Tuesday, November 14, 2017

My Literal Sh*t Storm

It's been a while since I have posted anything here.  That is perhaps both a good thing and a bad thing.  Good, because it means that my life is uneventful and that nothing special is happening except the normal stuff.  And bad, I guess, for exactly the same reasons.  We did recently take a two-week trip to Europe, but (amazing as it was) that trip was well-documented on Facebook so I didn't see the need to rehash it on here.  And our Hallowe'en was pretty spectacular.  Between Kevin's house-decorating getting national exposure and our costumes basically killing it once again, it was another successful holiday in the books.  See for yourself:



Heat Miser and Snow Miser from "The Year Without A Santa Claus"

So life has been usual and normal.  Until last week.

It was Thursday morning.  I was taking the morning to go to the gym, come home clean the house,  and do some laundry and shopping in preparation of family visiting the following day through the weekend.  But before starting all these endeavors, I needed to take the morning "pit stop".  So I put some laundry in the washing machine and started it up, and then for some undetermined reason, I chose to use the bathroom on our main floor rather than our renovated master bathroom on the ground floor.

So I am sitting there, playing the daily game of solitaire on my phone when I heard a loud, ominous,  gurgling noise in the pipes.  I looked around quizzically. wondering what I had just heard.  And then I heard the noise again, louder this time.  A felt a wave of heat rush up my neck and into my head.  Suddenly, I felt a spray of water from underneath me while, at the same time, I'll-call-it "stuff" started flying out of the bathtub drain in the shower.  I was so overcome with shock I didn't know what to do next.  The gurgle started again so I jumped up and closed the toilet lid, only to witness another round of stuff volcanically spewing out of the tub drain. 

It was like a scene from a horror movie.

Note: I'm calling it "stuff", but I mean water and excrement.  That's right - poop was flying out of my tub.  Actual poop.  Not just dirty water, my friends.  It was like someone hooked up a hose to a Port-O-Potty and let 'er rip up through the bathtub drain.  It spasmed out of the tub drain and flew up the shower walls, some even hitting the ceiling.  And because the shower curtain was pulled open to let light in through the glass brick window, the "stuff" flew all over the bathroom - on the walls, up the window, and on the tile floor getting down into the grout.

I quickly cleaned myself up and rain downstairs to turn off the water main (which had nothing to do with anything, but I didn't know what else to do) and shut off the washing machine.  I cautiously looked in the master bathroom and was somewhat placated to find that it looked completely normal; nothing had happened there.  However, some pipes were leaking on the floor so I started pulling up carpet tiles in order to stop the leak(s) from spreading.  Shutting down the washer seemed to fix this problem.

I immediately texted our plumber, Matt, with whom we developed a friendly relationship last summer during our main bathroom renovation.  Within 1 minute, Matt called me on the phone to tell me he'd be right over. 

To speed up the story, I'll jump to the several hours later after Matt had deduced what had happened:

A blockage had formed someplace in the sewer outside of our house.  Because we had installed a pump system under the master bathroom due to its being below grade, the pump kept the master bathroom dry.  The pump collects all waste water used in the house.  Once the water reached a certain level, the system pumps the water up through the pipes and out to the sewer line with one huge gush.  On this occasion, the pump was filling quickly due to my doing laundry, so the pump kept pumping the water up and out.  But since there was a blockage, the only place for the waste water to go, then, was out of the pipes in the other bathroom - the one I was using.

Matt The Plumber ended up pulling up the toilet in the bathroom and snaking a pump down the drain to blow out the blockage, which he assured me was not caused by us.  Our pipes, according to him, were clean.  So I was at least appeased to learn that this was not our fault.  So about 4 hours after arriving, Matt left and I began the worst task I've ever had to take on:  cleaning it all up.

Here, I will admit that I lost count of the number of times I dry-heaved and/or gagged through the next few hours of my day.  Because it had been several hours between when this occurred and when I could clean it up, most of it had dried.  So when I re-hydrated it by cleaning it up, the smell seemed to intensify.  I was literally wiping shit off the walls, ceiling, window, soap, shampoo bottles, and floor.  I had to scrub the tile and the grout with a toothbrush.  I took down the shower curtains and washed them with the towels and rugs.  And even after scrubbing the bathroom, the smell still lingered - perhaps trapped inside my nose for the unforseeable future.  Later I bought a few bouquets of flowers and baked cookies in my attempt to rid the house of the smell.  Kevin said he could still smell it "a little" when he came home from work that evening.  But fortunately, the odor had dissipated before the visiting family arrived the next day.

I'm already squeamish when it comes to excrement and bathroom functions.  I am an admitted prude in that I can't even fart in front of another person.  Without doing a deep-dive into my psychoses, let's just say that, for me, bathroom stuff is very private, always has been.  So the fact that I had to spend so much time cleaning up what might not have even been my own excrement on my bathroom walls and floor . . . well it was a lot for me to handle.  And while I was cleaning, I couldn't help but consider all the "what if's":

What if I had simply turned on the washer and then left the house for the gym, which was my original plan before needing the "pit stop"?

What if I had chosen to use the other bathroom instead and left the house out the backdoor instead of coming up to the main level?  Then what if I had come back home, entered the back door, put in more laundry and jumped in the shower before ever going up to the main floor?

What if I had not been home all day and the mess would have grown, spread and possibly flooded our main floor? 

What if we didn't have such a great relationship with a plumber and I couldn't get anyone here to fix the problem for a day or more?

I've accepted that if this situation HAD to occur, it occurred at the right time and that I was in the right place despite how uncomfortable it all was.  I literally lived through one of my nightmares.  If rats had come up through the drain as well, all of my fears would have been faced at the same time.

I guess I should be thankful.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

And There He'll Wait

I think of him about the same as I did before - no more, no less.  I guess I expected that I would think of him a lot more.  But it seems to be about the same amount.  Now and then, just like before, he will pop into my head.  And now and then, unlike before, I have to stop and remind myself that he is no longer here.  But that doesn't cause me to think about him more.

It does, however, cause me to feel his absence, which I find interesting since I have been living apart from him for the past 22 years, seeing him for 3 and 4 days at a time, a few times a year.  It's not like I was used to being around him all the time or that I saw him once a week or even once a month.  But now, somehow, I definitely feel his absence from my life.  Perhaps it's the realized finality of knowing I won't see him - his physical self - again every time I go home.  He'll still be a priority, but the sense of urgency to see him is gone.  Now, he patiently waits for me to show up.  It's unfortunate that a human life that you know and love eventually becomes just a name on a piece of granite in a field surrounded by other names on other pieces of granite.  But here he will wait quietly and patiently, forever.  And eventually, so will she.  Just waiting for me every time I go home.

As for being home, I was there recently.  I made a solo trip to the cemetery and was not prepared for my reaction.  It was my first visit since the funeral back in July.  It was early in the morning; there was still some fog in the air.  The cemetery is a peaceful place on top of a hill in a town on top of a mountain.  I parked the car and walked to his plot.  And the closer I got the more overwhelmed I became.

Back in July, we had placed a decorative marker on his plot while we waited for the tombstone to be put in place.  Had we not done this, he would literally be laying in an unmarked grave.  And perhaps it was the site of this marker that got to me.  The plot next to him displays a rather large tombstone, there beside his little marker.  I knew his tombstone would come in time, but for a second - a very quick second - he seemed insignificant.  And that killed me inside because he is anything but.

Since then, his tombstone has been set in place.  Seeing it, even in a photo, makes it all too real; makes it official, I guess.  This will be my life from now on.  I used to visit him in his home, then in a nursing home, and from now on it will be here:



Friday, August 25, 2017

The Troutman Family Bible

Tomorrow, Saturday, August 26th, will mark my parents' 56th wedding anniversary.  They were just about one month shy of actually making it to this date together. Tomorrow, Mom will experience this day without Dad for the first time.  When I wrote THIS blog post last year, little did I know it would be the last one they would celebrate together.  It could be a tough day for Mom - the first celebratory event without him around.  All too soon, Thanksgiving will be here, then Christmas - two days I'm sure she is not looking forward to getting through.  But get through it, she will.  As have all of her sisters before her.  But the first event, especially a wedding anniversary, is a tough blow.

Unless it was a very private thing between them, I don't recall my parents making too much of a big deal about their anniversary.  Perhaps you don't when you have so many of them, one following another year after year.  That's not really who my parents are.  They didn't fuss over themselves, opting instead to fuss over others.  That fact didn't stop me from being the dutiful son, however.  I still sent cards and well wishes, even gift cards to restaurants so they actually would go out to dinner and celebrate.

August 6, 1981
20th Anniversary
I remember the first real gift we gave Mom and Dad for their anniversary.  It was in 1981, their 20th.  My sister, Kim, and I pulled and saved our money to buy them a family bible that we had seen in Matthew's Hallmark in LaVale Plaza shopping center (Kim was 18; I was 15).  I don't know if our parents wanted a family bible or if they had ever considered owning one before.  But for some reason, Kim and I had it in our heads that a bible would be the absolute best gift.  We could choose between a white leather or black leather cover.  We chose black, and had "The Troutman Family" engraved in gold on the front cover.  It was, quite literally, the best gift anyone could have ever given their parents.  Ever.

Since then, the bible has set in Mom's living room (my parents had separate living rooms, but that's another story). She's kept it updated over the years; inside are places to write family historical information.  So on Saturday, the Troutman Family Bible will be 36 years old.

I suppose, being the eldest Troutman son, that someday the bible will come to me, after which I will pass it down to the next Troutman generation and so on.  At least, that was the original idea 36 years ago.  Mom might "Prince Charles" me and pass me over, giving it to one of her grandsons instead.  And that's her prerogative. I had a hand in starting the tradition so, in fact, I've already taken my turn with it.

So, then, tomorrow.  I guess I can no longer wish them a "happy" anniversary, because from here on out the day probably won't be.  But I'll call Mom on that day and we'll talk.  We might not even mention that it's their anniversary.  Or that might be all we talk about.  Either way, she'll know why I'm calling.

The important thing is to talk to both of them on that day - as I always have done and will continue to do.  It's just that from now on, they will be separate conversations.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Laughter Through Tears

Dad's temporary grave marker
Frostburg Memorial Cemetery
Perhaps it's the self-preservation part of the grieving process that allows you to focus on the funny stuff when someone dies.

Despite how inappropriate it feels to laugh during a funeral, amusing things do happen during the course of one's illness and suffering  - and these are the things you (read: I) think about and recall, usually at inopportune moments, that help sustain your sanity and give credence to the expression "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."

Dad was diagnosed with dementia in May 2013, after a series of peculiar incidents and odd behaviors.  Occasionally, Dad would say something that didn't seem to make complete sense, or he'd forget something he was supposed to do.  It all seemed to be part of the natural aging process.  Dad was just over 70 and it seemed normal for him to have bouts of forgetfulness.  I mean, I can't remember what I had for dinner last night.

Thankfully, Dad maintained a great sense of humor especially through the early days of his illness.  Many times he and Mom would share a laugh about something he said or did.  For example:
One morning, Dad came downstairs from getting dressed wearing three shirts, a pair of shorts, and ALL of his belts.  He announced to Mom that he could never find his belts so he was just going to start wearing ALL of them every day.
Another time, Mom told him to put on deodorant and shave before they left the house. She caught Dad rubbing deodorant all over his face, clearly mixing his signals. When she drew attention to what he was doing, they both laughed.

And there was the time Mom could hear Dad rifling through her jewelry box.  She yelled to him to get out of it, and he responded that he wasn't doing anything.  She asked, "Are you in my jewelry box?".  He yelled back, "No!".  And then with perfect comedic precision, all of Mom's pearls from her mother's pearl necklace came bouncing down the wooden staircase that leads to their bedroom.  At first, it was just a peck or two, and then it was as if someone simply dumped them down the stairs.  Admittedly - horrifying to Mom at the time (and probably still to this day), but I have to hand it to Dad on his timing. 
For several months, Dad went through a phase of tidying up or, perhaps in his mind, helping out.  He would constantly wipe the kitchen counters off and place items in cabinets or storage.  And he'd place them in locations one would never think to look for them.  Mom lost track of all kinds of things.  And most of the time, Mom was actually still using the items.  I was witness to one episode where both of them were in the kitchen and Mom was trying to bake something.  She'd pull pans and supplies out of the cabinets and place them on the counter, only for Dad to come behind her, notice the item(s) and put them away again.  Then Mom would reach for what she had taken out, only to wonder where it went, look for it, and eventually think she was losing her own mind.  I remember quietly saying to myself, "Just enjoy this!" because it was like having Lucy and Ethel in my parents' kitchen.

Midway through Dad's illness, Mom needed to dress him while he was still living at home.  He'd sit in a chair while she knelt down to put on his shoes.  And while she was attempting to do this, Dad would reach out and pat and rub her head.  With bad knees herself, Mom struggled to stay on balance while trying to tie Dad's shoes and there he would be, just sitting in his chair, not helping in any way, messing her hair and sometimes knocking her glasses off.  It would infuriate her.  And he'd just giggle at her. Okay - perhaps this is one of those "you had to be there" moments, but the visual of this, and the memory it invokes, still makes me chuckle to this day.
It's these memories, and I know my Mom and siblings have many more, that have helped me look back and smile a little during a period where there was little to smile about.  In her exasperation, at times, Mom would yell at Dad - a fact she regretted early on and stopped herself from doing.  But Dad's response to her anger and frustration was to simply look at her and laugh, which caused her to laugh.... sometimes.  Because you have to.  You have to laugh.

Otherwise, all you'd do is cry.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Farewell, Dad

Probably the one thing most of us think about, more than anything else - whether we realize it or not - is the impending death of our parents. It's the one topic that we probably put the most amount of thought into, and it's certainly the thought we think about for the longest period of time.  When we are children, our first question about death is the one that can never really be answered: What.  What is death?  What does it mean?  And then once we grasp that our parents' death is imminent and guaranteed, we follow up What? with Why?, then How?, and then finally the one constant thought we will ponder perhaps more than any other thing in our lifetimes: When will my parents die?

The one thing about the "when" question is that there is no good answer to it.   We certainly don't want to lose our parents when we are children.  And the older we grow, the thought of losing our parents, even when we are in our 40s, 50s and older, is still terrifying. And the odd and funny and sad truth about asking When? is that despite it being the question we will ask perhaps more than any other question - despite the amount of time we think about this question and the amount of time we spend preparing ourselves for the answer - we are never truly ready When? it happens.

Dad was diagnosed with dementia in May 2013.  Last Saturday morning, July 22nd, Dad passed away after a 5+-year battle with Alzheimer's disease.  He had turned 78 last month.

His and Mom's fight with this gut-wrenching disease has been well-documented in this blog.  I call it THEIR struggle because despite Dad being the one with the disease, Mom was with him every step of the way - from the undated beginnings of Dad asking strange questions and making odd statements, to his forgetting simple tasks and getting confused as to where he was, to his becoming incontinent and unable to dress himself, to finally being admitted to the nursing home in September 2014 where he remained until last weekend.  Eventually he became mostly non-communicative, couldn't eat solid food, and became bed-ridden, weighing less than 120 pounds.  Alzheimer's ravaged Dad; it simply didn't care.

Through it all, though, Dad remained sweet, loving, and cooperative.  There were times in the beginning when he would argue with Mom because he was confused and forgetful.  But he came to completely depend on her for his care - to bathe him, feed him, change him, and to be his advocate and fight for him when she felt he wasn't getting the care he deserved, or at least the care that she wanted him to have.  My Mom visited my Dad in the nursing home every day from 10:30a-1:00p, and then again from 4:00p-8:00p, feeding him lunch and dinner every day.  And when I say "every day", it is not hyperbole.  For just shy of 3 years, she essentially gave up everything in order to sit with him and just be with him.  It was impressive to us, but normal for her.  She wanted no praise for doing what she wanted to do - spend time with her husband regardless.

Last week while dressing him for the day, the nurses saw a Kennedy Tumor Ulcer on Dad, which signified his body was beginning to shut down.  There would be no feeding tube and no rehabilitation.  The amazing nursing staff at Frostburg Village would work to keep him as comfortable as possible as his organs began to fail and his breathing would become labored.

Last Friday night, Mom called me and told me I should come home.  She explained Dad's situation and told me not to rush because the final moments could actually last weeks.  I hung up the phone and packed just about everything I own into 2 suitcases, a backpack, a suit bag, and a canvas bag - preparing for any eventuality for an unknown amount of time.  And despite it being past 9:00p in Chicago, I loaded up the car with Kevin's help and started driving the usually 9.5-hour trip to my parents' house.  I felt that I just had to leave right then and not wait to start in the morning.  About 4 hours later, just as I had crossed the Indiana/Ohio border on the turnpike, my phone rang at 1:00a - and I knew.  I pulled over and Mom gave me the news.  We hung up and I sat for a few minutes, stuck someplace between sorrow and relief.  It had been a difficult place to live for 3 years: outwardly wishing for life, but silently praying for death.  On more than one occasion, I pleaded with the universe to simply take him.  And now it had happened.  And despite knowing this day would come, and feeling I was prepared for it, I simply wasn't.  The When? happens when it happens.

My father did not deserve the death he had, but through it all he handled himself with humor, grace, and kindness.  And up until his last breath, he expressed love for us as best he could.  Everyone was in to see him in those last few hours.  But he waited until everyone had gone home, a little past midnight, to leave this world.  It was as if he wanted to spare us all the pain of watching him go.

My last interaction with Dad was back in June during my final visit with him.  As I stood to leave, I leaned over to give him several kisses on his forehead and I always had done.  This time, though, Dad grabbed my forearm.  When our eyes met, I saw an intensity in him that I had not experienced before.  I smiled and asked him what's up?  He moved his mouth as if he wanted to tell me something, but no sound and certainly no words came forth.  His stare was intense and it was obvious he was trying to get a message to me.  At the time, I simply smiled back at him and patted his hand and kissed the top of his head a few more times, telling him to behave himself and that I would see him again in a few weeks.  But I now know that Dad was telling me goodbye, that he somehow knew that this was the last time we would see each other.  I know he knew.  I know it.

It's been difficult to mourn him because to do so, quite simply, seems selfish.  I cannot feel sorry for him because he is now no longer in any pain, and his new world is once again clear, pleasant, and relaxing.  I cannot feel sorry for myself because this is not the life I wanted for him and I am relieved he is no longer trapped inside a body with a disease that's robbed him of all the joy in his life.  I do, however, feel sorry for Mom because of her obvious loss, but moreso because she is lost herself, now.  She has to reconfigure what she does every day from 10:30a-1:00p, and then again from 4:00p-8:00p.  Hopefully sooner than later, she will no longer get the panicked feeling that she needs to be someplace or that Dad needs her.  It's as if she's just been released from prison and she has to learn how to navigate life and think only of herself - something she probably has never done before in her entire life.  But Mom is conducting herself just like Dad had done, with grace, kindness, and even humor when she can.

And so I bid farewell to my Dad.  My reasons for why I will always love him are obvious and trite.  But more than tell me, he showed me how to be a good man, how to treat people, and how to appreciate the love of your life.  I wish him Godspeed and I believe that all of his memories have come back to him and that he is now reunited with Granny, Judy, Uncle Bill, Dad's parents, and his beloved grandmother.

And how on earth can I feel sorry about that?

I love you, Dad.  I'll be seeing you.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

50 Banned Words And Phrases

Because it's never too early to put the world on notice, below is the most recent list of the 50 words and/or phrases you are not permitted to utter in my presence because they either sound bad, have been overused, have been used incorrectly, or just plain annoy me.  

Our friendship may be at risk.

Consider this your warning shot.

1.   Recession
2.   Sausage grinder (re the legislative process)
3.   Gunman
4.   Bonus
5.   Teachable Moment
6.   Lockdown
7.   Too big to fail
8.   Octomom
9.   Entertain (in verb form)
10. Stress Test
11. You know what I'm sayin'?
12. Color Story
13. Green shoots (re the economy)
14. Temperament
15. The New Black
16. Twitter
17. Debt ceiling
18. Hydration
19. Empathy
20. New media, including but not limited to "Social Networking"
21. Throw me/you/him/her/them under the bus
22. Closely watched yardstick
23. Compromise/Bipartisan
24. Emboldened
25. Cougar
26. Serious
27. Walk back (As in "Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum is walking back his comments about party boss Rush Limbaugh.")
28. Baby Bump (this one has simply got to stop.)
29. Arabica bean
30. Statement Jewelry
31. Pop (of color)
32. Cabal
33. Socialism
34. Digital
35. Czar/Tsar
36. Devastate/Devastated/Devastating (Perspective, please! Rejection from Harvard Law and being forced to "settle" for NYU is not "devastating." Missing a trip to CancĂșn because a tropical storm precluded your plane from taking off is disappointing, not "devastating". Not getting tickets for the Streisand Village Vanguard show is not "devastating." Devastate means " to bring to ruin or desolation by violent action" or "to reduce to chaos, disorder, or helplessness". Trust me: you are not devastated.)
37. Post-Racial
38. That's what I'm talking (a)bout!
39. Retarded
40. This/He/Beyonce/Whatever is EVERYTHING!!
41. On fleek
42. Post-apocalyptic 
43. Ear Candy
44. Obamacare (but you may say Affordable Care Act)
45. Liar (I just hate this word)
46. Awesome
47. FOX (News)
48. Gay marriage
49. Poop
50. President Trump (just Trump is fine, though)



Sunday, July 09, 2017

My Farewell To Jeff And Matt

This past week, the end of an era occurred upon the death of one of my closest and oldest friends, Jeff Widdows.  Jeff died unexpectedly last week of a massive heart attack while shopping in the local mall.  Attempts were made to revive him, but to no avail.  Jeff was 55 years old.

Matt, Jeff and Me at EPCOT
April 1992
Jeff was part of an inseparable trio that consisted of Jeff, me, and Matt Bittner.  Matt passed away in December 2011 due to an undisclosed illness.  At the time, Matt was 47.

This leaves just me now - certainly not how I expected it to end and most certainly not this soon.  But even more unexpected was the turn our friendships took.  As close as we once were, I was estranged from each of them at the time of their deaths:  Matt stopped communication with both Jeff and me back in 2002 or so, and Jeff and I stopped communicating in 2012.  I actually wrote about my lack of communication with Jeff in a blog post titled, Facebook Ruins Friendships.  

Perhaps the friendships had run their course.  Perhaps we each outgrew the others.  And perhaps living far apart put distance between us in more ways than one.  Maybe people really can't be friends forever, like you expect or hope.  But for one, brief, shining moment, we had Camelot.  I learned a lot about myself and life when I was with them.  And the events this week have caused me to reflect on some pretty great memories of our adventures and excursions throughout the 1990's.

From that first night in September 1989, when we all converged at Deer Park Lodge (a neighborhood gay bar outside of Hagerstown, MD), we became an instant clique and would be constant companions for the next 16 years.  All three of us were living in Allegany County, MD when we met, and the goal was for all of us to get to DC within the next year or so.  And we put MANY miles on Jeff's Audi making the 2.5 hour road trip to DC as often as we could, either in order to jump-start our move or at least start making friends and connections in our eventual home.  I couldn’t possibly count the number of hours spent in a vehicle driving back and forth from everywhere we went; countless trips to the only gay bar within 100 miles of our homes; driving 300 miles round trip just to be on a gay bowling league in the winter and a gay softball league in the summer; several journeys to Rehoboth Beach in Delaware; two vacations to Disney World; not to mention the hundreds of thousands of dollars we spent on brunches, lunches, dinners and cocktails.  And when the time came for me to move first to DC and then to Chicago, the unimaginable amount of time we spent on the telephone, talking a few times a week, waxing sentimental on days gone by and planning our next great adventure.

Our friendship worked because we were the classic trio.  We were Dorothy/Blanche/Rose, Scarecrow/TinMan/Lion and Samantha/Charlotte/Miranda.  I'll explain:

Jeff was the oldest, being five years my senior.  Of the three, he was the Scarecrow/Rose/Charlotte combination; he was the nice one.  Jeff was unselfish, being generous with his time and his finances.  Jeff liked taking care of someone and looking after people.  His was the first greeting card you received on your birthday or holiday, with certain words underlined in red.  And like the others in his combination, Jeff could be ditsy.  He had no experience with the gay scene when I met him, and I sought to change all that.  When I met Jeff, I immediately told myself, "I've just met my new best friend", and that's exactly what happened.  We needed each other in that capacity, and it worked out.
               
I actually had already known Matt, but not as a gay adult.  He was two years ahead of me throughout school and lived up the street from my family.  His older brother once dated my sister.  And I took over Matt's paper route for him when he went on vacation in the summers.  Matt was the Lion/Blanche/Samantha of the group:  full of vitality, vanity, and wind, but insecure underneath and desperate for attention and affection.  I think being with me and Jeff helped Matt's confidence.  No doubt, Matt was attractive and could easily obtain any man he wanted - and we'd see him be successful at it over and over and over again.  I called Matt the "pretty one".  And along with those looks came one of the sweetest yet troubled souls I have ever known.

Which left me as the TinMan/Dorothy/Miranda - the (figuratively) heartless person who thought with only the brain and nothing else, using snide wit as both an attraction and deflection. I'd been told that I was a pussycat in a lion's body; but I wouldn't necessarily say that my bark was worse than my bite.  I just believed in being direct and honest with people.  I neither played games nor suffered fools. And I figured if people did not want to know the truth, they would not ask my opinion -- they would simply go to Matt or Jeff instead.

These two became my first REAL friends - people to whom I could say ANYTHING.  With them, I didn't have to hide who I was or change the gender when I spoke about someone.  My conversations with them were the first honest conversations I'd ever had in my life.  Over the course of our friendship, Jeff and Matt were there with me through my college education, 5 boyfriends, 9 jobs, and 12 apartments across 5 cities – not to mention all the stuff that both goes along with and comes in-between.  I figured we would be best friends until one of us died.  And now two of us have.
               
Despite that I'd lost communication with each of them prior to their deaths, I still feel an immense sense of loss; loss of what was as well as loss of what could have been.

Back in 1991, I wrote a story about the three of us that eventually became a chapter in a book about my life - most of which has been published on this blog at some point or another during the past 12 years.  We used to get together and I would read "our story" aloud over drinks.  And we'd laugh hysterically at jokes that only we got. 

The piece I wrote about us ended with this paragraph:
Years from now, when each of us is paired with a significant other, we will leave our mates for three weeks each summer and meet at a beach house the three of us had purchased years prior.  We'll complain about the usual mundane things in life ("Andy just won't let me out of his sight for one second" or "Dan just keeps buying me the most expensive gifts" or "Frank has the highest libido of any man I have ever seen" ... ho-hum).  Our little houseboy, Pablo (one of Jeff's old tricks at that point) will make us cocktails as we lounge on the beach.  Jeff will drink his customary (and lethal) 151 and Coke, Matt will have his Canadian Club and Coke, and I will have my ever present Scarlet O'Hara.  After fending off young surfer hunks (who know us only by reputation mind you), we go into the house, eat everything in sight and talk about sex.  We then send Pablo to restock the liquor cabinet and the kitchen, we work out in the gym, relax in our jacuzzi, and prepare to party that night.  This will constitute the itinerary for the whole three weeks during the summer; also for the two weeks we'll spend in Vale during the winter, the two weeks in the mountain cabin during the spring, the two weeks at P'town during the fall, the occasional cruises to the Bahamas, the extensive shopping trips, and the lunches at Tavern on the Green (so now you see why we will need to have significant others -- to pay for all of this).
I'd like to think that they are both sitting on the lanai of that cabana, with Pablo refilling their cocktails as quickly as they can drink them, patiently waiting my arrival many years from now.  And there is comfort in knowing they have reunited.

Rest in peace, dear friends.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Happy Birthday, Dad!

 
Dad did not come into this world easily.  His mother was 14 years old when she gave birth to her first child - a premature, underweight baby boy born in a throw=away place called Deal, PA.  Dad was born a “Blue Baby”, a newborn whose blood is not oxygenated enough.  I don’t think we know how much Dad actually weighed at birth, or even how long he was . . . but his first bed was a sewing machine drawer.  Against all those odds, Dad survived and grew.  But then, so did his obstacles.

He’s had more than a few scrapes in his life.  He once cut the end off of a finger with a power saw.  He once didn’t duck fast enough while running through a low doorway and tore the top of his head open.  He's had surgical eye implants.  He had two back-to-back surgeries – one quintuple bypass, the other on his intestines that had spent years turning gangrene.  Not to mention, Dad’s been a bit of a smoker for more than the better part of his life.  You see, he wasn’t supposed to live long enough to meet his first grandchild, let alone see the birth of his first great-grandchild 27 years after that  The point is, Dad has defied the odds his entire life and is here today to celebrate his 78th birthday.  

Admittedly, 78 is still not THAT old, but despite everything, Dad has outlived his father, who died at the age of 57, and has more than doubled the life span of his mother, who died at the age of 34.  He’s outlived both sets of grandparents and all 8 great-grandparents.  In Dad's family history, he is now the 5th oldest person in his lineage. 

From Dad, I have learned many things - mostly by example.  He showed me early on what it is to sacrifice for your loved ones; what it is to be dedicated and committed to either an action or a belief; what it is to give of yourself and your time to a cause you hold dear; what it means to do things that need to be done despite whether or not you know how to approach it; what it means to be quietly principled; and yes, even what it is to be the life of the party when you want to be.

When I "came out" to my Dad in 1997, I didn't know what to expect from him.  However, after I was finished speaking, his response was simply, "Well, I had NO idea".  When I pressed him on it, he said, "well I guess I thought about it at some point, but it never really seemed to matter.  It's your life; live it however you want."  And then the next morning, he woke me from bed and told me he needed help working on the deck.  If my very blue-collar, unworldly Dad had any trouble with having a gay son, he never let me know it.  From my perspective, Dad accepted me for the man I had become - a man espousing those same principles I listed above.  

Today, Dad is not where he wants to be, and certainly not where we selfishly want him to be either.  But there he is, living every day in his own, private world.  Now and then, there's a connection.  I experienced my first real connection with Dad in a few years during my most recent trip home.  For his birthday, I gave him a globe that lights up with different colors.  When he received it, he cried, which is the only emotion my Dad can express anymore.  It was a happy-cry; we've been able to learn the difference.  And as I leaned in to kiss him, he looked at me and I could tell he wanted to say something to me.  It was the first time I had experienced that with him in the years he's been living in his mental prison.  He wanted to tell me something, and I can only imagine what it was.  And that has to be good enough now.

But I know what it was.  My dad and I have a long history of unspoken words between us, knowing what the other means without really having to say it.  Two weeks after my coming out conversation, I was back visiting my parents.  My siblings and I were sitting around the picnic table on the newly finished deck and my dad came and sat by me.  There wasn't much room so he pushed into me.  When I turned to look at him, he smiled at me.  That's when I knew Dad and I were "good".  And thus is my history with him.  

Across the many miles, I send him love on his birthday today.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

My Childhood Bully Is An Electrician

Recently, I was back home visiting Mom and Dad for the annual "Birthday/Father's Day visit". My parents' birthdays are one week apart with Father's Day always falling in-between. It's been very handy that this has been the pattern my entire life. It's like knocking out a few celebrations at once which has always been awesome for me when traveling back home.

These days, I like having projects to do when I go back to Frostburg. This fact is no doubt influenced by my life with Kevin. I've never been lazy or one to just sit around all day, but these days I really enjoy taking a project on or at least managing a project to completion. And if you follow Kevin and/or me on this blog or any other social media, you'll agree that there has been no shortage or projects in our lives for the past several years.

Before I arrived home, Mom joked that she had a list, which I loved hearing. But the only thing she really sought my help with was an electrical problem she was experiencing in the house, with ceiling lights dimming and blinking and appliances not seeming to work at full power. I told her to call an electrician to visit the house one day while I am home.


The electrician came on Tuesday of that week. When he arrived, Mom and I walked out to the driveway to meet him and I instantly recognized him as a kid I went to high school with named Mike. In short, Mike hated me, or at least chose to express his severe dislike for me in every form of discourse available to a kid at the age of 17. He was one of the reasons I wrote It Gets Better, one of the most transparent, naked blog posts I've every written. Seeing Mike instantly transported me back to those high school days. I was almost instantly consumed with a calm rage, expressed physically with folded arms and a wide stance. I found myself "puffing up", as Kevin calls it. I can be physically imposing when I want to be, and I caught myself doing it just for the sake of scaring/impressing/warning this man who I had always seen as a threat. And here he stood in my parents' house.

He chatted with us for a second and then went to investigate the house and problems. I leaned in to Mom and whispered to her "He HATED me in high school. He called me names, teased me, was just a horrible, rotten kid." And I wonder, now, what went through my Mom's head at that point. She knows full well what my adolescent life was like. And standing in her home was one of the causes of all my angst. She must have felt some kind of conflict.

After Mike looked things over, he starts chatting us up the way people in small towns do when they try to figure out who you and your kids are to make that personal connection. He recognized my brothers, Matt and Mike, from their names and then looks directly at me and asks, "Now which one are you?"

"I'm Darren."
He looked a little stunned, looked away, then back at me and a few seconds later said, "What year did you graduate?"

I looked him dead in the eye and said, "1984".

He said, laughing, "Well, hell we graduated together!"

"Yeah, I know. I was just telling her (Mom) that."

He looked away, searching through memories, and responded, "Yeah, I remember you."

And it took everything inside me not to come back with something like, "I bet you do, you little prick!"

There I was - face to face with someone who made me feel worthless, and I had the enviable opportunity to let him know how insignificant he made me feel all those years ago and how his actions and the actions of others caused me years of self-doubt and insecurity . . . and I couldn't say a thing to him because I needed him to perform this service for my Mom and to like her enough that he might cut her a break on the cost of the project.

I wonder, now, if he ended up really thinking about me after we met again. Did he have the same feelings and memories of me that I have of him? Do bullies carry those memories or was I so meaningless to him that he didn't remember how he treated me? He definitely remembered my name not surprised he didn't recognize me), so I would like to think he remembers what a horrible kid he was.

A long time ago, I put my faith in the universe that it would balance everything out in my life. When something went wrong, I always had faith that a retribution would occur. Maybe I wouldn't be there to witness it in person or even know about it, but I had belief that it would happen. So my consolation is in the recognition of how great my life turned out. I'm not going to compare my life to his, but I am so proud and happy with my life and the people I have chosen to be part of it, that now it all doesn't matter. My great revenge, if that's what it was, was living the life I did, having the fun I've had, and knowing and loving the people I have.

As for the electrical problem, Mike fixed it. And he charged half of what I expected it to be. Perhaps that's the result of small town pricing. But I decided that he factored a "bully discount" in the total. The universe pretty much demanded it.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Road Tripping

It;s no secret that Kevin and I like quirky things.  It's probably what has attracted us to each other all these years.  I mean, who wouldn't be attracted to a man who is incredibly smart, ridiculously talented, super cute, and is passionate about things like gardening, circus arts, and keeping himself in peak physical condition?

But enough about me.

I've mentioned on here before that Kevin and I have a personal challenge we are working towards as a couple: to visit every state in the country together.  We've been doing a fairly solid job of it in our 12 years together, and we keep track by purchasing a distinct brand of state magnet and posting it on a wall in our house to commemorate the journey.  Over Memorial Day Weekend this year, we added 5 new magnets to our wall, which now leaves only Georgia and the New England states before we've hit every state east of the Mississippi River.

Since starting this challenge, we have combined it with our love of visiting odd/random/bizarre places and things by taking road trips and following websites like Roadside America and Atlas Obscura to seek out and visit sites that have a story, be it strange, fascinating or just plain weird.  And going forward, it will help if these places are in states we have yet to visit.  And since there are not many things we like better than a good old fashioned road trip, one became the catalyst for our holiday weekend excursion to visit a few sites in Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky, thus adding those 5 states to our map.

Our first stop was on historic Route 66 where we visited a renovated Texaco station in Dwight, IL, followed by a rabbit farm in Staunton, IL, then on to St. Louis, MO where we visited The Arch.


We also spent about 4.5 hours in the City Museum, a constantly-evolving/"always building" 12-story building housing slides, caves, a ferris wheel on the roof, a bus solidly teetering on the edge of the building, steel tunnels and cages to climb through to get from one point to another.  There's no age limit for attending and it would seem that the only hinderance would be your size; if you can fit, you can try it out.  There are no maps and nothing explaining what anything is - you just have to discover it for yourself and try it out.  This place was Kevin's Disney World.  He lit up like a kid on Christmas when we walked in and was still excited (albeit it exhausted and sweaty) when we left.  I expect us to go back again.


The next morning, we headed to south and stopped in Chester, IL, the birthplace of the Popeye cartoon.  The artist was originally from Chester and most of the characters, including Popeye, Wimpy, and Olive Oyl, were based on people who lived in Chester.  The town had statues of just about every character in different places. Then on to the semi-abandoned town of Cairo, IL (pronounced Care-Oh), the southernmost city in IL at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and, thus, the lowest elevation in the state.  And then we passed through Arkansas, but not without first taking a glamour shot.


We finished Day 2 of the trip by visiting the Bass Pro Shop located at the Pyramid in Memphis, TN.  This place was massive and house every hunting, camping, boating and outdoor supply you could ever think of.  There were a few restaurants, a huge aquarium, a bowling alley, a hotel, and TONS of taxidermy.  We were completely out of our element but still enjoyed ourselves.


That night we stayed in Memphis (but that's a whole 'nother story.  Look for that blog posting in the coming weeks!).  We tried to visit Beale Street that night but it was impossible to get to, especially on a holiday weekend.  So we called it a night and went back to Beale the following morning.  Perhaps not as exciting as it is at night with all the lights, but still fun to be there.  A few blocks away, we stopped by Sun Records, the basis of the Tony-winning musical, Million Dollar Quartet (Mom and Kim - you saw this when you were in Chicago once).  And before leaving Memphis, we stopped by the site of the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated in 1968.  The remarkably preserved motel now houses the National Civil Rights Museum.


Back on the road, we stopped in a cemetery in Mayfield, KY to see the "The Strange Procession That Never Moves": the grave plot commissioned by Col. Henry Wooldridge and built over the course of 7 years until his death in 1899.  The plot is populated by 15 life-size sculptures of Col. Wooldridge, along with members of his family (mother, 3 sisters and several brothers), his 3 pets (his horse Fop and his dogs, Toehead and Bob), a few wild animals (a fox and a deer), and a young girl who is either his grandniece or the young love of his life who died in a horse accident (depends on who you talk to).  All the monuments are cenotaphs since the Colonel is the only one actually buried in the plot.


After that weirdness, we drove back into Illinois where our first stop was Metropolis, which has embraced the Superman lore.  Then on to a small town called Gays - that's right - Gays, IL, where we saw a 2-story outhouse, and then a quick stop in Effingham, IL where we saw America's largest cross at 198 feet.


We spent the night in Champaign, IL and hit the road back to Chicago the next morning. It was a well-spent, well-traveled 4 days.  We added 5 new states to our magnet board, which is filling in nicely.  There will probably be several more road trips this summer, and we will be sure to document our fun.  Because who doesn't want to travel along with someone who's adventurous, fun-loving, and adorable.

But enough about me.



Saturday, June 03, 2017

I Was A 30-Day Diabetic

These days, diabetes is prevalent in American society for many different reasons:  some people are overweight, some people get it late in life, some people are genetically predisposed to develop it.  And it would appear that I am in the latter group.

Back in mid-April, I needed to see my GP in order to have blood labs completed for my upcoming (third and final) sinus surgery.  Most of the lab results were what I expected, with the exception of my glucose levels.  After staving off diabetes for years (I've been keeping records on my lab work for the past 20 years or so), my body finally tipped the scale. A glucose count that had been maintained at 103-110 (considered pre-diabetic) for the past two decades suddenly elevated to 286.  I had what my family calls, "the sugar".

How could this have happened when nothing in my lifestyle had changed?  Simple answer: because nothing had changed.

Realistically it's crazy, I guess, to think we can maintain ourselves year after year doing the same things, eating the same foods, getting the same amounts of exercise.  Our bodies change over time; they age and things start to break down - faster for some than for others.  MY body has been breaking down at a rate faster than others in my age group; I've often said I have the insides of someone 20 years my senior.  So naturally it made sense that I just couldn't keep doing what I had been doing all these years in order to maintain my health.  Things needed to change and I simply didn't realize it.

Back in my doctor's office, I was perplexed.  Why now, I wondered?  He asked who in my family has diabetes.  My mom, my dad, my brother, my sister...   For me it's genetic, as are most of my health problems.  And like those other health problems, I intended to fight this one too.  My doctor challenged me to lose weight.  In his office, I weighed 238 - again fairly usual for me.  But he wanted me to maintain 228 instead.  No more carbs, he said while he wrote out yet another prescription.  He said to me, "I know the last thing you want is to be diabetic, so I'm trusting you to take care of this.  I won't ask you to check your levels or monitor your sugar.  But I will ask you to download the MyFitnessPal app and keep track of your diet and exercise."

Which I did religiously.  What was fun about the app was that after I would input what I ate during the day, it would tell me what I would weigh in 5 weeks if I ate every day like I had that day.  It was somehow empowering.  And it worked.


Eight weeks after starting the app, which helped me keep track of my calories, carbs and exercise, I weigh 219 lbs, for a loss of 19 lbs overall!  The other great news is that my glucose went from 286 to 117, and my cholesterol dropped 30 points.  My doctor took me off of the medication and now I will just keep using the MyFitnessPal app and getting regular exercise.

Throughout my life, I've had these resets:  I've used Nutrisystem a few times to lose weight, most notably the first time I used it in 2010 when I lost almost 50 lbs.  I've used it again now and then since to drop a few pounds here and there and to remind me what portion control looks like.  But then I fall off the wagon somehow as food is my crutch, my comfort.  But this time feels different.  This time, I know the consequences because I experienced them.  And while I have been pre-diabetic for the past 20+ years, there's something about having diabetes that triggered something in me mentally and emotionally.  I don't want to repeat those 8 weeks again.

I already have enough to worry about.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Breaking Down The GOP Health Care Bill

Yesterday, the republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives voted to replace the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, with a new healthcare bill.  This new bill, a newer version of the radically unpopular bill that the House tried to pass several weeks ago, removes protections for people with pre-existing conditions (among other things).  This means, insurance companies would be able to charge those insured more money based on their health.  The Center for American Progress estimates the premiums for an otherwise healthy 40-year old with just one of the following pre-existing conditions to be rather daunting:



So if you have diabetes, for example, you can expect to see your annual insurance premiums increase by $5,600.  That's just your premium, it does not include medications.  

I've been doing A LOT of reading on this subject. I'm not going to cite any sources because all the information is out on the web if you want to find it.  It's not hard.  And I would venture to guess that I've probably spent more time researching this topic that most of the republicans who voted yesterday.

Why?  Because I am concerned for my own health, of course, but moreso for my parents.  This new bill will essentially decimate the coverage my mother receives for herself and the grants and funding she receives to help maintain my father in the nursing home.  Should this bill pass in the Senate, my parents are screwed.

So in the hope that you've read this far, allow me to break down for you the main components of the GOP's healthcare bill, fairly called so because not one Democrat or Independent voted for the bill:

1.  States can get waivers so insurance companies can charge more to people with pre-existing conditions.  The protections afforded by Obamacare will be removed.  Insurance companies will be able to charge whatever they want.  The actual list of what constitutes a pre-existing condition could be endless.  Below is a list of what some insurance companies consider to be pre-existing conditions.



If you have one of the above, expect to pay more for your insurance.  If you have more than one, expect to pay even more than that. 

2.  States can opt out of the rules that require insurance plans to cover basic stuff, like Emergency Room care, ambulance rides, hospitalization, prescription coverage, pregnancy.

3.  Expect things like mental health coverage and drug treatment coverage to whither.

4.  Under the ACA, insurance companies may charge an older person no more than three times its premium for a younger person with an identical plan. The new bill would increase the maximum allowable ratio to 5 to 1, which could significantly increase older people's premiums for comparable plans. States would be able to set different maximum ratios.

5.  Big companies no longer have to provide health insurance to their employees.

6.  There will no longer be a requirement to have healthcare.  But if you go 60 days without health coverage, you will be penalized if you rejoin a health plan.  You will see a 30% increase in your insurance premiums for the first year.

7.  While the ACA offers a scale of credits that take into account family income, cost of insurance and age, the GOP plan would offer flat tax credits per individual, focused on age. The House GOP bill would provide tax credits of $2,000 to $14,000 a year for individuals who don’t get insurance coverage from an employer or the government. The credits would be based on age instead of income and would be capped for higher earners.

People who are older, are lower-income or live in areas with high insurance premiums would likely receive smaller tax credits under the new bill than they do under the ACA. Those who are younger, have higher incomes or live in areas with lower insurance premiums would likely receive more government assistance than they currently do
Further breakdown:  a 64-year-old who makes $26,500 a year could see net out-of-pocket costs increase from $1,700 a year under the current law to $14,600 a year under the GOP plan, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates. A 40-year-old making the same amount would pay a few hundred dollars more after the tax credits, from $1,700 under Obamacare to $2,400 under the GOP bill.
8.  Medicaid.  Medicaid is getting cut by almost $900,000,000,000.  That's 900 BILLION dollars. 
First, the federal support of expanded Medicaid coverage, to those earning no more than 133 percent of the federal poverty level, would be rolled back. States that expanded Medicaid would no longer receive extra funds for new expansion beneficiaries after 2020.
People who receive Medicaid would be required to work unless they are disabled, pregnant or elderly.
Beginning in 2020, federal Medicaid financing would be changed to a per capita cap rather than a matching program, under which the federal government has supplied funds based on the number and needs of the enrollees.
Additionally, after 2020, state Medicaid plans would no longer be required to provide ACA-designated essential health benefits, including emergency services, pregnancy and newborn care, prescription drugs and pediatric services. Capping federal funds for Medicaid could have a huge impact on seniors and disabled children who depend on that coverage.
School districts rely on Medicaid to provide costly services to millions of students with disabilities across the country. For nearly 30 years, Medicaid has helped school systems cover costs for special education services and equipment, from physical therapists to feeding tubes. The money is also used to provide preventive care, such as vision and hearing screenings, for other Medicaid-eligible children.

9.  There is an upside to all this, though.  The new plan will provide a huge tax cut for the wealthiest Americans.  Those earning at least $200,000 per year will be among those who received a $300,000,000,000 (again, that's BILLION) tax cut.  So there's that.


Does all this scare you?  It should.  
To those who voted for Trump, this is what you asked for.
Thanks, from the rest of us.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Sinus Surgery 3.0 Completed

April 24th finally arrived!

It was like I was 8 again waiting for December 25th to come.  To me, April 24th signified a turning point, the day when I would finally, after almost one full year, be on the road to sinus healing and recovery.  I had great faith in my new doctor, Dr. Jordan Pritikin of the Chicago Nasal and Sinus Center.  After just one visit, I left his office feeling confident, and trusted him more than I did the Ear, Nose and Throat ("ENT") doctor from last summer.  I felt hopeful for the first time in some 330+ days.

As recorded here before, the last year was definitely hard on me, perhaps the hardest year I've ever had.  Even worse than Miami, and that's saying something, right?  I felt the symptoms of a sinus infection on May 22, 2016, following a flight back to Virginia for a friend's wedding.  I tried fighting it with over-the-counter drugs, but to no avail.  I gave in and went to my regular physician on June 13th, when he suggested I see an ENT based on the number of sinus infections I've had over the years.

I've well-documented on here my sinus and dental escapades over the last 11 months.  So let me pick up from the last visit with the new doctor, Dr. Pritikin, on March 20, 2016.

Like I said before, I felt hopeful.  And looking at the CT scan, I somehow felt vindicated that it was okay for me to be feeling bad - that I wasn't a hypochondriac or something.  To say that all of this was just in my head is a weak double entendre, but there it is.  I've effectively only been breathing through one side of my nose with nothing draining from the 4 sinus cavities at all.  I shared the CT image with everyone I knew, if only to say, "Look, it's a real thing!"  Everyone already believed me, but I guess I had to do it to reassure myself, or at least to allow myself to feel like crap because I felt like crap.

My surgery was conducted at St. Joseph's in Chicago.  My care was incredible.  I've long been a huge fan of Northwestern Medicine because of my GP and my Cardiologist, both of whom I cannot speak more highly.  But I think I've allowed my respect for them to skew me into believing that ALL the great doctors and the best care can only be found at Northwestern.  No so.  The staff at St. Joseph's was friendly, compassionate, non-rushed, and professional.  And interested in me.  My surgery took about 90 minutes, start to finish, and they were calling Kevin to take me home by 2:30.

This time, I was sent home with a list of instructions about what to do on Day 1, Day 2, etc.  The healing process this time was very different from the surgery in July.  After that first surgery, my nose bled and produced discharge for a week afterwards.  This time, my nose stopped bleeding before I went to bed the same night and hasn't so much as dripped since.  I assume all that will change once they start cleaning out the clots and tissue.  But I'll admit that this has since been a better week than before.

Five days after the surgery, Dr. Pritikin's office called to let me know that the culture taken during surgery showed a growth of alpha hemolytic strep, which essentially means I have strep throat in my sinuses.  So back on antibiotics I went with the hope it will get cleared up.

Today, I went in for my debridement, which is the vacuuming of tissue and blood clots inside my nose.  Dr. Pritikin assured me that this will not be the horrible experience I had while at Northwestern.  And I trust him when he says that, but just in case, I took a valium anyway.  The procedure was conducted by his assistant, Amy, who was already well-aware of my situation.  She, too, promised that this would be nothing like what I had experienced previously.  And they were both right.

After some numbing spray, Amy inserted a camera and a vacuum device in my nose.  She allowed me to watch the entire procedure on a monitor.  She cleaned out one blood clot and I could actually see into my sinuses, which means there is now a direct, clear path from my sinuses to my nose - something I've been lacking for several years.  I'm also allowed to blow my nose now (thank God) and go back to the gym starting on Monday.  According to Amy, I am healing very well.

For now, the rough headache I've had since July is gone, but I will continue to feel some pain as my system gets used to being clear and the tissue falls back where it belongs..  I can breathe through both nostrils for the first time in almost a year.  What little congestion I have is due to the swelling and the tissue being displaced, but that's to be expected.

I told Amy that at some point, I need to sit down with Dr. Pritikin for advice on how to approach the ENT from last summer.  I've never been shy about confrontation, but I need to speak to him about what went wrong.

But for now, I feel amazing.  My energy is returning and I am confident Dr. Pritikin did all the right things.  I honestly believe my sinus problems are now over.  But I'm crossing my fingers anyway, just in case.

Mischief, managed.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Maryland Wildlife

Having grown up in the Appalachian mountains, I'm used to seeing wildlife around where I live: groundhogs, bats, deer (LOTS of deer), field mice, snakes, turkeys, and yes, even bears.  But last week while visiting my family in Maryland, I came face to face with an animal I've often heard about but (I don't think) ever saw in person until now.

Mom and I had exited the house at the same time: she out the front door to get in the van to go visit my Dad, and me out the backdoor to Dad's old workshop to look for something Mom couldn't seem to find.  After a few minutes of searching, I could hear Mom honking her car horn.  So I walked around the house to find out what was going on.

When we came into each other's view, I yelled, "What's the matter?"  She was sitting in the van with the window down. "Do you see a raccoon," she asked?

"A raccoon?!?!"

"Yeah, do you see it?  It's under the van.  And GET IN THE HOUSE!  It could have rabies!"

I entered the house and closed the screen door behind me.  Mom and I continued to talk until, suddenly, out waddled the raccoon from under the van.  This is where I think I've never seen on in person before because it was MUCH larger than I expected it to be.

Several things are weird about this whole scenario:

1.  Seeing a raccoon in person.  They are bigger than I thought.  I think I put them in the same category as small rabbits.  But these things are large - bigger than a typical housecat.

2.  Seeing a raccoon in person in the daylight.  Raccoons are nocturnal mammals, avoiding human interaction as much as possible.  This little fellow (I just assume it was a male) was not the least bit intimidated or afraid of me.  He slowly sauntered over towards me at the door, despite my repeated warnings for him to walk in the opposite direction.  Raccoons never listen.

3.  The raccoon was injured.  He moved very slowly, not that I know the speed with which a raccoon typically moves.  But this little guy seemed to be nursing a back left foot.  I figured he had either fallen, was nicked by a car, or was in a spat with a dog or other creature.  Every few steps he would stop and just sit down, in no hurry to get anywhere.

Mom had backed the van out of the driveway and had moved on.  I tried keeping an eye on the raccoon without him knowing I was there.  He seemed dazed and confused.  I felt sorry for him.

I eventually closed the front door and left him alone.  I probably should have called the Department of Natural Resources at that point (we eventually did, later), but it didn't occur to me at the time.  About 20 minutes later, I went out to my car and kept an eye open for him.  I saw him about 100 feet from the house, sitting along the side of the road, just looking around.  Not sure where he eventually ended up.