The Tube

I mentioned in a previous post that I have been beating myself up for watching too much television. Today’s entry in the “give myself a frickin’ break” category consists of digging down a bit on my watching habits.

I mention this because I was getting really rough on myself for spending so much time in front of the TV. From a health standpoint yes, TV is bad because you are sitting on your ass for hours on end. Never a good thing. The last thing my body needs, with all of the healing that needs to be done, is inactivity. But it’s not all bad for the brain. I mostly watch documentaries, movies and shows that at least stimulate my mind a bit. Crime dramas mostly; Criminal Minds, Forensic files, Dateline, ID Discovery. I’m fascinated by the human condition, what people are capable of. Both good and bad. There are lessons to be learned from any meaningful story, even if it is a cautionary tale of what not to do and who not to be. In addition, when I’m stoned (I’ve been prone to more of that lately)I love to watch shows I’ve seen before because I notice integral details more and study the acting of my favorite characters closer. Often, I find myself more impressed with the writing or the acting. And sometimes I get critical.

When my brain is tired at the end of the day I watch silly but tried and true sitcoms reruns until bed. After all, I love to laugh.

Expect some posts on my favorite movies, TV shows, actors and characters. It should be fun, stimulate some discussion and give me something to blog about. Hey, at least it’s not politics, right?

If you haven’t noticed…I NEVER write about politics.

B Positive

I have to remind myself that it is just Network Television. It is not reality TV. It has to capture the viewers attention in a funny way, if you take into consideration that the modern viewer has the attention span of a Gnat. If the subject matter is too serious you also lose them. I personally see the show as a better Drama. But hey, what do I know? It’s just my opinion, but the new sitcom B Positive misses the mark in a big way. Again, just my opinion.

The show is about a therapist who finds out he needs a Kidney Transplant. He is a single Dad working through a recent separation from his wife. As luck would have it, he bumps into an old High School acquaintance at a wedding and somehow the subject of Kidney failure/transplant comes up and the ditzy girl throws it out there, “Hey, I can donate to you!”
By the end of the 2nd episode they have confirmed that she is willing, while showing more of what a mess her lifestyle really is but lo and behold, she is cleared to be a donor. The timetable escalates, as our hero “suddenly” starts dialysis.

I’ve tried to give it a chance. I really have. Multiple friends have asked me my thoughts on the show and I have tried to reserve judgment. I have to be nice knowing that most people really have no idea about the process, timetables and let’s face it, setbacks in the whole process.

To begin with, no-one “suddenly” finds that they need a transplant. Kidney disease is gradual and predictable. Any doctor can tell you after mapping the decrease in function that at a certain point you WILL need a transplant. It is not something that can sneak up on you. Renal failure is painful and it will affect every aspect of your life. The word I choose for it is Insidious. Over a long period of time you will experience an increasing level of complete garbage. You will feel washed out, which I liken to the day you start feeling flu symptoms and you know you are getting sick. But this feeling lasts for years. You can try to explain your symptoms to your friends, family, coworkers and your boss. They won’t understand. Nobody does. When your kids ask you to come play and all you can do is sit on the sofa with swollen legs and no energy it rips your heart out. This, and a million other normal functions in life that are compromised is where the Spectre of depression enters the picture. Approximately 87% of Renal patients suffer mild to serious depression. There is no medication other than hope for relief in the form of a transplant or a miracle. When you have End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) a transplant and a miracle are one and the same.

The Dialysis segment of the show really, despite my efforts to be fair, annoyed me. In the second episode our hero, as I said earlier, “suddenly” starts dialysis. I’m sorry, you don’t just start dialysis. It is a last resort, akin to the fat lady singing for many people, myself included. By the time I was ready to start it I was as sick as I have ever been and I hated the whole idea of it. I always did, even before my first transplant when I pushed my luck enormously and avoided it. My Dr. scolded me as reckless and dangerous. How could I tell him that the lifestyle of dialysis appealed to me as much as eating a bullet?

So, our hero is sitting in a clinic with the recliners and machines, which they got right. The spacing of the chairs was a bit close but it is, after all, Television. But the room itself could not possibly get it more wrong. The seats are all full. The patients are all sitting up and awake. They look healthy other than having needles stuck in their arms. Ugh, so many misconceptions here. I will take them step by step:

There are always empty chairs in a clinic and you notice them immediately. I’ll be blunt, fellow patients at some point are forced to wonder if the missing patient is sick or dead. You don’t and won’t know, they can’t tell you. All you can do is hope for the best for them.
The chairs are almost always reclined. If you can’t get a nap during your session you are stuck with bad network TV or a book, which you can barely support with your left arm because of the 1 inch (yes, you read that correctly) needles in your arm that may, if you move, puncture your vein and you are done for the day if not the week. The vein is known as a fistula, a surgical vascular process that combines several veins in the arm to form a super port that enable the body to filter the blood in 4 hours. This surgery needs to be done 60 days before it is “mature” enough to use. It is very painful. If you start dialysis before they can do this surgery then you are given a port in your chest.
This is the worst scenario.
You can’t get it dirty so therefore you are not allowed baths or showers. The rest of your days with that port will be sponge bath only. Trust me, it sucks. Especially if it gets infected, despite your best efforts to keep it clean, and you end up with a staph infection. Mine caused Sepsis and I say this without exaggeration that I came millimeters from death 2 years ago because of it.
The patients in a dialysis center, with few exceptions, do not look like the patients on the show. The people in the show look as if they are going to spring out of their chairs once done. Not so in real life. We look sick. We look tired. Because we are. With rare exceptions, people get out of their chairs slowly and walk out slowly. We know that we are going to feel ok for about a day, if we’re lucky, and then we are back in that fucking chair.
The patients are all too cheery. Occasionally a comment gets tossed out that deals with the tribulations associated with a dialysis lifestyle to my satisfaction but not often. In general, people in dialysis centers are not very cheery. At age 55, I have a glimmer of hope of getting a transplant. Many patients do not and at a certain age are ruled out statistically. Their only hope would be a private donor. Many others have enough medical issues to disqualify them. These are the patients that know they will be on it until they die. Some take it into their own hands. Imagine being the nurse that hears a patient say “I can’t take the pain anymore”, to find the next morning that he ended his own life that night?

The donor. Ugh. As if the process was as simple as saying “Hey, you’re a match. It takes SO much longer to get approved as a donor and it is a complex process. While I will give them credit for including the segment about the potential donor being told to clean up her lifestyle. That is true. But there is tissue typing to do. MANY tests. Psychological examinations. They have to ensure that the donor isn’t being paid or coerced. Many do not pass all of them and it is a tremendous letdown as the patient. I say this with certainty, many people offer to be tested and many do NOT follow through. It is false hope at its finest and it is crushing the first time it happens, you begin to expect a letdown eventually.

This is dialysis. This is ESRD. To make a sitcom out of this subject is a grave mistake. This show could be an opportunity to raise awareness, and I hope it does. But I doubt it will. One thing a sitcom will never do is justice to such a depressing subject matter. Laugh tracks won’t make the pain go away and unreasonable depictions do the subject matter irreparable harm.

Sorry, there’s just nothing funny about it.

Fuhgeddaboutit

I once worked with a guy that claimed he was “Connected.” I said “What, like Cable?” He said no, the Mafia. I told him he was full of shit. Anyone who was connected would never brag about it to a guy like me. He thought I was a rube. Anything but, I’ve seen as many if not more Mafia movies and shows than anyone should have the right to. The mob. Mafia. Gangsters. Wiseguys. Goodfellas. Made Guys. Whatever the name, I can’t get enough and I know my shit, so to speak.

As a law-abiding citizen with no interest in changing that anytime soon, I have an unhealthy fascination with organized crime. The Godfather 1 and 2 (not 3) Goodfellas, Donnie Brasco, Once Upon a Time in America, The Soprano’s, the list goes on forever. I can watch them over and over again.
And I have.
And will continue to do so.

What is it about the Gangster that captures our fascination? For me, I suppose it starts with the history. In this country, and in NY in particular the Mafia, or La Casa Nostra was integral in protecting Italian immigrants and their fledgling families as they established themselves in this country. “Protection” cost them a fee but if someone crossed them there was someone to act on their behalf. Failure to pay for that protection of course cost them more than money, disrespect equaled swift old-school justice. Police, judges, and non-Italians largely looked the other way. It was common folklore that if you didn’t cross or disrespect the Mafia they would never bother you. But if you were asked a favor, you were wise to grant it. The words tossed around were honor, tradition, respect. Call it what it is, it’s fear based on power.

For generations Americans have looked the other way and tolerated the presence of “the Mob” in American society. I suppose there are several reasons for this. If you were a small Italian business owner in 1900’s New York you may have welcomed the link to the “Old country” and the protection. Another reason would be that many of our lives were unaffected by it; if you didn’t engage in activities that they were involved in then it didn’t matter. Maybe it was just accepted, it’s always been there. I for one don’t gamble in illegal casinos, frequent prostitutes or even live in areas where there is a presence. With the exception of a stray bullet striking a innocent civilian during a “hit”, we look the other way.

Despite the capacity to be vicious, even sociopathic criminals there is such a aura about them. I would never go so far as to say that they are role models. But there sure is a fascination with their lifestyle that has led to so many movies and shows.

Maybe it’s the suits. Those guys sure dress nice. Maybe it’s the wad of 100’s in their pockets, freely being tucked in the breast pocket of every doorman of every nightclub. People scrambling to accommodate them as if they were visiting royalty. Maybe it’s the prestige of being “known” in the neighborhood. Maybe it’s the ability to do whatever they wanted virtually unfettered. Maybe it’s the whole “respect” thing (it’s really fear). People know your name and your “affiliations” or connections and they don’t dare cross you. Swagger, prestige and respect.

That is until a bullet finds the back of your head.

“In this business you go in alive and you come out dead. And it’s always your best friend that does it. ” Lefty, Donnie Brasco

Donnie Brasco is one of the best movies or shows to present mob life for all of it’s ups and downs. I marvel at its ability of to actually create a sympathetic character. One that we relate to, like and even mourn when they die. Lefty was a tragic character. I enjoyed Tony Soprano, despite some despicable behavior, in all of his neuroses. I got a kick out of Henry Hill of Goodfellas because, at least for a while, he lived like a king and in the end lived to tell of all of his debauchery. Lefty, on the other hand was a sympathetic character and despite not being the first film project to be dedicated to the down side of the life; that is to say that it isn’t always glamorous or prestigious, that it can be thrust upon you and once in you can’t get out. Not without rolling over on your buddies and going into witness protection. Or getting that bullet in the back of the head.

“Hey Mac, have you seen ________? It’s about the mob.”
“Have I seen it? Have I seen it? Fuhgeddaboutit!”