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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

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handcuffs for babies
june 28, 2003

A number of people who read my Latelys have had strokes, or are the caregivers of people who have had strokes, and my heart goes out to all of you, or have otherwise been following my wife Mary's recovery from her own stroke, so here's an update.

One of the medications Mary has been taking since her stroke is Effexor, an anti-depressant.

The pill serves two purposes. It helps allay any depression Mary feels (people are often understandably depressed following a stroke, especially one of the severity Mary suffered), and as a beneficial side effect, Effexor and other anti-depressants can help repair some of the brain circuitry damaged by a stroke (Methylene, which Mary was on for about two months, at a very low dose, also helps speed cognitive recovery).

After Mary had been on Effexor for a year, 75 mg a day, she decided she'd like to stop. For one thing, we aren't pill-taking people. I absolutely think someone should take pills if they need to, but most of our own lives we haven't needed to. For another, Effexor does have side effects, including a decrease in appetite.

When Mary started taking Effexor, in April of 2002, she noticed a number of foods, particularly beef and bacon, tasted bad. When I asked her about it, trying to understand what "bad" meant, she said beef and bacon often had a strong sweet taste. After she had been on Effexor for a while, the problem wasn't as much that food tasted bad (although some foods still did taste bad to her), but that a lot of food had no flavor whatsoever (which makes sense. Effexor, being an anti-depressant, is a stimulant, and stimulants generally suppress appetite, which is why some people take them to lose weight. It also explains why you never see a fat speed freak).

The most recent time we went to see the physician overseeing the medical aspects of Mary's recovery, she brought up her desire to stop taking Effexor. He wrote her a prescription for reduced-dose pills, 37.5 mg each. "Fill the prescription while you still have a week's worth of the larger-dose pills left, just in case you experience any problems."

She started the reduced-dose Effexor, but found, oddly, that the lower-dose pills tended to have a initial stimulant effect stronger than the 75 mg dose, after which it would seem all effects would go away, after a few hours. Since the dose was in tablet form, rather than capsule, she tried cutting each pill in half, taking one half in the morning, the other half in mid-afternoon.

After a couple of days of that, she was down to taking a half pill in the morning only, and a day or so later, decided to stop the Effexor altogether.

I told her to let me know if she experienced any withdrawal effects. I was concerned about abruptly stopping what was a powerful medication, one she had been taking for over a year. The first few days off Effexor, she had hot and cold flashes, getting up to adjust the thermostat a few times each day, sometimes getting clammy-skinned.

She also began to occasionally feel sad, but since we knew the sadness was a result of being off the pills, we were able to talk about it each time, getting rid of it (she never felt overly sad, to the point where she would cry). I didn't notice any decline in her ability to speak, which continues to improve.

After about a week of not being on any Effexor at all, the hot and cold withdrawal effects vanished, and her taste came back.

We were getting ready to spend a day in the backyard, gardening, so ate a hearty breakfast of steak and noodles. As Mary cut and forked her way through her rib eye, she turned to me at one point and said, "This is delicious!"

Every once in a while we get a catalog from Omaha Steaks, full of pretty pictures of medium-rare beef (Omaha is a mail-order company specializing in "gourmet" steaks and other items, which are shipped frozen and raw). I've been throwing their catalogs out, because the steaks they offer seem way overpriced. (You can buy four sirloin steaks, five ounces each, for thirty-six dollars, meaning you're spending over thirty dollars a pound for sirloin. That's about four or five times the cost of USDA Choice sirloin bought in a supermarket. How good could they be to cost so much more?)

But since Mary's taste had come back, we thought, why not give Omaha Steaks a try, just to see?

The latest offer we received threw in six burger patties as well, a six piece knife set, and a small, thin cutting board. So we ordered the steaks.

I was working in the bedroom when Mary suddenly walked in holding a huge, white styrofoam bin.

I stared at the bin blankly for a moment, then remembered the Omaha order we placed a week ago.

We took it out to the table in the breakfast nook, sliced open the top. Inside, rock-hard, were our six sirloin steaks, six hamburger patties, the knives and cutting board, a lot of colorful promotional material, and, at the bin's bottom, a large sealed package labeled, Dry Ice - Do Not Touch!

We put two of the sirloins in our refrigerator to thaw, put the rest of the meat in the freezer in our garage. The next night, we barbecued the steaks on our back porch patio.

While the steaks were cooking, I flipped through the catalog they sent with our order.

Supposedly, the reason why Omaha steaks cost so much is because they raise their own cattle, the cows are grain-fed, making the meat extra tender, more flavorful, etc.

But in looking through their catalog, I noticed they've expanded to non-beef foodstuffs as well, and that the prices for these foods are also unusually high.

For example, they offer boneless chicken breasts at thirty dollars for eight breasts, each breast four ounces. That's fifteen dollars a pound for chicken breasts, which is kind of pricey. Are the chicken breasts raised under ideal circumstances like the beef supposedly is? The catalog doesn't say. For all I know, the breasts are purchased from a sub-contractor. The description says the breasts are "hand picked". What does that mean, exactly? Where are they hand-picked from? Recently-slaughtered chickens, freezer bins, or vendor catalogs? Veal T-bone steaks, admittedly hard to find, are twenty-nine dollars a pound. Veal scaloppini, meaning thinly-cut slices of veal, are thirty dollars a pound. Lamb loin chops, thirty-five dollars a pound. Asparagus, with hollandaise sauce, is twenty-seven dollars a pound. Plus, if you order any one of these items, you're also paying an additional ten dollars for standard shipping, so a pound of asparagus now costs thirty-seven dollars.

And again, where did the asparagus come from? Was the asparagus grown by Omaha Steaks, or purchased from a vendor, and if so, what was the cost to Omaha Steaks? And what is it about these asparagus that would justify them being so ridiculously expensive? I have friends who raise cattle professionally, for slaughter, and know there are a lot of unknowns in the cattle business (for example, there's no way of determining, until a cow is slaughtered, what grade its beef is, so you may be spending a lot of money on grain to fatten cows that turn out to be USDA Select, the lowest grade usually found in supermarkets, rather than USDA Prime, the highest, and rarest, grade). Which may justify a higher price for a beef merchant who offers only the very best of his or her cattle for sale, but how many cost-affecting unknowns are there to growing asparagus? You plant the crowns, wait a few years, and harvest. Even if you select only the best spears from the crop, that's still not going to cost anywhere near twenty-seven dollars a pound.

To be fair to Omaha Steaks, we ate their product three times before I posted this Lately. We had a sirloin steak each, grilled outside above charcoal; then had a hamburger patty served as a cheeseburger, the two bun halves toasted in a skillet in butter, the burger put together as follows, starting from the plate: Bottom bun half, our "special sauce", of ketchup, mayonnaise and relish, a crisp slice of iceberg lettuce, thin slice of raw red onion, slice of American cheese, the burger itself, slice of American cheese on top, thinly-sliced tomato on top of that, covered with the top bun, which was also slathered with the special sauce; then had the steak served by itself after being broiled inside, in our Kenmore Elite oven under an infra-red broiler, where the intense heat from the infra-red seals the surfaces and cooks the meat very quickly (infra-red broilers, to my taste, produce results far superior to gas or electric broilers.)

The char-broiled steak didn't impress me. The cheeseburger was good, but only because the mild flavor of the Omaha beef allowed the flavors of the sauce and vegetables to stand out more. The steak broiled under infra-red was also not impressive.

So what is my conclusion? Omaha Steaks, although they aren't graded by the USDA (there is no requirement that steaks be graded by USDA), to my belief are of a quality slightly above USDA Select, but below USDA Choice (and way below USDA Prime). As such, they are outrageously overpriced (USDA Select is the cheapest beef generally available in U.S. markets.) Angus beef, which is also ungraded by USDA, but which is generally considered to be of USDA Choice quality, produces a much better steak, at a much lower cost. If you're using Omaha beef in a dish that has a lot of surrounding flavor, such as a cheeseburger, they're acceptable. But if you're eating them on their own, you'll find they don't have a strong flavor, and are much less juicy than other brands.

This past Wednesday, Mary went in for her semi-annual eye check.

Mary has borderline glaucoma, meaning readings around 20.

This time, though, her readings were down for both eyes, to 17 and 18, a big improvement.

At one point, we were in a darkened room with a technician to test Mary's peripheral vision.

There's a small computer screen in the room, a chin rest on a stalk sitting in front, at a height about the middle of the screen. Mary has to put a patch over her left eye first (then her right), making her look like a pirate, laying her chin on the rest, holding a button in her right hand, pressing down on the button each time she sees a light on the screen. So it's like a video game.

A computer monitor to the right of the screen, tilted away from the screen, so only the technician and I can see it, records Mary's accuracy in discerning the suddenly-appearing lights. A pop-up window in the upper left of the monitor shows a gray enlargement of whichever of Mary's two eyes is being currently tested, pupil, iris, veins you never knew were in the eye.

Again, she did really well.

At one point during the testing, I looked around the darkened room, and saw that on a table directly behind Mary was an opened wooden briefcase, lying flat on the table, in which row after row of lenses were neatly stored, probably a hundred in all. They looked like really fancy transparent poker chips.

I stared at the rows of felt-stored lenses, trying to figure out what they reminded me of. Each lens was circumferenced three-quarters by metal, the last quarter the transparent rim of the lens. Then I realized, they remind me of handcuffs. But because of their diminutive size, handcuffs for babies.

I mentioned last column I had lost the ability to subtract, but when I sat down at the breakfast nook table this morning to update our checkbook while Mary prepared the Omaha Steaks for the infra-red broiler, my ability suddenly came back after all these months. I don't have a clue why (I don't believe it had anything to do with the Omaha steaks. Sorry, Omaha).

This next part is going to sound like I made it up, but I swear it's true. After we had our steaks in the bedroom (we eat all our meals in bed), Mary took the empty plates back out to the kitchen, returning with the checkbook register, the little booklet where you subtract checks from the account balance, in her right hand.

Lady, one of our cats, had chewed through the page I worked on that morning, destroying all my perfect subtractions, the page itself gnawed into a little jigsaw with the crucial right-column jigsaw pieces, where my subtractions were made, missing.

But at least I know now I can re-do it.