Life Sucks (and here’s why): A personal post

I haven’t posted on this blog as frequently as I normally do, but I’m going through a lot right now in my personal life. Please forgive me as I write this out as a cathartic exercise. (Those of you who only care about my political posts can stop now).

Let’s start with Marcia.

MARCIA FLAMMONDE was a real bohemian in Greenwich Village in the early ’60s. She appeared in off-Broadway plays and worked selling antiques. With Ukranian Jewish blood, you could be sure she always spoke her mind.

Her husband Paris Flammonde had a talk radio show where he interviewed and made friends with some of the New York science fiction community, including Isaac Asimov and Lester Del Rey. He loved secrets and conspiracy theories and wrote a few non-fiction books of his own. His biggest seller was “UFOs Exist” (which I read as a kid).

Paris, as painted by Marcia

In the 80s, they moved to the beautiful Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, buying a house that had been converted from an old barn. It had high ceilings, exposed beams, and lots of bookshelves, which Paris immediately filled. There were four acres of woods and a large back yard with a small pond and a beautiful creek.

Paris continued to write, including a huge three book treatise on the JFK assassination, and Marcia took up painting. Her work began selling and it was shown in local galleries.

We moved to the Poconos in 1997. My wife Heidi Hooper is an artist and through the local art community, got to know Marcia and Paris. We loved visiting them in their beautiful house.

But things were not going well for the two. Money was scarce. Paris’ books weren’t selling and they were both basically getting by on social security. They took an escrow loan out on the house to pay the bills.

And then, about ten years ago, Paris died.

Marcia knew she couldn’t afford to keep the house, but also did not want to leave. So, after some discussions, we decided to buy the house from her by paying off her loan, with the agreement that she could live there for the rest of her life rent-free.

This worked out for both of us. We could never have been able to afford what the house is really worth, and the house was large enough that we could also easily split it in half. The back of the house had a separate bathroom and a room that could easily turn into a kitchen and laundry room. We built a temporary wall in the hallway connecting the two sides to give us both privacy, and bought Marcia a refrigerator and stove and apartment-sized washer and dryer combo. She had the back entrance and we had the front.

Marcia portrait by her friend Ka-son Reeves

Marcia continued to paint, and Heidi was glad to have someone to visit from time to time. Every year, we’d add something to the house to improve both our and Marcia’s life, including propane fireplaces, a generator, ductless air conditioning, and so on. Marcia was able to live comfortably on her social security income without worrying about rent or utilities.

And then, about six months ago, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

A more recent Marcia self-portrait

This is an incurable cancer. The doctors told her they could use all sorts of chemo and radiation but all it would do would be to extend her life another six months or so, and it would be painful. She said no. She said she wanted to go peacefully on her own. As an atheist, she handled it well, knowing this would be the end, and accepted her fate.

We helped her as she got thinner and weaker and had friends visit to watch over her and help her. Nurses were assigned to come and visit every few days to check on her and take care of her, and for the past two weeks or so, we made sure someone was staying with her at all times, by putting a small bed in her room.

Last night, her pain was unbearable to the point where I called the nurse. The nurse came and did everything she could, but it was clear that the extra medication was doing no good. Although Marcia said she always wanted to die in the house, when she was told that the best way to fight the pain was to go to the hospice, she agreed. An ambulance was called, and arrived around 3 a.m.

She died soon after arriving there.

So here’s to Marcia Flammonde — a true individual.

Now let me talk about my wife.

HEIDI HOOPER is the world’s most famous dryer lint artist, appearing on national TV and in magazines and shows all over. But how she got that way is interesting and sad.

I love this picture of Heidi with Mel Brooks when Heidi was a guest on ABC TV’s “To Tell the Truth”

Heidi was a metalsmith with a Master’s Degree in art. She had a booth at the New York Renaissance Faire selling her armor, and her smaller work could be found in galleries around the country. And then, in 1999 or so, she was diagnosed with a type of cancer called a desmoid tumor. It was a microscopic cancer that ate away at her right arm. She went through years of treatments, including radiation, and eventually the doctors were able to save her arm — but her entire upper muscle had to be removed. They took a muscle from her back to patch onto her arm just to protect the bone, but she had no use of it and cannot feel anything there.

This gave her lymphedema and they provided her with a machine she could place her arm in when the absence of lymph nodes would cause the arm to get infected and swell up.

Heidi is a DES child. That’s a medication they used to give to pregnant mothers in the 50s and 60s before they determined it caused birth defects. Heidi had previously had other tumors removed and had constantly had health problems, so in some way, this was not surprising.

Then, a few years ago, her machine broke and the insurance company gave us such a hassle about providing a replacement that she went some time without the treatment. This caused her arm to get infected and for her lymphedema to reach stage two. She now has to get into that machine three times a day for the rest of her life, for an hour each time. So not only does she have even less strength and agility in her right arm (and yes, she’s right-handed), she spends three hours a day doing nothing but sitting there. She also has to wear a tight-fitting sleeve on her arm 24 hours a day.

She has been unable to drive since the original operation and unable to work because of the need to rest often and her limited mobility. She had to find another way to make art since she could no longer work with metal, so she tried many things and ended up with dryer lint.

Then last year, she slipped on the ice and broke the wrist in her other hand. Two operations haven’t made things much better, so she has even less control now, and I have to do much of the housework and cooking and cleaning and so on. At least they finally have her on medical marijuana, which has helped her tremendously with her pain and has kept her mind clearer than when she was on the heavy duty painkillers previously.

Heidi’s latest dryer lint piece: “Mrs. Premise’s Tango Lesson”

But she never gave up, and last year, the local chapter of the American Cancer Society gave her the Bravery Award and featured her in their telethon.

Then around two months ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

We kept that secret from Marcia and hardly told anyone else for fear it would get back to her. We were afraid that this extra news would stress Marcia to the point where it would affect her health. And although Marcia was indeed suspicious of all the doctor visits I was taking Heidi to, we were able to keep this secret.

So Marcia is gone now. We are meeting with Heidi’s doctor in a few days who will tell us the results of her biopsy, but we’re expecting she will have to go through radiation treatment again and probably have a mastectomy. (The only good news is that science has progressed to the point where maybe, when this is all over, she can have a lymph node transplant.)

So if I seem out of it, stressed, or upset a lot lately, you will know why.

“How can we help?” I know some of you will ask. And we appreciate that. We do have insurance but of course it doesn’t pay for everything. We’re not rich but at the same time, we’re not poor, so there are people who need your help more than we do.

However, if you want to support Heidi, maybe become a patron of hers. Even a dollar shows you care, and she very much appreciates it. I think the number of patrons is more important to her than how much they pledge. And you’ll get something out of it too…She always gives her patrons a gift every year (signed prints, a calendar, etc.) with her artwork.

Otherwise, just let her know you’re thinking of her. If you are friends with her, send her a message, give her a call. That will mean a lot to both of us.

OK, thanks for taking the time to read this. I needed this.

Drugs, Pain, and Marijuana: My wife’s journey

Around the turn of the century, Heidi Hooper (my wife of thirty some years) had a cancerous tumor growing in her arm and didn’t know it. She thought it was just a muscle spasm. Since we had no medical insurance at the time, we didn’t go to see a doctor until it was too late.

Dozens of operations and radiation treatments later, she ended up with her upper arm removed completely and a muscle from her back spliced into her arm solely as protection for the bone. (Fortunately, we had health insurance by then.) She has no feeling in that spot, and is in constant pain.

After the operation, the doctor had her on oxycodone for the pain because, you know, that’s what doctors do. When Heidi complained that they weren’t working after a while, he explained to her that your body becomes addicted to these things and needs more, because your body stops fighting the pain on  your own. That scared Heidi so much, she went cold turkey. There were many sleepless nights with sweats and pain as she forced her body to adjust. The doctor then placed her on gabapentin, a less harsh painkiller which worked well enough.

I love this picture of Heidi with Mel Brooks when Heidi was a guest on ABC TV’s “To Tell the Truth”

Her arm had developed lymphedema since she has no lymph nodes, and it would get inflamed and send her to the hospital a few times a year. Finally, the insurance company agreed to give her a machine that would massage the liquids in her arm to keep them from building up and causing the infections.

In the meantime, the body adjusted to the gabapentin and each few years, she would need the dosage to be upped.

Last year, the lympehdema machine finally broke down, having lasted longer than originally guaranteed.  The insurance company took months to replace it, and perhaps because of that, Heidi ended up in the hospital four times and her arm progressed to stage two lymphedema. She now has to get into that stupid machine three times a day for an hour each time.

However, there is good news.

Medical marijuana became available in Pennsylvania. I had previously written about my skepticism of this so-called wonder drug, but thought it was at least worth checking out. We finally found a doctor willing to prescribe it down in Allentown (about 45 minutes away) who, coincidentally enough, graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University the same year we did (although from the medical college there). He gave her marinol pills and if the pain was really bad, she could use a vape (which she hates because of the smoke). Pennsylvania now also has the liquid drops which she prefers.  She takes enough to kill the pain and doesn’t get high from it.

She slowly reduced her gabapentin dosages and went through a month of feeling like she had the constant flu. After a while, she was only on the medical marijuana, and what a difference.  As I wrote before, it was a huge change for her. The pain was much less, and more importantly, her mind was not clouded by the gabapentin. She used to complain about not remembering things and losing her train of thought, and now, finally, I can have long conversations with her for the first time in twenty years.  “All the friends I made over the past twenty years must think I’m an airhead,” she worried to me recently.

But here’s the best news:

For the last few weeks, she has felt absolutely great. She has not needed the vape or the drops at all. She says she hasn’t felt that good since before the operations.

I emailed the doctor to ask him about it, and here’s what he replied:  “I would certainly bet on the Gabapentin.  I think this is one of the worst drugs ever perpetrated on the public.  The fact that Heidi continues to do better and better by your account and every time I have seen her would dovetail with the continued absence of this drug and the longstanding side effects.  That is just unbelievable news and I am just thrilled beyond anything you can imagine.”

So here’s another affirmation of the dangers of all these drugs Big Pharma throws at you while fighting against legalizing a drug that actually works much much better. And let’s hear it for Heidi!

(Plug:  If you want to support Heidi and encourage her after all she’s been through, why not become a patron of her art? Even a dollar a month means a lot to her!)

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This is 3 feet by 4 feet and made entirely out of dryer lint

 

To Tell The Truth!

My award-winning artist wife Heidi Hooper will be a guest on the ABC TV show “To Tell the Truth” this Sunday, June 17th, 10 pm EST.  Heidi makes art out of dryer lint! Consumer Reports has called her “The Andy Warhol of Dryer Lint” and To Tell The Truth flew us out to Hollywood (all expenses paid!) to film the show last summer — and it’s finally going to be on!

Please watch and support her!

1134728318_10157404840883306_7148639091830030336_n34813378_10157404841648306_4230411089977802752_nHeidi and Mel

I was wrong about medical marijuana

I’ve always been a skeptic and a cynic, so when I saw all the people saying marijuana was a miracle drug, I didn’t believe them — especially when they’d make outrageous claims like it cures cancer. (It doesn’t.)

I just assumed it helped with pain in the same way drinking enough wine kills the pain, and that people who wanted medical marijuana were just looking for excuses to use it legally.

Mind you, I always thought (and still do think) that marijuana should be legal for recreational use anyway. I just didn’t believe all the hype.

marijana-map-01-22-2018

Now let me tell you about my wife, award-winning artist Heidi Hooper. Heidi studied metalsmithing for her Master’s Degree and taught courses at the Massachusetts College of Art. Her work was shown in galleries all over the country.

Then she got a cancerous tumor that ate away her right arm muscle. After years of operations and radiation treatments, they saved her arm but the muscle was removed completely and in order to keep the bone from being exposed, they took a muscle out of her back and laid it over her arm, just for protection. She doesn’t feel a thing on that flap of skin, but for a dozen years or so now, she has been in constant pain overall and has to get into a lymphedema machine every once in a while or her arm swells up and we have to rush her to the hospital.

Since the operation, they’ve had her on gabapentin which deadens the nerves. It still doesn’t help when the weather is bad or when she uses her arm too much. She’d often have to drink wine or rum on top of it just to kill it enough to get some sleep at night.

However, she refused to give up her artwork and eventually found her niche with dryer lint art. She’s won awards for it, sells it for thousands of dollars, has it in galleries, and is in Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museums (and their books). She’ll be a guest on ABC TV’s “To Tell the Truth” soon (“Which one is the real dryer lint artist?”).

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Here she is with Mel Brooks on the “To Tell The Truth” set

But here’s the thing: Medical marijuana is now legal in Pennsylvania, and if anyone is eligible for it, it’s someone like her. The doctor put her on marinol pills and then she has a vape that she uses when the pain is really bad. They weaned her off the gabapentin and there were a few weeks of withdrawal where she did little but lie in bed because she said she felt like she had the constant flu.

The withdrawal symptoms have subsided but not left completely, but the amazing thing is how well the marijuana is working without making her feel high. As someone explained to me, when you’re at -5, it raises you to zero so you feel normal. And that’s what she says — she hasn’t felt this “normal” in years.

Even better, she’s thinking clearer, as if a cloud has lifted. “I used to lose my train of thought in the middle of a sentence, or walk into a room and not remember why I did so. It’s so great to be able to be aware and clear.”

I know, I know, that goes against the pot cliche, but it’s true — and compared to the other medication she was on, it’s practically a miracle.

So I’m a convert. I was wrong. It doesn’t just make you high to the point where it kills the pain. It really works.

Now let’s hope the Governor can convince the legislature to legalize it. Although her marinol pills are covered by insurance, the vape is not and it’s expensive!

EDIT:  Being a nonsmoker, Heidi always hated the vape and gave it up after I wrote this. She now uses the tincture, which works just as well although not as fast.

(Plug:  If you want to support Heidi and encourage her after all she’s been through, why not become a patron of her art? Even a dollar a month means a lot to her!)

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This is 3 feet by 4 feet and made entirely out of dryer lint

My fun with an artist scam artist

My wife Heidi Hooper is an award-winning artist who specializes in, believe it or not, dryer lint art. Seriously, she’s in Ripley’s Believe it or Not museums around the world (and in their books) and will soon be seen on a major TV show that we can’t tell you about yet.

So she sometimes gets people emailing her to buy her artwork or to ask for a special piece made just for them. But since I’m the lawyer and the writer, she often asks me to answer her email for her when these transactions come about.

docsplayingpoker72

“Docs Playing Poker” by Heidi Hooper

So today she received this request:

Hello,

My name is Rob Carter from Virginia.. I was looking for some artwork online and I found your contact and works while searching and I must tell you, You are doing a great job, I would really love to purchase some of your works for my wife as a surprise present regarding our forthcoming 20th anniversary, I would like to receive further information about your piece of work and what inspires you..Also, kindly email me back with some images and price list of your inventory that is ready for immediate sales within my price range ($2,000- $13,000).. Hope to hear from you soon..

Thanks and best regards.

I was immediately suspicious. No mention of her unusual work? No description of the art? Just “Hello, I want art. Please sell me some.” But just in case it really was a legitimate offer, we sent this response:

You can see all my work on my web page (www.HeidiHooper.com) with the prices.  Just let me know what you like. And if you want a special order, let me know that as well. – Heidi

Soon the response came in:

Hello Heidi, thanks for writing back it’s nice hearing from you… Well, Can you please let me know the availability and pricing of this painting (Docs Playing Poker)? Kindly confirm the availability and pricing asap. Hope to hear from you soon, Rob.

Well, at least he looked at the website. But “Docs Playing Poker” is hardly a “painting” since it’s made out of dryer lint. And you’d think he’d make some comment like, “I want that one because my wife loves Dr. Who.” So we replied:

One of my favorites, as I’m clearly a Dr. Who fan. They’re all cheating, too.  That’s one of the larger pieces, 24 x 36 (not counting the frame, which is of course included). It sells for $5500.  Shipping would be extra, and I usually send them overnight because then it’s all insured and everything. That way you could get it for Christmas.  Where in Virginia are you?  I’m originally from Richmond and got my undergraduate degree in sculpting from VCU. I look forward to hearing from you. – Heidi

Note that since he mentioned Virginia, we did too just to see if he knew anything about Virginia. His response did not mention that, but he did start to run the scam now, thinking we were all excited about making that much money:

Dear Heidi, Thanks for writing back it’s nice hearing from you.. I must tell you I intend to give my wife a surprise with the immediate purchase of the piece. Also If you’d like to know, I’m relocating to the Philippines soon and our wedding anniversary is fast approaching. So I’m trying to gather some good stuff to make this event a memorable one.. I’m okay with the painting and price (Docs playing poker $5,500) I think it’s worth it anyway, so I’ll be sending a Check..

As regarding shipping, you don’t have to worry about that in order not to leave any clue to my wife for the surprise, as soon as you receive  the check and it clears with you, my shipping agent (who is also moving my personal effect) will contact you to arrange pick-up..

I would have come to purchase the piece myself but, at the moment, am on training voyage to the North Atlantic Ocean (I’m an ocean engineer) with new hires who are fresh from graduate school and won’t be back for another couple of weeks..

Regards!

PS: In the meantime, kindly get back to me with your full name (you want the check payable to) cell phone no. and mailing address (preferably for USPS or FED-EX not P.O box) where a check can be mailed to so I can get the check prepared and have it mailed out to you asap..

Here’s where it’s clear, and I’m mostly sharing this with you so that you don’t fall for these kinds of scams. Usually, it’s done when people are selling things through ebay or something, but they only want to send you a check and they want your phone number (because it’s easier to con you by phone) and your address.

So we responded as follows:

If you want to rush this, you can PayPal me at HeidiHooper1@gmail.com. Thanks!

Check payable to Heidi Hooper, PO Box 349, Tannersville, PA 18372

You can call my husband at his office if you have any problems:  570-629-6322

Note that we specifically did not give out our home address, and that phone number? Goes right to my law office.

This is how this scam works: They give you a bad check, usually from a fake bank or a bank far away, and they overpay and ask for you to refund them. Then the check bounces and you’ve just lost not only the money you gave them but the item you sold them as well. (Here’s a detailed article from Snopes on how this scam works.)

So, predictably, the next email from him was a bit more emphatic about how he would have someone come by to pick up the art and all we’d have to do is pay that person for picking it up — from the check he was sending, of course.

Dear Heidi, Thanks for the details which I’ve noted down, My wife handles the family credit card/bank issues, and in order not to leave any clue to her for the surprise,  I’ve contacted a client of mine to issue out a check which will include my shipping agent fees to you, But courtesy demand I must first appeal to your self interest and ask for your help in remitting the overage (after deducting your fee for the piece) to the shipping agent as soon as the check clears..

I would have handled this much differently if I’d been at home but am a bit pressed for time as our anniversary is fast approaching and do not have access to a lot of cash over here to expedite this transaction…. trying to kill two birds with a stone. kindly deduct any tax incurred on the overage before giving the balance the shipping agent, they are not sending any bill or holding you responsible for the payment of my shipping contract with them..

I am really sorry for the mix up and will appreciate if you get back to me asap to know if i can entrust you with this transaction..

Many thanks and talk to you soon..

To which we replied:

No, sorry, you need to take care of paying your shipping agent yourself.  I can arrange for the piece to be able to be picked up at my husband’s law office for you though so it can be done quickly. If you use a money order, then we don’t have to wait for it to clear. 

And then it was quiet. Perhaps the mention of the “law office” made our art collector change his mind.

So please beware of this very common scam.

EDIT:  The TV show I couldn’t mention when this post was written was ABC TV’s “To Tell The Truth”