The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 3, 2006


Home delivery

This week the Mosquito takes a look at the Transfer Station and the value — economically and environmentally — of recycling our household trash. While Carlisle concentrates on separating Coke cans from Friskies cat food cans and newspapers from magazines, the Boston Globe recently carried its recycling program to an embarrassing extreme.

In addition to delivering the Globe one late January weekend, the newspaper also delivered confidential credit card information belonging to some 240,000 subscribers. Apparently about 9,000 bundles of newspapers dropped off for delivery were packed with routing slips that had been printed internally on recycled paper containing the credit card numbers. (The Globe's publisher, Richard Gilman, said the practice of using recycled slips would stop immediately.)

As a Globe subscriber who pays by credit card, I read about the problem and for some reason (denial?), I doubted that my information had been distributed. It seemed too bizarre. Two weeks later I opened an apologetic letter from the Globe that included a web site where subscribers could determine if their information had been released. I sprang into action. I input my phone number and zip code and received an immediate reply. The Boston Globe was "incredibly sorry" to confirm that my account had been one of those released, and suggested various steps I could take to monitor any unauthorized use of my card.

One of those steps was access to a free online credit monitoring system that the Globe offered to affected subscribers. As prompted, I input personal information in order to access my credit report. After 20 minutes of providing my father's middle name and my previous address, in addition to other intrusive questions (including my Social Security number), the final screen regretted that the system was unable to provide my credit report. I called the agency's toll-free number, again had to provide my Social Security number, this time to a human, but the human too was unable to access my credit report.

In frustration, I contacted one of the fee-based credit-reporting systems listed on the Globe's site, paid $10, and received my on-line report. Fortunately, there was no evidence of any unauthorized charges. I've been lucky — so far. In the Police Log in the February 17 Mosquito, a Carlisle resident reported illegal use of a credit card following the Boston Globe blunder.

The Globe reportedly had security systems in place to prevent confidential information from being reprinted, but these failed. If the credit information had to be printed out, why weren't the pages shredded? Shredded paper is recyclable. In Carlisle, it goes into the Mixed Paper bin at the Transfer Station.

Dreaded conversations

I'm talking here not about the ones we do (or don't) have with our pre-teens or teens; rather the ones we could have with our parents and other loved ones about what will happen emotionally when they near death.

My mother had often talked about her adamant belief that people should die with dignity and that those who opposed choice about how and when to die were simply busybodies. (Anyone who knew my mom would smile at this. Katharine Schwan Barbee rarely expressed opinions that weren't at the very least fierce. Thus the family adjective "Schwanian" was used when one of us launched into a diatribe.) It wasn't a "conversation" my mom offered on this subject, but it was more than enough for me at the time.

So when she was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 1999, it was perhaps odd that all of us were so unprepared, not just for the illness but for emotional protocol. To my surprise, mom readily agreed to undergo treatment. Another of her adamancies-in-the-abstract had been that chemo and radiation would not be worth living through. Ha! She could be swayed by hope!

She had one go at chemo, after which the oncologist told me — not my mother, not my father — that he was sending her home to die. This doctor, who had for decades dealt with hope and the end of it, could not bring himself to speak to his patient of death. He simply signed the hospice forms.

Five months later she was dead. Mom and I had sweeter time together during those months than we'd had in many years. Some conversations were difficult; it wasn't easy to bear her anger that I, a mother of small children, wouldn't act to hasten her death. Weeks later, when I found old newsletters from the Hemlock Society in her files, I struggled with the feeling that she had been hypocritical and unfair to me in not having taken any realistic steps to die her own way.

My dad, who was profoundly shocked to outlive her, died a 15-month-long suicide assisted by the second-greatest comfort of his life, alcohol. The last week, while he was sometimes in but mostly out of consciousness, I talked to him, sang to him, read to him, told him it was okay to let go. He was free of any obligation to respond. He died peacefully; I was released from the pain of parenting a parent, of the surreal quality of a time lived between two places and two emotional spaces.

Advice abounds about what needs to be discussed regarding a loved one's wishes during illness and at death. Have a living will and a health-care proxy. Extraordinary measures, or none. Cremation or burial. Financial assets and inheritance. These conversations are difficult, so many of us don't have them.

But even more difficult are the conversations we should have about the emotional inevitabilities, for the dying person and the worried loved one. Public debates about the "right" to die (a peculiar term, given the lack of choice in the matter) barely scratch the surface. Discussions about religious principle and about the slippery slope of assisted suicide do not get at the fundamentals of hope, fear, and resignation that each of us faces, both before and when the time comes.


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2006 The Carlisle Mosquito