Monday, April 16, 2012

À Votre Santé

Monday, April 16, 2012
Passover is finished. The Israelites are in the Promised Land. Now, we can expect peace and harmony for days evermore.

How many people can say that their radiation oncologist is an advertising icon? Dr. Tracy Ng (Ng, like Jones in Vietnam, is pronounced eng; Nguyen, pronounced n’win, is the Smith, or Cohen in my neighborhood) is featured in an advertising campaign for small business lending that Bank of America had been running in various media. He appears in several television ads talking about the development of a radiation cancer-treatment facility in the Chinatown/Tribeca area with the financial assistance of Bank of America. And, yesterday, the back page of the Metropolitan section of the New York Times had a full-page Bank of America ad with Dr. Ng’s picture occupying about one-third the space.

My dealings with Dr. Ng go back exactly 10 years, but the story begins on November 21, 2001, the day of Judi and Stuart’s second grandson Dani’s bris. Just as that celebration was ending, I received two life-altering pieces of information: (1) I passed the New York State bar examination; (2) I had prostate cancer. Talk about good news, bad news! For the next six months, these disparate facts were somewhat intertwined. But first, the woman who is now recognized as America’s Favorite Epidemiologist and I met with several urologists to decide upon treatment.

Dr. Jed Kaminetsky, my regular urologist, was very practical and uncliched in his advice. He explained the surgical option, his speciality, but referred frequently to “lifestyle,” an inverse allusion to shtuppy-shtuppy and peeing in your pants. In conclusion, he said that he would tell his father to take beam radiation treatment instead of surgery. We visited a specialist at Sloan-Kettering, the Vatican of cancer treatment, who had done wonders for a relative of mine. He described prostate surgery as “the gold standard,” a phrase that we heard and read over and over in our investigations. Finally, we saw the urologist who had treated Rudy Giuliani’s prostate cancer in 2000-2001. He, too, advocated surgery as the gold standard. So, back to Kaminetsky, armed with sophisticated epidemiological analysis that showed that the statistics comparing outcomes of surgery vs. radiation were completely unreliable. Further supporting our reliance on Kaminetsky’s guidance was his recommendation of Dr. Tracy Ng as the radiation oncologist to use, because Ng was then associated with St. Vincent’s Hospital while Kaminetsky was affiliated with NYU Medical Center. That’s like the manager of the Yankees telling one of his ballplayer’s to go to the Mets batting coach for help. It’s a boundary that usually is not crossed.

I remember visiting St. Vincent’s and meeting Ng, a couple of times for measurements to determine the proper positioning and strength of the radiation. The actual first date of my beam radiation treatment was Monday, March 18, 2002, which was also my first day of work in the New York State court system, thanks to the Honorable Marjory D. Fields. That first day, I had to be at the hospital for several hours in the afternoon, so I told the judge in advance that I had a doctor’s appointment my first afternoon. I never, until now, told her of my illness-affliction-condition-situation, even though every weekday morning for the next five weeks, I went to St. Vincent’s cancer unit for beam radiation treatment before heading to work. Only a couple of times was I late to work, by a half hour or so because of an equipment malfunction. Dr. Ng would stop by to see me every so often, although the actual treatments were carefully conducted by a technician with long dreadlocks named Cliff.

After the five-week course of beam radiation treatments, where you are positioned for 15-20 minutes almost as if you were receiving a gynecological exam, we waited about one month for the last step, radioactive seed implantation. This actually can be an independent prostate cancer treatment, but Kaminetsky and Ng decided to gild the lily, as it were. I received general anesthesia, by choice, as they stuck either iodine-125 or palladium-103 seeds into the prostate gland using an ultrasound for guidance according to All I remember is awakening after one hour with very bruised mouth and lips, because the breathing tube was not properly sized for my, believe it or not, deep throat.

I was given a lead mesh sieve to urinate through for the next several weeks, because seeds, they may have numbered up to 100, could migrate up and out. That never happened and I don’t recall what I was supposed to do with any that I might have caught. I did go to public bathrooms a few times in that period, but I tried to avoid prying eyes who may have mistaken my cautious behavior as a strange hobby.

I have kept a copy of the bill I received from St. Vincent’s for that outpatient procedure alone, $30,998.24. Apparently medical insurance paid all but $120 of that bill. The daily treatments cost $15 each. I want to conclude this by damning those politicians who would allow, even insist that fellow citizens convert a medical problem into a financial catastrophe, but I won’t. Instead, thank you Dr. Kaminetsky, whom I visited last week for a periodic checkup, and thank you Dr. Ng, now appearing on television and in newspapers.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Lotus Blue, 110 Reade Street, has been open for a couple of months, but only started serving lunch last week. Its web site still shows only dinner hours. It features the cooking of Yunnan province, located in the extreme southwest corner of China, bordering Burma, Laos, Vietnam and Tibet. In spite of having billions of neighbors, the restaurant was empty when I walked in. The interior is relatively austere, but attractive. One wall is exposed brick, the opposite painted terra cotta red. There are two dozen or so two-top tables, many pushed together for four-top seating. The tabletops were black subway tile, framed in blonde wood, a nice combination, also easy to clean. The back corner has wine bottles on display, more for the geometry than vinophilia (maybe oenophilia, but that sounds dirty).

The lunch menu is very brief, 3 salads, 2 sandwiches, 2 noodle dishes, 3 “set dishes” or main courses, 2 fried rices, and 2 desserts, $7 for the desserts, $9 to $12 for everything else. I had roast duck and melon salad ($12), accurately described as having “chili sweet and sour plum dressing with mint, basil, cilantro, chili and ground peanuts” over greens. It tasted very good (much more Thai or Vietnamese than Chinese) and was a good-sized portion, which two people could share if ordering other things. The dinner menu was only a little longer, but also contained interesting combinations.

The space used to be Nam, Food of Vietnam, an excellent restaurant (September 8, 2011). The transition has not seemed to have gone well, at least at lunchtime. Only three other people sat down while I was there, although La Man (Mandy to her friends), a young waitress who left Vietnam 11 years ago, told me that dinner business is pretty good.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Really Bad Idea Department: The National Basketball Association is considering selling space on team jerseys to corporate sponsors. So far, the four major North American sports leagues have resisted this ugly practice. However, money talks and taurine excrement walks, with rationalization scampering immediately behind. Sayeth Adam Silver, NBA deputy commissioner, “the N.B.A. is a global business and logos on jerseys are well established in other sports and commonplace outside the U.S.” How I look forward to the wide-spread introduction of other well-established foreign customs into professional U.S. sports, such as racial taunting, fake injuries, bribery, fan riots before, during and after games, and fixed matches. While American sports have never been free of such conduct, we have not managed to institutionalize it to the degree as have others. In this instance, I am an American exceptionalist.

Mottzar Kitchen, 70 Mott Street, has a name that sounds suspiciously Hebraic. Its opening contemporaneously with Passover added to the guilt by association, However, there is no other tangible connection with the People of the Book. Mottzar replaced Hon Café (June 12, 2010) and it is a bit of an improvement. The interior has been almost completely redone except for the floors which show where furniture and equipment stood previously. The slate gray wallpaper that covered the top 2/3 of the walls was quite attractive, which made the laminated wood paneling below even more unsightly.

The front of the restaurant serves as a bakery and the kitchen. It was busy at lunchtime, the patrons about evenly divided between East and West. Service was hectic at best. Two handsome young Frenchmen, already seated when I arrived, got up and left when I was halfway through my food, unserved in spite of being frequently visited by staff members asking what had they ordered. I had Singapore chow fun ($10.95), one of my signature dishes. The portion was large, the spicing was right, there was the appropriate variety of ingredients, but the noodles were mushy. In sum, I did not have the pleasure that I expected from a $10.95 bowl of noodles.

Thursday, April 19, 2012
Lunch today is with the Feingold cabal, midtown in the conference room of a major law firm. A key attraction of these periodic gatherings is witnessing the two-hour long reversion to pimpled adolescence by eminent lawyers, judges, academics and journalists, present company included.

Friday, April 20, 2012
The title of this week's contribution is the French way of saying "to your health," in honor of the swelling tide of endorsements for Mitt Romney as the Republican candidate for president. As you know, Mitt spent two years in France during la guerre du Viêt Nam, protecting the USA from a Vietcong invasion across the North Atlantic. Once he returned home, he became governor of Massachusetts where he made sure that most of his fellow citizens were provided medical insurance coverage. Only later was his plan defiled by being adopted by the Muslim, Kenyan, socialist illegally occupying our White House.

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