Friday, December 24, 2010


The other day on Sixty Minutes, Leslie Stall interviewed quite an extraordinary, and rare group of people. When I heard that the segment was on memory I got excited. Memory, or lack thereof, has been a big question mark with me.

The five people examined, two women and three men, have a variance or perhaps a gift called Superior Autobiographical Memory. Like the terminology indicates, they’re capable of recalling pretty much every single day of their life. They can remember the banal, uneventful events of any particular moment in time from their distant or near past.

I sat there, absolutely fascinated as Leslie interviewed them and asked them question from days gone by. “Oh yes!” the man replied, “that was March 3rd, 1994 when I stubbed my toe…” He was a Pittsburgh Steelers aficionado, a die-hard fan who remembered each play of every game against…I can’t remember whom or when. But you can be sure, he did. He knew exactly what the strange look on the quarterback’s…or was it the running back’s face meant that day. One of the female Superior Autobiographical Memory wunderkinder was Marie Lou Henner, the actress from the show Taxi. Among other things, she connected dates to the pair of shoes she wore. Now that really impressed me.

Each of the five responded with such vivid detail, including their emotional state during the specific past occurrence. They all agreed that they could categorize events in their head and organize them according to whatever criteria they chose, (Yeah! You go Marie Lou, classify those shoes!). They were able to practice mental gymnastics with their phenomenal memory.

While I was watching and listening to them, suddenly it dawned on me. I’m the exact opposite. I have even less memory than the “normal” people to which I like to think I belong. I blame multiple surgeries. My theory is, that with each longer stretch under anesthesia, I’ve lost some of my history. I have crater-size gaps in my past, but I don’t know what they are because…well…I don’t remember. However, I do remember a great deal about my illness (hence the autobiography). And, since my illness took up most of my life, ergo I remember most of my life. (Whew! An elegant save…).

After putting the five through several tests, including an MRI, scientists discovered that there’s a reason for their über memory. Their cortical nucleus is a lot larger than ours. This particular area of the brain creates adrenaline, the substance that increases whenever we have an emotional reaction. In other words, if we feel embarrassed, sad, excited, hurt, angry or any spike of emotion, our adrenaline levels rise. When that happens, we tend to remember those particular events. Basically more adrenaline means more memory.

Now imagine always having higher levels of adrenaline. That is the case in our five candidates. So while we “normal” people have selective memory, they have constant memory. And I, low man on the “normal” memory totem pole, have my husband. Without him I don’t think I’d ever remember where my glasses were.

Hmmm, I thought, I’m not so sure I would want to remember that much of my past. Like I need to bring up anxiety, fear and pain again? I don’ think so. I’m thrilled that pain is the first thing you forget. Serioulsy.”

And by the way, doesn’t having this awesome memory kind of take the fun out of…remembering? Isn’t it great when someone reminds you about something in your past and you can exclaim, “Yeah! Wow! Now I remember!!” I actually say that a lot.

Our five candidates also displayed characteristic mostly associated with autism. Scientists discovered OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive-Disorder) behavior in them. Marie Lou has a closet full of shoes neatly placed on shelves, one facing front, and the other facing back, so that she may see the heal and toe. A must for her. The Pittsburgh Steelers aficionado washes his hands much more often than any of us would. Oddly enough, the three men were all left handed, while the two women were right handed. Even stranger is the fact that out of the five, only Marie Lou was married. Currently she’s on husband number four. I’m guessing it’s hard to stay married when you can’t loose an argument. The rest were single.

Despite these somewhat strange patterns, they were quite pleased with their ability. Well, of course they’re pleased, I thought, because duh, it is what it is. They don’t know what it means NOT to remember, just as we, normal folks, don’t know what it means to remember every day of our life.

When the show ended I wasn’t sure what to make of it. So they have boundless memory, and I have boundless forgetfulness. Who’s better off? They think they are, and I’m pretty convinced that I am. In the end, it’s best to be happy with what you have. While I’m engrossed in learning language number eight, I'm sure I'll forget where I’ve placed my glasses, and my husband will have to remind me where they are. That's what you call real selective memory. 

Monday, December 6, 2010


Yesterday I watched one of my favorite shows, called Real Sports With Bryan Gumbel. One of the segments was about a father and son team. The son was born with his mother’s umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. He had been deprived of oxygen long enough to cause severe motor and mental damage. He was unable to move any part of his body or speak. At the time of his birth, his parents decided to care for him at home rather than put him into a facility. This meant dealing with every aspect of his life, for the rest of his life. Washing him, carrying him, grooming him, feeding him and all else associated with a person who can’t do anything for himself. They did realize however, that he was alert and far from mentally challenged.

As the boy grew into a young man, they found a way to communicate with him. With the help of a machine conceived for him, the young man goes through each letter of the alphabet until he finds the one he needs to formulate a word. The process is painstaking and time consuming, but allowed the young man one day to express, quite eloquently, a very specific thought. He wanted to take part in a triathlon.

His father, a retired Lieutenant Colonel, was out of shape and frankly, not at all prepared for such a request. However, now that he was divorced, he could dedicate himself entirely to his son and try to fulfill his wish. He and his son moved to the country and together, they undertook the grueling task of getting into shape.

The father hadn’t ridden a bike since he was a boy, but now he was riding twenty-four miles with his son strapped in a special seat attached to his handlebars. The father was never able to swim more than a few feet. But now, not only was he swimming, but also he was pulling his son behind him in a dingy for two miles. The father hadn’t jogged much in his life. But now he was jogging six miles while pushing a carriage in front of him with his son in it. All of this for their first triathlon as a team.

The two of them began their journey of training and competing almost thirty years ago and have never stopped since. They continue to do so, always placing among the first. People have taken notice, and over the years, father and son have gained a certain celebrity status. Thanks to their example, currently there exist groups of volunteers that run or jog pushing mentally and physically impaired children in carriages. Parents, who have met or heard of the team, have been motivated to become more active with their disabled child.

In the interview, the father said he was convinced that his son had made him an athlete. He said, that if he had tried to do the triathlon on his own, without his son, he wouldn’t have succeeded. When the interviewer asked him what the secret was, the father simply answered “devotion.”

I am in awe of this father and son team. They took a devastating situation and turned it into a mutually beneficial, and healthy collaboration. They made lemon parfait out of sour lemons. I’m fascinated how the father found his motivation through his son’s impairment. The father isn’t racing the triathlons on his own energy. There is a flow from son to father and vice versa. They have a symbiotic connection, whereby the son gives his dad the strength and energy, which is trapped in his body and that he himself will never be able to release. The father, through his athletic prowess, makes it possible for his son to thrive beyond the confines of his disability. And in the process, they inspire hundreds of others to see their own disabled child in a different, much more positive light.

I often wonder if we are all gifted with the capacity to go beyond ourselves and ardently dedicate time and energy to another, knowing that nothing will ever be given in return? In the depth of my soul, I tend to believe that devotion is the core of who we are. It’s all that is good in us, all that makes a life worthy. I’m mistaken to assume that nothing is gotten in return because in fact, devotion to another human being brings rewards beyond our imagination. Much more important than the father/son celebrity status, is the joy they feel achieving their goals, the peace of mind for having done their best, and the bond they have forged along the way. 

Friday, November 26, 2010


          Recently I spent a few days in New York. I never understood the fascination with a city that is unbearably hot in the summer and bitingly cold in the winter. A city where more than 71,000 people live on one square mile. My husband says with a sparkle in his eye, “New York is the most energetic city in the world and the most vibrant. It never sleeps and there’s something for every culture.” Like most Europeans, he’s enamored with the Big Apple. Years ago, he spent many months there while shooting a movie called, Last Exit To Brooklyn. After a day’s shoot, he thoroughly explored the nightlife, including local hangouts. Thank goodness we weren’t married back then.

There’s a problem with his argument though. First of all, I get my energy from the sun. There’s nothing like running errands in beautiful weather. Second of all, we have a variety of cultures here in L.A. If you sit at Sunset Plaza long enough you’ll hear all kinds of languages. We have Little Tokyo, Little Armenia, Thai Town and Beverly Hills with a large Persian contingency. Chinatown N.Y is the size of a pinhead next to the number of Chinese, populating the San Gabriel valley, the largest community outside of China. Our Hispanic population is also diverse. We have people from pretty much all South American countries.

And then, I don’t like to walk. My replaced hips and knees aren’t made for walking. Well, actually they are, but I prefer to wear them out on a bike, and not waste their limited shelf life on walking.

I don’t like garbage bags lining streets, hallways, which double as apartments, basement bistros, roads in need of tarring, buildings screaming maintenance. I don’t care for droves of adults filling the sidewalks, heading to and fro like living dead on speed. And to top things off, I cringe at the thought of a N.Y. spin class.

I enjoy the comfort of my car to get around, rather than the comfort of my aerosol shoes. I love my sprawling house compared to the cubicles New Yorkers call home. Our West Coast gyms are state of the art and full of energy. Hail our spin classes! As far as culture is concerned, I admit, we’re a little mundane. We’re the capitol of the movie industry.

A friend once told me “All of Los Angeles is Disneyland.” By that I think he meant that living in L.A. is like a fantasy. We almost always have perfect weather. We dress casually. We “do” lunches. We eat healthy foods. We go to bed before midnight and get up early to go to the gym. Movies, and our basketball team are an essential part of our life, as is looking good and having white teeth. We’re laid back as opposed to New Yorkers. We say, “How’s it going,” to perfect strangers, and poo poo cigarettes as if they were…a drug.

“What about the arts?” My husband continued enthusiastically, “There’s nothing like Broadway, Moma, the Metropolitan, the Guggenheim; such rich and abundant cultural activities. Nowhere in the world can you find the best of the arts concentrated in one place like New York.” I had to agree with him on that point. One of the most romantic times we spent together was a Manhattan evening at Lincoln Center. During the intermission of Carmen, he and I walked to the upper level where the restaurant was. We sat at a table for two, next to an oversized window. Outside, blurry night-lights shimmered through the heavy, hushed rain that slid down the windowpane. My husband and I drank champagne and Perrier (yes, that would be me) and ate smoked salmon, while staring at the two magnificent, gigantic Chagall paintings at each end of the hall, towering over us in all their surrealistic, colorful and intricate splendor. That night, Manhattan was supreme.

It doesn’t rain much in L.A. I suppose it’s conceivable of having a drizzly evening at the Music Center, but somehow I don’t quite see the romance in that. How lovely it was to try Manhattan’s fine restaurants, right after seeing a Broadway show. As we strolled down the streets (at an L.A. pace), I expected Dustin Hoffman to cry out, “I’m walkin’ ere, I’m walkin’ ere!” (Midnight Cowboy).

Since my last visit a few days ago, I’ve revised my opinion of the city. On second thought, there are no words to describe Manhattan. It’s the city of all cities. Not only was the evening at Lincoln Center magical; all of Manhattan tingles romance. Slowly but surely, I’m falling in love with the island. I’m beginning to understand living in a closet, walking among zombies, having your clothes stick to you as soon as you step outdoors, all for the sake of romance. In fact, New York left as good a taste on my lips as the food in that corner basement bistro. 

Friday, November 5, 2010


                   Thanksgiving is the beginning of the holiday season. From the moment the turkey comes out of the  oven, you find yourself thinking about things that hadn’t crossed your mind all year long. Suddenly, you’re wracking your brain trying to remember what your sister Chloe, or your aunt Rebecca pointed out to you that day at the mall. That thing you made a mental note of, and were going to buy and hold on to until the holidays came around. One whiff of pumpkin pie, cinnamon and nutmeg and you’re reminded that you were supposed to be ten pounds lighter by now!

             Thanksgiving is a joyous day, and also a “good” guilt day. Good guilt is the kind you keep to yourself, the kind that doesn’t hurt or affect anyone around you. The kind you can shed whenever you’re ready.

While most people on Thanksgiving remember aunt Rebecca and are still ten pounds heavier than they hoped to be, my mind goes to another dimension. It happens every year. I’m standing in front of big bird, eyeing the instrument in my hand, having nothing but one thought. Liver biopsy.

I’m quite familiar with the instrument; I mean the biopsy needle much more than the turkey basting syringe. I can’t count the times a doctor, with a quick slight of his hand, plunged the long, thick needle into my skin under which my liver lies. Before I knew it, the procedure was over, and the doctor had extracted a sliver of my liver.

Big bird was dinner, but I had been there too.  

On the day of the Oscars two years ago, I was all smiles. Sure, my body was swollen with fluid since my organs were only four months old. This reaction was similar to when you bang your head. The bump that forms is liquid protecting the traumatized area. I was full of fluid, protecting me from the transplants. This healthy, bodily function made me smile, but it was my husband’s nomination for an Academy Award, which was the real reason for my smiles.

A few hours before attending the event, a doctor at UCLA Medical Center stood over me, holding the “turkey baster” while I lay in the pan, I mean on the cot. As soon as the needle pierced my belly, the bottle began to fill fast. 18 liters later, I went from being a plumper to shrinking to a Foster Farm size turkey filet (I love that commercial). Lying on the cot, I turned to the three full bottles and thought, Oh Lord, that’s all I need, is to look like a dried up prune on the red carpet.

Thankfully, I looked like my usual, belly-less self. I drove home light on my feet and relieved, ready to slip into my skin-tight Oscar gown. I had left the house in the morning with a beer belly, and had returned with washboard abs. Well, not quite. Anyway, I was going to the Oscars with my youngest son and my husband, the nominee for best Foreign Film. We had a blast on the red carpet and laughed at Hugh Jackman's jokes. We didn’t win, but all three of us looked and felt like winners.

                     I’ve been telling myself not to think about liver biopsies and needles this Thanksgiving, but somehow, I have the feeling it will happen again. It has become my “good” guilt. I’ve got this, I said to myself smiling devilishly, standing in the kitchen, turkey baster in hand last year, you’re going to be the most delicious, juicy bird ever. I strategically plunged the juice-filled, five-inch long syringe into the bird, with all the precision of a surgical instrument. While I gave my turkey its biopsy, I couldn’t help but stare at the liver resting in the juices at the bottom of the pan. 

Friday, October 29, 2010


Today I’m two years old. I’m far from being a baby though; much to the contrary, I’m on my fourth round of “two years” anniversaries.

My first round of two years was when I was a baby. The one labeled “terrible twos,” but which I would prefer to describe as the carefree, full of wonderment, naïve years. I don’t think any of us remember much from back then.

My second “two years” was twenty-four years ago, on December 16th, 1986. On that very day, a sniper entered a mall in Tulsa and shot Frosty the Snowman. Thankfully, Frosty only had to be bandaged before getting inflated again and resuming his post in front of the store. By then, I no longer believed in Frosty the Snowman like I did when I was two, but I was naïve enough to have two children after having a liver transplant; naïve enough to think I could live very well with a sick, second liver. I must say, that liver was good to me for fourteen years.

My third “two years” was ten years ago, on October 28th, 2000. On that day, Lance Armstrong received the Prince of Asturias Award from the Spanish Government. I admire Lance. I feel we have a kindred spirit. We’ve both been through the ringer and have come out the other end better and stronger. I became a spin instructor at my gym. Like the previous liver, I believed my health was great. And it was for ten years. I was naïve enough to think I would never need another organ.

Today, October 29th, 2010, I’m on my fourth “two years.” Finally, a liver and a kidney that are healthy and work well. On this day, a short but poignant segment of the news caught my attention. They grew a liver in a petri dish. It wasn’t a human liver, but nevertheless a liver. You would think that the word naïve would have disappeared from my vocabulary by now. I’m happy to report it hasn’t. I’m naïve enough to believe that one day, we won’t need any donors for organs. Patients will buy them from the organ bank where they’ll be grown.

I now realize that naïveté has nothing to do with getting older. It’s simply a wonderful opportunity to shove all else in your life aside so you can engage in something exciting and unusual.

On this, my fourth two-year anniversary, I’d like to raise my glass and salute all the naïve people of this world. May you never loose that “certain je ne sais quoi,” we call naïveté. We need it in our lives and our thoughts. For those of you who haven’t tried it yet, go ahead, jump in with both feet and let yourselves be happily surprised. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010


               In July of 2008 three months prior to my third liver/kidney transplant, my husband, our two boys and I spent three weeks in my hometown, Munich, Germany. Why am I telling you this? Because I’d like to describe to you the amazing holiday of a dying person.

            Before we left our apartment for the vast park called English Gardens around noon, I stuck my head into the toilet bowl and vomited. Ugh! Great breakfast that was, I said to myself. A quick clean up, and then I joined my two boys and my husband waiting at the elevator.

We parked our rented Audi next to the art museum. Spectators stood at the bridge to the right, at the entrance of the park. We joined them, and watched as very determined surfers rode the itsy bitsy, single, natural wave below the bridge where we stood. I was amazed at the way each person patiently waited his or her turn in an orderly fashion, just to enjoy less than a minute of gliding on the water. Anything that distracted me from pain and extreme weakness was just fine.

Soon I couldn’t stand anymore. We slowly, very slowly made our way to the center of the park. Lately, I operated in slow motion. My body functioned on a back up generator powered by my family’s sense of humor. I had forgotten how funny my three men were. My belly ached either from sharp pain shooting through my body or from laughter. Either way, the walk to the riverbank at the center of the park was one big laugh fest.

We found a spot between the sunbathers. My husband laid out a blanket. I sat down literally between a rock and a hard place: in this case, the rock was the grass and the hard place my buttock. Neither had any cushioning. I weighed 100lbs or less. With the help of the extra sweater I carried with me on this scorching day, I somehow managed to get comfortable. 

It was hot, just what I needed for my freezing limbs. I sat on my sweater, my heart filled with joy as I watched my giggling sons tease each other. Who was going to grab the swinging rope first, and land in the chilly waters of the river with the rest of the daredevils? I couldn’t help but smile at my husband standing at a distance in his swim trunks, filming our boys.

Everybody had worked up an appetite after an hour of fun, except for me. Food had lost much of its appeal. We walked over to the Chinese Tower where the beer garden is. I never understood why there’s a Chinese tower at this Bavarian beer garden and had never bothered to ask.

We sat at a long table with strangers. I devoured an entire smoked fish. If the day so far had been magical, the fish made it perfect. Fish had become the last savory food left in my diet. The sicker I became, the grosser food was. Meat and vegetables in particular tasted like tasteless, sweet cotton. If there’s one thing I know about illness though, it’s the importance of keeping up your strength. I mostly force-fed myself, which is why my head had ended up in the toilet bowl in the morning. So what; as long as I keep eating something, I thought. Eventually, beer would be the only “food” I would be able to keep down. For now though, the fish tasted delicious.

“Schatz, can you walk back to the car?” My concerned husband asked. “I think so,” I said, in the squeakiest voice ever. I didn’t recognize my own speech. My normal tone had risen an octave and had gotten stuck there. “Because I can put you on my shoulders and carry you to the car if you want,” he continued. This was the only hint to the fact that I was unwell.
How lucky am I to have such a great husband! I thought, close to tears. Lately, everything made me cry. If I dropped a spoon on the floor I could break out in tears. This wasn’t my normal state. It was end-stage liver rejection taking over.

I made it back to the car with my very patient family. Two kilometers had taken almost an hour. But who was counting? The weather was beautiful, the trees glistened in the sun; nature was at its best and my boys and husband were hilarious.

Back at the apartment, I plopped onto the couch and felt my mind drift. The boys had their video games and my husband his books. A peaceful atmosphere hung in the air. On this day, and every day of our holiday, my dying liver never came up. Like Waldo, it was there somewhere, hidden among our family outings, showing glimpses of himself but never intruding.

This holiday, my dying holiday, turned out to be the most enchanting of family vacations. I look back and smile at the thrilling time we spent together, despite my green skin, yellow eyes, emaciated body, and pain. I had decided long ago, no matter how bad I felt, sickness would never own me. 

Friday, October 15, 2010


Dear Michael,

I’ve heard in the news that you’ve been diagnosed with throat cancer. I’m very sorry to hear this and wish you all the best. Michael, I’m rooting for you but more importantly you go ahead and root for yourself.

The doctor in the news said something of the nature, “Your perspectives look good because you’ve got the right frame of mind.”

Way to go Michael, that’s a great start to beat this thing. After all, it has become a commonly accepted notion that all illnesses require constructive emotional self-persuasion if you want a shot at health.
We all carry on a conversation in our minds. We are our best friend and our worst enemy. When you’re sick, though, it’s time to give the demons we so willingly fight in our thoughts a rest. Michael, you’re presently in a situation, which demands reeling in your thoughts, and focusing them on your physical wellbeing.

Let me give you another tip Michael. The right frame of mind is all fine and well. But you’ve got to take it a step further.

It’s called one hundred percent certainty that you’ll make it through this affliction. You must believe with all your heart, soul and mind that you’ll beat it. Get proactive within yourself. Let this one hundred percent certainty spew into every particle, which makes up your DNA. Don’t just say you’re going to beat it. As every motivational speaker will tell you, know it, feel it, embrace it, own it. Feed this one hundred percent certainty to your fiber, your muscles, your pores, your bones and your throat.

That bares the question how do you do this? How do you know you’ve absorbed this one hundred percent certainty? Well, Michael, you’re probably ahead of the game. You already know that life is beautiful and that you’re beautiful. If you live by these inalienable truths, you’ve just increased your chances of success. Then there’s also the business of letting go.

Let me tell you a little story Michael.

My girlfriend recently spoke of her uncle. His doctors had told him to go home and put his affairs in order, because he had terminal cancer and had a month to live. So he put his affairs in order, and then did something he had always wanted to do. He flew to Argentina and learned to dance Tango for the last month of his life…last two months of his life…last three months of his life? No…wait…last years of his life and still counting.

This story has such an effortless ring to it. Deadly diagnosis; write a will; pack up for the time of your life and, in the process, cure cancer. I’m almost inclined to think cancer can be cured through any satisfying activity. In fact, if that were the case, Michael, you would already be healthy. You can afford your favorite activity because, well, you can afford just about anything. 

Perhaps there’s a lesson for all of us to learn, and that is, money is not the answer to everything. It certainly isn’t a cancer cure. 
Still, Michael, I like the idea of letting go. Your demons might not involve stress about paying your mortgage, but there is surely some kind of stress you need to shed. All in all Michael, I agree with the doctor in the news who commented on your chances.

Take it from an old pro, if you have that one hundred percent conviction, if you focus on your body in the most positive way possible, if you let go of your stresses, Michael, I predict a success much bigger than an Oscar.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


The word ADDICTION started out as purely “a state of physiological or psychological dependency on a psychoactive substance, which crosses the blood-brain barrier and thus temporarily alters the chemical milieu of the brain.” (Whew! Thanks Wikipedia).

Recently, though, the meaning of the word has been broadened, and so has its connotation. Doctors have discovered that you could be addicted to sex, gambling, video games, and in fact just about anything. In other words, no longer is something you put in your body triggering the craving, but rather your doing it yourself.

For far too long addiction has gotten a bad rap. When you hear the word, alarm bells go off. Nothing good ever precedes it: cocaine addiction, heroin addiction, meth addiction, etc.

Therefore, right here and now, I’m going to rehabilitate ADDICTION.

Friday, October 1, 2010


When I was in my twenties, I often traveled to Israel to visit with friends. It was a four-hour flight from Munich, where I lived. You had to be at the airport at least three hours in advance, because EL AL and any other airline to Israel left from a special terminal with special requirements. In those days it was only the flights to Israel; today we all know what those special requirements are because we go through them every time we fly pretty much anywhere.

I got on the El Al flight, found my seat somewhere in the middle of the plane by a window, and began to read. We were mid-air when a drop of blood fell on the page.

Normally, my nosebleeds were not just a few drops and that’s it. My nosebleeds consisted of flowing blood, and blood clots the size of golf balls clogging my throat and making me gag, forcing me to hold my head over the sink and just let the blood flow. This would be a problem on the plane.

Hopefully, this one won’t be that bad, I thought, discretely asking the stewardess for more tissues after exhausting my supply.
“Here,” the stewardess said, handing me two or three napkins. Noticing what I needed them for she said, “Your nose is bleeding. I’ll get you some ice.”
Then I felt a tap on my shoulder.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


        Conventional treatment versus homeopathic treatment that isn’t the question. The question is, what helps?

Meet Nestor. Nestor was from the Philippines and had a very special gift. He was a psychic surgeon. I had no idea what that meant, but I was ready and willing to try anything. All I wanted was relief from pain, lethargy and nausea, even if that meant listening to repetitive, flat music droning from some boom box. The seriously annoying monotone made me wonder if this little man, who looked suspiciously similar to an illegal alien and spoke as much as a deaf person, really was a psychic surgeon. I lay down on the table in the back room of the shack he rented in Santa Monica and waited wide-eyed.
Suddenly, he plunged his hands into my abdomen, right under the ribs. I felt an alien enter my body and wriggle around my abdomen area. Nestor pulled his hands out and with it bloody, soft tissue that looked like part of my small intestine. I let out a deep, blood-curdling cry of relief…I think. He did it several more times, and I screamed each time. He wiped clean the area he had been working on. Not a mark to be found. The effects were immediate. I got up from the table and felt as if I were floating on a cloud. I skipped to my car and sang on the drive home, high on some non-existent, amazing drug.
Of course he hadn’t opened me up, and he hadn’t extracted my small intestine, but he did do something that, to this day, I can’t explain. He took away pain, lethargy and nausea.

Meet. Valentin. Valentin used to be an officer in the Russian army. From the moment he said “priviet” (hello in Russian) I had the feeling he was barking orders at me. His talent was to repair auras gone awry. Needless to say, my aura had gone very much awry. He waved and waved frantically, all along asking me about some obscure actors I was supposed to know since my husband is in the film business. “No…no,” I said over and over again as he went down his list of starlets, all along conducting an orchestra over my torso. When he was done gesticulating, I felt no different then when I had arrived. At home though, I noticed that I didn’t have lumpy breasts anymore (50% of all women have the condition at some point in time.). Okay, not what I expected and not helpful. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010


          Right after my third transplant and subsequent recovery, I noticed three typical, reoccurring scenarios among my friends. These scenarios could not have take place prior to the transplant, during the dying phase, because frankly, I wasn’t able to pay attention to much of anything. 

Scenario #1

Some of you tend to think that I’m versed in your physical woes.

“Take a look, Gloria,” my friend said, turning her back to me and pulling down her shirt to bare her left shoulder. “It itches. What do you think it is?” She asked. I looked at the red blotch and answered hesitantly, “I don’t know…could it be allergies? If it doesn’t go away, I’d go see a dermatologist,” I suggested. I saw the relief in my friend’s face, as if I had just soothed that itch.
It’s no secret that I’ve cheated death more times than I care to count (cats, move over). Because of my medical history, I’m considered an authority among my friends in all things ailments. I’m their comfort zone. A buffer between what their illness could be and what it really is. They come to me not so much for advice, but rather to get confirmation that if I made it through much more daunting health issues, so will they.

Scenario #2

Some of you tend to think that I have a special gift for surviving. Well, I don’t disagree with that one.

“I had food poisoning and had to stay in bed all day. Ugh! I felt terrible,” my friend said. Then, remembering with whom she was speaking she quickly added, “of course it was nothing compared to what you’ve been through.”
“No, no!” I answered, a little embarrassed, “food poisoning is awful.”
True, none of my friends have had a softball-size open wound below their right ribs reaching all the way to the pancreas from which pancreatic fluid (battery acid) gushed to the surface burning and dissolving their flesh. Still, food poisoning is unpleasant, to say the least. 
My friends have seen me bounce back numerous times from the worst-case scenario. I represent a success at overcoming tons of physical conditions. They have a tendency to consider me a barometer for their own illnesses.

Scenario #3

For my friends with animals, I now understand that you love them just like a human being.

“I have to take cortisone every other day,” I told my friend. “I really hate this medication but if that’s what it takes, then that’s what I’ll do.” “You too?!” He replied enthusiastically. Alley also has to take cortisone for his arthritis. He doesn’t like it either. I have to mash it up in his Fancy Feast.”
Finally, it had happened. My friend had found kinship between his cat and me. I was being compared to a feline. At first, I felt a crease between my brows. Nothing personal, I love animals (from afar) but no way does my health, or I have anything to do with them (I wouldn’t hurt a fly). But then, on second thought, I realized that my friend meant well. He obviously saw nothing wrong with the comparison because his cat was as important to him as I was to my family.

Whether I’ve been compared to a spiritual adviser, a superhuman or Alley the cat, I’m honored that my friends consider my survival an accomplishment and therefore, come to me with their physical woes. Most of my friends have more or less witnessed my journey. I'm blessed to have had their support in difficult times. And I've learned plenty about myself and them. 

I’ve learned to be patient: illness affects each person differently. What worked for me won’t necessarily work for the next person. I’ve learned to listen: when speaking of their illnesses, either they tend to dramatize or put on a courageous face. I’ve learned to sift through all that and to be honest with them. I’ve learned to be flexible: sometimes, there’s more to their story than they’re willing to tell me. Their words help me find the proper tenor for that conversation. And last but not least, I’ve learned to love animals even more, especially my compadre, my peeps, my man Alley the cat. 

Monday, September 13, 2010


       People often ask me if I feel any differently now that I have a new liver. With past livers I’ve always answered, “No. I feel the same as usual.” One could debate what “usual” means since I’ve been living with transplants for the last twenty-six years. Is "usual" the feeling after the transplant, or the one before? Or is it somewhere in between? I’ll go with the best of times of each transplant.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


As a seasoned patient, and a hospital connoisseur for having spent so much time in them, I’d like to touch on waste in American health care.

Half of my hospital time was spent in Germany, the other half here, in the United States. With health care in this country poised to change in a couple of years, I’ve been thinking more and more about fundamental differences.

Most German hospitals are equipped with state-of-the-art instruments, machines and diagnostic tools. Hospital doctors get a salary. On average, they make 1/3 less than American doctors. Still, they are among the best earners in the country. Administrative costs are 50% less than in U.S. hospitals.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


A couple of days ago on the 6:30pm world news, Brian Williams brought a segment on pain and how we process it in the brain. I watched and listened with great interest because if there’s anything I know, it's pain. You see, pain and I have been intimately acquainted for more years than I care to remember, say 25 or so. I feel like an authority on the subject. In fact, the word appears over 100 times in my manuscript (soon to be a book).

In the segment, it was mentioned that by distracting a person in pain, in this case by placing him or her in a virtual environment that is both calming and pleasing, pain disappears.

As I watched this, I thought "duh...been doing that for years...of course you can think pain away. How else do you get rid of it?"

Then I caught myself: not everyone lives with pain. There are plenty of people who know nothing about it, or who felt it at some point in time, but then forgot about it. That’s the beauty of pain; when it leaves, you don’t remember what it felt like. Just ask any woman who has gone through natural childbirth.

Back to the segment. Distract the person with a virtual surrounding and voila! No pain. What about those of us who don't have a million-dollar machine that covers our eyes and creates a soothing environment and pumps music into our ears for us to enjoy while pain does its thing? Sure, we can, and do resort to pills. But what about those of us who can't take pain pills? (me!)

It takes practice to battle pain and render it "impotent". I’ve had lots of it, with both acute and chronic pain. Acute pain, the sharp, sudden bolt of lightening pain isn't what we make it out to be. Pain is there, but shock is what intensifies it. Being caught off guard makes pain peek. We shout, "Ouch!" or "Damn!" An outburst, in response to a burst of pain. Just before you bump your shin or slam your finger in the car door, your body’s at the lowest point of expectancy; it’s at rest. In the nano second the blow strikes, every nerve in you body is jolted awake. The contrast between your body in a slumber and the blow is where pain lies.

In the chronic pain department, that is pain, which takes a long time to go away, there are two categories: constant and fluctuating pain.
Constant pain has the advantage of being what it is: a steady, continuous pain neither heightening in intensity, nor diminishing. I say “advantage” because it is easier to manage than its counterpart, fluctuating pain. I think of the many women who endure 12-inch stiletto heels for hours on end. They're willing and able to suffer a whole evening because they’re focused on the party, on the cute guy, on the conversation, and more importantly, on how sexy they look in those pumps.

My constant pain emanated from my spleen. I felt a dull, tightening sensation that did not let up. It ached for more than a year (during my dying phase, before transplant #2). I learned to think it away much like those women in stilettos.
Fluctuating pain means that acute and chronic occur at the same time.
For months or even years I felt some sort of pain: a knife twisting in my side, a twinge close to my heart, a stake pounding me below the chest. I was always in pain. I had my ways of handling it. My cells were conditioned to mobilize the motherfucker. They rallied around sharp pain and kicked its ass.

Meanwhile, my spleen ached non-stop. The million-dollar machine would have come in handy. Short of having that, the mind is a powerful tool. Through meditation, visualization and resolve you can create your own virtual world, your own safe haven from constant pain. How is this done? Practice. Not anything I hope you acquire.

The pain principle is the power of the mind. In order to keep pain in check, you turn your thoughts inward, engaging your senses to take you somewhere wonderful, deep in your soul. Eventually, a pattern will emerge and you’ll tame pain. If that doesn’t work, get out of bed, get dressed and go see a movie, go see your friends, go to the gym. I guarantee two hours of relief.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010



Recently I heard that a replaced knee only lasts fifteen years. I am in my tenth year with one of my knee replacements (the other is in it's eight year) and can't imagine that it will fail me at some point. I spin three times a week. I've been doing this since before receiving the new parts and have only intensified m y workouts after getting the new parts. Yes, I said parts since I have two knee replacement and two hip replacements. With all my fairly "new" parts, I have taken up road biking as well.

The beauty of having these metal instead of hips and knees, is that osteoarthritis has become an afterthought. I'd like to say that it has completely disappeared but unfortunately I can't. Why? Because, just like a used car, when you fix one thing, another goes haywire. My hips and knees might be fixed, but my ankles, elbows and wrists...well no comment.

Still, I’m thankful to live at a time when replacing bad parts with new ones is feasible. Forget about the hips and knees, I'm on my 4th liver. Yes, I have replaced that too...3 times. End of October it will be two years since the new replacement part (the newest liver and first). Ugh! I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

If anyone has been wondering what life is like after replacement parts, well from personal experience I can say pretty damn good.