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Dying to Play the Choking Game.

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Alex_1BURLINGTON CT – Alex took his last natural breath on October 12, 2013. It was a Saturday night, just before shower time, when the 14-year-old made a critical miscalculation. His mom, Brandi, can painfully recall how she found her son in his bedroom at their home in Burlington, CT: his positioning on the floor; how he must have thought that he would have control; the way he was slouched against his dresser; and the tension of the belt.

It did not immediately seem clear, but it all falls into place now. The signs were there. Alex died while playing the Choking Game, a dangerous practice of tweens and teens in which they self-strangulate in order to achieve a brief high. It is often referred to as the Good Kids’ High.

TYPICAL PROFILE (Taken from the DB Foundation, Inc.) Unlike other risk-taking behaviors, self-choking often occurs across the spectrum of adolescents. 9-16 is the most common age and it is predominantly male participants who are the fatal victims, although younger and older adolescents along with females are involved.

When you lose a child, hindsight can be as vicious as a recurring nightmare. Alex’s mom can remember a mark on his neck that resembled a hickey. “It almost looked like it could have been a scrape caused by the heel of a shoe,” Brandi remembers.”

Alex was an active kid. He played in wooded areas. He played with others on trampolines. Kids collide. Kids get scrapes and bruises. “I did see signs, but I didn’t know they were signs until I read more about this. Then it all made sense… the mark on his neck.” Brandi cannot hold back the tears. “If I had known of these signs, maybe I could have intervened.”

FACTS OF THE CHOKING GAME (Taken from the DB Foundation, Inc.) Youth who might participate range in age from 7-21 and it is especially common in middle school-aged children. Survey data indicate boys and girls are equally likely to participate in groups but boys are more likely to attempt it alone. The goal is a desired ‘floaty’, ‘tingling’, ‘high’ sensation. However, not all participants are seeking a ‘high’; some participate as a pastime, out of curiosity, or because of peer pressure. Many do not perceive a risk when engaging in this practice.

Brandi thinks about the shape of the mark on his neck: Could it have looked like a belt buckle? She thinks about the increased requests for Ibuprofen: Why so many headaches? He was sometimes irritable and crabby: But aren’t most teens? “This was not the first time he had done it,” she says.

Brandi remembers a time when she called Alex from his room for some help. She now believes that she interrupted him in the middle of it. “He came out… and he must have just begun getting that rush to his head because he seemed woozy and dazed. If I had known about this (the Choking Game) back then – even if I didn’t think he was doing it – I could have talked to him about it.”

FACTS OF THE CHOKING GAME (Taken from the DB Foundation, Inc.) The object of the ‘game’ is asphyxiation, to apply pressure restricting oxygen and/or blood flow to the brain. This is accomplished via several methods. Diminishing oxygen to the brain produces a sensation or ‘high’ and the beginning of permanent cell death. When the victim is rendered unconscious, the pressure is released and the secondary ‘high’ of the oxygen/blood rushing to the brain is achieved. If the victim is alone,  there is no one to release the pressure upon unconsciousness and the victim’s own body weight continues to tighten the ligature usually resulting in death.

“We talked to Alex about drugs, sex, and alcohol. He didn’t take crazy risks. He was afraid of getting into trouble. He was more risky about being sneaky with things that wouldn’t hurt him, like playing video games andunnamedrbg staying out past curfew,” Brandi adds.”

“We had an awesome family dinner. We were laughing and talking about an upcoming Halloween party. He was a funny kid, always making people laugh. He was a good student looking forward to studying Electrical at Oliver Wolcott Tech. He loved to fish and couldn’t wait to move to our new house on the lake.” As she talks, her tears are so heavy that they sometimes miss her face, landing directly on her sweatshirt or the floor. “Sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday, and in another sense it feels like it’s been forever since I’ve seen or heard my sweet Alex.”

METHODS (Taken from the DB Foundation, Inc.) Bear-hug Chest Compression (group), Palms to Chest Compression (group) , Choke-hold neck Compression (group), Hyperventilation combined with any of the previously mentioned (group), Palms to Carotid Neck Compression (group and solo), Hyperventilation with Thumb Blow (solo), Thumb Blow (solo), Ligature (solo).

Brandi has learned a lot about the “Choking Game” since that horrific night five months ago. She has heard from other kids in the area who have also “played” the “game” – some of them knew Alex – and they thank her for talking openly about his death. It has caused some of them to stop. She is sure that there are others in his peer groups who are also taking the same dangerous risks. “A lot of parents I’ve met online – who have lost children from the choking game – had children 13 or 14 (years-old). Many of the circumstances are eerily similar. Many of their death certificates are improperly recorded.”

“I love my son and I miss him so much. I can’t imagine anyone else having to go through this. I’ve met many parents who have lost kids. I belong to a group of a great bunch of mom’s who are unfortunately on the same journey. You don’t realize how many people are living and going through the pain of losing a child… until you are there. Don’t take things for granted. Take in every moment you can with your kids. Just talk to them. They don’t understand consequences. They need to be afraid. They don’t think anything is going to happen to them.”

CONSEQUENCES (Taken from the DB Foundation, Inc.) Unconsciousness can occur in a matter of seconds. Within three minutes of continued strangulation, basic functions such as memory, balance, and the central nervous system start to fail. Death occurs shortly after. Other consequences include bruises and concussions, broken bones, seizures, brain damage, memory loss, retinal hemorrhaging, and stroke.

Brandi hopes that other parents will have conversations with their children about the dangers of the Choking Game. She documents some of her thoughts about life without Alex on her Facebook page: meetings and discussions with other grieving parents; incidences of her one-year-old son kissing and holding pictures of his older brother; and remembrances of her ‘Sweet Angel.”

Brandi delays her tears, “I can picture Alex… saying, ‘Crap, what did I just do? Oh my God, what did I just do? Mom, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to do this. I should have listened to you when you told me to think before I do something.’”

“Do you know what I mean? I could ‘feel’ him saying that to me,” She continues, tears forming again, voice quivering, “‘I’m sorry Mom, I didn’t know.’”

“Your kids may already know about the game and could be talking about it. It’s too late for me, but not for you. I urge parents to educate themselves and know the signs. This is not a game and children need to know the risks. If it can happen to Alex, it can happen to them.”

The Internet has many resources for those wanting more information about the Choking Game. The following links are a good starting point. Please take the time to explore them.

Set up by families of Choking Game victims, G.A.S.P. is a global nonprofit campaign that fights the “game” through education.

The Choking Game: Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play is G.A.S.P.’s short film that parents and children should watch together.

Operation: PARENTS Turn on the Lights – Choking Game is a video that is disturbing, informative, and shocking. The clips are pulled directly from the web and may be too graphic for minors. The final segment shows a teen explaining how the Choking Game is played.

The DB Foundation Inc, also provides valuable information.

Follow Me

Posted: March 28, 2013 in Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah

Hi Friends.

My new home for Conversation Youth Sports (formerly A Sporting Dad’s View) is:

The Central Connecticut Post

Besides youth sports, I’ll be writing about the little bits and pieces of life that are sometimes overlooked or quickly forgotten.

I hope that you’ll share my column with your friends and family.

Thanks!

Ron

My Friend Sal

Posted: February 25, 2013 in Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah
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While just as fascinating as it is complicated – the human body was designed to kill us and it eventually will.

How else to explain a pump that can stop at any moment – with only a slim chance of being restarted? Or the mind that flits so far astay it can never find its way back?

How else to explain a skull not thick enough to survive a windshield or a mind not strong enough to will it away from a drink before that ride?

And how else to explain an oxygen-rich river on the verge of bursting its weak vessel wall – or a mutant cell hiding and then exploding into the body like a poisonous grenade?

Yet sometimes the body and mind will take its owner on a long journey – far away from birth. Sometimes luck, or God, or a hundred other dips and turns lead it past ninety – and lead it well.

Sal’s body and mind has led him past his 94th birthday.

There’s been some luck involved, like making it out of a World War alive. His body and his mind held up famously through it all. He is a bit disappointed that it took his country and his state so long to thank him with a small ceremony, certificate, and picture with a politician.

He wishes it had been sooner so that those who weren’t lucky enough to make it into their late-80’s could have also enjoyed the extra attention. But it’s a lovely picture because even at this stage of his life, Sal has a smile that flickers in your mind for the entire day.

His wife isn’t quite as lucky as Sal though. He kept her at home for as long as possible. He finally had to give her up to a place that could tend to her day and night. Alzheimer’s can be as sneaky as a gray hair – sparse at first – even unnoticeable until one morning the whole cluster gangs up on you and changes the view you were once used to.

Sal can do almost everything on his own although he is a bit unsteady and has only been out of the hospital one full weekend after six weeks of treatment for a heart issue. He was lucky at the time of the episode that he was near his phone.

I was lucky on this bright Monday morning when Sal pulled an eighty-year-old Universal coffee percolator from the back of the counter. His mother-in-law once worked at the New Britain company that made them. He scoffed at the sight of the new Keureg that sparkled fancy and new across the counter. We were going to have a real man’s cup of coffee.

Sal is an Italian guy who grew up in a Polish neighborhood. He learned early on that everyone is basically the same inside so he doesn’t care much about the differences on the outside. He said the Japanese soldiers, all those years before, weren’t much different from him or his buddies. They were following orders. The enemy wanted to be back with family – safe and sound just as they did.

He doesn’t think a two-party political system will ever solve our problems – too much gridlock. He doesn’t need a cell phone or a computer either. He’s gotten this far without them. The house is equipped with Wi-Fi for his son and daughter-in-law but she’s also a jigsaw puzzle fanatic and he seems to appreciate the balance between high-tech and no-tech. 

Sal cannot wait until I’m back to see him again. I’m anxious for my return visit as well. We were both in need of each other at exactly the same time. And somehow we were matched-up together. Just lucky I guess.   

Sometimes

Posted: February 20, 2013 in Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah
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Sometimes I wonder why I am here instead of there.

Sometimes I want to get on my bike and pedal all day.

Sometimes I feel very cranky and can’t figure out how to stop it.

Sometimes I wonder why people care so much about the race and so little about each other.

Sometimes people treat me like I’m a complete idiot.

Sometimes people give me more credit than I deserve.

Sometimes I watch the Brady Bunch because I like seeing what a normal family is like.

Sometimes I’m obsessed with leaving a lasting legacy behind.

Sometimes I judge people by what they say.

Sometimes I judge people by what they do.

Sometimes I’m disappointed by people who ought to know better.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night scared to death.

Sometimes I wish I could do more for certain people.

Sometimes I wish I was never born.

Sometimes I wish I could live forever.

Sometimes I’m not a good listener.

Sometimes I say way too much.

Sometimes I can’t figure out how to get from point A to point B.

Sometimes I forget things that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Sometimes I remember things that should not be remembered.

Sometimes I wonder how my little space will be filled after I’m gone.

Sometimes music makes my insides move in crazy directions.

Sometimes when I tug at the hairs of my goatee everything moves a bit slower.

Sometimes I panic when the phone rings.

Sometimes I’m stuck. Just plain stuck.

Sometimes I think I’d better serve the world as a vigilante.

Sometimes my impatience with others makes me appear arrogant.

Sometimes I hate myself for having weaknesses.

Sometimes I obsess over not having the correct answers.

Sometimes others don’t understand my motives.

Sometimes I don’t understand theirs either.

Sometimes I stutter.

Sometimes I’m charming.

Sometimes you’ll think I’m being serious.

Sometimes you’ll assume I’m joking.

Sometimes I hate me.

Sometimes you’ll hate me.

Sometimes you won’t.

Sometimes I’ll care.

Sometimes I won’t.

Sometimes nothing matters.

Sometimes it all does.

Sometimes I’ll type words on the screen and wonder where they came from.

Sometimes I clench my teeth.

Sometimes I think it’s unfair that only twenty-five years ago I was 25 and twenty-five years from now I’ll be 75 and hardly remember the 25-year-old.

Sometimes I have a thought that is longer than the rest of them.

Sometimes I wonder how Barney was ever more popular than Sesame Street.

Sometimes this world sucks.

Sometimes it’s wonderful.

Sometimes what starts out as a good idea can get kind of boring.

Sometimes I need to stop.

Sometimes I don’t.

Sometimes I do.

A few random thoughts today:

I hate when I’m finished with my shower and then realize that I forgot to bring a towel into the bathroom with me. Sometimes I’ll just grab the clothes that I’ve just taken off and use them.

It snowed a bit here in the Northeast over the weekend.

My favorite station on Pandora for when I’m working from home is Acoustic New Age. Check it out sometime. I’m still looking for an app that tells Pandora that I’m still listening though.

When I die, I don’t want to be displayed in a freaking casket with people touching me (I hate being touched) and looking at my double chin and how my goatee doesn’t fill in as nicely as George Clooney’s did in some movie I saw him in. Just sprinkle me somewhere and slap my nameplate on a bench along the bike trail.

I have a NY Giants football card collection with cards dating back to 1948. There are at least nine albums up there in the closet. Kids don’t collect cards like they once did. I remember riding my bike down to Midi Mart or Frank’s Stationary with a pocket of change and then sniffing the fresh cardboard and stale gum. Ah, the scent of a… football card.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere.” Martin Luther King, Jr. That’s my favorite quote.

If your kid is looking for a great African American figure to talk about in class during Black History Month, try the turn of the century cyclist, Marshall “Major” Taylor. He’s a world champion who most people have never heard about.

Hold on a second please. Where’s that bottle of water? I need a sip – just a sip. I didn’t think five minutes of typing would make me that thirsty.

Remember what Peter Parker’s uncle told him. And remember that if Peter hadn’t let that bad guy go, poor Uncle Ben would still be alive today.

At 49, I still feel like I’m a work in progress. Is that bad?

I can’t stand how impatient some of those investors on Shark Tank get. Sometimes Mark Cuban will say, “I’m a basketball guy so I’m giving you 24 seconds to make up your mind.” Holy cow! It takes me longer than that to punch in my four numbers at the ATM to get twenty bucks, let alone decide my entire future.

A brand new friend of mine emailed a wonderful poem to me last week. It’s called, Please Hear What I Am Not Saying. It’s about the masks we sometimes wear and the words we sometimes speak and how we are often just begging to be heard – to be seen – to be helped.

I’ve been writing a weekly column dedicated to issues surrounding youth sports for about a year and a half. There are a growing number of parents who are unhappy with how some of their community’s programs are being run. Most parents are worried about the repercussions that their child might ultimately suffer if they become one of those parents and express their concerns.

A Sporting Dad’s View covers many of these important topics. Take a click over and check it out. I’d love to hear what you are doing in your town to address some of these issues. And what would you think of a forum where an outside group would come in and meet with an organization’s board members, coaches, and parents with the mission of creating an environment where every child can thrive?

Yes Pandora, I’m STILL listening. Where’s that bottle of water? I need another swig.

Thirty Years Ago

Posted: February 8, 2013 in Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah

I became a father for the first time on this day in 1983.

It was a little more than seven months after walking across the stage and being handed my high school diploma. Except the padded maroon holder we all received was empty. We were a day short of the state requirements and would have to return for one more day if we wanted to fill it with a document.

I know of one classmate   from that group with a son who is slightly older than mine. There could be others but I’m thinking I’m top five in that category.

And damn if I didn’t grow up in a hurry. I went from stocking shelves at Washington Discount to cleaning a paint factory in Avon.

I went from playing hockey on Pine Lake and Atari football to inhaling toxic fumes and working with some of the biggest drug users I’d ever been around.

One fond memory is of using my parent’s house for a New Year’s Eve Party. I found one coworker searching my parent’s bedroom for a razor blade. He was so high he barely understood my pleas for him to go back down to the party. He was the last to leave. I tried to fight him for his keys. He got away. He was stopped in front of the Police Department on the way home and couldn’t drive for a year. Back at work, I took the blame. They had fed him his drug, and I was vilified.

Another party took place at a coworker’s home. It was a get together to watch a boxing match. We all had that passion in common. The house was kind of bare. I noticed a nice family portrait on the wall. Two young kids and the mom and dad. An hour later the portrait was missing. I saw it later in the next room as dad and others were snorting lines of cocaine off it with a rolled up dollar bill. I said, “No thanks.” If my heart is going to explode I’d rather have my family point to a Big Mac as the culprit.

I’d gone all through high school without using drugs. I was the outcast among my friends because of it. I stayed off to the side. A lot of them are pretty screwed up now. I hated a lot of them. Some were bullies. Some were phonies. Some kids from high school who I never even talked to are among my favorite people now.

Maybe some don’t remember that they were jerks back then. I bet a lot of them do and have put it behind them. That’s cool. I found a person who was relentless as far as bullying me. I doubt that he’s forgotten.

I’d love to hear an apology. I know, I know – it was a long time ago but we teach our kids about bullying at a very young age. They know it’s wrong. And yes, I’ve moved on. But some things are not meant to be forgotten. They have all contributed to who we are today.

My goal as a father has always been to spend as much time as possible with my children. They were my safe house.

And that’s how it was with my very first born. My favorite memories with him were running around the baseball field in Orleans, MA and kicking a ball back and forth. We’ve done a thousand things together but for some reason I’m transported to my happy place with that one. And then we’d walk to the playground afterwards and chase each other around.

He was the first to meet the Daddy Monster. That was me with a blanket over my head. I’d be on my knees crawling towards him repeating,” I’m the Daddy Monster and I’m going to get you.” The second child in line will remember that as well.

Kissy-kissy time was great too. I’d pin him on his back and kiss his face until he was so tired from laughing and asking me to stop that he’d take a nice long nap.

My first child. My oldest son. It’s his 30th birthday today. I hope he learned a bit about being a man from me. I hope he remembers when he was the kid that could make me feel normal by sitting on my lap and watching Thundercats.

There might be two feet of snow between us today but I hope he knows he’s on my mind. Not only today but every single one of them since I first held him.