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.