My Experience with Meniere’s Syndrome : Carlos B. Gil

I’ve had Meniere’s Syndrome for more than 30 years and I’ve learned to live with it because I had no choice. I call it my Dizzies. My family knows about it well; they too live with my Meniere’s. I won’t die from it but I will die with it.

What Meniere’s Syndrome is to me:

I began having disquieting vertigo in the 1980s which sent me to my doctors at Group Health (now Kaiser Permanente) who diagnosed it soon enough. For unknown reasons my left inner ear canal had become extra sensitive to its liquid filling, they said, and the reaction of the canal’s cilia to the pressure caused my vertigo, or dizziness, and lack of balance. (Meniere’s causes loss of hearing and so I’m half deaf in my left ear.) In order to be well I needed to reduce the pressure inside my inner ear.     What I had to do:

In order to lower the pressure I had to reduce my salt intake dramatically or undergo what I considered dubious surgery. Salt or sodium helps retain water or liquid therefore increases the pressure. In reducing my salt, or sodium intake (salt is mostly sodium chloride), the doctors told me to aim at consuming no more than 1500 milligrams of sodium per day. Just to give me an idea, they informed me that one teaspoon of salt contains 2,325 mgs of sodium and one piece of bacon contains about 900 mgs. The doctors also prescribed a water pill a day, minimum, because it would make me pee more than usual, thus reducing the liquid pressure in my body including my inner ear.

It took me a long time to discover how to keep my sodium intake at less than 1500 milligrams, and the doctors didn’t help me with the details. I had to learn on my own. I caught on after lots of dizzy episodes that usually turned into bouts of nausea and vomiting, in addition to the consequent loss of energy. It also took me a long time to begin to learn the rhythm that my body had to go through in these episodes: the dizziness, then the nausea followed by intense vomiting, then wanting to sleep, then the slow repair of my body accompanied by extremely carefully eating. Each episode included these stages. I call it “falling off the cliff.”       In my case, each episode took about four to 5 days to take its full course.

Where sodium resides: 

Slowly and painfully, I learned about sodium, and where it resides. I made enough lists and notes that I can tell you approximately how much sodium naturally resides in fish or meat, etc., without having to look it up. A lot of food contains sodium even before you cook it or season it. Most bottled or canned ingredients already contain sodium, and beware of baking powder and baking soda! Furthermore, sea salt is salt, pink salt is salt. Any kind of salt is salt; not for me.  I use substitute salt, a very important dietary aid. It is made of potassium chloride and I understand that overdoses or under doses can send you to the hospital. In my case, my water pill expels potassium so whatever salt substitute I add manually evens things out. I medically check my sodium and potassium twice a year.

For me, at least, limiting my sodium intake and taking a water pill a day has helped me stay on an even keel. If I take these measures, steadily, I can control my normality. I walk, I jog, I ride my bike, get on the roof if necessary, and so on.

How I adjusted my eating habits:

I learned soon enough that the safest eating for me was at home, and since I had already learned to cook, I took over the kitchen with greater intent.

However, I’m not a hermit. I may be retired, but I do have to go out every so often, and that means I have to eat out. In fact, I like to eat out, and that’s where the risks begin.

So, I learned to eat out with great care. I became more aware than ever about how restaurants in the U.S. prepare their food; that most do not prepare their fare from scratch; it comes into their kitchens through the back door, semi-prepared and duly salted already. Almost all franchise operations do this, from McDonalds and Burger Kings and IHOPs to Red Robins, Red Lobsters, Applebee’s, and Denny’s. I began making mental lists of eateries that can cook from scratch; they are usually more expensive, but they also serve better food. These non-franchise eateries don’t have crowds of waiting patrons, and their kitchens are more liable to respond to my requests.

Menieres seafood restaurant

I also discovered that chefs don’t always listen to their waiters or waitresses. You can tell your server, “no salt,” or “take it easy on the salt,” but cooks may dismiss his/her words. Often they’re too rushed. Sometimes they know nothing about what constitutes low sodium meals. Or, they can do little about it, especially if it’s a franchise kind of place.

I was raised on Mexican food but I learned to stay away from it when eating out, because they, and most ethnic restaurants, prepare almost everything ahead. No cooking from scratch there. Asian eateries rely on bottled or canned ingredients to add to their sauces (fish, shellfish, oyster, soy), and these are already teeming with sodium. I “paid” a lot to learn this. As much as I would enjoy Asian food, I stay away. I love food with distinctive seasoning, so you can imagine how hard it has been for me. Thank goodness, Indian fare relies on super complex herbs and spices which seem to require less salt, so I’m more willing to risk it there, from time to time (I love curries).

I travelled in the past and continue to do so, and so I’m known to travel with a “kitchen bag.” It contains a pot or two, a hot plate, extension cords, a knife, and a couple of dishware items. The idea is to allow me to cook if necessary. I’ve traveled with my kitchen bag in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. My usual eating plan when traveling is to try to eat out once a day, in order to taste the local stuff, and eat in safely as much as I can, in my hotel room, if necessary. This way I avoid gobbling a seasoned dish because I’m ravenous. Thank goodness, most restaurants outside of the United States still cook from scratch! Also, I drink wine with my food and so I am thankful it is free of sodium.

Listening to my body:

I have also learned to heed my own body signals. This may not apply to you, but I’m convinced I can tell when the sodium level in my body is getting high. People with Menieres usually have tinnitus: ringing, hissing, or buzzing. I get a hiss and I’ve learned to detect its differing levels. Louder or stronger means I’ve consumed too much sodium. I usually get a “spike” about 2-3 hours after a meal especially if I’ve eaten fish or meat. If my sodium level was low before eating, the spike will dissipate overnight. When I’ve been a bad boy, I’ll also see flashes inside my eyelids when I squint, in addition to the high hiss. If that happens, I know I’m in trouble, and am likely to get dizzy and expect the rhythm mentioned above sooner or later. My body doesn’t forgive; it’s like a machine set into motion and it doesn’t stop until it is finished. Regarding my body signals, when I share them with doctors they look at my quizzically.

I’m also convinced that when I travel to sunny and warm climates (I live in Seattle) my in-the-body sodium level makes adjustments. I hypothesize that in warm or hot climates I perspire, more than in Seattle, expelling sodium along with other body wastes. So, my balancing act (having too much or too little sodium) shifts. When I return to cool, or cold Seattle, I usually “fall off the cliff,” to some extent, because I’m out of balance. The “fall” is sometimes hard, sometimes not so hard. My doctors don’t appreciate my sunny climate hypothesis either.

Is there a silver lining?

Is there any good in any of this, I ask myself from time to time? Maladies are always comparable. Who is worse off than I am, I ask? You may not believe it, but at my age, I feel fortunate to be in good health, except for my Meniere’s and my Psoriasis (let’s not go there!). Still, is there a silver lining in the dreadful details above?

I think so. My Meniere’s diet keeps me disciplined. I really have no choice, because if I go off balance I pay dearly with 4 or 5 miserable days. So, I stay in line. Moreover, my food discipline, as outlined above, forces me to eat intelligently and healthily. And, vegetable-based food is relatively free of sodium, as are fruit, nuts and grains. And, this is what health gurus preach today, hence I’m already doing it! So, there you are! I’m eating according to the gurus and I’m not a guru guy. Eating this way might help me live longer, anyway (and enjoy my wine longer too!)

Final thoughts:

I’m aware that not everyone with Meniere’s goes through what I’ve gone through (and getting dizzy does not necessarily mean you have Meniere’s!). It’s worse for some, not so bad for others. And, I must confess, I haven’t seen my Meniere’s doctor in a long time because all he/she does is measure my hearing loss, so I stopped going. Also, there may be new findings about Meniere’s. I need to find out. In the meantime, I’ll follow my regime described above.

If you have some degree of Meniere’s I hope you can appreciate my experience. I can live with it and perhaps you might too.

My Reactions to “The Vietnam War,” a film.     In Two Parts.

My Reactions to The Vietnam War, a film.     In Two Parts.

By Carlos B. Gil

Part I

PBS broadcast The Vietnam War, a documentary by Ken Burns, during the month of September 2017. The 10-part series received a lot of publicity, so I spent numerous hours watching it because the war itself had a strong impact on me. You may have seen it too, or heard about it. I know it affected most Americans of my generation. You may have known someone stirred by it, perhaps more than stirred.

I was a young Foreign Service Officer working for the State Department when we really got involved in Vietnam (“we,” the U.S.), first in Honduras (1963 to 1965), then in Chile (1965 to 1968). I was in my early 30’s and served as an Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer assigned to work in the Binational Center Program organized by the United States Information Agency. This is one reason I did not serve in Vietnam: I was already serving the government. Another is that I already possessed a discharge from the Air Force Reserve; and thirdly, I was married with children.

Some of the young Hondurans I worked with began asking me about the war and why the United States was sending soldiers there. I didn’t have a good answer, even as local newspapers reported our increasing involvement. The Burns film reminded me that the number of our troops rose to about 3,500 the year I finished my duties in Honduras, 1965, and got transferred to Chile. While in Honduras, I tried to obtain information but didn’t get too far. There was no Internet, of course. I remember that our induction training in Washington D.C., in 1963, included “counter insurgency programs” which we were applying in Vietnam but I think it was too early to provide us with a more solid rationale. None of us working for the United States Embassy in Honduras really had a good answer, outside of the pro-forma “communist menace,” that North Vietnam was supposed to have represented. This explanation was satisfactory in the beginning but it began to weaken in my mind. In any case, we didn’t have “canned” answers, and my recently obtained Master’s Degree in Latin American Studies from Georgetown University, helped little.

Burns’s film reminds us that the Cold War became the only way we Americans came to understand our presence in Vietnam. It was America vs. the “communists.” That made it easy, if you didn’t think about it too much. The film emphasized the fact that the Vietnamese people saw it both as a civil war, between the North Vietnam and the South Vietnam, and a colonial war. We represented the colonial power they wanted to get rid of because our soldiers were physically on their land killing their people and destroying their farms and cities. The film reveals this in a horrifying way. It also stresses how our involvement in the war was the result of complex political factors. A war is always a political act. We place our soldiers in harm’s way for political reasons, casting a shadow of ambiguity on patriotism.

I felt the impact of the war more in Chile than in Honduras. One reason was that our involvement in Vietnam became more intense and controversial while I was working in Chile. The bloody Tet Offensive, which served as a watershed event, took place in 1968. That was my final year in that South American country, when the number of our soldiers fighting there rose to 53,000, and I put my growing family on a plane to return home. All hell was breaking loose at home too because of the war.

There is another reason why I write this article. The Cold War, along with the Vietnam War, took on a special meaning for me in Chile because Chile became the locus of a diplomatic tug of war between the United States and forces on the Left, including Communists. The country where my son, Carlos, was born, served like a playing field between “us,” the Americans, and “them,” the Leftists. Moreover, I became personally involved, as I was the only U.S. representative in my district. Please note that I am the first to admit that my role was peripheral and microscopic for the reason that I was just an Assistant Cultural Attache, a minor figure; however, it cast an imprint on me so I’m writing about it for the first time. (End of Part I)

Donald Trump’s Administration is “On The Rocks”

In just the fifth month of Donald Trump’s presidency his administration is beginning to go under, like a ship striking rocks underwater. He is the captain and he is both angry and confused.

This slow motion catastrophe is an amazing thing to witness.

  • He insisted his real estate business experience was more than sufficient to command the White House and the nation, but disorder rules the day;
  • He thought he could apply intimidation to national and international politics, but he’s only propagated confusion;
  • He didn’t have the right kind of team to help him refine his political agenda in order to drive it forward, so he’s had to rely on family members and old business buddies whose decisions are breaking the rulebook and alienating American citizens;
  • Not endowed with careful reasoning and unable to take advice, he’s stepped over the line of right and wrong repeatedly, and
  • His uncontrolled ego articulated in the form of thoughtless statements poured mostly into his Twitter account will now be used against him.

As a result of these and other flaws, his presidency is sinking because Mr. Trump now stands on the brink of being charged for a variety of illegal acts including criminal charges. One of them is obstructing justice because he asked James Comey, the former FBI director, to disregard evidence that his advisors were getting involved with Russian agents, “that this Russia thing…is a made up story,” he stated on television. This is an example of Trump’s careless thinking and offhand speaking with perilous consequences.

Other blunders and transgressions are being investigated.

What’s also amazing is that more than 60 million Americans voted for Mr. Trump which means that they failed to see he was unfit to run the ship of state properly.

Trump is between a rock and a hard place.

This is a short political note:

If you’ve been watching the news you’ll agree with me that President Trump is between a rock and a hard place. During the presidential campaign last year I shared my view with many of you that he would become the most inept and inappropriate person to ever serve in the White House. Unfortunately, my prediction was right on.

  • He is only in his 4th month in office and the word “impeachment” is beginning to swirl in the air.
  • And, a special attorney has already been named to investigate him (see his photo).
  • And, for starters, the investigation is about his connections with the Russians and those of the people working for him.
  • And, it seems that the entanglements of Trump’s people with our sworn enemies are only beginning to come to the surface.

Keep an eye on the newspapers!

P.S. Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel appointed to investigate Mr. Trump (see the photo), represents in my mind the kind of dedicated official that our government relies on to do its job, despite the ineptitude of the politicians at the top, in a crisis and when there is none. I worked for the feds and I came to know folks like him. The ones I knew impressed me a lot because they always tried to do their job right. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t “buy” the Republican chant that raises suspicion on our government. I’m glad people like him are there and I hope the wrong-headed incapacity of Trump’s confederates doesn’t scare them away.

May 19, 2017

MEXICAN CARDINAL CONDEMNS TRUMP’S BORDER WALL AS IMMORAL AND BIGOTED

The head of the Mexican Catholic Church condemned President Trump’s proposed border wall in the harshest words I’ve seen so far. He also blasted any Mexican company willing to help build the wall, and he also threw a strong jab at Mexican government officials for not speaking more forcefully on the matter.

A March 26, 2017 article in a leading Mexico City daily printed the hard-hitting words of Norberto Rivera Carrera, Cardinal and Archbishop of Mexico, condemning President Trump’s wall project as “immoral” and “bigoted.” He said that “Trump’s wall can only nurture discrimination and serve to subjugate millions of people.”

The article in El Universal referred, first, to President Trump allotting 2 billion dollars to build the wall, and, second, to Mexican contractors announcing their interest in bidding for it. Archbishop Rivera condemned the move by Mexican entrepreneurs in no uncertain terms: “It would be immoral for any [Mexican] company intending to invest in the wall of that zealot Trump, but more than anything else, the shareholders and owners ought to be considered traitors of the nation.” These are strong words indeed!

El Universal quoted from an editorial entitled “The Betrayal of the Nation,” printed in a church weekly by the name of Desde la Fe, issued on the same date.

The Cardinal added that the companies justifying their actions as “job producing” was nothing more than bogus; what they want, he stated, is to profit from the “shameful wall.” He lamented businessmen in Mexico who would collaborate in such a bigoted enterprise. “Taking part in a project that affronts human dignity is to shoot yourself in the foot.”

He also lambasted the government’s pussy-footing about it by parroting that the United States may do whatever it wants on its side of the border. But, “it is the usual short-sighted people who cannot see that the wall represents a threat that can only weaken the relations between the two countries and endanger peace.”

Referring to President Trump’s drive to deport undocumented workers from the United States, the church leader considered it “showing off the power to terrorize, by deporting people who have not committed a crime or faulted a regulation, according to law.”

Regarding the wall, he also declared that it “represents a monument to intimidation and silencing, it symbolizes xenophobic hate that seeks to drown out the voices of ill paid and ill-treated workers, of families who lack protection and of people who are violated.”

The idea of a wall represents “a departure from the noblest desires of mankind[; it is a retreat] which has brought much shedding of blood; it is a prelude to the destruction of democratic values and social rights.” He also added, “The wall represents the power of a country that is considered good, [yet endowed] with a manifest destiny to overwhelm a nation that it considers perverted and corrupt: Mexico.”

–Carlos B. Gil