Message To A Warm Frog

(Democracy Hits An Iceberg)

                Have you heard this thing about frogs?!  The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to, or be aware of, sinister threats that arise gradually rather than suddenly.

However, it’s not true, because frogs are ‘thermoregulators’; changing environment is a fundamentally necessary survival strategy for frogs and other ectotherms. Thermoregulation is the ability of an organism to keep its body temperature within certain boundaries, even when the surrounding temperature is very different. Therefore, the frog would move when the water got too warm. (A thermoconforming organism, by contrast, simply adopts the surrounding temperature as its own body temperature, thus avoiding the need for internal thermoregulation.)

                The biology lesson is over, but, let’s not let science be an inconvenient truth.  Let’s suppose the fable were true, and ponder two key questions:  Would the frog even get in the water if it knew that the water would soon come to a boil? And would the frog stay in the water if it learned as it was sitting in the beaker of water that the water was going to come to a boil?   

                In another context, would someone board the Titanic knowing well beforehand that it was scheduled to meet an iceberg?  And, having hit the iceberg, would someone stay onboard as the ship took on water, tilted, and the lights winked out one by one? 

                I used to think I knew the answers to these questions.

In a more contemporary context, would the average person on the street five years ago have said that they would like to someday have as President of the United States a person vulgar in both word and deed? And, having elected such person, and squatting bug-eyed in that ignominious beaker of warming water, would they maintain support for their decision as the water ridiculed and ignored advice from its own senior leaders, embraced our real and potential enemies, criticized and subverted our longtime allies and alliances, all the while standing on 5th Avenue impulsively tweeting ignorance and disregard of science, history, and democracy?

                Democracy has boundaries and needs to be regulated to survive. And here’s my message to a warm frog:  If you voted for him—jump.  And if you still support him—boil.

Definition of Vulgar: 1a : lacking in cultivation, perception, or taste : coarse b : morally crude, undeveloped, or unregenerate : gross c : ostentatious or excessive in expenditure or display : pretentious 2a : offensive in language : earthy b : lewdly or profanely indecent

Definition of Thermoconforming: 1a : Republican

Hospice Care

Hospice Care

“. . . a program designed to provide palliative care and emotional support to the terminally ill in a home or homelike setting so that quality of life is maintained and family members may be active participants in care also : a facility that provides such a program”

            Archaeologists examined a 4,000 year old skeleton of a child in Vietnam and learned that, due to a congenital paralysis condition, he had had little, if any, use of his arms from birth and could not have fed himself or kept himself clean. But he lived another 10 years or so.  Let’s call him Utu.  They concluded that the people around him, who had no metal and lived by fishing, hunting and raising barely domesticated pigs, took the time and care to tend to his every need.

            He lived another 10 years or so.  4,000 years ago.  As soon as I read about this, it made its way into my thought rotation and would periodically surface in different genres of interest.  Anthropology:  Is this rare in primitive cultures?  No—research reveals many examples of this kind of care in ancient societies; there are even older cases which show medical conditions just as severe.  Archaeology:  How was the care rendered?  Were artifacts found which suggest how the family group fed him, bathed him, and tended to his bodily functions?  Family:  Who in the family, or family/tribal group, had the compassion in such a brutal environment?  Was it Mom and one or two others?  Or, did the group as a whole feel a collective duty to the unfortunate one? And finally, Language:  as written and spoken language existed in that area of the world then, did the young one talk with the others?  What was said?  

            A friend of mine commented recently that ordinary life is like hospice, as we journey to our last feeble heartbeat.    

            I like this analogy, as it favors a tenet of my general philosophy about life—that everything is on a spectrum.  Through this prism, I can argue that hospice care indeed need not be limited to within a doctor’s declaration that a person is reasonably presumed to have no more than 6 months of life left.  This modern legal/medical insurance/resource-mindful threshold of time unlocks the benefits of hospice attendants, liberal pain management drugs, and the comfort that can come from personal home care from loved ones.  Though it seems practical to not squander an entire family’s resources upon more intensive medical care to extend a person’s life slightly, neither does it seem right to have to be in the position to pit care against resources. 

            And then there are the ‘facilities’.  I was a hospice care volunteer briefly and baked chocolate chip cookies for an 87-year old veteran in a hospice care facility; these cookies were a thing he had joked about previously.  I brought cold milk with it.  He was surprised and delighted, and I talked with him for awhile.  I could see a kind gentleman emerge from behind his clouded eyes, one whose language, intellect, and sense of decorum was of the Cary Grant era.  It was my turn to be delighted.  No doubt, as soon as I left, he was wheeled back in front of the communal TV where I had found him, to stare at the screen in his stained sweater while trying to elevate his swollen feet.  He will be barely visible to the uniformed attendants, his fellow octogenarians, and his memory-deprived wife at the same facility, until everyone needs to be wheeled to dinner or bed.

            So, everything is being tried.  Home care under limited, final conditions.  Facilities.  Advanced medicine and economics shape the various options today but advanced medicine and money were not even players at the table for little Utu, and I’m not sure that this lack was detrimental to his quality of life. 

            I like to think that he was told stories around the fire at night, that his mom cradled him protectively in the cold, and that he contributed his thoughts, ideas, and perhaps wit to his friends and family.  The group might have liked having him as one of their own.  Far from being forgotten, he was probably always being thought of, and may even have been considered special in some superstitious way.  He must have believed he was getting the best care available-as he was-and that nothing was held back from him due to resource constraints.  If the group had food, shelter, clothing, toys—they shared.  If a certain plant-derived medicine was thought to help, it was applied.  And he was always at home.  And for him to live a full 10 years under such primitive conditions, he must have been incessantly loved.  And, he must have felt it every moment of his life. 

            Now, that’s hospice care.

“While it is a painful truism that brutality and violence are at least as old as humanity, so, it seems, is caring for the sick and disabled.”