Thursday, May 6, 2010

Nail Changes and Brass Tacks

One of the weirder symptoms of CRPS/RSD is changes to nails and skin. I suppose it is something reserved for those of us with advanced cases. Once upon a time, doctors pigeon-holed symptoms into three stages. I have also seen divisions into four stages.

You don't want me to entertain the does-full-body-CRPS-exist-or-not discussion here.

Even though most everyone says the disease does not occur in strict accordance to these categories, they... okay, we almost always reproduce them. I lifted the following treatment from the Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia:
In most cases CRPS has three stages. Often, however, CRPS does not follow this pattern. Some people go into the later stages almost right away. Others stay in the first stage.

Stage 1 (lasts 1 - 3 months):

Increased nail and hair growth
Pain that may move farther up or down the affected limb
Severe burning, aching pain that increases with the slightest touch or breeze
Skin that becomes dry and thin, changes color
Swelling with warmth or coolness

Stage 2 (lasts 3 - 6 months):

Decreased hair growth
Noticeable changes in skin texture and color
Spread of swelling
Stiff muscles and joints

Stage 3 (irreversible changes can be seen)

Contractions involving muscles and tendons
Limited movement in limb
Pain in the entire limb
Muscle wasting

Depression or mood changes may occur with these symptoms,
especially in stage 3.

I had changes in the toenails of my right foot pretty early on -- rapid growth and thickening. In my left hand, I only experienced rapid growth. I did not pay much attention, as dealing with the pain was an overarching concern.

It will have been 8 years exactly on May 22 -- We know the exact date, time, place, and original cause of my CRPS onset. In a fit of pique last year, I wrote up how that all went down -- not here on my own blog, of course, but over at The Happy Hospitalist. You will find it reproduced at the end of this post.** Give it a read to better understand the more PTSD-y and nutzoid aspects of my CRPS. Give it a read to see how horribly wrong things can go in a hospital. Give it a read to see how, despite incredible bad luck, honesty and professionalism might have saved the day -- but doctors, nurses, and administrators chose another path.

Anyway, I am confining myself to the nails and skin today!

Because my left hand and forearm were involved from Day 1, I thought that any nail/skin changes in my upper extremities would begin there. Indeed, I did develop skin rot and lost a nail from the left index finger last year -- but we think it was an honest skin rot, and unrelated to CRPS/RSD.

It was something of a surprise that the involvement of my right arm, once "spread" happened, progressed so quickly. Obviously, you want to avoid any surgery on a CRPS-involved area... so the series of seven surgeries on my shoulders last year probably sped things along.

The last few months have seen an increase in pain -- but also, funky skin and deteriorating nails. Prednisone does not help the skin situation, for sure. If I rub my face, for example, there is a pretty good chance that the skin will tear away, leaving an ulcer. Once the skin is torn or otherwise breached, healing that area is nigh unto impossible.

I know that it cannot be, but it seems almost like I am allergic to some of my own sebaceous glands. There where one could ostensibly drill for oil, my skin ulcerates -- on its own, without any inciting event. At the moment, I am nursing three spots on my face -- just trying to get the skin to knit back together. Because my circulation and nerve supply are challenged, this is difficult. Yesterday, my attempt to gently cleanse my nose resulted in the ulcer there reopening, bleeding.

When my pain surged, my fingers and hands were smack dab in the middle of everything. First, the cuticle would simply fall off. Second, an indentation forms at the base of the nail.

Then comes wacky, wicked overgrowth. Overgrowth has occured before, but only in my bones. It fairly freaked out the orthopedic surgeon who rebuilt my right elbow a few years ago. Worried about my bones not knitting together enough, the first post op x-rays put that concern to rest, as new bone was piling up on old and then on top of itself. Unfortunately, it meant that the newly built bone was fragile -- due to shoddy construction.

Same process with the nails.

A picture might help. This is my right thumb. The nail itself is not, of course, painful. But the weird pulling on the nail bed, when combined with an untimely tap, can really set off some electrical shocks. At the moment, 5 of 10 nails are involved.

It is tempting to want to blame some forgotten trauma, and to insist that there must be a fungus at work. No, and no, unfortunately.

It's just CRPS at work.

In other news? My go-to-doctor thinks that, ultimately and unless we ever get the offending pathogen to grow and identify itself, they are going to have to remove my shoulder. Shoulders. As in, no spacers. As in, no prostheses.

What is that noise? It sounds like hysterical laughter...

**unedited comment to happy's blog:

follow the breadcrumbs of errors:

a few years back, i was admitted for a shoulder replacement (avascular necrosis). adrenal insufficiency required stress dose steroid administration pre, intra, and post op. none was given, despite several pre-op interviews with anesthesia and the surgeon, despite it being the premier admonition in my internist's medical clearance. surgery was bumped a few hours because no one could locate the surgeon. turned out he was "lunching" with manufacturer's rep of the company that made my prosthesis (a new technology). whatever. before surgery even began, i was having lower back pain, some fever, and considerable emotional lability. i had required increased hydrocortisone the preceding week due to a uti -- but had taken no oral steroids that day per anesthesia. surgery itself went well.

post op -- fever, diarrhea, back spasm. the nurses charted that i was whiny and uncooperative, told hubby to head home, that i just needed sleep. they were furious when i was incontinent of stool.

i bet they were even more furious when i was found unresponsive six hours later, then coded. my cardiologist was around,administered cpr, got me to icu. life saver was the hospitalist, who did NOT know me and therefore had new eyes. could not reach surgeon (rolling eyes) and was only able to speak with hubby and internist -- both of whom immediately asked about steroids. bingo.

unfortunately, i was already experiencing organ system failures -- kidney, cardiac. on a vent.

five days pass, i am recovering. it was a holiday, nursing staff-to-patient ratio was low. i had a nurse who was deaf --not kidding. she would take out her hearing aids because the machines in icu bothered them. in such a state, she decided i should get out of bed to use bedside commode. i hadn't even sat up since the day of surgery. due to the operated shoulder and all the tubing, there was nothing for her to hold on to when i promptly fell to the floor -- hit my head on the table, my forearm on the bed rail and badly broke my ankle, plus a fx to the fibula. a few hours later began the pain of crps -- no one could figure it out at the time... and it wasn't a priority, for i began a severe gi bleed. ankle was operated on a week or so later, requiring a good amount of hardware to be installed.

the concussion was also fun.

the pain was more than i had imagined was possible. i was terrified of the hospital at that point -- a major award-winning place in a metro area. the hospital said it would pay for the ambulance ride home, a hospital bed, and home PT. it didn't, of course. my pain and disability extended -- crps showed up in my left arm as well as the lower right leg. when the bills began pouring in, i contacted the hospital to find that no one knew what i was talking about. made an appt to see the vice-prez -- she treated me like a piece of shit and said that all falls had to be reported, and certainly she would have heard of an injury... i am sitting there with a cast on my leg, a swollen, red and shiny arm, listening to her say that nothing happened.

i went home and called the state inspection folks who began an investigation that resulted in the declaration of a sentinel event. there was more consternation over their failure to report than over any other aspect. when a "cover up" occurs in an event aftermath, it changes the tenor completely of what went on "before."

i now have crps, types 1 and 2, in all extremities and the lower part of my face. due to cronyism, i wasn't diagnosed until 19 months out from onset. my pain is intractable; i am wheelchair bound; i cannot sleep; i cannot work or socialize to any meaningful extent.

and last week, i had that prosthesis removed -- osteomyelitis. i have the honor of living without any shoulders at the moment. i cannot allow my mind to entertain the notion that my current bone infection may have begun with that hospitalization back in may 2002.

how did i do? [this was all in response to happy's assertion that he'd never heard of a serious mistake being made in his hospital and did not believe that such things really occured.] a lot of annoyance for mistakes that never happened, for errors that were never reported, for a disease that didn't exist if they kept their eyes closed. they never even effing reported *anything*.

Below is a comment I appended to the original post made over at Happy's, as well. Reading it all again, I can feel my extreme frustration, anger, and depression. This year, on May 22, I hope to avoid any pseudo-PTSD-y symptoms. I hope to not even notice the date.

Yep... I sure am laying the groundwork for *that*! I'm off to a rip-roaring healthy start!

La Belle et Bonne Bianca Castafiore, here. I serve as the willing public persona to one Retired Educator -- retired precisely due to the événements detailed above. We failed to provide a few details, not because they were not salient, but because it is difficult to type without shoulders!

**There was a third surgery to that illustrious hospitalization. When my cardiologist was working on me, he inserted a line in my femoral artery. A hefty little embolus formed a day later and emergency surgery was necessary as my leg was pulseless and a lovely ciel blue. *That* complication? Blameless and completely acceptable by me, something that occured in the order of things. Unfortunately, in the aftermath, our relationship was sacrificed to the Medico Brotherhood of Paranoia.

**My surgeon disappeared for a week after the ICU fall. I asked to have a new surgeon -- that request was both squashed and denied. Even my go-to-guy advised me to stick with The Jerk until at least the end of the hospitlizatiion. No one seemed to know what to do next. When he returned, I remember asking him when my ankle would be repaired. He stood at the end of the bed and laughed, saying: "We could just leave it the way it is, you know. I am under no obligation to fix it. It's strictly an elective procedure." I was *terrified.*

**The day of the fall, I asked to see a patient advocate and was told that there were not any, but would I care to speak to a nun? Wile E. Coyote had nothing on these people. When I left the hospital, we thought that I had made three complete incident reports, and I *trusted* that there would be some record made in my chart. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. What did I recommend in those lively conversations? Inservice education about adrenal insufficiency and how to spot the admittedly vague symptoms in patients undergoing surgery. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Legal action? Not even on my radar. I was being told that the incredible sensitivity and horrible shooting, burning pains in my leg and arm were the result of "too much pain medication" [?] and/or "a psychological problem." Would I care to see a psychiatrist? Rather than be offended, as I was, I should have said "yes." The nun, the shrink, and I might have really hit it off. Add a social worker and we had 4 for bridge.

**This ought to interest everyone. I was thrown into a Hell after all this happened -- I kept returning to the same doctors because my trust was not eroded. (Okay, so I am an idiot.) I thought and expected that people would be honest with me. When I finally went to a new neurologist, he left the exam room after about 5 minutes and came back with a heavy tome that had pictures of "classic" presentation of CRPS. Those photos might have been of me, they were that similar. He is wonderfully direct, and even though part of the same system as my former neurologist, quickly laid out the apparent plans for obfuscation that I was up against. Apparently, it was expected that I would sue. I would love to have sued... but had no capacity to handle anything but getting through the day. My friends and loves were angry with me... they would apparently have felt better were I to receive money. Go figure. Anyway, New Neuro Man tried to throw all available treatment at my CRPS, then still confined to the right leg and the left arm, and I tried to find some peace. I did, though, contact the state and report what I felt was a pretty awful state of affairs, and the previously mentioned Sentinel Event was declared, and investigators descended on the joint for a few days. Following that, I was dropped like a hot potato as a patient by everyone except my internist and my newly acquired neurologist. There is a 2-year statute of limitations for legal action. I had contacted the state medical society about the surgeon's various bizarreries (I cannot write about them, cannot take that stress), and they answered that he could not be censured or even investigated based on the information given. Whatever. I had completely given up trying to get the hospital to even pay those few bills it promised to cover (ambulance, bed, PT), and was living on 2/3 of my teaching salary -- the pay out of my longterm disability insurance. We had bought a house just a few months before this surgery -- a place to slum when we strayed from Marlinspike Hall, deep, deep in the Tête de Hergé. Ten days before the statute would expire, I received a call from the Legal Dept of the hospital, asking me to please submit any outstanding bills relating to that hospitalization. I was of (at least) two minds and told them so. "Here are the bills you promised to pay," I wrote, "and here is what you ought to feel compelled to pay, because it would be the right thing to do." Negotiations began and they gave me a [very] small settlement.

Have you ever heard of an unsolicited settlement before?

**The last thing I have to say is that it is true that an apology and openness and Real HELP would have met all my needs, and might have saved my life from being ruined. Please, doctors, nurses, and administrators -- give that a try before you mire yourselves in heartless paranoia and ugly assumptions.

**I am not sure that you've done me any favors, making a post of my info -- but I am having to relive it anyway, given that today's circumstances link up with those of yesteryear. Did a hospitalist save me? Yes, though no doubt my internist would have come through, stud that he is. I never met the man. I have a smudged and bent card with his name on it and am told by the Fredster that he was incredible and that I am lucky he was there. If this is the kind of thing you do, Happy -- well... God bless you.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Core 'ngrato meets Joey Skee

This is a slightly spat-upon-then-polished repost, brought to the forefront from its début in January 2009 due to a surge in searches for Core 'ngrato, originating, of course, from the Great Lakes region of the United States. And from some nostalgic soul in Phoenix.

Any excuse will do to listen to the old music.

Part of the refurbishment was to be a short history of the song. In the course of doing that pleasant research, I hit upon the answer to the mystery behind the search statistics:

AN EDUCATIONAL EVENT! An-n-n edu-edu-edu-cay-cay-cay-shun-ul-ul eve-vent-t-t-t-uh.
[Oh. You were supposed to imagine strobbing colors and echo.]

Joseph Sciorra, of the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute of Queens College, CUNY, will be presenting a Research in Progress Talk:

Mediated Renderings and Diasporic Musings: "Core 'ngrato," a WOP Song

A transnational stream of music in the Neapolitan tradition flowed from the United States to Italy, with "Core 'ngrato" acknowledged as the first song in the Neapolitan tradition composed or recorded in the United States that traveled to Italy. Historian Sciorra documents the role of lyricist Alessando Sisco's role in this international musical exchange that stretches from performances by Enrico Caruso to the television series "The Sopranos."

Let's meet up, shall we, cari amici, buoni amici? What? Oh. May 13, 2010. 3:30 to 4:30, 3rd floor, Elmer L. Anderson Library. Hmmmm?

Oh. Well, the University of Minnesota.
More precisely:
222 21st Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455

View Larger Map

This Joseph Sciorra fellow? Check out his website dedicated to Italian Rap! And thrill to this effort:

Towards a New Italian American Identity

This site is part of an ongoing effort to develop a sense of Italianità informed by history and vernacular culture that stands in opposition to ethnic chauvinism, racism, sexism, or homophobia.

This site is dedicated to all you historians and writers, you painters, you healers, ecstatic dancers of la pizzica tarantata, sons and daughters of Artemesia Gentileschi and Louis Prima, you women warriors and Neapolitan Rastas, you piece workers and day laborers of poetry and prose, devotees of La Madonna Nera, you po-mo neo-streghe, you nuovi briganti leading the cultural insurrection for fresh ideas, a reinvented community, and a new vision of who we are and what we can become.

Also, maybe better, known as Joey Skee, Joseph Sciorra is a folklorist, the associate director of Academic and Cultural Programs at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, Queens College, City University of New York.

La Bonne et Belle Bianca Castafiore is an avid Sopranos fan.

Having sold her Pioneer Elite Kuro PRO-111FD as part of the scheme to defraud local tourists fool enough to think that Francois Ier's bedroom might be found at the end of a three foot tunnel into the northern stone wall of Marlinspike Hall's Murky Moat, she now has to plop her considerable self down on our bed to have access to telly-vision.

Fred, long up and about, sat perched in the monk's choir section we scavenged last summer from one of the many 12th century Tête de Hergé Trappist monasteries -- he managed to seamlessly convert the careful carving and intricate iconography of the cabinetry into a computer work station that might be confounded with one of those numerous light, functional and terribly blonde Scandinavian excuses for furniture.

Obviously not having much foresight, he tittered in my general direction as I groaned, seasick from the white-tipped waves in the waterbed -- the ocean twisting and frothing under the Castafiore's plopped girth. (Any physicist can tell you that *plopped* girth is a totally different animal from yer everyday plain girth.)

Fred will get his, fret not. I am thinking flying buttress...

"Chut!" Bianca hissed, as apparently I was thinking too loud. "C'est l'heure! Taisez-vous! On n'entend rien!"

I'm not sure, but I think I heard "connards," followed by "salopes." La Bianca is about to become less belle the more she leaves traces of her fading... bonté -- ifyouknowwhatimean and I think you do.

Lucky for her, my bad humor fades away as we semi-snuggle, in typical European cooptation of girlish erotica, and watch the final episode to Season 3, both sniffing and sneezing as Dominic Chianese -- with a loving vibrato and far away eye -- sings Core 'ngrato.

Here are three versions of this lovely Neapolitan song -- leaving out Caruso and Corelli only because of the poor quality of their recordings.

Dominic Chianese

Andrea Bocelli

Placido Domingo

(Cardillo e Cordiferro)
Beniamino Gigli (Italy)

Catarì, Catarì...
pecchè mm''e ddice sti pparole amare?!
Pecchè mme parle e 'o core mme turmiente Catarì'?!
Nun te scurdà ca t'aggio dato 'o core, Catarì...
Nun te scurdà...
Catarì, che vène a dicere
stu pparlà ca mme dà spàseme?
Tu nun ce pienze a stu dulore mio?!
Tu nun ce pienze, tu nun te ne cure...

Core, core 'ngrato...
T'hê pigliato 'a vita mia!
Tutto è passato...
e nun ce pienze cchiù

Catarì, Catarì...
tu nun 'o ssaje ca fino e 'int'a na chiesa
io sò' trasuto e aggiu pregato a Dio, Catarì...
E ll'aggio ditto pure a 'o cunfessore: "Io stò' a murì
pè chella llà...
Stò a suffrì
stò a suffrì nun se pò credere...
stò a suffrì tutte li strazie..."
E 'o cunfessore, ch'è perzona santa
mm'ha ditto: "Figliu mio làssala stà, làssala stà!..."

Core, core 'ngrato...
T'hê pigliato 'a vita mia!
Tutto è passato...
e nun ce pienze cchiù

End of Semester Tradition: Rate Your Professor

One of my Brother-Units* is an English professor at a large public university where he teaches more than a fair share of comp classes. He's fed up with his department's grand plan of lowering expectations in the face of increasingly ill-prepared incoming Freshmen. It is not unusual for students, parents, aunts and uncles, neighbors, guardians, former babysitters, and various administrators to make ardent appeals and complaints about his refusal to doctor grades, often bemoaning his insistence on measurable classroom participation and attendance. He really gets their attention when his interim grades end up benching a student athlete from a revenue-generating sports team.

Plus there is the occasional complaint about his growing tendency to drop F-Bombs when mightily frustrated.

He's a *fantastic* teacher. It's just a fact. The breadth and depth of his knowledge, plus the ability he has to make learning hilarious -- these are his greatest gifts. He cares a great deal about his students, but is not keen that they should know this.

In fact, he will go to inordinate lengths to prevent them from finding out the extent of his affection. One of our favored quotes, delivered by E. B. Farnum in an episode of Deadwood, reminds: Puberty may bring you to understand, what we take for mother love is really murderous hatred and a desire for revenge.

[Don't overthink it, Dear Reader.]

At one time or another, this particular brother and I have offered students, usually mid-rant, the following explanation of things, also borrowed from E. B.:

Public service was never my primary career.

The English department dictates the grading rubrique and general format for composition and survey courses. Students write two drafts of their compositions, the first edited by their prof for grammar and content, the second receiving peer review from a classmate, after which they have a week to craft the final paper. The Brother-Unit is available to help during some pretty generous office hours -- yet it's rare for anyone to turn up while there remains any wiggle-room in the computations. He will also deal with some things via timely email, though that route of communication is his least favorite. Remember Johnny?

I went to this morning to see what comp students had to say about my darling brother, Professor X, known to family and friends by his chosen nickname of Grader Boob. Below are his "reviews," updated and verbatim:

You have to work and pay attention in his class but the Dr. Grader Boob is very organized and knows the topic he is teaching. I thought he was friendly and have no negative criticism.

An unusual professor who uses rhetorical equivocations as a grading "answer" to a writer as if clarity is not what the student wants or needs to hear. This professor confuses jealousy with ability--and would never recognize a gifted writer. He teaches from a negative worldview, which adds unnecessary stress onto the student. This Ph.D. is troubled.

This class was difficult. You really have to go to class and pay attention. The assignments aren't very interesting and he grades them harshly. I'm usually an A English student and ended up with a mid-range B. He's a funny guy and knows his stuff. He's willing to help you and is fairly flexable.

You have to show up, work hard, and pay attention in his class. You have to participate and he WILL cut your grade if you don't show up. He almost made me lose my academic scholarship.

He's not the nicest person...he's very blunt and if you dont particpate then he gets upset about it

Great Professor! To pass his class though you have to attend every lecture meeting and complete all the assignments. Do not leave anything for the night before, it WON't work out.

I may be one of the few who liked this guy. He was always friendly and helped out when he could. His papers are very easy if you pay attention in class and TALK! he likes the class better if they talk. Dont piss him him off or your class will be miserable.

the man is a wack job. dont take this class.

He's a really cool guy, but he grades the essays really hard, so unless you know what you're doing, you had better pray for a C

Pretends like he's one of those cool teachers, but he's really not

Very Hard. Does not like what he reads.

Yes, he is a hard teacher. He gives difficult work and demands that you complete it all. My biggest complaint is that he is very unprofessional. He revealed individual students' grades in front of the class, insulted the entire class, and threw tantrums. However, my writing skills have improved.

Although Grader Boob comes off strong he is a great teacher. He is a tough grader but will answer any questions and always make time for hi students.

No Comment.

Great teacher! Knows what he is doing, and is always willing to help you out. Very tough grader, but well worth the work. Dr. X ROCKS!!!

Please stay away from this professor! He even told us that his best writers only get a mid B in the class. Got nothing but C's on my papers and as soon as a took 1102 with a different teacher i got an A on my first paper. He has somewhat lame humor and likes to cuss in class which was the only thing that helped. he is very moody! watch out!

I regret not dropping this class when I had the chance lets put it that way. He is not helpful, grades hard especially on the drafts. And he kicked entire class out one morning because nobody had any notes when he never said we had to have notes for the section we had to read. Drop before you take his class you are better off with another professor

Funny but not helpful what so ever

He is a very interesting professor and trys to involve everyone in his classa and get opnions. The class is difficult because most of it comes from 3 projects, but he helps it you ask for it. Ultimately he prepares his students well, and he is purposely ambiguous to offer writing freedom.

The guy is the Hitler of all English classes...As a matter of fact, you'd be better off having Hitler as your professor...Dr. X blows...DO NOT TAKE THIS CLASS!!!!..skip a semseter of english if you have to in order to get another teacher....STAY AWAY FROM THIS CLASS!!!

Good teacher but also very hard. Will make you work for the grade but you get to choose a lot of the projects yourself. Helps out a lot. Three absences equals a B at the highest. Just ask for help and you will get it.

artificially caps grades. First essay average is always low to try and scare people off. Last two improve but corners are cut to lower the grade in other areas such as participation. Claims a student can ace the class but then sets a flat average for an assignment to a B-. Avoid this professor, the only thing you can learn is frustration.

Terrible teacher who is unclear about any assignments. Out of all of his class 2/3rds of the way, the highest grade was a C and 60% of his students were failing, DON'T take this teacher. He curses in his lectures and actually dropped the F bomb in one of em. Someone stole his phone and his book too.

Great Teacher! You have to come to class, however to do well, and he grades pretty harshly. Funny guy, and very smart.

Pain in the butt to be around...degrading. Makes the students feel like total fools. Talks down to us and grades papers totally unfairly.

He's willing to help for the few that seek it. Overall grades over excessively to the point it reflects as him trying to find any kind of grammatical or MLA error than reading the papers' contents themselves. Most likely done to isolate and eliminate slackers but hurts everyone in the process. Save yourself the headache and take someone else.

X is a terrible professor. He is egotistical and has crazy mood swings. got a comp 1 class he grades way too difficult. other papers that i have seen from other classes that suck have made better grades than papers i worked my butt off on.

Horrible teacher and biased with his grading. Dropped the F bomb in class and wondered why one of his students had stolen his textbook. I would highly recommend NOT taking this class and picking another professor like Y who actually care about their students. This class isn't worth the time or the effort to struggle for a "C" or a "B".

this professor was one of the best professors in writing i've ever had. his class wasn't the easiest class but i learned a lot, one of the only teachers that actually grades on quality and not completion. really helpful, whenever i needed help, he helped me understand whatever i needed help with. class isn't that hard though, i have a B so far...

ok here's the deal, the rest of the people posting on prof X obviously haven't quite mastered the english language, i was late every day, he gave the answers to every quiz, and homework. so automatic A on all, the final he gives ansers to during the test. The projects sre easy, i got an A-B starting every one at 10:00 the night before. take him.

Demands both respect and hard work from his class. He is strict but fair. You can't slack off in his class, so don't try it.

Prof X is a pretty good teacher. He is a harder grader, but if you're willing to put the work he demands into your school work, you can do well. He will tell you that he is the hardest grader in the English department, and he could possibly be. I just can't stress enough that if you are not willing to work hard, you will not succeed in his class!

He is a very good teacher contrary to others belief. I did very well in class and he only flipped out on us one time the whole semester. He will tell you he is considered one of the hardest teachers at U but that's just a scare tactic. He's actually really good.

Yikes. He wears the same outfir every day or so...He grades fairly hard, and didn't give any good feedback, only negative. He even walked out in the middle of someone's presentation b/c he didn't like it. Crazy guy, not too nice, but if you work really, really hard, you might get a B-. A bit of a grupmy guss I think. Good luck, you'll need it!

Alright, GRADES HARD! Definitly not a class to slack in. He tries to show you what you did wrong, but you never really understand. Also he has a good sense of humor on his GOOD days, on bad days, shut up listen and leave.

Ok heres the deal..i suck at english and still got a b+ in his class. If you go to class, sit in the front and talk to him even if you have no idea hwta your talking about, he will grade you easier!!He's alrite just a hard grader (if he doesnt like you:)

Great Teacher. He is a tough grader and expects you to work to your full potential. Will always keep you busy with some assignment but explains everything well. Awesome sense of humor. If you are willing to work hard, then I recommend you take him. If you are a slacker, DO NOT sign up for him.

Very bad teacher whos got something to complain about on all of your papers. Very hard grader and complained on one of my papers "This information hasn't been seen in a new light". If you don't already have PH.D writing, don't waste your time in this class.

hard grader, if you aren't already mark twain, then don't expect anything better than a B (if you're lucky). he has lots of bad days. towards the end of the semester it seemed like his goal was to get as many students as possible to drop. he would scare us by telling us the majority was failing

Teaches usually early classes, but if you are looking for a good laugh in the morning, then take his class. Very hard grader but always available to help. Teaches from a student's point of view and tries to make curriculm more interesting. Be willing to work, but overall a good professor.

I really enjoy this professor. He grades hard by a lot of peoples standards, but I believe he grades pretty fairly. The class is fun because of him, he gives you a lot of laughs, and a sort of carefree environment. He likes to get things done. Not a good class to slack off in. Great teacher.

This teacher is a complete nazi! Very hard to get a good grade, I do not think he wants anyone to recieve a B or higher. He grades super hard and writes comments that make students feel stupid. You won't learn anything new either. He expects you to be a perfect english major writer or graduate level

I am going to cry now, please get out of this class as fast as you can.

*My other Brother-Unit is a bookie and Grand Canyon trekker guide. I am still trying to figure out how to write that up...

Monday, May 3, 2010

Blogging The Portfolio

Believe it or not, I do a fair amount of pre-writing not designed to make it onto this blog.

You are about to be gifted with nothing but a portion of pre-writing.

Here's why: It has been so ordained by God. Okay, more likely, by Blogger.

I got up at 5 am and for some reason, felt able to write. It has been a while since I really wanted nothing but to create a narrative born of my imagination and experiences. All day, I have enjoyed the process, felt very alive. I slammed down pain pills with some Diet Coke, munched on good bread and butter, and wrote with an amazing facility.

Twelve hours later, I was ready for a formal pause. I had been carefully saving my draft all day long, having known the heartbreak of losing compositions on the computer. Yes, I was saving it on Blogger, not a separate non-internet-based program; Why ever do you ask?

I have been struggling to write a cohesive post based on my teaching Portfolio. It matters. I managed to write something a few weeks back and slapped the portfolio label on it, but knew I had not produced the piece that has been germinating in me for years now. Today was the day.

Some of you may be able to write easily, and without suffering much pain. I hate it, except when in the middle of it. In 12 hours, I wrote what may have amounted to 2 pages, and that was before I had unleashed any editing on the mess. A good portion of time dedicated to writing, I spend reading. Today, I read most of Louisa May Alcott's Little Men, several essays by Fredric Jameson, a delightful piece in the London Review of Books by Benjamin Kunkel, "Into the Big Tent." I scoped out a fair bit of information about Wellesley College. Why, you will never know!

I even investigated how to blow up a tank and spent at least an hour deconstructing one paragraph of a friend's monthly newsletter -- the writing that resulted turned out to be the heart of my new Portfolio piece.

So, when I decided to let what I had done sit for a half-hour or so, I pushed "save now," and got ready to go see how Fred was doing (he slipped and fell on the drawbridge this morning).

Everything I had written was gone.

What remained was the piece of pre-writing that I had started back in December 2009. The same little bit that was there at 5 this morning, meant to serve me as touchstone and mental guide.

I think I may most regret losing the couple of good sentences about immigration reform, and the telling of my best friend's story. Maybe I am being punished for telling someone else's story with an intimacy that I have not earned.

I don't think you were meant to ever see anything else, Dear Reader. It would not be too hard to reproduce the several pages that are gone... but I really feel like the message has been clearly given that the post I want to write was not meant to be.

I was trained and educated to teach at the university level. After 17 years of doing that, my health "failed" and I had to take a few years off from working.

During that time, a few tardy revelations set in, such as: the abysmal state of my benefits package and the growing tendency for universities and colleges to amass "adjuncts" and "visiting" profs as slave labor, essentially paying only a "per class," very flat rate.

When I began to miss the classroom, I approximated the experience by taking on private students as a tutor. It's easy to build a base of regulars, from which then are generated interesting referrals by word of mouth. Another element to my success may have been that I undercut the "going rate" in an "international city," where language tutors are a dime a dozen. (Even so, I also often knew the joy of being stiffed.)

A typical tutoring day might include:

*conversational work with Ben, a retired FBI agent -- and his wife, although she never paid a penny, just sat on my sofa cribbing vocabulary and lists of faux amis, whispering, in a dramatic sotto voce, her répétitions. To their credit, they did invite me and Fred for a memorable dinner at their home, where Ben regaled us with stories of derring-do, including a few having to do with Ruby Ridge. True, most people wouldn't brag about being part of that debacle, but Mrs. Ben allotted Special Agent Ben a little wine with his Ossobuco alla milanese.

*efforts at a miracle with Rhonda, who needed to pass her summer school course at the state university, a course she had already managed to take twice without registering a passing grade. With Rhonda, I came close to endorsing cheating. Unlike Special Agent Ben's proclivity for wine with a fine meal, Rhonda invariably showed up clutching a six-pack of beer in one hand, and her lover Catherine in the firm grip of her other. Actually, I confess: We did cheat, as she ended up passing by virtue of writing incredibly gifted essays that were, happily for us, overweighted in the grade computation. Rhonda composed quite ably, even admirably, in English, and provided me with vocabulary to be highlighted from whatever unit her class was covering that week. I then wrote some appropriate stuff in French, a language whose most basic words she could not even pronounce, a culture she could only ridicule. It was an interesting exercise for me, as normally I insist on avoiding translation, but knew that her prof expected her to rely on English paradigms. In one of our most exciting meetings, I stayed in my apartment, penning what we hoped would be a believable effort at composition, and guarding the cerveza, while Catherine and Rhonda rescued a dog from ill treatment one apartment building away. The creepy woman who "owned" the poor thing dedicated her creepy self to creeping me out for the rest of my stay at that address, but it was worth it to have freed the dog, who was kept chained on a fire escape, a solution that Creepy Woman apparently felt was both inspired and hygienic. The poor little guy was out of luck should he tip over his small dish of water. Those girls done good.

Sadly, though, not long after Catherine's teenage son died in a car accident, I lost touch with them -- it was one of those I-don't-know-what-to-say-or-how-to-act situations that only get worse with time. How do you explain, two or three years later, that you have held them close in your heart, when they've not heard an actual peep from you?

[I am famous for infuriating Straight-Laced Administrators by telling all my students that French is not important.]

*plain old hard work with John, a 9-year-old boy, whom I usually tutored from my church, where I headed an embarrassing do-gooder effort at establishing a school for our homeless guests (that sanctuary was never a wasted space, serving as a bedroom to a couple of dozen homeless men, except for the few hours a week we used it for traditional worship). John was an excellent student, a sponge, inquisitive. It was never clear to me why he was being pushed into studying French, but that meant figuring out John's Mother, which was something entirely beyond me. She brought him early and came late to pick him up. Okay, so she wanted a little extra instruction for her money. Uh-huh, that might fly were her checks clearing the bank! Week after week, I was strung along with a bit of cash, a bad check, lots of totally believable excuses. She was a single Mom with exacting standards for her privately schooled children -- three young boys, all enrolled in a Bible-based elementary school.

It pained me to have to say that dropping off a 9-year-old young one when the only people around were 30 or so homeless men suffering from a variety of ailments, as well as sometimes being under the influence of drugs and alcohol, was not the greatest of ideas. So, of course, I started heading over to the church an hour early. And staying an hour late. It got to the point where we were feeding John dinner there, too. In short order, he became a mascot of sorts, and forged some meaningful relationships with a few guests -- men who had children of their own, and missed them.

So John became a little French ace -- and the most overscheduled lad in a 50-mile perimeter -- whereas I was essentially working 10-15 hours a week as an unpaid tutor (I mean, babysitter). It had to end badly, and it did. When I insisted on being brought up to date monetarily, Mom was more than slightly bitchy. And "bitchy" does not begin to do justice to her mood and behavior when I introduced the novel idea of paying cash upfront. She pretty much attempted to drop the kid off from a speeding car.

Ultimately? She said that I was prejudiced and that my new requirements for payment amounted to -- and I quote -- "racial profiling."

The guys and I really missed John. I would love to know what he is up to now... mumblemumble years later. I am sure he's turned out to be a source of pride for his mother -- whether or not he ever speaks French. I am equally sure that he is emotionally handicapped by the weight of her expectations and the example of how she deals with others.

As I got stronger physically, the lure of the classroom grew. The university job market where we were living was glutted, at least in terms of foreign languages and literatures and, frankly, the universities themselves were not so alluring. Relocating again -- for the sake of a non-tenured position -- was too daunting a proposal, however.

Truth be told, I interviewed at a state university that has an excellent French Studies Department and was offered a job... but decided that I wasn't able to sustain as crazy a schedule as I had before getting sick. More truth be told? The guy hiring me was kinda creepy, and too good a friend with a mutual acquaintance. How's that for sounding vague, paranoid, and conspiratorial?

I needed piece work.

One of my private students said, "Madame, why don't you do some substitute teaching?"'

And so began a very interesting period in my life!

It's crazy, it's nuts -- substitute teaching! I shared a few of the most memorable experiences previously, here. Subbing was exactly what I needed at that time. I could take jobs whenever I was able and pretty much invest as much of myself in the assignment as I wished. Yes, pity the poor students who were anticipating an easy day of heads-on-desks and worksheets-for-the-braindead. Poor things didn't know my opinions on things like the work ethic or proper behavior; They surely didn't foresee a stranger taking an interest in their academics, or their lives.

Once I got the hang of things, I began experimenting with teaching at different levels, different ages, different areas of the city, and different school styles (like magnet and academies, block scheduling and year-round instruction). For the privilege, I received about $100 a day. I had over 15 years experience, several degrees in my field, and I made the same as the person with nothing but a high school diploma. At the time, I bought into the revolutionary notion that "work was work," and it felt fair. Now, I roll my eyes violently back in my head.

Transportation was my biggest issue, it turned out. I was rapidly losing the ability to walk, couldn't drive, and needed several hours to get to most of the schools using metro mass transit. In the beginning, I used a walking stick. Then I graduated to a cane. Toward the end of that year, I sometimes needed a wheelchair/scooter. It was clear that working imperiled my health. It was also clear that NOT working would drive me, and my loved ones, totally ape-shit batty.

So I can only explain applying for a fulltime job with this urban public school system as being the result of obvious insanity.

I jumped through the various hoops required of job applicants to teacher positions. Although I said I was open to teaching any age group, that was just a brave lie. I only had experience with adults (or pseudo-adults!). I did not know how to negotiate with my students' relatives or guardians -- outside of those university students who had been so self-important as to query "Do you know who I am?" -- and whose celebrity parent would then condescend to telephone...

I paid the money to be tested and retested, fingerprinted and evaluated. It turned out that I was hot stuff. That being the case? If I were a parent of a child in that system? I would be very worried about the quality of instruction! I ended up working with teachers whose scores on testing of their subject knowledge were abysmal. There were foreign language teachers who couldn't carry on a basic conversation in the target language, who were terrified of fielding questions, yet who had earned "education degrees," often graduating with honors. They could discuss ideas about "classroom management" and "assessment modalities," but they could not teach their subject with anything close to proficiency.

As with all such moralizing statements, there were a good number of exceptions. The problem there was that these exceptional teachers were merely passing through. Some of the women were teaching a few years before starting a family. Other folks were working on graduate degrees, with an eye toward teaching at university. Most, though? Most simply burned out, overwhelmed by the apparent infinity of renewable problems.

Scary stuff, scary stuff, the state of public education.

I lucked out and was offered a position at a high school that had some really fine things going on: the international baccalaureat degree program and two magnet programs (performing arts and business).

The high school was situated in one of the wealthiest sectors of the city. Most of our students arrived by bus from less advantaged metro areas.

Just getting back and forth from school to home was a major part of my day, and the process quickly sapped my energy.

The first year, I would walk, limp, or wheelchair my way from the house over to the homeless shelter (where I continued to work, feeling called to it), where they allowed me to hitch a ride on the church bus with the men. The bus left at 6 am. I was dropped off at the closest metro station, from which I began the hour and a half trek to school. This entailed changing lines twice more, and ended with another bus ride. The school day ended at 15:35 but I couldn't leave until at least 17:00. By then, I was usually in pretty bad shape, as my chronic heart failure was badly out of control, and the avascular necrosis that was destroying my bones had kicked in way more than anyone realized. Not home until 19:30 or 20:00, I often simply went right to bed.

Fred was not a happy camper in those days!

After the first year, I hired someone to drive me in the mornings and tried to beg rides in the afternoon. Things went well until a student managed to break my hip. That's a whole story in and of itself, but we will let it pass into oblivion for the moment.

I don't belabor these transportation difficulties for sympathy -- although the story of being run off the road in my wheelchair, tipping over and falling into the adjacent ditch begs for telling -- but I do recount them to help you get a grip on the huge investment of *time* necessary to the job.

The time between 08:15 and 15:35 passed quickly, was fun, challenging, and highly rewarding.

During the journey home in the evening, I tried to formalize the rest of the lesson plans for the week, maybe jot down test/essay questions and even do some grading (difficult in moving vehicles!).

After scarfing down a dinner that often consisted of nasty canned things and pasta, over which I would melt something, I dealt with contacting parents/guardians, touching base with certain students who were having a hard time, and trying to catch up with grading.

Memory can be a gentle taskmaster because I cannot recall how I managed to also attend the ridiculous classes that the school system said I needed in order to have a qualified certificate -- including show-stoppers like: How to write a grant; Classroom management; Technology in the classroom, etc. Somewhere in there, I also entered a second doctoral program. It was such a hot new program, in fact, that I was their entire first class. Given my lack of fellow graduate students, the administration decided that I should first tackle my elective credits -- the following year, they would institute their core coursework. That should have been a sign unto me that the thing was destined to go nowhere. Instead, I took two grad level courses per quarter. My mind has almost wiped out the recollection of Fred's anger, my swollen body and drowning lungs, and the months without more than a few hours sleep a night.

The short version of life: The last years I worked as a teacher, I taught French (and some Latin) at the high school level.

The longer version can best be told with the aid of a remarkable document that I prepared as part of my evaluation for the local public school system. The administration was experimenting with new ways to gauge the qualities of their employees. For reasons that would shock my old vice-principals and that would make the eyes of my erstwhile bosses bug out of their sockets, I have come to cherish the scrapbook, the snapshot, the time-capsule of my life at that era.

Yes, they instituted The Portfolio.