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I have a confession to make. Like many African Americans, I don't trust the health care system. And that's not because of the Tuskegee experiment, conducted over 75 years ago, during which researchers deliberately left 399 black men untreated for syphilis. It's because of my own experiences with health care workers and the numerous examples of the callous and uncaring ways in which people--especially people of color--are treated when they go to the doctor.

For example, who can forget videos that documented the deaths of several people who went to the emergency room for medical care and wound up leaving on gurneys. One woman in New York City waited in the emergency room for hours, finally falling to the floor in convulsions, only to be ignored by health care workers as she lay dying.

How many stories have we heard about hospital patients who died because health care workers did not wash their hands or a doctor prescribed the wrong medicine or removed the wrong organ?

At times, I find myself wondering at the business-as-usual environment of health care institutions. My primary care facility is now chock-full of doctors offices. On the surface, it seems so very convenient. Patients can see myriad specialists in one place. Primary care physicians steer patients to their specialist colleagues. Trial-size medications are routinely dispensed--fresh out of the bag of the pharmaceutical rep who had lunch with your doctor just hours before.

So, yes, that kind of thing makes me wonder.

Don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't think there are caring physicians who have the well-being of their patients at heart. And, no, I don't think that all health care workers are reckless, uncaring and inept. But I do think that the system needs to make sure that it does have the best interests of the people it serves at heart.

If that means screening and training health care workers more stringently and carefully, then so be it. The reason for people's distrust of the health care system is simple. People feel that institutions and the individuals who work there really do not care about the quality of the service they provide.

And, sure, it's a really tough job, and somebody's got to do it. But let's try to get the right people to do it--ones who care, ones who are well trained and ones who know how to deal with the public.

The bottom line is that people must become more proactive in taking care of themselves. No one should leave his or her wellness entirely in the hands of health care providers. Indeed, no doctor can care more about you than you do about yourself. Also, over the years, I have learned to become informed and ask questions--many of them--of the doctors I see. For me, becoming educated about health issues is empowering. Sometimes the first step to achieving change starts by looking within.

Oh yes, about that distrust I feel; I'm working on it. How? By educating myself even more about health issues so I don't feel as if I'm at the mercy of the health care system.

For me it's a way to remain in control of my health and my ability to negotiate the system, which plays a big part in maintaining both my physical and mental well-being.

Just after Thanksgiving, I had the worst scare. My cat, Juma--he's a domestic shorthair-- just stopped eating. Yeah, just like that. One day he was fine, the other he was curled up with his face turned to the back of the chair. Fortunately, he was still responsive. That gave me hope.

Really, I had just taken Juma to the vet several weeks before after a long hiatus. Juma is an older cat, but he's still active and frisky when he wants to be. Then, boom! He's no longer interested in food; he's listless; he's just not himself. (That certainly wasn't Juma!)

Anyway, this hunger strike scared me. I recognized all the signs. My cat was constipated. Every cat seems to have some condition that they're predisposed to having. This was his. A few years ago, I had to take him to the vet for the same issue. He was given an enema and I was sent home with some new food to feed him.

Guess what? He didn't like it, so I had to pack up those verrry expensive cans of soft food and bags of hard food and tote them downstairs into the basement. Every so often, I still see them sitting on a counter all wrapped in plastic. (Now it's too late to even give them away.)

Anyway, when I called the vet's office, this time I asked them to tell me exactly what needed to be done and how much each thing would cost. Vets are a panic. Whenever I've taken Juma in for an exam, someone comes to get him and the next time I see that person is when I'm being handed a bill for hundreds of dollars I never expected to spend.

That's why this time, I asked questions up front. Well, the woman at the vet's office quoted me all the prices for the exam, the blood test, the enema (if needed), the administration of fluids under the skin (if needed) and the waste removal. The total was $488.42.

Uh, excuse me! I love my pet, but where do these people come up with these figures? I mean, really! "What are my options for payment?" I asked. "Can I do a payment plan?"

"Sorry, but your only options are to pay in full or get Care Credit," she replied. Care Credit? Was she for real. I was already in debt up to my eyeballs. Now I'm going to push myself deeper into s&(%$t? Uh, no!

So I frowned into my cell phone and said, "Okay, thanks, ma'am. I'll have to call you back."

Then I went in search of my laptop. Long story short, I did some research. I must have gone on at least half a dozen pet forums to find out what people used to treat their constipated cats. I noticed that pumpkin puree came up quite a bit. Some people said they'd given their cats milk for a short time. (Milk gives cats diarrhea, so it's not really recommended you feed felines the white stuff. But in the case of a constipated cat, you want soft stool. Okay, I won't get too graphic...)

Anyway, I also found a laxative recommended by vets that I ordered. The product is called Lax-Eze and it's a combo of beet pulp, kelp, psyllium seed, flax seed, oven-dried chicken liver, papaya leaf, apple fiber, bentonite clay (edible, safe form) and diatomaceous earth (edible, safe form). The texture is gritty, so I was a little concerned. But since Juma was drinking lots of water still, I figured at least he would have enough moisture so this combination wouldn't just cake up inside him.

So I started Juma off on a mix of warm pumpkin puree and a little milk mixed together and mixed into his soft food--just to get his system going. Don't forget, he was having problems going. After two days on this mixture, he finally went to the bathroom. My family celebrated.

Next came the Lax-Eze. I mixed in a teaspoon of it into Juma's food along with a tablespoon of pumpkin puree, and a teaspoon of slippery elm powder that I've always given him. (I stopped the milk after he went the first time.)

The good news is, now Juma is fine. He's regular all the way around. I'm so glad I did that research. And, yes, I realize that Juma might have needed to go to the vet. But many times this isn't the answer, or even the best solution, to a pet's problem.

If you know your pet's habits and really watch them carefully, sometimes you can make a better decision to solve common, minor health issues that don't necessarily require a trip to the vet.

Yeah, Juma's back to his regular self now!

JUMA.JPG

I have a confession to make. Like many African Americans, I don't trust the health care system. And that's not because of the Tuskegee experiment, conducted over 75 years ago, during which researchers deliberately left 399 black men untreated for syphilis. It's because of my own experiences with health care workers and the numerous examples of the callous and uncaring ways in which people--especially people of color--are treated when they go to the doctor.

For example, who can forget videos that documented the deaths of several people who went to the emergency room for medical care and wound up leaving on gurneys. One woman in New York City waited in the emergency room for hours, finally falling to the floor in convulsions, only to be ignored by health care workers as she lay dying.

How many stories have we heard about hospital patients who died because health care workers did not wash their hands or a doctor prescribed the wrong medicine or removed the wrong organ?

At times, I find myself wondering at the business-as-usual environment of health care institutions. My primary care facility is now chock-full of doctors offices. On the surface, it seems so very convenient. Patients can see myriad specialists in one place. Primary care physicians steer patients to their specialist colleagues. Trial-size medications are routinely dispensed--fresh out of the bag of the pharmaceutical rep who had lunch with your doctor just hours before.

So, yes, that kind of thing makes me wonder.

Don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't think there are caring physicians whoph have the well-being of their patients at heart. And, no, I don't think that all health care workers are reckless, uncaring and inept. But I do think that the system needs to make sure that it does have the best interests of the people it serves at heart.

If that means screening and training health care workers more stringently and carefully, then so be it. The reason for people's distrust of the health care system is simple. People feel that institutions and the individuals who work there really do not care about the quality of the service they provide.

And, sure, it's a really tough job, and somebody's got to do it. But let's try to get the right people to do it--ones who care, ones who are well trained and ones who know how to deal with the public.

The bottom line is that people must become more proactive in taking care of themselves. No one should leave his or her wellness entirely in the hands of health care providers. Indeed, no doctor can care more about you than you do about yourself. Also, over the years, I have learned to become informed and ask questions--many of them--of the doctors I see. For me, becoming educated about health issues is empowering. Sometimes the first step to achieving change starts by looking within.

Oh yes, about that distrust I feel; I'm working on it. How? By educating myself even more about health issues so I don't feel as if I'm at the mercy of the health care system.

For me it's a way to remain in control of my health and my ability to negotiate the system, which plays a big part in maintaining both my physical and mental well-being.

Taken Too Soon: Obesity Kills

| 1 Comment

I got the bad news via a frantic phone call. My younger brother, Tony, collapsed in a highway rest stop bathroom and couldn't be revived. He perished from a massive heart attack that was, no doubt, aggravated by years of unaddressed obesity.

Tony missed his 50th birthday by just four days. He was about 6-feet, 3 inches tall and had to weigh a little over 300 pounds. Tony never really knew his weight. He refused to go to the doctor. He didn't like hearing that he was too heavy and he avoided conversations that focused on anything having to do with his weight problem.

Unfortunately, there are many people who are like my brother. Many, like him, carry their weight like a burden, unwilling to ask for help and preferring to remain in denial. When I think about Tony, I remember so many things about him. His great sense of humor; his ready smile; his hysterical one-liners; his love of sports and his sweet and gentle nature. But there was a shadow over all of these wonderful qualities. We were concerned about his health and the weight he carried that threatened him being around to share all those qualities he had with us.

As the editor of a health magazine, I've read extensively about the dangers of obesity. Almost every day that passes some new piece of information crosses my desk about this condition. When I read these things, my mind would fix on Tony. The thing is, obesity is so much more than how many extra pounds someone is carrying.

It's been said that obesity, like depression, is a response to someone's inner pain. In general, I tend to agree with this assessment. Any addiction, whether it's to food or some other substance, can be a way of self-medicating. On the surface, my brother was a very happy person. But, at times, I knew he was in pain and unhappy with a lot in his life.

Like many other people, Tony had his ups and downs and stretches where life's disappointments had hit hard enough for him to stagger from the pain. Not that my brother didn't talk. He did. Occasionally, he'd tell us about things that really bothered him, which made me wonder sometimes about the things he didn't share.

When we think about Tony, it's with a sense of sorrow that he didn't get more time. We think he would have been able to beat his obesity problem. He'd done it before on more than one occasion. But sometimes ridding ourselves of pain simply takes more time.

In my brother's case, he was on the threshold of starting a whole new life. Things were looking up for him, but he'd run out of time. Obesity had taken a toll on his body in ways he'd never expected. In the last few weeks of his life, Tony had adopted a whole new outlook. He'd joined the Y and started swimming and making changes to his diet.

If only he'd just had a little more time.

Although I am the editor of a health magazine, I must admit, I have an aversion to wellness screenings. These are those critical exams doctors recommend so we know what is going on inside our bodies. Finally, though, after much soul-searching, I had my colonoscopy screening done.

I had postponed the test twice, but this time I kept my appointment at the surgery center, even though I was barely recovered from an upper respiratory infection that had sidelined me for three days. On my way there, I thought about the coming summer. I was in sync with the get-ready messages screamed by the usual barrage of warm-weather ads. I was prepping my body for a tune-up.

Simultaneously, I was also renewing my commitment to achieving better health. This screening was my way of preparing for summer, but from the inside out.

Indicated as one of the necessary tests to correctly diagnose my ongoing digestive problems, a colonoscopy is also one of the major wellness screenings for African Americans. Indeed, the American College of Gastroenterology recommends that African Americans--who are at greater risk for colon cancer--begin colorectal cancer screening at age 45 instead of 50.

Admittedly, like many people in general, I was also hesitant to take a colonoscopy. It is a test that allows a doctor to view the entire large intestine by inserting a thin, flexible tube, to which a tiny camera is attached, into the anus and colon. I had multiple fears about what the test might entail. Wouldn't it hurt? Wasn't it embarrassing? Wouldn't it be messy? Fortunately, when I accompanied my sister to her colorectal screening, I learned otherwise. When I underwent the screening, I was finally able to put my fears to rest.

According to a recent report in the Journal of the National Medical Association, the most common barriers to colonoscopy among African Americans include a lack of awareness about increased risk, fear of the results, worries that the test will be painful, mistrust of the health care system and poor access to health care.

Of these five reasons, all except the last applied to me. Now, no longer unaware of my risk factor and much better educated about colorectal cancer screening, I am passing on the news.

Most doctors agree that early detection is key to treating cancer and many other diseases that disproportionately affect African Americans. That's why I also feel we need to face our fears and educate ourselves about health.

Whether it's cancer, diabetes, hypertension or HIV, it's important to spring into action and get our health screenings scheduled--and done. The sooner you know there's a problem, the faster you can do something about it.

And if there's no problem whatsoever? Well, then, let's celebrate in good health each coming season of our lives.

When I heard Whitney Houston was dead, like many other people I was stunned. Even now after the announcement of her death, I find it hard to believe such a vibrant woman is gone. But on Saturday, February 18, 2012, Houston's family will lay the singer to rest.

Interestingly, although Houston touched many with her amazing voice, she also affected the lives of countless people because of the work she did to raise money for HIV/AIDS awareness.

Houston's HIV/AIDS advocacy reportedly stemmed from the death of one of her gay male friends. In 1990, she sang at Arista Records' 15th anniversary "That's What Friends Are For!" concert and helped raise $2 million to benefit the Gay Men's Health Crisis and other AIDS-battling organizations.

whitney_houston.jpg

Despite her philanthropic work to help people living with HIV/AIDS, however, Houston still had critics. Remarked one of them online, "I can't connect AIDS charity with LGBT support. We don't need people feeling sorry for us only when we're sick and dying. We need people who support us vocally when we're alive and want to live as equals."

And, although I sympathize with Houston's critic's sentiments, to be fair, Houston did offer support to the HIV/AIDS cause at a time when few performers cared to step up to the plate. Besides her fund-raising work, Houston founded the Whitney Houston Foundation for Children to help homeless kids and children with cancer and AIDS, and performed at benefits to help raise money for HIV/AIDS research. Why? To stop people from getting sick and dying.

But isn't that just like folks to forget good deeds so quickly? Unfortunately, as people revive many of the old rumors and innuendoes about Houston, her philanthropy and championship of these causes often go unmentioned. Instead, what's news now are the personal issues that made Houston a celebrity target: her rumored lesbian leanings, marital problems and substance abuse challenges, which all worked to demolish her image as the sweet, wholesome girl next door with the big voice.

But here's what many think should be a huge part of the news coverage now. Years ago, before it was popular for mainstream entertainers to perform for LGBT audiences, Houston sashayed onstage at the New York City piers in 1999. The occasion was the Heritage of Pride's 13th annual Lesbian & Gay Pride Dance. In retrospect, what's even more surprising than Houston's performance at this exclusively LGBT event is the fact that Houston didn't let her membership in the black church stop her from reaching out to these members of God's global congregation. At that time, such an action was huge. When asked why she performed there, Whitney ended her response to the question with this summary, "We're all God's children."

Needless to say, Houston's attendance and performance that day cemented her popularity with the LGBT audience--forever. As the years passed and her star waxed and waned, Houston's fan base--gay and straight--remained loyal, tabloids be damned.

In the past few days following Houston's death, I've heard her songs played everywhere, including stations that don't even have a music format. For me, her songs are a time tunnel that take me back to a time when I was editor-in-chief of a national teen entertainment music magazine.

I'd met Houston on a handful of occasions: at an Arista Records Grammy Awards after-party at the Rainbow Room in New York City; backstage as she prepared to rehearse for a show at Madison Square Garden; and then again at a celebration dinner for her at Mr. Chow's, the one on East 57th Street in NYC.

At that last event, Houston sat at the head of a long table; she was hosting journalists from a number of major magazines. Dinner was served communal style. Houston sparkled and exchanged conversation, effortlessly holding court. Many in this usually blasé crowd actually seemed in awe of the elegant singer.

Houston was making a comeback after spending time in drug rehab. About 25 to 30 pairs of press eyes searched her face looking hard for any cracks. A few of my fellow journalists felt Houston had arrived late because she was still struggling and wasn't quite there.

If she was elsewhere, though, I couldn't tell.

Today, on the eve of Houston's funeral, I don't think any of this matters. Whatever her inner demons, Whitney Houston will be remembered by her fans because of her abundant talent, the kindnesses she showed and the empathy she had for other people in less fortunate circumstances than her own.

All in all, I think that's the best epitaph that can be written for this entertainment superstar, who at heart was just a girl from Newark, New Jersey who sang in the choir and finally made it big through the Grace of God.

In the hearts of those she helped, she will live on forever.

RIP, Jersey girl.

When I got the e-vite to Beverly Johnson's recent launch party for her hair and skin care product line, I remembered her visit to Real Health's offices several short months into my new job as the magazine's editor-in-chief.

Fortunately, the event was only a few blocks walk from our offices, and the evening was great for walking (yeah, you know, for health!-no frantic waving down of off-duty cabs for this editor-no sirree!).

Anyway, when I arrived at the midtown hotel restaurant hosting the launch, I hesitated for just a moment. I didn't know what to expect. Yeah, there was a red carpet outside the entrance--no lengthy train of scarlet, though. The carpet ran just from the top of the stairs leading into the restaurant across the sidewalk just shy of reaching the curb. Yeah, so there was no crazy crush of photographers; I just saw one or two when I got there. And when I gave my name at the door, it was on the list, so I waltzed in.

As it happened, the first person I saw who looked like a publicist was the publicist. (Guess it was just my night!) She explained how the launch was gonna go down and told me she'd just called Beverly to tell her chop! chop!

While I waited, I shot a little video--you know, a cutaway shot of the Beverly Johnson photo slideshow and a few of her products laid out on the table. (Umm, sorry, there were no samples yet, the publicist said.)

In short order, the restaurant's small vestibule began filling as people started milling about. Everyone was waiting. Then about 15 minutes into the social chatter, Beverly Johnson swept in wearing a slinky black number with her hair falling in stylish waves. (See my video below for the full effect.) She was accompanied by a man folks described as her boyfriend. (That's him with her in the video.)


According to information from the press release, Johnson's line will be sold in Target stores beginning in February 2012. They're described as being "multi-cultural hair care, skin care and bath and body products." Plus there'll be a collection of Beverly Johnson Hair Extensions available too.

What about the party for the rest of the evening? Well, sorry, I couldn't stay for the Johnson family hair show the release promised. Had to get walking so I could get back to the office.

It's true. I'm coming late to the party because I didn't hear about Tracy Morgan's much-discussed homophobic comedy routine until people were demanding he apologize tout suite. So I asked a co-worker to send me links to the latest news about the 30 Rock star.

After I read the articles, I started surfing the web to see what people were saying. From what I read, Morgan crossed the line. Some things, such as advocating murdering your gay child because of his or her sexual orientation, just aren't funny. And if that's free speech, well, think about it...someone, somewhere, somehow, some day might pay a price because he--or someone else spewing hate--spoke out without thinking of the harm their words could cause.

But the more stuff I read about Morgan online, the more I began thinking about today's omnipresent information provider and aggregator and communication conduit, a.k.a. the Internet.

I got to thinking about how incensed some people were about Morgan's "hateful speech." Some thought nothing of spewing their own brand of hatemongering online--name-calling and other mocking and hurtful verbalizing that amazed me. Funny how easy it is for those who accuse others of doing wrong to perpetrate the same crime they charge others with committing.

Today, many Internet users are guilty of the same kind of hateful speech Morgan employed in his comedy stage show. Whether the issue is homophobia, or some other stigma-generating topic, people routinely bully, bait and victimize others online. The tactics they use are the same ones constantly used by those who wish to devalue and dismiss others. They dehumanize and demonize people with impunity. Yet, for the most part, online hate speech continues to proliferate unchallenged.

Just as Tracy Morgan's combustible comedy routine blew up in his face and exposed the deep-seated ugliness that lies at the heart of all hate-filled rants, the same should happen to those who use the Internet to practice their art of the poison pen.

In this instance, Morgan's celebrity got what he said noticed. But while we're vilifying Morgan, let's remember to also do the same to those nameless speechifiers who post venomous statements via "anonymous" comments on countless Internet sites. (Oh yes, and hold them accountable too!)

In these days of anything goes and say-what-you-like speech, reportedly Morgan said he didn't care if he angered gay people with his inflammatory comments. But Morgan was quickly censured.

That said, when anyone condones violence against others--be he or she a celebrated actor-comedian or anonymous member of Joe Q. Public--what he or she says should not go unchallenged.

Oh, yes, I've followed the story as it's unfolded. Morgan apologized for his homophobic jokes and expressed mea culpas to all concerned. Is he sincere?

Well, some say yes and some say no. Let's see how long people's comments stay civilized, conversational and venom-free.


spa_week.jpgSo I needed a mental health break, but really couldn't afford to take another precious personal day at work. What to do? Well, I made plans to lavish some love on myself at the upcoming Spa Week. (It's an annual event the spa industry launched in 2004.)

Spa Week is a really great opportunity for people to indulge themselves in spa treatments for just a fraction of what it would cost to visit beauty and wellness facilities and get this kind of pampering. So, of course, I definitely wanted to take full advantage of it.

Just this week, I got a little preview--it was nice and relaxing and fun. It was great leaving my deadlines behind for a few hours and checking out the latest sweet-smelling cleansers, creams, lotions, body scrubs-- yeah, from the sea--and assortment of other treatments currently available to help hardworking folks de-stress.

Just as I was getting ready to leave, I overheard a conversation between two women. One of them wanted to sign up to get her makeup done at the event. She said she didn't have much time and told her companion she needed to start keeping her beauty appointments more regularly. That floored me.

And, yes, I know women routinely go to spas and get beauty treatments done. But hearing it verbalized so very matter-of-factly caused a light bulb to go off.

When I got back to the office--yup, had to go back--I was mellow. As I packed up my papers to head home, I just had one thought.

I definitely was going to do this kind of thing more often. There's never anything wrong with lavishing a little love on yourself--more often than not.

For more about Spa Week, click here.

MisterCeex390-300x219.jpgHe's known as "DJ Mister Cee" but his "government name" is Calvin LeBrun and he's a Hot 97 radio personality with his own show, "Throwback at Noon," an immensely popular program. (I met Calvin when I was the editor-in-chief of Word Up! magazine, a music magazine that flourished when hip hop was just becoming known and recognized as the way the music trend winds were blowing. He and his MC partner, Big Daddy Kane, were regulars in the magazine's pages and posters kids loved to tape to their walls.)

Mister Cee, for those who aren't schooled in hip-hop culture, is a living legend, an icon of the rap from back in the day. That's good for him. What's not so good for him is that last week he was busted in New York City's West Village for allegedly having sex in public--with a man.

That private encounter in a public place allegedly involved Mister Cee and a transgendered person (reputed to be a cross-dresser) named as Lawrence Campbell. The two were observed indulging in oral sex in a car, fully viewable to two police officers sitting in their ride, according to online news stories, such as the one I saw on xxlmag.com.

The cops stated they observed Mister Cee having his "exposed, naked and erect penis" being manipulated by Lawrence who was engaged in the act of using his "mouth and lips in an up-an-down motion consistent with oral sex," according to the police report detailing the misdemeanor.

But what is Mister Cee being judged for? If you read the flood of comments currently still deluging the Internet, Mister Cee is not being judged for "public lewdness" and "exposure of a person" as the police report charges. He's being rapped for allegedly having gay sex. And in hip hop, even today, all it takes is a rumor (much less charges on paper in black and white) to get you a life sentence of being subjected to ridicule and scorn forever after.

All of this made me consider the still virulent response people in the black community have to homosexuality, and the resultant stigma this causes that makes folks petrified to acknowledge and embrace their sexual orientation, be themselves and get tested so they know their HIV status.

Whether or not Mister Cee was really caught with his pants down and whether or not what happened with his companion is what the police charged is only known to him.

What I do know is that Mister Cee's "fans" and the homophobic haters wasted no time in saturating the Internet with vitriol and venom.

About the only high note I saw struck was Hot 97's decision to keep Mister Cee on the air as fallout mounted. But I'm not that naive either. How long the station's loyalty will last is, I'm sure, predicated on the number of people tuning in just to see if Mister Cee can continue spinning his jams just like before and get through the craziness like a champ.

Should he falter I daresay he'll be scratched so fast, it'll make Mister Cee's head spin. (But hey, that's the business of show, folks. So what else is new?)

Now, back to my original question: What's this hip-hop DJ guilty of? His alleged public lewdness or allegedly having gay sex?

Would love to hear your answers.



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