You Laughed at a Dead Man

Yeah, let’s laugh at and deride Philip Seymour Hoffman.

For some of you, he’s just another disposable celebrity who couldn’t handle his addiction and ended up dead because of it.

After all, he was just one of 23 MILLION AMERICANS addicted to alcohol and drugs.
(Multiple sources confirm that approximate number. Don’t believe me? Google it.)

Oh, and only 11% of those struggling with addiction seek and receive treatment.

So laugh it up if you must. Or spout off with these old chestnuts of ignorance:

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“He should have just gone to rehab.”

He did.

And like more than half of people who go to rehab (also confirmed by multiple online sources), he relapsed.

He knew he had a problem. He had the resources to fight it. He worked at it and got clean.

And it still got the best of him.

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“He had kids.”

And you think he didn’t love them as much as you love yours?

Does that maybe give you an inkling of how powerful an addiction can be?

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“Where were his family, friends, agents, entourage?”

I’m sure they gave as much love and support as they could.

What more could they do? Handcuff themselves to him 24/7?

Nobody can just “fix” another person or cure them of an addiction. It’s a lifelong battle.

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“All he needed was to toughen up and find some willpower.”

He had every reason to quit and every reason to live.

A partner and kids. A wonderful career with awards and respect.

And his addiction overpowered all of that.

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Until we as a nation wake up and understand that our views on addiction and mental health issues are incredibly ignorant and just plain wrong, sad deaths like this will continue to happen.

To bring it home for you, imagine the 100 people in your family and close circle of friends.

Statistically, 7 of them are addicts. (317 million Americans, 23 million addicts = about 7%.)

If any of them die too early, I wonder if you’ll laugh at them as easily as you did at some celebrity.

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I’m not saying you have to mourn Philip Seymour Hoffman and rip your clothes and cry your eyes out.

But it is too much ask to show a little empathy for another human being?

Someone struggling with demons that we may be lucky enough to NOT understand?

Are we that cold, callous and unfeeling?

I sure hope not.

 

I do this every day.

I do this every day.

Examine The Area for bumps, openness, bleeding, dryness, red/purple/black discoloration.
I’m 16. I cannot sit with my legs over the side of the bed, as the rush of blood causes tremendous pain. I miss the last three months of my junior year. It’s all because of a few small purple wounds on my lower legs. My first run of Prednisone, which is a miracle drug that masks the pain and symptoms but is not a cure. I do experience many of the side effects of large doses of Prednisone, but I suppose they’re more tolerable than the pain.

I miss the baseball season, Junior Prom, and my grades sink even though I tried to keep up.

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I do this every day.

Determine if topical treatment is necessary.
I’m 19. Riding the bench for a Division III baseball team. But I’m in Cocoa, Florida, enjoying our annual spring break trip that includes ten games in seven days. The pain starts in my legs again. Heavy. Dull. Aching. Walking is hard, much less playing ball. A couple small purple wounds. My doctor sends me Prednisone via overnight shipping. A few months on it, and eventually it doesn’t hurt with every single step I take, walking from the furthest house on campus to my classes. Things get back to normal. In the deepest parts of my brain, I know my baseball days are done.

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I do this every day.

If necessary, apply topical treatment.
I’m 25. On a trip to my brother’s grad school graduation, my parents notice me caring for a giant purple scab on my left leg. (Looking back, I have no idea how I let it get that bad.) When we return home, I see my doctor — who refers me to the wound care department of a rehab/therapy facility. On my first visit, the specialist takes a look at my left leg (the outside part, mid-shin-high), puts on his latex gloves and grabs some kind of tweezers. I ask, “Uh, what are you doing?” He calmly replies that the scab has to come off.

He clips and tugs gently, and shockingly, the removal does not hurt. (I have a Polaroid of this actual moment, but I will spare you the visual. Unless you want to see it. Post in the Comments below if you’d like me to send you the photo.) Underneath the crusty purple scab is a half-inch-deep layer of what looks like wet pink goosebumps. He places a non-adhesive bandage on The Area (as I will refer to it now and forever) and wraps it with cling-roll bandages, followed by tape to hold the bandages on.

I am to return three times a week for hot whirlpool treatment, which sounds cool but is limited to my left leg below the knee. This is to debride (remove any bacteria, dirt, etc.) The Area and hopefully enable healing.

For several years, this kind of treatment — and many others — had varying degrees of success and failure in trying to heal The Area. Real skin graft. Artifical skin graft. My own plasma, spun in a centrifuge and frozen.

Some of The Area heals, breaking it into separate segments. But then it gets angry again, the segments join together and become one big nasty deep ulcer, which is finally diagnosed, properly, as pyoderma gangrenosum. (Google it only if you dare, yucky photos abound.)

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I do this every day.

Place bandage or gauze pad on The Area.
I’m somewhere between 25 and 30. (If you had all this in your head, you’d be fuzzy on dates too.)

A hacking winter cough leads to amoxicillin, which leads to a bad reaction, a fever, weakness and fatigue, and finally a hospital stay. The diagnosis is C. Difficile Colitis, seemingly brought on by the medication. While in the hospital, they test me and confirm that I also have Crohn’s colitis. And after trying a whirlpool treatment that had me literally screaming (you try putting your exposed nerve endings in swirling hot water), a surgical debridement is done. Because the pain of the surgery would be so great, they have to knock me out (and keep me going on morphine).

A few days later, I am quite possibly bending the metal bar on the side of my hospital bed as they attempt to remove the silver nitrate bandage that has protected The Area since the surgery. This is horror-movie-level pain. When I am finally released from the hospital, I am on 80mg of Prednisone a day (which will take about a year to slowly wean off of), as well as Oxycontin and a couple immunosuppressive drugs.

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I do this every day.

Apply three long strips of tape that extend beyond bandage to adhere to leg.
I’m 31. I’ve met a woman who could be The One. She’s gorgeous, she’s fun, she’s smart, and she challenges me. And somehow, I have to share all this with her without scaring her off.

“Hey, so we’re really getting along well here, and I need to let you know that I have two rare and chronic diseases, and there’s a giant ugly hole in my leg. Do you want to get an appetizer?”

(The above is NOT how it went. I honestly don’t remember. I do know I had enough sense not to have that discussion on the first date or before a meal.)

Regardless, she had to know what she was getting into. And I later found out that at first, it was difficult for her to handle — because my health issues could become very important in our shared future. Happily, she realized that my awesomeness (and humility) was worth any health issue we had to deal with. (Note: We’ve been married for 8 years now.)

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I do this every day.

Carefully pull compression sock over foot and then up leg to knee.
I’m 36. I’m tightly holding my wife’s hand in the operating room as our beautiful girls enter the world. It is the most surreal, wonderful, exhilarating experience of my life. And in the middle of it all, I wonder if these innocent little angels will have to deal with health issues like mine. I hope they don’t get any of my bad genes, only the good ones. Sadly, parents are pretty helpless in that department.

The girls were preemies, and both had 3-week NICU stays. You can read that story here, but suffice it to say that after a terrifying ordeal, the girls are healthy and amazing. I just want them to stay that way forever and ever. Is that too much to ask?

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I do this every day.

Go about day as if everything is normal.
I’m 41 as I write this. That number blows me away. I vividly remember thinking “wow, I’ll be 27 in the year 2000.” Well, here we are, 14 years after THAT. I’ve got a nice bald spot going on top of my head, plus some serious gray/silver happening in the remnants of my once-semi-glorious head of hair. And that’s no big deal.

My health is under control, thanks mostly to my Remicade infusions every six weeks or so. It’s no big deal, I get an IV infusion and work on my laptop during the four-hour treatment. If that’s what’s keeping away new wounds or Crohn’s flares, then it’s a tiny price to pay.

But every day, I go through the steps written here in bold type. And let’s be clear about something — there are many people who have it worse than me. I know this, and have reminded myself of this fact for years. There are pyoderma patients with wounds that never heal, or break out in much worse places than the lower leg. And there are Crohn’s and IBD patients who require surgeries and removal of intestines and all kinds of other life-changing procedures.

I didn’t write this for pity. I wrote it I was pushed by a buddy (thanks, Matthew) who believes you’re either a creator or a consumer — and I wanted to focus on being that first one for a bit.

Above all, I wanted to share a part of my daily routine that very few people know about, and even fewer can relate to. Maybe I wanted to persuade the 17 of you who read this to be grateful if you have your health. It is truly a gift to be cherished.  And to remember that there is always someone who has it worse than you.

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I do this every day.

In Memoriam: Mark Marinelli, @MarkM625

(Note: I’m not sure that this blog post flows all that well. It’s been a rough week, and my reaction to the subject of this entry probably makes for crappy writing. Sorry about that.)
Today, I lost a friend I never met in person. But we had a lot in common.

Mark Marinelli was a year younger than me (he was 39).
He was a resident of Bethlehem, PA (where I lived and worked for several years).
He lived with Becker’s Muscular Dystrophy, which robbed him of the ability to walk at 15.
(My pyoderma gangrenosum flared for the first time at 16 — but I was lucky. After three months of incredible pain, I was eventually able to walk normally. Despite several flares and giant ulcers on my left leg, I’ve been mostly fine with walking since then.)
Clearly, my disease was/is nowhere near as bad as Mark’s.

In fact, he wasn’t supposed to live to see 19. It’s a testament to his strength of will and character that he more than doubled the doctor’s expectations.

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The biggest common bond we had was the Philadelphia Phillies — whom we both rooted for and often discussed on Twitter. (It is worth noting that the Phillies are the losingest franchise in the entirety of sports history, with more than 10,000 losses on record.)

As men born in the early 1970s, we each lived through a wildly up-and-down period in Phillies history:

* 1980 = The Phillies’ dominant run atop the National League East in the late ’70s culminated in the 1980 World Series championship.
* 1983 = The “Wheeze Kids” included a bunch of, um, “not young” players that went to the Series again but lost.
* 1993 = Somehow, the 1993 squad of dirtballs, tramps and thieves scratched its way to the Series again — but heartache came in the form of Joe Carter.
* 2008 = Another dominant run in the East led to another World Series title.

In between those four highlight years, there as a lot of mediocrity and a bunch of lousy players.

And unfortunately, it’s pretty likely that the Phils’ “window of opportunity” is closing, as the stars of 2008 are mostly fading as they get older.

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When it came to his health, Mark had a strength and spirit that we can all aspire to. Naturally, he had dark times and went through periods of doubt and depression. But I will always remember his “presence” on Twitter — smart, witty and always ready with a joke or insight.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how much you plan — life WILL throw you a steady diet of 12-6 curveballs. What’s important is how you deal with them.

At bat, a good hitter recognizes that a curveball is coming and in a nanosecond, alters his swing and hits the ball to the “opposite field.”

In life, a person who handles adversity with dignity and humor is someone to be admired and respected. That’s what Mark was to me, even though we never hung out live and in person.

I admired and respected Mark Marinelli, and I will carry inspiration from him for the rest of my life.

#RIPMark

Mark’s blog: http://icantwalk.com/

#Advertising — #BirthdayCoupons Update

It’s Tuesday, January 8 — five days until my birthday on January 13.

Let’s tally up the birthday email coupons I’ve received thus far:

  • Palio’s Pizza Cafe
    buy one large specialty pizza, get one FREE medium pizza with one topping; expires 1/31
  • Dunkin’ Donuts
    free medium coffee, latte, tea, Coolatta® or hot chocolate; have to wait for actual coupon in snail mail (will arrive “by the end of the month”)
  • Which Wich
    free regular Wich; expires 1/20 (valid only at Uptown location near my office)
  • Baskin Robbins
    —one free 2.5oz scoop or one 3oz soft serve swirl; expires 1/18

Unpaid Endorsements: My 4 Favorite iPhone Apps

By no means am I an iPhone expert, an App connoisseur, or a smart, capable person. However, I do have some super-helpful apps that I use on a daily basis that might be useful to you:

Beat The Traffic = Every single time I get in the car for my morning and evening commutes to and from Dallas, I check BTT. (Full Disclosure: I only have two or three possible routes — four or five if it’s absolutely ridiculous traffic.)

But the highly accurate red/orange/green road colors let me know which roads and intersections to avoid, and exclamation points highlight any accidents/major slowdowns. (You can report them as well.) I don’t really use any of the other features (daily alerts, etc.), but I’m sure they’re good.

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Gas Buddy = You might have a favorite gas station or one that you “know” is the cheapest around…but you can know where the cheapest gas prices are with this app.

One big button to hit for GPS-targeting your current location, or just type in a zip code. It’ll give you a pretty long list of area gas stations which you can sort by price or location. I remember my dad trying to remember all of the various gas prices in our neighborhood, and this app makes it so crazy easy. Technology is awesome.

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SoundHound = Driving. Great tune comes on radio that you don’t recognize. Tap to open SoundHound, tap to start “listening,” and it’ll name that tune in 10ish seconds. Read about the artist and then share what you’re listening to on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Also has the lyrics that will scroll along live with the radio, so it’s basically a karaoke app too.

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MLB Trade Rumors = I started reading this site online several years ago for the latest baseball news and rumors. It’s a freakin’ empire now, and the app has all the site content updated instantly — which is great for fantasy baseball dorks like me.

Editor’s Note: I was reminded by @GalloSays on Twitter (Thanks Steve!) that the actual app name is not “MLB Trade Rumors,” likely due to MLB copyright restrictions. In iTunes, look for “Baseball Trade Rumors.”

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What are YOUR favorite apps? I showed you mine, so show me yours (in the comments below)!

About My Grandfather: A Life of Love

This was what I said at my grandfather’s funeral two weeks ago.  

We all have thousands and thousands of memories of Grandpop. Morey Greenbaum was a wonderful man who loved us all, and we all loved him for it.

He loved Grandmom Sylvia with all his heart — ever since their first dance in England. We all saw that same love for her every day for all of their time together. The way he called her “Ippel,” the way he’d protect her fiercely against crazy rude drivers when they rode their bikes, the way that  — for all his toughness — he would listen to Grandmom dutifully and do what she said…even if it meant skipping dessert.

Theirs is a love that we all wish for, and the kind I emulate every day. For all the ups and downs that life brings, it’s that kind of loving partnership that pulls you through the tough times. We use Grandmom and Grandpop’s relationship as an example for our own, because it makes life so much sweeter.

During the past year, as he dealt with so many health issues, he had the constant support of his children. That’s a testament to his love for them, that they would be so dedicated in helping care for him when he needed it.

And that’s the biggest lesson (of many lessons) that I learned from Grandpop — to always cherish your loved ones, and cherish every day you get to spend with them. Even a boring old soccer practice could turn into a learning experience over hot chocolate at McDonald’s — or just a happy memory to go along with so many others.

He continued his tradition of infinite love with his grandchildren, all of us spoiled by he and Grandmom. And I say “spoiled” not in a bad way — not just with toys and presents, but with their unconditional love and support, which gave us all wonderful moments and memories.

Over the past year, no matter his condition, whenever I got him on the phone he’d ask about “my ladies.” And he always took great joy in hearing their latest developments — as he did with all his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

For Morey Greenbaum, life was about his family. Life was about love. And that — plus thousands and thousands of memories — is what I will carry with me always.