When the online helpdesk software is active all the time, the customers can check on the status of requests to find out if they ought to provide more information. When fully customized, it allows businesses to apply the prevailing designs of brands while using their domains and email addresses. Features found in helpdesk software include live chat, knowledgebase, online support forums, voice or phone support, frequently asked questions, support ticketing workflow, wikis and remote support. The proper use of helpdesk software empowers the business to monitor and at the same time respond to all the customer requests within a very short time.
Multi Channel Online Helpdesk Software
When using the online helpdesk software, one way of keeping into contact with customers is by plugging live agents into the emails to automatically create tickets. When this happens, there are no chances of missing out on an email from an important client again. This is because each email is made into a ticket automatically before it is assigned to the right department. There are times when there may be multiple emails from several customers. To handle this, multiple email addresses are added, filtered, set, rerouted and streamlined to help in the support process. This will make handling emails become an easy task.
Adding a chat button on the website used is another way of using online helpdesk software. This ensures than whenever there is a customer in the line with a question, there is someone to help. Live chat is said to increase conversion rates of visitors to become regular customers by a whopping 23%. By using live chats, agents are able to see what the customer is typing even before they send the message. It allows the agents to send attachments as well as see where the visitors are from. The best part is that it allows the transfer of chats to other agents. Find out more about help desk software here.
Using Online Helpdesk Software In Voice Support And Monitoring
Online helpdesk software is used in Facebook and other social media. The ticket communications are archived in tickets. The comments and posts by customers are categorized and searched on Facebook. This can be used to surprise the customers with speed when tickets are responded to automatically whenever clients post on Facebook. At the same time, a number of unlimited profiles and wall pages can be managed within one center. It is necessary to define access to the Facebook pages through the live agents and the agents pages on Facebook need to be restricted.
When using the online helpdesk software, customers can be talked to over the phone or alternatively, pc to pc calls can be made. There is no need to have the agents being purchased for phones as calls can be received on the computer directly. Live agents can use Twillio for the integrations of voice calls and get a 1-800 number for customer care services. When there are simultaneous calls from various customers, there is no need to deal with each on a one on one basis. Instead, the conversations and chats can be kept in one ticket and answered at once. Call routing schemes can be automated with unlimited number of agents or departments.]]>
Buyers of LAN backup software are increasingly getting packages with data-management functions reminiscent of mainframe applications.
Features such as tape rotation, data migration, new operating system support and HSM (hierarchical storage management) are being added to LAN backup packages as users continue to downsize applications and implement client/server applications.
“As operations move from centralized to decentralized applications, the importance of protecting data is critical,” said Edward Gaudet, director of marketing for Software Partners/32 Inc., a supplier of systems-management software for VAX and Unix environments in Topsfield, Mass.
For high-end storage management on LANs, many tape-backup software vendors are supporting the Data Migration and HCSS (High Capacity Storage System) functions in NetWare 4.0. This allows infrequently used files to be automatically transferred from hard disk to optical or tape drives. While the files are stored off-line, their names are maintained in the volume directory. When accessed, the migrated data is returned to the hard-disk drive.
“This is a major help for situations where there are network hard drive crashes, or just outright disk failures,” says Rick Marcus, a data recovery technician for Hard Drive Recovery Group, a recovery lab in Irvine, CA.
The HCSS feature allows files to be migrated onto rewritable optical disks or jukeboxes. As the available hard-disk space reaches a user-defined level, files are migrated to the optical disk.
“We now have intelligent pre-setting of backups, tape rotation, and automatic error verification and retrying — all of the tools to have a more intelligent backup system,” said Mike Wehrs, director of business development for Conner Software Products Group in Lake Mary, Fla.
Slated to ship next month, Conner Backup Exec NLM 4.0 for NetWare LANs will also provide greater flexibility in establishing customized backup automation and tracking, said Wehrs.
Another tape-backup package, ARCserve 5.0 from Cheyenne Software Inc., also added data-migration capabilities by supporting NetWare’s HCSS function. One challenge for backup-software developers providing this function is knowing which files have been migrated to optical disk, said Jim McNeil, vice president of business development for Cheyenne in Roslyn, N.Y.
“Under NetWare 4.0, migrated files still appear to be on the server. If you take a standard application and do a backup, all of the migrated files will be brought back to the hard disk,” McNeil said. ARCserve 5.0 knows how to back up only those files on the primary storage device.
Support for SMS
Many LAN tape-backup vendors are also planning support for NetWare’s SMS (Storage Management Services), a set of application programming interfaces to the NetWare file system.
Among those backup products that support SMS are Conner Backup Exec NLM 4.0; Sytos Preserver, due in late summer from Sytron Corp.; Legato NetWorker 2.2 from Legato Systems Inc.; ARCserve 5.0; and Network Archivist from Palindrome Corp., which will provide full SMS support by the fourth quarter.
Legato NetWorker 2.2 also takes advantage of NetWare 4.0′s NDS (NetWare Directory Services), a networkwide, distributed database that replaces the bindery in earlier NetWare versions. While the bindery in NetWare 3.11 managed a single file server, NDS supports all servers on a network, regardless of their location.
Legato NetWorker 2.2 uses NDS to provide an administrator’s view as well as a customizable view of all client and server files across a network with both NetWare and Unix servers, said Edward Cooper, vice president and general manager of Legato’s PC products group in Palo Alto, Calif.
Data- and storage-management features provided in Legato NetWorker include tape rotation, file migration, disk grooming and disk management. Legato NetWorker supports both Unix and NetWare environments.
Version 3.0 of the Network Archivist, which shipped earlier this month, also includes features that take advantage of NDS and file migration, according to Ron Birchall, president of Palindrome, in Naperville, Ill.
“It is important for a backup system to capture a copy of the directory service database” in case the network fails, Birchall said.
No substitute for backup
While the data migration provided in NetWare 4.0 does move files to a more permanent medium, it should not be viewed as an alternative to backing up, warned Birchall. “This is not a replacement or an alternative to backup and archiving. … What happens if there is a fire in the computer room and the optical disks are melted?” he asked.
“The way Network Archivist works in this environment is that it will have captured and archived data before it is migrated,” said Birchall. “Then, it will not need to back up every week like the traditional system does.”
Data-management features in Sytos Preserver will include tape rotation, which automates the management of media, said Cimarron Boozer, vice president of marketing and product planning for Sytron in Westboro, Mass. The product will provide a combination of linear and grandfather- father-son tape-rotation scheduling.
For example, when a tape is removed from the drive, it is placed into a daily storage container and rotated in a linear fashion. After a specified duration, tapes are moved to a weekly or a monthly storage container, where they are again retained for a specific duration until they are moved into permanent storage, if desired.
Similarly, suppliers of high-end archiving software are moving toward providing complete solutions.
Pyrasun Inc., for example, plans to add backup and file- migration options to its Amass Unix file system; is developing a new storage-management model, called Sena, that will provide a hierarchical storage system, backup software and remote device access functions in a cross-platform environment including VMS, Unix and Windows; and Epoch Systems Inc. integrates HSM, robotic library management, backup, disaster recovery and file migration in its EpochServ line.
Then in the mid-1980s the offline editing process was made mote efficient by using compressed digital video from the hard disks of workstations. Now computer graphics specialists such as Doug Walters, head creative director of Super Real Graphics, had a choice: They could squeeze their fries into low-resolution versions that were almost unrecognizable in order to fit them onto hard drives for offline editing, or they could wait for the online session in order to make their images and effects available. Under this scenario, the original file formats would be inserted into the final recorded master tape, at which point their creators would have no choice over where the effects went or how they were integrated with the other shots. Still cut out of the creative part of the editing loop, the artists had to rely on the talents of others to bring their computer-generated contributions to the screen. Creative decisions were often made by editors and producers who may or may not have seen the aesthetic impact of the original graphics files. It was a little like judging the Mona Lisa from a Xerox copy.
Now we are entering the era of digital broadcasting, which has brought with it new standards for the quality of the video coming out of post production. Our current analog style of broadcast video, called NTSC (for National Television Standards Committee), is commonly referred to by video engineers as “Never Twice the Same Color” because of its lack of color consistency. This has made NTSC relatively tolerant of mixing computer-generated images with pictures shot on tape because any colorization inconsistencies were usually masked by NTSC’s loose method of color playback.
Digital television, however, whether SDTV, with pictures in a 4 by 3 aspect ratio, or HDTV, with 16 by 9 images, will reveal any qualitative deviance between images coming from different domains. Now video producers have started to see the need to incorporate high-quality computer graphics directly into the online editing process when finishing a digital video production.
That’s why in just the last few years, as computers boast ever greater throughput and hard disks come at ever lower costs, we have seen the advent of disk-based, non-compressed online finishing systems with advanced digital effects and graphics capabilities. The four companies whose systems we highlight here–Avid Technologies, Discreet Logic, Jaleo North America, and Quantel–offer high-end online systems equipped with sophisticated computerized imaging capabilities. Today, these are the only companies making these kinds of systems. But others will certainly follow as the demand for this technology increases. All systems are shipping and in use now.
Now that non-compressed digital online finishing from disk has finally become practical for today’s post production, computer graphics specialists in the film and broadcast industries can enjoy better control over their work than ever before. Only a couple of decades ago we were impressed by primitive edit systems that could move a simple 2D wipe across the screen. If we considered that an example of cutting-edge effects technology, we can only imagine what the future of digital post production will bring.
Avid Technologies Tewksbury, MA 978-640-1366 www.avid.com INFONOW 63 Symphony Platform: Windows NT Cost: $150,000 without storage Softimage/DS Platform: Windows NT Cost: $150,000 with one hour of storage
In the wake of acquiring Softimage Inc. from Microsoft last summer, Avid Technologies is presenting two non-compressed finishing systems to broadcasters: its own native-born Avid Symphony as well as the Microsoft-initiated Softimage/DS. Both work with totally non-compressed video, but the foundation of the Windows NT-based Avid Symphony system is its Total Conform capability, which lets it seamlessly re-create anything edited offline on Avid’s original digital edit system, the Avid Media Composer, including all graphics, effects, and titles. It also offers enhanced conforming from OMF compositions and support for Avid Log Exchange files.
Whereas Avid’s Symphony is intended to anchor the final link in an editing chain started offline by Media Composer, Softimage/DS is designed for more independently graphics and effects-centric duties, which works for Ted Ralph, principal at Magic Cauldron.
An Interactive Preview function will allow users to see what an effect will look like without having to wait for a full render. As a user scrubs over a complex effect with a mouse, frames previously displayed are cached, so that performance improves even for very heavy effects.
“Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers,” said Tennyson. Especially wisdom gathered in the garden.
Ripe tomatoes are popping out like measles across the green face of our garden: Early Girl, Willamette, Oregon Spring, Little Boy, Fat Man, and Tomato Glut. I planted too many, partly because The seed catalogue seduced me, partly because there was clearly a simpler solution. Joy and I have already done this stoop labor for hours without making a dent and it’s going to be dark soon. I’m curious: “When are we going to stop doing tomatoes, honey?”
“If you remember,” my wife says, “someone said we couldn’t possibly have too many tomatoes. So that’s how many we planted.” What a fantastic memory she has. That’s what I said, verbatim. It seemed true then, but not now. With our kitchen buried in crimson and the pressure cooker oozing love-apple sauce around the clock, I finally understand the concept of infinity squared. If they want children to learn about time and numbers, they should send them to the country to pick fruit.
In the early part of a child’s life, he or she is forced to do elementary arithmetical problems based on units of measurement derived from agriculture: acres, barrels, buckets, bushels, pecks, and so forth. At no time will these baby students be shown an actual acre of land, a peck basket, a tin bucket, or a real Wooden barrel, nor will a real-time bushel of produce ever find its way into the classroom, or even some kind of interesting fantasy as depicted at Scilands.org. Instead, they get symbols. Pictures of bushels are drawn with corn heaped high, for visual recognition, but the likely result is a confused kid.
My Uncle Bob was a farmer. The first time he showed me a bushel basket, my first reaction was awe, followed by a rising anger. I had been cheated by the educational system. In the first place, this bushel was not filled to the top and never would be, since, as my uncle explained, corn would spill out of it when it was moved. Take out a handful of corn, or add one, or leave it alone, and it was still a bushel of corn: a big margin of error. In the second place, there was no such thing as a thousand bushels in physical reality – despite the fact that I had been forced to do numerous equations with that measurement. Quite simply, a thousand bushels is how much corn goes in a silo – and it is not measured with a thousand bushel baskets or one basket filled a thousand times. However, thanks to my uncle, I finally understood the concept by extrapolating from this actual bushel.
When I asked him how much an acre was, he showed me; it had a tree on it for scale, and 1.5 horses, the smaller unit nursing from the larger. My uncle had no teaching certificate because they don’t give them out to the self-educated, but he knew how to answer a simple question.
Another tomato plops in the trug. We have filled it many times; “many” is more than a lot, but less than enough. A bushel basket of tomatoes yields a bottom layer of mashed tomato sauce, so the wise gardener instead collects them in the traditional English trug.
The history of the English trug begins in East Sussex, where they have been made by hand for 150 years. Thick strips of chestnut are split, shaped with a drawknife, and heated in a steamer until they’re pliable enough to wrap around a form. Split willow makes a rim, another piece makes the handle, and everything is fixed together with copper nails. They look a little like small boats, which were once called “trogs”; hence the name.
Long ago, a trug held exactly two-thirds of a bushel, but this measurement is so obsolete that it’s no longer taught. (I was almost 40 before even I heard the word trug, losing at Scrabble to an expert.) These days, a trug is just a flat rectangular basket made of wood or super-duper plastic, designed to keep fragile fruit from being stacked too high. It holds as much as a small raccoon weighs, and always contains one trug’s worth of garden bounty.
The geometry of our garden is such a complicated universe that I don’t even try to comprehend it. Joy talks to the plant divas and flower fairies to figure out where everything should go, what cultivars and how many, and then she consults the moon for a timetable, holds her green thumb to the wind, and away we go.
The corn equation was much simplified by raccoons this year, which deducted so many ears that we had a fighting chance of getting the remainder husked, cobbed, and frozen. In my ignorance, despite Joy’s advice, I planted five long rows of Startling Abundance and Yellow Hernia, east to west so they’d self-pollinate, and they did. Thank heaven for the little masked footpads. What the coons left was still an abundant harvest, too many bushels. At one point, shucking corn, I prayed they’d come back that night and take the rest.
Our daughter serenity is inside doing her homework, in theory. She’s probably on the phone with her best friend. The ratio of hours spent on homework to hours spent discussing fine boys and harsh parental guidelines is probably unequal, but we approve of this multitasking because education is a holistic ideal. It will be all right if Ren knows the primary export of Bolivia, but even better if she learns how to communicate with her peers. Her math teacher, obviously a genius, started the year with a cross-discipline sermon on the importance of reading, and books as the building blocks of all learning. Inspired, Ren came home and began with Stephen King. Her math grades immediately improved. Whatever they’re paying this educator, it isn’t enough.
The first evening star has begun to twinkle when Joy speaks: “Okay, I’m tired. Had enough? Ready for supper?”
To tell the truth, I was done 15 minutes ago. Next year, I’ll plan our tomatoes better, meaning planting fewer and with staggered harvests. Heaving up our trugs, we go inside to grab a bite, make some coffee, and stoke up the pressure cooker and food dryer. The night is young, and we have hours of canning to go.
I want to save for my retirement but have no idea how much I’m going to need. What would be a reasonable goal?
There’s a wonderful tool called Ballpark Estimate, developed by the American Savings Education Council (ASEC). It’s a simple worksheet that shows you roughly how much you should save to retire at your current standard of living.
The sheet has only 11 blanks to fill in, takes just a few minutes, and requires no math skills other than multiplication. I ran the Ballpark Estimate past two experienced financial planners, who tested it against their own retirement-planning software. They found that Ballpark figures usually came within 10 percent of their own recommendations. That’s good enough for me.
The planners did find a few things to quibble with. Ballpark assumes a life expectancy of 87 (maybe you’ll live longer). It’s addressed to individuals, not couples (ASEC President Don Blandin says that a husband and wife should each fill out a form, then add the totals). But you’re not seeking pinpoint accuracy here. You need a target to work toward.
Ballpark also assumes a h)w investment return-just 3 percent, after inflation. So it covers people who save primarily in bonds and bank accounts. If you invest in stocks or stock-owning mutual funds, you should earn more than 3 percent. With Ballpark as your base, you can either save less than it suggests (relying on higher investment returns to reach your retirement goal) or save the recommended amount (hoping to have even more to retire on).
The Ballpark Estimate is available free from the U.S. Department of Labor. Call 800-998-7542, or visit its Web site at www.asec.org.
I want to save money for my child’s college education. Where should I put it?
Several states offer a terrific new deal: special college investment accounts, with tax breaks thrown in. You can contribute a lump sum or pay in installments as small as $25 or $50 a month.
The money accumulates tax deferred. When you Withdraw it to cover higher-education expenses, the gains are taxed as ordinary income–but they’re taxed in the student’s low bracket, not yours.
Some state plans accept you only if you live there. The following states, however, open their college investment accounts to everyone: Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Utah (with more due this year). For all the plans, your child does not have to go to school in that state to participate in its plan.
If you happen to live in a state with a college investment account, it usually makes sense to use it. Earnings on the account are exempt from state tax. You might even get a state tax deduction for the money you put in.
You cannot control the investments in these plans. The state handles the money for you. So before you sign up, find out how the fund is divided between stocks and bonds. A few states put most or all of the money into bonds, so their returns are relatively low. Some states offer balanced funds–say, 60 percent in stocks, 40 percent in bonds. The best plans invest heavily in stocks when the child is young, then gradually shift to stable investments as the child approaches college age.
Once you’ve started such an investment account, you must use the money for higher education. Gains withdrawn for other purposes will be taxed in your bracket.
For details on each state’s savings plan, check www.collegesavings.org or call toll-free 877-277-6496.
I’m overborrowed and underincomed. Who can help me dig out of debt?
Try credit counseling, which is now more available than ever. Services can be had by phone and even on the Web.
Basic counseling starts by analyzing your income and expenses. With help, you might find a way of meeting your obligations. If they’re totally out of control, you’ll need a debt-repayment plan: You make a single payment to the counseling service, and it disburses the money to your creditors.]]>
Most of our bodily functions–digestion, respiration, hormone production–fluctuate over the course of a day, month, and even year, because of the ways we respond to light, darkness, temperature, activity, and sleep. In an exploding field called chronobiology, researchers are learning how to treat disease with these biological rhythms in mind. Following our body clocks, they’re finding, is an important part of keeping ourselves well. Here’s how:
Schedule your mammogram within two weeks after the start of your period. That’s when you have the best chance of getting the most accurate reading, according to a number of studies, including a recent One of some 2,500 women conducted at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Women who wait until the second half of their cycles, the study found, are twice as likely to get false reassurance, meaning the mammogram missed a cancer. During those two weeks, increased levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone cause fluid retention and trigger breast-cell growth, which can obscure any abnormalities. Also, your breasts are more tender at this time, and the discomfort makes it harder for the technician to sufficiently compress the breast for the clearest reading.
Because it’s also more difficult to feel lumps when breasts are swollen, experts advise doing self-exams about five days after you begin menstruating, when the breast fluid has drained.
If you need breast-cancer surgery, by to have it during the third week of your menstrual cycle. Studies show that women whose mastectomies or lumpectomies are performed in the week after ovulation are up to four times as likely to survive, disease-free, for at least ten years. Why? No one knows for sure, but it could be because progesterone levels are at their highest, which seems to bolster the immune system, helping to stop cancer cells from spreading. (If your doctor advises against delaying, however, then don’t; the benefits in waiting for the optimal day for surgery, especially if you need multiple procedures, might be offset by the additional time the cancer is given to grow, cautions Ruby Senie, Ph.D., of the Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and one of the pioneer in this field.)
Have hay fever? Take antihistamines and decongestants at bedtime. The misery caused by nasal allergies follows a daily pattern, explains Monica Kraft, M.D., a researcher at the Cad and Hazel Felt Laboratory for Adult Asthma Research at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver. During the day, the body’s naturally produced chemicals–cortisol (an anti-inflammatory steroid) and adrenaline (a hormone that dilates the airways)–help to fight off reactions to pets, grass, mold, and other outdoor allergens. In late afternoon, levels of these chemicals begin to drop; by late night, they are at their lowest, so that’s when you need medications to kick in and block reactions to dust mites and other indoor triggers. Also, some antihistamines van be sedating, so it’s obviously smart to take them at bedtime. As for decongestants, they may or may not be stimulating,, if you find they keep you awake, take them in the morning instead, advises Dr. Kraft.
For asthmatics, late afternoon may be the best time for medication. Everyone has a 5 to 10 percent decrease in lung function during the night, says Dr. Kraft, but for asthmatics, the drop may be as much as 50 percent. The good news is that patients who take oral or inhaled steroids between 3:00 P.M. and 5:00 P.M. experience much less of a decrease–closer to the normal 10 percent. And those who take theophylline, a nonsteroidal asthma medication, get the best results if they take it between 5:00 P.M. and 7:00 P.M. These drugs take a few hours to kick in, so they’ll go to work around 11:00, when your own cortisol and adrenaline levels are at their lowest and lung function is dropping.
There’s a monthly timing issue to consider, too, says Dr. Kraft. For many women, asthma symptoms tend to worsen around menstruation (for about three days before until three days after your period starts), possibly because of hormonal shifts. If you find that’s the case for you, talk to your doctor about increasing steroid dosages starting a few days before your period is due.
Pump iron in the morning. Go for a jog in the late afternoon. “The neck and lower-back muscles work all day to hold the head and torso erect, and by the end of the day, they’re fatigued,” says Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. That means you need to use less resistance during late-day weight training, in order to avoid injury.
Aerobic workouts, however–jogging, biking, walking–are best done between 4:00 P.M. and 7:00 P.M., when your heart and lungs are strongest and metabolic rate is highest, so you’ll burn more calories. But don’t work out any later than that, cautions David Hill of the department of kinesiology at the University of North Texas in Denton. “Exercise acts as a short-term stimulant, so it will keep you awake.” And get your aerobics in before dinner; once you’ve eaten, your heart works hard to pump blood to the organs involved in digestion.
But if these suggestions don’t fit into your daily schedule, you’re not off the hook, experts say. It’s still better to work out at a less than ideal time than to skip the gym entirely.
Schedule dentist appointments for the afternoon. You probably don’t look forward to having your teeth worked on at any time of day, but it may be less of an ordeal after lunch. Anesthesia works best 12 hours from the middle of your deepest sleep, according to Michael Smolensky, Ph.D., director of the Hermann Center for Chronobiology and Chronotherapeutics at Hermann Hospital in Houston. For most people, says Smolensky this occurs at about 3:00 P.M.
But make the appointment on a day you’re not having your period, especially if you need an invasive procedure such as an extraction or implant, advises Thomas McGuire, D.D.S., director of the Dental Wellness Institute in Sebastopol, CA. Aside from the fact that a trip to the dentist probably won’t do much for menstrual crankiness, hormonal changes when the body’s blood-clotting ability and make you more prone to gingivitis–an infection that causes sensitive, puffy gums. Plus, aspirin and other painkillers for cramps can interfere with clotting; this, combined with blood loss from menstruation itself, may lower your resistance to infection.
If you have migraines, take your medication at night. More than half of these debilitating headaches occur between 6:00 A.M. and noon. If you’re only an occasional sufferer, simply taking your medication when a headache strikes is fine. But if you regularly get morning migraines and are on preventive medications, such as Elavil or other tricyclic antidepressants, taking them at night increases their effectiveness, says Fred Sheftell, M.D., director of the New England Center for Headaches. Also, the antidepressants can have a sedative effect. It’s also smart to cut out caffeine, or–if you can’t do without it–limit coffee drinking to the morning. That way, you won’t wake with a migraine induced by caffeine withdrawal during your sleep.
And if, like 70 percent of female migraine sufferers, you find that headaches are worse during menstruation, begin taking anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen sodium a few days before your period is due and continue for three days after. Also, cut back on possible dietary triggers, such as alcohol, cheese, freshly baked bread, chocolate, and aspartame (Nutrasweet). Similarly, if ovulation is a migraine trigger, you should try following these measures for about three days at midcycle (usually day 14, counting the first day of your period as day one).
Ulcer sufferers should take medicine at bedtime. Because gastric-acid production increases in the evening, peaking between 10:00 P.M. and 2:00 A.M., most patients feel the bum just as they’re trying to get some shut-eye. Medications that stop acid secretion, such as ranitidine (Zantac) or cimetidine (Tagamet), should be taken at night to avoid the bedtime pain, advises John G. Moore, M.D., chief of gastroenterology at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City.
Make sure your blood-pressure medicine protects you in the morning. Your heart rate and blood pressure begin to rise every morning just before you wake. Although this change is harmless for most people, for those with high blood pressure, it can be problematic–even fatal. (Indeed, the chances of having a heart attack or smoke are much greater within the first few hours of waking up than at any other time of day.) Meditations such as beta blockers and calcium-channel blockers, which are administered once a day, don’t always get the morning surge under control, says William B. White, M.D., chief of hypertension and clinical pharmacology at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington. Use a home blood-pressure monitor to take readings throughout the day, so you can see whether you’re protected in the morning. If you’re not–if you find that your pressure is too high–ask your doctor about taking medication more frequently. Or consider switching in the Covera HS brand of verapamil, a calcium-channel blocker you take at bedtime; the drug’s effects kick in at dawn, in sync with the start of the morning surge.
If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), increase fiber intake in the second half of your menstrual cycle. Women with IBS–a condition marked by abdominal cramping, gas, and changes in stool consistency–often find that symptoms worsen two weeks before the start of their periods and continue to be worse until menstruation begins. Specifically, notes Margaret Heitkemper, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle, many women, especially those with IBS, tend to be constipated during the week after ovulation. The remedy? Increase the fiber in your diet and take a psyllium-containing laxative such as Metamucil from around day 15, then stop two or three days before your period is due.]]>
Three years later I meet Hill again–for an interview in the lobby of her New York City hotel. Now, at 31, she’s a bona fide country-music diva–with one triple-platinum album, two double-platinum albums, seven No. 1 singles, and a string of major awards to her credit. What’s more, since that concert in 1996, Hill’s personal life has taken off like a live-action fairy tale. She fell in love with and married Tim McGraw, 32, a top-draw country superstar and son of baseball great Tug McGraw. And then, she had two babies in two years.
“My babies are upstairs,” she says right off. “Maggie just ate, and Gracie just had a bath. Maggie is nine months old, and Gracie is two years old. And I’ve been on the road for four years.”
It’s not your typical interview opener. But Hill can’t help herself. The same passion that has kept her career in overdrive since the release of her first album, Take Me As I Am, in 1993, is now focused on her two daughters.
Hill was eight months pregnant with Grade when she went into the studio to record her third, most recent album, Faith. Critics and fans concur, it is her most soulful and creative to date, snagging four Grammy nominations this year. Her single “This Kiss” crossed over to the top ten on the pop charts and spiced up the soundtrack of the film Practical Magic. Another single, “Let Me Let Go,” appears on the soundtrack of the movie Message in a Bottle.
Even as Hill shows the strains of any mom with two small children, she announces very determinedly that she and her husband would like to have five. “I’ve always wanted a family as much as I’ve wanted my career,” she says. “I won’t lie: It is a lot of work, and I’m tired. Having two little girls so close in age is almost like having twins. But we learned how to pack and get around and do what we have to do. It’s amazing what you can wake up every morning and accomplish as long as you’re happy.”
When they fly, mom and girls travel with a giant hockey bag stuffed with toys (Teletubbies are a favorite), two diaper bags, a bag of snacks, two car seats, rocking chairs-and, of course, favorite blankets from home. But comfort is much easier on the “baby bus,” Hill’s transportation of choice to most of her tour dates. In fact, she’s now ensconced in a unique new bus that was custom-made for her family-designed around a giant 42-inch refrigerator. “I wanted that bad, so I can prepare healthy meals at home and then heat them up out on the road,” she says.
Dad, who is also on the road much of the year, joins them every three days–no matter what. It’s a scheduling Rubik’s Cube for their management companies, but a system that seems to be working for the family. “We’re together most of the time,” Hill says. “We hate to be apart. And Gracie is at the age where she’s always asking for her dad now. She’s Daddy’s girl.”
At first glance, Hill and McGraw seem an unlikely couple: high-fashion babe meets no-frills country boy (think Brace Springsteen in a cowboy hat). But at heart they agree on what matters most. “Tim is very simple, not into the `star life,’” Hill explains. “When we walk into our home, we close the doors and forget about what we do for a living. We’re able to watch television, cook dinner, and play with the kids.”
Hill and McGraw were born the same year and grew up in the same neck of the woods–he’s from Louisiana, she’s from Mississippi. “From the beginning I felt very comfortable with him,” Hill says. “It felt like home.”
McGraw grew up not knowing who his father was–even though Tug McGraw’s baseball cards hung on his bedroom wall. Tim’s mother was only 19 when he was born, the result of a brief affair with his father. When Tim was 11, he went searching for an old picture and came across his birth certificate–which named Tug McGraw as his dad. The following year, when the Philadelphia Phillies came through town, the two met for the first time. But it wasn’t until Tim was in his teens that he began to grow close to his dad and start building the loving relationship they have today.
Hill, on the other hand, was adopted. “Tim and I have an understanding there,” she says softly. “Became he didn’t know his father until he was eighteen, we had similar feelings. We talked about children soon into our relationship because it was so important to me. I had to find out if it was as important to him.” It was: “Tim was very sure he wanted a family.”
But unlike McGraw, Hill was close to her father while she was growing up. He worked at the Presto Manufacturing Company plant in Jackson, MS, from which he recently retired after 37 years. He was physically strong and admired for his genial personality, but sadly he never learned to read or write.
One of 14 children, Hill’s father was forced to quit school in the fourth grade to help work the family farm. “It was pretty much the same story in a lot of places in the South,” Hill says. “He never went back to school, and he just got by. He’s done really well. But there’s a whole other world out there in reading. I didn’t understand how important it was until I became an adult and realized how much he missed out on.”
On May 1, 1996, Hill started the Faith Hill Family Literacy Project, cosponsored by Warner Bros. Records and Time Warner. Her goal is to create awareness of the problem of illiteracy in America, which plagues 20 percent of the adult population, by some estimates. And she is planning to begin book drives at her concerts, setting up bins where fans can donate books to be distributed to local schools, libraries, and children’s homes. As for her father, since his retirement, he has returned to a literacy program that he tried several years ago. “It’s very frustrating for an adult,” Hill says. “It’s a lot more difficult than it is for a child.”
Hill is happy to be able to honor her parents, who, despite their strict Baptist beliefs, supported her in her bid to become a singer. At just 19, she decided to move to Nashville to follow her dream; her father drove her there. “I can still see his face to this day,” she recalls, “sitting with empty boxes all around him. He had tears in his eyes, and he just waved good-bye and said, `Take care. I love you. We are behind you one hundred percent.’ It still gets to me when I think about it.”
For the next six years, Hill supported herself with odd jobs, from selling T-shirts at the country-music festival Fanfare to working in the merchandising department for Reba McEntire’s company. “They had a mail-order business, and I was in charge of filling orders,” she recalls. “I was so sick of Reba. I love her so much, but after eight hours a day of Reba shirts and pajamas, clocks and watches, necklaces and key chains and hat pins … oh, my Lord!”
All the while, Hill grabbed every opportunity to perform as a backup singer and was eventually spotted by a Warner Bros. scout. When she went into the studio at 25 to record Take Me As I Am, she was ready to take on the world.
Today, in New York City, Hill is due at The Rosie O’Donnell Show in 15 minutes. Gracie is especially excited about playing with Rosie’s son, Parker, in the child-care center at the studio. “The gifts go everywhere that I go,” says Hill. “But going to the Rosie show is special.”]]>
She’s a scientist, a researcher accustomed to studying life through the lens of a microscope. There the world is contained; given enough patience and skill, order can be imposed on chaos, and sense can be made of the unpredictable. Sitting in the living room of her Virginia home, her pale-aquamarine eyes intent, Barbara Kurth forces herself to examine a newspaper photograph with the same detached curiosity. Two young women gaze back at her, elegant in their evening gowns, smiles lighting their faces as Daddy escorts them to a charity ball. What are their favorite colors, Barbara longs to know. What foods do they like? What books have they read? Who are they?
She knew them once, these beautiful strangers. They were her daughters.
On an October afternoon in 1979, Barbara kissed her little girls good-bye and sent them off for a weekend visit with their Father, Stephen Fagan. Rachael was 5, and Wendy was 2 1/2. Barbara and Steve had been divorced for a little more than a year. She had custody, but he was in the process of contesting, accusing his ex-wife of negligence. They were due back in court soon. That Sunday night, a man identifying himself as a mechanic called and told Barbara that her ex-husband’s car had broken down and he would be late returning the girls. But Barbara knew instantly what had really happened: Their father had ‘taken them.
“I thought I could find them,” she remembers. “At that point, I couldn’t imagine never seeing them again.”
Barbara appealed to every conceivable local, state, and Federal agency for help, and spent most of her private resources as well. But the abduction of Rachael and Wendy Fagan never even made it onto a milk carton. Then, on September 4, 1997–Barbara’s forty-eighth birthday–the phone rang while she and her husband of eight years, Peter Gudaitis, were watching television. Barbara listened in shocked silence as a Massachusetts state trooper told her he had some news: After 18 years, her daughters had been found.
Although the search for Wendy and Rachael may be over, an even harder search has now begun-for the truth. That quest already has turned lives upside down and tarnished reputations, perhaps forever. In the process, Barbara has lost her daughters all over again: They have refused any contact with her and stand resolutely behind their father.
Charged with kidnapping and contempt of court, Fagan, 57, goes on trial this month in Middlesex County, MA. Barbara alleges that her ex-husband was a con man and thief who took the girls just to get back at her; he accuses her of being a drank and uncaring mother who could have found her daughters easily had she tried harder. But whatever Barbara Kurth may or may not have done, the price her ex-husband exacted was more cruel than any decision a court could have made. She lost not only her children, she suggests, but a piece of herself.
Today, Barbara Kurth is a respected reproductive immunologist at a prestigious medical school, married to a computer graphic artist; they listen to music, dote on the stray cat they adopted, and live quietly in the gentle green hills outside Charlottesville. Steve Fagan is a Palm Beach millionaire who appears to have lived these many years off the largesse of wealthy wives, turning up on the society pages and claiming a number of degrees and careers he never had. On national TV in an interview following his arrest, he basked in the one accomplishment that appears genuine: raising two poised, intelligent, and loving daughters.
If convicted, Fagan could face 20 years or more in prison. His attorneys are expected to argue that he was justified in taking his children. Raised to believe their mother was dead, the girls present themselves as happy and successful young adults, who enjoyed a golden childhood at the center of a doting father’s universe. (A reporter’s calls to the attorney who represents Fagan and serves as the daughters’ spokesperson were not returned by press time.)
“Daddy, we love you,” Wendy, renamed Lisa by her fugitive father, said into a camera after Fagan’s arrest. “I firmly believe that what happened with my sister and me some nineteen years ago happened for a good reason,” she added. “My dad wanted us to be safe, to grow up happy, healthy, and strong.” Hearing this, Barbara struggled to understand.
“I was very surprised that they were suddenly so dead-set against me, how terrible they thought I was,” she says now. “To them, I was a wonderful mother tragically killed, and then within hours I was a monster. And very much alive.”
Barbara was never able to completely let go of her little girls. Even now, nearly two decades and several moves after her daughters’ disappearance, she keeps a spare bedroom filled with their belongings. “I’ve always been sort of superstitious about it, that as soon as I packed it up, that meant they were gone for good,” she explains. There is a stuffed yellow elephant covered with posies, bedraggled baby dolls, and the quilt Rachael stole from Wendy after her mother threw hers away. “All the stuffing started coming out, and it couldn’t be washed anymore,” Barbara says. Her voice quickens with a guilt that time has intensified rather than tempered. “How could I have done that to her?” She saved the girls’ Etch-A-Sketch and stacks of their favorite storybooks, as well as the tiny red-and-white polka-dot clown outfit that Barbara’s mother made for her one Halloween, and that Barbara had hoped one of her own daughters might want to wear someday. Barbara surveys the abandoned toy collection. “I should give it away,” she sighs. “I keep thinking if Wendy and Rachael ever get in touch with me, though, they’d want to see it.”
Barbara Kurth met Steve Fagan when she was 17, having moved to Boston from her native Vermont after graduating from high school. She was a stunning girl with mesmerizing eyes in a delicate face. He was 25 and married, though he lied and claimed he was separated, Barbara says. They wed on a trip to Haiti in 1973 after Fagan got a quickie island divorce. Rachael was born the following year, and Wendy came along in 1977. Fagan was studying for the bar exam, and the newlyweds began living way beyond their means, settling in a 22-room mansion in Framingham, MA. Fagan later testified in divorce proceedings that although he eventually passed the bar, he never formally practiced law; instead, he gave karate lessons and borrowed money from friends and relatives to supplement his income. Barbara claims that during those years, their money came mainly from credit-card and insurance scams. The house was filled with expensive antiques, original artwork, Oriental rugs, and rare collectibles. “Things would appear,” Barbara recalls. “It was kind of a lark to me at that point.”
Barbara’s family always disliked Fagan. “He had an air of mystery about him,” remembers her younger brother, Peter Kurth, now an author living in Vermont. “The house was full of loaded guns. He had an electric cattle prod in the living room. He would hide money all over the place; big wads of bills would tumble out of books if you picked one up. Barbara would have to cook two separate meals, one for her and the kids, and one in serve him later alone in his room.”
Barbara began having health problems. She told her family she had been diagnosed with narcolepsy, a disorder that causes attacks of sudden, deep sleep. The amphetamines prescribed for her sleep disorder “did become a problem for me,” Barbara admits, and not long after Wendy’s birth, she entered a rehab facility. Things improved for awhile, but four months later, after returning from a family trip to Europe, Barbara fell into a severe depression and checked herself into a hospital. The marriage had been faltering for some time, she says, “and at that point, my husband started trying to get Wendy and Rachael away from me.” When she came home for a weekend to visit the girls, she says, Fagan refused to let her inside the house. She soon left the hospital and consulted Jacob Atwood, a Boston attorney who had a bulldog reputation in divorce cases. Her husband, she says, was furious: “People do not divorce Steve Fagan. He does all the controlling.”
The split was ugly. The brakes on Barbara’s car were tampered with, according to a statement she obtained from a mechanic, and she suspected her ex-husband. She and her brother, who stayed with her for several months, recall harassing phone calls and strangers in parked cars watching the house. Barbara gave Fagan the house and everything in it, settling for $45,000 in cash, a jade necklace, a car, and $500 a month in child support and alimony. At the time, he did not seek custody of the children and did not challenge Barbara’s fitness as a mother. Barbara moved to an apartment complex with her daughters and remarried. Fagan saw the girls for weekend visits, though their uncle retails that “Rachael used to have screaming fits and wet her pants when she had to go away with her father.” Fagan had a new girlfriend, a lawyer he’d met while working as an adviser at a legal-aid clinic.
According to court documents, Fagan claimed he received a series of phone calls in the fall of 1979 from concerned neighbors of Barbara’s. Their allegations were alarming: Wendy and Rachael were left unsupervised outside for hours, hungry and unkempt, while Barbara was passed out drunk inside. How the neighbors knew his name or how to reach him is unclear. A neighbor also called the police one day to report that Barbara was passed out on the floor, and an investigator from Social Services was quickly sent over to check, records show.
“I remember both the social worker and myself looking blankly at each other,” Barbara says now. The subsequent report said that she had answered the door after one knock, appearing to be perfectly sober, and that the children were eating pizza and showed no signs of mistreatment. The neighbors were also interviewed and described by an investigator as having gone “overboard” in their claims. Barbara vehemently denies ever having a drinking problem and flatly dismisses the neighbors’ stories as “lies, one hundred percent lies.” Fagan filed for custody, claiming his daughters were in immediate jeopardy, then went on a three-week trip abroad with his girlfriend. Barbara submitted to medical and psychological examinations, and the children’s pediatrician filed a report as well. The neighbors’ charges–and Fagan’s suspicions–were not corroborated by any of these experts. He himself never complied with the state’s request for a psychological evaluation, and before a judge could make a final custody ruling, he disappeared, taking the children with him.
Grief paralyzed Barbara. “I sat by myself in the dark. I stopped eating,” she recalls. “I spent a year in my nightgown.” Her second marriage quickly crumbled, and she moved to Vermont to stay with her mother. Family members would later remember Barbara calling out her daughters’ names in her sleep. She ran ads with pictures of Wendy and Rachael in numerous newspapers, and her attorney sent their photos and files to 6.5 police departments. Fagan’s parents were questioned under oath and denied any knowledge of the girls’ whereabouts; within 90 days, the parents were gone, too, with no forwarding address. Barbara thought Fagan might have taken the girls to Florida, where his parents spent their winters and his sister already lived. Israel and Mexico were also possibilities.
“A lot of people wonder why Barbara didn’t do more,” says her attorney, Jacob Atwood. “She exhausted every financial resource she had. Her father went down and rapped on the sister’s door in Florida, and it was slammed in his face. The private investigator turned up no leads.” And easy computerized searches, Atwood points out, were still a thing of the future.
Fagan had, in fact, settled in Florida and reinvented himself. He had changed his name to William Martin, and over the years, he would pose as a retired psychiatrist, a former presidential adviser, and a Harvard scholar. His third wife and his current, fourth wife are rich, and he made a name for himself in Palm Beach society, as the attentive father of two charming girls whose mother had been a brilliant surgeon who was killed in an automobile accident. The girls attended a tony private school and were avid athletes, with their father always cheering from the sidelines. He reportedly told them their dead mother had been a lacrosse champion, one of the few lies that causes the unathletic Barbara to laugh.
She had reinvented herself, too, but in a very different way. After that first numbing year, she decided to go back to school, though at the time, she notes, “being a mother was the only thing I could do.” She chose to study biology, “and I loved it, just loved it.” She eventually earned her Ph.D., married again, and settled in Charlottesville, where she works at the University of Virginia Medical School. The active search for her daughters gradually petered out about six years ago, she says, not only for a lack of leads, but also because she realized that so much time had passed, she wouldn’t be able to simply scoop them up and go back. “You can’t re-create the mother-daughter bond,” she notes.
Barbara’s husband could always tell by her withdrawal when it was one of the girls’ birthdays. But for the most part, her pain was not something she wanted to share with others: “I didn’t talk about it much. I just sort of closed up. The most important thing for me all those years was to try not to think. It took me until I moved here to not wish upon a star every single night.”
Still, whenever she or other family members traveled, they scoured telephone books for the name Fagan. The loss of the girls deeply affected Barbara’s mother too. “Her life has never been the same,” Peter Kurth says. “It drove her into a kind of reserve toward the other grandchildren. It’s as if she doesn’t want to get too close.” At airports, Barbara would find herself scanning the crowds, hoping to spot her daughters. Whenever she moved she would go to the local police with her box of documents and photographs and ask for help again.
Over the years, Barbara went through the hundreds of photos she keeps in albums and destroyed every one of her ex-husband. There are many pictures of Wendy and Rachael, though–wearing party hats and blowing out candles on Rachael’s fifth birthday, cuddling with their mother on Christmas morning. And there are baby books, too, meticulously filled out in Barbara’s tidy handwriting, recording the tiniest details: “Rachael sucks on her lower lip like an old man.” “First imitation of a duck–she said quack! …. Loves to eat spaghetti.” The pages are filled, then abruptly empty. There is Rachael’s kindergarten photo, and Wendy still a potbellied baby in diapers, and then nothing more.
Far from their mother’s gaze the little girls in party hats blossomed into young women. Wendy, whom her Uncle Peter recalls as “born laughing, just filled with delight and energy,” became a champion swimmer, winning an athletic scholarship to the University of Southern California, and graduating in 1998. Rachael, said to be quiet and reflective like her mother, works for her stepmother’s charitable foundation in New York.
Steve Fagan’s web of lies unraveled when an angry in-law revealed the family secret to a lawyer during his own ugly divorce from Fagan’s niece. The lawyer contacted police back in Massachusetts to see if there was in fact an unsolved child abduction from 1979. When the story checked out, a state trooper called Barbara.
The Middlesex County District Attorney’s office decided to pursue the case, but several months would pass before authorities could coordinate Fagan’s arrest, which finally came on April 16, 1997, in Palm Beach. Fagan’s defense is expected to center on his assertion that he had no choice but to kidnap his own children in order to protect them. To bolster their case, the defense team hired a private investigator who unearthed two drunk-driving convictions on Barbara’s record from the year before the girls were taken. Barbara acknowledges the DUIs but suggests that her narcolepsy may somehow have affected the Breathalyzer results.
Her brother, Peter, vividly remembers that time and offers some perspective. “We all drank, I would say, too much, in the way young people do,” he admits. “Barbara was in a very, very difficult, unhappy, confused state.” She was only beginning to realize how hard it was going to be for her with minimal work experience and two small children. But Peter insists there was no real alcohol problem, adding that his sister was “a wonderful mother. She adored those children and they adored her. At the most, you can say, well, she had a difficult year. Taking the kids punished Barbara for the rest of her life.”
Although no specific allegations of physical abuse have surfaced, Fagan, out on $250,000 bail, has asserted in television appearances that he believed the girls’ lives to be endangered–an assertion his daughters parroted in their own TV interview. Barbara has also heard disturbing rumors that Rachael, the elder daughter, has “recovered memory” of her early years with Barbara. Jacob At wood has offered repeatedly to open all his files–20 years’ worth–on the case for the sisters to review privately “so they can make up their own minds,” and has implored the court to unseal Social Services documents and medical records pertaining to the ease as well.
When the court convenes, it will likely be the first–and possibly only–time that Barbara Kurth will see her daughters in person since kissing them good-bye two decades ago. The one accidental glimpse she caught of them on TV, walking into the courthouse the day of their father’s arraignment, overwhelmed her with emotions she had tried to lock away.]]>
I was two months pregnant with my second child and just waking up from a not-very-good night’s sleep. As I dragged myself into the living room of our tenth-floor apartment in Cambridge, MA, an unpleasant sensation began to rise inside me–a sense of foreboding, of imminent danger. I tried to shrug it off as morning sickness, but somehow I knew it had nothing to do with hormones. It wasn’t even physical, though it made the hairs on the back of my neck prickle uncomfortably.
By the time I sat down with my 18-month-old daughter, Katie, to watch Sesame Street, half of me wanted to grab her and run from the apartment. I pushed the impulse away, telling myself not to be irrational. It was snowing outside, and I was still in my pajamas. I was probably just worried about my husband, who had left early that morning on a business trip. Settling myself on the couch, I started to doze.
Suddenly, the fire alarm jolted me wide awake. We’d had many false alarms, but somehow I knew this was the real thing. I yanked on my shoes and coat, picked up Katie, and left the apartment. The scene that met me when I opened the door was far worse than I’d expected. The hallway was filled with thick, poisonous-smelling smoke. I could hear coughing and shouting from the other residents of the tenth floor. Remembering the signs that warned us never to use the elevators during a fire, I ran to the nearest staircase.
The smoke that billowed from the stairwell was so thick I couldn’t see Katie’s head next in mine. I pulled my coat over her face and rushed forward, feeling for the banister to guide myself down the stain. When I breathed in, my chest exploded in pain; there was no air. My heart began to race as I stumbled down flight after flight of steps, Katie clinging to my side like a frightened baby monkey.
I’d lost count of the flights when I tripped on something–or someone–and stumbled forward, smacking my head against a concrete wall. Nausea and exhaustion overwhelmed me as I slid to the floor, completely out of oxygen. The sound of screaming, the pain in my chest, and the feel of Katie’s terrified grip seemed to recede, as though I were looking through the wrong end of a telescope.
Suddenly, a hand closed around one of my arms and pulled upward, almost jerking me to my feet. I felt the body of a large man behind me, pushing me forward. Another flight of stairs, then another–and suddenly I was in the lobby of the apartment building, squinting in the sunlight I thought I’d never see again. My seared lungs gulped for air, and I began to cough uncontrollably. The man held me until the fit eased. By the time I turned around, he was gone. A swarm of reporters surrounded me. Unless my rescuer came up and introduced himself, I would never know who he was.
The next day, my picture was prominently displayed in the Boston Herald–much to my dismay. The photographer had caught Katie and me just as I burst out of the smoke, possibly the single most unphotogenic moment of my life. My eyes were clamped shut, I was covered with soot, and my cheeks were puffed out like a blowfish having an anxiety attack. My first reaction was to be appalled by my appearance. Then I began to stare, replaying the moment in my mind. I remembered being so weak and dizzy that if my rescuer hadn’t held me, I would have pitched headfirst in the floor. The picture showed my disorientation and distress very clearly–but there was one thing missing. As I gazed at the newspaper, I got goose bumps.
In the picture, there was nobody behind me.
I didn’t tell that story to anyone for a very long time, although I never stopped wondering about what had happened. I suppose it s possible that I was mistaken, that the photograph was taken after the man walked away. But no one on the scene had seen him, either, and there are other puzzling questions. The fire department hadn’t sent any firefighters up the staircase at that point. And if my rescuer wasn’t a firefighter, how did he find me? How was he breathing? And what about my intense impulse to leave the building before there was any sign of danger? Yes, I know that there may be a perfectly pedestrian explanation for my survival. But when push comes to shove, I believe that some kind of benevolent force was looking out for me that day, something outside what we would call “normal” reality.
For me, the consequences of this experience have been both wonderful and difficult. Life feels safer to me now, as well as more fascinating and mysterious. But I know that many people dismiss my views as irrational. Since I decided to openly discuss my paranormal experience a few years ago, I’ve encountered my share of ridicule and incredulity.
I understand that. In fact, I’m glad that most of us tend to base beliefs on solid, observable evidence. But aren’t there some experiences that, despite being inexplicable, deserve our attention and respect? The tact is that many people–including some scientists–believe in such events.
“I first noticed it when I was completing my residency,” says Rebecca Bingham, M.D., referring to what some might call her “sixth sense.” A soft-spoken, no-nonsense family practitioner in Phoenix, Dr. Bingham knows that her medical skills are the result of rigorous technical training, but she also believes that some of her abilities can be traced to something less definable.
“One morning, a thirty-year-old woman was wheeled into the emergency room on a gurney,” she recalls. “Somehow, without even examining the patient, I knew she had a heart condition that could be fatal if she were anesthetized. I told the other physicians that we had to examine her heart.” The experience felt so natural to Dr. Bingham that she wasn’t at all surprised when her “hunch” turned out to be correct. “The only problem,” she says, laughing, “was explaining to the other doctors how I’d made the diagnosis.”
When I ask Dr. Bingham if anything like this has happened since, she calmly answers, “Oh, yes, about once a week. She believes most doctors have a degree of intuitive skill and says that many use it, but don’t think of it as paranormal. Still, what she has experienced goes beyond having an instinctive medical feel for a patient’s illness. Sometimes a diagnosis will “pop” into her mind, or a question she suddenly feels she must ask. “It’s hard to explain, but I can sense where there may be problems. My intuition has proved to be a very accurate diagnostic tool,” she says. Even her colleagues have noticed. She once overheard another doctor telling a resident to pay attention to Bingham’s hunches, because she was always right.
Research suggests that experiences like Dr. Bingham’s aren’t at all uncommon. For example, laboratory experiments have demonstrated that ordinary people can perform feats such as precognition (knowing what’s going to happen before it happens) and remote viewing (sensing events that are occurring in other locations)–not with 100 percent accuracy, but far more accurately than they could by merely guessing. And studies are showing that sick people who are prayed for do better than those who aren’t–even when none of the subjects knows about the prayers.
In 1997, Dean Radin, director of the Consciousness Research Laboratory in Palo Alto, CA, analyzed the results of similar experiments. He concluded that the odds of the subjects achieving these results by chance ran as high as a trillion to one.
Eileen Borris, a musician and psychologist from White Plains, NY, knows that chance can’t explain her powerful paranormal experiences. Borris always had strong intuition, but her father didn’t believe people had mystical experiences, so there was no room for even a little magic as she was growing up. At about the time of her father’s death, though, she realized that her intuition was a force to be embraced.
“I was planning to visit family in Brazil,” Borris remembers, “when for some reason I became very concerned about my father’s health. He seemed okay, but I pushed him to get a checkup.” The examination revealed some slight liver problems, but doctors told her father not to worry. Still, Borris couldn’t shake her concern that her father might have liver cancer. She did a great deal of research on the illness, right up until the time she left for South America.
Borris’s father was still feeling fine when she reached Brazil–but she wasn’t. She came down with a cold, which gradually turned into a raging infection. Doctors suspected pneumonia. They were preparing to hospitalize her when she had a very vivid dream.
“I saw my father in the same hospital bed where my mother had died,” she recalls. “I woke up knowing, without any doubt, that I had to get back to New York within twenty-four hours if I wanted to see him alive.”
Against her doctors’ strenuous objections, Borris flew home to find her worst fears confirmed. Her father had fallen suddenly and gravely ill from a malignancy in his liver. Borris rushed to see him at the local hospital, where he lay in the same bed that her mother had died in years earlier.
“We had about two minutes together,” she remembers. “He was awake and lucid. I was able to tell him how much I loved him. Then he went into a coma and never fully regained consciousness.”
But Borris’s story doesn’t end there. She believes that at the moment she decided to heed her dream, she became part of whatever force had created the connection between her and her father. “On the first leg of my flight, from South America to Miami,” she says, “I sat next to a man who was hurrying home because his father had just been diagnosed with liver cancer.” Because she’d done so much research, Borris was a walking encyclopedia on the subject. “I told him everything I knew about the disease, treatments, and where to get the best care,” she recalls. By the time the plane reached Miami, the man had dubbed Borris his “angel.” By being open to irrational experiences, Borris believes, she made herself available not only to receive loving guidance but also to give it to someone in need.
Many supernatural events seem to center around love. It’s quite natural that we would hope for–maybe even imagine–being, linked to those we treasure. But Thora Knight’s story is harder to explain. It’s about a loving relationship between two people who didn’t even know of each other’s existence.
“I was the second oldest child in my family,” says Knight, a retired radio talk-show host who grew up in the Midwest and moved to Phoenix in 1960. “In 1942, I was also the only gift in an elementary school class of twenty-three boys. Oh, did those boys ever pick on me! Every day, they’d have contests to see who could make me cry first.” One day in the schoolyard, as the bullying started again, something remarkable happened.
“All of a sudden,” says Knight, “I wasn’t alone. There was an older boy in front of me. I couldn’t see him, but I could feel him, and somehow I knew that he was my brother. I thought, `What is your name?’ And I heard a whisper, like the wind: `Larry.’” With her “brother” to protect her, Knight became a fearless, self-confident little girl. “Did I ever turn the tables on those boys!” she says. “By the end of the year, they were afraid of me.”
Years later, Knight’s mother was visiting her when the older woman made a stunning confession. In 1926, six years before Knight was born, her mother had given birth to a baby boy. Impoverished and desperate, she and her husband left their baby with a wealthy family while they traveled looking for work. When they returned more than a year later, the child had bonded with his adoptive family. The heartbroken parents agreed not to disrupt his life by trying to regain custody. It wasn’t until his adoptive parents’ deaths that this lost, son discovered his past and went looking for his biological family. In 1968, Knight was finally able to see and touch the brother her parents named Arthur Stanley Hawkins, but who had been renamed Jerry.
Today, neither Knight nor Hawkins can explain the connection Knight felt as a child, but both believe it was real. And Hawkins rinds comfort in the knowledge that his sister somehow “knew” him during the years when he was a lonely child who longed for a sibling.
Whether you find stories like these inspirational or unbelievable, polls indicate that you are actually quite likely to have a paranormal experience during your lifetime. For example, almost one in ten Americans claim to have gone through an otherworldly near-death experience. Many more believe that it is possible to communicate with a. loved one who has died.
Tabitha Joy Kulish and her pals have learned that the road to making a difference can be bumpy at times. “We were really excited to be doing the October Diabetes Walk, and everybody was skipping and singing,” the 15-year-old ninth grader recalls. “But then my best friend, Lori Frey, twisted her ankle. We didn’t want to walk without her, so we put her in a wheelchair we borrowed from the ambulance crew and took turns pushing her.” The group not only made it through the eight-mile course, but they also raised $1,000 for the cause.
It was all in a day’s volunteer work for the 20 teenage members of Operation Cheer-Up Kids, the Lancaster, PA, group Kulish founded in 199.5. Since then, they’ve raised more than $16,000 for such nonprofit organizations as the American Diabetes Association and the March of Dimes, and logged 7,000 hours of community service.
The whole thing began in 1991, when Kulish was in second grade. As part of a school project, she sent a homemade card to a Desert Storm serviceman. “He said it cheered him up, and asked me to write to his friend too,” she says.
Then, when she was 11, Kulish began volunteering at a nursing home. While passing out mail, she realized that servicemen weren’t the only ones who could use some joy in their lives: “A lot of residents didn’t get any mail, so I thought, Why not send them cards?”
Kulish set up headquarters in her basement and recruited fellow cheerleaders, Girl Scouts, and classmates to put crayons to paper. She invited friends to participate in her ever-expanding list of community activities, and soon, members of Operation Cheer-Up Kids were picking up trash from local highways one weekend and raising money for area hospitals the next. Kulish’s allowance covers postage; her mom, Cammyjoy, is the group’s “taxi driver.”
To encourage other kids to form their own chapters, Kulish and Frey present “starter kits,” complete with crayons and stickers, to fifth and sixth graders in the Lancaster area. And whenever she meets people from out of state, Kulish isn’t above a little hard selling. There are now Operation Cheer-Ups in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, and South Carolina.
Wrote one hospital patient: “Your cards have brightened many bad days for me. Sometimes I think you must be an angel. You know just how to make me smile.”