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Snap, Crack, and Pop
(5 March 2009)

I admit it: like most people, I don't exercise as much as I should. Shoot, I don't exercise at all. And that includes simple stretching exercises. It really didn't seem like that big of a deal since what I enjoy most is sitting at my computer all day, a habit I developed over the years working in Seattle's software community… and it really wasn't a big deal; that is, until last year.

I was at the office of my new employment specialist (some use the term headhunter) who, if she had been my high school teacher — her previous vocation — I must admit I'd have found it nearly impossible to concentrate on the subject matter, when I twisted quickly in my seat to grab something to write on only to wrench my back.

I didn't notice anything wrong at first, but a short distance from her office the pain started setting in. Over the next few days it settled in. And for the next few months it refused to go away. Meanwhile, I started developing some numbness in my left index finger and thumb. Since it was the muscles between my spine and shoulder blade that were hurting, I just figured it for a simple strain and pinched nerve that would work itself out.

The pained muscles finally subsided which was a relief, but the numbness continued which was a bit disconcerting but not something I considered serious enough to seek medical attention for. I kept trying to convince myself that it too shall pass.

Then recently at my new volunteer job at the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library near Belltown next to the Social Security office (which isn't packed tighter than a sardine can like the one in the International District), I wrenched my back again diving for safety when a student volunteer haphazardly started rolling the huge aisles of cassette tapes over to create an aisle for himself without first checking to see that the aisle I was in was clear. (The trash compactor scene from "Star Wars" didn't leave my mind for days.)

Again, I didn't notice anything wrong at first — other than possibly it not being stressed enough during orientation the potential dangers involved when working in the stacks — until after leaving work when my back pain returned with a vengeance.

This time, not only did those same muscles in my back hurt, but walking short distances would make my entire left arm numb and tingle with pain. I decided it was finally time to seek a doctor's opinion… especially since it was affecting my ability to function and because my friends started putting horror stories into my head about possibly having a slipped disc when surgery for that condition could easily be worked into a horror movie. (I could just envision all of my internal organs splayed out next to my prone body while I lie on my back upon the operating table.)

Since I used to live just blocks away from the Pioneer Square Clinic downtown, they are my primary health care provider, but same day service requires waiting in line outside before 7am (8am on Wednesdays) or hoping there's an opening when one can call in (206.521.1750) a half hour later for an afternoon appointment if slots are still available. Making a future appointment there seemed pointless as it could be weeks before being seen, and I just couldn't bring myself to wait in the Harborview emergency room half a day for what's not a life threatening event.

My headhunter suggested dropping into the emergency room at the Swedish Hospital in Ballard where the wait time is a breeze, but I was thinking closer to home at the Carolyn Downs Family Medical Center near the Seattle Public Library's Douglass-Truth branch at 23rd Avenue & East Yesler Way where if you need to use a computer, one is usually always available (unlike the busy new downtown library that looks like some modern art sculpture). Again I was told at Carolyn Downs that new patient appointments would be weeks away. The receptionist did suggest I call their number in the morning between 10:30 and 11 to find out if there were any cancellations that day.

With my boss's permission to miss work if I needed to see a doctor, I called the number on the business card from Carolyn Downs during the specified time frame, and lo and behold there just happened to be an available slot I could be seen later in the afternoon. Luckily the operator at the call center (206.299.1900) noticed I had meant to be calling the Carolyn Downs clinic because the appointment was actually at the Country Doctor on Capital Hill.

The call center operator was kind enough to suggest the #12 bus that stops out front of the Country Doctor clinic at 19th Avenue East & E. Republican Street, but a call to King County Metro (206.553.3000) rerouted me to ride the #8 instead from in front of the Douglass-Truth Library to only a block and a half south of the clinic at 19th & E. Thomas St. next to the huge Pendleton Miller Playfield. (I noticed the #43 bus also stops at that location.)

When I arrived at the Country Doctor, I had a vague recollection of having been there before… but not for medical treatment. It was only after repeated questioning during the intake that I finally remembered the free Country Doctor Legal Clinic services (206.267.7070 M-Th 9:00am-12:00pm for all Neighborhood Legal Clinics) that I needed back in the mid-1990s they also offer there on Wednesday evenings.

After filling out the intake paperwork at the Country Doctor, I was actually seen before the time scheduled. The new male nurse was very personable, the female student doctor performed some reflex and other tests on me I'd never had before (my arm was painfully numb at this point), and thank Gods the doctor who saw me was more interested in teaching his class about the spine (throwing protocol to the wind) than the more popular abdominal concerns back in the day, leading to him being terminated from that teaching position or something... it was unclear during the mix of conversations with me and all the medical terminology being recited to the student doctor.

Determining that my back was indeed in bad shape from years of neglect was a matter of bending which way and that to demonstrate improper, stiff spinal alignment due to inflammation of the affected areas, applying direct pressure to points needing inspection, gently rubbing those areas to bring to the surface discoloration in the painful regions, and finally some Old School chiropractic techniques to readjust my back and neck that apparently is a common practice used during simple haircuts in some Asian countries as part of day to day better living.

It was suggested I make an appointment with my primary caregiver at the Pioneer Square Clinic, a woman whose name always brings a response from other doctors here something along the lines of "I know her. She's the best!" (Also, frequenting multiple clinics means a lot of file transferring to keep each one up to date on one's personal medical history.)

The kindly Country Doctor finished up his exam showing me some stretching exercises I should perform when seated all day at my computer, was reluctant (as was I) to prescribe a muscle relaxant, applied the lone pain relief patch a pharmaceutical representative had given him earlier in the day, and finished with a compliment when I mentioned my boss's boss at Microsoft had referred to me as an eccentric genius (before firing me for using my business email for personal use).

As I've sat here over the past several hours writing this upon my arrival home from Seattle's Country Doctor, I can't help but notice the dramatic improvement in pain relief from such a simple spinal realignment procedure any caring and cautious friend could perform on me in the future as need be if the dreaded back pain returns.

I'm left chuckling in dread at the thought of the television series "Three and a Half Men" airing ad nauseum on local channels here in Seattle referring to one of the characters not being a real doctor because he's a chiropractor. With something like the spinal column being so central to our health, an understanding of its proper functioning and treatment should be common knowledge to anyone trying to improve the well being of others.

That Ain't Funny!
(7 March 2009)

"It seems today that all you see is violence in movies and sex on tv. But where are those good old fashioned values on which we used to rely?" is the opening of the theme song for the popular "Family Guy" animated series on the FOX television network. While the lyrics allude to the show featuring wholesome programming, the actual content — as with so many other so-called sitcoms (or situational comedies) — is far from it.

"Family Guy," for example, features a recurring character who is an elderly pedophile that sings songs to the audience when not trying to molest children on the show. Even the runaway hit "The Simpsons" movie based on the FOX series of the same name depicted a child's genitals.

Practically every single popular evening animated series has featured something along these lines, but at the same time, they are toted as social satires poking fun at the foilables of society rather than early morning children's cartoons so many people think them to be. As such, many people refuse to watch these shows believing their animation equates to a cartoon rather than views into the various facets of the darker side of human nature.

The nature of these animated shows lend themselves to depicting extreme events impossible with live action film. Considering them mere cartoons is doing them an injustice.

It is taken for granted, for example, that the animated programs are fictitious even when they portray real world events. In this dumbed downed world, many people just don't recognize the realities being shown.

Instead, many turn to sitcoms featuring human actors they are more comfortable watching. Popular live action sitcoms such as "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Mad About You," and even "Married with Children" have long enjoyed syndication, being shown on other channels long after the original series has ended.

Many people go out of their way to watch their favorite programs even if they are reruns. And what do the viewers get? Typically a modern sitcom centers around a character telling a loved one a lie followed by twenty minutes of arguing. That some of these reruns run twice in an hour, it often equates to nearly an hour of couples arguing over something that never would have happened in the first place if the characters had just been honest with each other.

Unfortunately, most people don't think too deeply into the overall effect all of this arguing has on them. They instead come to think that these arguments over things common to many people's lives are a normal part of life and to be expected and accepted. The negative outcomes are rarely contemplated.

When a decade ago I flipped past shows such as Jerry Springer that featured arguing slutty girl after slutty girl screaming "You don't know me!" like broken records, I knew it was only a matter of time before a string of shows would appear trying to discover "Who's the baby's daddy?" It's almost funny in a sad way when none of the half dozen guys on stage is the biological father of the woman's child. And apparently it's not an uncommon occurrence these days when half of married couples are getting divorced.

Now the big thing on daytime television — other than the staple soap operas featuring slutty people — is "court tv" where people who have lied to each other try to make a buck off each other. At night many of the shows are about murder and other gross felonies. The long running series "Cops" featuring real police arrests seems inescapable when flipping channels some evenings.

I dread to think what the next big thing on television is going to be. Countless people have suggested just turning off the so-called boob tube, but that box offers a window to the outside world just not possible with average day to day activities. There are actually some quality shows that spark the imagination and stimulate the intellect. They may be rare and far between, but they're out there if one looks hard enough.

Hmmm...what's on the Public Broadcasting System right now? Something about obesity leading to further health concerns.

On Addiction
(8 February 2009)

The mere mention of word "drug" is often enough to elicit negative reactions from members of society conditioned to consider intoxication a criminal offense. A possible exception to this is when the word "store" is appended to "drug," but the occurrence of this particular phenomenon requires further study.

Many people automatically consider any kind of recreational drug use an addiction — an all or nothing effect rather than the whole rainbow of varying degrees — as they also do with many other behaviors. A prime example is the propensity of many individuals to automatically label someone homosexual if they even so much as engage in what could be considered a homosexual act despite a heterosexual context. For just this reason, medical literature will "warn" of the potential for men to become sexually aroused during prostate exams due to stimulation of that erogenous zone.

A prurient society attempts to suppress if not repress any desires that veer from the accepted norm, or social mores of the particular era. That many men feel it necessary to brag how "straight" they are -- often resorting to using derogatory terminology regarding the opposite sex -- and then immediately jumping to anger if challenged in even the most joking manner speaks volumes. It is not uncommon, for example, for a man staring off into space deep in thought at a bar to be suddenly and violently confronted because they were apparently looking at someone "the wrong way" who felt it an affront to their masculinity.

As an aside, it is becoming common knowledge that males who try to act overly "macho" are often "closet case" homosexuals who for one reason or another refuse to embrace their deepest desires. It is only when they find a group of friends who provide them with a safe environment to express their true feelings that they may learn to express them in a healthy manner.

Drug use is no exception. Many alcoholics, for example, will frown upon marijuana users and vice verse. Both alcohol and marijuana, when used responsibly, are fairly benign and proven quite beneficial medically. Even so-called "hard drugs" have demonstrated their amazing potentials when used for legitimate purposes. Problems only begin to arise when the drug use starts negatively affecting one's health or other aspects of one's life.

Impulse control is a huge factor when determining whether any behavior becomes an addiction as evidenced by the increasing obesity epidemic. The term "comfort foods" is derived from people eating as a "crutch" to get them through their day rather than confronting and dealing with the emotional problems at the core of their negative behavior.

Howard Becker writes in his scholarly text "On Becoming a Marihuana User":

That the presence of a given kind of behavior is the result of a sequence of social experiences during which the person acquires a conception of the meaning of the behavior, and perceptions and judgments of objects and situations, all of which make the activity possible and desirable. Thus, the motivation or disposition to engage in the activity is built up in the course of learning to engage in it and does not antedate this learning process. For such a view it is not necessary to identify those "traits" which "cause" the behavior. Instead, the problem becomes one of describing the set of changes in the person's conception of the activity and of the experience it provides him.

Renowned criminologist William J. Chambliss explains further in "On the Take: From Petty Crooks to Presidents" about government-sponsored organized crime that:

Criminal behavior is generated because of the contradictions that inevitably arise in the course of the working out of the particular form of social, political, and economic structures. The types of crime, the amount of crime, and the distribution of crime in a particular historical period and society depend on the nature of the existing contradictions, and the mechanisms institutionalized for handling the conflicts and dilemmas produced by the contradictions.… Making [a] drug illegal and thereby creating crime networks is a very high price to pay for a relatively small benefit.

The very brightest academics recognize that some form of decriminalization needs to occur rather than just increasing penalties for drug usage in a heavy handed approach to reducing crime. So-called "harm reduction" is typically the accepted means to this end, where otherwise illegal activity may be conducted in a safe, controlled environment to help prevent such horrors as tainted drugs created by greedy individuals pursuing profit rather than pleasure with the potential to possibly killing people with their poisons.

Back to sex, in societies that have considered homosexual behavior between consenting adults a crime, forced castration if not outright execution have been employed to try and prevent the otherwise natural human nature of pleasure seeking.

Chambliss goes on to expound in "The Hemp Revolution" documentary about marijuana's completely benign and extremely versatile cousin plant that has also been demonized for its unfortunate relationship to the intoxicating variety:

We will look back on this era and the response to drugs in this country, and think that was the worse thing that happened in the McCarthy era. It is insanity run amok and there is not a sane voice in the federal government saying anything about it.

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