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I am partially deaf in one ear.

As regrettable as this is, it was not unexpected; my father was definitely having problems understanding conversations by his late forties, particularly if there was background noise such as a television, noise from a moving automobile, or echoes from a high ceiling.  I had realized this early on and taken special pains to protect my hearing; unlike most of my peers I preferred classical music to rock so rarely went to discos or cranked the volume on my stereo, and because I didn't go to concerts there was no danger of me emulating Pete Townsend and so many other rock stars by standing too close to an exploding drum set the amplifiers.  Even when my musical tastes evolved and I did go to the occasional rock concert, I made sure to bring earplugs.

So when my formerly excellent hearing started to go when I hit my early forties, I was distressed but largely put it down to heredity.  It really didn't come up, either, except when I was visiting my BFF Barbara and her husband and had to ask them to turn up the volume on the TV when we watched a movie.  I still didn't own an iPod, still didn't go to amplified concerts or dance clubs, and really, it wasn't that inconvenient to occasionally ask someone to repeat themselves.

Then it started getting worse, and worse, and by the fall of 2006 Barbara told me flat out that maybe, just maybe, it was time for me to get my hearing checked.  "They've done a lot with hearing aids.  You owe it to yourself, you know."  I muttered something her being right.  She shook her head, said that she was glad I was finally seeing reason, and then added that it was getting annoying having to up the volume on the TV when she could everything just fine, so sooner was better than later, capisce?

Thus it was that I finished up my yearly mammogram and plumbing check, then went to my regular doctor for a quick hearing test.  That it revealed that, yes, my hearing was starting to go was not much of a surprise.  I wasn't happy that I was reliving my dad's experience despite all my precautions, earplugs, etc., but I had been half-expecting this for much of my life.  What was a surprise was that the hearing loss was almost all in my right ear, which should not have been the case.

My doctor, nonplussed, sent me to a specialist for more tests.  He was equally nonplussed after the results revealed that my hearing on the left was all but perfect (hooray for earplugs!), but I had lost almost one-third of the hearing on the right, including virtually all of my ability to hear high frequencies.  His puzzlement deepened after I said no, I had never had a firecracker or gun go off next to my head, hadn't gone to rock concerts, and had never suffered an injury to the right side of my skull.  

"It's probably heredity," he said after a few minutes.  "I'm sending you in for an MRI, though, just to be certain."

And so I found myself a few nights later deep in the bowels of a local hospital, wrapped in a fluffy blanket, head immobilized in an odd little basket arrangement, plugs in both ears, panic bulb in my right hand, as a kindly nurse loaded me into something that looked rather like it belonged in Dr. McCoy's medical bay while the coolant in the machine whooshed and pulsed in an oddly impersonal way.  The test went surprisingly smoothly, although I nearly started giggling at how very much one segment sounded like Auric Goldfinger's dirty bomb at the end of my favorite James Bond movie, and soon enough I was home safe and sound.

The next morning the doctor's office called.  They wanted me in as soon as possible to discuss the test results because there was something strange on the MRI -

- and when I started to panic, because that usually means only one thing, the doctor himself snatched the phone from the nurse and said the sweetest words anyone has ever spoken to me:

"Ellid, calm down.  You don't have cancer."

What it turned out to be was a small growth, about the size of a chickpea, on the balance nerve in my right ear, known as an acoustic neuroma.  These little tumors, which seem to occur more frequently in women than men, are relatively rare, always benign, and very slow growing.  There are no known risk factors, no known cause outside of a rare genetic disorder I don't have, and most have been in place for quite a few years before either balance problems or one-sided deafness cause the afflicted to consult a doctor.  The usual treatment for AN is surgical removal, although more people are turning to radiation treatment with a gamma knife to kill the tumor in place.  There are also a sizable number of people whose AN reaches a certain size and simply stops growing, usually permanently, meaning that sufferers undergo a yearly MRI to check the size and then go on their merry way.  The best-known AN patient is probably actor and anti-fracking activist Mark Ruffalo, who had his tumor removed about ten years ago and has continued his career despite being deaf on one side.

I'm one of the fortunate ones with a clinically stable tumor, and believe me, I am well aware of how lucky I am.  Oh, I have tinnitus in my right ear, and listening to Phillippe Jaroussky sing Handel through the right headphone at my computer is, to say the least, less than ideal.  I also sometimes get a nice little attack of vertigo, and fire drills at the office are less than pleasant because I can feel the !#$#!$@!$ tumor vibrating in my ear canal.  But that aside, I've had to make remarkably few adjustments as I go about my daily life.  

That hasn't prevented people from giving me advice.

Some it has been useful (use over-the-ear headphones instead of earbuds on your iPod, and position them just outside your ear canal so the sound is conducted directly through the jaw bone), some has been disappointing (a hearing aid will do nothing but amplify the tinnitus, so don't bother), and some has been downright ridiculous.  The best example of the last was a well meaning woman who urged me not to have surgery (good idea, my doctor agreed), but instead to have a nice, relaxing cranio-sacral massage in hopes of breaking up the tumor and restoring my hearing.

For those unfamiliar with this practice, craniosacral therapy is a form of massage that is supposed to subtly manipulate the bones in the skull to assist in alleviating various medical problems.   Never mind that very few studies show any clinical improvement in patients, or that the overwhelming majority of doctors agree that the skull bones eventually fuse when a person reaches adulthood meaning that they can't be manipulated, or that medical science considers it to be little more than quackery, albeit relatively harmless unlike certain therapies such as drinking colloidal silver or going to a "psychic surgeon" for cancer treatment.

Oh no.  My co-worker, who knew a fair bit about psychology but diddly about nerve problems, thought I should ignore the specialist at Mass Eye & Ear in favor of having what was essentially external massage that would not only destroy the tumor, but bring back all the hearing I'd lost and cure my tinnitus!  Wouldn't that have been just dandy?  And expensive, since craniosacral therapy isn't covered by insurance?

I smiled politely, thanked her for her advice, and went about my business.  If I spent a few minutes shaking my head before scheduling my six-month MRI, well, at least I was spared the cost, false hopes, and ultimate embarrassment of undergoing a treatment that would have benefited only the practitioner's wallet.

Some alternative medical treatments do work, at least to a certain extent; acupuncture has been used successfully in place of anesthesia, chiropractic can alleviate back and neck pain, and St. John's Wort and other herbal remedies are cheap and effective treatments for certain conditions.  I've personally benefited from both massage therapy and a variant of acupressure, and I know people who've had terrific success using one or all of the above.  

However, that doesn't mean that every alternative theory or treatment works, or that everyone who engages in such work is sincere.  The history of modern medicine is rife with examples of quacks taking large sums of money from unknowing victims who sought their help and delayed seeking medical advice that would have saved them, from labor leader Eugene V. Debs (who was all but starved during what proved to be a fatal "rest cure" at a sanatorium) to comedian Andy Kaufman (who died of lung cancer after undergoing "psychic surgery" at the hands of a confidence trickster).  Add in patent medicines, talk shows that give air time to the latest purveyor of high colonics, untested hormonal therapies, or secret special herbs, and books pushing nonsense like the blood type diet, and it's little wonder that alternative therapies that do work have been tarred with the same brush.

Tonight I bring you only one book, and that a surprisingly forward thinking one.  However, the author of that book, now virtually unknown, was a true pioneer who richly deserves his place in these diaries.  Author, physical fitness enthusiast, publisher who invented an entire genre of crappy fiction, publisher of possibly the single worst newspaper of the 20th century (and yes, I am including News of the World), this gentleman is a true inspiration for any and all who seek fame, fortune, good health, and enduring fame as a Man of Letters So Bad He's Good:

Vitality Supreme and other books, newspapers, and magazines written and published by Bernard McFadden - Bernard Adolphus McFadden was an unhealthy child.  Born just after the Civil War in the bustling metropolis of Mill Spring, Missouri, he was a spindly, sickly creature, constantly ill and physically weak.  If that wasn't bad enough, the senior generation of McFaddens were both dead by the time young Bernard was eleven, depriving him of even the comforts of home.  

The fragile orphan was sent to live with a local farmer, who decided that, weakling or not, the lad had to work if he was going to eat.  This Bernard did, and  between the fresh country air, hard physical labor, and wholesome food, he soon was fit and healthy.  Two years later, only thirteen years old, Bernard decided that the farm life was health-giving but not financially remunerative enough for a young man of his ambitions, so he moved to the evil, wicked, unhealthy city of St. Louis and took a desk job.  After all, Horatio Alger's popular books described likely lads just about his age doing exactly this and prospering, so why not?

Alas, pride goeth before destruction, and despite his ambitions, Bernard McFadden (who changed his name to “Bernarr MacFadden” because he thought it sounded stronger and more manly) soon reverted to his old physique.  By the time he was sixteen, the lack of exercise, bad air, and poor food of the city had turned him from a healthy farm boy to a self-described “physical wreck.”

Appalled at what he had allowed to happen, Bernarr started exercising (with dumbbells, the hay bales he'd slung around on the farm being in short supply), walked several miles a day, and stopped eating meat.  Soon he was fit, muscular, and healthy again, and after a stint earning his (metaphorical) bread by wrestling and boxing for money, he came to the conclusion that it was time to bring the message of good health through proper living to the masses.  Today that message would be conveyed through informercials, exercise DVDs, and participation in marathons, triathlons, and similar publicity stunts.  There being no such options available in the late 19th centuries, Bernarr turned to the mass media of the day:  newspapers and magazines.  And since most editors of the time snorted at the mere idea of deliberate exercise (not to mention vegetarianism!), eventually Bernarr MacFadden decided that the only way to get his ideas to pasty, flabby, wheezing city dwellers of the Republic was to publish himself.

Physical Culture, the first magazine in what became a pulp empire, appeared in 1899.  Chock full of articles on diet, exercise, healing chronic diseases through healthy eating and habits, and the joys of vegetarianism, it was largely written by Bernarr himself, since not only there were few qualified experts on these subjects, it was a lot cheaper if he didn't have to pay someone else.  His first book, Physical Training, came out the next year, followed quickly by Fasting, Hydrotherapy, and Exercise, Virile Powers of Superb Manhood, and Power and Strength of Superb Womanhood.  These books sold well enough that Bernarr was soon branching out, with tomes such as Marriage:  A Lifelong Honeymoon (he was married four times, so he knew whereof he spoke), Natural Cure for Rupture, and Vaccination Superstition coming out between 1901 and 1903.  

Vitality Supreme, published in 1915, is in many ways a codification of the life and thinking of this most vigorous of men.  The introduction made it plain that good health through right living was available to anyone, albeit anyone who was willing to wade through Bernarr's, ahem, florid prose:

The war cry of to-day in peace no less than in war is for efficiency. We
need stronger, more capable men; healthier, superior  women.  Force  is supreme-the king of all mankind. And it is force that stands back of efficiency, for efficiency, first of  all,  means  power.  It  comes from power, and power either comes directly from inheritance or it is developed by an intelligent application of the laws that control the
culture of the physique.
Many of Bernarr's ideas, such as getting plenty of exercise and eating a healthy diet, seem like plain common sense today.  Other concepts, such as the following remedy for constipation, are less advisable without consulting one's doctor:
But there are also various special exercises that particularly affect the alimentary canal. Bending forward and backward and from side  to side and also various twisting movements of the trunk have a special influence in this direction. They actually massage the internal organs, and this means a great deal where there is any digestive weakness or lack of activity in the bowels. What I term inner-strength exercises, or as they may also be called, pressure movements, are also of considerable
value. An example of this type of exercise will  be  found  in  placing the  right forearm across the stomach, grasping the right wrist with the left hand, and then with the strength of both arms pressing vigorously inward upon the stomach for a moment. Now relax and repeat. Bringing up the right knee and left knee alternately, with strong pressure, using vigorously the strength of the arms against the abdominal region, is
also a good example of this type of exercise, which has proven very effective in  numerous cases. Other exercises of this kind ( see Chapter XV) can be applied to all parts of the upper body with great advantage to  the  inner  organs, since such movements are of remarkable value in stimulating alimentary activity.

And then there is Bernarr's advice for keeping the teeth clean and the mouth fresh:

Remember too that the orange, lemon and any fruit with a strong acid
flavor is a splendid tooth or mouth wash, and it need not be ejected as an ordinary wash. It can be enjoyed and swallowed after mouth and teeth have been cleansed. Therefore the frequent use of oranges as a dentifrice is a habit of great value. Use them on retiring and on rising and the results will be unusually pleasing.
Not to mention his pioneering ideas on the clothing-optional lifestyle, though not necessarily to get that all-important Vitamin D:
Air baths are likewise valuable as a means of promoting activity in the
eliminative function of the skin. Primitive man, living in  a  state  of Nature, was not burdened with clothing. There was nothing to interfere with the healthy activity of his epidermis. There can be no question that the smothering of the skin by our clothing has much to do with defective elimination of wastes, and the more nearly we can  avoid clothing,  or the less clothing we can wear, the better. When possible, therefore, and especially in warm weather, it is advisable to remove all clothing  and let the air come in contact with the surface of the body. This not only has a pronounced effect upon  the  purification  of  the blood  but  it likewise has a tonic effect upon the nervous system.
With advice like this, it's little wonder that soon Bernarr was a celebrity, known as "Bodylove MacFadden" for his habit of posing like a latter-day David, entering bodybuilding contests, and walking the five miles to his office in Manhattan wearing no shows (ewwwww) while carrying a 40 pound sandbag.  Some called him insane, especially after he started naming his children things like Byrnece, Byron, Berwyn, Beulah, Beverley, Braunda, and Brewster (all by his wife Mary, who was 26 years his junior), or when he went on a tour with Mary and demonstrated his fitness by having her jump from a seven foot platform onto his stomach.

Abs of steel, indeed.

For all his eccentricities, and inner-strength exercises, Bernarr MacFadden had a golden touch when it came to publishing.  Physical Culture was soon joined by a glittering roster of profitable titles, including Liberty, Sports Illustrated predecessor SPORT, gossip magazine Photoplay, pulp magazines like Red-Blooded Stories, and, believe it or not, the first few issues of pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories.

Perhaps Bernarr's greatest contribution to American letters, however, were his confession magazines.  Confessions, for those not familiar with the term, were (and still are) one of the lowest rungs on the professional fiction ladder.  Always told in the first person, these are purportedly actual, if extraordinarily lurid, incidents in the lives of actual people, written in a style best disguised as "breathless to the point of inducing asthma."  Famous titles include True Story, True Romances, and True Detective, and if the line didn't include something like True Space Aliens or True Swashbuckling Fantasy Barbarians With Big Phallic Swords, that's probably solely because Bernarr saw no future in science fiction and left the field to the likes of Hugo Gernsback.

And then there was the New York Evening Graphic.

Founded in 1924, this newspaper was edited by veteran investigative reporter Emile Gauvreau, who had been fired by his previous employer for exposing a medical diploma mill.  Bernarr, who hated doctors, thought Gauvreau would be the perfect choice to run his latest venture, and after a meeting that Gauvreau later called "the most violent turning point of my life," the former crusading journalist found himself at the helm of a newspaper that its owner characterized as the greatest contribution to publishing since the Gutenberg Bible.  And so it proved to be true, since Bernarr, who by now owned several hotels and a chain of "healthatoriums" thanks to the money he made from Physical Culture and the confessions, decided that what New York, that greatest of cities, needed was a tabloid that read like a confession magazine.

Had a man killed his wife?  Was he willing to talk to one of the Graphic's reporters?  Perfect!  Let the Times and the Post and the Daily News publish their drab, boring, third-person stories based on police reports while the Graphic went for the gusto with stories like this:




    I Told Her I Would Never

    Eat Them Again But She

    Defied Me To The End

    by Jonathan Peters

Who would resist this?  Who would want to?  It would take a heart of stone not to wonder why a man would kill over fish balls!  

And that was not all.  The Graphic unleashed the gossipy delights of Walter Winchell, Louis Sobol, and Ed Sullivan (yes, really) on the world, gave cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller of "Nancy" fame his first break with "Mac the Manager," and featured headlines like

Aged Romeo Wooed Stage Love with a Used Ring
Weed Parties in Soldiers’ Love Nest
Two Women in Fight, One Stripped, Other Eats Bad Check
and the immortal
Girls Need Sex Life for Beauty
If that weren't enough, the Graphic, which proudly displayed the motto "Nothing But The Truth" on its masthead, routinely ran crude hybrids of photographs and line drawings it called "composographs" whenever it couldn't sneak a photographer.  Prime examples included the "colored" bride of New York socialite Kip Rhinelander being  forced to strip to the waist in the courtroom, Enrico Caruso greeting fellow dead Italian Rudolph Valentino at the gates of heaven, and quintessential dirty old man "Daddy" Browning chasing his bride "Peaches" about the bedroom while shouting "Woof!  Woof! Don't be a goof!"

Is it any wonder that contemporary critics called this sterling example of journalistic integrity the Pornographic?  Or that the New York Public Library, bastion of all that was good and proper in American culture, was so appalled by the Graphic's shenanigans that it refused to subscribe?

None of this prevented Bernarr from taking his richly deserved place in society.  A regular contributor to political campaigns, he rubbed shoulders with movie stars like Clark Gable, Rudolph Valentino while he was still alive, politicians like FDR (yes, really), and humorists like Will Rogers, and even lobbied the White House to create a new cabinet position called Secretary of Health (to be filled by the healthiest man alive, of course).  He even sponsored an entire pavilion at the New York World's Fair in 1939, which my late father almost certainly saw when he and his parents visited this modern wonder in Flushing Meadows.  

Alas, by 1932 the Graphic, so colorful, so lively, and so evocative of the trashiest aspects of Jazz Age New York, found itself sinking under a mountain of debt, much of it thanks to the outraged subjects of various composographs suing for damages.  Bernarr's soon to be former wife Mary later claimed in her memoir Carrot Sticks and Dumbbells that the Graphic owed something like $11 million when it went under.  Worse, by 1941 authors were demanding more than the pre-Depression word rates Bernarr was willing to pay, and angry stockholders forced him to relinquish all interest in his publishing empire.  He managed to reacquire his beloved Physical Culture, but America had other things to think about besides strengthening its internal organs (war and rationing will do that) and the magazine never approached its former level of success.

None of this particularly wore him down; Bernarr, who didn't seem to much mind losing the majority of his fortune, remarried several times, took up skydiving, and was hale, hearty, and setting an example for later physical culturists like Jack Lalanne until he died of a bladder infection in 1955 at the ripe old age of 87.  He had refused conventional medical treatment to the end, and who could blame him?  After all, any man who could stand on his head at that age surely knew what he was doing!


And so, my friends...what strange health theories have you or your loved ones subscribed to?  Is there blue glass (so good for the eyesight and general vigor!) in your 19th century house?  A gift certificate for a craniosacral massage in the family Bible?  Perhaps a battered copy of Virile Powers of Superb Manhood stuffed into a box in the attic?  Turn up the Jazzercise tapes, put on your spandex, and feel the burn!


Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule

DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
SUN 6:00 PM Young Reader's Pavilion The Book Bear
Sun 9:30 PM SciFi/Fantasy Book Club quarkstomper
Bi-Monthly Sun Midnight Reading Ramblings don mikulecky
MON 8:00 PM Monday Murder Mystery Susan from 29
Mon 11:00 PM My Favorite Books/Authors edrie, MichiganChet
TUES 5:00 PM Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left bigjacbigjacbigjac
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM LGBT Literature Texdude50, Dave in Northridge
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM All Things Bookstore Dave in Northridge
Tue 8:00 PM Contemporary Fiction Views bookgirl
WED 7:30 AM WAYR? plf515
Wed 8:00 PM Bookflurries Bookchat cfk
THU 8:00 PM Write On! SensibleShoes
Thu (first each month) 11:00 AM Monthly Bookpost AdmiralNaismith
Thu (third each month - on hiatus) 11:00 PM Audiobooks Club SoCaliana
FRI 8:00 AM Books That Changed My Life Diana in NoVa
Fri 6:00 PM Books Go Boom! Brecht
SAT (fourth each month) 11:00 AM Windy City Bookworm Chitown Kev
Sat 4:00 PM Daily Kos Political Book Club Freshly Squeezed Cynic
Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

And if this wasn't enough....

Mark your calendars, good gentles all!  Dave in Northridge will be debuting a BRAND! NEW! SERIES! on March 12th at 5:00 am Pacific alternating with LGBT literature:

All Things Bookstore

We all love books and we all have had favorite bookstores. This series is about the bookstore: what we like about them, their history, the people who work there, the hours we’ve spent looking through them and the stores in which we’ve found our favorite books and our greatest treasures. This is also about the economics of bookstores and the forces that help or hinder the existence of independent bookstores. In short, diaries about anything that has to do with the bookstore.

Doesn't that sound wonderful?  I can't wait!

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Sat Mar 02, 2013 at 06:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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