Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Hunger Games: Starved To Life

In keeping with my last post, I figured I'd give the title of this post a little cinematic touch.

Today (Saturday, June 24) I'm starting another round of the Fasting Mimicking Diet that I did last month. For those who missed  last month’s hoopla, I wrote posts recounting each of the five days of the diet, starting with a comprehensive explanation of how’s and why’s of the plan which you can read by (clicking here).

I’ll be using the same prefab diet marketed by Prolon (click here). A few people asked if I’m being sponsored by Prolon, and I promise you, I am not. I understand that the price of the diet kit is prohibitive for a lot of people, and I plan on getting in touch with the company and seeing if we can work out some kind of deal to make the kits more affordable for people with MS who want to try the diet but find the price too steep. Seems like it would make for good publicity for the company and be of benefit to many patients, a classic win-win situation. Meant to do that earlier this month, but, as usual, the days somehow got away from me.

Just a quick recap of what the diet entails: this is a strict reduced calorie diet, done in the hope (expectation?) that forcing the body into a fasting state will allow it to recalibrate some of the out of whack processes seen in diseases like MS, reduce inflammation, and jumpstart the body’s own stem cells to do some regeneration of damaged tissues. On day one of the diet consumption is restricted to 1150 calories. On days 2-5, this is cut further to 800 calories. The diet consists of prepackaged high nutrient soups, protein bars, kale crackers, olives, and a glycerol based energy drink. Other liquid intake is restricted to herbal teas and water. All of the food provided is vegetable-based.

Last time around I found getting through the five days surprisingly easy, and instead of feeling weak at the end of the diet, as I expected, I actually felt quite energized. So, this time around I’m going to take an even more draconian approach and try to extend the diet by two days, consuming only the energy drink, water, and herbal tea on days six and seven. I am doing this under medical supervision, and, rest assured, if I find that things aren’t going well during those extra two days, I’ll pull the ripcord and eat a fruit salad. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and my Creeping Paralysis isn’t showing any signs of relenting.

I was inspired to extend the diet after reading a 2012 article from Harper's, which recounts the long history of fasting for medicinal purposes and tells the tale of the author’s own successful 19 day fast. Incredible stuff. You can read the article by (clicking here). I plan on engaging in at least one more round of the diet after this month, probably more. My naturopath said she’s seen patients start to respond after the second round. Here’s to hoping. I didn't see any additional benefit from the first round other than some lost weight (5 pounds) and a temporary increase in energy levels, but for whatever reason I have found the idea of eating red meat absolutely revolting since doing the diet last month. Go figure.

For those foodies out there, I chose as my last meal before starting this month’s diet a very yummy Thai dish, crispy duck in red curry sauce with lots of pineapple, lychee nuts, and veggies. One of the great things about living in NYC is that you can get pretty much any type of cuisine delivered right to your door, and the aforementioned deliciousness arrived about 25 minutes after we placed the order online. The wonders of modern technology.

I’ll not recount every day of this month’s diet as I did last month, but I'll check in again when this cycle is over. Hopefully, I’ll make it through the entire seven days.

Here’s mud in your eye…

Monday, June 19, 2017

Some Wheelchair Kamikaze Movie Recommendations

And now for something completely different… I’ve been hard at work on an MS related article for an online general media outlet, which when finished will also eventually appear on this blog. I was hoping to have the piece done at least a week ago, but I’m finding it difficult to write for a general audience after so long writing specifically for people with direct knowledge of MS. This hurdle combined with the usual Creeping Paralysis crap (weakness, paralysis, fatigue, etc.) have combined to make writing the article something of a tough slog. No worries, though, I’ll get it done, and hopefully the editors of the internet site will find it to their liking. 

In the meantime, I don’t want to leave WK readers feeling abandoned. As my mind is filled with MS related flotsam and jetsam as a result of working so hard on the aforementioned article, I figured I’d go in a completely different direction for this blog post. How about some movie recommendations for others like me who find themselves with lots of time to stare at TV screens due to the vagaries and vulgarities of multiple sclerosis?

Here, then, are a few lesser-known films that I hope you might check out and find enjoyable/interesting. If any of you have already seen any of these films or watch them as a result of these recommendations, I’d love to know your thoughts about them. Please feel free to leave your own critiques in the comments section, below.

The Drop – This was James Gandolfini’s last film before his untimely death. It’s a modern film noir, centered on a Brooklyn bar that is used by underworld figures as a “drop” for their ill-gotten gains. Though there are a few action sequences, this is more a nuanced character study of the central players, who may or may not be the people we assume them to be when first we meet them. Kind of like life, no? The film features a tremendous performance by Tom Hardy, who I think is one of the finest actors of his generation. Gandolfini also gives a fine performance in his last screen appearance. Fans of The Sopranos – and others who like their films a bit dark and complex, like a zinfandel – should definitely give this one a look.

Paterson – A lovely, quirky film by director Jim Jarmusch, which focuses on the power and beauty of the little things in life; a box of matches, conversations overheard, the simple but simultaneously complex emotional dance that is love itself. The picture gives us a peek into the lives of a bus driver/poet (Adam Driver), his wife (Golshifteh Farahani ), and some of the characters who populate their neighborhood in Paterson, New Jersey. Filled with wonderful poetry (both visual and literary) and an affection for the small details that often go unnoticed, this is a gem that will leave you smiling and thinking about its many facets for quite a while after viewing.

20th Century Women – A kind of coming-of-age story of not only an adolescent boy, but also of the Bohemian adults who surround him. Set in Southern California circa 1979, a period at the precipice of the great social changes that would unfold in the coming decades (the rise of Reaganism, the Internet, the computerization of everything), 20th Century Women involves the lives of a teenage boy (Lucas Jade Zumann ) and his mother (Annette Benning), who share a house with several unconventional housemates. Elle Fanning stands out as the young man’s best friend/love interest, and the film hits all the right notes in regards to the time period, the complexities of personality, and the subtle – and sometimes not-so-subtle – emotional skirmishes of both adolescence and adulthood.

Hunt For the Wildepeople – a fun and funny film from New Zealand about a troublesome teenage boy (Julian Dennison) and a gruff older man (Sam Neill) who inadvertently find themselves the subjects of a national manhunt through the wilds of New Zealand’s outback. A witty script, endearing characters, and the natural beauty of New Zealand combine to make this sometimes silly, sometimes seriocomic film a deliciously diverting watch, one with a few laugh out loud moments, some over-the-top action sequences, and lots of heart. Not a film that reaches for profundity, but if you’re looking for some offbeat entertainment, Hunt For The Wildepeople will fit the bill nicely.

Green Room – I’m a big fan of horror films, but not the kind that feature ghosts, demons, or other supernatural creatures. Human beings can be horrific enough. Green Room finds a young punk rock band on tour in their dilapidated van far away from home, with money and patience running desperately short. The band inadvertently picks up a gig at a Nazi skinhead club, where they stumble upon a murder. Let’s just say the things go downhill from there. Patrick Stewart is terrific as the elder patron and leader of the skinhead crew, and the film is packed with tension, anxiety, and plenty of adrenaline inducing moments. I classify this as more of a thriller than a pure horror flick, though it does contain some gore. Definitely recommended for fans of the genre.

Irreversible – perhaps the finest product to come out of the “French Extreme” movement, 2002’s Irreversible is an unforgettable film that is definitely NOT for everybody. Over the last few decades the French have stretched the boundaries of the horror/thriller genre, with a number of films that leave nothing to the imagination but also, at their best, plumb the depths of the human experience. Irreversible depicts the events of one extremely tragic night in Paris, in reverse chronological order. In other words, the film starts with the ending credits, and the night’s sequence of events plays out backwards, last to first. Each sequence of the film is shot as a single take with no cuts, and the camera work by director Gaspar NoĆ© is as spectacular as it is unsettling. A terrific cast (Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Albert Dupontel) thoroughly inhabit the film’s largely ad-libbed script and make the events portrayed all the more gut wrenching. As the film spools out, some of our initial assumptions about the characters are turned on their head, and Irreversible is a cinematic experience that will impact you for days if not weeks afterwards. Again, this film is not for everybody; in fact, when screened at Cannes, large parts of the audience walked out during its jarring first 40 minutes. Those who remained were said to have sat in stunned, heartbroken silence for quite a while after it ended. The film graphically portrays terrible violence as well as graphic sexual acts, and contains an extended rape scene that illustrates the full, unremitting horror and unspeakable cruelty of that crime. It also contains one of the sweetest love scenes on film. That said, Irreversible is among the most exceptional pieces of cinema I’ve experienced. The violence portrayed is key to the film’s ultimate power, but again, Irreversible is not for those even slightly squeamish, or who might have personal issues with the events portrayed. But for viewers up to it, Irreversible offers an unforgettable cinematic experience.

I've also watched a whole bunch of the campy B-movie 70s horror flicks I so love (I Drink Your Blood, I Spit on Your Grave, etc.), but I know that flicks like these aren't everybody's cup of tea. Depending on what country you live in, most of the above recommended films are available on the popular streaming movie services (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu). Again, I’d love to get readers' impressions of these films, as well as any recommendations of your own, in the comments section below. I’ll be back with our regularly scheduled MS related content in the next few weeks. In the meantime, happy viewing!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Remembering Bobby Kennedy

Attorney General Kennedy and Rev. Dr. Martin L...

Image via Wikipedia

(I rarely deviate from the MS/disability theme of this blog, but there are some things that are more important than multiple sclerosis. This essay was first posted six years ago, in 2011. Given the current ruinously cantankerous political climate in the United States of America, I believe the words and deeds of Robert Kennedy are more important than ever. With a few changes, perhaps a word or phrase here or there, the speech Kennedy delivers in the video at the end of this post is as relevant today as it was 49 years ago, and should be taken to heart by those of all stripes in this troubled nation of ours. Black or white, conservative or liberal, rich or poor, red state or blue state, Democrat or Republican, we're all in this thing together. For those who receive this via email, the video can be viewed on the Wheelchair Kamikaze website – click here)

I am a man with few heroes. 

It disturbs me to see the word hero tossed around indiscriminately these days, as it belittles the few individuals who truly deserve the honor. Though I respect many people, some deeply, there are only a few whose words and deeds have led me to try – usually with pathetic results – to emulate the examples they set. One such person is Robert F Kennedy, who was felled by an assassin's bullets shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, 49 years ago today. 

Bobby Kennedy was by no means a perfect man, his shortcomings well-documented by numerous tell-all books and our insatiable gossip hungry media. Back then there was still, for better or worse (I think for better), a separation between the public and private lives of our political figures. Show me almost any celebrated historical leader and I'll show you skeletons in their closet that today would have ended their careers before greatness could have ever been realized. RFK was a complex individual; intelligent, introspective and headstrong, possessed of powerful ego and at times known to be ruthless in achieving his political goals. But he was also an idealist, a man whose thoughts and the actions driven by them evolved through a life transformed by devastating personal tragedy. After the assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy went through a long dark night of the soul, only to emerge with a deep resolution to further devote himself to public service and fight for his deeply held moral convictions against social injustice and for the weak and disenfranchised. 

Robert Kennedy started his political career working in the office of the now justifiably defamed Senator Joseph McCarthy, who at the time was in the midst of his vile early 1950s anti-Communist witchhunt, a hideous debacle which resulted in the destruction of the reputations and lives of dozens of innocent victims. From those ignominious beginnings sprang a career that saw Robert Kennedy champion civil rights, advocate for the poor and marginalized, fight organized crime, and play an instrumental role in pulling the world back from the very brink of nuclear Armageddon during the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

After his belated entry into the 1968 presidential race, his campaign to win the Democratic nomination gained increasing momentum, culminating with his triumph in the California primary on June 4, 1968. Minutes after delivering his victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, he was shot while attempting to exit the building with his entourage. Though an assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, was named and convicted, controversy still rages over the tragic sequence of events that transpired that night. Robert Kennedy lingered for 26 hours, and died at 1:44 AM on June 6, 1968. 

Had Kennedy won the nomination and eventually the presidency, our historical timeline would certainly have been significantly altered, perhaps resulting in a future absent much of the social and political upheaval that was to come. There would have been no violence on the streets of Chicago during the 1968 Democratic convention, no President Nixon, no Watergate scandal, a quicker end to the Vietnam War, and no massacre at Kent State. Without these traumas inflicted on the collective psyche of America one can only imagine that the arc of history might very well have been much more benign than the reality that ultimately came to pass. The promise represented by Robert Kennedy cannot be overstated, nor can the tragedy of his loss. 

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the merits of Sen. Kennedy is to let the man speak for himself. On April 4, 1968, just two months before his own assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee. On the evening of the King tragedy, Bobby Kennedy was scheduled to address an inner-city crowd in the heart of Indianapolis, Indiana. Knowing that his audience would be largely black and likely unaware of Dr. King's assassination, which had occurred just a short time before, Kennedy had little time to formulate his thoughts much less write a polished speech. Without the help of aides or speechwriters, he jotted a few notes to himself during the ride to the rally, and then delivered an eloquent and profoundly emotional address. No teleprompters, no calculations of political consequences, no prepared text, just intelligent and respectful words delivered from the heart and soul. He didn't speak down to his audience but addressed them as peers, sharing with them the anguish of his too having suffered the murder of a loved one. As a direct result of this speech, Indianapolis was one of the few American cities spared vicious riots in the wake of Dr. King's assassination. 

Here is the speech Robert Kennedy delivered that night, from the back of a flatbed truck…

Rest in peace, Bobby Kennedy.

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