The good teachers – the really good ones – don’t wait for rewards.
They’re usually too busy to market themselves to anybody. Anybody, that is, except their beloved students.
Such was the case with our Toni Dillon.
I’d met Toni at Lincoln Elementary, the big brick fortress on East 31st street where even my mother had been a student back in the 1920s. Having attended Lincoln myself, I was already familiar with the lay of the three floors, the hardwood, the massive stairwells, the big bay window in the largest Kindergarten classroom, and the steep auditorium whose stage was the lip of the gym. There were old school buildings all over Erie, but none quite like Lincoln.
Toni hadn’t grown up in our town. She was one of those special people who’d applied all around the country, and taken the first position that had opened up for her. Toni was from New Jersey, and probably one of only a handful of people from that state who had ever even been to Erie, Pennsylvania.
Newly bid into K-6 from the high schools, I was grateful to get one of the largest classrooms, an old art space complete with working sink, right across from the big Kindergarten with the bay window where I’d sat on the rug in 1962.
Toni was around the corner and across the hall, right near the door, and she had a whole wall of windows. Her students were the Emotional Support kids, boys, ages 9 – 11. Her room wasn’t huge, but it was packed with everything imaginable.
She had live critters everywhere, and growing things, and gizmos, and collections, and graphics, and all sorts of new activities to do every week, which she called her Projects. And, nobody was more enthusiastic about the latest Project than Toni, herself.
You could not contain your own energy when Toni was around. She was a whirlwind. She had to be; her boys, some of them fragile, many of them potentially volatile, needed her keen, undivided if indirect attention at every moment. And, Toni made it her mission to keep that attention, from the moment they passed through the door in the morning until they were safely on the bus at 2:30.
The reason I got to know Toni was all because of her personality; not a natural mixer, I was content to stay in my space. But, she loved to pop in, with an old filmstrip series found in a forgotten closet that she was sure I could use, or some other such reason to make contact. She called me RAZZ, a moniker I frankly enjoyed because, well, Toni “got” me; I, too, was enormously enthusiastic about my job as music teacher and, during those five years at Lincoln, probably the most committed and immersed in my role as I ever had been before or since.
The most admirable aspect of Toni was revealed to me the day she told me about her trips to the circus, with the one child in her class whom she had discovered to be essentially without family. This young boy, a slight little child with curly brown hair, had become a focus for Toni. Way beyond the call of duty, she had become a major part of his life. And, she did it simply because she was needed. Nothing ever stopped this woman from caring. Nothing.
The winter following my mother’s death, I’d spent Christmas day with almost everyone in my family except, of course, mum. The day was fractured by miscommunication. And, I, without going into detail, had been deeply hurt by the actions of my unwitting family. Running home to throw myself into bed and wail from the depths of grief and loss, I became quite hysterical and felt frightened by my despondency. I knew I needed to talk to somebody.
Toni was the first person who came to mind.
When I called her, she was actually home. And, she picked up. And, she listened. Toni listened, and let me cry it all out, and shared in my hurt and pain. She’d had similar experiences in her own family, as it turned out, and understood acutely everything that had just happened to me.
I never forgot that day. She may very well have saved my life.
As we proceeded through our teaching careers, forced to submit to the district’s bidding process, we were both moved out of Lincoln the same year, torn from students who had become such a part of our lives. Fatefully, the two of us ended up at Perry School, once again just down the hall from each other. And, for five more years, I was blessed again by her enormous heart.
But, the district would re – pair the schools, yet again, and this time I had to make the gut wrenching decision to leave Perry School. So, Toni and I were separated for the first time in nearly a decade.
Like too many teachers who had worked in those buildings, Toni had been diagnosed with cancer. She’d battled back, but this time the disease had moved further into her body and the fight was a full on suit of armor. We stayed in touch via email, Toni putting us all on a long list of friends and colleagues and, in true Toni style, mincing no words in describing her latest treatment plan and its progress.
For ten intense, exhausting years, Toni battled. Her goal, every year, was to get back to school. She needed to be with her students. And, somehow, she’d get through every day, sick as a dog, pushing, pushing, making it always, somehow.
Her funeral, just a few days after her 50th birthday, was impossible for all of us. We weren’t supposed to lose this woman. She’d been an Amazon of strength, of positive, up beat, fully open energy. She was always out there – kayaking (kayaking?!); befriending everybody at the Erie Zoo; mailing huge shipments of Care Packages to the soldiers in Iraq from, of course, her students (we’d met in the Post Office, the day that happened); supporting student efforts in the community, everywhere; and, even finding time to pay her respects to those who had passed (another bear hug, in the funeral home.) She was our Woman of the Year.
Toni died on Orthodox Christmas, January 6th, 2014. One of her dearest colleagues had made hologram ornaments for each of us, as remembrances; her face, and an angel, flickering back and forth, with her name on the back and the reminder: “Toni – an angel on earth, and now in heaven.”
I had saved mine on the secretary in the music room, amongst so many little things of sentimental value to me with which I could not part. Somehow, her face ended up propped against a mug and a Hallmark keepsake, between a tape measure, a ribbon, and a Sharpie, in random memorial.
This afternoon, I was in the midst of giving private Suzuki cello lessons in the music room. At one point, just after spending an intense phase of a session playing conductor to my newly appointed junior orchestra enrollee, I sat back down in my cello chair, to take a moment.
In that moment, I happened to glance over at the secretary.
There was Toni’s face, shimmering in hologram, smiling right at me.
But, right beneath her face, inexplicably, coming to me from the dimension where only Toni could reside, was the back of the tape measure upon which the ornament rested. And, this particular tape measure had extra room on its metric side, just enough for these words to appear, words which, at that moment, leaped out at me from across the chasm that separates us all from those who occupy the world which awaits:
Toni’s smiling face and, now, her caption: “Commit. Succeed.”
As if that weren’t totally enough to transport me for hours thereafter, I vowed right then to capture this in photograph.
When I went for my phone, and aimed its lens at Toni’s face, the hologram had more to say. Instead of Toni’s face, all I could seem to get was the angel!
Frustrated, I pulled up my cello chair and sat, to stabilize my arm, thinking that all my excited trembling was causing the angel to phase over Toni’s face.
Amazingly, as soon as I sat, Toni reappeared, smiling impishly right at me.
I stood up. And, the angel, again, covered her face.
I could only see Toni unless I was seated, on my cello chair!
Toni was telling me something. She was reminding me that it didn’t matter if I was pushing 60. It didn’t matter that I had retired, and only had some 14 students now instead of 800+. As long as I remained devoted to them, both I and they would reach the goals we’d set together.
All I had to do was stay in my cello chair. Be the cellist. Make the music. Teach my students the cello’s music. Some day we’d all rise up; but, until then, Toni’s angel would watch over us all.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 9/12/16 All rights those of the author, whose story it is, and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for your respect – for Toni. ❤
NOTE: This post will be of interest to those who have, or have had, issues with total cholesterol and/or triglycerides. While just one personal anecdote, it provides corroborative data that anyone might find both remarkably enlightening and, I hope, ultimately helpful.
And, certain eating habits were curious: Always fastidious about buying only organic and eating mostly whole foods, for much of the month I would follow such a food plan – except for concert week (if you’re new here, I’m a professional musician) which would invariably be all about “carb loading” – massive pasta with cheese and olive oil and peas and broccoli, generally, plus cheese sandwiches for “breakfast” – , as playing cello for two and a half hours takes raw, caloric power; MENC (Music Educators’ National Conference) discovered, decades ago, that cello takes more kinetic energy to play full throttle than any other instrument in the orchestra.
However, post concert rush (or, blues) (depending on [ highly self-critical ] personal outcomes), I had begun, in the privacy of my solitude, to binge. Never either anorexic or bulimic I was, nevertheless, a grotesque over-eater; I could pound seven cookies and never feel it; chocolate; a bag of [organic, whole grain] chips; or, even a pint of ice cream before passing out for the night.
Now, that lipid profile always requires a twelve hour fast.
So, dutifully, I’d fasted the 12.
The results, from August 3rd:
- HDL – 65 (great – all the avocados paid their dividends!)
- LDL – C (calculated*) – 166 (not good)
- Triglycerides – 304! (Serious.)
- Total Cholesterol – 291. High. Not good.
*(LDL is calculated by subtracting HDL from Trigs, then dividing by 5; it does not represent an actual measurement)
One doctor, viewing both these results and me for the first time, decided that I was seriously abusing my body. He told me to CUT THE ICE CREAM AND COOKIES. He said to CUT CARBS. He said to BOOST protein intake, and agreed that the supplement I’d found at the Co-op, with its massive Niacin component (2300 gs?!), COQ10, and red yeast rice, plus another, methylated B-complex, was a good regimen to continue. (I’d started on the two supplements August 22).
So, I did. I took about half the daily recommended dosage of each for about 8 or 9 days. Stopped eating cheese. Stopped eating bread and, not until Sept 3rd did I consume any of my beloved pasta.
But, the Niacin did a number on my heart. Atrial flutter was not new to me (1988 echogram revealed mitral valve prolapse, common among women of very small frame), but this jumping heart was keeping me awake at night. Research revealed that some people just can’t tolerate extra Niacin, for this very reason. And, the doc had also seen the blip in my heartbeat on the EKG.
Reluctantly, but with relief that I did not have an electrical “node” problem, I ceased the Niacin supplement, added Magnesium (thank you, Merja) returning it to the Co-op (for a full refund.) (They’re good like that.)
BUT: Here’s the thing: On the advice of a Facebook friend (thank you, David), I stocked up on my favorite Wild Caught Red Sockeye salmon, the smoked variety which was ready to eat. I ate about 7 ounces per day, for about a week. This had become a favorite anyway over the spring and summer – easy, tasty, and a quick source of major protein. Originally consuming it to reduce abdominal inflammation, I was about to find out just what else wild caught sockeye could do for me.
Plus, the Co-op had frozen salmon burgers. These would steam up in 6 or 7 minutes, and mix well with avocado and fresh, homegrown tomato.
And, I added about three breakfasts of oatmeal and a handful of whole walnuts to the plan, as well as a return to about six days of sometimes two servings of my predigested powdered rice bran derivative almond milk shakes (Rice Manna/Patty McPeak).
So — in Summary:
1.) approx. 9 days of half doses of massive niacin, red yeast rice, COq10;
2.) approx. 9 more days of major sockeye salmon intake;
3.) predigested rice bran derivative almond milk protein shakes;
4.) a few small bowls of oatmeal, w almond milk, and walnuts;
5.) deletion of cheese, bread and pasta. 6.) increased daily intake of Vitamin C, D3, and B-complex.
On September 1st, I submitted to a Lipid panel again, this time specifically to test for lipid particle size and density. My research had shown that, if the fatty particles were small and prolific, these would adhere to the vessel walls and lead to cardiovascular disease; if large and “fluffy”, no threat in that arena, apparently, at all. A real coconut oil lover and promoter, I’d consumed quite a bit over the past weeks, as well, frying omelettes in it and, of course, using it as a facial make up base. Plus, the sweet desserts from the Co-op that populated my binges always contained coconut milk. The study I found had theorized that coconut milk and its oil only produced large LDL particles, the “safer” kind, and I was on a mission to see what kind were rolling around in my blood.
The only national laboratory that tests for particle size and density is LABCORPS. My town tends to favor ACL, but ACL has no test for this – LABCORPS actually developed the test.
And, as many may know, my elder brother, Nathan, was a LABCORPS director for several decades across the country [ Albuquerque; Phoenix; Winston-Salem; Louisville; Cincinnati; Chicago ] and still consults. I texted him; he gave me the codes, and my doc called in the test.
The vial was shipped to Burlington, NC to be run. Results came in within 5 days. When I read them, I gasped and exclaimed so effusively that the two techs at LabCorps actually stared and laughed.
- HDL – C — 90 (60, or above, is considered excellent)
- triglycerides — 110 (ref.range: 0 -149)
- Cholesterol, total — 167 (ref.range: 100 – 199)
- HDL – P (particles) — 40.4 (ref. range: >30.5 = Low CVD risk)
- Small LDL – P — <90 ( ref.range: <=527)
And: as for the size of LDL particles? “LDL levels not sufficient for size determination” – There were so few, they could not fulfill the test!
….all this…….in less than one MONTH!
So, David from Facebook was, apparently, right; Wild Caught Salmon intake caused his trigs and LDL to plummet in a month’s time, as well; and, the LABCORPS tech knew of a friend’s relative who consumed only salmon and brown rice, and had been told he had “the heart of a 23 year old.”
Speculations Worth Noting:
Nathan had said to me that he’d been trying to convince physicians regarding the twelve hour fast, which is a requisite for lipid panel assessment. He believed that, unless eating patterns were relatively balanced and stable prior to the test, fasting for twelve hours would not produce a valid representation of overall maintenance levels.
In short: BINGING affects blood test results, even when fasting for twelve hours. Every time you consume carbohydrates, your triglycerides go up; if you consume them in massive quantities, they will likely remain elevated even if you fast for twelve hours — and, your test results will be, at best, misleading and, at worst, likely to provoke you to submit to dangerous statin drugs.
My Conclusion: A solid, organic, whole food plan, on maintenance (minus the binges on cookies, cake, ice cream, and chocolate) provides the true read on blood fats and cholesterol. And, binging is proof that it might only take one over-indulgence to threaten blood into sludge so thick that one clot could cause a nearly critical cardiovascular (or, cerebral) event.
I hope those of you who read this all the way to the end can take the same lesson from it that was provided to me: Maintain a solid food plan and, when you indulge, be sure to check your quantities at the door and then counter with blood cleansing foods like wild caught sockeye salmon (farmed is inflaming), whole walnuts, and rice bran derivative protein shakes. It’ll be far more than just the doctor and the lab techs who’ll smile about it; your blood will thank you, and so will your heart.
© 9/7/16 Ruth Ann Scanzillo — Please share freely!!!!