Monday, July 26, 2010

Toxins toxins everywhere

Of late I've been obsessed to the point of depression by how polluted the world and all that grows and lives upon it has become. Every thing we've been trained to consume turns out to leave a toxic trail within our bodies and throughout the environment. Certainly, this is not a new or sudden realization. But after the death of my mother, I began to fixate on what exactly entered her liver and caused it to scar up and eventually cease working.

Growing up, we had all the usual name brand products under the sink and in our medicine cabinet. Powders, liquids, sprays, creams and lotions -- all brought to us by the magic of modern chemistry. Consumers continue to buy these things because we are taught that we must look good and never age. Our homes can only become sparkly clean through the assistance of a powerful Comet or a heroic Ajax or a winking macho genie. None of those products were necessary. The box of baking soda in the cupboard, the bottle of vinegar next to it, along with the juice of a lemon and a bit of elbow grease are all that anybody needs to keep our homes clean.

Recently, scientists examined whales and found high levels of heavy metals and toxins, indicating that the oceans are hopelessly polluted. We consume, we excrete and toss away tons of leftover chemicals. By we, I am talking about the 6.8 billion human beings dwelling on this planet. It is no surprise that the whales are full of toxic chemicals. We all are.

What to do? I've been reading every list of ingredients before buying anything. If the list is really long and in incredibly tiny print, I put the product back on the shelf. I spend long hours online researching and contemplating choices. Quite frankly, living in the 21st century requires the opposite of "convenience" in terms of every day living. Tomorrow I will begin to report on my own personal course of action, but meanwhile take a look at this movie from the folks who brought us The Story of Stuff. It is the The Story of Cosmetics and I hope it inspires you to take action -- on the personal level and via political action.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Yes, the Village Green has been left abandoned for some time now. This place is overgrown with weeds while old posts sit rusting away. Life, with its ups and downs, can sometimes overwhelm and upend the best of intentions. In my case, it was the loss of my mother in March of this year that completely removed my will to write. I needed time to mourn my loss.

My mother began a blog which inspired me to start my own. She loved to read other people's opinions and always had very strong views of her own. To re-engage with this blog is way of honoring my mom, and ultimately a means for seeking deeper understanding of life itself.

My mother died from acute liver failure due to cirrhosis of the liver. She never drank a drop of alcohol in her life; in fact, to light the Christmas plum pudding she would use McCormick's imitation rum flavoring rather than buy a bottle of real rum. She was physically fit, exercised regularly and ate simply and sensibly. How this disease could strike her down is a mystery, and her form of cirrhosis is therefore idiopathic.

One of the liver's functions is to eliminate toxins from the blood. In my mother's case, her liver became unable to eliminate ammonia, which stayed in the blood and began to affect her brain. This is known as hepatic encephalopathy. Her doctors prescribed a medicine to control the ammonia and for a few months, she was able to function fairly well. But then she came down with a sinus infection that ultimately weakened her and brought about acute liver failure.

I expected my mom to live into her 90s, as did her mother and many of her relatives. Even when the liver problems were first diagnosed, her doctor said she had many years ahead of her and that she'd probably die of something else. I also found myself putting "faith" in modern medicine, for even as she was admitted to Cleveland Clinic for her final weekend of life, the doctors began to evaluate her for a liver transplant. We knew that since she was not an alcoholic, she had a good chance of being considered for a transplant.

She was admitted on a Friday, evaluated on Saturday and by Saturday night was placed at the top of the transplant list. By Sunday morning, her condition had worsened to the point that a transplant was no longer possible. She was all yellow and comatose. We agreed to a "natural death," which means only providing to prevent suffering. She was given morphine (which the nurse kept calling "medicine," as in "I'm going to increase her medicine." All other curative measures were stopped, except for her breathing tube, as the nurse said without it she could suffer from choking on fluids and coughing up blood. I think this last measure was more for those of us there for the death watch, as there was no chance at this point that she would come to and be aware of anything surrounding her.

Years ago my mother decided that after death, she wanted to donate her body to science. She was a teacher, and was happy in the realization that her body could be used to further learning. She also had a wicked sense of humor and delighted in the idea of "cheating the undertaker out of his fee!"

And so the Cleveland Clinic was gifted her body and which also gave her family the gift of not having to go through all the usual immediate and emotional hoopla of coffins, calling hours and funeral rites. Instead, we had time to mourn for ourselves, while relatives, friends and former students posted comments online and sent thoughtful cards. About a month later, we had a memorial for her at the University of Akron, the place she found herself first as an employee, then as a student and teacher. By then, all of the immediate family had time to compose our thoughts and words for her final tribute.

Last week, the Cleveland Clinic called to say that they were ready to return my mother's ashes. They came back to us in a small cardboard box and we had them placed next to my dad's ashes in Glendale Cemetery. On her gravestone, the following epitaph (borrowed from Henry Adams) will be engraved:

"A teacher affects eternity; she can never tell where her influence stops."

And so it is time for this blog to re-emerge. I find that I am concerned more than ever with the toxins that invade our bodies and environments, so expect to see more posts about green issues, as well as the usual Kinks and dog posts!