Tuesday, June 30, 2009

MJ Shrine

I spent a long weekend visiting my mom and family. Coincidentally, they live in Hammond, Indiana, a stone's throw from Michael Jackson's home town of Gary, the much fabled "troubled" neighborhood.My sister, Tina, and I have a great sense of adventure. So it's not a surprise that on Saturday, just two days after Michael died, we jumped into her Jeep and motored 10 minutes to see the MJ shrine. I was stunned that it wasn't a mob scene. Sure, there was traffic. But we were able to quickly find a parking spot. We parked two long blocks away from the Jackson home and hoofed it to the place where it all began. People who lived there were in lawn chairs in their front yards taking in all the traffic and watching a steady stream of people making the pilgrimage. When we got there, we saw a tiny home, two bedroom i think, that isn't even big enough for one person let alone a couple and their 7 kids. TV live trucks were sending live pictures of the scene back to their stations. Teary fans were placing flowers, stuffed animals and touching notes at the front step. Others sold cold water for $1 and hawked MJ t-shirts. People snapped pictures with their cameras and phones and took turns taking pictures of each other standing in front of the house. The Mayor, Rudy Clay, a dead ringer for Super Fly, was holding court. Clay chatted with his constituents and signed full-color photos of himself while pledging to "bring Michael home." Clay told a local reporter that he was negotiating with the family to bring Michael home to "lie in state." All this was going on as two huge speakers blared MJ music.Sure, it was surreal, and some would argue tasteless. But in the middle of all this activity, there was a peace that was as gentle as Michael's soul. I'm glad I went.

Who wants to know?

I'm old...at least by the numbers. And there are millions of boomers just like me. And all you youngins, who aren't thinking about grey hair, aching joints and Alzheimer's disease, have a stake in us too. I don't deny it could be paranoia since I am surrounded by nasty diseases and conditions as a media specialist for the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics and the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. But I think I'm at risk for Alzheimer's Disease. I've never been screened to determine my risk for the disease that ravages minds, even at surprisingly young ages, and breaks the hearts of their loved ones. I'm terrified that my husband and two kids will have to carry the burden because of my failing mind and disfunctioning brain. As I age, I become more and more like my dad, who, I believe, died in the throws of AD. Dad was never diagnosed. Every once in a while, I have to search my mind for a word and I've developed little signs of what many people mistakenly think is a routine part of growing old. As frightening as it is, I'm not sure if I really want to know if Alzheimer's disease is in my future. Dr. Mark Sager, director of the Wisconsin Alzheimer's Institute of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, says a majority of people want to know as soon as possible. It's not just what he sees in clinic. It's supported by a University of Chicago study. Why do people want to know? Because they want to live their lives NOW, plan and do what they want to do...not what other people want them to do. Sager supports a national system of early screening for Alzheimer's disease. He argues that not only are the current medications more effective in people who catch the disease early. But, do we really have to go here?, early screening could save billions of dollars by keeping Alzheimer's victims at home longer and out of ridiculously expensive long-term care facility. It's so sad that the tragedy of the disease isn't enough to get the attention of the health care and government communities. But it becomes downright upsetting when you have to point out the incredible financial benefits of including early screening in health care reform, in order to get someone's ear. Would you want to know? I remain on the fence.