From the Editor

An Unexpected Tale

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I left Leona’s home feeling like a pyrotechnic display had been set off inside my brain; and I desperately wanted to share the dazzling spectacle with someone else. Kate had bore witness to the exchange, but as she was busy taping the whole affair; I do not think she was free to react to the sparkling emotions, which were consuming me.

The obvious choice should have been one of my sisters, as the story, which had sent me rocketing skyward, creating this feeling of euphoria and sheer delight involved our parents; but it also involved baseball, a game which neither of them follows.

My next thought was of Melody, who I know loves baseball; but this moment did not involve her revered Dodger’s, so perhaps not – though I did not completely rule her out.

We were hungry and found our most favorite place to eat, when on the road – a food truck selling tacos de carne asada. As we started to drive again, I decided it had to be Marcial.  First, I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the line in the story, which had sent me into this current state of exhilaration, would neither be lost on him or need to be explained, secondly, I knew that as my dear friend, he too would share my unadulterated joy, at this stories revelation about my Father’s character.

I do not often call anyone; it is not that I am not happy to speak to the people I love, but I am a bit awkward about initiating contact – I hate feeling like I am a bother. Thus, well if I have called Marcial 10 or 15 times, in the ten years or so he and his incredibly outstanding wife and children have been in my life, it would be a lot.  But I needed to share my moment, so I called him.

Like a good sports fan, he was waiting for Michael Phelps to race, for yet another gold metal, and texted he would call me back, as soon as the race was done. Okay, I thought I can wait.  We ate our tacos, and Marcial called.

I know that I was highly emotional, in both tone and volume, as we began to speak; and whether it is because he is simply my friend, and accepts me as I am, or he gets that Cuban passion, Marcial played along with me, intently listening as I began my story:

We were in Columbus, Ohio, and visited a woman who had been very close friends with my Mother, since the 1950’s, when they had met, at a church service, where Leona and her husband, had gone to listen to my parents preach. I had not known, before this visit with Leona, that she meet both of my parents on the same day, I had always assumed that she and my Mother had been friends, before my parents met and married; but I was wrong.

So I tell Marcial that Kate and I are sitting in Leona’s living room, talking about my Mother’s death, and how much we miss her, the conversation turns to Leona’s reminisces, about my Mother, and Father, and my sisters. I am most assuredly hanging on every word, feeling my soul nourished by someone else who also loved my Mother and misses her; suddenly Leona goes back to talking more about my Father, starting by telling me that he too felt very comfortable at her house.

Leona shares with me that one day, my Father called her, and said he needed to use her kitchen; there was a famous ball player, in town that he wanted to bring to dinner. She said fine, and recounts how shortly thereafter, my Father, who she reminds me was an excellent cook, shows up with bags of groceries and makes it clear that neither she nor my Mother are to disturb him, in the kitchen.  She says the two of them went into the living room, and left my Father the kitchen, where he cooked a most remarkable meal for the ball player and some of his team mates.

She goes on to tell me that the famous man came, met everyone and then he and my Father, and the teammates ate, and then went into her backyard to play baseball with the girls. Leona had four girls, my Mother had three – it is not until after I speak with Marcial that I realize I should have asked which and how many girls got to play ball, but I did not ask.

Her story continues, by her telling me that after the girls and men went to her backyard, she and my Mother invaded the kitchen and ate the left overs, which were delicious.

Up to this point, as I am listening to Leona talk about the day, all I am thinking about is how much this sounds like my Father and my Mother. They loved entertaining, and both made ordinary moments into spectacular events with their joy of life.  It was not unusual for them to invite “strangers to me” over for a meal or celebration, and they both had people in their life that I would step back and wonder how they might have met them.

At that point, I have embraced Leona’s reason for the telling of this story, as a way to show me that she too was friends with my Father, that he was not just my Mother’s husband to her.   She continues to talk about my Father’s personality and even mentions how handsome, charming and funny he was and then goes on tell me a story about her daughter, Kathy, who has now since passed away; stating that at some point in her life, Kathy developed legions on her legs that would not heal, regardless of the medical treatment.  She says that one day; my Father was getting ready to walk out the door, when he notices Kathy washing dishes, and these sores on her legs.  Leona says that my Father stopped her, and prayed for, in the kitchen.  Kathy was healed, and though she apparently suffered many other aliments in her life, Leona tells me the wounds never returned.

I do not share the above paragraph with Marcial, these are the kinds of events I often witnessed in my parents ministry, they are gratifying to hear, but whatever miracles happened in their work, they would both say it was to God’s glory; I continue hanging on every word Leona says, when she suddenly tells me, after the story about Kathy, that the famous ball player, her words, not mine, which my Father brought to her house, who was so nice, died shortly afterward in a plane crash, taking food to victims of an earthquake in Latin America.

It is at this point, that Marcial raises his voice, in that perfect Cuban pitch, reflecting exactly how I felt when I heard her tell me the above sentence. He proclaims Roberto Clement’s name, exactly as I thought it, when I heard Leona’s words.

I ask Leona if the baseball player names was Roberto Clemente, and with the same ease that I might ask you how you like your coffee, she says yes, that was his name. She repeats it, Roberto Clemente, and tells me how tragic it was that he passed away so young and trying to help people – I interrupt her pause, and say, you are telling me that my Father brought Roberto Clemente and his team mates to your house for dinner and a game of catch?  She answers, yes Jill, your Father was like that – yes he was, I think to myself, with a huge smile overtaking my countenance.

Marcial, should have been sitting with me, he ask me all of the right questions: When was this?  Did they take pictures?  Why was Roberto Clement in town?  Were you there?  I had no answers, but I do have this story now, and Leona’s sweet telling of it, and I have Marcial’s reaction – he understood exactly how over the top this moment was for me.

I do not remember how Marcial and I ended our conversation that night; I know I eventually went to bed thinking about how this one story so captured my Father. I have often said, and I am sure written somewhere in these pages, that my Father had a way of making me feel like there was a bit of wonderment in the world worth beholding, regardless of whatever may ail us.

Going out with my Father, Papi, was always a special occasion, even if we were going to Norm’s for a quick bite to eat. There have been times, in the many years now passed, since his death, where I have questioned some of his stories and my own remembrances, including the many memories I have of him always taking me backstage to meet the performer, at a concert, or introducing me to the maître d at a famous restaurant, as if they were friends, or to the dugout to meet the players, before a game, in New York or Cleveland, and even Los Angles – did he know any of these people or were they just be nice to a fan and his daughter?

It was such an odd moment, and such a glorious trip, which I shall share more about in The Dialogue, but even as the next day began, I kept wondering about Melody and wondered if she too remembered when Clemente died?  It is one of those moments, in the history, I have lived that has always stayed with me, though until now I was not sure why.

Clemente was a great player, he was Puerto Rican, and he died tragically trying to be of service to mankind, those are all good reasons for his death to be seared in my memory; but I now feel certain that it was my Father’s reaction to Clemente’s death, which assured that this event would become part of my world, like the day I came home from school, a few years later, and saw the news, scrolled across the bottom of the screen, that Elvis Presley had died.

My Mother would always speak about my Father’s world and the many people he knew; and yes I have more than one picture of him with a person or two that through the years has provoked “isn’t that” from my lips, and yes it was always so and so, thus the story is not just about the fact that my Father brought this famous ball player to hang out at Leona’s house, but it is also about this man with all of his mysteries and the wonder in which he lived, at least trying to savor life.

Undoubtedly, my Father was a flawed man who died too young, but at the very least, while he was here he did attempt to savor every moment – that is all for now.

“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

~ Abraham Lincoln ~

Connected

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 How’s the Weather?

Ask IBM

In the autumn of 2015, IBM, initials which initially stood for International Business Machines, made what might be considered a rather odd purchase, for a company today known as a leader in technology. IBM actually bought The Weather Company.

The plan is to put the technology, called Watson AI to work on the Internet of Things http://thatisallfornow.com/?p=8887#.V8eDdb3WaCw incorporating an immense amount of data about the clouds, if you will, into the cloud.

This acquisition most assuredly expands IBM’s already global position, in the business world, in an area that no longer depends on a spinning weather vain to know which way the wind is blowing.

The Weather Channel, which so many people rely on when inclement meteorological conditions are approaching, was not sold to IBM, so do not expect to see your favorite weather forecaster in a short sleeved, button down, white shirt, with a pocket protector and conservative tie, anytime soon. However, IBM has acquired a license to access the vast amounts of data, which The Weather Channel owns.

The Weather Company’s mobile application process over 26 billion hits daily, that is a lot of information and a lot of people wanting access to said information.

Why has IBM gotten into the weather business and why should you care? What plans does IBM have for all of this data?

Obviously, this acquisition is not just about whether or not it is raining and how much will it rain; rather, IBM is looking at sharing/selling data about how the incoming rain impacts everything, from say what individuals buy when a storm is approaching to how their purchases perform in two inches of rain verses forty inches of rain. What is the impact of rain on children missing school or parents calling in sick?  Do more people go to the doctor because of the weather?  Are there more flat tires in the rain?  Is more gas sold, or vacations cancelled, or business travel delayed because of weather?  What about the impact of the rain on farmers or people in the construction business or tourisms and entertainment?

Let’s face it, the weather impacts our life, whether we want it to or not; and IBM wants to know exactly what those two inches of rain mean to you, and thus to the utility companies, and the travel industry, the health care enterprises, the insurance trade, and the many manufacturing industries which are a part of our global lives – in the tech world, this is called analytics – and that is the buzz word you need to know and understand to stay safely Connected.

Words Worth Thinking About

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“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

 ~ Benjamin Franklin ~

Painting by Joseph Siffred – Duplesiss, North Carolina Museum of Art

Film’s Recommended by Marcial

 
This is a trading world and men, women and children, who cannot live on gravity alone, need something to satisfy their gayer, lighter moods and hours, and he who ministers to this want is in a business established by the Author of our nature.  If he worthily fulfills his mission and amuses without corrupting, he need not feel that he has lived in vain.
 
~ Phineas T. Barnum ~

 

 

The Upside of Anger, US, 2005, 118 minutes, Comedy

Scarface, US, 1983, 170 minutes, Thriller

The Notebook, US, 2004, 123 minutes, Drama

Million Dollar Baby, US, 2004, 133 minutes, Sports drama

Good Bye, Lenin!, Germany, 2003, 121 minutes, Comedy

Finding Neverland, UK, 2004, 101 minutes, Drama

Spanglish, US, 2004, 131 minutes, Comedy

The Aviator, US, 2004, 170 minutes, Drama

The Bridge on the River Kwai, US, 1957, 167 minutes, Action

Pulp Fiction, US, 1994, 154 minutes, Thriller

The Magnificent Seven, US, 1960, 128 minutes, Western

Zorba the Greek, Greek, 1964, 142 minutes, Classic

O Brother, Where Art Thou?, US, 2000, 106 minutes, Comedy

La Strada, Italy, 1954, 108, Drama

In Bruges, UK, 2008, 107 minutes, Thriller-Comedy

Whatever Works, US, 2009, 92 minutes, Comedy

Good Morning Vietnam, US, 1987, 119 minutes, Comedy

Awakenings, US, 1990, 120 minutes, Drama

Patch Adams, US, 1998, 116 minutes, Comedy

Captain Abu Raed, Jordan, 2008, 102 minutes, Drama

Bandits, US, 2001, 123 minutes, Comedy

Lucky Number Slevin, US, 2006, 110 minutes, Thriller

The Chorus, France, 2004, 97 minutes, Drama

Butterfly, Spain, 1999, 97 minutes, Drama

K-Pax, US, 2001, 121 minutes, Science Fiction

Winter in Wartime, Netherlands, 2008, 103, Drama, Suspenseful

Elling, Norway, 2001, 90 minutes, Comedy

Il Postino, Italy, 1995, 108 minutes, Drama

Under the Tuscan Sun, US, 2003, 113 minutes, Comedy

Les Comperes, France, 1983, 88 minutes, Comedy

Midnight in Paris, US, 2011, 94 minutes, Comedy

Moscow, Belgium, 2008, 102 minutes, Romantic Drama

Keeping Mum, UK, 2005, 103 minutes, Comedy

The Help, US, 2011, 146 minutes, Drama

Il Postino, Italy, 1995, 108 minutes, Drama

Mrs. Henderson Presents, UK, 2005, 103 minutes, Comedy/Drama

Memoirs of a Geisha, Japan, 2005, 145 minutes, Drama

Vitus, Switzerland, 2007, 123 minutes, Drama

Children of Heaven, Iran, 1997, 89 minutes, Drama

Volver, Spain, 2006, 121 minutes, Comedy

Rashomon, Japan, 1950, 88 minutes, Drama

Guantanamera, Cuba, 1994, 104 minutes, Comedy

Little Miss Sunshine, US, 2006, 101 minutes, Comedy

Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, Russia, 1980, 150 minutes, Romantic Comedy.

The Pursuit of Happyness, US, 2006, 117 minutes, Drama

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, France, 2007, 112 minutes, Drama

Thank You for Smoking, US, 2005, 91 minutes, Comedy

Big Fish, US, 2003, 125 minutes, Drama

No Country for Old Men, US, 2007, 122 minutes, Thriller

Dirty Pretty Things, UK, 202, 92 minutes, Drama

The Edge of Heaven, Germany, 2007, 122 minutes, Drama

There Will Be Blood, US, 2007, 158 minutes, Drama

The Wrestler, US, 2008, 105 minutes, Drama

Bottle Shock, US, 2008, 110 minutes, Drama

The Truman Show, US, 1998, 103 minutes, Comedy

Stranger than Fiction, US, 2006, 113 minutes, Comedy

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, US, 2008, 166 minutes, Drama

The Gecko Says

The High Cost of Not Dying

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The recent press regarding the pharmaceutical company Mylan and the criticism of price gouging for the EpiPen has brought forth – in an election year where debates about the cost of healthcare rage almost daily – significant negative press towards Big Pharma. Now there are talks of impending investigations into Mylan’s business practices which will no doubt cascade throughout the pharmaceutical industry as similar pricing practices are uncovered.

Let’s recap the Mylan incident from this week.

Mylan manufactures the EpiPen product which is widely used to fend off severe allergic reactions and fatal anaphylaxis in adults and children. It is dispensed – as the name suggests – in an easy to use auto-injection device resembling a pen. This week it is being revealed that Mylan had increased the cost of a two-pack of EpiPens to a whopping $600 which is an estimated 400% increase since 2009. Let us just note here, that the EpiPen contains about $1.00 in epinephrine and the auto-injection pen costs a few dollars more. 1

I would like to add that I happen to have an allergy to whitefish where even a small amount ingested could be potentially fatal. Fortunately, my wife Alycia happens to be a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) and carries an EpiPen with her at all times in case of such an emergency. Consequently, this particular news item struck a very personal chord with me.

To be fair, in the backlash of this controversy, Mylan has offered to cover $300 of the cost of the EpiPen but still leaves many families to cover the remainder out of pocket.

While there are alternatives to the EpiPen, not all of them possess the rapid delivery system. Further, with the increase in food allergies among children, families have to provide pens to schools and caregivers on a regular basis. And as with all medicines, EpiPens have a specific shelf-life. Even with good health care insurance this life saving medicine can still cost hundreds of dollars each time the prescription is filled.

According to www.foodallergy.org eight foods account for 90 percent of all reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish.; and like myself, even a small amount can cause a life-threatening reaction. This makes affordable access to this medicine paramount. We’re not talking dollars and cents here; we’re talking human lives.

Why does there seem to be an increase in food allergies? There is no definitive answer as of yet. I have my own theories but I’m not a scientist or a physician so I’ll keep those to myself for now. The facts though are this: food allergies affect 1 in every 13 children. So look up and down your street or do a quick headcount in the average American classroom, take a quick tally of children under 18 and you’ll start to see the wide ranging effects of food allergies.

As if the price hikes of 400% from 2009 weren’t enough, the secondary backlash of the Mylan fiasco was when it was revealed the CEO of Mylan, Heather Bresch earns a staggering $25.8 Million in salary per year. When you see and hear of American families (remember the 1 in every 13 children under 18 with a food allergy statistic?) struggling to make ends meet and yet we see a CEO earning that level of salary, those of us not in that income bracket begin to understand that Big Pharma has indeed – and quite literally – put a price on human life.

Let’s take a quick glance at another life-saving medicine that is on the fast track to disaster – insulin used to treat Type I and Type II diabetes.

For Type II diabetics, most medical professionals will agree the disease can be controlled via diet and exercise. There are of course cases where it cannot and then insulin is required to control blood sugar and A1C levels. Type I diabetics don’t have a choice. They must administer insulin on a regular basis to maintain healthy blood sugar levels or risk severe health issues and possibly death.

Depending on one’s insurance coverage, a 30-day supply of Novalog insulin can run about $110. There are other, cheaper insulins but I’m using this one as an example. Many Insurance companies require Medical Professionals to prescribe a 90-day supply which even I can do that math – $330.00 all at one time. If the diabetic also requires long-term insulin, cap on another $300.00 for a 90-day supply and pray you don’t break a glass vial or accidentally leave the insulin pen on the >90F or dashboard of your car.

By way of comparison, a 30-day supply of Oxycodone (5mg tablets) is going to cost that patient – again, depending on insurance – about $45 per month.2

Antidepressants can potentially be even less expensive. In some cases, the generic versions of Wellbutrin, Zoloft and Effexor can be less than $3.00 for a 30-day supply.

I’m not saying people with chronic pain don’t need relief and people with depression don’t need treatment.

What I am doing is contrasting the cost of lifesaving medicines against the cost of other medicines that have perhaps been on the market just as long; but Big Pharma can control the supply and the overall cost because they can. The significantly lower prices of controlled substances such as Oxycodone almost encourage abuse and misuse. 3 In cities across the nation the rampant over-prescribing of Opioids and its companion drugs are reaching epidemic proportions.

It’s no secret that in the U.S. some drugs can take 10-15 years to make it to the general public. Traditionally drug patents last 20 years before generics can be manufactured. It’s also well known that the FDA has some of the most stringent regulatory controls in the world when it comes to releasing drugs to market. Many would submit that this encourages Big Pharma to price gouge.

At what point does Mylan recoup the Marketing, Research and Developments costs for the EpiPen? Is it possible for a pharmaceutical company to be altruistic when it comes to saving actual lives after they’ve made back the money they’ve put into creating a medicine? Or is it a numbers game where some medicines just take years to develop only to be rejected by the FDA because they fail clinical trials? Thus isn’t Big Pharma hedging their bets on a horse that isn’t even born yet?

I think we all agree that business is business and in the United States we’ve adopted a capitalistic society and economy. It’s what’s made us the most powerful and admired country on Earth. However, with the backs of the middle class straining to maintain a basic quality of life and give their children what I believe most parents want to provide – which is a healthy and better life than they themselves had – when do we rise up and say “enough is enough”? At what point do we ask these companies to be held accountable when they intentionally put lifesaving medicines and healthcare out of our reach or force someone else to decide whether today their loved ones get to eat, or get to take their medicine?

Why should our children, our elderly and ourselves be indentured to Big Pharma when all Big Pharma is doing is placing an ever growing price tag on the cost of not dying?

Be safe.

  • The Gecko

1 Source: CNBC.com

2 https://www.drugs.com/price-guide/oxycodone

3 https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2016/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse

P.S – Many thanks to my wife Alycia Ernst Amador, FNP, APHN for helping with the research for this article.

P.S.S. Here’s some further reading in your spare, spare time. In case I haven’t made you mad enough. 😉

Patient Access to Epinephrine Auto-Injectors: A Matter of Live and Death:

https://www.aaaai.org/about-aaaai/newsroom/news-releases/patient-access-epinephrine

Food and Allergy Research and Education:

https://www.foodallergy.org/facts-and-stats

Mylan Rolls Out New EpiPen Access Plan:

http://www.fiercepharma.com/pharma/mylan-expands-epipen-access-response-to-pricing-crisis

Feeling the Pain of Costly Prescription Drugs

http://www.aarp.org/health/drugs-supplements/info-2014/specialty-prescription-drugs.html

Company that hiked drug price 5,000% investigated by U.S. Senate:

http://money.cnn.com/2015/11/05/news/turing-martin-shkreli-senate-investigation/


A View from the Road

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A View from the Road

Follow Electric What?   I love everything about this sign, and the establishment it advertises. I suppose, in no small part, my interest comes from having stayed in so many of these types of motels, throughout my life, but also because it represents what feels like a bygone era, a time when Americans simply...

Connected

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Connected

Follow  How’s the Weather? Ask IBM In the autumn of 2015, IBM, initials which...

My Mother’s Favorite Verse

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”~ Jeremiah 33: 3 ~

~ Aristophanes~

High thoughts must have high language.

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