foundation.  Be sure to mark the date, because in addition to our calendar's debut, the market will feature our Fall vaccination clinic with $45 vaccines for all breeds; $15 for pit bulls.  We will also be making our big push offering free spay/neuter surgeries for pit bulls, funded in part by a grant from Animal Farm Foundation

Of course, you can also be sure to be among the first to receive the calendar by pre-ordering it online; $18 per copy with a flat rate shipping charge per order.  We're still tweaking the design, but it'll look something like this:

Quantity

Friday, September 03, 2010

Reading Comprehension

For the past two weeks, I've been teaching Jamaica Kincaid's book "A Small Place" in two public high schools in New Orleans. It is a tricky piece of literature, because the book is very indirect in the way in which it deals with English colonialism and the history of Antigua. Kincaid is sarcastic, passive-agressive, and seems to disrespect everyone on all sides of the issue. So we're stopping a lot to dissect her language and what it means. Next up is Plato, which, I keep telling the students, will be a challenge for me as well as for them.

The students are doing pretty well sussing out what Kincaid really feels about things. I wish the same could be said for some of the readers of my recent Salon piece, who continue to argue over all the things that weren't said or suggested in the piece. They've been doing quite a bit of projecting their own issues, if they read it at all. For example, I recently heard from someone who was upset about my attitude toward Section 8 housing. I pointed out that the essay very directly criticizes absentee landlords who take advantage of Section 8. But he wouldn't hear any of it, because then he'd have nothing to argue.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

My difficult birthday--and "The Story of Doug"


Sometime today I'll be appearing, alongside Tom Piazza and a still-displaced New Orleanian, on the Canadian Broadcasting radio show "The Current," which also airs in the US. We taped the piece a few days ago, and though I don't know how it'll be edited, I think it was a pretty good trio of perspectives on the city.

For a completely different take on the world, you can check out my essay "The Story of Doug" in the September issue of Best Friends magazine. You might even say they are to blame for my bitter Salon piece last week. The editors at Best Friends asked me for a piece on the 5th Anniversary of Katrina and after agreeing, I thought, "I don't really have anything I want to say about Katrina." So I wrote about evacuating for Gustav three years later, the differences in those experiences for everyone, and, of course, the story of Doug, the dog that ended up moving in and keeping old Brando on his toes.

After writing such a cheerful piece, I kept thinking about the other side of things. I wanted to write about the nostalgia we sometimes have for that period after the storm, when things were eerily quiet, but people were united--and happy to see each other. As I revised my way through that, my mugging experience kept distracting the balance of the story, and eventually I decided to just push that to the front.

But, enough of that. Tomorrow is my birthday. Want to give me something? Donate to the fund for Perry and other dogs featured a few posts below. I know a surprising number of people who share September 2nd as a birthday and we all agree that it is an awful time for a party. It is always the day before school starts, or registration day, or labor day, or just before labor day, or just after the start of school. Particularly in adulthood, it is a easier to just let it pass by unnoticed.

Five years ago, I arrived in Atlanta on my birthday, after being stuck in Mississippi without electricity or access to news for almost a week. My friends gave me new clothes for my birthday that year.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Five years later


I've been more or less ignoring the Five Year Anniversary events of this past week, but it always seems like a good time to look back on my blog of that week and remind myself where I was. The day we left, Sula ran away and I had to chase her through the neighborhood. I still miss her. I've also lost both my parents and a few friends (some of whom are technically still living). I've published two more books, and I've written forewords and introductions for several more. I have founded four non-profits. I've purchases two homes. I've almost, but not quite, finished my Ph.D. I need to get on that!

Top ten funniest things about the "Race Realists" who have been contacting me (a work in progress)

1. They think their anonymous email addresses are actually anonymous.
2. They think that by threatening me with violence, they are making an effective case for proving that white people are the less violent race.
3. They insist on using free speech to defend themselves while telling me I have no right to speak.
4. They question statistics of crime worldwide, but use statistics to support their claims when the numbers are in their favor.
5. Another variation on the numbers game: they claim all foreign stats are questionable, but all US stats are accurate. Now, that's really funny!
6. They say that I deserved to be attacked for living in my neighborhood, but ignore the fact that the attack took place somewhere else. (But ignoring facts is their life's mission).
7. When sending their not-really-anonymous emails, they always put something about dogs in the subject line, because they want to make sure I open their threats.
8. They smugly tell me that I'm smug.
9. They assume that procreation is essential my identity as well as their own.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Help pay for Perry's surgery (and fund vaccination clinics this fall)

from The Sula Foundation:

Recently we told you about Perry, who was transferred from the Louisiana SPCA's adoption room and then diagnosed with a serious orthopedic problem in both knees. He's recooperating from the procedures, but now we're hoping to replace the funds that were used to pay the bill. If we reach our goal, we hope to be able to expand to two low-cost vaccination clinic events this fall.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

There's nothing as unpopular as being a victim

Yesterday Salon published another of my essays, which they titled, "Please don't come back to New Orleans." They had actually wanted to title it "Don't come back to New Orleans" but I asked them to add the word "Please." They said they needed to be provocative in order to get people to click on the story, because no one really cares about New Orleans anymore.

Of course, my editor and I both knew that the story was likely to generate a lot of hate--because people don't hate anything more than someone who has been a victim of meaningless violence, and because we're only supposed to say nice things about New Orleans. And that is why we both felt it was important to go ahead with the piece. Initially, I'd imagined it as a lighter piece, in which I pine for the quiet days of my then-abandoned neighborhood. But in an early draft, my mugging appeared, and I knew that people would point to that, whether I wanted them to or not, and decided to just push that to the front of the piece.

I also decided not to read any of the idiotic comments that were likely to follow. But a few people have filled me. Apparently I deserved it. Because I moved to a black neighborhood, and I should have known better than that. Aside from the fact that this theory actually ignores the specifics of the story (the mugging didn't happen in my neighborhood), it is also a mortifying racist suggestion in response to a story that doesn't once mention race. But that's the internet for you, isn't it?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Lost Dogs

If you haven't yet seen today's PARADE magazine, you should rifle through the funnies and find it--there's a great excerpt from Jim Gorant's book THE LOST DOGS, and a pit bull on the cover. I read Jim's manuscript a few months ago, and provided this quote for the back jacket:

“Jim Gorant’s remarkably even-handed The Lost Dogs is a gripping story of redemption that uncovers the other side of the Michael Vick story. A portrait of dogs as individuals, caught up in events that reveal the best and worst of human nature, The Lost Dogs will validate dog lovers and possibly transform cynics as well. In the fate of dogs like Jasmine, Leo, and Hector, we can see ourselves—and the complicated world around us.”
—Ken Foster, author of The Dogs Who Found Me


Jim's story began with a Sports Illustrated cover story last year, which made me green with envy until I realized that he was in a much better position than I as far as reversing the stigma people have regarding pit bulls. At this point, people expect me to make the rational argument in their defense. But Jim doesn't own pit bulls; in fact, I'm pretty sure he doesn't own a dog at all. And he's one of the most poker-faced reporters I've ever encountered. He's agenda-free. Which makes his account much more powerful.

Ever since The Dogs Who Found Me came out, I'd been trying to sell a publisher on doing a cultural history of the pit bull. No one wanted it. My own publisher, which bragged of their success with The Dogs Who Found Me, didn't want it, and they also had huge issues with the image of Brando that I wanted on the cover of my follow-up, Dogs I Have Met. They apparently weren't aware that there were pit bulls in The Dogs Who Found Me, as well as one peering out sympathetically from the book's cover.

PARADE magazine also approached me about writing for them, but like many editorial staffs, they had a relatively narrow idea of what would work for their magazine. When I tried to pitch a story about pit bulls and other maligned breeds, it was literally as if they didn't understand a word I was saying. In the end, they assigned me to follow therapy dogs in a nursing home, and then killed the piece, admitting that it hadn't been such a good idea after all. Last year, they ran a small piece by a conservative journalist, asking whether pit bulls should be banned, and skewing the numbers to make it seem that yes, they should. I wrote to the editors that I had worked with to express my disappointment, particularly since they had already heard from me, in my previous pitches, that these statistics were not true. No surprise, I got no response.

So it is great to see THE LOST DOGS on the cover of PARADE, riding high on the Amazon bestseller list with a great line-up of radio appearances coming up--all a month before publication. Maybe things are looking up!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

In defense of Elizabeth Gilbert and "Eat, Pray, Love"

Earlier this morning I got into a strange, pointless debate on Twitter regarding Elizabeth Gilbert and her memoir "Eat, Pray, Love." What started me off on this topic was the backlash that has been aimed lately at the book and now the movie of the book (which I haven't seen.) What is curious is that a lot of the print backlash (which is limited to a single argument/complaint: "its all about her, not about me") comes from the same sources that embraced and promoted the book to begin with.

The problem with this line of critique is that the book "Eat, Pray, Love" never pretended to be about anything other than Liz Gilbert. That this became a phenomenon is not the fault of the author, nor is she responsible for the thousands of women who have decided that they should follow her path to find themselves.

I should disclose: I know Liz Gilbert, or, I should say, I knew her. Back in the 90s, she was a frequent reader at the KGB Bar reading series that I curated. She hadn't yet published a book, but her short stories, and her journalism, were great pieces that lent themselves well to being read to a crowd. I was particularly taken with her non-fiction, because she always found a way of using it to critique herself as much as her subject; to me, this seemed a fair approach. She was also willing to share stories about her writing career: her embarrassment at having an editor point out her writing tics, her success at accidentally resubmitting a rejected story to one magazine, which found the unchanged draft suddenly perfect.

When the KGB Bar Reader came out, we did our first radio interview together and complimented each other on our practiced eloquence and charm. Every Halloween, she and her husband hosted a huge party in their small apartment overlooking the parade. These social occasions always seemed less fun to me; this might have been my own social awkwardness, but in retrospect I also wondered if it was because she wasn't really having as much fun as she always claimed.

We fell out of touch around the same time my collection of stories came out; later, reading her memoir, I realized that this was probably around the same time her life was falling apart. Just before its publication, I interviewed Liz for Time Out New York. We actually both had memoirs coming out, and although it never made it into the printed piece, we talked about how strange it was, how unimaginable, that the two of us, of all people, had memoirs coming out (The Dogs Who Found Me was due out in a few months). But we both felt really good about our books; in fact, we both felt completely confident in what we had written, and unconcerned about how they might be received. This was a completely new and liberating experience for ourselves. I remember saying something along the lines of "I feel like people will really like my book, if they read it. I don't know how many people will find it, but I feel like it has good things to say." Liz felt the same about her own.

Of course, my book was being published on a much smaller scale. The initial printing was about 2000 copies. The orders were even less. Fourteen printings later, it has about 60-70,000 copies in print. So I feel like a also know a little bit about the frenzy that comes when a book exceeds its audience. As a writer, you feel an obligation to the readers who have found your book valuable. You hear from people who are grateful that you have given them, in some way, a voice. So, you keep talking. You keep granting interviews. You keep going on reading tours. Because you know you probably aren't going to have this chance again, this opportunity to say that there are a few things that matter to you, this chance to let other people speak alongside you.

And with that comes the growing number of voices who ask, quite reasonably, "Who do you think you are?" You can see this effect particularly on places like Amazon, where the growing number of reviews include people who feel the need to take the book down a notch or two, who slight it for being about a flawed person, who claim, in some cases, to be a better person than the author, a more worthy subject for examination. What has happened is the book has reached beyond its actual audience into a readership for which it was never really intended.

And that is when you realize how very lucky you are.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The latest on my heart, my pacemaker and incompetence at Tulane Medical

You may remember that a few months back, in April, I had a little heart incident and ended up at the nightmarish Tulane Hospital, where they refused to release me but also didn't have time to treat me. Eventually, I called a lawyer and they finally found the time to do the relatively simple procedure of switching my old pacemaker for a new one. After I blogged about the experience, I began to hear from former and current employees, all of whom confirmed that the poor treatment I received was not only a violation of basic standards, including HIPA, but also par for the course at Tulane. In fact, within a week of my release, the substandard "over-flow" area that I had been trapped in was cleared out--but only for a day, to keep an accreditation team from seeing what goes on.

Meanwhile, employees concerned about losing their jobs had a series of meetings with me in which they apologized for the care I'd received. The head of one department asked me if I would come in and talk to the staff and part of a training, so that they would understand what not to do. This seemed like a strange request, but I agreed to it anyway, because I was pretty certain the woman had no intention of contacting me again. She just didn't want to deal with a potential lawsuit. And, of course, I was right. She walked away feeling that she'd covered her ass and needed be bothered with keeping her word.

Another thing happened immediately after leaving the hospital: my pacemaker began pacing my diaphragm instead of my heart. I knew why: they had an inexperienced staff member insert the leads in my chest and one was so misplaced that the supervising doctor instructed him to removed it and try again. Apparently the lead was still misplaced. But when I returned to have this corrected, everyone insisted it was normal and fine, and they lowered the voltage of the pacemaker so that the diaphragn wouldn't be bothered anymore. I asked if it was still able to pace my heart, and the doctors assured me it was fine.

Last month I went for a check up with my new cardiologist, who had already expressed befuddlement at the records from my Tulane stay and the mountain of medications that they had put me on. Now, three months after implantation, they had a Medtronic rep in to check the pacemaker's record of activity and other settings. Ooops, it turns out that it wasn't capturing on one side! Why? Because the voltage had been turned down.

Anyone else have any stories about treatment at Tulane that they'd like to share?

Monday, August 09, 2010

Is it time for school to start already?

I continue to promise more frequent postings here, but I've been so busy trying to get a few things done before the end of the summer that I haven't had time to think--and I hate to post things without thinking. So, what have I been up to? Trying to work on a book proposal that is outlined by the major events of my past three years--yet with three deaths, one near death, a mugging, a skin graft, several murders, a shooting, and a few other crisis, it is a struggle to keep it from becoming melodramatic.

I've also written a few short pieces, including one coming up in Best Friends magazine and another for Salon.com. And I don't know that there could be two more different pieces of writing.

And, of course, I've been up to my ears in dogs, including Bonnie, who came from a dogfighting bust in Tallahassee and appears to be blind from either a blow to the head, or early disease. You can watch her playing with Zephyr (sort of) below:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Don't worry, I'm alive, just busy

Over a month has passed since my last post, but it is not because I am dead.

I taught summer school for two weeks at NOCCA, with 28 students from 7th through 11th grades and my co-teacher was Henry "Simply" Griffin, and old friend who also happens to be an actor (and character) on Treme. Class started at 9am and ran until 2:30, so there wasn't much time to do anything else. Then, as soon as that was done, I was off to Michigan for my nephew's graduation and a few other bits of family business.

And, on weekends, I continued househunting, for a little getaway/evacuation location out of town. I've been to Vicksburg, Tylertown, Natchez, Bogalusa, Gloster, Centreville. But what am I looking for? Something far enough to be safe from a hurricane. Something close enough to be a weekend retreat. Something nice enough that it doesn't require work to move in. Something rustic enough that it fits my budget. Needless to say, I haven't found the right place yet. Or maybe I have, but the owners are holding out for more than I'm willing to pay. I keep thinking back to the advice given in Howards End: you set your market and you set your price.

Also, I'm working on a book proposal: another memoir. And writing some essays, including a piece that will be out in August for Best Friends Magazine.

Remind me to tell you the latest news about my heart...

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

House hunting

I've been house hunting, which is always exhausting, but possibly more so when you are hunting for a possible second home. This sounds so extravagant but the purpose is to have a place to evacuate to with my dogs (and Sula Foundation foster dogs) during hurricane season. We were incredibly lucky last year with no evacuation required, but eventually our luck will run out and we'll have to duck out of town for a few days until the storm has passed.

Of course, I wouldn't even be able to think of shopping for a house if not for the fact that we just sold my parents' house in Pennsylvania, so I have "real estate money" that I'm rolling over into more real estate. I'd love to leave my current property in the Holy Cross neighborhood, but there are a few problems: one is that I probably couldn't sell it; the other is that I'd hate to give up the double lot. For a while I did some looking around New Orleans for a fixer upper, thinking that I might eventually move into something else in the Bywater or Seventh Ward. And I made an offer on a HUGE house at 1555 N. Miro, which was 4200sf but filled with great historic details. Unfortunately, the inspections found that it was also filled with active termites, and illegal sub-code plumbing and wiring, all of which would need to be torn out. The current owners have had the place for seven years without treating it for termites, and the work they did on the property was not only incomplete, it was also completely incompetent. It is a tragedy for the house.

Last week I traveled up to Tylertown and Vicksburg, and later this week I'll check out Natchez. So far, I can't seem to make up my mind between a relatively rustic, secluded property or something larger, nicer and possibly rentable when I'm not around.

Friday, June 04, 2010


It has been a month since Sula passed. Hard to believe. I've been keeping busy, looking for an evacuation home, writing, and looking after Brando, Zephyr and Doug, who are all having a hard time without Sula. Their grief has been, somehow, a surprise.  

I've also been working on several projects to commemorate Sula. The first of these is the gorgeous Sula collar that was launched yesterday by Paco Collars.  Paco collars create exquisite, hand-crafted leather leads, collars and leashes.  "The Sula" features a diamond pattern modeled after our Sula's white diamond marking on the back of her neck.  A portion of all sales of the collar will be donated to The Sula Foundation, and through June 7th, 20% will be coming our way.  Check out "The Sula" and other collars at their website; they may be a little more than you are used to spending, but they are worth every penny. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Did I mention I can be followed on Twitter?

I've been tweeting up a storm, posting links to interesting essays and news stories, including my own. You can follow me at KenFosterWrites on Twitter. One of the other Ken Fosters beat me to my name.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sunday, May 09, 2010

More on Sula

Early this week, my dog Sula passed away.  This is the kind of thing for which you can never prepare yourself; I wake up every day to find a blank spot in my daily routine.  The house is too quiet.  The other dogs don't know what to do. 

I know that Sula meant a lot to other people too, which is why I am sharing this news publicly (in an essay at Salon.com), while at the same time mourning privately.  At some point in the future, we will have an event to celebrate her life and her legacy. 

Sula's arrival
Sula discovery
Sula showed up on St. Patrick's Day in 2004.  In the past six years: she has been the subject of a memoir and numerous news features and essays; she has appeared on television interviews in New Orleans, Gulfport, and Memphis.  She was a guest at the St. Louis Film Festival and discussed on NPR's Fresh Air.  Her image was plastered on large posters all around the city of Los Angeles.  Her story has been translated into Turkish and Japanese.  She had a very full life and helped to save the lives of countless other pit bulls around the country and the world.

More than that, I loved her and she loved me.  And I miss her.

We have already begun to receive donations in her name, which will go toward paying medical bills for other stray pit bulls; donations can be made by PayPal to sulafoundation@gmail.com or by mail.  But we also know that Sula would also be honored if you chose to give something to your own local pit-friendly rescue, in her name.  Or by volunteering a few extra hours at a local shelter, and thinking of her while you are there. 



Sincerely,

Ken Foster
The Sula Foundation
PO Box 3780
New Orleans, LA 70117

The Sula Foundation is a 501c3 public charity.


Thursday, May 06, 2010

Losing Sula

My little pit bull girl, Sula, passed away this week. I could not have imagined how devastating this is. The morning routine. The empty bowl.

She worked her way into an essay about the oil spill at Salon.com.

I miss her more than I could have ever imagined.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dominick is looking for a good home



Dominick moved into the spare room a few days before I ended up in the hospital. It must have been very confusing for him! I first picked him up a year ago, eating garbage on St. Claude. He stayed at Zeus' Place for a year, attended countless adoption days and even appeared on Good Morning New Orleans. But he's still looking for a home.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

My nightmare night


I knew that eventually, the whole experience at Tulane last week would catch up with me and I'd have an emotional reaction, delayed like it is after a near-fatal car accident.

This moment came, like clockwork, in the middle of the week, in the middle of the night. I woke up from a deep sleep and found Brando motionless beside me. I was convinced he was dead, and that he was dead because I had failed to remember to give him his medication. The merger of dream and reality was so tight that it took several minutes to realize that none of this was actually happening. Brando was asleep, and he isn't on any medication. Still, I had a hard time shaking it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More on my medical drama

I've been getting a lot of response to that last post of mine, including a few people from inside Tulane and even more from other medical institutions around the country. I want to clarify that I do understand that not all patients are treated immediately and I've probably been very lucky with my previous treatment at other institutions. I also understand why, for example, phones aren't installed in ICU "rooms" (the problem being that I wasn't supposed to be in ICU and needed a phone to try to get out of there). More than that, I want to say that the vast majority of the people I dealt with at Tulane, as individuals, seemed to be doing all that they could. But there's something wrong with the management of a system in which anyone has to wait that long for treatment, and in which the continual delays result in beds being unavailable for people who really need a bed.

I spent the weekend trying to get in touch with someone--anyone--at Tulane, to try to find the missing information from my discharge. None of the on-call doctors were able to help me, but said they would leave a message for Dr. A, my new cardiologist, to call me. No call came. I spent Monday making multiple calls to try to get an appointment with him--no one was able to get me to the proper person who might schedule that. I called a Dr. at another hospital and was able to talk to someone immediately, schedule something for next Tuesday, and was warned "When we have patients from Tulane it is impossible to get their records." So, at least I know its not just me.

Meanwhile, when I lay on my left side, I feel a strange twitching in my diaphragm, which makes me worry we're going to have to start over again with with those misplaced leads in my chest.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Now I Know What it Feels Like to End up at the Pound

This past Monday, after an energetic and productive weekend, I spent several hours at work at NOCCA, then spent bit of time going over my UNO students' work before heading back to the gym for the first time since getting surgery on my eardrum a month ago. It was a quick workout. Fifteen minutes in, as we headed from a bike to the weight room, I felt dizzy and after a few minutes of sitting, I laid down on a mat and the staff called EMTs. The EMTs carried me out, and though I was conscious and not experiencing any pain, they used a defibrillator to correct the rhythm of my heart, which was apparently racing. I was terrified--not of my condition, but of the blast of electricity I was about receive. Though I was strapped down, I literally was blown out of the restraints. "How do you feel?" the EMT asked, and I answered "I feel great!" which was true.

They asked which hospital I preferred. I told them that I had only been treated at Ochsner Baptist and they took me to Tulane, because it was closest. Once there, I was stabilized and admitted. Most people know that I have had a pacemaker for about five and a half years. I've also been working with a trainer at the the New Orleans Athletic Club for the past seven months. There has been no reason to suspect there was a problem. And then this.

It was quickly determined that there were two possible problems that needed to be immediately addressed. There could be a blockage with my heart, or a problem with the pacemaker. A man from the pacemaker company was on the scene quickly, downloading a series of reports from my body; there was no need to talk to me, since the information was already stored. I felt like a machine.

Tuesday morning, they would do angiogram, and if there were blocked arteries, it would be fixed by a stint or bypass. They wheeled me up to the ICU overflow wing, because there was no room elsewhere. It was dark and there was an abundance of swivel chairs blocking the hall. "Is this a storage area?" I asked, and I was serious. But it wasn't storage, and there were a few other patients up there and even some staff. They put me in a corner and told me I'd be transferred to a room the next day, though they weren't sure when. At this point, I was very understanding of the uncertainty of my care, but at the same time, it seemed like such a chaotic mess at Tulane Medical Center, I wondered if it might be a good idea to arrange a transfer to Ochsner.

The curtained off area I was assigned was barely larger than my bed; when I asked about a bathroom I was told that there wasn't one on this wing. And it was hot as hell--the air-conditioning had been broken since the previous Thursday. Tuesday morning someone else on the hall passed away, and I watched as about fifteen residents and interns crowded the door to watch. One of the nurses on duty was planning her wedding, and spent most of the day discussing it with co-workers. At one point I heard her on the phone making an appointment to be waxed. But I wasn't allowed to have a phone; this was ICU policy. I did have my iPhone, and though it often didn't have a signal for calls, I was able to email the outside world.

By Tuesday afternoon, and 24 hours of not eating or drinking, I asked why I hadn't been taken down to the CATH lab to have the angiogram that I'd been told was vital that morning. No one knew. After throwing a mini-fit, I was squeezed in late in the day, but the results were puzzling. No blockages meant there was no obvious treatment for me. But, worse news: my heart was enlarged and weak. This was very serious, and we needed to address it as quickly as possible, I was told. They had already said, before the angiogram, that it was likely I'd need an upgrade to a pacemaker that also defibrillated; the new pace would be lower, so that my heart would returning to doing whatever work it could. Wednesday morning, they would proceed with that upgrade while they continued to investigate possible causes. That night I was able to eat for the first time.

Each morning, the staff would wake me at about 4 to draw blood to send to the labs. Then I would lie awake, trying to figure out what was going on. Early Wednesday, after the labs, I was told that I'd been taken off the schedule for the day. No one could tell me why. Breakfast arrived and I put off eating it, hoping that they might put me back on the schedule. A woman from the pacemaker company arrived and did an analysis of the pacemaker that was currently in my body. And here was the surprise: when the pacemaker was installed, it was because only one half of my heart was receiving the electrical pulse signal. But now, she was able to turn my pacer off and my heart was able to hold a steady beat of 55-60 beats per minute. The pacemaker had been set to go on if my heart went below 70 beats per minute. So my heart, at some point, had essentially been usurped by the pacemaker--and this, perhaps, is why it grew large and week. They decided to keep the pacer off, while giving me medication to ensure a regular beat. The medication was a pill, which I took twice a day with other pills; the dispensing of pills twice a day was the extent of my ICU needs. Yet they wouldn't move me.

Late Wednesday, I contacted my insurance to ask if they could arrange for me to transfer somewhere that could actually address the situation more quickly. At this point I'd missed three days of work and had a friend trying to take care of five dogs in my house in addition to her own. I was behind on work for my Ph.D. Also, I kept thinking of Brando, my oldest dog, who I'd been nursing at home for over six months with injections, anti-inflamatories and other short-term remedies. The insurance company was alarmed at what I told them, made a few calls, and was assured that I would get the pacemaker implanted in the morning.

Thursday I spent the day not eating or drinking again, and once again, I was bumped from the schedule. At this point, I tried contacting the case manager at the hospital; could he begin exploring other options? Could he find another possible facility? Would I ever be moved into a room? He told me that there were eight people waiting for beds for the night--they were on stretchers. I pointed out that I was waiting for a 30 minute procedure that would then open up a bed after I was gone. Eventually, he promised that he would make calls Friday morning to other places; later, I found out that he wasn't even scheduled to come in. This wasn't the only strange reversal. Throughout the week, one person would tell me something and another would say the opposite. For example, I was told at one point that I could be sent home with a defibrillating vest, and return as an outpatient. When I asked the caseworker about this, he said that was absolutely impossible, and would take days for insurance to approve. One of the doctors (I was, apparently, being treated by five doctors, though most who were listed on my case I had never even met and depending on who I asked the person in charge was Dr. Cook or Dr. M or...) told me that the reason for the delay was that they were very careful about observation post implant. I pointed out that in order to observe me post-implant, the implant would have to actually be done.

I didn't sleep well Thursday night, although, as usual, I was allowed dinner as my only meal of the day. I had been off the IV since Tuesday. Could it really be good for me to fast in this condition? The man behind the curtain to my right was having Katrina flashbacks all week. On the left, I had an actual wall rather than a curtain, but it also had a door, which led to a room where a series of highly infectious patients had been stored. All day long, people walked through my area to get to whoever was in that room. They hung their med coats on a hook above my head. In the space between the bed and the wall, there was just enough room for my tray and the portable toilet, but not really enough for me to maneuver between them.

On Friday I woke up and was told, once again, that they couldn't promise anything. But at least there would likely be a private room opening up for the weekend. The dogsitter texted me to let me know that Brando wasn't eating. That was it.

Early in the week, the HBO show TREME had premiered; one of the characters, played by Melissa Leo, is a civil rights lawyer, based on the very real and very amazing Mary Howell. I'd been joking with a friend at the beginning of the week that we might need to hire Mary to track me down in the system, as she so often does for people who go missing while in police custody. So, I emailed Mary. And Mary contacted Steve, a lawyer who, coincidentally, was also a former neighbor of mine. And he called the hospital, talked with several departments to find out what was going on, and also talked with the hospital's legal department. Suddenly I was being taken to have the procedure done. On the way, the medics transporting me discovered there was only one working elevator to take us there; we were late, and the Dr. had become impatient and gone. Earlier in the week, I'd been assured of what an expert he was; how lucky I would be to have him implant the device, when it actually happened. Eventually he returned, and I was not put entirely under. Because I was actually conscious during the process, I was able to listen to the conversation in the room, as the doctor instructed an intern in how to thread the leads to my heart. It took two hours. At one point, I heard the Dr. reassure the intern, "No one saw that." At another point, they had to retread a lead because the intern had asked for the wrong size.

Saturday morning, after spending the night in a room for the first time, yet another doctor who was, in some way, "my doctor," arrived in my room to introduce himself as they prepared to discharge me. He scolded me for not taking pain meds that had never been brought to me. Another Dr excused himself to get the meds, and then never returned. Six hours later, as I was walking out the door, someone gave me the pill. They also gave me my discharge papers. When I finally got home, I read over them and found reference to eight educational pamphlets that had supposedly been distributed to me. I hadn't received a single one. There was also no mention of the pacemaker I had just received. And there was no information on what I should expect or avoid with this new device in my body.

Friday, March 26, 2010

How I Learned about Sex

Friday and Saturday night, I'll be participating with seven others in a reading titled "How I Learned about Sex" at Le Chat Noir. You can click on the link above for more info. How did I ever agree to do this? Someone called and said they had a favor to ask, and my first thought was that he wanted me to take back the deaf pit bull I'd left at his house. So, I said yes. And now I'm scrambling to figure out the answer to the evening's question.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Post Op


Here I am, post surgery. On Wednesday I underwent a tympanoplasty to repair damage to my eardrum back in October when I was mugged. It was clear that I had some hearing loss, but even I was surprised when tests showed a 35% loss on my right side, so there were things I was not hearing AND there were things I wasn't even aware I wasn't hearing. The overall effect was one of receding a little further back from the world. I think we've all been in a room with an older person who seems to not be listening or not care that they aren't hearing the conversation around them. That was me--although I wasn't entirely aware of it until the tests came back.

So Wednesday morning they put me under and cut an incision along the back of my ear, removed some muscle tissue and inserted it between my ear canal and my inner ear to make up for the membrane that was broken when I was attacked. Essentially, this is a skin graft. And now I have to be patient while we wait to see if my body accepts it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Brando gets sick; Metairie Small Animal Hospital gets rich


Last Friday night, Brando began to have diarrhea, although when I first discovered it I wasn't sure if it was that or vomit. It had that kind of acidity to it. Yuck. He seemed better the next day, but when I left in the evening he wanted to stay on my bed, so I let him...and returned a few hours later to bloody puddles everywhere. I tried some pepcid, but he threw that up. So I slept with him next to me in bed, worried about his deteriorating health. He was scheduled for surgery this week for several cysts and a few bad teeth that should be removed.

In the morning, we drove out to Metairie Small Animal Hospital, one of the clinics that also operates as an emergency facility. I had called ahead, and it was suggested that I come in at 9 to avoid the emergency fees. Brando's symptoms were identical to some problems Sula has had in the past, which were treated for her with a quick IV of fluid, an injection of anti-nausea meds, a prescription for Flagyl and some I/D food. But the Dr. at MSAH wanted Brando to stay overnight, possibly for two nights. And, in a panic, I agreed and went home to sit in a stupor with the other three dogs.

In the morning I called to check on him, and was told he was doing well. They had given him an IV, an injection of anti-nausea medication, and were going to test him with some I/D food. They had run blood tests and he was slightly anemic and possibly suffering from pancreatitis. Brando has never stayed overnight anywhere in the past eight years. I asked if I could visit him. They said yes, and I drove in and sat for nearly an hour with Brando laying in my lap, immobile. I didn't want to leave. Finally I told the staff that they could put him back...and they said "Oh, you can take him home." Huh? Why had I just spent an hour visiting with him if he could come home? The Dr. who checked us out said, "Well, you insisted on it." Actually, all I had done was ask, that morning, if he could come home, and had been told no.

I picked up his meds: a prescription for Flagyl and another antibiotic, along with some I/D food. The bill came to $620.

A few days later, I noticed that they had billed for two days of hospitalization at $125 a piece. The blood work, IV, etc was all itemized as additional charges. I called to ask about the bill and was told that they bill per day, not per 24 hours. "We're not a hotel," they said. I said, "So you should tell people that you have a minimum two-day fee." They said that's not true. "If I bring my dog in, and he stays overnight, but you charge me an extra day because he's there in the morning before I can get him, then that's a minimum two-day fee. How could someone possibly be charged only for one day?" "Well, if you took him home the same day you brought him, that would be one day." I've never heard of a facility charging this way. And I've used a lot of vets. "You need to realize," they told me, "that there isn't an additional exam fee, and the hospitalization also includes fluids and injections, etc." "Actually," I explained, "those things are itemized on the bill. And I understand there wasn't an additional exam fee, but there also wasn't an exam on each day he was there."

And at that, all they could say is "Well, I can see how you might be confused." And I said "I'll certainly think again before coming here, and I'll be sure to let everyone know what your policy is."

They said they could totally understand why I would want to do that. And so I am.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A new New Orleans?



I'm laying in bed with Brando on a cold February morning, so I might as well post something, right?

The past week has been crazy in New Orleans, with an election, Carnival and the Saints Super Bowl win. And I've been out almost every night after a long period of hibernation. I voted early, two weeks before election day, so there was a startling time-warp effect as the campaigns all kicked into high gear after the fact. I was pretty clear, early on, on who I'd be voting for. I contributed money to Mitch Landrieu's campaign as soon as he announced, then became frustrated with his campaign's slow start, and then attended several forums and decided he was the logical choice. I also gave some money to James Perry. And to Kristin Palmer. And to Austin Badon. The only real question--which left me standing frozen with indecision in the ballot booth--was how to vote on the question of City Council At-Large. I knew I'd be voting for Arnie Fielkow--one of the few who actually show up at events and engage with the public--but I was torn on my second vote in this category. Should I vote for someone I liked, or should I vote for the person most likely to keep Cynthia Willard-Lewis out of office? CLW is my representative, and for the past three years I've seen her show up for events, latch onto the work of others, and, her worst offense, talk down to her constituents, constantly assuring them that no one else in the entire world cares what becomes of them. Yet, if you contact her office with concerns about blight, crime, vandalism, shootings, absent police patrols, etc, you get no response. Or, you get the helpful information that you should go somewhere else with your problems--even if you initial complaint is that those other places are not helping.

So last week, I went on Wednesday to House of Blues for a Musicians for Mitch concert featuring an insane lineup of the city's best: Irma Thomas, Allan Toussaint, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Preservation Hall, Amanda Shaw, Branford Marsalis, Terrance Blanchard, Trombone Shorty, Clarence "Frogman" Henry, Dr. Michael White, Deacon John, etc. It was a mini-Jazz Fest. And the mood was astonishing. The crowd was from all over town (even with the lowest ticket being $100) and there was a sense of something wonderful happening in the city--The Saints were going to the Super Bowl. Nearly every song turned into a chorus of "Who Dat?" I kept saying I'd stay for just one song, but was there til the end.

Then on Saturday, another amazing thing happened. I went to bed early, not having the energy to wait out a long, inconclusive night at the election parties. Everyone was certain there would be run-offs in several categories, including mayor. Then I woke shortly after eight and checked the early returns, jumped out of bed and heading to the Quarter. First stop: Arnie's victory party. On the way into the Royal Sonesta, we passed Irvin Mayfield, who had long been rumored to be Nagin's choice as successor. "He could have been mayor," I said as he passed and my friend turned with a look of horror on her face. After Arnie's, we ran across Canal to The Roosevelt, to Mitch's party. A couple of kids were playing around at the podium; the victory speech had already been made. We weaved through the crowd and talked to friends and watched as various news crews interviewed the mayor-elect and as opponent Troy Henry came in to wish Mitch well. Then it was back across Canal and through the Quarter again, among wall-to-wall crowds of people already celebrating the not-yet-played Super Bowl. At Bourbon House, we congratulated Kristin Palmer and her family for winning district C, then watched as the news reported a narrow victory for Jackie Clarkson over Cynthia Willard Lewis. Off we went to the Monteleone, where we found the Clarkson party still quietly waiting for word on the votes--no televisions were playing in that room. Finally, Jackie got off the phone and announced a victory of 13 votes--ooops, she meant 1300. Then she thanked her supporters and promised to never run for office again--which drew enormous cheers of support from the entire crowd.

Time to go home, then, and get ready for the Barkus parade the next day, which left me so exhausted I slept through the game. Yes, that's right, I snoozed with the dogs right through til the end, and then sat bolt upright in bed suddenly thinking...we must have won. And just at moment, I heard the entire city go wild with cheers.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My pit bull is an (exhausted) Saint


Here's Doug collapsed on the floor of Tonique after the Barkus parade on Sunday, just before the game.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Barkus and the Super Bowl Pledge


In a few hours Doug and I will be out at the Barkus parade, tossing these great cups to the crowd. Then it is Super Bowl time--and you can help pit bulls in New Orleans or Indianapolis by joining our contest with The Sula Foundation. We're asking for pledges to donate $5 per Saints touchdown, $1 per field goal and $10 for the win--and we're in a friendly competition with Indy Pit Crew to see which team gets the most support. You can send your pledge to sulafoundation@gmail.com--and we'll check in with you at the end of the game.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

What would I do without Doug?


Here's a photo of Doug and I at the Barkmarket this past October. I hadn't seen it until last night, when Blake, who runs the Bywater Art Market, slid her iPhone over to me. I love this photo. We both look so foolish!

Meanwhile, an update on Brando. Last month we did x-rays and discovered that what was thought to be arthritis is actually something more serious. The discs in his back are deteriorating. He's now on a variety of medications, including Metacam, an anti-inflammatory, and injections of Adequan, which I've learned to administer at home. Brando has always hated going to the vet, but he's a great patient for me. He lays very still and lets me do whatever I need to. Of course, I can't help but think of my parents during all of this.

Fortunately, Brando still has Doug to get him out of bed in the morning. Doug sleeps in the kitchen while the others crowd my bed, and Brando stays put after Zephyr and Sula get up to go to the yard--but he comes to the kitchen to give Doug his morning kisses.

(By the way, the March 20th Bywater Barkmarket/Art Market is a fundraiser for The Sula Foundation. If you are a dog-ish vendor and are interested in participating, send an email or leave a comment here.)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A week of events from SilenceIsViolence


It has been so busy that I'm only now posting the events for this week, which marks the 3rd anniversary of the march to city hall in 2007. On Monday afternoon, I posted the first Crime Happened Here sign, with details of my mugging in October. And, of course, its already been taken down. You get the signs at Sound Cafe. Meanwhile, here are the other events of the week:

Monday January 18th at 7pm
Mayoral Forum; Goody's restaurant, 3200 St. Claude Avenue
Join moderator Lee Zurik and The Stooges Brass Band for a forum asking candidates for details on their plans to address crime and community safety.

Tuesday January 19th
Vigil for Victims of Violence, held by United for Peace in New Orleans. Claiborne Avenue at Martin Luther King Boulevard, 7AM-7PM

Wednesday January 20th at 7pm
Antenna Gallery, 3161 Burgundy Street, New Orleans, LA
Antenna Gallery will present the Canadian documentary "After the Storm," about the life and death of Helen Hill; plus a short documentary on the Hot 8 Brass Band and the SilenceIsViolence youth music clinics.


Thursday January 21st
PEACE WALK and evening vigil led by the
Social Aid and Pleasure Club Task Force
START: City Hall, 6PM

Friday January 22nd:

* Victims’ Memorial, City Hall: Homicide victims lost in New Orleans during the past year will be memorialized at noon.
* WEAR RED wherever you are.
* Youth Resource Picnics: Lyons Playground (Delachaise Street at Tchoupitoulas) and Bunny Friends Playground (Desire Street at S. Prieur Street), 11AM-3PM
* 5% Pledge by local businesses around New Orleans
* Soccer in the Streets: Skills at City Hall, 9AM
* Peace Motorcade: Location and time TBA. Led by Nakita Shavers in memory of Dinerral Shavers and Helen Hill

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Vaccination Clinic, January 9th, Lower Ninth Ward

The Sula Foundation, New Orleans' pit bull advocacy group, will sponsor a low-cost vaccination clinic on Saturday January 9, from 1-4pm at the Sankofa Market at St. Claude and Caffin in the Lower Ninth Ward. Working in conjunction with Dr. Jessica's "Pets R Our World" mobile veterinary clinic, the following services will be offered:

For pit bulls: $15 for complete vaccinations (including rabies, bordetella and distemper)
Appointments for FREE spay/neuter surgeries

For all other breeds: $45 for complete vaccinations.