Effect on Affect

Dr. Mark Hall: Air doesn’t matter! Blood does. That’s the answer.

The Andromeda Strain (1971)


Let’s play some catchup, shall we?

This has been a bit of a rough school year for me.

This is pretty much me, all through this school year.

I’ve been distracted and moody, and my concentration has been out the window. And I’ve been feeling a general sense of discombobulation, you should excuse the technical term. And it felt as though every time I was finally getting on top of matters, I’d get whacked with a bunch of other issues.

When you do the job that I do, you expect to get a lot of different issues coming from many directions at once. But this year I’ve been feeling like I’m bailing a leaky boat. And I started to think that maybe I’m not cut out to work such a busy school anymore; that perhaps I need another school with a smaller caseload and so on. 150ish students, even with a part-timer assisting me, is a lot of kids to keep track of. And yet…and yet, I still believe in the school I work with and its overall philosophy, and the fact that I’m making a difference for a lot of students who are not only at-risk, but who are in some genuine crisis. But how much can a person take, anyway?

So that’s one thing going on in my life lately. Meanwhile, I have a new doctor. My previous doctor retired and moved to the West Coast, so I had to find someone new. I’m pretty fussy about this sort of thing, so I was glad when Wife found someone she thought I might like. And with a small caveat, she was right.

During the holiday break, I did a New Patient visit with the doctor. We did a medical history, and they took some blood samples, and there was an interview or two, and so on. And the doctor had some specific suggestions for me, and based on what we’d discussed, she gave me a couple of prescriptions.

A few days later, I got a call from her office. My blood work had come back, and the numbers weren’t good at all. My cholesterol was high, which makes sense considering I hadn’t taken any cholesterol meds in about two years. But then again, they weren’t as high as they were before I started taking medication, so that was a little encouraging. My triglycerides were also a little on the high side, and we’d address that later on. What was of bigger concern, however, was my Vitamins B and D levels. Those were pretty much bottomed out. Like, I should be running around naked at the equator to get my Vitamin D levels up; that’s how low it was. I was also told that my iron levels were low and that I should see a hematologist. In the meantime, I had a follow-up visit scheduled for this past week.

I didn’t call the hematologist, largely because the conversation would have gone something like: “Why are you here?” “Uh…my doctor told me to come here?” so I sat on that one until  the follow-up visit. But I filled the prescriptions and I started taking vitamin supplements, and life went on for a few weeks.

Last week, on Friday, I had my follow-up visit, and it turns out that my blood was in even worse shape than I originally thought. The guy who called me had essentially buried the lede: my iron was practically bottomed out. If I had a serious accident, I wouldn’t have enough reserves in my bone marrow to replace what blood I’d lost. And my A1C, which wasn’t on the sheet I’d received, was just barely high enough to put me in Type II Diabetes range. So we had some conversation about my diet, and my exercise, and there’s gonna be some more medication for you.

Image result for trulicity -site:pinterest.comI’m back on Pravastatin, but since my cholesterol was relatively low for a high value, I’m also back to the lower dose where I started. But because of the A1C, I’m also taking something called Trulicity, which is a pen-style injectable drug that I take once a week. You pop off the gray cap on the bottom, push it against your abdomen or your thigh, and press the green button. Needle pops its way in, the stuff injects for about five seconds, then you hear a click and you’re done. One of the side effects of Trulicity is depressing your appetite, so I may experience the weight loss regardless of my excercise levels, but she also noted that if my appetite truly crashes, I need to force myself to eat some lean protein and all the fruits and vegetables I (don’t, because I’m not hungry) want.

So we’ll see how that all works out in a few months, but in the meantime, all this goes a long way toward explaining why I’m having so much trouble concentrating on stuff at work. The bottom line is that there’s an underlying medical reason, and if I can get some of my numbers back in place, there’s a good chance that I’ll be feeling a little bit more like myself again, and that I can get my act back together.

And that’s not necessarily bad, right?

 

Haddock Crateful

C.J. Cregg: You guys are like Butch and Sundance peering over the edge of a cliff to the boulder-filled rapids 300 feet below, thinking you better not jump ’cause there’s a chance you might drown. The President has this disease and has been lying about it, and you guys are worried that the polling might make us look bad? It’s the fall that’s gonna kill ya.

The West Wing, “The Fall’s Gonna Kill You” (5/2/01)


NEARLY ICKY IMAGE ALERT: If you’re my brother, don’t look at the end of this post. Maybe wait a few weeks and then come back. For everyone else, be warned that this post is long and rambling and, if I had any smarts, would be more than one post.

So my brother (the one mentioned in the previous paragraph) was recently injured in a fall at work. I told you a little about this a couple of posts ago. The fall wasn’t from a huge height, but it was a complicated one, enough so that Wile E. Coyote would be proud, I think. So, he had a broken pelvis requiring surgery and some interesting shenanigans in the rehab center that I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about.

When he first got hurt, his wife called me to tell me what had happened, and I don’t think she got more than a few sentences out before I started going through checklists in my head outlining what I needed to do in order to get down there. My brother, being pretty wise to how I think, had already issued a strict order for me NOT to come down, since there really wasn’t much I could do anyway. I took him at his word and stayed away, for a few weeks anyway.

As it happened, I’d already arranged for a visit to Beacon College, which is located in Leesburg, Florida. Leesburg is about an hour or so northwest of Orlando and just under two hours’ drive from my brother’s place. So when I set my visit date, I did it with an eye toward making it a long weekend so I could visit my brother.

Let me digress for a minute and talk about Beacon College: it’s a college which, like Landmark College (also mentioned not that long ago), is designed specifically for students with reading difficulties, with ADHD or who are considered to be somewhere on the autism spectrum. Their entire approach to educating students lies in determining how the student learns, how they process information, and then coming up with a plan of action that aims directly at that learning difference. The school itself is composed of several buildings in the downtown Leesburg area, such that you’re not entirely sure where the school ends and the town begins. Anyway, it’s a great school (and, if you’re interested, one of only a couple in the nation–and one of only 23 in the WORLD–with an Anthrozoology program) and worth considering if you suspect you’re smarter than your grades might indicate.

The folks at Beacon were amazing, and the 60-90 minute tour I’d expected turned into three hours of touring and some in-depth chat, and I’m hoping that they can pair up with my high school for some future project.

From there, I headed down to my brother’s place. I gotta say, I was pretty exhausted by this point, because I drove almost straight through from Baltimore to Leesburg, a 14-hour drive under the best of circumstances. I left around 8:30 PM on Tuesday and had no choice really but to stop in a couple of rest areas and do some catnapping (one of those catnaps was nearly three hours, in a gas station parking lot). So by the time I arrived at my hotel on Wednesday, I was pretty tapped out. I managed to get some sleep Wednesday night, but I don’t have the bounce-back skills I used to. I checked into the hotel near my brother’s house, then went to see what he was up to.

We had a happy little reunion, and ordered some takeout food from a place nearby. After dinner was a little more chatter, and he started talking about how he’d like to get out of the house for awhile, if I don’t mind. Hey, anything you want, amigo. We made plans for a couple of potential destinations on Friday, and I was back at the hotel.

Friday morning, I got to his place, and he wanted to visit his place of work. Now, getting him anywhere involves him using a walker to get to the car, and him using a wheelchair to get anywhere else once we arrive. I figure out a way to fit the wheelchair into my trunk, throw the walker into my backseat, and off we go…back to the Scene of the Crime.

Let me tell you something: they really like my brother over there at his place of work. I don’t think I’ve ever been greeted with that level of enthusiasm, anywhere (never mind at my job). He was chit-chatting with people before he even got out of the car. If you check out Frank Hagney's career on IMDB, you'll see that he has many more uncredited roles than credited ones. And in the office and the warehouse, it started to feel sort of like a scene from A Hard Day’s Night. I started to feel a little bit like the guy in It’s a Wonderful Life who does nothing but stand behind Mr. Potter and push his chair around. But it was pretty clear that they wanted him back as soon as possible, even if it was just part-time. My brother, being extra macho and whatnot, opined that he’d like to come back on a full-time basis if possible.

Our other destination was to see the water. That’s all; he just wanted to see the water. So from his workplace we headed down US19, and then a road called Alternate 19, which splits off from the main road in the town of Holiday and runs a little closer to the water. All the way down, we talked about how the area has changed since we were younger. I noted to him that there was a period of time where I’d constantly get lost because so much had changed during the year or so that would pass between visits. That actually happened to me on this visit, because I didn’t know that a road in his town had been completely re-routed to accommodate the expansion of a park.

As we got closer to the town of Tarpon Springs, he suggested that we make the turn down Dodecanese Boulevard, along the Anclote River toward the Sponge Docks. Dodecanese Blvd. is the heart of Tarpon Springs’ tourist industry, and hardly a day goes by that isn’t thronged with people who come to buy natural sponges, eat Greek food or just take a stroll along the docks to see the sponge boats doing their thing. You can even take a sponge-diving tour, where they give you the whole story of how the industry started in the late 1800s, and how the process of harvesting and preparing sponges hasn’t changed substantially since then. In fact, the Sponge Docks area hadn’t changed substantially during most of that time: the first time I visited was as a 12-year-old in 1975, and it was much the same until I was deep into my adulthood. Then along came a storm (I can’t remember which one) which, between the storm itself and the water surging up the riverbanks, pretty much wiped out the entire area. The town got a huge pile of money from the government to re-build, and nearly every building was restored.

Nearly.

Don’t let the nice paint job fool you; that paint may be the only thing keeping the insides of this building inside.

One building survived the storm, and oddly enough it was very close to the river. That building is called Sponge-O-Rama, and it’s the home of a couple of free exhibits that will teach you about the history and heritage of the local Sponge Industry. This comes in two flavors: Flavor One is the movie they show you, that loops around about every fifteen minutes. The film is dated, they’ll concede, but they keep it around because it’s such good documentation of the stuff they do. This film looked old in 1973 and it’s not looking much better, having been transferred from film to video tape and now to DVD from the video, so you’re treated to scanning errors and color bleeding. From there it’s on to the Sponge Museum, which is a labyrinth of poorly-lit full-size dioramas set behind plexiglass that’s so old, it’s started to fog up and is harder to see through every year. This area looks exactly the same way it did in 1973, and I’m pretty sure that the only thing keeping this part of the building together is the termites holding hands. And yet…it’s so goddamn charming that I can’t not go there when I’m in town. Except this time, of course, because my brother can’t get out of the car without a hassle and this was just a side trip, anyway. So after a pass through the area in each direction, we returned to Alternate 19 and continued down another couple of miles to the Honeymoon Island Causeway. We drove down the causeway, taking our time, until we got to the point where, in order to proceed, we’d have to pay a toll. Well, once again getting out of the car and into the sand wasn’t on the agenda, so I turned the car around and cruised back up the causeway. At one point I found a break in the railings and took my car down to the beach itself (about where the arrow is in the picture above), where I backed up against the rail and we sat there, chitchatting and watching the water. After awhile we headed back up the road (waiting for a sailboat to come through the drawbridge) and hit the local supermarket to get stuff for me to make dinner. He’d found a recipe in Food Network Magazine he was hot to try, but since he couldn’t stand up long enough to cook, we figured I could do the cooking and he could help with prep. (Go to the link; it’s good stuff!)

So while he was up and getting ready to cut up some peppers, he said to me, “Hey, wanna see the scar?” I, being no fool, said certainly. He told me that he hadn’t even seen it because he figured it’d make him woozy. So if you’re my brother, don’t look! Here it comes!

That's his right hip you're looking at.

Oh, and here’s some good news: he’s making his return to work, part-time, today! Go get ’em, man! They’re eager to have you back!

Everybody Must Get Stones

William Shatner: I was recently at a celebrity auction where I sold one of my kidney stones for $75,000. Oh, yeah. And do you understand what I have done? I synthesized uric acid and calcium inside my bladder and turned it into a house for Habitat for Humanity! Who’s the Warlock now, bitch?

—The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen (9/19/11)

Warning: graphic, T. M. I.-type stuff ahead. At this rate something like this is going to be my featured post every February.

As many of you know, a short while ago we had a pretty big snowstorm around here in Baltimore. There were the usual stories in the news, with the usual headlines about Snowmageddon and such. I was campaigning them to use Snowtorious B.I.G. but that didn’t pan out. Wife and I shoveled the walk on Saturday, while the snow was still falling, in a misguided attempt to make it easier to clear the walk when it actually did stop. What with all the wind blowing the snow everywhere, it didn’t make much difference. When the snow stopped, you’d never know that we’d shoveled. So, we took to it again and cleared out most of the sidewalk, then we dug out the one vehicle we had with the four-wheel drive…so we could drive it to Sears and buy a snowblower. That was on Tuesday.

Wee One was disappointed by all the snow, largely because she’s been in rehearsals for a play (her first starring role in Amateur Theater, folks) down in Greenbelt, and the snowstorm postponed the show’s opening weekend. So when the roads started to clear, the director called one last rehearsal before the delayed debut. That was on Thursday. On the way down, I started getting a pain in my lower back. It was a little weird because it was on my right side and when these things happen to me, it’s usually on the left. Also, this was a pretty sharp pain for a muscle ache—plus, it was a pretty delayed response to all the shoveling we’d done two days earlier. But…I’m staring another birthday in the face; it’s probably just one of those “getting older” things.

It hurt me so bad that you could actually see the cartoon lightning bolts. On Friday night, Wee One’s new opening night, Wife and I took Wife’s mom to see the show’s opening. My back was hurting again and Wife offered to drive, but I turned her down, thinking I’d still be sore and maybe the drive would distract me a little bit. However, I was wrong: despite taking some over-the-counter pain medicine, it was like having a knife in there. The pain subsided some and I was able to enjoy the show, but it never quite went away. The next night, the same thing happened: huge pains during the drive to Greenbelt. It was especially intense in the back on the right, but it ran through me all the way to my groin, to the point where my right testicle was actually kind of sore. We’re still thinking muscle pain, so Wife gave me one of her muscle relaxers and about nine Ibuprofen tablets. For the third night in a row, I slept quite poorly.

When the pain hadn’t subsided by Sunday, I started to think maybe it was something else, and I started to do some research on the internet. Here’s a word of advice for you: when it comes to symptoms, The Internet Is Not Your Friend. It will scare the hell out of you. Within minutes you’re convinced you have Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (and for god’s sake, don’t look it up).

On Monday I went to work, still hurting. This was the first day back after all the snow, so I spent the day trying to get cancelled meetings re-scheduled. On Tuesday, the Motrin and Naproxen I’d been taking just wasn’t getting the job done. I finally left work early and headed for the local express clinic, where I described my symptoms. After some examination, they said, “We think you have a kidney stone, but we don’t really have the equipment to tell you for sure.” They gave me a prescription for some high-octane Tylenol and directions to hit the Emergency Room if it got worse. Later on, it occurred to me: I haven’t moved my bowels in a couple of days. For me, this is unusual: many people classify me as kind of weird, but in this respect I’m definitely a Regular Guy. Could this be the problem? I’m just constipated? While I was getting my prescription filled, I also picked up a bottle of Miralax. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had to take a laxative right before the Super Bowl. The bottle said that a typical dose takes about a day or so to work. OK, I can live with that.

By Thursday, I’d had a bowel movement,but it wasn’t exactly what one would expect from someone who hadn’t gone much at all in several days. Now I’m thinking it’s some higher-level form of constipation, like a bowel obstruction or such. (Again, let me stress: The Internet is NOT YOUR FRIEND.) But I wasn’t especially uncomfortable, so I let it go for the time being.

Or…maybe this is the New Normal for me and I’m just getting used to being uncomfortable? Working for Baltimore City Schools has taught me that I can get used to anything, after all.

On the way home from school I stopped at a pharmacy and talked to the pharmacist about what a next-level laxative might be. She offered some suggestions, and at that point the least scary (or, perhaps more accurately, least harsh-sounding) of them is the suppository. I bought a small package of them and used one that night.

For what it’s worth, these things aren’t so bad; it’s just that we have this whole “up yer butt” association with them so we get squicked out. I think the way the ones I bought work is that they draw water from the surrounding body tissue, which softens the stool and encourages increased bowel action. They’re supposed to work in about 15 minutes, so OK: away we go. And again, the result wasn’t quite what I expected. I tried again the next night with the same result. Now I’m thinking: well, if I’m blocked, it’s gonna be way up in there. Something’s getting through, but not much.

So on Saturday I picked up a disposable enema bottle and tried that. Again, relatively quick and not as bad as I thought it would be. And again, still not quite the result I’d hoped for.

Flash-forward to today. I got a bunch of stuff done at work, but I was again in pain and general discomfort, so I went to the Principal and told her, “I can’t take anymore, I’m going to the E. R.”

She said to me, “You shoulda gone last week. Go. And don’t come back till they tell you what’s wrong with you. BYE!”

I have a cool Principal.

So I drove myself up to the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, at Wife’s suggestion. As it turns out, GBMC—like most metropolitan hospitals—is especially busy on Mondays, so there were lots of people in the waiting room when I arrived. At this point I’d convinced myself that the problem was some form of constipation, so that’s what I told them was going on when I arrived. I told them I was having pain, and they took all my pertinent information and sent me into the waiting area, where I sat among the Ill Folk of North Baltimore. After maybe 45 minutes a nurse came out calling my name. She’d come out to give me Motrin for the pain I’d reported. I was puzzled but took the Motrin anyway. She also gave me a packet of graham crackers in case my stomach was empty (in fact, it was). About 15-20 minutes after that, another nurse came out and led me inside.

I was met right away by a doctor who listened to my whole story, including the visit to the express clinic and their kidney
stone theory and all of my laxative adventures (there were another couple I didn’t tell here because nothing cmae of those, either). He said he’d like to do a CT scan to rule out any blockages and such, and we’d take it from there.

Then a nurse named James came in and set me up with an IV of basic saline, I guess, and gave me a huge cup of liquid. “It’s Go Time,” he said. Then he explained that the liquid was part of prep for the CT scan. I was to have two types of scans: a Oral Contrast and an IV Contrast. This drink was for the Oral Contrast: I drink it down and then as it works its way through my intestine, it shows up on the CT scan. This means that I have to knock this stuff down within an hour, then they wait a while longer before doing the scan, to give it a chance to work its way down. I said, “I guess I should call home and let them know I’ll be awhile, since this will take a few hours.” That’s when I discovered that my phone had no signal in the exam room. So James said, that’s OK, we can bring a phone in here for you to use. And away goes James, reminding me to drink my contrast drink. The drink, by the way, was probably just some stuff mixed with water, since it pretty much tasted like room-temperature water and appeared to be clear. (Sometimes they give you barium, which is thick like a shake and usually minty.) Someone else came in with a low-end phone for me to use, and plugged it into the wall, then established that it had a dial tone and left. Belatedly, I realized that the phone still didn’t quite work: the “4” button was inoperative. And let me tell you, my friend: when you live in an area with ten-digit dialing and that area’s codes are 410 and 443, you’re not going to get far with a phone that doesn’t do “4”. Fortunately, my phone had a wi-fi signal so I used Facebook Messenger to let Wee One know what was up. Then I used Twitter to bitch out GBMC for giving me a defective phone.

Well over an hour later, I was getting antsy, partly because I had to use the bathroom (32 ounces of contrast fluid, plus the IV, plus the bottle of water I’d had in the waiting room, plus a prostate that just turned 53 last week = a good reason to be antsy, thanks) and I was still connected to the now-empty IV bag. The nurse who’d brought me the phone came in and I told her I needed to use the bathroom, “and your phone doesn’t work.” She got James to come back in to disconnect the IV bag and set me free to go pee. When I came back, James decided to find out whether they were ever going to take me down to the CT. He made a couple of calls, then decided that if this was going to happen, he’d have to bring me there himself. So, off we went to the CT room. CT Scan of the Future.

I was greeted by a tech named Jamie, who told me the basics of how all this was going to work and asked a few questions about allergies, etc. A few minutes later, I was brought into the room with the CT machine. Most people have this image of a big tunnel and lots of banging noises, but that’s an MRI. a CT is more like a big donut, and it’s relatively quiet. Picture the Guardian of Forever, only in a perfect circle. So Jamie and her assistant lay me on the bed and arranged me just so. She told me that the machine was going to tell me to hold my breath, and when to resume breathing, and if I couldn’t hold my breath that long, just breathe REALLY SLOWLY. Sure enough, when they started up, a voice came from the CT machine (again, just like the Guardian): “TAKE AND HOLD YOUR BREATH.” and, a few seconds later, “YOU CAN BREATHE AGAIN NOW”. Sadly, I did not time-travel as I passed through, although I did have a flashback to the time I had the MRI taken of my head. Jamie then came in and they did the IV Contrast portion of the test. She took a syringe of iodine and injected it into my IV. Iodine in your veins doesn’t usually hurt, but it does give you a weird, warm feeling through your body, almost like you peed yourself. You also briefly get a taste of copper in your mouth. This all settles down pretty quickly, though. And again, the CT told me when to breathe and when not to. The total elapsed time in the CT room: about ten minutes.

So the Oral contrast would be used to determine if there were any blockages in my intestines, and the IV contrast w
ould be used to look for blockages in some of my blood vessels and other organs.

Jamie told me that it’d be about an hour before the results came back, but in fact, my doctor came in the room right after I’d returned. He told me that I do, in fact, have a kidney stone, about 3 millimeters in size. I asked him, “Is that big?” He said, no, not really. but the weird thing about kidney stones is that sometimes the really small ones are the ones that hurt the most, because they can bounce around and do more damage. Anyway, it should pass pretty easily, especially once I start taking a few days’ worth of Flomax. So here are some prescriptions, and you’re good to go.

Wait a minute, says I. What about the constipation?

“Well,” he said, “there are no blockages and, for that matter, there isn’t a lot going on in there. Let me ask you this: since you started having pain, have your eating habits changed?”

In fact, they had—the pain had affected my appetite to the point where I ate maybe once a day, and that was usually soup. So I haven’t been pooping because I haven’t been eating enough stuff to generate much poop. So I need to drink lots more fluids and get extra fiber in my diet and in the long run I’ll have a happy ending (you should excuse the expression).

What’s Up My Butt? Nothing, Guaranteed.

Colonel Wortman: [on the phone] Colonel Wortman here, General Kelly’s aide. Now listen carefully, this is an order. Take the General’s body, put it in a Jeep, and drive it up to G sector.

‘Radar’ O’Reilly: Uh, sir, there’s no fighting there, just diarrhea.

Colonel Wortman: [covers phone] I’ll provide the fighting.

M*A*S*H, “Iron Guts Kelly” (10/1/74)

——————————————————-

This isn't mine. Sorry to disappoint.

WARNING: I tried to be light-hearted about it, but the bottom line (heh) is that there’s gross clinical stuff ahead. Read at your own risk.

I’ve had to disappoint the folks at the Red Cross Blood Donation centers for the past several months, on doctor’s orders.

Whenever I go to see my doctor, she usually orders bloodwork for me before the visit, so she can check on my cholesterol and blood sugar levels. I have a family history of high cholesterol, and my A1C, which is a number that represents your average blood sugar levels over a certain period of time, has historically been high, but not high enough to put me in the diabetic range. So she likes to keep her eyes on that stuff, and while we’re siphoning off my arm, let’s check a few dozen other things.

On my last few visits, however, she saw something that concerned her, specifically that my blood counts were a little low. Not low enough to be considered anemic, but still kind of mysterious. She had a few suggestions for my diet, and for some vitamins I could be taking, but the numbers weren’t really budging (much like my A1C—no matter what I do, it doesn’t go up or down by any significant amount). They did one of those basic quick tests for occult blood but came up with nothing. So finally my doctor decided that it was time for me to get both an endoscopy and a colonoscopy and see if that reveals anything. Since I crossed that Big Five-Oh a couple of years back, she’s been kind of hot for me to get the colonoscopy done anyway as a kind of Thing To Do When You’re Fifty-Plus.

Off to the gastroenterologist I went, where they set me up with a “consultation”. That basically means meeting the guy who’s going to do the procedure and being handed a bunch of forms to complete and bring back on the day of the procedure. Among those forms is the preparation procedure for these things. Let me share the highlights with you:

There’s actually a timeline written down for this stuff. First thing is, the day before the test, you’re basically not eating any solid food at all. The closest you get to solid food is plain gelatin or popsicles, and everything you consume can’t be red or purple. So, no cherry Jello if you’re going to have Jello. Lemon is fine. You can have coffee or tea, but no milk or nondairy creamer. Everything else is broth, juice, water, or Gatorade.

First up on the timeline is the laxatives. They used to give you a prescription for some high-powered laxative, but now it’s all over-the-counter stuff. So you go out and you buy some laxative tablets, plus some powdery stuff. And at around noon you take the tablets along with plenty of liquid. It’s also at this time that you’re supposed to mix the powder with a quart of Gatorade. I cheated and used Powerade because I don’t like Gatorade. In the long run, it doesn’t appear to have made much difference. You don’t drink the Gatorade mixture just yet; you just “refridgerate” it. (That’s what the instructions say.) At 1:30 you drink 8 ounces of the Gatorade stuff, and repeat every hour till it’s gone. So the 32 ounces of the Powerade, plus the powdered stuff, makes a beverage close to 44 ounces altogether, so you’re doing this about a half-dozen times.

It's not quite like this, but close. Now, you kind of expect horrible things to happen, like you’re going to have horrific cramps and then explode and spend the entire rest of the day in the bathroom. What’s more, you kind of feel like a ticking time bomb that’s going to go off at any moment, but it’s not really like that. On the other hand, you’re definitely inducing diarrhea, so there’s that. And—AND! Don’t count on going anywhere once you’ve taken those pills. In between the Gatorade drinks, you’re supposed to keep taking on fluids so you don’t dehydrate yourself. I was actually drinking enough that I had to pee a lot, too. It also made drinking the Gatorade stuff a bit of a chore, because you’re filling up on other drinks in-between the Gatorade stints. I was glad to be done with that stuff so that I could relax and drink the un-treated Powerade and Crystal Lite lemonade.

(Full Disclosure: the prep sheet told me to use specific brands of laxatives; I was in a supermarket and bought the store-brand knockoff equivalents. Same drugs, same dosage, same effects, MUCH less money. I also bought the store brand version of Crystal Lite, I think because I was on a roll at that point with the generics. And, as I mentioned, I used Powerade instead of Gatorade, but it wasn’t because of the cost although Powerade happened to be on sale; I just like it better than Gatorade.)

The first few times you’re in the bathroom it’s pretty much what you expect. In my case there weren’t the attendant cramps that usually come with it, so from that standpoint it’s not so bad. And you’re not so incontinent that you have to run to the bathroom at top speed, but you don’t get a lot of warning. Also: if you think you have to pass gas, DON’T. It’s a trap. Fortunately this occurred to me before I learned the hard way, if you know what I mean.

When you get to the end of the evening, the urgency goes away but you often still feel the need to go now and then. By that point, however, you’re expelling very little, and it’s mostly clear or pale yellow, with maybe a few flakes of fecal matter that managed to hang around. Early on, I was worried that I might be doing this all night and that I wouldn’t get any sleep, but the fact is that it’s all pretty much done by then.

The next morning (procedure day), I woke up and my abdominal muscles were a little sore, largely (I think) because when you get to those last couple of times, you’re actually pushing a little bit. You’re also a little bit sore down below, but that’s to be expected; it’s been practically traumatized.

So just as a lark, I weighed myself before and after. Right before taking the tablets, I weighed myself, and then again after waking up. Without getting into specifics, I’ll share that I lost 2-1/2 pounds. I was going to do an hour-by-hour, but I realized that the numbers would get goofy because of all the fluids I was taking in. Also, I don’t really get along well with our scale; it’s digital and a pain in the neck to turn on. But it occurred to me after that weighing that that’s not nearly as much of a difference as I thought there’d be, I don’t know why. I guess I thought that feces weigh more than they actually do. Which sort of leads me into wondering why people with eating disorders will resort to laxatives; there’s not a lot of return for all that misery. You’d think they would figure that out early on.

Anyway.

Wife took me to the doctor’s and they looked over the paperwork I’d completed. The paperwork included:

  • A list of All The Bad Things That Could Happen and Why We’re Just Sending You To the Hospital if
    Anything Goes Wrong
  • Information about Advanced Care Directives and how those don’t really apply to them
  • Information about Living Wills and how those don’t apply either
  • Acknowledgment that I’d received HIPAA privacy information (I hadn’t, but signed anyway; I know the drill)
  • A page asking me about any allergies I had
  • A page asking me about medications I take regularly.

It's milky-looking stuff. They took me into the Procedure Room and had me take off everything but my socks and put on a hospital gown. “Don’t bother tying up the ties, because we have to connect all the leads and stuff to you, still. Just sit up on the edge of the bed and you can cover yourself with this blanket.” The blankets in this place, incidentally, are nice and toasty-warm. Before long, I’m being swarmed by several different people. One person is connecting all the telemetry, another is putting in an I.V. line, and the third is the anesthesiologist, who is reviewing the medications and allergies with me. She tells me that she’ll be giving me Propofol, which is the stuff that took out Michael Jackson. The difference between this and typical anesthesia, she says, is that it’s a genuine sleep, with dreaming and everything, because it hits the brain’s sleep center. If you’ve ever had general anesthesia, you know that you pretty much lose the time: you’re in one room and then suddenly you’re in another. With Propofol, you don’t remember feeling sleepy, but you DO dream. The other thing is, when it wears off, you wake up pretty quickly; you’re not eleven kinds of groggy and stuff. Once you’ve been up for a couple of minutes, you can walk right out. So they had me lie on my left side, and kinda-sorta posed me with my left arm out in front of me and my right resting on my hip. Someone put a Bite Block in my mouth (so I don’t bite down on the endoscope), then they shot me up with the Propofol. I was warned that there might be a bit of a burning feeling in my arm, and for me it wasn’t a burn but more like an electrical tingle, and in retrospect that’s pretty much the last thing I remember thinking about before I was awakened.

So I can’t tell you anything about the procedure itself, other than it doesn’t go very long at all, maybe an hour altogether, counting the pre-game stuff. I’d walked in shortly before 10 AM and walked out just after 11 AM. The doctor said that everything looked good, although he’d removed a few small polyps, and he’d send everything along to my internist. “So there was nothing that would explain the anemia?” I asked.

He corrected me: “You have some low blood counts, not anemia. But no, there wasn’t anything that would explain it.” So from the blood standpoint I’m kind of wondering if I’ve just got A New Normal going on for myself.

Let me sum all this up for the uninitiated: colonoscopy sounds pretty scary and embarrassing and such, and maybe it’s scary because it’s often used to look for scary stuff. And while you’ve got the Necessary Evil of the preparation process, the whole thing really isn’t so bad. I’m not saying it’s great, or it’s something I’d want to do every weekend, but I don’t think I’ll be going in with the same level of trepidation should I have to go another time.

What’s Opera, Doc?

Josh Lyman: I'm just sayin' if you were in an accident, I wouldn't stop for a beer.

Donna Moss: If you were in an accident, I wouldn't stop for red lights.

The West Wing, “17 People” (4/4/01)

——————————————————————–

Nobody was buying that Butterfly was fifteen years old. Last weekend, the Lyric Opera House here in Baltimore staged a production of the opera Madama Butterfly, by Giacomo Puccini. Students from our school were invited to attend one of the dress rehearsals on Wednesday, so I decided to go, taking Wee One with me since they had the space and I knew that she’d be interested.

Despite it being a dress rehearsal, the streets surrounding the Lyric were pretty full, so we had to park in a nearby garage. Naturally, the garage was charging the “event” rate rather than the hourly rate, and they were cash-only, but they were happy to hold onto my ID (and my car, of course) until I went to an ATM and came back with the money.

So the show itself was pretty cool. Instead of taking the assigned seats that were set up high enough for us to pack oxygen tanks. we opted to grab some vacant seats on one of the side balconies. We had a great view of the actors and the pit orchestra, which was (naturally) more casually dressed than one would usually see. This also put us in the position of being able to show the students the monitors mounted just below the balcony to each side of the stage, so the actors could see the conductor no matter which way they were facing. The students ran at about a 50% rate with regard to whether, in the end, the whole experience was interesting, but I look at it as an “exposure” type of event. In the end I think maybe we could have prepared them just a little bit better for the whole thing.

Wee One, on the other hand, had apparently taken some initiative and looked up the story on her own, so she had a better idea of what was going on. And, of course, she was all kinds of impressed with the actors, what with all the breath control and other dynamics. So after the show, while I circled the block looking for the ATM, we bumped into a couple of the actors and she got the opportunity to go all Fangirl over them.

In the car and on the way home. We’re headed north on Harford Road when we approach 25th Street, which is a busy intersection for that road. As it happens, we have the green light as we approach the intersection, but I also see a police cruiser coming into the intersection, with lights on and siren wailing. I braked hard, hard enough that you could feel the antilock brakes do that shuddering thing, but we stopped partway into the crosswalk.

The bad news is, the car behind us didn’t get the memo. We were stopped for a good second or so when suddenly: BANG. And now we’re all the way into the crosswalk. We’d been rear-ended.

It’s kind of weird when you get into this sort of accident, being hit from behind. You really need a moment to comprehend what’s happened. Wee One even asked me, “What happened?” and I told her that someone had hit us. I asked her if she was OK and she said she was. I told her to stay in the car and got out.

When these things happen, you also have a moment of thinking, “This isn’t going to be so bad.” Then you look at the car and you say something like “Jesus H. Christ on a Pogo Stick! Look at THAT mess!”

I snapped this just as the cop arrived.

I got out of the car and the other driver, a young lady about 25 years old, was already out of her car. She was apologetic and said that she’d hydroplaned (it was raining) and couldn’t stop her Jeep Liberty. By definition, “hydroplaning” is not what was going on here, but whatever. My car was clearly a mess and it was clearly her fault. I called 911 and they told me they’d dispatch an officer.

I got back into the car to start fishing the insurance and registration information out of the glove box. When I got out again, the officer had just arrived. Efficient! I greeted him with a cheerful “Whassup!” In retrospect, it’s kind of amazing that he didn’t ask me to blow up a balloon right there. He started asking us about what had happened, and actually seemed kind of surprised that the other cruiser—the one I’d stopped for with the lights and the siren—hadn’t stopped what they were doing and turned their attention to us. Meanwhile, there were two people on the corner, who had been waiting for a bus, and offering to testify on my behalf. “Do you got a baby in that car? I seen everything! She was tailgating you, she was going too fast.” I let the officer know that we had some witnesses, but he didn’t really care since the girl had already admitted it was all on her. After a few minutes he concluded that there really wasn’t any point in leaving the cars where they were in the middle of Harford Road, and we moved the vehicles over into the parking lot of the check-cashing place on the southeast corner. I had to make two trips, since my bumper was in the middle of the road. So one was on foot, moving the bumper, and the other was moving the car itself. Miraculously, the car was capable of moving on its own. 

So while I’m in the parking lot and awaiting the paperwork, I called Wife and told her to come get the Wee One. She showed up and was suitably impressed by the damage to my car. She told me she’d take Wee One home and then come back for me, since I was still waiting for the policeman’s paperwork.

By the time she got back to the house, Wee One started complaining that her head hurt, and it was possible that she’d hit her head against the door when we were hit. Wife wanted to take her to the hospital after getting me home. I told her that I was starting to feel it too, and maybe we’d both go get looked at. When she got back to me, the police had left, the other driver had left (her car had remarkably little damage, and I’m dumbfounded that her air bags didn’t deploy. By now I’d also taken the bumper and put it into the car, in the fully-reclined passenger seat. Wife wanted me to have the car towed; I knew that it was actually drive-able (if not totally aesthetic) and she should just follow me in case it turns out not to be able to make it all the way home.

We did manage to make it home, and off we went to GBMC, where we were poked and X-Rayed and such, and both given clean bills of health and a few pain pills. In the cold light of morning...well, it doesn't look any better. Wee One’s headaches persisted for another few days but further testing showed no permanent damage. We got home around 4AM and fell directly into bed. I don’t often fall asleep that quickly.

The next day, I spent on the phone fielding phone calls to and from the insurance companies. Let me tell you something: insurance companies get a bad rap, and I’m sure some of it is deserved, but the folks I dealt with at both companies were all GREAT. Everything moved efficiently, and when I told them that they needed me to walk through the mechanics of some of the procedures, they were kind enough to simplify it for me. The biggest delays came from the fact that there was a National Holiday in the middle of all this, which delayed some of the mail involved, but that was it: the time from accident, to inspection, to the car being declared a total loss, to receiving my check was two weeks flat.

So here’s the rundown on the damage: both quarter panels were crushed. Both light assemblies had damage to them; in fact Wife told me that I had working tail lights, but the brake lights didn’t come on when I stepped on the pedal. The third, center brake light came on but you can’t see it anymore because the trunk lid is crunched upward. That trunk lid, incidentally, was there to stay. It’s moving neither up nor down from the position you see here. The bumper was knocked off (you can kind of see it through the window, to the right), and the whole assembly behind the bumper was bent downward. The rear window was smashed completely. Some of the contents of the trunk were pinched in between the floor of the trunk and the lid. In order to get what stuff I could out of the trunk, I had to flip down the back seat and reach through.

Oh, here’s a saving grace: when the car was struck, it had very little fuel left in the tank; I was going to stop and put gas in the car before I got home.

So it’s a couple of years earlier than I expected, but I now have a new (to me) car in the form of a 2013 Hyundai Sentra Hybrid. I’m still getting used to it, of course, but I’m rather liking this car. And in the meantime, it’s Goodbye, Old Paint.

Wham.

I had me a very exciting adventure last night.

I’d gotten a late departure from work because of a project I was working on involving mailing letters to all the parents on my caseload. The letters wound up not being in the same order as the mailing labels, I ran out of pre-glued envelopes and wound up doing a lot of licking…it wasn’t pretty. So I got out of work a little after 6, and managed not to find myself locked in again.

As it happened, Wife and Wee One were running late, as well. Wee One had a mandatory meeting for students and parents at her school, so they were dealing with that. We’ve not been eating well for a few nights in a row, so I figured that, even if it was late, a decent dinner would be a nice change of pace. So on the way home I stopped in at the Giant on Belair Road, just outside the Beltway. Did a little shopping, waited almost patiently for the old guy in the self-checkout to figure out what the hell he was doing, and headed out.

The old guy, as it turns out, was the beginning of my downfall.

JoanLundenPeopleWhile I’m standing there waiting for him to figure out the relationship between the self-checkout scanner and the credit card reader, I busied myself with reading the tabloid headlines and such. For those not in the know, Robin Williams is dead and Joan Lunden is bald nowadays. And, of course, opposite the scandal sheets is the candy rack. It being late, and because I hadn’t eaten all day, I was a little puckish, but I didn’t really want to eat anything that filled me up, or was too cloying. And that’s why I opted for a package of Twizzlers.

In the car and munching on a Twizzler, I made the right out of the parking lot and onto Belair Road. Now, in that area, the right lane turns almost immediately into the off-ramp for the Outer Loop of the Beltway, therefore someone who wants to continue on Belair Road needs to get out of the lane pretty quickly. Even at 7PM, this isn’t always easy. I’m cruising slowly with my left turn signal on, trying to get over. The problem was, most of the people in that left lane, while interested in getting into my lane, were insisting on doing it by passing me first and then jumping over. And the last guy in that line just plain cut me off to get into the exit lane. But this left me free to move left.

And that’s when it happened. I started to choke on the Twizzler.

Frankly, I’m not even sure what happened in the next few seconds. My vision blurred, my head started swimming, I must have been shaking pretty hard because my glasses fell off (maybe that was the blurred vision). Somehow the offending bit of strawberry licorice dislodged itself and everything started to clear again.

It’s a scary thing to return to full consciousness and realize that you’re at the wheel of a moving vehicle. No kidding, that car essentially had no driver for several seconds. I was still a little disoriented, though, but I was dimly aware of a weird grinding sound. I realized that the car had drifted to the left and was now running along the concrete divider between the north and south lanes. I still couldn’t see clearly (I hadn’t yet realized my glasses had flown off), but I adjusted the car to the right and, since I was approaching a left turn lane, got into it and onto the side street. The sound coming from that left front wheel was not encouraging.

It turns out that I was right to be discouraged; the car hadn’t merely drifted over to the left; it had gone over pretty hard and really whacked that divider. The front wheel was just plain ruined. This isn’t a “fix the wheel” thing, it’s more like “you need to find a guy who will sell you another rim.” The plastic cowling just behind the wheel was pretty well abraded all the way through. Other than that, the car—and I—were miraculously okay.

Getting my wheel fixed is pretty much my main focus for the next couple of days. Given that I work in an office in a school, that gives me a little more flexibility to find a place, give them a call, get some ballpark estimates, and so forth. However, the next day (today) was Jury Duty Day for me. And, since I like to use my laptop, that means I’m hanging out in the Quiet Room, where the tables are located. The bad news is that the Quiet Room is also a little deeper into the courthouse than the regular, generally overcrowded, spaces are, so there’s no signal for my mobile hotspot, nor for my phone so that I could use THAT as a hotspot. (The courthouse here used to have pay-as-you-go internet access; I don’t see a signal for that today.)

So as I write this I’m sitting in the Quiet Jury Room, typing into Microsoft Word and waiting for the lunch break to be called so I can go get me some connectivity.

UPDATE: I'm on the lunch break. Guess who's going to hear a trial in less than an hour? 

Drug Dealings

Raymond: [to Susanna] Are you taking any prescription medication?
Vern: He likes you, that’s just his way of showing it.
Susanna: When I touched him, he pulled away.
Vern: Don’t take it personal. He never touched me and I’m closer to him than anyone in the world, known him for nine years.

Rain Man (1988)

———————————————–

Here’s a poorly-kept secret: older people take a lot of medication.

Not pictured: the other 97% of the stuff I had to get rid of. When my uncle died a couple of months ago, he left behind a huge amount of medication that he hadn’t even touched. My cousin came to my Mom’s house (where he was living by then) to pack up his things and discovered all this stuff, so she figured she’d do a good turn by donating it to people who couldn’t afford it. It turns out that you can’t do that sort of thing. You can’t donate prescription medications (naturally), nor can you return it for a refund. Likewise, you can’t donate syringes (he was an insulin-dependent diabetic) to charitable organizations that provide that sort of thing to people. You’re essentially stuck (heh) with this stuff. So when she ran out of time and had to return home, there was still a bunch of stuff left behind for my mother to take care of.

But, as they say, the best-planned lays oft go astray and my mother, instead of taking the time to dispose of this extra medication, decided that dying herself was the preferable option. (This is mostly speculation on my part.) This left me with the task of getting rid of his medication AND hers.

My cousin and I were both trying to be good citizens here; you’re not supposed to flush this stuff down the drain because it winds up in the water supply and next thing you know, my brother is growing a vagina or something (not me; I drink the Baltimore water, which has lead in it instead of drugs). So…where to start? I decided to ask the hospital where my mother died.

I called the hospital switchboard and the operator had a ready answer for me: “Oh, you bring it to the Sheriff’s Department. They take discarded medications. I have the number right here—in fact, I can probably transfer you.” Really? Cool. A few seconds later I’m talking to a representative from the Sheriff’s Department. He tells me that yes, indeed, they do collect drugs. There’s a dropbox in the lobby of the office; you just come in and drop everything off. He then gives me directions to the building, and I’m off. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office (the local one, anyway) is on Little Road in New Port Richey. It’s part of a larger complex of government buildings. I turn into the complex and follow the signs to the office, park the car and tote an overfilled shopping bag of stuff into the building.

Once I’m inside, there’s a small lobby area which is staffed by two people who are safely ensconced behind thick plate glass. You communicate with them through an intercom system. There was a guy ahead of me who was having trouble with the intercom, though. He’s standing there hollering “Can you hear me now? How about NOW? I can’t hear you! Can you hear me?” The officer pushes a button on his side and finally says, “Can you hear this?”

“Yes,” the guy says. “Now I hear you.” The officer then explains for what must have been the twelfth time that the guy needs to push a button on the intercom box in order to talk to them. The button in question is about the size of a dime and has TALK printed on it. So he finally gets though to them that he’s there to repair the copier. The officer tells him to have a seat and he’ll call someone out. Instead of having a seat, he takes exactly one step to his right.

Now it’s my turn. I step to the window and, having both A) seen what just transpired and B) a couple of brain cells to rub together, I lift my free hand to push the TALK button. The copier repairman helpfully puts his hand BETWEEN MY HAND AND THE BUTTON and tells me that “you have to push this button to talk to them.”

“Oh,” I say. “You mean the button I was about to push until you got in the way? This one, that has TALK printed on it in big letters?” Copier guy mutters something about just wanting to help and slinks away, suddenly remembering a copier part he has to retrieve from his truck.

Also, no radioactive stuff. I wish I was joking. When I finally speak to the police, it turns out that I’m in the wrong building. I need the other Sheriff’s Office building. What’s more, it’s not in the complex proper; I have to leave the complex, go down Little Road a hundred yards and turn back in to get to the right building. I drift around until I find what looks like the public entrance and make my way inside. Sure enough, the drop box is right there (that’s the actual box in the pic to the left). The bad news is, there are rules printed on the box, and there’s a cop standing right there to make sure I stick to them. So, no sharps, no liquids, no hydrogen peroxide (I didn’t have any but I found that amusing enough that I remembered it), no aerosols. Ultimately, all I could get rid of were the pills and some powder inhalants (which he hemmed and hawed about before finally saying, “Yeah, throw it in.”). From a taking-up-space standpoint, this didn’t do me a ton of good. So I asked the cop standing there where I could go with the needles and inhalers. He told me to go to an Emergency Room; they should have the means to dispose of it. Really? Back to the hospital? Okay.

I drove to Bayonet Point Hospital and went straight to the Emergency Room. The last time I saw an ER that quiet was when Wee One had her appendix out; it was the night of the Ravens vs. Denver Broncos playoff game. You have to go through a security guard there, so I explained what I needed, and he took me to the Triage Nurse, so I could explain it a second time. The Triage Nurse wasn’t sure, so he went deep inside to ask around. A minute later he came back and said that they could take the sharps but not the other stuff. “Look, I’m trying to be a good citizen here,” I said. “This is literally my third stop. If I have to jump through many more hoops, I’m just going to take this stuff and cater a party somewhere.” The triage nurse told me that any pharmacy would take it. Swell.

Let me offer up a little geography here: my mother lived almost exactly midway between the hospital and the Sheriff. So I went about three miles south to the Sheriff, then seven miles north to the hospital, only to be told that I had to go four miles south again to the Walgreens, which is quite close to her house. Walgreens took the remaining stuff without a hassle, although they did ask to be given a heads-up about what had sharps in it and what didn’t. That’s a fair request, I think. So ultimately,
I could have gone a couple of hundred yards (as the crow flies) to dispose of ALL the drugs, instead of going on the wild-goose chase I went through.

This is why Florida usually bubbles to the top of so many “Weird News” stories, I think.

Holding Pattern

Homer: Now, we play the waiting game..
[pause]
Homer: Aw, the waiting game sucks. Let's play Hungry Hungry Hippos!

The Simpsons, “Mr. Plow” (11/19/92)

—————————————-

In our last episode, I was about to get on a plane to Florida because my mother had a severe stroke and my brother was coming apart. For all the bitching I did in the airport, the plane trip itself was uneventful. Because I bought one of the last tickets, and therefore was one of the last to get a boarding pass from Southwest, of course I didn’t get a great seat (center seat—which I hate—and way toward the back), but the company was pleasant enough and I managed to stay occupied with my Kindle. In fact, I was so deep into reading (and my ears were quite pressurized besides) that I didn’t even hear the “turn off your electronics because we’re landing” announcement; a flight attendant had to give me the heads-up.

I got my luggage and moved to the car rental counters, and that went without a hitch as well. Once I got on the road I called my brother (hands-free, thank you ) and let him know that I’d landed and would be at his place soon, or should I go straight to the hospital? He told me to come to the house.

Shortly after he hung up with me, he got a call from the hospital saying that my mother’s blood pressure had dropped and maybe he should come in. He waited for me and we both made our way to the hospital. After a few minutes with a security guard who was having trouble with the Visitors Pass Badge software, he let us through and we headed up to her room. By now it was nearly 2AM.

The figure in the bed was my mother, and yet it wasn’t her. About four IV bags led to a single line inserted in her arm. A ventilator tube was in her mouth. This wasn’t sleep, it was something else again. Shaking her wasn’t going to do any good; this much was obvious. Of course, there weren’t any doctors in the area at that time, but I spent a few minutes with an RN who gave me the score: we’d been called because her blood pressure had gone way up; they gave her some medication and it went way down; by the time we arrived it had more or less stabilized. In short, she’d had a hemorrhagic stroke. Based on the scans, it was likely that something had been going on for awhile, on the order of more than a day. and it finally manifested itself on Friday morning when she wasn’t waking up. According to the neurosurgeon, she continued, operating would have had no positive effect on her situation. While there was some breathing on her own when she was first admitted, it was quite irregular and that’s why the decision to insert the tube was made. In short, we were looking at a very poor prognosis, her time remaining being on the order of somewhere between hours and a few days. My brother and I sat with her awhile and went home to get a few hours’ rest.

“A few” turned out to be far more accurate than I meant it to be; I slept for exactly three hours. Not wanting to disturb anyone, I stayed holed up in my brother’s guest bedroom for another hour or so, mostly reading and contemplating things. When I finally emerged, it turned out that everyone else was also up. We got our act together and headed toward the hospital. First stop, however, was my mother’s house.

One thing in which I struck rather lucky was in the fact that my mom planned ahead for a lot of things, including this eventuality. She’d pre-paid for her funeral, so nearly all of the expenses are covered. She’d set up trust funds for family members. She kept telling me that I was to be the executor of her will, and on and on. At one point over a year ago, I said to her, “Mom, this is all great but I have no idea what it means.” I don’t want to know how much I’m getting after she dies, I need to know who to call, where the accounts are, and so on. Finally she arranged an appointment for the two of us to meet with her attorney. During that meeting she assigned power of attorney to me and set me up as her healthcare proxy. She also signed a Living Will on that day and made some modifications to her Last Will, including a provision that my grandmother be permitted to remain in the house as long as necessary, should she predecease her mother. That was this past December. Prescient, no?

The next day, we returned to the hospital, along with my grandmother, my nephew and my sister-in-law. By now I had the legal documents in my hands and the doctor—who had rather poor bedside manner but I appreciated his candor—went through some of the details and explained them to me. The bottom line regarding the Living Will was that it didn’t really apply in her case because of her condition. This wasn’t someone in the last stages of cancer or a traumatic brain injury where she was able to continue on her own without machines. This was someone, he explained, whose prognosis is Nil. There were no miracles in this case; this wasn’t someone who was going to squeeze your finger on command, then blink their eyes and wake up. At this point, he said, we were due to be approached by a representative from a company called Life Link, which is a local outlet for organ donation, since my mother was listed as an organ donor on her driver’s license. At that point I decided that we really didn’t need everyone hanging around and being on some kind of Deathwatch until the very end. I suggested that my nephew, sister-in-law and grandmother say their goodbyes and go home, and my brother and I would stick around.

A while after they left, the representative from Life Link arrived. What she told us about the mechanics of the donation process was a little different from what the doctor told us, but it made sense. Here’s what happens: after we give the final consent for them to collect organs for donation, we complete a medical history questionnaire. Then lifelinklogoLife Link obtains two letters for the file, called “Brain Death Notes”. The time stamp on the second note becomes the Time of Death for the patient. At that point she essentially belongs to them: staff stays with her the entire time and they take over pretty much everything. Tissue and blood samples are collected for testing and screening, and types are determined for cross-matching to potential recipients. The recipients are notified to get to their transplant center ASAP. When everything’s in place, they set up a time to bring the donor into an operating room. The sterility conditions for this OR are more strict then typical, because they want to reduce the risk of infection as much as possible. Once the organs are harvested, the ventilator is disconnected.

Now, this whole process takes about 24 hours total. We didn’t know that earlier; we thought that she’d be disconnected not very long after we had the initial meeting with Life Link. So the closure to this was being delayed another day for us. Not so great in the short run. They promised to call once the OR had been set up so that, if we chose, we could visit once more. What they couldn’t tell us is what time they’d make the call; it all depended on the other pieces falling into place. The call could come at 4AM or it could come at 4PM. So we were essentially on standby, waiting for the end.

This afternoon, I got a little impatient and curious and called them to find out what was up. The person who answered the phone said she’d get in touch with our coordinator and she’d get right back to us. Five minutes later, a young lady named Inga was calling me up. As it happened, she was just about to call to tell us that the OR would be ready in about 90 minutes. I told her that we’d be coming down. This time around it was just my brother and me. Inga told us to take as much time as we needed. I let my brother go in first and let him say his say. Then I went in.

I’m not going to share what I said to her; I spill enough of my secrets here that you don’t need that too. But I’ll tell you that, even if the timeline didn’t work the way I expected it to, I’d managed to be a little selfish in the way I set things up. I needed my sister-in-law and my nephew out of there. My grandmother—oh, my god, my grandmother. She just buried her only other child a couple of months ago. This is such a perversion of the “natural order of things” that I still haven’t fully wrapped my head around it. But she really didn’t need to be around at the end, so she needed to be out too. With my brother and me, I made the point of sending him in first, for numerous reasons but there’s still a selfish one in place, and I’ll own that. As the oldest brother (there’s a third brother who could not get there in time; we were in constant contact with him throughout this), I got to be with her first, therefore I was taking the “privilege” of being with her last, as well.

When I emerged from the room, my brother was barely holding together about ten feet down the hall. I went to Inga and her assistant, Matt, and told them that we’d be going. They thanked me for our generous gift, “and thank your brother, too,” Matt said, nodding down the hall. “Make sure you thank her, too, “ I said, pointing my thumb backward toward the room. Matt promised he would and I joined my brother. We hugged each other for a long minute and then he voiced the same thing I was about to say:

“Let’s get out of here.”

Workin’ Out

Man in Black: I think the odds are slightly in your favor at hand fighting.
Fezzik: It’s not my fault being the biggest and the strongest. I don’t even exercise.

The Princess Bride (1987)

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Tonight I went to the YMCA for my first “official” workout.

I have been going; in fact I got to go three times last week. The bad news was that two of those trips took place in a single day. Gotta space these things out a little, methinks. Besides, that was a special circumstance.

This is the side facing 33rd Street. Who knows if anyone uses this entrance. Today’s visit was to the Waverly location to get set up for my FitLinxx account. Up until now, I was essentially going in and re-doing some of the stuff I did when I was in Physical Therapy—recumbent bike, treadmill, leg extension. With this setup, I’m not only able to use the other equipment, I’m able to use it correctly.

The first thing you do when getting into this system is fill out a form with your basic demographic information and any medical issues, real or potential, that you may have. The staff member puts all this information into the FitLinxx database and then begins to put together a workout routine for you based on this information and the overall goals that you have. We then go over to a kiosk and input the FitLinxx account number, then “begin the workout” in the system. The first time around, however, they have to follow you around and set up the machines for first-time use. They input the beginning information (what position the different elements of the machines need to be set, etc.), and monitor you as you go through the circuit. The specific order of the machines doesn’t really matter (it’s better to just move on to a different machine than it is to wait around for somebody to finish), and in fact we had to jump around out of the sequence that the FitLinxx created. The system essentially follows you, counting your reps, ensuring that you actually DO the reps (in one case I didn’t move the weight through my full range of motion and it didn’t count), and telling you how much of the routine you have left. As you work, the screen will occasionally offer tips such as “try to move slower” or “try not to let the weights touch” or some such, and will give you an encouraging message when you finish. When you get to the end of your program, you go back to the kiosk and “end the workout”, and it displays a summary for you.

FitLinxx webpageOne of the cool things about FitLinxx is that you can go home and review your progress online. The not-so-cool thing is that you need a separate account for each location. So at right is the webpage for my one-and-only workout (so far) at Stadium Place. There’s no data for my cardiovascular workout because you have to input that manually and I didn’t bother (plus I did only 10 minutes on the bike, and who needs such a lame-ass statistic). I’m pretty sure, however, that the cardio machines in Parkville do that information automatically. Here’s hoping, anyway. Otherwise I’m going to have to tote around a means for writing all this stuff down.

Oh—and here’s a fun little surprise: I weighed myself in both locations on the same day (Friday) to see whether the scales agree with one another, and it turns out that they do. Today, just for the laughs, I weighed myself again, and I’m down a pound and a half.

Go Figure!

Where I Bleed For Baltimore City Schools

Hilda Jones: Everybody should donate to the blood bank. What type are you?
Melvin Jones: Oh, the quiet type. I go to bed at nine o’clock, see a movie now and then, read some books, play checkers…
Hilda Jones: No! I mean what kind of blood have you?
Melvin Jones: Red.

Sailor Beware (1952)

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Today, despite it being my last vacation day for the time being, I went to the Puzzle Palace to donate blood.

I’d made the appointment awhile back, not realizing that it was also going to be a day that I wouldn’t be at work. Ah well, what are you going to do. Fortunately I’d set the appointment as being first thing in the morning, so the rest of the day would be available to me (even if I was working).

I nicked this artwork from the Frederick Red Cross. If my blood drops all looked like that, it'd be pretty cool. Also pretty creepy. Donating blood is a goodness, it’s an act of kindness, it’s a mitzvah. And the Red Cross Blood Services people are glad to have you come by and make the donation. Some quick facts:

  • A single pint of blood can save three lives.
  • Every two seconds, someone needs a blood transfusion.
  • 5,000,000 patients need blood every year. That’s just in the United States.
  • Less than 38% of all people are eligible to donate blood. If you’re giving blood, you’re special!
  • Making you more special: only 3% of eligible donors actually give blood.
  • Despite what they say on that HBO Show, blood can’t be manufactured. It can only come from donors.

OK, lecture over. The bottom line is, they usually go to some effort to make you glad you came. However…

…I’m on a phone list somewhere, so if it’s been awhile since I’ve donated, the blood bank will call and ask me to come in and donate. There are blood donation centers all over the place, so location-wise they’ve always been pretty convenient to me. The bad news is, when I make an appointment over the phone, it’s rarely kept. I’m treated like any other walk-in. So my expected one hour “door-to-door” time is usually two hours, or occasionally even three, which is totally crazy. Therefore, when the call comes, the conversation usually goes like this:

Blood Bank: There’s a critical shortage and we need your help blah de blah…
Me: I’m happy to donate; find me a blood drive please.
BB: Oh—well, uh, there’s a donation center in White Marsh and they’re open—
Me: No no, you don’t understand. When I go to the donation center, they don’t keep the appointment. Find me a drive, please.

Some of them are surprised by this, but they do find a blood drive and I go wherever they send me, which is its own brand of fun.

Baltimore City Schools has a drive every few months, and unless there’s a good reason I can’t, I’m usually there to donate. Oftentimes there’s practically a welcoming committee there, and you’re shepherded through the process and generally pampered, where they bring the beverage to you while you’re still bleeding out into the tubes. And usually someone from Central Office is around to make sure all is well and to give out some random token goodies, like some pens, or Post-it notes, or some such. This would be in addition to whatever the Red Cross happens to be giving away to the donors that day. It’s not a big deal but it’s a touch of nice.

What's fun about this photo, to me, is that so many self-portraits on the Internet involve a truncated forearm looking back toward the face. This is the reverse angle. I'm SO artistic! Today, however, was a little different. When I got there, they were still setting up a little bit; that’s okay, it’s early. Then the computer they use to check people in and do the health survey got a little wonky with the person ahead of me, then there was some other weird wait and I wound up being the only guy in the actual donation area while a half-dozen people piled up behind me. And at the end, the person taking my blood ran through the usual perfunctory speech in a perfunctory manner and pointed the way to the table at the end of the room. So I sat there alone, munching the chocolate chip cookies and watching them get other people started on their donations. Beverage? There was none. Nobody offered me one, nobody told me where one could be found (I’m a big boy; I can get my own if you tell me where they are). And nobody from Central was on hand.

Which is fine, given that I am, after all, on vacation and don’t need to talk any more shop than I have to.