Friday, September 23, 2016

Eleven Years A Chicagoan

Tomorrow, September 25th, marks my 11th year living in Chicago.  I moved to Chicago on September 25, 2005 - 5 weeks after having open heart surgery.  I was nervous (read:scared) and count it as one of the braver things I've ever done.

In 1995, I had moved to DC when I was 29 years old.  My whole life seemed to be ahead of me.  It was easy to take on an adventure, then.  I formally adopted my nickname as my everyday name because I thought people would think I was interesting and would want to know more about me.  I could "re-create" myself into someone who was more outgoing, more fun, even more adventurous.  That's easy to do when you are still in your Twenties.

But at 39 years old, I was far more apprehensive and unsure and didn't care for a gimmick that would make me interesting.  Mix in with that a rocky medical situation as well as no job prospects and I think anyone would be uneasy.  It took me just over two months to get a job, which is laughable today when I think about how I've since gone 5- and 6-times longer than that.  I was worried, then, that I might actually have to move back home as a result.  But it's amazing what we can accomplish when we just accept our situation and take the first steps forward.

Still, I found it difficult to adjust to living in a different place.  I no longer had my familiar group of friends around me; there was only Ashley and this new guy, Kevin.  Ashley and his brother were busy opening up Hamburger Mary's in Andersonville, and Kevin . . .  well, I wasn't sure what was happening with him.  I had just ended a relationship in DC before moving (perhaps a contributing factor to my moving in the first place) and was certain that I didn't want to start anything with anyone new, especially in a new city where I needed to make friends more than I needed a boyfriend.

In DC, I had an identity.  People knew me there, they knew my jeep, they knew who I dated, they knew where I worked, where I socialized, where I worked out.  DC is small; everyone knows everything about everyone.  That's the truth.  It's surprising that a town built on secrets really houses very few of them.

2005                               2016 
It took some time for me to find my footing in Chicago, but find it I eventually did.  Little did I know then that Kevin would eventually become The BF, and then my husband and that we'd buy a house and travel the world together.  In that 11 years of time, I've lived in 5 places here  - 2 with Ashley and 3 with Kevin - and had 5 jobs.  Ironically, the exact same number of residences and jobs that I had in the 10 years I lived in DC.

In hindsight, these past 11 years have been perfect.  I wouldn't change a thing.  I love looking back at my life to see how I've grown. And I do so again today.

Thank you, Chicago, for EVERYTHING!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Random Vacation Photos

Between Facebook and this blog, I've posted many of the pics I took while we were on our recent European cruise to the Baltic capitals.  But here are a few random pics that don't really belong anywhere but might still be amusing to some folks:

This (left) was our ship, the Norwegian Star.  It was built in 2001 and is 965 feet long and 125 feet wide.

On this ship, we sailed with 2,348 of our closest friends (many of whom we tried to avoid) as well as 1,031 crew (many of whom we tried to meet).

It had a spa, casino, several pools, a theatre, 10 bars and lounges, and way too much food.

And this (right) is "5 O'Clock Somewhere", our favorite happy hour bar on the ship.  We went here just about every night around 5:30 to hear a young man named Nathan from sing and play guitar.
We also made friends with Loan, our Caribbean server.

It was also here that we met a lovely Irish couple who invited us to stay with them should we ever visit that country - which we most assuredly will.

Sometimes the outside was simply breathtaking.  It wasn't always easy or possible to take a photo of a sunset on the ocean.  But I tried every time and this (left) was the closest I could get to a successful shot.

There were lots of other cruise ships on this same track of sea with us.  And I'm sure there were wide-eyed folks on those ships taking pictures of us just like I did of them.

When we visit the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg, we were required to put on booties over our shoes (right) so as not to track dirt or possibly scuff up the gorgeous parquet and marble floors.

I'm not typically a fan of parquet floors, per se, but these were pretty magnificent.  And most were original.  We had to turn the booties back in before we left.

When I posted pictures of St. Petersburg, a few folks commented that Russia didn't look like a poor country.  But we only post pretty pictures anyway, right?  Trust me, it wasn't all pretty.

St. Petersburg only had apartment buildings, no houses.  And depending on when they were built, you can really see the Soviet influence.  Here's an example we passed (left) while driving one day.  I personally wouldn't want to live there.

When you are too sick to leave the ship and you stay behind while your family goes off, there's not much to do except walk around and take pictures of the ship.

Here is the main pool deck (right).  There wasn't a lot going on because just about everyone else was visiting St. Petersburg.  And rightly so.  Still, I wanted to take a few pictures to remember what the ship looked like.

In order to get in and out of Stockholm, the captain told us that we were only allowed to travel the bay during the daylight.  This could be because the channel was so narrow, or because there were SO MANY tiny islands in the route to the harbor, or because the noise and lights of the boat could have disturbed the locals who lived on the waterway.  Or it could have been all three reasons.

But to get in and out, we needed a special pilot who would navigate the ship from port and then embark by climbing through a hatch and down a ladder to a small boat traveling alongside our ship (left).  It was surreal to watch this guy perform this dangerous stunt, which he probably does several times a day.  Really puts the dangers of Human Resources in perspective.

So this pretty much wraps it up.  I'm sure a random story or photo will appear in future posts, but I wanted to share these soon.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Moving From One Thing To Another

It's a tricky thing, moving from one thing to another.  Taking steps, growing.  Reaching.  Trying.  It feels good, to spread your wings or stretch your arms - to go for something you figured could be unattainable.  And then the incredible feeling of accomplishment you get when you reach it.  It feels good.

It feels good.  And it doesn't.

Moving from one thing to another means leaving people behind.  Not forgetting about them, just perhaps not seeing them as often.  We build families around us as we journey through life, moving from one thing to another.  And we don't, or most typically can't, always take those families with us.  So they stay as we move from one thing to another.  And it can be hurtful.  And sad.  And confusing for some.  And knowing you are the cause of that hurt . . . doesn't feel good.

Despite people's best intentions of wanting to be happy for you and wishing you the best in life, there is still hurt.  You can see it, feel it.  It's like a hug from a stranger.

Many times in my life, I've moved from one thing to another: new job, different apartment, changed cities, acquired boyfriends.  Each time, the future looked brighter for some reason.  Each time I was taking steps, growing, reaching, and trying to spread my wings - even if just a little bit.  Edging closer and closer the person I eventually want to be.  And people have been happy for me as I moved from one thing to another.  Some people.  Some people were not happy.  And I knew that I was the cause of that not happy.  And it didn't feel good.

So the question is, how do we juggle and then balance the good we feel along with the not good?  And how do we reassure the people who are not happy that moving from one thing to another is the right thing to do?  And how do we vanquish the not happy from our lives so that we can focus on just the happy... and the good?

The human experience is fraught with dichotomy.  Moving from one thing to another is a predominantly selfish act of balancing the good with the not good, the happy with the not happy, all in hopes that the attained goal rewards us with just good and happy.  The realist that I am knows that it doesn't always work out that way because some of the not good and not happy remains, and for some reason never goes away.

But the optimist in me (yes, there is one) knows that I need to keep taking these steps, growing, reaching, trying, because ultimately it's only MY journey.  And despite trying to reassure those people - the family that I can't take with me - that nothing will change, it will.  Moving from one thing to another is sad and scary and exciting for everyone, whether or not they, too, are moving from one thing to another, or not.

I am about to advance in my journey.  I stepped, grew, reached, and tried for something I thought could be unattainable.  And I accomplished it.  And the feeling is incredible.  I have no way of knowing if this is the right thing to do, but, again, it's all part of MY journey.  And, unfortunately, not all of the family I created where I am will be able to come along with me.  And that makes it not feel good.

But some of the family I created will be coming along to cheer, support, and root for me.  And that feels good.  It feels good.  And that's the part I am going to focus on as I move from one thing to another.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Favorite Part(s) Of My Baltic Vacation

Similar to the post I wrote last year when we returned from our European-Vacation-Slash-Delayed-Honeymoon, this is a post about what I liked about each city we recently visited on our 2,158.4 nautical-mile-cruise around the European capitals on the Baltic Sea.  And like last year, I preface it all by saying that my most favorite part about traveling anywhere is doing it with Kevin.  Fortunately for us, we travel well together.  And this time we had the added bonus of his parents, Pat and Dianne, joining us for the escapades.

Copenhagen, Denmark

I'll start off by saying that ALL of the cities we visited this time felt completely different than the ones we visited last year.  The standouts from last year's trip for me are Bruges and Ghent, both in Belgium.  Both were small, contained towns where little has changed in the last few hundred years.  But on this trip, all of these cities have been modernized and, to some degree, westernized as well.

Copenhagen was the first stop and the embarkation of our cruise.  We arrived on a Friday afternoon and the cruise began the next day, so we really only had a few hours to enjoy the city.  Once we dumped our luggage in our hotel (that had no A/C, I might add), we went out to walk the town.

The Promenade Pavilion
Inside Tivoli Gardens
The standout for me was Tivoli Gardens, which, somehow, I didn't even know existed. Opening in 1843, it is the 2nd oldest functioning amusement park in the world.  It is essentially the European Disneyland.  AND - I got in for free!  While standing in line to buy 4 tickets, a stranger approached me and said he could get one of us in for free on his pass.  And my family, completely disregarding my safety in a foreign country, said, "Great, see you inside!"  Once I got in, the stranger shook my hand and wished me a fun time, then walked away.  Odd, but economical.

What was also cool about Copenhagen is that it was the only city on our trip that we saw at night.  On future stops, the cruise ship sets a return-to-ship deadline of 4 or 5PM, so you don't get to see what places look like at night.  And frankly, that's when most of these old cities are at their most charming, in my opinion.  It's fun to walk around and see the lights.  Every place is a different place when the sun goes down.

A fun surprise occurred after we departed Copenhagen port on the ship.  The captain, who was a pretty chatty fella when you stick a loudspeaker in his hand, invited the guests to look off the port bow of the ship where, in the far distance, you could see the outline of an old castle.  The castle, Kronberg off the coast of Denmark, was the castle William Shakespeare immortalized as Elsinore in his tragedy play, Hamlet.  I mean, nothing really noteworthy actually happened here, but it will be cool to be able to visualize Elsinore the next time I see or read any part of Hamlet.

Schwerin, Germany

Schwerin Palace in Germany
There is really only one thing to see in Schwerin (pronounced Shver-EEN), and that's the Schwerin Palace or castle. The palace is a behemoth that rises from a tiny island in the middle of the city's main lake.  The castle is certainly impressive and parts of it date back to the 10th century.  The palace had gardens, a stone grotto, a throne room, paintings of long-dead ancestors, the whole shebang.  Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and super cute (she had spent a year living in Wisconsin on an exchange program so we chatted about Chicago).

After the palace tour, we walked through a little bit of the town, which was hosting its version of a Renaissance Fair.  It seemed much more authentic than the few we've visited here in the states with friends.  We mostly just took photos for "Ye Olde Neil".  There was this ONE entertaining thing that happened....

This stop on the cruise was mainly so folks could take a high speed train from the port in Rostock to Berlin.  We opted not to do that, since we were in Berlin last year.  So we took this day trip as part of an excursion with some other folks.  It was nice to drive through the country and see what lies between Berlin and the port.

Tallinn, Estonia

Since Tallinn was the first Baltic capital we visited, it was pretty much the first REAL stop on our trip since we bypassed Berlin.  And Tallinn did not disappoint.  After disembarking, Kevin led us all to Linnahall, a 5,000-seat relic of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics.  Forgotten in an ugly/gorgeous kind of way, it was interesting to think about how impressive this must have been at one time.  The sad part was that we could no actually enter this monstrosity, but it was still cool to walk around.

After that, we relied on Rick Steves to guide us through the rest of our town tours.  This guy is priceless.  Seriously - buy his guidebooks before you go anywhere!  He led us down Pikk through the lower old town of Tallinn.  Tallinn, like most old European cities, was a walled city in the good ol' days.  Tallinn actually had 2 walls, that separated the upper town from the lower town and also served to double the town's defenses against attack and invasion.

Highlights of our walking tour were 1) the views, which were amazing.  Tallinn was smart enough to create viewpoint plazas on some of its highest streets.  So even on a rainy day, which was how we experienced Tallinn, the views were still amazing.  Foggy, but amazing.

And 2) having coffee atop one of the wall sections.  This was not part of Rick Steves' tour, but we were standing in front of a section of one of the walls that was probably about 40-45 feet high.  We we looked up, we could see people walking across the top.  So we climbed the most narrow set of winding stairs that exist in Europe and reached a coffee shop, the Kohvik Dannebrog Cafe, that was amazingly doing a nice business atop this wall.  And they had free wifi!

For me, this drove home the fact that sometimes you just have to go off-path and allow your curiosity to dictate the next steps you take, especially when visiting a (safe) foreign country.  This was how Kevin and I experienced Europe last year.  We certainly learned more about what we were seeing this time, but perhaps the best way to sightsee is a mixture of organized tour and just following your nose.

St. Petersburg, Russia

A few weeks later and I still cannot believe I was actually in Russia.  Despite having initial trouble getting into the country, St. Petersburg was everything I had always hoped it would be.  The City of the Tsars was a place I had been reading about for many years.  Similar to my interest in British Royalty, I've also had a great interest in the Tsars of Russia.  And like London, St. Petersburg was a place I never thought I would ever visit.

What surprised me the most about St. Petersburg was the colors of the buildings.  There is a rule or law (according to our tour guide, Anna), that because  this city only gets about 60 days of sunshine per year, certain buildings must be painted a pastel or Caribbean color such as light blue, pink and yellow.  Otherwise, gray would be the only color everyone would see due to lack of sunlight.  Makes total sense - but was still a surprise.

We had two days in St. Petersburg, so Day 1 was spent visiting Peterhof (above), the summer palace of Peter, The Great, and Catherine Palace (right), the summer palace of his wife, Catharine.  To say these places werre opulent would be an understatement.  Russians love gold leaf.  And they used it ad nauseam in their decorating.  Peter loved fountains; Catherine loved amber.  And both were on full display in their respective palaces.  We also got to visit a few Metro (subway stations).  Why?  Because Metro stations in St. Petersburg are amazing!  Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev built them double as underground bomb shelters during the Cold War.  So they are ornate and vividly decorated.

On Day 2, I stayed behind on the cruise ship because I wasn't feeling well.  Coming off of the summer I had, I didn't want to push myself and risk getting a sinus infection or even a cold.  So my family went on without me to visit Church on Spilled Blood, the Peter and Paul Fortress, and then did some shopping in downtown St. Petersburg.  If I learned anything on this day, it was that I would never want to cruise alone.  I got a lot of reading done, but mostly just napped and wandered around the ship.  It was kinda fun to sit on the balcony and see them return from their day trip, though.

Helsinki, Finland

The next day we left the bright colors of Russia for the earth tones of Helsinki.

Missing the 2nd day in Russia proved to be a good idea, as I'd seemed to abate my cold.  As much as I hated missing the place where the Tsars are buried, it was good to not push myself and then possibly miss Helsinki and Stockholm.  Plus I was able to finally finished the book I'd been reading for almost a year!

Again doing a walking tour, we left the ship early and walked through the town to start at the Market Square off of the Esplanade.  From there, we wound our way through the city, seeing such sites as Senat Square, the train station designed by Eliel Saarinen, and the Helsinki Music Centre Concert Hall.  But the two highlights in Helsinki for me, interestingly enough, were both churches:

The Chapel of Silence, or Kamppi Chapel, is located in the middle of a market square at the entrance
to a shopping center.  The chapel is intended to be a place where people can have a moment of silence and meet each other.  It offers the opportunity to calm down in what is arguably the busiest area of Finland.  There are no services conducted here; it's simply a place for quiet reflection and peace.  Outside, the chapel is imposing without being overbearing.  It's curved shape allows pedestrians to easily pass by it.  But inside, the oval shape creates a feeling of safety and embrace.  I'll admit, it was difficult to leave this sanctuary.

The second church as aptly named, Rock Church or Temppeliaukio Kirrko.  Outside, it resembled an old burial mound.  But inside, the circular church is essentially carved out of bare rock with a ceiling made out of copper wire.  The natural acoustics make this an excellent concert hall as well.  Water trickles down the rock walls and the place is about as serene as it can get.

Panorama inside Temppeliaukio Kirrko
We put the guidebook down for the walk back to the ship and just followed whatever interested us.  Helsinki, like Copenhagen, does a good job as mixing its old and new.  It seems as if both Helsinki and Copenhagen just modernized organically.  Tallinn had its obvious "old town" area separate from its growth.  But in Copenhagen and Helsinki, it all seemed to blend together - and quite nicely, too.

Stockholm, Sweden

Our last stop on this trip was Stockholm, birthplace of IKEA so I expected to love every piece of furniture I saw.  And once again, the colors of the building changed.  Where St. Petersburg was pastels and Hensinki was earth tones, Stockholm was deep rust and orange and dark yellow.  I'm betting all these places look amazing in the snow.  And perhaps that's the reason for the color variations.

Of all the cities we visited on this trip, I found Stockholm to be the most charming.  Narrow, cobblestone streets, twisting pathways, little market squares.  But the architecture in the modern section of town was equally interesting.  There was a definite separation between the old and the new, but I enjoyed being in both spaces.  Of the 6 cities, Stockholm was the one in which I could live, if I needed to make that choice.

We spent a good amount of time just walking down Vasterlanggatan, the touristy drag, and (left) Prastgatan ("Priest's Lane").  We popped our heads into a German church ("Tyska kyrkan") on this street which was originally named for the residences of three chaplains and a bell ringer built there in the 16th century.

We visited the royal palace and managed to witness the changing of the guard ceremony.

It was really cool to see the Nobel Museum where the annual dinner is held and the Prizes are awarded every year.  Its located on Stortorget, the oldest market square in Stockholm that includes the original water well for the town that's still connected to today's water conduit.

We walked back to the ship knowing this was pretty much the end of our cruise (still had one full day at sea).  This was an AMAZING vacation and truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  I doubt I will ever go back to any of these cities again - the thought of which was not lost on me.  So I really tried to absorb as much as I could.  There were moments when I would just stand and look around me, listening to the pulse of a foreign city, hearing people conversing in a different language, smelling the unfamiliar foods, watching people going about their everyday lives - no doubt inconvenienced by the myriad of tourists who descend upon their cities every day.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Russia Thinks I'm FBI

So, funny story...

Once we got off the cruise ship in St. Petersburg, Russia, we had to go through border control and have our passports approved and stamped for accepted temporary entry into the country, in lieu of having to purchase a visitor's visa.  The rule is that Russia will waive the visa as long as the visitor is escorted throughout the city by a Russian tour guide.  This would somehow seem shadier if we were in Moscow, but it ended up feeling just oddly curious given that we were in St. Petersburg, arguably the most Western-influenced city in that entire country.

It's always a little nerve-wracking to go through customs or border control, even when you are a law-abiding citizen.  You are essentially at the mercy of non-Americans in a non-American country who espouse non-American beliefs yet still possess the very American ideals of suspicion and conspiracy theories.

So we, Kevin, his parents and me, are standing in the border patrol line with out passports and proof of tour in-hand.  Kevin goes through first so he can connect with our Russian tour guide on the other side.  Then Kevin's dad went through, followed by his mom.  Each time, the border patrol officer would take the passport, look at it, look at the person, look at the passport, do something out of view like look at a computer or scan the photo or play Soduko, then eventually stamp the passport and approve the entry.  Each person took about 20 seconds or so. Then it was my turn.

Because I somehow invite weirdness into my life by some unseen flashing bulb on top of my head, I should have known this would be weird.  I approached the thick glass window and passed my documents through to the officer.  He looked at me, then at my passport, then at me, then down again.  After about 15 seconds, he leaned in and said (in his thick Russian accent) "I need to see your military ID."  I'm sure my usual, uncontrollable look of WTF flashed across my face.  "I don't have a military ID" was my response.  "No?" he said?  "No" I replied.  He looked down again and after a few seconds looked back up at me.

"Are you a cop?" he asked.  "No, I'm not a cop."  He looked down again, then gave me a sly look.  "Teacher?"  "No, I'm not a teacher."  His expression never changed; he remained emotionless.  There was no clue that he was just having fun with me or if he was dead serious.  But I erred on the side of believing he was dead serious.  Because at this point, he got up out of his chair, opened his door and yelled for someone to come assist him (which I can only assume is what happened since it was yelled in Russian and someone showed up about 30 seconds later).  It was also at this point that I turned to look at my family who were standing about 30 feet away, basically in another country, looking at me inquisitively.  "They think I'm a cop" was all I could mouth to them.

And I got the sudden rush of thinking, "holy shit they are going to escort me to a small white room with fluorescent lighting and make me admit that I really AM a cop... or a soldier... or an English teacher (?).

Office Number 2 arrived and the two officers began conversing in Russian.  Admittedly, I am still a little unnerved.  Again, I'm in a foreign country at the mercy of border patrol.  If they decide I'm not telling them the truth, they can just take me away.  No questions asked.  And no one could do anything about it.  So I tried to stay calm without looking like I was actually hiding something.  After a minute or so, Officer Number 2, a young blonde guy, came out of the office and in a more friendly tone asked me if I worked for the police.  I told him I didn't.

"What is your job?" he asked, also in a thick Russian accent.

When I responded that I work in non-profit, I was met with blank stares.  So I altered it to say I worked in a charity.  I quickly assumed that telling them I work in Human Resources would be a completely baffling statement so I hoped the word "charity" would translate easier.

The two officers talked again.  I wish I knew what they were saying but Officer Number 1 seemed to be incredulous.  After more talking, Officer Number 2 simply asked me, "Do you work for the FBI?"  At this point, I couldn't contain myself and I simply laughed out loud.  Office Number 2 laughed as well.  Officer Number 1, notsomuch.  "No, I don't work for the FBI."  I REALLY wanted to ask them why they were asking me or what is it about me that makes them think I am with some form of law enforcement (or perhaps teach law enforcement?).  But I assessed that this was neither the place nor time to try to make friends, so I basically prayed that they believed me and hoped for the best.

After a little more discussion, I assume Officer Number 2 approved me and Officer Number 1 reluctantly stamped my passport and allowed me to enter Russia.  I met my family and gave them the details.  I guess I can feel comforted by the fact that I look like I can take care of myself.  And that I am, apparently, the Russian ideal for what looks like law enforcement in that country.  If things start to go south for me job-wise again, I could probably get a gig in St. Petersburg.

Or - and I flatter myself here - perhaps I bore too much of a resemblance to Sean Connery in one of my favorite movies, "The Hunt for Red October", where he plays a Russian who defects to the United States and takes the USSR's prize submarine with him.  Who knows?

But if you are ever in St. Petersburg and you are stopped by a police officer, it's not me.  Or is it?

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

13 Countries in 1 Year

I have lots of stories to share about our recent cruise visiting the Baltic capitals of Europe.  I still can't get over the fact that I was actually in Russia.  IN RUSSIA.  It's going to take some time for that to sink in completely.

On one of our last nights on the trip, Kevin asked me how many countries I (and by some extent, he as well) have been in over the past year.  And the number is impressive when I consider that for the first 49 years of my life, I'd only been in the US, Canada, and Mexico - which is still two more countries than most Americans ever visit.  But over the last 11 months, I've added 13 countries to that original list of 3:

  1. Germany
  2. Czech Republic
  3. Austria
  4. Luxembourg
  5. Brussels
  6. France
  7. England
  8. Ireland
  9. Denmark
  10. Estonia
  11. Russia
  12. Finland
  13. Sweden

So for someone whose first overseas trip was less than a year ago, this list is pretty impressive.  And by my side through is all has been my favorite traveling partner who continues to push me a little further than I think I can go because he knows I can.  And to that I say,

"Я счастливый человек"

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Happy 55th Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

As I have done several times on this blog, including last year and 10 years ago on their 45th, I want to wish my parents a happy wedding anniversary.  This year marks 55 years of marriage for them, having tied the knot on August 26, 1961.

It hasn't always been smooth, but it's been full of love and dedication.  They've set the bar extremely high for the rest of us to follow.  This is not the way they wanted to spend these years together, but at least they are together - and thankfully so.

They make me proud every day of my life.

I can't imagine raising just one child, let alone the small army my parents brought into the world and guided to adulthood.  As well, I can't fathom the amount of sacrifice that went along with it.  My parents gave up more than I will ever understand in order to have a family, put us through school, clothe and feed us, and instill in us a set of decent morals and values.  The man I am today is owed in a very large part to the child they raised.

I could gush about them for days, so I'll simply say to them that I love you both so much.  And I can't wait to see you in a few weeks!  Congratulations to you!

Friday, August 19, 2016

And So It GOES

The long, national nightmare is over!  I finally had my application accepted by US. Customs and Border Patrol ("USCBP"),

Just to bring you up to speed on this issue with the Global Online Enrollment System, or GOES:  We left our story back in June after I had submitted my initial application in April of this year and anticipated getting approved within the 4-6 week timeframe the USCBP promises on their website.  Six weeks came and nothing, so I called Rep #1 who said he would send my application again.  Then it was 8 weeks and Rep #2 told me I shouldn't have called in at all, but he would send my application through again.

So here is where we pick back up.

Essentially, nothing happened after the conversation with Rep #2, so at the 11 week mark, I called USCBP again.  Remember, calling this agency is no easy feat; it takes LOTS of patience and an excellent cell phone plan.  The number will not connect right away, if it does at all, and it's typical to be the 16th caller in the queue.  The queue moves slowly.  V-E-R-Y S-L-O-W-L-Y.  This time, it actually took me 2 days of trying to finally reach Rep #3.

I must say, I was amazingly calm during this discussion.  You see, I have a tendency to be a hot head when things don't go the way they are supposed to.  But I remained uncharacteristically cooperative and even-tempered while I brought Rep #3 up to speed on the situation.

His response was simple: "Your application is lost in fiber optics."  Um... what does THAT mean, exactly, or even figuratively?  He then proceeded to tell me that too many people were applying for and taking part in this service.  And then he started giving me a history lesson about the program.

This is where the old me started to return.  I said, "Ok, thanks, but let me stop you right there because I don't care.  I don't care about this history of this program.  Really, I don't care.  What I DO care about is the fact that you - meaning USCBP - offered a product for a fee.  I paid the fee.  You promise on your website that I would have this product for which I paid within 4-6 weeks.  Next week, it will be 12 weeks and I still don't have it.  Plus, you're telling me that you don't know where my application is or if it will even ever get processed.  And on top of that, you tell me I can't reapply.  Sir, if this was ANY other business in the world, I could sue you.  But lucky for you and me, I guess, I can't.  So you're telling me I'm just out of luck?"  His response: "That's about it."

I asked if he could look up my application using the membership number on my application.  He said he couldn't.  I asked if he could look up my application using my assigned PASS ID number.  He said he couldn't.  I asked him what those numbers were for if not to help keep track of the application.  He said he didn't know.

This is your government dollars at work.

To end the conversation, I said, "well, I guess I can try asking my congressman to help me" and he encouraged it.  "Yeah, go ahead, I talk to congressmen offices all the time.  But it won't do any good."  And that was all I needed to hear.

I reached out to Senator Dick Durbin's office seeking help.  Then I reached out to Rep. Mike Quigley, my state congressman.  Then I reached out to NBC5 Responds, the local consumer investigation team.  I explained my situation in great detail to all of them and begged for help.  I heard back from all of them within a day, letting me know that they received my request and were looking into it.  As well, they also gave me the name and contact information of the person at their respective organizations who would be working on it.

TWO DAYS LATER, I received notification that my application for Global Entry had been accepted.  It was a Christmas miracle in July.  And the thing is, I don't know how it happened.  It could have been the rep from Senator Durbin's office, or the rep in Rep. Quigley's office, or someone from the NBC5 news team.  Or it could even have been Rep #3 who realized the injustice and really looked for my application (on second thought...).  Or perhaps my application was simply next in line.  I have no idea.  But the good news was that it had been processed albeit in twice the amount of time they said it would.  So that was Step 1.

Step 2 was getting a in-person interview in order to complete the process.  So I went back online to find an appointment.  First, I had to find a location.  Kevin had his interview at O'Hare Airport, but when I looked for available appointments there, the earliest available was in October.  So I looked at other location where I could possibly be over the next month and only one place had availability:  Port Clinton, OH had an appointment for August 19th at 8:30 AM.  So I took it.

The night before, I drove 5.5 hours to Port Clinton and spent the night in a hotel.  I was up early the next morning and was in the USCBP office at 8:15 AM.  The interview took 5 minutes.  Not kidding.  The office fingerprinted me and told me that I was essentially wasting my time going through all this because there were now "too many people in the program.  Just get in the shortest line" was his advice.  Lovely.  But as it is most of the time with me, it's the principle of the thing.

Step 3, I learned during Step 2, is now to wait for an email that tells me the ID number I've been assigned is valid and ready to be used for travel.  Who knows exactly when that email will come, if ever at all.?  This has been one big continuous guessing game.  But for the most part, I am finally a member of the US Trusted Travel Program and my domestic security checks and international customs checks will hopefully be easier and faster...someday.  We'll see.  We put it all to the test on August 25th when we fly to Copenhagen, Denmark for a 10-day cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line, stopping at all the European capitals on the Baltic Sea.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Bad Apple

About a year ago, my iPod nano died.  Just up and died. One day I plugged it in to charge it and... nothing.  I was sad.  This was the device I bought back in 2006 after I had accidentally drop-kicked my original iPod while running.  I honestly can't be too upset, I guess, because 9 years is actually a pretty good life for any piece of technology.

So up 'til now, I've managed to live without music-on-the-go. However, now with all the driving I do and my eventual return to the gym following my summer-of-hell, it's time to break down and buy a new one.  So yesterday after breakfast downtown with visiting friends, Kevin and I stopped at the Apple Store and I bought a shiny new blue 16GB nano for $149.99.

At first, we expected the nano to be a little cheaper - at least under $100 by now.  The original iPod was created in 2001 and as technology changed and demand grew, the nano was born 4 years later in 2005.  At the time, the 2GB and 4GB nanos sold for $199 and $249 respectively.  So actually the nano has gotten cheaper over the years while offering more storage space.  Less for more: something that doesn't happen too often in the retail industry.

Came home and unpacked me new little blue gem.  The instructions were simple: Just plug it into your computer and the existing iTunes library would find it and sync everything.


At first things started to move smoothly and I thought, whew!  And then an error code popped up.  Good ol' error code -69 which apparently relates to syncing errors.  It appears that just about every song I didn't purchase directly through iTunes was now somehow corrupted.  I went online and looked for ways around this code.  There were lots of suggestions on how to fix the problem from so-called techies, but nothing I tried worked.  I went on YouTube to find a tutorial to walk me through the process, but the instructions I found didn't work.

And why didn't all these suggestions work, you may ask?  Because after I accepted that the error code was valid, Apple went to the trouble of automatically deleting ALL of those songs from my iTunes library.  Just up and deleted them.  Wasn't that nice?  So now the 1200+ songs that USED to be in my iTunes library now amounts to exactly 488 songs, which indirectly means that Apple stole about 800 songs from me.  And if we guess that each one of those cost about $1.29 (which I think is the going rate now for songs through iTunes), it comes to about $1,032.  Add that to the $149.99 I paid for the nano and Apple ended up charging me $1,181.99 for my new little blue gem.

The bright side in this (if there is one) is that it's been a year since I've heard the songs in my iTunes library so I can't actually recall off-hand the names of the songs I no longer have.  I expect I'll be reminded of them along the way, and then I'll just have to decide if I want to download them again.  Truth is, most of the music I have/had is a little stale.  And I was going to edit the songs after they uploaded into my new device.  But that should have been MY decision and not Apple's.

Color me blue.  Just like my iPod.

Monday, August 08, 2016

My Lovely Sinus Surgery Synopsis

What I THOUGHT I was going to go through and what most people get when you mention "sinus surgery" was what's known as Balloon Sinus Dilation, a minimally invasive office procedure performed under local anesthesia where the doctor inflates small balloons into your sinus pathways to restore drainage, which are then extracted a few days later.  That's not what I got.

I was told by friends who said they had gone through sinus surgery that it was relatively pain-free and that the most jarring part was seeing the packing they are able to pull out of your nose following.  That's not what I got.

I expected this to be simple and instantaneously relieving.  That's not what I got.

So I needed clarification.  I sent an email through the Northwestern portal to the ENT to ask for a consultation because I felt I was owed a more full explanation of what kind of surgery I had and what was found. I admitted that this information may have been shared with me previously, but that I was only now in the proper state in which to hear it.  Within 2 minutes of sending the message, the doctor called me on the phone.

In short, I had pansinusitis.  There are a total of 8 sinus cavities in the face, 4 on each side.  All 4 on my right side were completely clear.  All 4 on my left were completely clogged.  Since sinuses tend to fill and discharge on both sides simultaneously, the doctors knew there was a bigger problem since there was such an imbalance in mine.  In all 4 sinus cavities on the left side, there was infection and pus.

Here's the official synopsis:
  1. Nasal/sinus endoscopy, surgical; with ethmoidectomy, total
  2. Nasal/sinus endoscopy; with maxillary antrostomy
  3. Nasal/sinus endoscopy,with maxillary antrostomy; with removal of tissue from maxillary sinus
  4. Nasal/sinus endoscopy, surgical with frontal sinus exploration, with removal of tissue
  5. Nasal/sinus endoscopy, surgical with sphenoidotomy; with removal of tissue
All this mean they cleaned out the Maxillary cavity, which is the one in the cheek area, as well as the Ethmoid cavity, which is the one just above the eye, close to the nose (the one that had swollen and caused me to go to the hospital).  The Frontal cavity, the one above the eye on the forehead, was also filled, however the plan was to allow that one to drain on its own, now that the two cavities below it were empty.  Also, based on my anatomy, the drainage tube from the Frontal down through my nose is not a straight shot, as it is for 99% of the population.  My tube has kind of a zig-zag, which causes for slower drainage.  To fix this, the doctor would need to drill up into that cavity, which he only wants to do if absolutely necessary.  It still might have to happen, but with luck, it will eventually drain on its own over time.  By the way, remember that all of this was done through my left nostril which is pretty amazing when you see where each of these sinus cavities is located.

The really big issue was the last cavity, the Sphenoid, which is located deeper in the skull behind the eye.  While the infections and blockages in the other three cavities were recent (the infection contracted back in May) the infection in the Sphenoid had been many years in the making.  This problem did not initially make itself known on the original CT scan and was only discovered during surgery.  The doctor cleaned out mold and fungus balls that had been building for years.  Because mold does not need chlorophyll to survive, it's apparently easy to grow inside your body as it feeds off of other organisms.  So from ALL of the sinus infections that I have had over the last several years, this mold and fungus had been growing exponentially.  Symptoms would be alleviated due to antibiotics, but the infection itself never really left and would lay dormant until slightly triggered by something like a ride in an airplane when my sinuses would work to balance the pressure in my head.  This is why I would almost always get a sinus infection after a flight.

And this is also why the doctor wondered why I wasn't in more pain that he expected.

Hearing all this actually made me feel better, in a way, because I was wondering why I was having such a difficult time dealing with and healing from what many of my friends considered a simple procedure.  I felt justified somehow, and ironically relieved knowing that this was not as simple as I was initially told and expected.

So where are we now, 18 days following surgery and 10 days after the follow up:  Overall I feel pretty good.  An occasional headache will pop in, mostly on the side or top of my head.  They're not too intense anymore and I no longer feel the need to take Aleve or Tylenol to combat them.  I am still performing sinus rinses twice a day and will continue until my antibiotic (now on Doxycycline) runs out in another 5 days or so, then I'll just do once a day I guess forever.  My energy is coming back, as is the weight I lost over the course of the ordeal.  I get a stuffy nose on the left side and wake up about 4 hours after I go to bed every night.  I get up and walk around to alleviate the pressure and then eventually go back to bed.  We're going to put a humidifier in the bedroom to see if that helps at all.

I have another follow-up with the doctor sometime in September, but everything is pointing to a successful albeit slow recovery.  We are going on another European trip the end of August and if working at Make-A-Wish taught me anything, it's that one needs to have a goal in order to heal.  So that's what I am shooting for.  And I hope I make it - if even by a nose.

Friday, August 05, 2016

My Lovely Sinus Surgery Follow Up

Friday, July 29th finally came.  It's a day that I spent an inordinate amount of time welcoming, dreading, and eventually hating.  And here's why.

It had been 8 days since my sinus surgery.  And to be honest, I was feeling progressively worse each day.  I had been told by the doctor that I would feel immediate relief following surgery, but that didn't seem to be the case.  If anything, the headaches increased and I wasn't eating much due to overall nausea of having "stuff" dripping out of my nose and/or down the back of my throat constantly.  If I was supposed to be feeling better, no one informed my sinuses about it.  This had not been the smooth, easy, or immediate recovery I was led to expect.

My original follow-up appointment was scheduled for 4:00 PM, but I begged for an earlier time because I wanted to put an end to the pain as quickly as possible.  So the doctor's office thankfully moved my appointment to 8:30 AM on the same day.
Throughout the previous week, I learned that I am in no way shape or form prepared if I were to contract any form of long-term illness.  Neither emotionally nor mentally will I be able to handle myself and remain positive if I were to get cancer or any life threatening medical condition.  Occasionally you hear stories about people who've lost the fight to cancer and people will say things like "I never heard him complain" or "she always remained so positive despite how she must have felt".  I'm here to admit that I will NOT be one of those people.  My apologies right now to Kevin, my close friends and family, but I will forever be amazed by people who have and will face down any form of life-threatening illness and remain positive and uncomplaining about it.  When I go, I'm going to take everyone with me
Kevin drove me to Northwestern for my appointment.  We parked in the parking garage and as we were walking through the breezeway into the building, I noticed we were following a family of 4:  a mom and dad and 2 boys under the age of 10.  All of them were wearing tee shirts about fighting brain tumors.  And I suddenly hated myself.  Here I was, a grown man with a little sinus problem turning it into a bigger deal than it needed to be, and then here was this family with (I suspect) a child who may have a brain tumor.  I didn't say anything to Kevin about it for a few days (he had seen it too) but it weighed very heavily on me for the rest of the day.  I felt foolish.  I still hurt like crazy, but felt almost ridiculous for allowing this to cripple me like it had.  This is not to negate the fact that I was in pain, but it did help me put it into context.  And I felt ashamed.

We got to the doctor's office and they sat me in an exam chair and readied me for the eventual vacuuming process.  The assistant first sprayed a saline moistener up my nose, followed by a numbing solution.  After sitting for a few more minutes, the doctor came in to start.  He started talking about my surgery and, to be honest, I was only half paying attention until I heard him say, "It's surprising that you weren't in more pain."  Kevin responded with, "You didn't live with him."  And the doctor said, "No, I mean even when you came in for the initial visit, you didn't seem like you were in that much pain and you should have been."  Trust me, I was.  Then, I was reassured again by the doctor, that I should feel instantly better when this process finished.

He fired up the machinery and started the procedure. I leaned back in the chair and the doctor inserted the long, thin vacuum tube into my nose and within a few seconds it felt as though he was drilling into my skull.  Despite his using what I was told was a vacuum, it felt more like a scraping.  All I could do was grab my legs in pain, writhe in agony and beg for him to stop.  Which he did.

Let me say here and now that this was the most painful process I have ever gone through in my life.  And remember, I've suffered heart attacks and endured open-heart surgery, all of which in retrospect were a cake-walk compared to what I was about to experience.  I even went back and read my journals and blog posts concerning my heart surgery and nothing in them suggested that the pain I experienced then was overwhelming or beyond what one would naturally expect after going through such events.

I sat up in the chair and was engulfed by a wave of emotion unlike anything I can ever remember.  I quickly became hysterical and hyperventilated.  The doctor admitted right then that they sometimes give Valium to people before this procedure and that maybe they should have offered it to me.  between gasps of breath, I managed to respond, "Yes, maybe you should have."  He left the room to allow me time to calm down, but it took several minutes for me to regain my composure.  I could not stop crying and found it difficult to get my breathing regulated.  It felt like such a violation - a complete assault and attack on me.  Had Kevin not been with me, holding my hand and comforting me, it would have been an even more difficult process.

Kevin told me that it was no wonder I was experiencing such an emotional release.  I had been dealing with this for the last few months and was physically and emotionally exhausted at this point.  And I agree that certainly played a part.  Perhaps too, so did the idea of the child with the brain tumor play a part as well.  But along with those ideas was the excruciating pain of having something that felt like - again, drilling - happening, especially to my face, especially inside my head.  Your face and head are who you are.  It could be why many people, myself included, fear dentists.  The idea of something coming at my face and head - well, it's a natural instinct to duck, get out of the way, or otherwise protect your face and head from approaching objects.

And the doctor was only half done.

I knew I had to muster the courage to allow him to come back in and continue doing what created my anxiety and meltdown.  Throughout my life, when faced with adversity, I have made it a practice to dig in my heels and accept my situation with an inner cheer-leading monologue that goes something like, "Okay, here we are.  This has to happen.  Accept it and move on.  This is temporary."  And then I get through it.  But it took A LOT for me to cheer myself through this procedure.  Again, I credit Kevin being in the same room with me.  So after about 15 minutes of me struggling to calm down and regain my composure, the doctor came in for Round 2.

Again, I sat back in the chair and the vacuum was inserted into my nose.  Instantly, the pain came right back and I fought to stay in control.  The doctor commented that I wasn't squirming as much this time, but it felt no less of an assault.  Again, I dug my fingers into my legs and again I pulled at the cuffs of my shorts.  And after about a minute, which seemed like an hour, it was over.  And again, I was flooded with emotion.

The doctor said a few more things, none of which I remember.  Kevin was diplomatic and I'm sure handled the conversation.  I was invited to remain however long I needed to before leaving, which was about another 5 minutes or so.  On the way out of the room, I grabbed a tissue box, tucked it under my arm, and told Kevin, "I paid for these" and out we walked to go home.

The rest of that day is mostly lost to my memory, either from blocking it out or by sleeping it off.  I almost never cry.  Almost.  I'm just not emotional in that way. This was the most sad and negative emotion I had spent in one day, perhaps in my whole life.  I spent the rest of the day intermittently bursting into tears for no reason.  And I'm not at all surprised if my mind is choosing to forget it.

I continued to get better through the rest of that weekend.  I returned to work on Monday and despite not yet finding the best position in which to sleep, continued to feel better each day.  Headaches and spontaneous drainage aside, every day showed more improvement.  But one thing was still clear - I was lacking knowledge of what I had just gone through.  I was never given (or don't remember getting) an explanation as to why I woke up from surgery 2.5 hours beyond what I was told.  I had no idea what surgery had actually been performed.  I was told twice by the same doctor that I would instantly feel relief following as many procedures to no avail.  I was in the dark.  So on that same Monday, I reached out to the doctor for a consultation to find out just what the hell had happened.

And here's what he said...

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Post 700!!

I pause in the middle of my sinus surgery story (oh yes, there's MORE!) to pat myself on the back.  For I am now officially a member of the 700 Club.  No, not THAT one.

Both unbelievably and completely believable is the fact that this marks my 700th post to this blog!  Unbelievable because I've managed to keep this thing going for more than 11 years and have somehow come up with 700 things to say.  Completely believable because I have 700 things to say.  Just a little less than two years ago, I had hit 600.

To be honest, the real number of postings should probably be somewhere in the 875-900 range.  Back in 2006 when I found out my then-boss was reading my blog, I went back through and deleted several posts that were work-related.  I learned a lesson then about anonymity and lack thereof.  Since then, I've no longer posted about problems associated with my actual place of employ.

As well, about a year or so after I started to work for Make-A-Wish, I realized that I should probably stop what had become a weekly and very popular staple on my blog: Monday Eye Candy, which was nothing more than a gratuitous picture of some random hunk.  I went back through and deleted all those posts as well.

In both cases, I censored myself which annoyed me at the time.  But I'm now satisfied that I deleted those posts because I eventually came out to my family back home and they all started reading my blog.  In a way, I guess I classed it up a bit.  And I am glad about that.

Here's to another 700, with number 701 following shortly.

And now back to your regularly scheduled programming....

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

My Lovely Sinus Surgery Recovery

Like I said previously, everything I had been told about the anticipated surgery was that it would be routine, in and out, feeling better immediately.  In short, simple and instantaneously life changing.  I had actually scheduled the surgery at Northwestern Hospital downtown when I did because of this information.  And in the beginning, all signs pointed to a successful and speedy recovery.  I even posted a picture of myself on Facebook - looking pretty tired but still giving the thumbs up that everything was A-OK just 24-hours after the surgery.

And then - I guess - all the anesthesia and pain medications started to wear off.  Friday, the day after surgery, started off well.  I was able to remove the blood hammock and my nose was now sensitive enough to know when a drip was coming, so I was able to catch drips as they happened rather than tape a bandage to my face all the time.  What's interesting about this was that discharge, whether blood or mucus or saline from rinses, would pool in my nose depending on how I held my head.  But when I turned my head ever so slightly or looked in a different direction, it all came pouring out at once.  As Friday wore on, so did my nerves.

For the first time ever, I treated myself to Grub Hub, but by the time it arrived, I couldn't eat.  Perhaps it was due to all the stuff dripping down the back of my throat that was causing nausea and a lack of appetite.  So I found myself mostly just laying on the couch in the living room.  Which was also where I spent the entire next day, Saturday, only getting up to take medication.  I didn't eat all day but kept trying to drink as much fluid as possible.  I had gone off of all caffeine, so no tea or my beloved Diet Pepsi since a week prior to surgery (which was directed by the doctor).  I figured that while I was healing, it would make sense to stay off of caffeine as well.  As Saturday wore on, the headaches increased in frequency and intensity.  I'd never had a migraine before, but I imagined that this must be similar to how they feel - absolutely crippling and nauseating.

During one trip to the bathroom, I looked in the mirror and notice that the area above my left eyelid had swollen some.  The headaches I was experiencing seemed to come from behind my eye as well as above.  So I made a ice pack and continued to lay on the couch.  I kept getting bouts of the equivalent of "brain freeze" from keeping the ice packs on too long.  I'm not sure if they offered any kind of relief, but they were as soothing a thing as I could find.  Eventually I slept, either from pure exhaustion or passing out from the pain.  I didn't do a great job keeping in touch with Kevin during this time because, quite frankly, it was too much to do.  I'm sure he was wondering what was going on, but I simply didn't have the energy to even send a text to him.

When I woke on Sunday morning, I instantly knew something was wrong.  I looked in the mirror and my left eye was now swollen halfway shut.  I could no longer look to my left because it was too painful, like needles sticking in my eye and it hurt like hell to move my eye in any given direction.  I mustered up enough energy to take a shower and then called 911.  I called Kevin at 6:30 AM California time and let him know I was making a trip to the ER.  I can't imagine how frantic he must have felt.  But again - this was all not supposed to happen.

Taken at Swedish Covenant, about 10:00 AM
The ambulance took me to Swedish Covenant Hospital which is about 5 blocks from our house.  After 2 hours there, the doctors wanted me to go back to Northwestern.

I don't know what "ambulance policy" is, but I assume is it their responsibility to get you to the closest place.  Amiright?  In any event, I'm going to have to pay for 2 ambulance trips.  Still waiting on those bills to come in.  Yeesh.

I got to Northwestern around Noon on Sunday and was pretty miserable by that time.  To add to my pain, I was immediately chastised by a man in scrubs.  He could have been an ENT, a surgeon, or just the ER doctor on duty, but he told me that I should "always return to where I originally had a surgery because no surgeon likes to clean up another surgeon's work."  Seriously, that's what he said.  I simply looked at him out of the one eye I could see out of and said, "I don't care."  Seriously, that's what I said.  He left the room and I never saw him again.  The first nurse I saw apparently taught the doctor everything he knows because her bedside manner was along the lines of Nurse Ratchett.   I'm in pain, exhausted, a little scared that I might lose an eye, and very confused.  Nurse Ratchett came in to talk to me and when I was slow to respond while gathering my thoughts, she barked, "why are you talking like that; what's WRONG with you?" I mean....     I love my Northwestern physicians.  But the hospital......

After that, it was a barrage of doctors, nurses, residents, interns and students coming in to look at me and discuss me as if they were looking into a deli case trying to choose between the chicken salad and the antipasti plate.  Medicine in a teaching hospital is so clinical and void of personal relationships.  There was one nurse who was super sweet and compassionate.  She wanted to hear my entire story.  I wish I could remember her name.  To compound my misery, I wasn't allowed to eat or drink anything, not even water, until they could decide if they wanted to perform de-pressurizing surgery.  So from noon til about 7:30 PM, I sat in an examining chair just waiting for something to happen.  The chair was like one that would be at your eye doctor's office.  It didn't recline and the armrests were too low to use.  So I couldn't nap or relax.  I just sat there, my isolation being occasionally interrupted by one or two people who just wanted to look at me.

The powers-that-be decided to keep me in the hospital overnight to watch the swelling.  I honestly don't recall ever getting any medication to treat the swelling.  I was given morphine for pain, but that's all I remember.  I asked for new ice packs a few times because those were the only thing that seemed to make me feel better.  I was eventually put into a private room around 7:30 and finally received food around 8:00 PM.  This was the first thing I'd eaten for two days.

Meanwhile, Kevin had been making his trek back to Chicago from San Diego and was encountering every possible obstacle along the way.  You know how it is when you only want to get to something and you hit every red light.  First, his flight was delayed leaving California.  Then once they got to Chicago they had to stay in the air and circle for a while because of bad weather.  And then once he landed, the lines for taxis to the city rivaled those at Disney World on the busiest day of the year.  All the poor man wanted to do was get to me.  It's probably funny now, but I can imagine his panic during the process.  He finally arrived at my room sometime around 12:30 AM.  Admittedly, I instantly felt better.

At some point overnight, the swelling went away and I was able to move my eye again without any pain.  The doctors had no idea what happened, but Kevin actually diagnosed the problem during his flight home:

On Friday, the day following surgery, I started doing nasal sinus rinses.  I know now that even when sinuses are healthy, the rinse is supposed to be applied gently.  I was a bit more aggressive and blew the stuff up in my nose with such force that the saline lodged in both of my ear canals rather than drip out the other side of my nose.  I told Kevin about it in a subsequent phone call.  It was his belief that I might have blown a clot or surgery debris up into my head which then blocked my ethmoid sinus cavity from draining.  Then, either another rinse or the ice packs eventually dislodged the blocking and everything went back to normal.

I told this to my doctors on Monday morning in the hospital and they bought it.  What can I say, I married a genius.

I was discharged Monday afternoon and spent the rest of the week at home.  I tried going back to work on Tuesday morning, but only lasted about an hour before needing to leave.  The headaches were pretty intense during the week as my sinuses adapted to no longer having an infection or buildup in them.  And the drainage was semi-constant.  To be honest, there wasn't much difference in how I felt AFTER surgery than BEFORE surgery.  However the next step - vacuuming out my sinus cavity was supposed to be when I would finally notice relief.

From here, this story gets better...   and worse.

Monday, August 01, 2016

My Lovely Sinus Surgery

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my lovely sinus infection.  I've decided to write about this much the same way I wrote about my heart attack and surgery 11 years ago - in stages.  For me it helps to deal with things in stages rather than all at once.  And since this blog is my catharsis, here we go:

The short update on the infection was that 60 days after initially contracting it, I still had it, along with the residual effects of having a stubborn infection that took MANY drugs to get rid of. Since we'd returned to Chicago on Monday, May 30th, I'd been on a Zpak, two rounds of methylprednisolone, two rounds of Prednisone, three 14-day rounds of Clindamycin, and Tramadol for the heachaches.  Most likely, the initial infection is long gone.  But the horrible smell I wrote about was STILL present.  I guess that all this time I hadn't been smelling the infection so much as just the blockage or backup of mucus that was being housed in my sinuses.  Which makes sense now because it smelled so putrid.

At the urgence of my Primary Care Physician, I had a CT scan which led him to send me to an Otolaryngolist.  I probably should have seen someone in this specialty years ago, but it was somehow comforting to know that there was now a specialist at the helm on this ride.  My initial appointment with him yielded some old and surprisingly new information.

For example, I knew I was clogged, but I didn't know to what extent.  After the specialist talked me through the results of the CT scan, I learned that the major sinus cavities on my left side (the Frontal, the Ethmoid, and the Maxillary) were 100% full and clogged with mucus, pus and - wiat for it - mold!  In short, endoscopic surgery would be my only relief.  I also learned that I have a deviated septum.  This was both surprising yet not surprising at the same time.  I figured I had one due to the fact that I snore - or am told I snore - so I figured I had some sort of nasal abnormality.  And while about 80% of people have this affliction, you're either born with it or develop it from trauma or blunt force to the face.  Since I don't recall ever being hit directly in the face with an object, I must have always had this.

I posted on Facebook that I was going to have sinus surgery, and those friends who had already been through it reached out to offer condolences and support.  I heard what each of them had been through and none of it sounded too scary.  After all, I'd been through a quadruple bypass and a 16-hour tattoo application.  I can take pain.

So I scheduled the appointment.  Stupid Alert:  I scheduled it for the day after Kevin left for ComiCon in San Diego, which had been planned for months.  But from what I had been told, the surgery sounded simple enough.  I was told it would start at 9:45 AM and I would be out by 1:00 PM. I was also told by the doctor that I would instantly feel better following surgery and that I just needed to take it easy for a few days.  I certainly didn't want Kevin to stay home and I also selfishly didn't want to postpone the surgery any longer.  So we decided to go ahead with it, with dear friend, Jessica, stepping in as surrogate and Kevin checking in on me now and then.  I'd more than likely just be sleeping most of the time anyway.

I arrived when I was supposed to and by my estimate was put under pretty close to 9:45 AM.  The last thing I remember was the lovely gas mask coming over my face.  Eventually I woke up sitting in an examining chair in an outpatient room.  How they manage to move you from one place to another when you can't remember a thing always astounds me.  But what really surprised me was when I looked at the clock on the wall.  It said 3:30 PM.  It took me a second, but I eventually thought, "hey, I was supposed to be out of here 2.5 hours ago.  What actually happened?"

The trouble with learning about what actually happened and even, for that matter, what my post-op care should be, is that the news was delivered while I was still by-and-large still under anesthesia. It's puzzling that they won't let you leave the hospital on your own accord, but they are trusting you to remember what happened while you were knocked out, and how to take care of yourself when the only thing you can think about is how red that nurses's blouse is.  Man, is that red!  I wonder what shade of red that is.  It's just so vibrant.  There are lots of shades of red.  I think Wolf Blitzer must be the dullest man on television.

So while wearing what can only be referred to as a "blood reservoir hammock" under my nose, I was able to walk out of the medical center into the loving, waiting arms of Jessica.  She drove me home, expressing the same concern I had about why I was in surgery 2 hours longer than what I had been told.  She dropped me off at home, went to fill my prescriptions and get supplies.  She wanted to stay with me, but I really just wanted to sleep and talk to Kevin.  Except for a dripping bloody nose, I felt just fine.

So I settled in for the recovery.  OH. MY. GOD - the recovery...

Friday, July 15, 2016

Chicago vs. DC: Similar Neighborhoods Names

After living in Chicago for more than 10 years, I still get tripped up on the names of some of the neighborhoods here.  My confusion stems from the fact that I also lived in DC for 10 years and some of the neighborhood names there are similar to some of the ones in Chicago.

Lincoln Park, DC                  Lincoln Park, Chicago
When I first moved to DC, I lived on Capitol Hill in a hood called Lincoln Park. The largest park on The Hill, Pierre L'Enfant included it in his original 1791 plan for DC, intending it for public use and planning it to be the point from which all distances in North America would be measured, although it was not ultimately utilized for this purpose.  It's also been historically known as Lincoln Square.  It is the first pubic site to bear the former President's name.  When I lived there, the hood consisted mostly of young white couples who were parents to children and/or dogs, and some empty-nesters.  It was primarily residential with not much by way of shopping and restaurants

Chicago has both a Lincoln Park and a Lincoln Square.  We currently live in Lincoln Square and it took me the first year of living here to stop calling it Lincoln Park.  Lincoln Square is a cozy northside hood whose population mirrors that of Lincoln Park/Square in DC, but offers much more to do than just live in your home.  Row houses, single-family homes and some condos share space with bars, restaurants and shopping.  On the other hand, Lincoln Park in Chicago is one of the more affluent neighborhoods filled with established mature couples and families, and where a recent college grad will share a small, expensive apartment with 3 other people just so he/she can be in a predominantly white neighborhood that's loaded with bars.

In DC, I also lived in Logan Circle.  When I first moved to DC in 1995, Logan Circle was mostly a place for hookers and drug addicts.  The neighborhood was peppered with run down townhouses and abandoned garages and warehouses.  During my 10 years in that city (as well as since), Logan Circle has become was Lincoln Park in Chicago is.  As is usually the case, the gays moved into the blighted area and revitalized it.  Soon, straight women follow, then straight men, then couples, then families.  You can set your calendar by it.  Contrarily, Chicago has Logan Square even though the park from which the neighborhood gets its name is actually ovular and not square.  I lived in Logan Circle in DC and now I work in Logan Square in Chicago.

Logan Circle, DC                                                                               Logan Square, Chicago

I finally have the Lincoln Park/Square thing under control, but it's going to take a while to get the Logan Circle/Square thing managed.  But I'm getting there.

My brain's a mess.