'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

Embedded at the Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic

The badge of honor. (Image via Wikipedia)

Your correspondent is no longer based in the Middle East. I am instead reporting from the ICU floor at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, where my dad is battling cancer.

This is my sixth day here and it’s been a constant state of siege. Basically, we’re battling to keep my dad stable enough in order to undergo the daily radiation that could prolong his life. Every hour, it seems, we confront a new and significant hurdle to that plan.

In our tiny room, my mom, sister, and I take shifts staying up all night, holding his hand, skipping meals, trying to cater to his every need. He can’t talk anymore, so we talk for him, charming the nurses into giving him his pain meds on time and to treat him like man, not meat. We listen carefully and take notes and ask tough questions, and when a doctor appears to discuss some new terror, we remain calm.

But it is impossible not to become emotional: A doctor reports that a scan of his brain is negative, and we soar. A surgeon tells us that replacing his trachea tube — an urgent operation — might kill him, and we slip into sobbing horror. Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Cancer, Death, Health, Medicine, , , ,

Health debate simplified: Do you value life or money?

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 18:   Political commentat...

Mr. Brooks: A straight-shooter, even if he'd let your neighbor go without care if it'd mean a "vital" marketplace. (Image by Getty Images North America via Daylife)

The most clear-eyed distillation of the health care debate to date is in today’s column by David Brooks. The sides are ultimately drawn along what you value, he writes. Do you prize health for all, or vitality for all?

Reform would make us a more decent society, but also a less vibrant one. It would ease the anxiety of millions at the cost of future growth. It would heal a wound in the social fabric while piling another expensive and untouchable promise on top of the many such promises we’ve already made. America would be a less youthful, ragged and unforgiving nation, and a more middle-aged, civilized and sedate one.

We all have to decide what we want at this moment in history, vitality or security. We can debate this or that provision, but where we come down will depend on that moral preference. Don’t get stupefied by technical details. This debate is about values.

via Op-Ed Columnist – The Values Question – NYTimes.com.

As I’ve written before, I think the health of our individual citizens is the most important thing. I would never want a government program guaranteeing a flat-screen TV for all, or laundered shirts for all. But to me access to doctors for all is just as essential as roads, police, schools, and military. I don’t care how much a public plan costs — for me it is a fundamental public service. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Business, Death, Economy, Health, Healthcare reform, New York Times, , , , ,

What happens when 2.5 million Muslims gather in one place?

Muslim pilgrims crouch to perform their fairwe...

The scene at hajj, which this year could be a swine flu petri dish. (Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife)

I gave you the inside scoop earlier this week on my wife’s trip to western Saudi Arabia for NPR. Among other things, Kelly was tracking down the impact of swine flu on hajj, the annual pilgrimage by Muslims to two of Islam’s holiest sites.

Check out the story, which ran last night on All Things Considered.

Anxious health officials in Saudi Arabia say that for the first time in recorded history, a global pandemic could affect the hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. The H1N1 virus is a major concern for authorities in Saudi Arabia, who are gearing up to host some 2.5 million Muslim pilgrims from 160 countries later this month.

Muslims from around the world have been coming to Saudi Arabia for hajj for more than a millennium. It’s one of the five pillars of Islam. Every Muslim who is able is supposed to make the journey to Mecca at least once in a lifetime.

Note the two “standups,” when Kelly speaks directly and casually into the tape as she’s on the scene, first at the Jeddah airport’s Hajj terminal and later at a gas station, where she talks to pilgrims from Bangladesh. She couldn’t have done any of it without Power Horse.

via Flu Threat Looms As Mecca Readies For Pilgrims : NPR.

Filed under: Hajj, Health, Islam, Kelly McEvers, Saudi Arabia, Swine influenza, , , , , ,

Need to race down some hajj pilgrims? Drink Power Horse

In a handout picture released by the official ...

Mecca's Grand Mosque, site of so much intermingling. (Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife)

Just got a text from my wife, who flew to Jeddah this morning to report out two stories for NPR. One concerns swine flu preparations in advance of the annual hajj pilgrimage — the greatest movement of people in world history, being as it is a scramble for as many as 2.5 million Muslims to flock to one location over one three-day period. In a normal year the ritual can result in riots, bridge collapses, outbreaks of meningitis, and fire. But this year calamity looms, because 2009 hajj is also the potential site of a  Swine Flu petri dish.

The thinking is that pilgrims have often been saving all their lives to travel from their tiny villages in Kenya, Sudan, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. By the time they fly to Saudi Arabia, they are old, weak, and in poor  health — perfect candidates for the flu. Having traveled halfway around the world, these pilgrims proceed to undergo a grueling religious ritual that has them walking long distances, wearing little clothing, sleeping in tents, and praying in cramped quarters.

If flu starts spreading, experts are concerned not just by the versions of the sickness that will take hold in Saudi. Much more frightening, science types say, is how widely and quickly H1N1 and its friends will spread as all the pilgrims begin heading back home. That’s 2.5 million potential flu carriers.

Truth be told, the Saudi government is actually quite rigorous when it comes to the pilgrimage. They have to be. Hajj is an event that every year places the country squarely on the world stage. And being host to the “two holy mosques,” as they’re called, in Mecca and Medina, is how the King and his cohorts derive so much of their power and influence both at home and in the Islamic world. It’s embarrassing when disaster strikes, as has happened in the past. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Hajj, Health, Islam, Middle East, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Swine influenza, World, , , , , , , , ,

If health care is just a numbers game, we all lose

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: She of the million-dollar page. (Image by Getty Images via Daylife)

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: She of the million-dollar page. (Image by Getty Images via Daylife)

A million dollars a page. So went the headline over at Drudge. This was the conservative web warrior’s way of dismissing the 1,000-page-plus health care proposal prepared by Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

It’s a classic gambit of the now utterly dispiriting debate surrounding the reform of health care in this country.

So shrill! So hateful! So selfish! What this argument — it’s too expensive; why should I have to pay for somebody else’s care? — seems to forget is that health care is much like so many other essential government services.

Don’t like socialized systems? How ’bout we do away with fire departments, roads, defense, police, etc. Few — even among the fiercest libertarians — are arguing for that.

And what’s maddening is that so often the most angry voices against a public option for health care are the same pro-military oldsters who benefit from Medicare and consider socialized Veteran’s services essential and patriotic.

The whole debate is painful for fresh ears: On a layover at LaGuardia this summer, my wife and I were aghast at the endlessly looping CNN footage of the town hall debacles. Such rage! Such hatred! Who are these people?

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Business, Death, Health, Politics, , , , ,

Are Arab dudes here really getting calf implants?

35/365: My new tat

Is there silicone in them there calves? (Image by Mr.Thomas via Flickr)

Gross. A  friend here in Riyadh told us last night about his gym, where buff Arab dudes from Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan get even more ripped. How do they get so monstrous? Partly, it’s steroids, partly it’s hard work. But our friend told us something else that blew my mind: Some men here get implants inserted into their calves.

And here is a U.S. clinic — with offices in L.A. and Miami — that can do it for you, too! So it’s not just swarthy meatheads in the Middle East. (In the clinic’s defense, the website says such implants can be valuable for victims of polio and other wasting diseases.)

Still, regardless of such legitimate applications, calf implants are giving me nightmares. I wish for it not to be true. But here I am — in Saudi Arabia of all places — learning for the first time about another sick thing people do to themselves to look “good.” Signs of the apocalypse abound, even so close to Mecca.

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Filed under: Economy, Health, Islam, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, , , , , ,

In a land without vice, Saudi men LOVE to smoke

I took this photograph.

You can't always get what you want. (Image via Wikipedia)

I live in Riyadh, where booze is officially absent, movie theaters are banned, music in public is basically nonexistent, most women are covered head-to-toe in black, and the call to prayer rings out six times a day from mosques that seem to pop up every ten blocks across this dusty metropolis of several million people.

So what do Saudi men do all day? Smoke. Not all of them, but a significant proportion of them. In fact, a pretty standard image of a modern Riyadh Saudi male is a goateed 24-year-old, expensive watch on one wrist, Bluetooth headset in one ear, immaculate white thobe covering body from head to neck, fancy pen in breast pocket, red-checked head scarf in place… and a cigarette in one hand, the smoke mingling with heavy perfume.

Coffee and tea are the other principle releases (along with Whoppers and Pepsi, though slightly less ubiquitously) but again and again, it seems the picture of a male here is almost always incomplete without a burning butt.

All this is mainly a prelude to sharing this image: I walk through a mall here every day around 10:45 a.m. It’s mostly deserted at this time, except for the far western end, which is home to several offices of a major bank. Without fail, there are always two dozen to three dozen Saudi men standing around, smoking, their office IDs swinging from smoke-spewing necks.

What caught my eye today was this: The glass wall they often congregate along was tattooed with a brilliant smear of hand-prints, of all sizes, each illuminated by the weak morning light. Sizing up the crowd, I thought to myself how much the smudged glass wall was a kind of accidental art, a result of smokers leaning against glass in a mall and simultaneously a strange throwback to the ancient cave paintings in France and elsewhere. What of equal durability could any of this leave behind?

With that question unanswered, I quickened my pace, fleeing the tobacco haze, happy at least to have excavated beauty out of habit.

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Filed under: Health, Politics, Religion, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, , , , ,