Why Are We Dying Today?

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I’ve been preoccupied with composing an account of my escape from an American medical establishment that left me to die of prostate cancer to an alternative approach in Tijuana, Mexico, that saved my life.  Pardon me, then, if I don’t opine this week upon our socio-political meltdown for a couple of thousand words.  Instead, allow me to offer a section of the emerging book that I wrote just moments ago.  The “chronology” sections, by the way, are interspersed with more subjective sections titled “commentary”.  What’s below is a section of the latter kind.

Again, I find myself having to defend the “chronology” section as a repository of facts.  The effort above seems like a broad, deep pool of feelings.  But when a crime victim has PTSD and sues the criminal for damages to help with therapy costs, date and location aren’t really as important as the fact that the perpetrator kept the victim in a cold, wet basement for a month.  The fact of feeling strikes me as no less relevant when we consider the damage done by our medical establishment.  It’s a fact that I felt myself progressively invaded by a deadly illness yet couldn’t even get a diagnosis.  It’s a fact that I was driven to think about suicide in the utter absence of any support from highly paid “professionals”.  It’s a fact that the PSA results were available long before I was informed of them, and that any reasonable person would therefore have supposed those results to be unremarkable; and it’s a fact that any such person, surprised in that reasonable supposition by the news that cancer had practically devoured one of his organs, would be somewhat traumatized.  Good grief!  It remained a fact throughout this time that I still couldn’t do more than a sponge-squeeze over the toilet bowl without a catheter, two and three months into my original blockage!

No spokesman for ___ Urology ever tried to claim that the COVID pandemic was to blame.  I’m sure I would have heard that excuse if any excuse at all had ever been offered… but no, none was ever offered.  Even if we concede that the way our hospitals shut their doors and closed their labs to non-COVID patients led to magnified misery, however, we’ve done nothing but admit that the system is a disaster.  If you can’t handle the victims of a train wreck without disconnecting all of your existing patients previously placed on life-support, then you’re running a pretty crappy health-care facility.

I’m in a hurry to close the book of memory on these sulfur-scented pages, so let me wind up the present commentary by squeezing in a thought that I’d entertained right from the start of my ordeal.  The first time I ever met Dr. X (March 12), I asked him a question so obvious—yet so puzzling—that it almost turned reality inside-out.  Where were all the Enlarged Prostate victims of the past?  Even if their enlargement was benign and not cancerous, they would have died an excruciating death within a few days because of not being able to urinate.  Dr. X gave the laconic response that people just didn’t live as long in the past.  This apparently meant both that a) men didn’t develop enlarged prostates very often because they were in their graves before reaching their sixth decade, and b) when they did suffer a urinary blockage… yes, they were goners very quickly.  He added something nondescript about the nightmarish ways that the latter sufferers would try to handle their condition.

Okay, but…  but where’s the evidence of the nightmare?  Does it appear only in med-school textbooks?  Why?  Because ancient authors were squeamish about portraying such horrors before a general audience?  Aelfric wasn’t squeamish about graphically describing the demise of Herod in one of his sermons.  The epic poet Lucan wasn’t squeamish about graphically describing bizarre (perhaps even imaginary) mutilations in battle scenes.  Suetonius didn’t seem to think the tender eyes of his readers couldn’t bear ghastly detail when it came to the excesses and orgies of decadent Roman emperors.  Why is urinary dysfunction the single sort of physical torture excluded from pages accessible to the layman’s eye?

And plenty of fellows got old, in the old days.  I’ve browsed through more than one decrepit Irish graveyard in my time.  Such places make interesting reading.  There are waves of die-off: the Reaper works his scythe most actively at certain moments in a man’s life.  Young lads doing hard manual labor with more brawn than brain sometimes didn’t see thirty.  A man who lived past forty in this group had a good chance of seeing eighty.  Where is the vast harvest at fifty or sixty—especially vast if almost all males are doomed to develop an enlarged prostate during those years?

To this day, I don’t know why prostate cancer chose me, in particular.  An inquisitive mind might look at all I’ve just written and say, “Our toxic modern environment is the evasive culprit you seek: our poisoned water, our poisoned air, our poisoned workplaces.”  Granted.  That sounds very reasonable.  Yet in my case, others around me (thank God) weren’t struck down.  If environmental pollution was the only relevant factor, then I should have had a lot of company.

I keep returning to stress.  Am I saying that people didn’t suffer stress in ancient and medieval times?  Yes, I am: or few of them, to be exact, suffered stress to the degree that we routinely do.  A Roman who wasn’t one of Caligula’s courtiers could get on with his life without great hassle.  An astronomer who didn’t publicize his findings could live comfortably elbow-to-elbow with the Spanish Inquisition.  And nobody, even among the most tormented—even Boethius languishing in his cell—was being suddenly informed that his identity had been stolen, or that his bills couldn’t be paid because a credit card had expired and his account’s password mysteriously refused to work.  We are blindsided and bushwhacked by such menacing assassins constantly, almost daily.  Even on a day when we don’t receive a red e-alert, we can’t be sure that our sailing will be smooth until we lie in bed that night.

I am conservative in most of my tastes.  Yet (or, I should write, “hence”) it annoys me when self-declared “conservative” mouthpieces praise our feverishly progressive lifestyle to the skies.  In the particular instance of cancer, we’re even supposed to celebrate radiation- and chemo-therapy as a blessing of our era.  Some of the “alternative” therapies—diet, supplements from rare plants, heat therapy, yoga—would land us in a pretty place, wouldn’t they, if we had to rely upon them and nothing else?  (Pause for superior smirks.)  Well, I’ll have much to say shortly about such “conserved” treatments, and also about extremely advanced ones that the “progressive conservative” Medi-Pharm establishment regularly slanders and stifles.  For the moment, just accept that for some of us older folks who don’t blithely punch buttons without any idea of what they may ignite, this brave new world is terrifying.

It made me a nervous wreck, at any rate: it was one of the contributing factors.  A rich man who knew that Caligula’s eye was lustfully studying his possessions could pack his tail out of Rome overnight for months at a time.  Now “they” know where you are 24/7 even when your phone’s turned off… and you, for your part, really have no idea who “they” are.

Why I’m Not Dead: Treating Cancer in Mexico

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When my blood was drawn for the first time at the Immunity Therapy Center in Tijuana, it returned a PSA reading of 295.  Ask an older man in your life what that means; no layman I’ve spoken to has ever heard of a score so far in the clouds, though one doctor claimed that he’d seen higher ones.  I had metastasized prostate cancer, and U.S. medical professionals (including the one who “consoled” me with his awareness of higher PSA’s) all gave me up for dead, offering no more than palliative treatments to help me go gentle into that good night.  The Harbin Clinic in Rome, Georgia, persistently refused to return my calls.  I have to assume, in this stone-cold absence of response, that the clinic’s physicians didn’t want their batting average of successes compromised by a guy with one foot already deeply in the grave.

After two weeks of “non-traditional” (i.e., non-invasive, largely non-pharmaceutical) therapy in Tijuana, my PSA score was 65.  After four and a half weeks, just before my departure, it was 4.3: well within the normal range for a man of my years.

Something’s wrong with this picture.  In fact, not very much is right.  I have vowed to my creator that I will make several changes during whatever additional years my new lease on life may give me.  The foremost of these will be to alert cancer sufferers that they don’t have to die: not like lab rats in a cage that failed to make the cut in an experiment—not shivering and shedding their hair after procedures to “cleanse” them have reduced them to little more than shiny white skeletons.  I was actually the healthiest person in ITC’s treatment room on any given day.  The fact that I had received no treatment whatever back in the States left my body much better prepared to fight its battle against the invader.

(Full disclosure: in the esoterica of medi-speak, I’m still classified as Stage Four because, I believe, supplements and injections continue to be part of my daily regimen.  You have to be off the program for a certain period and remaining cancer-free, I’m assuming, to be considered in remission.  But call me any stage you like—I’m in the game again, and I have the strength and the attitude I need to win.  Nobody in my native country ever gave me that gift.  No doctor among the lot would even write me a letter on medical letterhead so that I might obtain an emergency passport—none would dirty his sterilized fingers by implicitly condoning “voodoo medicine”.)

In this first of what I suppose may be many articles, I want to accomplish a couple of ends.  Right out of the gate, I offer my sincerest thanks to those who wished me well in my struggle and urged me to be of good cheer.  Most of these are Internet friends.  I’ve never met them personally, but their concern was the more obvious and credible for being expressed in thoughtful messages rather than squeezed into one of those awkward corridor-encounters.  (“You have what?  Wow… I’m so sorry.  Well, good luck, dude.  Oh, shoot—that’s my phone.  I gotta take this call.”)  Not included in the radius of my gratitude are the comments of a pair who exhorted me to get religion—*their* religion—in my hour of need.  It seemed as though they had been waiting, like the proverbial snake in the grass, throughout our “friendship” for a mortal crisis in my life to tell me that my spiritual convictions were forged of hellfire and brimstone.  What a way to encourage a friend—or to encourage anyone—confronting a deadly disease!

The broader theme I’d like to dispose of in relatively few (far too few) words is the almost knee-jerk supposition that capitalism is responsible for our dysfunctional medical system.  Over and over from fellow American patients at ITC, and again and again from family members after my return home, I had to listen to this tired refrain.  In my more vigorous moments, I would introduce the word “corporatism” into the discussion.  Socialized medicine isn’t the cure for what ails our health care: it’s Stage Four of the degeneration.  Why do we cancer patients have so few options in the U.S., and why will Medicare and the federal income tax turn a very cold shoulder to us if we seek assistance elsewhere?  “Because of Big Pharma,” pipe the critics.  “Doctors get a cut of the take on all the hugely expensive meds they prescribe.  They also love to do surgeries and radiation treatments with whopping price tags that typically produce very temporary good results.  They trick the patient into thinking that he’s mending while they actually weaken his body, and they bleed his insurance and Medicare for all they’re worth, at the same time.”

Yes to all that… but notice that our government has tidily arranged the scam.  Most of us are not paying out of pocket for these Pyrrhic victories scored over specific, localized outbreaks of cancer.  The government’s micro-managing allows us to believe that the cost is being absorbed by a benign Uncle Sam, or by insurance megaliths whose unfathomable resources permit everybody to prosper.  The truth is that—yes, again—pharmaceutical companies prosper, and so do the doctors who play their game.  That’s not capitalism in action.  At most, it’s late-stage, failing capitalism: it’s corporatism, the collaboration of private and public sectors in securing a choke-hold over the market.  Small insurers go under; or they’re certainly not able to compete broadly with the big names, at any rate, thanks to legislation that tightly squeezes the marketplace’s limits.  And while we can all concede that drug companies need mountains of funding to continue their world-class research and development, the entire health care system should not be enthralled to this worthy objective.  If an alternative therapy shows promise but does not involve medication, then it should not be branded “voodoo” and its successes denied even so much as access to peer-reviewed medical journals.

Such arrogant neglect, by the way, is seldom a result of behind-the-scenes pay-offs, in my opinion.  I think it reflects a root-level philosophical bias in our medical establishment, and in our technological enterprises generally.  Our culture regards its progress as adversarial to nature.  Rivers must be dammed.  Energy must be ripped from the earth’s bowels.  Viruses must be slain by super-vaccines.  The notion that the body might defeat cancer on its own if only given the right fuel and submitted to the right regimen of training is the equivalent, to our clinicians, of shaking rattles and eagle feathers over the patient.

Meanwhile, the private-sector half of the corporatist arrangement prospers handsomely, because every patient is placed on the same assembly (or disassembly) line involving drugs, surgery, and massive radiation; and the public-sector half, having received its cut of the profit (in campaign donations to statist candidates, etc.), supplies the muscle in the “protection” racket by forcing citizens to pay into a system that only underwrites the drugs-surgery-radiation protocol.  The resources beneath it all, far from being unfathomable, soon reach bottom as the system’s tentacles claim more and more of the populace and wrap around more and more treatments.  Instead of the best care for the greatest number, we have whatever care is available after strained resources have been divided by a denominator climbing into the hundreds of millions.

As I once pointed out to a fellow patient at ITC, Dr. Bautista would not be running his operation if the Mexican system enjoyed the sort of choke-hold over options that the American one exercises.  The Center’s physical therapist explained the situation in her homeland in terms that, I’m afraid, were too “inside baseball” for me.  (And we talked a lot about baseball, too!)  My garbled version of her brilliant summation would be this: the Mexican government is hopelessly corrupt.  Its agents know that they can’t serve the nation’s health needs adequately.  They therefore allow maverick start-ups like ITC to operate untouched.  The results are positive, demand is high, and profits escalate.  A government that can’t do much of anything on its own is very happy to let the private sector—a true private sector, a free-enterprise marketplace—purr along just under the radar.  In the U.S., where a Uncle Mao is still securing his power over every aspect of our lives, such benign negligence doesn’t happen.  Disobedience is not tolerated.  But in Mexico, where the line between patron and peon was drawn deeply and long ago, trickles of officially unnoticed efficiency are allowed to flow.

That may just be our own last best hope, as a nation—or as the shambles of a nation: enclaves of efficiency rising from the rubble of totalitarianism.  Or, should I say, that is the first hope awaiting us after the Collapse.