Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Hip Replacement: A Storied Surgeon Does It All His Way -- With Remarkable Results.

Twelve years ago with both knees destroyed from years of ice hockey, I was creeping around like an old man. It looked like I was finished with my physically extreme life, such as playing tennis, building stone walls, and walking for miles around strange new residential neighborhoods (and not once arrested).

But then I saw players who had total knee or hip replacements running around the tennis courts on metal knees, with no pain. They played just like before -- and even better. I asked around and the name of the same surgeon kept coming up, Dr. Dennis Burke at Mass General in Boston.

I promptly contacted Dr. Burke, but because he was in great demand, I had to wait many weeks for an appointment. Finally, I got to see him and he eventually replaced both of my knees, though separately. He said that replacing both at once increases the risk unnecessarily.

Of course, I  wrote about that experience and knee replacements in general.

I have been running around the tennis court on those knees for 12 years and they are still going strong.    When Dr. Burke recently looked at x-rays of my titanium knees, he had only one word, "beautiful."

So when the pain in my left hip got worse and worse, and I was limping around and had to stop playing tennis, it was naturally back to Dr. Burke. By now we had come to know each other, joking and kidding around.

When he entered the exam room, we greeted each other with a hearty handshake and big smiles. I put on a serious face and said, "You sure you're not too old to be doing this? How old are you anyway?"

Without missing a beat, he replied, "62."

"Kind of old, but I guess that's okay."

He smiled. 

This is Dr. Burke, a people doctor like no other. But you don't need to take my word for it. Here is how the Orthopedic Journal at Harvard Medical describes him:

"Engaging charm."

"Leaves a patient feeling as if Dennis has just one patient in the world, you."

"If human effort and skill can make the operation succeed, this is the guy who can do it."

"His intelligence is exceeded only by his ingenuity."

"What more could you ask?"

To read  more, click here.

Without a doubt, when I see Dr. Burke I know he is thinking of me and only me. He sat down at his computer and pulled up the x-ray of my left hip. "Bone on bone, no cartilage," he said. The two of us are pictured below, clearly friends, with the x-ray behind us.


"It needs to be replaced?"

He nodded. "But your decision."

"No brainer," I said in one second. "Let's do it."

With Dr. Burke being in huge demand, it was weeks before I could get an appointment for the surgery.  But that day eventually came this past June 8. In this photo, taken by my wife Barbara, Dr. Burke checks my hip and initials it before we go into the operating room.


I have to tell you something else about Dr. Burke. In addition to being a friendly and easygoing guy, he is also a renowned surgeon with a national reputation.

He is Secretary of State John Kerry's surgeon. In fact, John Kerry was in the hospital the same time I was, but neither Dr. Burke nor I mentioned his name.

How did I know John Kerry was at Mass General? I heard his name whispered in the hallways. I also noticed the gaggle of Secret Service agents outside. Naturally, I had to take a photo of them, below. They could have been a little less obvious, don't you think?

When I woke up after the surgery, I asked Dr. Burke if he would have a photo taken of me with the operating room group. "Sure," he said. He took out his phone and snapped the picture. "What's your email address?" he asked. I gave it to him. He tapped his phone and said, "Sent."

Here is that photo taken by Dr. Burke in the recovery room immediately after my hip replacement surgery.


Have you ever heard of a photo like this taken by a surgeon immediately after he had performed major surgery? Neither have I. But then again, there is good reason. It takes a ... er... different patient like me to think of it immediately after waking up from a major operation and a one-of-a-kind surgeon like Dr. Dennis Burke willing to actually take the picture.

But Dr. Burke goes even more off the beaten track. Before the surgery, I mentioned to Dr. Burke that I was interested in seeing what my hip replacement surgery actually looked like. I asked him, "Do you think you could have a video taken of the surgery?"

"Sure," he said.

I thought he was putting me on. Yet after he signed off on me to leave the hospital after three days and we were saying goodbye, he handed me two disks.

"Videos of the surgery," he said.

I was blown away. "Thank you, thank you," I said.

"My pleasure, " Dr. Burke said.

I said goodbye to my main nurse at Mass General who had a non-stop smile as she attended to my every need. She is pictured below with that great smile of hers.

I was sent home in the care of my good wife Barbara who was at my bedside daily during my hospital stay. Now she would be my amazing, nonstop, caretaker for the next several weeks.

I don't know what I would have done without you, dear!

Unexpectedly, the next several days were sheer hell for both of us with two trips to the emergency room at UMass Memorial in Worcester. The first was from a piercing headache with a level of pain that I had never experienced in my long life, followed by another headache two days later.

Emergency room doctors gave me every kind of test in the book and still could not figure out the cause, though they ruled out stroke and blood clot. They gave me a couple of  pain meds through the IV and sent me home.

On my second trip to the ER in two days, one doctor asked if I was a coffee drinker. I said I was, but had not been drinking coffee lately. He told me about his headaches when he didn't get enough caffeine. So he gave me, believe it or not, a caffeine pill.


The two trips to the emergency room were probably from a lack of sleep from going to the bathroom every thirty or forty minutes due to an aggravated prostate problem, not eating much, taking pain meds and difficulty with bowel movements. Here I am at right in the emergency room, waiting for the pain meds to kick in, trying to ignore the pain.

After the second ER visit, doctors sent me home with five different prescriptions for headache pain and bowel problems. My primary care doctor then suggested Flomax for the prostate problem.

After several days of misery, I began sleeping better and spending less time on the toilet. And soon, with physical therapy and working out on my own and Barbara managing medications, I began to feel much better.

Barbara and I would have coffee at Panera in Shrewsbury. I would walk up and down with my walker. When people saw me with the walker, they rushed to get out of the way and open doors for me. I have to be honest with you, I kind of liked all the notice and deference.


Before the hip replacement, I was limping, walking bent over and in pain. Now I was standing and walking straight up, going from two  crutches to only one, having dumped the other one. I felt a couple of inches taller.

Six weeks after the surgery, on July 21, I had my follow-up appointment with Dr. Burke. With both of us looking at the x-rays of my new hip, Dr. Burke pronounced everything as it should be. "Could I have a copy of this x-ray?" I asked.

"Sure," he said and set up his computer and asked my wife Barbara to type in my e-mail and hit send.

She did.

And now ladies and gentlemen, the moment you no doubt have been waiting for: a chance to see my new hip, in the x-ray Dr. Burke had Barbara e-mail me. Drum roll please ... drum roll ... and here it is:

Look at that left hip. Beautiful, don't you think?

Next came exercising at home, and then out-patient therapy three times weekly with professional therapists at Greendale Physical Therapy in Worcester. But I was still limping a little and not progressing as fast as I had hoped. Besides the three sessions a week at Greendale I was also working out twice a day the other four days and also taking thirty minute walks.

When I told my physical therapist Kim at Greendale how much I was working out at home, she gave me a stern look. She let me know in no uncertain terms that I was not superman and that I could be hurting myself. She said I "should back off on the exercise and see if that helps."

I did. The recovery sped up. And I owe that to Kim who put me through new and more challenging exercises as I grew stronger. Thank you, Kim, for putting me in my place!

I now expect to be back on the tennis court in late September or early October. "You should be good for doubles then," Dr. Burke said. Already my crutches and walker are distant memories.

Organized by my good friend Rich Pyle, I recently got together for lunch with some of my tennis friends at the Nu Cafe in Worcester. Below is a photo of the group, with me standing and drawing attention to myself as usual. Rich is at my left elbow, Marty is beside him, Sam is far left, and Jim is at my right elbow. (I use my elbows to keep them in line.)


So guys, sorry to tell you this, but I'm coming back!


P.S.  Later at home, my wife Barbara and I sat down and watched the video of my hip replacement. We were stunned at what we saw: the sliced hip opening; Dr. Burke's hands moving swiftly clearing flesh with one delicate small instrument after another; retrieving and holding my socket in his hand; and, most amazing of all, pounding my new socket into place with a hammer. Unbelievable!

So long and keep moving.


NOTE:  My latest novel is Something Tells Her.  Go to Amazon. 


Jane is abandoned at birth and then placed in ever-changing, uncaring,  and often abusive foster homes. At age 12, her latest foster father makes a sexual advance on her and, with something telling her this is not right, she runs out the door. On the street, alone, no family, nobody, not even a last name, how is she going to survive? 

Other E-Books by George Pollock

"State Kid: Hero of Literacy" is fiction based on his real-life experiences growing up in foster homes; "Last Laughs," is the true story of how five foster kids (he and four younger siblings) found their way in life and each other. "Killers: Surprises in a Maximum Security Prison," is the story of his being locked up for 23 hours with killers in a maximum security prison; "I, Cadaver" is about his postmortem adventures and mischief in the anatomy lab at UMass Medical School. “A Beautiful Story” demonstrates the art and process of creative writing as a 16-year-old boy goes all out to write a story that literally saves his life. 

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Tax Time, Scam Time: Thieves Steal Billions Using Taxpayer Identities.

I know. They stole my identity.

Using Turbo Tax, a leading tax service with millions of customers, thieves filed federal and Massachusetts tax returns under the name of George Pollock -- me -- with my address, social security number, email, and replicating details from my 2013 tax return. 

How did I find out?  Easy.  One day when I was just beginning to think about getting my taxes done, I got an e-mail from Turbo Tax thanking me for using them to file my taxes. OMG! I'm being scammed! I went immediately into panic mode.

I called Turbo Tax. I tried and tried and tried but couldn't get a human being. I replied to their e-mail saying that I "did not file with Turbo Tax and that I am a victim of identity theft and fraud." I demanded that they immediately step in to stop the scam or "you will hear from my attorney."

I got no reply and still have not.

I notified my longtime tax preparer. Fully understanding the seriousness, he urged me to get my tax info to him as fast as possible and he would give it top priority. Working nonstop for two days, hardly sleeping, I got my tax return info together and sent it priority to him. Amazingly, he got it filed, Massachusetts and federal, practically in hours.

I called the IRS and got a recording saying they are too busy during tax season to accept calls.  I started filling out an IRS form reporting the scam but found it very long and complicated. It also asked for personal and tax info that made me nervous putting online. I didn't do it.

I called the Federal Trade Commission and, to my great surprise and relief, got a human being.  It was a no-nonsense woman who patiently and professionally took all the necessary information.  She said that all appropriate state and federal agencies would be alerted. At her suggestion, I also placed a credit freeze on my credit card and and a fraud alert with credit reporting companies.

She also said that it's a good idea to alert local officials and that the best way to do that was through the police department.  So I went down to the Worcester police department and reported the scam.  I was told that an officer would come to our home the next day to take my info.

Sure enough, the next morning  a police cruiser pulled up in front of our home.  A uniformed officer got out, walked up to our front door, and rang the bell.  I opened the door and let him in.  As I did, I imagined  the word sure to go around the close-knit neighborhood:

The old nutcake is in trouble with the cops.  Anyone know what he did?

I led the officer downstairs to my office, which I call my mancave, where he took my information, writing it all down.  He was friendly, easy to talk to, and spoke with a strong Spanish accent.

When he was finished and we began walking out, I put my hand on his shoulder. With a serious face, I said, "You're not an illegal immigrant, I hope?"

We locked eyes. Seeing right through me, the officer smiled. "No."

 "Oh good, I don't have to report you."

The officer chuckled.  I saw him out the front door with a "Thank you officer" and firm handshake. 

Feeling that I had done all that I could, I was able to relax -- until a few days later I received the following email from Turbo Tax:


Where's My Refund? How to Check Your Refund Status
Now that you've filed your tax return, you may be
wondering, "Where's My Refund?" Learn what
happens after you e-file your tax return and
how to check the status of your refund.
Find out more

I shot Turbo Tax the following:

NOTICE: I have NOT filed an income tax form through Turbo Tax!  Any form you have using my name, address,  social security number, and e-mail address is identity theft and fraud.  I notified you of this when I got the first notice from Turbo Tax.  I have now notified local and state authorities and am filing a fraud report with the IRS.  Meanwhile my legitimate state and federal forms are now being filed by my legitimate income tax provider.  A reply would be professional and appreciated.

I got no reply from Turbo Tax.  Again, I tried to talk to a human being at the company.  Couldn't.

A week or so later, the next email from Turbo Tax was this:

Dear george pollock,

Your Tax Return Status: Federal Return Rejected

We want to make sure you file your taxes on time.
Earlier this year, your tax return was rejected, and we've noticed you haven't re-filed it yet.
A rejected return means the return has not been filed with the government. If you've already fixed your return, re-filed and been accepted, or filed by mail, you can ignore this notice.
If you have not fixed your rejected return, you have only until April 20, 2015 to fix and e-file it again.

intuit(R) TurboTax(R)


This was great news.  The scammer's return in my name had been rejected! Yippee! 

Then I got an email from my tax preparer telling me that my Massachusetts and Federal returns had been accepted.

Then I quickly got substantial Massachusetts and Federal tax refunds. The checks are deposited.

Sorry scammers.  You lost!

So long and keep moving.

For More Info

Thousands of other taxpayers won't be so lucky.  With millions of taxpayers working to submit their returns before the April 15 deadline, the IRS is seeing many cases of identity theft and fraud, according to Timothy Camus, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Based on my own experience, if you find yourself the victim of identity fraud, you should contact a human being at the Federal Trade Commission, place a fraud alert with credit reporting companies, and place a credit freeze on your credit card. The FTC website will guide you.

Testifying before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee chaired by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R. Utah, Secretary Camus said that the IRS has identified more than 517,000 suspicious returns and blocked $3.1 billion in fraudulent returns, including some from overseas perpetrators. Sen. Hatch said that the scammers got away with $5.8 billion in 2013, which was a 37% increase in one year. It could be more for 2014 said Sen. Hatch, which was why he was holding hearings on the issue and what can be done.

Narrowly avoiding being an identity theft victim, myself, I watched and listened to every word of the hearings on CNN. I  videoed key testimony by Timothy Camus, below, and also by John Valentine, Utah Tax Commissioner.  You can watch these these short videos on  You Tube.

  
 NOTE:  Read my latest novel, Something Tells Her, for FREE on Kindle Unlimited. Go to Amazon. 



Jane is abandoned at birth and then placed in ever-changing, uncaring,  and often abusive foster homes. At age 12, her latest foster father makes a sexual advance on her and, with something telling her this is not right, she runs out the door. On the street, alone, no family, nobody, not even a last name, how is she going to survive? 

Other E-Books by George Pollock

"State Kid: Hero of Literacy" is fiction based on his real-life experiences growing up in foster homes; "Last Laughs," is the true story of how five foster kids (he and four younger siblings) found their way in life and each other. "Killers: Surprises in a Maximum Security Prison," is the story of his being locked up for 23 hours with killers in a maximum security prison; "I, Cadaver" is about his postmortem adventures and mischief in the anatomy lab at UMass Medical School. “A Beautiful Story” demonstrates the art and process of creative writing as a 16-year-old boy goes all out to write a story that literally saves his life. "Something Tells Her" is the story of a 12 year old foster girl who runs away from her latest abusive foster home.  How on earth is she going to survive? Well, she has ... something. What?

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Blizzard of 2015: A Lifelong Snowstorm Playboy Is Forced to Act Like a Grown-up.

All of my long life, snow has meant great natural beauty and fun in a winter wonderland: time off from school or work, making a snowman or two, playing in the snow,  trudging around in it, and soaking it all up. My love for snowstorms has kept me a kid at heart in New England winters.

Up to now. In the last three weeks two ferocious blizzards, serial snowstorms dumping over a hundred inches of snow, below-zero freezing cold of historic proportions, wind gusts of 50 mph with a wind-chill factor of 30 below,  have forced me to be serious and act like an adult. An amazing thought, I know, for anyone who knows me.

Here are couple of views  of our place that I had to take seriously.

What I saw when I opened our garage door after the latest storm.

The scene when I opened the door to look out at our back deck.

Barbara sent these and other photos to our daughter Misha who lives in the Seattle area.  She texted back: "Wow!! That's a lot of snow! Today, we are going to have a picnic at the beach! LOL. Wish you were here! You might want to consider spending your winters in Seattle!"

Then she sent us a photo of flowers she just planted in her yard, below right. "Spring is here!" she wrote. She was right. While Worcester where we live was officially the snowiest city in the entire country, the west coast, and especially Seattle, was enjoying an unseasonably  warm, springlike weather.

Misha didn't need us to tell her about the weather we were having here in New England.  With the story running nonstop on all national TV networks, she could hardly miss it.

For three weeks, the TV networks have been a continuous graphic display and accounting of the storm's impact: the collapse of the "T," the state bus and railway system, stranding thousands of commuters; traffic stalled for two and three hours on snow-packed highways; roads blocked with mountains of snow; collapsed roofs; cars buried in snow.

Our New England storm even made the front page of The New York Times on Wednesday, January 28.  Not only that, it was the lead story.  That is saying something because the Times is an old, storied, and respected newspaper with a worldwide reach and influence. I've been addicted to it for 53 years.

Still, as is my habit, I didn't feel any great need to take this series of powerful storms too seriously. That was for  scaredy cats who never learned to appreciate and enjoy winter. When the first giant storm came, I just went out to have fun  and take some photos.

But within minutes,  powerful wind gusts -- which I later found out had a wind chill factor of 30 degrees below zero -- stopped me cold, literally. Although I was dressed warmly with layers, hat, and gloves, my face was freezing.

In all the years that I have been going out playing in snowstorms, that had never happened.  I later read that wind gusts this cold on exposed skin can cause serious frostbite in ten minutes.  If I had kept walking,  it would have been a big mistake.

I only got one photo, but a very interesting one, at least in my opinion.   First, I noticed the American flag, proud, defiant, rising above the huge snow piles. Then, looking into my camera, I noticed a shadow against a wall of snow. With the sun out behind me, the shadow was me. I took the picture, shown below.

Normally, I love to shovel.  But this snow was several feet high in my driveway, on my roof, and on my back deck.  Also, I have a bone-on-bone arthritic hip that needs replacement, which I expect will be done early in the spring.

Lucky for me, my neighbor Tom knew of my hip problem and came over and snow blowed my front walk and driveway.  Talk about a good neighbor!  Thank you, Tom!

But my roof remained piled high with snow and more and more roofs were collapsing under the weight. What happens is that snow on the roof compacts, freezes, and turns into ice -- which weighs eight times more. Eight pounds of snow becomes 64 pounds of ice, greatly increasing the chance of collapse.

No thanks, I thought. With my hip pain moderate and manageable, I climbed up on the roof and started shoveling. I had been up there only a half hour or so when Tom came running over with a shovel.

"What are you doing up there?" he said, clearly annoyed.

"Look at all that snow on the roof. It's got to get off there."

Shaking his head, Tom climbed up on the roof and we shoveled together for nearly three hours. The photo below shows Tom on my roof working away. Working nonstop, we got a huge amount of snow off the roof, enough to make me feel better.  

Then more snow and more piling on the roof. With the number of collapsed roofs rising, the new snow had to get off.

 "Don't you go up there," Barbara ordered.

"I won't," I said. "Don't worry."

I lied.

I borrowed a roof rake from another good neighbor, Gabe. Standing on a ladder leaning on the roof, I raked huge amounts of snow from the roof.  I also got up on the roof and shoveled.

First there was the standing on the ladder. Then throwing the rake up.  Then dragging the snow off the roof.  It took about five hours over two days.

Barbara caught me on the roof but didn't call me a dirty rotten liar. She was pleased the roof was done. We didn't have to worry about it falling on top of us.
 
I think she was happy I was still alive.  I think anyway.  (Psst, do me a favor:  ask her and let me know. Thanks.) Anyway she took the photo, above, of  her liar husband.

I have no idea why I was able to do all that work with this bad left hip and with hardly noticeable pain. But I got it done.

Yes!

Now I can relax.

OMG! I just heard on the news that a new arctic front is coming this weekend.

Ugh! The winter from Hell!

So long and keep moving.

NOTE:  Read my latest novel, Something Tells Her, for FREE on Kindle Unlimited. Go to Amazon. 


Jane is abandoned at birth and then placed in ever-changing, uncaring,  and often abusive foster homes. At age 12, her latest foster father makes a sexual advance on her and, with something telling her this is not right, she runs out the door. On the street, alone, no family, nobody, not even a last name, how is she going to survive? 

Other E-Books by George Pollock

"State Kid: Hero of Literacy" is fiction based on his real-life experiences growing up in foster homes; "Last Laughs," is the true story of how five foster kids (he and four younger siblings) found their way in life and each other. "Killers: Surprises in a Maximum Security Prison," is the story of his being locked up for 23 hours with killers in a maximum security prison; "I, Cadaver" is about his postmortem adventures and mischief in the anatomy lab at UMass Medical School. “A Beautiful Story” demonstrates the art and process of creative writing as a 16-year-old boy goes all out to write a story that literally saves his life. "Something Tells Her" is the story of a 12 year old foster girl who runs away from her latest abusive foster home.  How on earth is she going to survive? Well, she has ... something. What?

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Blizzard of 2015: Of Course, Yours Truly Goes Out to Play in It -- and Snoop Around.

Whoa, this was one scary blizzard. It battered the Northeast with historic levels of snow and wind.  Worcester, where I live, was hit hardest. We got 34.6 inches of snow and winds seemingly out to teach us who is boss with below below-zero, face-freezing cold.

This is what I saw looking out out from my front portico:


My poor car and shrubbery. However, when I ventured out to survey the damage, I got a couple of pleasant surprises. My two favorite rock balance sculptures were standing tall, defying those fierce winds. Without cement or tape or anything -- honest, I'm not lying -- there they were rising above all that white.




How did they do it? Maybe they were making a statement: Nice try blizzard, but we are, you know, ART. You come and go; we don't. We are for the ages.

Naturally, for me, this storm was an invitation to go out and play as I did  last year and  year after year before that. At its height on Tuesday, I put on boots and layers of clothing and went out to enjoy it while sane people hunkered down in their homes watching nonstop, impending doom TV coverage.

I pushed open my snow-packed front door and stepped onto a snow-piled front porch shown in the photo above. Wow, I thought as I waded through nearly waist-high snow on my front walk, deep!

The wind was ferocious. It was whipping fallen snow everywhere making it difficult to see. The house directly across the street was but a hazy outline. And man was it cold! By the time I got to the street, my face was freezing. 

Hey, I thought, this is not fun. I went back into the house and hunkered down for the rest of the day.  For me, this was history-making: the first big snowstorm that I didn't go right out and play in. 

However, the next day, I did -- and it was wonderful, with natural beauty everywhere. With no traffic except for snowplows and most people staying inside except for hardy souls here and there out shoveling. I pretty much had the streets to myself.

Yes! Playtime!  Following are photos of  day-after-blizzard scenes that caught my eye.


First stop, Donut Cafe, a short walk from my place. When the snow comes, the staff know they will see me, the crazy old guy. I came in expecting to see staff, such as Lisa, who have worked there for years. Instead, the staff was all new and spoke a foreign language.

It turned out that four months before, an Albanian family had bought the place. The mom took orders while one of her sons worked the grill. Nothing stays the same. However, I did ask for and got the VIP table by the window.









A guy out on a stroll? "Nice day," I said. "Yeah, great day for a walk," he replied. I wasn't the only nutcake out there.
I came across only one woman walker.  She happened to be walking by when I was taking a photo of this fellow I had stopped to chat with. "Can I take a photo of the two of you?" I asked her. "Sure," she said instantly.

Above is the photo. After taking it, I said to the guy, "Look at you, having your picture taken with a pretty girl. How lucky can a guy be?" We all laughed. The guy went back to snow blowing. The pretty girl and I walked off -- er, separately.

The only other human beings I came across on my post-blizzard stroll were working to get out from under piles of snow. Here are photos of these folks who, unlike me, are responsible adults taking the aftermath of the great blizzard of 2015 seriously.

Is this an ominous, end-of-the-world sky or what? Well, that's what the sky looked like around noontime during my stroll on the day after the Great Blizzard of 2015. Did it scare moi? No way. I enjoyed every minute of my two-hour winter wonderland adventure.

And to prove it, last and least, here is a selfie of a smirking, self-satisfied guy.  It is my first-ever selfie. And I just know that everybody out there will be calling for more -- I wish.

So long and keep moving.

P.S. You've seen photos of people shoveling themselves out and you've probably done it yourself. I didn't shovel? Right. But I have an excuse: my left hip, severe artheoarthritis. So how could I do all that walking, for a couple of hours? Pain killer. That's my only explanation. But I'll learn more on Feb. 10 when I see the orthopedic surgeon at Mass General who replaced both of my knees with great results. It could be a good story. I see a heading something like "I am Bionic Man: What Are You Doing With Those Silly Human Limbs?" 

Lucky for me, a good friend and neighbor, aware of my hip issue, warned me not to shovel and snowblowed my place. Thank you, Tom!



My Latest Novel:  Something Tells Her. Jane is abandoned at birth and then placed in ever-changing, uncaring, and often abusive foster homes. At age 12, her latest foster father makes a sexual advance on her and, with something telling her this is not right, she runs out the door. On the street, alone, no family, nobody, not even a last name, how is she going to survive?  The E-book is  available on Barnes and Noble and  Amazon. 



Other E-Books by George Pollock

"State Kid: Hero of Literacy" is fiction based on his real-life experiences growing up in foster homes; "Last Laughs," is the true story of how five foster kids (he and four younger siblings) found their way in life and each other. "Killers: Surprises in a Maximum Security Prison," is the story of his being locked up for 23 hours with killers in a maximum security prison; "I, Cadaver" is about his postmortem adventures and mischief in the anatomy lab at UMass Medical School. “A Beautiful Story” demonstrates the art and process of creative writing as a 16-year-old boy goes all out to write a story that literally saves his life. "Unlove Story," is the true story of a husband -- writing anonymously as "Elvis" -- who is dumped after 38 years of marriage and lets it all out on love, marriage, life, everything. A guy doing this? It's unheard of.


















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Monday, December 01, 2014

At the Podium: An Old Alumnus of Foster Care Speaks to Young Foster Care Alumni


My four younger siblings and I spent our entire childhoods in foster care. But now here I was, above, at the podium in the spacious, beautiful Hogan Ballroom on the Holy Cross campus before a packed gathering of alumni of foster care.

The speaker, me, a former foster kid? The audience mostly all former foster kids? It was a scene that I could never have imagined way back when I was growing up without family and as a ward of the state of Massachusetts.

I had been invited to speak by Grace Hilliard-Koshinsky, a foster alum herself and Project Director of the Massachusetts Network of Foster Care Alumni.

The audience was young, from 20 to 24, and just starting out. My four younger siblings and I were once where they are today. We all went on to build successful lives surrounded by family. At the podium, I was determined to help these young people do the same.

The schedule was tight and I had limited time. So I had to choose my words carefully if I wanted to avoid getting the hook from Grace, shown on the left, standing a few feet away behind the curtain.

In my hand was a speech full of all kinds of stories of our foster experiences. But, right there at the podium, I boiled my talk down to absolute essentials for these young people to build successful, happy lives.

"I'm not going to tell the story of our lives," I said. For that, I suggested they check out my e-book, Last Laughs, the cover of which shows the five of us laughing our fool heads off.

I pointed at a front table. "My two younger sisters, Marion and Ruby, are here today," I said. "They are very young." That got chuckles.

I then told how both found themselves alone on the street at 18, no family, no money, and worried sick about finding a safe place to sleep.

I told how Marion graduated from the Malden School of Nursing and Salem State University, and got a graduate degree in hospital administration at Boston University, going on to become Director of Nursing at Malden Hospital.

I told how Ruby graduated from Worcester State University, earned a graduate degree, and became a licensed social worker. And today she is still at it, as an administrator at a large rest home, responsible for the well-being of all the many residents.

The audience gave them a rousing round of applause.

Brothers Vic and Reggie were not at Holy Cross and I did not have the time to tell their stories. But like Marion and Ruby, both have built remarkably successful and happy lives. Both joined the U.S. Marines at 18.

Vic spent 23 years in the Marines and was seriously wounded in Vietnam. His life was saved by a miracle intestinal operation at the VA. Vic earned both a college degree and graduate degree after 14 years of evening college courses.

Reggie, the only non-college graduate, is a genius working with metal and is just as successful and satisfied with life as the rest of us. He lives with his wonderful wife Jeanette in a beautiful-- and paid for -- house in New Hampshire.

Now, how about a round of applause for Vic and Reggie? Thank you. I know they heard it.


Three days after my talk at Holy Cross, all five of us got together, along with extended family -- real family -- for a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner at nephew Glen's house in Oxford, Mass. Here we were above, from left to right: Ruby, Reggie, Vic, Marion, and me.

Now for the nitty-gritty of my talk, with telling examples from my own life. At the podium, I said: "Many years have now passed since the five of us were in foster care. I'm now 76 and at the far end of the life cycle. All of you out there have practically your whole lives and working careers ahead of you. I have four suggestions for you."

1. Turn adversity into strength.

"As foster care alumni," I said, "we have a stark choice. We can let a sad, hard, unfair experience hold us back or we can rise, rise, rise above it."

In my foster homes, I was nothing more than a boarder. I got so little attention and eye contact that I felt invisible. But I didn't buy it. I knew I deserved better. Instead of getting down on myself, I grew into one strong, independent young man.

The summer I graduated from high school and had just turned 17, I walked away. In a few weeks, I had a good-paying job in construction, an apartment, a car, and money in my pocket.

I picked up my four younger siblings from their foster homes and drove us all into Boston. I paid their way into a movie at the old RKO across from the Boston Common and bought them all the candy and popcorn they could eat. (This story also didn't make it in my Holy Cross talk.)

It was a wonderful, unforgettable day. We all remember the day like it was yesterday. We were together, as family!

2. Find out what you are good at, enjoy, and can make a living at.

In my early years in foster care, I was painfully shy, almost afraid to speak. Although physically strong and good at sports, I had no idea why I was on this earth until the 7th grade at St. Patrick's grammar school in Stoneham, Mass.

There Sister Francis Helen praised a composition of mine and had me read it aloud in class. And then she had me read my compositions regularly, holding them up as an example of good grammar, sentence structure, and continuity of thought.

Thanks to the good Sister, I found something I was good at and on which I could -- and did -- build a wonderful life.

3. Make Connections.

"Look around this auditorium," I said.  "Everybody here is a connection. Foster Care Alumni is a connection. I'm a connection. Connections are absolutely necessary in building a life. If I can help you in any way, let me know."

The first and most important connection in life is family. As an alumnus of foster care, a fractured family or no family is a huge hurdle to be overcome -- but it must be.

In my own case, connections literally saved my life. At an early age, around eight, my whole life was outside the foster home. My friends and their parents became my family and my connections. Some told me that their refrigerators were open to me any time.

I was an ice hockey player in an avid ice hockey town. In my senior year, I was captain of the Stoneham High hockey team and the parents of teammates were amazed that no family ever came to see me play. It was one of the parents who pulled strings and got me that high-paying, union construction job at age 17, a few weeks after graduation.

4. Set big, long-term goals and do whatever it takes to achieve them.

At the end of that first summer on my own, I got laid off from my construction job. My job went to somebody with a better connection at the company. Paying college tuition not an option, not wanting to take a dead-end job, not knowing what else to do, I joined the U.S. Army. On the day I joined, I promised myself that when I got out in two years, I was going to college no matter what.

A couple of months before I got out, I applied to Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass. and was accepted. I had no idea how I was going to pay the tuition, not to mention living expenses. But I WAS going and I WAS going to graduate and I WAS going to go up from there.

Wouldn't you know, but the National Defense Education Act of 1958 -- passed a few months after I got out of the army -- provided no-interest, no-payments-until graduation loans for veterans. As a veteran, I got a $3,000 federal loan (which I paid off after graduation in ten annual payments of $300). Plus I made the varsity ice hockey team as a freshman and got a full, 4-year athletic scholarship to Merrimack.

After graduation, my history professor recommended me to his alma mater, UMass Amherst, for a Research Associateship. I received free tuition in return for doing research for an expert on Africa, Dr. Gwendolyn Carter. Africa! After finishing courses for my Master's Degree, I decided to go to the Dark Continent.

Dr. Carter told me about Teachers for East Africa (TEA), a program at Columbia Teacher's College that trained and sent teachers to Kenya in East Africa. Having done practice teaching as an undergrad, I was a qualified high school teacher of English and Social Studies.

I applied, was accepted, did the training at Columbia, and went off with my new bride to teach in Kenya. It was an eye-opener. After two years teaching in Kenya, I wanted more of Africa. So, taking our new baby (Greg, born in Kenya), we went off to Nigeria, sponsored by the Hershey Chocolate Corp.

I taught in Maiduguri in northern Nigeria, just below the Sahara. It is the place where Bako Haram was born, the Muslim extremist group that is now terrorizing and killing throughout the area. My students were all Muslims. Another eye-opener!

Soon to be leaving Nigeria, I needed a job in the U.S. Thinking of myself as a writer ever since Sister Francis Helen praised my compositions in the 7th grade, I wrote a story about everyday life in Nigeria and sent it to American Education Publications in Middletown, CT.

A major educational publisher -- Weekly Reader, Current Events, Read Magazine, and paperbacks for social studies classrooms -- AEP published my story. It was read in classrooms across the U.S. and AEP offered me a job as a staff writer.  I worked there for 26 years and have been happily making a living writing and publishing ever since.

With that, I shut up.

Not only did I avoid the hook  from Grace, but she surprised me with a big smile and a warm hug. I took my seat to applause,  also a nice surprise.

To foster alumni, let me say this: I was once where you are today. I know exactly how you feel and there is certainly no easy road ahead. YOU CAN DO IT. My four siblings and I did  and you can too. Go for it!

P.S. To see my Holy Cross talk, click here.

NOTE:  I have a new short novel, Something Tells Her. Jane is abandoned at birth and then placed in ever-changing, uncaring, and often abusive foster homes. At age 12, her latest foster father makes a sexual advance on her and, with something telling her this is not right, she runs out the door. On the street, alone, no family, nobody, not even a last name, how is she going to survive?  The E-book is  available on Barnes and Noble and  Amazon. 



Other E-Books by George Pollock

"State Kid: Hero of Literacy" is fiction based on his real-life experiences growing up in foster homes; "Last Laughs," is the true story of how five foster kids (he and four younger siblings) found their way in life and each other. "Killers: Surprises in a Maximum Security Prison," is the story of his being locked up for 23 hours with killers in a maximum security prison; "I, Cadaver" is about his postmortem adventures and mischief in the anatomy lab at UMass Medical School. “A Beautiful Story” demonstrates the art and process of creative writing as a 16-year-old boy goes all out to write a story that literally saves his life. "Unlove Story," is the true story of a husband -- writing anonymously as "Elvis" -- who is dumped after 38 years of marriage and lets it all out on love, marriage, life, everything. A guy doing this? It's unheard of.

















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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

New Orleans: Celebrating a Princess's Birthday in a Fabled City.

My good wife Barbara just had a big birthday.

Neither one of us wanted a big party at home. We both knew she would just be working her tail off to make sure everybody had a good time. I wanted HER to have not just a good time -- but a great time.

"What if we went somewhere to celebrate?" I asked her.

She perked up. "Hmmm ... hmmm," she said, obviously interested.

I took that to mean yes. "Well, where would you like to go?"

Her reply was instant. "New Orleans," she said.

"New Orleans it is," I said. She broke into a huge smile. We hugged on it.

And so for 5 days we went to the birthplace of Jazz where 7-days-a-week live music is the heartbeat of New Orleans; where there is a deep cultural mix of French, Spanish, English, Americans, and waves of  slaves from Africa (plus many free Africans); where its exotic history includes Voodoo, pirates, public duels to the death, grand mansions of early tycoons from various parts of the world; and where, by no means least, its mouthwatering Creole cuisine is admired worldwide.

New Orleans is a story in itself. But I write here not so much about New Orleans, but primarily about Barbara's birthday celebration in an ancient, fabled city. And it is less "write" and more letting photos tell the story. And so here we go:

Here we are on Bourbon St. in the French Quarter. Our hotel, the Royal Sonesta, is across the street.

The princess in the Royal Sonesta lobby -- with properly uniformed servants.



                                                                                      
Milady in the lobby of the Royal Sonesta Hotel. 

                                                                          
Barbara on her birthday before dinner and a live jazz performance.

For Barbara's actual birthday dinner, I had tipped off the restaurant managers that this was her big day -- and they went all out. Bowing and scraping before the princess, they presented her with a special birthday desert.





At the after-dinner jazz performance, the female singer of the jazz group, shown below, suddenly looked at Barbara and said, "Happy birthday, Barbara" -- and began singing happy birthday to her. The whole audience joined in.

How did the jazz singer know it was Barbara's birthday? I tipped her off, of course. Barbara was taken totally by surprise. And, judging by her huge, nonstop smile, she was okay with it -- maybe more than that.



I was surprised that she was surprised. Earlier at lunch I had pulled the same trick. Saying that I had to go to the men's room, I clued in the club staff that it was her birthday. Thus, after the jazzy birthday song, in no time at all, the staff surrounded our table and presented Barbara with a birthday cake with lit candles and two glasses of champagne. A nice touch!

Here are photos of Barbara with a New Orleans lunch fit for a princess, and fellow diners clapping after yet another Happy Birthday song!



Now scenes of Bourbon Street's non-stop partying, street artists, music, and crowds -- and you never know what.

 



 


The police were on duty, but they never took me aside! They give street performers a lot of leeway. While the non-stop street entertainment is risque for sure, the police also know that it draws the free-spending crowds that feed the New Orleans economy.

However, I was taken aback by the human sculpture giving me the finger and the near-naked woman enticing and posing with passersby.

Stop! Don't go away. Let me make up for the risque scenes with more respectable ones.


Another big highlight was meeting Nikki Connor in New Orleans and spending the day with her. She is shown above with Barbara taking in a common sight, a colorful horse drawn carriage. Nikki and her sister Kim grew up next door to our house in Worcester, Mass.

As little girls, they used to knock on our door and ask if I could come out and play. After big snowstorms, the three of us would build a big snowman in our front yard. Great memories.

But now, having graduated from WPI with a BS and a Master of Engineering in biomedical engineering, Nikki is all grown up and living in Baton Rouge and starting a new job at LSU as a clinical associate at the university's health science cancer center.

Nikki came and picked us up and chauffeured us all over the place. She took us to her favorite restaurant where the three of us had lunch, talked of the old days, laughed, and had a ball. At interesting places, we got out and walked. In the course of the day, we probably walked 10 miles!

Following are photos from our great day with Nikki:


One day we spent most of the morning on a guided tour of New Orleans. Our guide and driver of the van, born in New Orleans and having lived there most of his life, told story after story as he took us to old above-ground cemeteries, along the path of Hurricane Katrina, through old neighborhoods, even past the home of Brad Pitt. (There was no sign of him, bummer.)

In the photo below, he explains why burials are above ground. The October 5 cover of  the New York Times Magazine summed it up this way: "Every hour, an acre of Louisiana sinks into the sea."

 
We also took the the St. Charles streetcar, the oldest in the world, its entire distance and back. For $1.25 each in exact change, we could ride the streetcar all day, getting off and on at interesting stops. We got off and walked around some of New Orlean's oldest, most beautiful, storied neighborhoods.

Following are photos from our streetcar hopping:



The last photo is a panorama of the swimming pool at the Royal Sonesta. Quite a change from Bourbon Street just steps away outside. I had some great swims while Barbara watched, read, looked around, and was at peace. I even caught her napping.

Mission accomplished?  I hope so.


NOTE:  I have a new short novel, Something Tells Her. Jane is abandoned at birth and then placed in ever-changing, uncaring, and often abusive foster homes. At age 12, her latest foster father makes a sexual advance on her and, with something telling her this is not right, she runs out the door. On the street, alone, no family, nobody, not even a last name, how is she going to survive?  The E-book is  available on Barnes and Noble and  Amazon. 

E-Books by George Pollock

"State Kid: Hero of Literacy" is fiction based on his real-life experiences growing up in foster homes; "Last Laughs," is the true story of how five foster kids (he and four younger siblings) found their way in life and each other. "Killers: Surprises in a Maximum Security Prison," is the story of his being locked up for 23 hours with killers in a maximum security prison; "I, Cadaver" is about his postmortem adventures and mischief in the anatomy lab at UMass Medical School. “A Beautiful Story” demonstrates the art and process of creative writing as a 16-year-old boy goes all out to write a story that literally saves his life. "Unlove Story," is the true story of a husband -- writing anonymously as "Elvis" -- who is dumped after 38 years of marriage and lets it all out on love, marriage, life, everything. A guy doing this? It's unheard of.






















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