I'm on vacation. To keep you entertained, or at least occupied, I'm sending you to various garden spots visited by myself and my boys in my unpublished and no doubt unpublishable 2009 memoir, "The Quest for Pie."
Friday, September 30, 2022
I'm on vacation. To keep you entertained, or at least occupied, I'm sending you to various garden spots visited by myself and my boys in my unpublished and no doubt unpublishable 2009 memoir, "The Quest for Pie."
Thursday, September 29, 2022
Wednesday, September 28, 2022
Some could go several places. “Chicago Whispers: A History of LGBT Chicago Before Stonewall,” by Stcq, no period Sukie de la Croix could be on the shelves of books about Chicago. But I’ve segregated it amongst books on gay history, alongside George Chauncey’s excellent “Gay New York.”
|St Sukie de la Croix|
I know my readership well enough to understand that if I introduce a man named St Sukie de la Croix, many will spend the entire column wondering, “What’s with the name?” and miss anything else he might say. So let’s get that out of the way. Besides, I was curious myself.
“It’s now my legal name,” he began, in a British accent. “I occasionally wrote things for mainstream papers, so when I started writing for gay papers in England, I wanted to separate the writing, straight and gay. I picked a silly name. Then I seemed to be getting more work under the silly name, and when I came to this country, everyone called me ‘Sukie.’”
I assumed that part of his name was sort of an obscene wink.
“No, no, no, not at all,” he said. “Once, I was married with children, I went to a fortune teller on a pier in a seaside resort. She said, ‘You’re married and you have two children and you’re bent. One day you will become a writer, first meeting a man and will leave your wife.’ Her name was Madame Sukie.”
Tuesday, September 27, 2022
Monday, September 26, 2022
Sunday, September 25, 2022
Saturday, September 24, 2022
This week I celebrated my 53rd birthday.
A group of friends and family were kind enough to brave a stormy night and meet up for a celebratory dinner on Tuesday night. I chose Good To Go , a Jamaican restaurant on Howard Street, for several reasons. It's located near my folks' place and I did not want them to have to travel far. It's also not too far from friends who were coming from Chicago, Park Ridge, Vernon Hills, and the North Shore. Also, it boasts a covered rooftop. We are still COVID conscious, and Tom Skilling predicted rain. Thanks Tom. A couple of hardy storms pummeled down during the night, but we were safe.
Accra Shepp. This led to a phone chat with him later in the week — him in Queens, and me on a walkabout in Wilmette. The world became small thanks to our iPhone (me) Android (him) connection.
A college friend who's now a high school teacher burnt out by these COVID years (and leaving her role in 9 weeks time, after decades of teaching) gave me a copy of a book about "returning home" by Toko-pa Turner "on exile and the search for belonging." I see myself as a passionate person, and often on a quest for meaning, so this book was spot on.
Snežana Žabić also showed up. She's a writer and musician who encouraged me to pursue my musical talents, and for a short time we formed a two woman band called The Adaptations. We'd play weekly at the now-defunct Café Mestizo in Pilsen. Snežana had us rehearsing on a regular schedule, and was the coach I needed. I'd like to be a Renaissance Woman but often lack the drive to make it happen.
On Snežana's blog Spurious Bastard, she notes "at my core, I'm a stranger to passion. I've seen it in others: a passion for soccer or partying, for example. I've messed around with passion myself. Passion is another word for despair. Commitment is what I know more intimately. I recognized it even as a child whenever I saw pensioners playing bocce or chess in the street. On that patch of dirt in the otherwise leafy park, heavy balls hardly moving, the players were calm and focused. On that folding table covered with a plastic tablecloth with a garish floral pattern, the only pattern the chess players saw was the checkered board and black and beige figures. That has always made sense to me."
memoir Broken Records: "in 1991, Snežana Žabić lost her homeland and most of her family’s book and record collection during the Yugoslav Wars that had been sparked by Slobodan Milošević’s relentless pursuit of power. She became a teenage refugee, forced to flee Croatia and the atrocities of war that had leveled her hometown of Vukovar. She and her family remained refugees in Serbia until NATO bombed Belgrade in 1999." She landed here and now lives in Rogers Park. She’s had quite a life, and has taught me about the power of resilience.
When we played at Cafe Mestizo, fellow musicians in the audience asked me to record my flute on their projects. I was flattered. It gave me a sense of accomplishment, and purpose. Snežana drew me out of my insecurities and stage fright and into expression. Once, I was so nervous that I did not play my flute at all during a show. I held it to my lips, afraid to blow. Even though I knew the notes, my frightened brain convinced me that if I blew, I’d fail. Afterwards, the always cool and collected Snežana simply asked "what happened?" without any judgement or shaming. She had proceeded with the show, without missing a beat. No stranger to adapting to uncertain situations.
The owner of the group practice I work for also showed up at the party. A harm reduction therapist who's an artist also came, with a gift of a sketch he'd made of a character in a Jerry Springer show. He explained that a good friend of his loved the show, so he’d entertain himself by sketching the characters when she had it on. I appreciate that he studies humans and took it a step further, to sketch and also present as a gift. In homemade wrapping paper, I must add.
As I watched friends and family enjoy each other’s company, I truly felt that everything was OK.
Underneath my outside face
There's a face that none can see.
A little less smiley,
A little less sure,
But a whole lot more like me
— Shel Silverstein
Friday, September 23, 2022
|An oak on the banks of the branch of the Chicago River in Northbrook.|
Northbrook boasts a park in the heart of its downtown, with a ballfield and a playground, a gazebo and a river — the West Fork of the North Branch of the Chicago River. A person could, theoretically, with a shallow-draft kayak and about 12 hours effort, paddle to Marina Towers.
Too much work for me, more given to meandering through the park, my wife’s arm tucked snugly in mine. All is right in the world as we stroll under the towering old oaks, past younger trees planted to comfort future generations.
But what if all weren’t right? Let’s say I take offense at one of those saplings. Perhaps I decide there are too many oaks already. Perhaps I bear some grudge against the person honored on the bronze plaque. Perhaps I am worried an inept village child could be tempted to climb this tree, because of a low branch, say, and, in doing so might fall and be injured. Even killed. The reason doesn’t matter.
So I take it upon myself to go to the park with a chainsaw and cut down the offending tree.
How do you think passersby would react? Would they say, “There’s old Steinberg, responsible citizen, exercising his constitutional right to live in a community free from the menace of perilous trees”? Or would they call the police, who’d haul me away for destroying public property?
The second scenario is a sure bet. And I think we can all agree: They would be right. The park is for everybody, not to be defaced by irked individuals following the random dictates of their disordered minds.
Given that, why do we tolerate people plucking books out of public libraries? Unlike trees, which really do occasionally cause injuries to careless climbers, no child has ever been hurt by a book. The damage imagined by alarmed parents is purely notional and, when you think about it — someone should — quite ludicrous.
Thursday, September 22, 2022
I didn't keep many of the books lining my office off the third floor newsroom at 30 North Racine when I closed it up two weeks ago. But I held onto a few. Some I intended to read, like "Freak Kingdom," by Timothy Denevi, a 2018 look at Hunter S. Thompson's personal war against American fascism — which I did indeed begin a few days back, and am finding a truly excellent book that is sadly topical.
The rest of the books I piled along the metal shelf off the newsroom where the few staffers who still had books were piling theirs, in advance of our move to a more stripped down, spartan newsroom at the Old Post Office, to be taken away by notional colleagues who have need for them. Most likely they'll be trashed quietly or, one hopes, donated. There's a Goodwill next door.
Wednesday, September 21, 2022
Last weekend I drove about 700 miles. On Thursday, 350 miles, almost due north, through Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Then 350 miles back on Sunday. Quite a long way, really.
Why? The 60 hours in between. The company: I drove with my brother, reunited with old friends there. We’ve been meeting in the UP for more than a decade. Nature: the deep woods, the ever-changing, frigid lake, the wild turkeys. The food: tomahawk chops from Peoria Packing. Beef jerky picked up at Held’s in Slinger, Wis.
You’ll note that we brought our food. UP cuisine — pastiescq and doughnuts — not so hot. Though the town where we stay, Ontonagon, now has a juice bar, The Squeeze on Main, and I grabbed a salad there for lunch Friday. Not bad, if a little short on lettuce, more like a bowl of chicken, cheese and sliced apples with some greens mixed in. A Yooper salad. At least there were no Beer Nuts in it.
A six-hour-plus drive, but that was also part of the fun. Usually the car ride is seen as a necessary evil to get from Point A to Point B. Wasted time. But on this trip, the 700 miles was an unfolding diorama of beauty, the rolling vistas of farmland, shrouded in mist in the morning, glorious in the midday sun. Undulating fields of corn, yellow-tasseled and ready to harvest. Alfalfa in big round bales, each weighing a ton, either left to dry or because the farmers haven’t had time to collect them yet. The raw forest pushed back from the highway — deep green pines and white-trunked birches.
A lot of industry up there too. Even the town names suggest products: Winnebago, Land O’Lakes, Oshkosh. The vast Harley Davidson plant. Just passing through, I don’t see how you can feel anything but hopeful about America, despite our deepening problems. When didn’t we have problems?
Sure, there were scatterings of Trump flags, and “Let’s Go Brandon” signs. At least they’re concise. “I’m a dupe in thrall to a liar, bully, fraud and traitor,” is a lot to fit on a sign. I did sincerely marvel at yard signs plugging Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, which made me want to stop and ring the doorbell and earnestly inquire. “Really? Ron Johnson? The guy who tried to shrug off his sedition because it only lasted ‘a couple of seconds’? The man’s an idiot.”
Tuesday, September 20, 2022
"Yet by some object ev'ry brain is stirr'd," Alexander Pope writes in Book 4 of the Dunciad. "The dull may waken to a humming-bird."
While I'm not quite ready to lump myself in with "the dull," it's true that I wasn't thinking of anything in particular when my attention was snagged by this hummingbird, spied through our bay window as it dined on the nectar within the clematis in full glory on our front porch.
Only one of the shots is halfway decent, and I immediately wished I had simply stared at her (it seems to be a female) in appreciative wonder, admiring a bird that can fly backwards and even upside down, instead of trying to document our encounter. Though having a shareable picture did give me a reason to read up on hummingbirds, which are exclusive to the New World — the Oxford English Dictionary makes that almost sound like a flaw.
Unlike this grey gal (lack of color indicates she's a female) most male hummingbirds are bright — Kenn Kaufman called them "flying jewels" in his Birds of North America. Their bills are often shaped to match the particular flowers they feed upon. They are also aggressive — a hummingbird will attack a hawk. Although the Encyclopedia Britannica, when making this startling claim, does not address the obvious follow-up question: "And how well does that work?"
Monday, September 19, 2022
Instead I pulled out a delicate blue tissue airletter that my grandmother's Aunt Fannie sent to her in 1953, that I've kept among my stamp collection since I was a child for the regal red coronation logo. To try to grasp the span of life that Queen Elizabeth's reign encompassed, when she was coronated, in June, 1953, my father was a 20-year-old radio operator aboard a ship visiting Britain. Now he is a 90-year-old man in a nursing home, er, dynamic senior lifestyle community.
"I am getting more and more excited at the thought of seeing your son," Fannie Ross, of 133 Spencer Place, Leeds, wrote to my grandmother Frances, whom she called Esther, her Hebrew name, before sharing news of the coronation, which took place a year after Elizabeth had become queen:
"I enjoyed the coronation very much. I stayed all day at my friends house to watch the television + everything went without a hitch — the streets in Leeds were deserted. I think almost everyone must have been looking or listening in."
So nothing much really changed in 70 years — most people camped in front of the television, watching a ceremony for royalty. You can decide if that is comforting or disturbing.
World War II was only eight years in the past, and the subject of shortages is next.
"You ask me what you can send me with your son when he comes — we can get most things, but we don't get best salmon or tins of fruit salad so those things would be welcome if it is convenient."
My father used to tell a story of that visit — that his great Aunt Fannie produced a small bottle of milk, with cream on the top, having heard of his affection for it, and watched him avidly until he drank it all.
I think I will resist the urge to add to the bad journalism hobby-horsing on the queen's passing. I noticed several articles referring to the "uncertain future" that Britain and her commonwealth now face after her death, as if those nations without a departed queen have our destiny pretty well preordained. We all have an uncertain future, all the time. Yes, sometimes it seems otherwise, and we feel we have a clear understanding of what will transpire, forgetting that, almost inevitably, we don't.
Sunday, September 18, 2022
"What will you do if it rains?" my wife asked, sensibility itself.
I thought. It had rained before. But in the 10 years I've been going to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with a group of convivial men, the forecast had never been quite as damp as this weekend was supposed to be.
"I suppose we'll do pretty much what we always do ," I replied. "Eat, drink, talk, take saunas, jump in the lake."
Which was true, except that last part. Thursday night, I got ankle deep in a very frigid Lake Superior after luxuriating in the revivifying heat of our host's wood-fueled sweat lodge and some primal element stopped me right there. Others braved it to their knees, but I made an executive decision. "I'm stopping here," I announced to no one.
And it didn't rain continually. Friday morning there were a few hours open for my brother and me to stride purposefully three miles up the road and three miles back, admiring wild turkeys and snakes, spiders and red apples. Saturday we went up and down the beach.
True, there were no sunsets to speak of. A gradual darkening Friday, and a slight pinkening of the horizon Saturday night. The bonfire on the beach took a more liberal and persistent application of accelerant than is typically necessary. But it did get going, with the aid of logs that were appropriated from the dry sauna supply, and we all sat in chairs and shouted conversation above the roar of the surf crashing a dozen feet away.
No conclusions, no epiphanies. I sat drained of thought staring in unthinking bovine contentment at the rime of lichen on a fir tree, or the glorious white bark of the birch trees everywhere. There were some dramatic clouds that blew through Saturday night that were a wonder to behold.
Saturday, September 17, 2022
|Drawing by Don Colley|
I never tell Northshore bureau chief Caren Jeskey what to write about. It would be as wrongheaded as shouting orders at a cloud or a butterfly. Though I must admit, when I saw where she was going with this I thought, "Oh no..." But then she pulled it off, as she always does. Enjoy.
By Caren Jeskey
The sky clears, illuminating the earth for a second,
And then frightens the sleeping birds
With a great clap of thunder, and like bitter tears
The drops of rain become noisily mixed with those already fallen.
Nature, frightened, hides under the rustling leaves,
The flowers close under this brutal dew
And the soaked earth boasts of bearing this squall alone.
The birds, flapping their wings, lift themselves up
And murmur softly, “The Storm.”
Not only was I primed to brave the weather, I was even willing to risk my life on the terrifying death trap of I-94.
Part of that is due to the "Fast & Furious" scene I naively drove straight into, late May of last year, on my final leg from Texas back home to Chicago. Racing isn’t the word for what I saw. Garish plastic sports bikes popping wheelies, dented up cars weaving in and out of the lanes. No speed limits, Autobahn style. I ducked off as soon as I dared, Indy wannabes coming up so quickly on my right I barely had a chance. I wish they’d stick to the Nascar course next July for that.
Although it did not seem certain on the harrowing drive with dim pavement lines buried under roll waves, I made it to Plymouth Court. Not many things can get me out of the house these days, but the Printers Row Lit Fest was one of them.
As a teen in the 80s, the then-called Printers Row Book Fair was a must attend event each year. Eye candy covers of new books, the promise of that perfect find or ten to bring home and get buried in, and the company of fellow book nerds made it the place to be if you were into that kind of thing.
Decades later I met an author and vendor from New York at the fair, and the following year he was my boyfriend and roommate in Chicago. We’d cozy up with tea on long afternoons, noses buried in crisp new copies of whatever we were reading, inhaling the fresh paper smell. (Actually, that part of our short lived relationship never happened, but that’s what I was aiming for).
Once parked last Sunday, I found my friend William. We made it into our seats moments before the big event at 2. The crowd went wild as none other than Neil Steinberg and Shermann Dilla Thomas took the stage.
The room was packed, and abuzz. TikTok historian Dilla and Neil did not miss a beat. They jumped right into impressing each other and their audience with little known facts about Chi town told deftly. They riffed off of each other like old pals, though this was their first meeting. Dilla offered that he finds himself agreeing with 83% of what he’s read by Neil. They both laughed.
In addition to his TikTok channel, Dilla operates Chicago Mahogany Tours. “According to the Washington Post ‘While national news outlets seem fixated on the city’s gun violence and crime, Shermann ‘Dilla’ Thomas has built an impressive audience by highlighting his hometown’s best qualities.”
The Dilla Steinberg duo was such a delight that we would gladly listen to the two of them regale us with swapped stories again. After the show one fan implored Dilla to start a podcast with Neil.
Neil shared stories from his new book with the succinct title Every Goddamn Day: A Highly Selective, Definitely Opinionated, and Alternatingly Humorous and Heartbreaking Historical Tour of Chicago.
When Neil and Dilla wrapped up, my friend and I made a plan. We’d get a quick bite, then head to the tent where Neil was selling and signing copies. We finished our burgers and dashed back to the Fest, only to see that it was no more. They must have closed up early due to the rain. We missed our big shot.
To keep the book mojo going we ducked into the local bookstore where William and I spent an hour sharing what shiny new books jumped out of the shelves at us— The Daughter of Doctor Moreau — along with books we’d read and wanted to recommend — The Stranger. I asked the poised proprietor Ellen Sandmeyer about Neil’s book and she said they were hoping to get it in the next day.
I left empty handed but full hearted and will pick up the book soon. We are all in for a fun ride.
Over spring mountains
A star ends the paragraph
Of a thunderstorm.
Friday, September 16, 2022
Last May 9, Delores Dorsett got together with friends to freebase cocaine. For about an hour they passed around a small glass pipe until they had smoked 2 grams of cocaine, for which they had paid $110.
The evening was typical for the 30-year-old Dorsett, who had been doing drugs since she was 16. In fact, the only difference that night was that Delores Dorsett was six months pregnant with her seventh child, and after inhaling the cocaine, she began experiencing cramps and abdominal pain.
So, on May 11 — Mother's Day — Dorsett went to Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Prentice Center for Women, where she had been participating in a program for chemically dependent mothers. At first, her doctor planned to administer Ritodrine, a drug that stops contractions and delays labor. But Dorsett was too far along by the time she arrived at the hospital. Nothing could be done to prevent the delivery. At 7:34 a.m. the next day she gave birth to her fourth daughter, Leanna. The newborn was Dorsett's second child affected by cocaine use, and one of the 100 or so "cocaine babies" delivered in the past year at Northwestern Memorial.
Leanna suffered from several problems frequently found in cocaine babies. Premature and underweight (1 pound, 13 ounces at birth), she had a clubfoot, deformed genitalia (doctors had to analyze her chromosomes to determine she was female) and other problems that required a colostomy, which was performed the day after her birth. At the same time, the traces of cocaine that had been detected in her blood at birth began to dissipate, and several days later Leanna went into cocaine withdrawal.
And Leanna was lucky. Because Delores Dorsett had been in Northwestern's in-patient treatment program, at least 21 days of her pregnancy were drug free. Doctors were ready to respond to Leanna's difficult birth, and afterward her development could be monitored by the handful of doctors in Chicago intimately familiar with cocaine's ravaging effects on newborns.
Most cocaine babies are born to women who have received no drug treatment, or even regular prenatal care, according to Chicago drug professionals.
"We get more and more calls," said Dr. Ira Chasnoff, director of Northwestern's Perinatal Center for Chemical Dependence, "from different hospitals saying, `We've just had a mother give birth, and the baby's terrible, and we found out the mother was on cocaine. What do we do?' "
The Northwestern program was begun 10 years ago to treat female heroin addicts and their babies. Cocaine babies were unheard of then. But within the past three years there has been a radical shift in the patterns of drug use in the streets. Today 80 percent of the women in Northwestern's perinatal program are primarily cocaine addicts.
There are no statistics available to determine how many cocaine babies are born in Chicago. One doctor at Northwestern estimated that hospital sees half of the cocaine babies born in the city, while another suggested it sees only 2 percent.
Whatever the number of cocaine births, there are indications they are rising. Not only do programs such as Northwestern's universally report huge increases in the number of cocaine addicts seen, but figures associated with cocaine — emergency room visits and deaths attributed to cocaine, for example — have shot up.
The closest to a hard statistic on general incidence of cocaine births is kept by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. By law, cocaine babies have to be reported to the DCFS, which is supposed to investigate the family situations. Reports given to DCFS are lumped under the agency's "substance misuse" category, along with those of parents who give drugs to their children. Substance misuse reports for Illinois jumped 27 percent to 423 in fiscal 1986, a rise DCFS attributed primarily to an increase in reports of drug-affected newborns. And hospitals only report children who have cocaine in their bloodstreams when born, so not all babies influenced by cocaine are reported.
While Northwestern's program is the only one in the Chicago area devoted to addicted mothers and their infants, cocaine babies also are born to women in various drug and perinatal programs scattered around the city.
Substance Abuse Services Inc., a network of drug-treatment facilities, has approximately 100 women who are pregnant or new mothers or who have recently miscarried participating in its programs. Michael Reese Hospital places cocaine-addicted pregnant women into its high risk obstetrics-gynecology program, where the emphasis is on their pregnancy, not their drug addiction. For each pregnant woman receiving treatment, many more women — some estimates say as many as 100 others — never seek help for their cocaine addiction, or special treatment for their cocaine-affected babies. "We don't see a lot of these people because they die before they get to us, and that includes children too," said the director of a large drug treatment program.
Many factors conspire to keep pregnant women from seeking treatment for cocaine abuse: cocaine's effect on developing fetuses is not widely known; addiction to the drug is very difficult to treat, almost requiring hospitalization for any hope of success; women face particular hurdles, and undergo personality changes. Finally, not enough treatment programs in the city are geared toward either cocaine addicts in general or pregnant women in particular.
Research on cocaine babies is itself in its infancy. The first medical paper on the subject, Chasnoff's "Cocaine Use in Pregnancy," was published in the New England Journal of Medicine only a year ago. While some basic questions — the effect of dosage and frequency of use on the fetus, the exact risk of deformity, the length of time cocaine stays in the baby's system — have not been answered, doctors are piecing together a picture of cocaine's impact on fetuses and infants.
The stage of pregnancy when cocaine is taken is extremely important. The first and third trimesters are the most dangerous times to use cocaine, experts say.
In the first trimester of pregnancy, cocaine can affect the development of the fetus. Cocaine constricts the blood vessels in the placenta, cutting the flow of nutrients and oxygen to the fetus, risking stillbirth and retarded development. The fetus's blood vessels also contract, causing deformities, particularly of the heart, lungs, digestive system and genital tracts. Increased blood pressure also means that fetuses are susceptible to suffering strokes in the womb.
Cocaine use in the third trimester of pregnancy can affect the delivery. Doctors have found that cocaine addicts have a very high rate of abruptio placenta — premature separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus — that can cause both mother and child to bleed to death. As in Leanna's case, premature labor frequently is a problem and once born, cocaine babies have slowed developmental responses and a higher rate of sudden infant death syndrome.
Cocaine does not "cause" these problems in the same way that thalidomide caused defects in children born to pregnant women who took the sedative in the early 1960s. Rather, cocaine greatly increases the odds that these defects will occur. Doctors haven't seen enough cocaine babies to develop statistics, but a current estimate is that women who use cocaine have at least five times as many defective babies as non-user mothers. And, just as using cocaine one time may cause death in an adult, so a single cocaine use can affect an infant's development or cause miscarriage. Doctors say it is not uncommon for a woman to go into labor and deliver immediately after using cocaine.
One problem found in most cocaine babies is withdrawal — a nervous, jumpy, tremulous state that affects 90 percent of cocaine babies. While withdrawal is physically temporary, it can cause long-term developmental problems. Babies in withdrawal are so irritable that a touch can set off spasms and crying. Their mothers tend to hold and nurture them less because of this, and lack of maternal contact hampers normal psychological development of the child. Thus an important part of treating mothers of cocaine babies is to teach them parenting skills and ways to calm the baby, such as swaddling.
Ignorance of the risks does not fully explain why cocaine-addicted women don't seek help. Cocaine — once considered a relatively benign drug of the rich — recently has been revealed as one of the most addictive drugs known, a "cunning and powerful, insane disease," according to one therapist.
Not only is it addictive, but addiction to cocaine is very difficult to conquer — one survey showed that 90 percent of cocaine addicts who become cocaine-free through treatment become addicts again.
It is not uncommon for women in cocaine treatment programs to deny the medical facts when presented to them. A woman who had been through inpatient treatment programs at Northwestern and Weiss Memorial Hospital described her addiction this way:
"I just wanted to do it, so I did it. Cocaine is a selfish drug. You might have your last $30, and you might have bills to pay, but you go out and spend it on cocaine. You really don't care. I knew I was pregnant. I knew the consequences. I'm a nurse. I work in a hospital. When you have that urge you really don't care. You do it."
Drug counselors often compare giving up cocaine to the death of a loved one. Cocaine addicts trying to give up the drug go through all of the stages normally associated with grief — denial, bargaining, anger. Often that anger is directed toward the new baby, who is blamed for the trial of treatment and the inevitable depression that follows giving up cocaine.
Not only do women fail to seek help because of the powerful grip of the drug, but the lifestyle that the drug almost always demands makes breaking addiction very difficult. People who use drugs gravitate together, addicts surrounding themselves with other addicts, who encourage their habits.
Most women in Northwestern's program are on public aid, and to pay for their addiction they sometimes turn to prostitution, theft and drug dealing, pursuits that in themselves are not easily abandoned once begun.
And finally, for women who manage to overcome all these obstacles to treatment, there is one more: treatment is not always easy to find. Pregnant women are in a double bind — they must find a program that accepts both their pregnancy and their cocaine addiction. This is not a simple task.
For example, the Garfield Women's Center is a state-run drug treatment facility with a program that can serve 90 women at a time. It accepts pregnant women — seven babies were born to patients last year. But, the methadone maintenance program does not accept cocaine addicts.
"Heroin was the primary drug of choice and now it is cocaine," said Jackie Freeney, director at Garfield. Freeney said that despite the shift, Garfield is not allowed to take in cocaine addicts because of funding restrictions. According to Freeney, a handful of cocaine addicts — no more than three at a time — are slipped into the program.
"We get calls every day (from women addicted to cocaine) — there's no place to refer these women and the places that do take them have extensive waiting lists," said Freeney. "There need to be more programs designed to meet just the needs of the cocaine abuser."
On the other hand, the Gateway Foundation, one of the largest drug treatment programs in the state, accepts cocaine addicts. Since 1983, the number of cocaine addicts treated at Gateway has quadrupled.
But it doesn't accept pregnant women, an "unfortunate reality," according to a Gateway director, who said that of the 2,000 patients treated there last year, only one was pregnant. The foundation simply cannot meet the medical needs of a pregnant addict.
It is a cliche that public programs are inadequate to handle the problems presented to them. But that doesn't diminish the fact that, due to the overcrowding and waiting lists, people — particularly pregnant women — seek out help and are turned away.
"The thing is being able to respond to a person when a person really wants to come in," said Chuck Corley, a counselor at Substance Abuse Services Inc. "When a person makes up their mind, you have to be ready, and if you're not ready, they slip back into drugs. In our case, what happens, the majority of the time, is by the time we get a pregnant woman (into our program), she's going into second or third trimester, and we'd like to get them in much earlier."
Private groups certainly have sprung up to meet the need. Due to demand, Weiss Memorial Hospital has had to triple the size of Lifeline — its rehabilitation program for cocaine addicts — since it began in January, 1985 Lifeline now sees more than 500 patients a year. Many private hospitals have substance abuse programs, along with facilities to handle pregnant women.
For example, Northwestern Memorial has a well-rounded program for pregnant cocaine addicts, with an inpatient program to help keep the mother off drugs, expert physicians in the field and clinics that track the child's development. Northwestern has no waiting list and is ready to accept new patients —at $600 a day, or $13,000 for the 21-day inpatient program. The assessment interview alone costs $60.
While medical insurance or public aid can cover most or all of the expenses, approximately half of the women in Chicago could not afford a private drug treatment program such as Northwestern's, either because they don't qualify for public aid and don't have insurance, or because they have insurance that doesn't cover drug treatment or that carries deductibles.
"Previously, people who used cocaine had significantly high financial resources — if they could afford the drug, they could afford the treatment," said Dr. Richard Sherman, head of Chicago's Alcoholic Treatment Program, who cited a reduction in the cost of cocaine as a major factor contributing to the problem of treatment. "Now we're seeing people who've gotten into trouble and can't afford a hospital stay. A lot of these people who don't get into private hospital programs don't get treated. There is a real need for residential treatment programs in the city."
Every Friday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., Northwestern Memorial has a clinic for cocaine babies. The waiting room is crowded with women holding infants. In one examination room Dr. Chasnoff is testing a 4-day-old infant for withdrawal — he pumps on the baby's arms and releases, and the baby cries a choppy, rasped cry, hands reaching out spasmodically, trembling.
"Cocaine babies tend to be very jittery, especially when lying nude," Chasnoff says. "They lose their boundaries."
In the next room, Dr. Dan Griffith, a psychologist, puts a month-old boy through a series of developmental tests.
"OK, let's check out your reflexes, big guy," he coos, running a finger over each tiny foot. Griffith is a large man who played off-tackle at Wabash College in Indiana, and it is a little surprising to see how tenderly he handles the baby.
"How's that grip" he asks, wrapping the baby's fist around his finger. "Oh good." He holds the baby up and tries to get him to take a step.
"Let's try some flying," he says, holding the baby out at arm's length and sweeping him through an arc. Griffith keeps up a running conversation with the baby, supplying his own responses. "Let's see how your eyes work. They work pretty well. You're supposed to turn your head. Right."
Griffith plants himself in a chair, holding the baby in front of him. "You're looking for me. Whoop! You found me!"
He holds his face inches from the baby's. "Hi big guy!"
The next patient is Leanna Dorsett, discharged from Northwestern just two weeks before. At three months of age, she weighs 5 pounds, 6 ounces — underweight for a newborn. Her eyes are milky and huge. With Leanna is her mother, Delores Dorsett, who prepared for her arrival home from the hospital the same way she prepared for her birth, by using cocaine.
The colostomy bag is irritating Leanna's skin, and Chasnoff shows Dorsett how to apply the bag properly. Dorsett asks if her baby is still suffering from withdrawal.
"Well, with babies this premature it's hard to tell," Chasnoff says. "She's a little shaky, but I can't tell if it's withdrawal or prematurity."
Someone asks whether the colostomy bag is permanent, and Chasnoff says that corrective surgery will be done as soon as Leanna weighs 20 pounds.
"Her big sister is 2 and hasn't got to 20 pounds yet," whispers psychologist Diane April, referring to Shanetta Dorsett, who was born with lung and heart defects. "So she may have to wait awhile."
The examination ends and Dorsett dresses her daughter in a light purple jumpsuit. Chasnoff, about to walk out to the other examining room to see another baby, consults his clipboard. "I need to see her next week," he says to Delores Dorsett. "She comes to term next week." He smiles. "It's her birthday."