Saturday, August 29, 2009

Diane Schuler didn't have cirrhosis

The mystery continues: an article in today's Daily News by Mattew Lysiak, "Diane Schuler's Family: Autopsy Shows She Wasn't Alcoholic," states that the autopsy showed she had no physical signs of long-term alcoholism: no cirrhosis, no pancreatic disease, no erosion of her esophagus ( Tom Ruskin, the private investigator hired by Schuler's family, said, "The autopsy supports the claims of over 50 of Diane Schuler's friends and family members who have never once seen this woman drunk," and indicated he was going to have a team of forensic experts read the coroner's report before deciding whether to exhume Schuler's body for further tests.
This news makes the whole case even more tragic, I think. She probably hadn't been drinking too much for very long, so if it had been a minor accident it could have been the wake-up call she needed for her to get help and fix her life. Remember when comedian Paula Poundstone was arrested back in 2001 for driving drunk to Baskin Robbins with her kids in the car? Her children went into foster care, she went into rehab and joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and after more than a year of being sober, she got her kids back permanently and has been fine ever since.
One person commented on the Daily News story: "Does every person who abuses alcohol have cirrhosis? No. Does every person who abuses alcohol have to have done it over a prolonged period of time? No. Let's accept that alcoholics all started out somewhere...I know plenty of recreational drinkers and pot smokers who will only sometimes comsume to excess."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sleeping with strangers

Tonight I'm getting ready for my five days away from home for week 2 of professional development. All of us teachers have to arrive there tomorrow, stay for five nights, and leave on Friday. The place we're staying looks nice, and I'm sure the professional development will be at least partially worthwhile, but the truth is -- I'm dreading it. I think it's a lot for the school to ask us to go away for five nights when we won't even have our own hotel rooms. We're sharing, three people to a room. I need my alone time to recharge my batteries, and I won't have that, so I'm really nervous. I also usually have a personal policy not to spend time socially with co-workers until either they've left the job or I have, and we don't work together anymore. But this week I'll be sleeping with two of them, which upends my whole policy! We'll see how it goes.... :/

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Made it through my 1st week of orientation!

Well, almost. By tomorrow I will have made it through. Today we middle school teachers met in a group, along with the new vice principal (who was only hired a week ago), and it was terrific. As an ice breaker activity we played "two truths and a lie." I wrote that I'd taught for two years in South Texas; that I'm going to a wedding in Tennessee on Sept. 5th; and that I'd hiked 600 miles of the Appalachian Trail. The music teacher looked me up and down and said, "600 miles, huh?"

"Yeah, that's the lie," I admitted.

I like the other teachers a lot. They all seem really committted to the kids, AND to making sure we present a united front and stay consistent so they don't walk all over us! I'm a big fan of the vice principal, too. If he had already been working for the school when I was hired and had been the one to interview me, I wouldn't have had as many qualms about taking the job. He's really smart, easy to talk to, with a great sense of humor. At one point someone asked yet another question, and he said with a smile, "I know a lot of things, none of which you're asking me about. I'll have to get back to you on that." And this afternoon when I pulled out the huge package of Trident I'd brought, he said, "Could I attack you for a piece of gum? I think I still have lunch breath, and it's driving me crazy."

"Sure," I said. "You don't even have to attack me." :)

One of the teachers who was there last year also said he wanted to reassure us newbies that most of the really severe problems last year were actually in the lower school, not the middle school. *relief*

In other news, ABC News has a story here ( about private investigator Tom Ruskin's attempt to trace Diane Schuler's timeline on the day she drove the wrong way on the Taconic, killing herself, her daughter, her three nieces, and three men in another vehicle. Apparently the 12:08 PM phone call she received was her brother, Warren Hance, and they had what was described as a "normal conversation" -- so much for my theory that that phone call had upset her. It wasn't until 12:56 PM, when her 8-year-old niece, Emma, called Warren Hance "in a panic" that Schuler seemed "sick," or as we now know, drunk -- confused, disoriented, slurring her speech, etc. Later her phone was found "on top of a wall by a bridge near the highway. 'It means 99.9 percent sure she got out of the car,' Ruskin later said." It was 25 minutes later when Schuler drove the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway, causing the crash. The article ends by quoting Jay Schuler, the wife of Daniel Schuler's brother: "We had an occasional pina colada at a family barbecue. She was meticulous, safe, I trusted her with my son when I left the country...those three girls before her own children were her life. This is absolutely not the woman they know. [Not] who I trusted my children with."

I still think it's weird that she and her husband brought "the same bottle of vodka" (who knows if it really was) with them every weekend when they went camping. Beer or wine come to mind when I think of camping, not hard liquor like vodka. Whether she was clinically depressed and over-medicated herself with alcohol, or a closet alcoholic whose first major cry for help was her last, she, four children, and three men are dead for a totally preventable reason. I predict we won't hear too much more about this unless there's a civil suit which brings more information to light, or unless the private investigator uncovers something outrageous. Really sad. :(

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Orientation; and Diane Schuler, Part 3

Yesterday was my first day of professional development at my new job and WOW, I am tired! I haven't worked full-time hours since last fall. Even when I had three part-time jobs, it might have taken all day to complete them, but I had free hours during the day in between each of them. The other teachers seem very nice, but I'm nervous. A couple who were there last year told stories about objects being thrown across their classrooms and "nothing working" to solve behavior problems -- and those were the first grade teachers! :O I found out I'll be the special ed co-teacher for the seventh grade and half of the sixth grade, which pleases me -- I especially like sixth grade. I have to admit, I'm relieved I won't have any eighth grade classes. I taught eighth grade my first year of teaching, and it was really hard.

Also, because we are supposed to model healthy eating for the kids, all of us, teachers included, are only allowed to bring "healthy food" into the school building. Even when we're having lunch in the teacher's room, we're not supposed to drink soda or eat anything unhealthy. Is it bad that my first thought was to strategize as to how I can smuggle chocolate in my purse and secretly eat it in the bathroom? If that's not the first sign of addiction, I don't know what is -- I really AM a chocoholic!

In Diane Schuler news, Westchester district attorney Janet DiFiore announced today that neither Schuler's husband, Daniel Schuler, nor anyone else will be criminally charged in the case. Here are the links to the NY Times article ( and the Newsday article ( Not surprising, since she was the one who got drunk and stoned, drove the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway and killed eight people, including herself, so, as the D.A. said, the charges die with her. There's no evidence her husband knew she would drink and drive, as she didn't appear under the influence when they left the campground that morning, or even an hour and a half later when she stopped at McDonald's and then a Sunoco station. But Schuler's family will likely still face a civil suit from the family of Michael and Guy Bastardi, the father and son she killed when she crashed into their S.U.V. The State Police did note that "Mr. Schuler answered many questions from investigators but 'has not been forthcoming, perhaps, about marijuana use'" -- probably because he's a public safety officer and doesn't want to admit to knowing his wife (and he, too??) was using an illegal drug.

Here's a link to an interesting Huffington Post article by Stephanie Gertler, "Diane Schuler's Demons," which theorizes she was severely depressed, and the alcohol unleashed her suicidal impulses(

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Diane Schuler, Part 2

The latest issue of PEOPLE Magazine arrived in my mailbox with a picture of Diane Schuler in the top corner. In the PEOPLE article, her family admitted that Schuler occasionally smoked marijuana to help her sleep but insisted she wasn't a big drinker, that when her brother-in-law mixed drinks at family gatherings she would tell him to throw them out and start over if she could taste the alcohol.

The timeline is that Schuler and the kids left the campground at 9:30 AM; went to McDonald's and left there by 10:45 AM; and it's now being reported that video was obtained of her stopping at a Sunoco gas station/convenience store in Liberty, NY. She pumped gas, then asked the clerk inside for pain relievers. She didn't appear intoxicated. Private investigator Thomas Ruskin, who was hired by Schuler's family, told the Daily News that the guy behind the counter "said she asked him for Tylenol or Advil and he didn't have any - so the question becomes what was bothering Diane Schuler?" ( She called her brother at about 11:45 AM to say she was running late due to traffic but she'd have her nieces home in time for a performance rehearsal they were scheduled to go to, and she sounded fine. She got a call at 12:08 PM, but it's not known from who; no details have been released about that. It wasn't until 12:58 PM that her oldest niece called her dad and told him Schuler was having trouble seeing and that her speech was slurred. In another article, "Driver's Spouse Meets Police About Crash that Killed 8," in the New York Times( private investigator Ruskin says “There is some catastrophic event that is affecting her ability to speak, to see, her ability to know where she is and to make rational judgments. The Diane that they [her family] know does not drink and would never smoke marijuana in a car with kids.”

So she was in some kind of physical pain, and when she couldn't get Advil or Tylenol, she decided to sneak just a little bit of marijuana and vodka to self-medicate -- but she couldn't stop/got carried away because she was a secret alcoholic? That explains why she conveniently "lost" her cell phone after talking to her brother and deciding to keep driving. She was probably thinking that if she could just get the kids home, no one would find out what she'd done.

My friend's husband had an interesting theory that she started smoking the pot first, but it was laced with some other drug that made her go crazy and think that drinking all the vodka was a good idea. But then we realized whatever drug it was laced with would have shown up in the toxicology tests.

But who was that mysterious phone call at 12:08 from? Did she receive some sort of upsetting news, and that, combined with her physical pain, set her off?

Probably the only way we'll come even remotely close to knowing the full story is if Schuler's 5-year-old son remembers anything. According to this article in Newsday, he is still recovering from head injuries at St. Mary's Hospital for Children in Queens ( and hasn't been interviewed at all.

In other news...tomorrow is my first day of work: three weeks of professional development for my new teaching job. Wish me luck -- I may need it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Diane Schuler

I've been obsessed with the news about Diane Schuler, the Long Island mother who drove the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway on July 26th before crashing, killing herself; all three of her three nieces, ages 8, 7 and 5; her 2-year-old daughter; and all three men in the car she crashed into. Only her five-year-old son survived, with critical injuries. One of the first articles to appear in the New York Times, "Bad Omens, a Fateful Turn and 8 Lives Lost" by Lisa W. Foderaro and Nate Schweber ( noted that "police are awaiting toxicology and autopsy results, but Captain Realmuto said it did not appear that she was intoxicated or impaired by drugs in any way.'" There was speculation that she had undiagnosed diabetes and was in some sort of insulin shock, or that she had had a stroke or some other sudden-onset brain problem.

But as Al Baker and Lisa W. Foderaro wrote in their August 4th article (, "for all the misguided and well-meaning speculation about what may have caused Diane Schuler to drive the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway 10 days ago, killing eight people in a head-on collision, the real reason was stark in its tragedy and simplicity: She was drunk." Toxicology tests showed that her blood-alcohol level was 0.19, more than twice the legal limit, and that she had used marijuana between 15 minutes and an hour before her death. They found a broken jumbo 1.75 liter vodka bottle under a seat in her minivan. Even sadder and stranger was the fact that her family apparently had no idea she had an alcohol problem. Her brother and sister-in-law, Warren and Jackie Hance, said they trusted her and never had any reason to think their children would be in danger with her. Her husband, Daniel Schuler, swore she was the perfect wife and mother, only occasionally drank, and grudgingly admitted she "occasionally" smoked marijuana, but that there must have been something "medically wrong" to cause her to go on a bender.

There was something medically wrong, all right -- she was a *&^%ing alcoholic! And either she was extremely skilled at hiding it, or her family was in deep, deep denial. I just can't picture the scene in her minivan. She literally must have been swigging from the bottle while she was driving: she still had undigested alchohol in her stomach when she died, and the witnesses at the McDonald's where she and the kids had stopped that morning said she didn't appear intoxicated then (although perhaps she had just starting to drink slowly, then sped it up later?). But wouldn't it be physically awkward and difficult to drive and drink from a huge bottle like that? If she had a flask or something, it hasn't been reported. And wouldn't she think, "Hey, I shouldn't drink from this bottle of vodka and smoke marijuana in front of my kids and my nieces, because they're going to tell their father(s) and then my secret will be out?" I'm trying to think back to when I was 5, 7, or 8 years old -- would I have known that an adult drinking from a bottle of Absolut while driving was wrong? Did she tell the kids it was water? And what about the marijuana? Did she do these things so often when they were in the car with her that they didn't think anything of it until she became seriously impaired? If not, why that weekend? What happened that day that made her suddenly binge? Apparently there are alcoholics who have to drink every day, but there are also alcoholics who can go weeks, even months, without drinking -- but when they do, look out.

Schuler's oldest niece, 8-year-old Emma, clearly knew something was wrong on that day. While Diane Schuler had called her brother at 11:37 AM to say they were running late due to traffic -- and apparently sounded normal to him at that point -- she wasn't the one who called him back at 12:58 PM, as was originally reported. It was Emma Hance who called her father and said, “Daddy, there is something wrong with Aunt Diane and she is having trouble seeing and she is talking funny, she is slurring." The call dropped after three minutes, but Warren Hance called back at 1:01 and spoke to Schuler for nine minutes. After that, she abandoned her cell phone and kept driving, even though Hance said he told her to stay put and he'd come find her (

Also, Daniel Schuler and his lawyer raised questions about where the vodka bottle came from, claiming it could have been on the side of the road and the minivan just happened to crash into it (?). But last weekend, the story changed: "Tom Ruskin, an investigator who is working for the husband, Daniel Schuler, said that Mr. Schuler occasionally drank vodka and that his wife, Diane, was so frugal that she packed the same bottle of Absolut in a bag meant for trips between the family’s home in Suffolk County...and the camper in the Sullivan County campground they had frequented for the past three years. He said a single bottle could last a year for the Schulers" ( Well, hello. Just because Daniel Schuler thought it was the same bottle every weekend doesn't mean it actually was!

The whole thing is just so strange. The woman held down a full-time job at Cablevision, took care of her kids, watched her brother's three kids, no reports of any domestic abuse or police calls to the home, no prior DWI arrests (although interestingly, Daniel Schuler was actually arrested for DWI 14 years ago, when he was 24, as he was driving from one bar to another after downing five beers:

I read somewhere that the condition of her liver would help determine if she had been a hard drinker for years, but no information has been released about that. Marvin D. Seppala, the chief medical officer at the Hazelden Foundation, an addiction-treatment center, theorized that "perhaps Ms. Schuler was experiencing early-stage early that her husband had not picked up any telltale clues. Maybe the crash was an early public symptom that the situation had taken a significant turn for the worse. If so, that early symptom was also, tragically, her last" ( Also, she worked days while her husband worked the 4 PM - 12 AM shift as a public safety officer, so he probably didn't see her much during the week. That would have made it even easier to hide it from him.

The New York Post reported that Diane Schuler drank screwdrivers alone at a local bar, complaining of a bad marriage. But the Post doesn't exactly have the highest journalistic ethics -- they love to quote "anonymous sources" -- and they can't seem to write a story about this case without making a basic factual mistake (getting Schuler's age wrong, or referring to her brother as "William" instead of "Warren"), so who knows if that's true.

Here's an interesting article by Deborah King in the Huffington Post (, which brings up the fact that while drunk driving is decreasing among men, it is increasing among women -- and women are more likely to have kids in the car. Apparently it happens more often than you might think. Scary.

I can't imagine what Warren and Jackie Hance are going through. Losing all three of your kids in an accident is heartbreaking -- and then to find out it was so easily preventable? I just can't even comprehend it.

P.S. Forget everything I just wrote. It was Anbesol, the topical pain reliever you put on your gums! THAT'S what gave Diane Schuler a 0.19 blood-alcohol level, according to Daniel Schuler's lawyer, Dominic Barbara ( Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous? That lawyer is getting on my last nerve.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Pregnant at 52

I was reading an article about the photographer Annie Leibovitz today when I got distracted by the age of her children. The article said she's 59, but she has an 8-year-old daughter and 4-year-old twins. ??? Well, I just looked it up on-line, and while a surrogate mother had the twins, Annie herself gave birth to her older daughter when she was 52 YEARS OLD! Whoa! I can't imagine going through pregnancy and childbirth at that age! Well, I can't really imagine it right now, at the age of 36, but ESPECIALLY not at the age of 51. WOW.

I did a quick search on-line, and the only other celebrity I could find who actually became pregnant and gave birth in her 50s was Elizabeth Edwards, who gave birth to her youngest son, Jack, when she was 50. She and Annie Leibovitz most likely used donor eggs. But according to Wikipedia, "Aracelia Garcia of Sunnyside, Washington astounded doctors when she naturally conceived (without hormonal treatment) all-female triplets in 1999 at the age of 54. She delivered three healthy girls Arianna, Brianna and CeCelia by Caesarean section in January 2000" (

And this mother definitely didn't use fertility drugs: "Ruth Kistler of Portland, Oregon gave birth to a daughter in Los Angeles, California, on October 18, 1956, at the age of 57. The birth predated the advent of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) making Kistler one of the oldest women known to have conceived naturally" (ibid).

I'm getting tired just thinking about it!