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.

Nope.

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.



Monday, July 11, 2016

Littering

Something that continues to surprise me when I see it happening: someone littering.  It always shocks me.  I guess I think of it as something children do that we eventually stop doing as adults because we know better.  And that's why it's so shocking - adults are the ones doing it.

When I see littering happen, I always audibly gasp.  I can't help it.  I feel like that 70's Keep America Beautiful commercial that showed the Native American chief on a hill strewn with litter and as he slowly turns to face the camera during a smog-ridden sunset, one solitary tear is streaming down his face.  Man, that was a good commercial!  Forty years later and I still remember it.  The interesting thing about that commercial was that the Native American was actually a Sicilian-born actor who changed his name to Iron Eyes Cody.   I guess he was a kind of a latter-day Rachel Dolezal.  Yet another wide-eyed childhood belief shattered to pieces.

I've always thought of tossing a lit cigarette as littering (and worse!) and even THAT surprises me when I see someone do it.  But hurling trash out of a car window is inexcusable.  I can be driving down the highway or a city street or a country road and then suddenly trash will fly from the windows of the automobile in front of me.  Or I could be walking down the street and someone ahead of me will just drop a gum wrapper or throw a receipt on the ground and just keep walking without missing a beat.  What gets me is that the act is so blatant.  It's as if the litterer believes that what he or she is doing is actually okay.

If I am driving and I see it, I blow my horn.  This serves the dual purpose of allowing me to vent my frustration as well as signal to the driver that, "yeah, that's right - I saw what you did."  And if I am walking and see it, I'll sometimes call after the person, "Excuse me you dropped something."  Sometimes they take it back but most of the time they ignore me.

When I see things like this occur, my mind immediately plays that scene in Steel Magnolias:
Truvy: Well, these thighs haven't gone out of the house without lycra on them since I was 14.
Clairee: You were brought up right.

And then I wonder if it really is just that simple?  Does it all just come down to the fact that my parents corrected that behavior in me as a child or at least taught me some responsibility, not to mention what it is to respect yourself and those around you?  Because that's all littering is - a complete disrespect of yourself and those around you.

Littering is a completely selfish act.  And in a time when the world is already full of selfies, overblown egos, and an entitled generation, the last thing we need is discarded trash piling up on top of it all.


Tuesday, July 05, 2016

The Summer of 1976

The summer of 1976 was a big deal for everyone, including my family and me.

Big for everyone because of the Bicentennial.  America was celebrating 200 years of independence from British rule.  You couldn't swing a cat without hitting the American flag.  It seemed to be a year-long celebration of everything that meant anything to Americans.

Big for my family because of events that took place that summer.  My mom's sister, Aunt Kay, and her family were back in Maryland visiting from California.  Back then, traveling across the country was a very big deal - not like today where you can fly to L.A. for the weekend.  Aunt Kay, Uncle Bill and cousin Jeff, who was just a month younger than I, only came back to the east coast every 4 or 5 years.  The last time they were home was in 1972.  Jeff and I were both 6 years old.  But in 1976, we were 10 and were able to develop a real friendship and connection.

Aunt Kay being back also meant that all of Mom's siblings were in one location at the same time.  Her father, Pop, had died 6 years earlier, but the family took advantage of geography and posed for some family pictures in Granny's back yard.  I love this picture of them.  It's a time capsule.  This is the image I have of them in my head all the time, and will be how I remember them forever.  Mom is in the back row on the left.

I can guess how precious these photos are to them.  Three years later, Aunt Jeannie would die from complications with her heart.

Aunt Kay and her family would return to California the end of that summer, but would move back to Maryland within the next year.  Jeff and I became good friends through our teen years.  I was even Best Man in his first wedding.  But we'd eventually drift apart as he entered the navy and I went on to college.  And In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, Jeff and I would be the only ones of our generation to inherit the bad heart gene.  We'd both end up having heart attacks when we got older.

And sometime during the summer of 1976, Dad was honored by being selected as the Allegany & Garrett Counties Volunteer Firefighter of the Year for the state of Maryland.  Dad had joined the Clarysville Volunteer Fire Department a few years earlier and had held several positions within the department, including being Chief for several years.  That's Dad in the picture below in his stylish dark blue leisure suit.

Against her wishes, Dad signed Mom up to join the Ladies Auxiliary.  Mom (being Mom) cried the night before she had to go to the first meeting.  Dad forced her to get out of the house and do something - anything - other than being a wife and mother, which was all Mom ever wanted to be in life.  But over time, she blossomed.  They developed friends and a real sense of community among the other "firemen families".  Both Dad and Mom were dedicated to the success of the organization.  We'd attend socials, picnics, conventions, fundraisers, chicken dinners, holiday parties...   I even sang at one or two of those functions.

And my sister Kim was crowned Clarysville Volunteer Fire Queen the same year Dad won his award.  I think they both actually rode in local parades together that whole summer.

And speaking of Queens, the summer of 1976 would be the year Granny chartered a bus and the entire family went to DC for the day, where I would see a visiting Queen Elizabeth II.  It would be my first time in DC, and I certainly didn't know I would live there for 10 years during my 30's.  Our huge entourage hit all the big sites: Capitol, Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, Washington Monument.  But I especially remember the actual bus ride down and back.  Back then, it took about 3.5 to 4 hours to ride from Frostburg to DC.  So there was lots of singing, lots of laughing, lots of snacks moving around the bus.  I remember Mom being sad because Dad couldn't get the day off work to go with us; he was the only person in the whole family who wasn't on the bus.  I'm sure that was hard on both my folks.

The summer of 1976 was also the last summer of Camp, but certainly not the last summer of big family get-togethers.  Those would thankfully continue for years to come.

The Summer of 1976.  It was a big deal for everyone and somewhat of a turning point in my life.  I remember it being a really fun summer, and carefree as all summers were for kids back then.



Monday, July 04, 2016

Happy 240th, America!

July 4, 2016 marks the official 240th birthday of the United States of America.

I am old enough to remember its 200th birthday, being 10 years old in 1976 during the Bicentennial.  It was a year full of fireworks, U.S. history, and a sense of renewed hope, faith, and pride in America:  Watergate was behind us, there was a huge train that everyone needed to see, and I had my first experience visiting Washington, DC - a city in which I would unknowingly live another 20 years into the future.

Life may not have necessarily been simpler in 1976, but it certainly was cheaper:
  • Gas per gallon:  $0.59
  • First class postage stamp:  $0.13
  • New house:  $48,000 (national average)
  • Income per year: $16,000 (national average)
  • Monthly rent: $220 (national average)
And from the Millennial "What the hell is that?" Department:
  • Polaroid camera:  $28
  • Zenith 25" Color TV:  $599
  • CB Radio:  $147
And in other news:
  • Unemployment Rate: 8.5%
  • Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple Computers
  • The first laser printer was created by IBM
  • VHS is introduced to compete with Betamax
  • In New York City, the "Son of Sam" pulls a gun and begins a series of attacks that terrorized the city for the next year
  • The first $2.00 bill is issues
  • Viking 1 and Viking 2 landed on Mars
  • Bruce Jenner won the decathlon in The Summer Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada
  • The Winter Olympic Games are held in Innsbruck, Austria
  • Fidel Castro became the President of Cuba
Popular Films
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
  • All The President's Men
  • The Omen
  • Taxi Driver
  • The Outlaw Josey Wales
  • Rocky
Popular Musicians
  • Bay City Rollers
  • Elton John
  • Barry Manilow
  • Diana Ross
  • Paul Simon
  • The Four Seasons
  • Queen
  • ABBA





Thursday, June 30, 2016

Immigration

With Independence Day just around the corner, I am pausing to think about what it is to be an American today.  When the time came in 12th grade English class for me and my classmates to register to vote, I needed to chose a political party in which to throw my support.

At the time, I remember asking Mom which one I should choose.  She told me which party she and Dad belonged to, but told me to find my own path.  So since 1984 and for the past 32 years, I have been a solid-footed Democrat and have never once voted outside my party of choice.

Why did I choose - and for that matter remain - Democrat, one might ask?
  • Obviously, I believe in civil rights and equality for every tax paying citizen in this country, including the rights to life, liberty and the ability to pursue and live your happiness as you see fit as long as it reasonably does not physically or mentally cause pain to someone else; 
  • I believe in pay equality, increasing the minimum wage slightly, reforming our criminal justice system, and gun safety and regulation (despite what Fox News reports, Democrats DO NOT WANT TO TAKE GUNS AWAY, we simply want to create some rules around how they are purchased); 
  • I support public education, abolishing the death penalty, and Wall Street reform; 
  • I believe in universal healthcare, expanding Social Security, and fighting climate change; 
  • I believe in congressional term limits, decriminalizing marijuana and a woman's right to choose. 
  • And while I'm at it, I'll even toss in two of my own ideas: 1) that if people can rent their houses and their cars, they should be able to rent their bodies, so I also believe in decriminalizing prostitution, too, and 2) I think the Presidency should be just one 6-year term with no chance for re-election so that the administration can focus on issues and not waste time and money on what amounts to a popularity contest.
But the one thing, the ONLY thing on the Democratic agenda that I simply cannot support is immigration reform.  I cannot defend the idea that we should reward citizenship to people who have entered this country illegally and perhaps chose to create families under the pretense that their American-born children would solidify their places as American citizens.  I can't hold up the idea that it's then okay for those people to then demand that this country treat them better, that is demanding not to be exploited while being hypocritical in taking advantage of what this country as to offer.

Of course I understand the desire, the need, the desperation of leaving a horrible living situation in hopes of something better.  And I applaud out loud for the millions of people who have come to this country without knowing for sure what lay ahead, not to mention the treacherous and most-often perilous methods used to get here from there.  If you read my blog then you know that I, myself, am not too far removed from immigrant relatives - all of whom came to this country as documented immigrants and who worked hard in order to gain their U.S. citizenship.  I mean, hell, we are a nation created by immigration.  And while I do believe we should never close our borders to people who are seeking a new and hopefully better life in America, I whole-heartedly believe that those who do come to the U.S. go through the proper procedures and channels in order to become citizens of our country.

When it boils down to it, I guess I simply do not believe we should reward people - any people - who blatantly break the law.  This is not a U.S. custom and I am just too much of a rule-follower to support the idea of granting something to someone who doesn't deserve it or who hasn't taken the proper steps needed in order to gain what they want.  Especially considering that the steps are not simple yet tough.  They take time, dedication and a deep desire to want to be legally included in our country.

Otherwise, I remain a die-hard Democrat and that is how I will be voting this November.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Global Online Enrollment System

The GOES Logo
Let's file this one under "Things That Don't Work The Way They Are Supposed To".

When the security lines in airports were starting to turn into 2- and 3-hour waiting lines, Kevin and I decided to bite the proverbial bullet and sign up for TSA precheck with the U.S. Customs and Borders Protection ("USCBP") by using their Global Online Enrollment System ("GOES").  It seemed easy enough:  pay a non-refundable $100 and complete a fairly easy online application.  The website states that the process will take 4-6 weeks.  Notice the organization's logo.  I think you will eventually agree that it's - at the very least - amusing.

At almost exactly the same time, Kevin and I submitted our online applications on April 21, 2016.  Within 10 days, Kevin had received notification that his application had been accepted and he would need to apply in-person at the nearest center, which happened to be at O'Hare Airport in Chicago.  We waited a few more days for me to receive the same notification, but since Kevin had a small window of time, he scheduled his interview and was accepted into the program.  No more long security lines for him.

We figured that mine would come within a few more days, since we had applied at the same time.  Four weeks passed.  Then five.  Then six.  My account was still showing "Pending Review".   Kevin's parents both thought that signing up through USCBP was a good idea, so after Kevin was accepted, they both applied.  And they both got interviews and they both got accepted.  Meanwhile, my account was still showing "Pending Review".

I tried calling any number I could find online.  There is no contact information on the GOES website.  I found what I thought was a customer service phone number, but when dialed, the phone number would connect, not ring, and then disconnect.  While Kevin's parents were at Dulles Airport for their interviews, they inquired on my behalf for a phone number to call.  USCBP gave them the same number I had been calling to no avail.  But it at least confirmed that I was calling the correct number.

So at six weeks + one day, I sat down and dialed the number only to receive the same disconnect.  This time, I decided to just guerrilla the line and keep calling until something different happened or someone answered.  It took 45 minutes of me robo-dialing but the number finally connected.  A recording came on welcoming to the USCBP and placing my call in queue.  I was caller number 15.  I then proceeded to listen to the more horrible hold music imaginable for the next 90 minutes, with the music being occasionally interrupted to let me know where I was in the queue.  Eventually, a real live breathing person came on the line.

Granted he was friendly enough.  I told him my situation, he looked over my record, and admitted to me that there was nothing flagging my application and it looked to him that I "had been forgotten about."  Lovely.  He said he would send my application over for review as well as flag it for expedited service.  He then instructed me that if I didn't hear anything within the next two weeks, to reach out to him.  He emailed me those instructions as well.


So guess what happens?  Two more weeks passed and my online account still reflected "Pending Review".  So as instructed, I sent a return email informing the USCBP that it had now been over 8 weeks (almost 9) and my account status had not changed and very nicely sought assistance.  Not one to trust just one form of communication, I again sat and robo-called the customer service number I had called before.  This time, it only took about 15 minutes, and I was caller number 8.  So I'm getting better at this.

After about 30 minutes, a representative comes on the line - a different man than before.  Once again, I recounted my story to him and told him what I had done up to this point.  He told me I shouldn't have done that - that being sent an inquiring email.  By doing this, he said, I removed myself from the researcher's queue.  Despite telling him that I had been INSTRUCTED by USCBP to do this very thing, he said I had been instructed poorly.

Picture it:  me, at my desk at work, phone on speaker, trying to stay calm, face red, blood pressure elevating...

Dealing with incompetence has never been my strong suit.  But I remained amazingly calm and asked the representative to understand my frustration.  His response was that I must have just gotten a researcher who is putting me through the grind and checking my background.  I asked what kind of background checks could possibly take 9 weeks to complete?

Let me say to you, dear reader, what I said to the representative:  
There is absolutely nothing in my background that would hint or suggest 
that I am any kind of threat to national and/or international security.  
The last driving citation I received was in 1986 
for driving 70 in a 55 zone.  I argued the ticket because 
my Honda would begin to shake and rattle when I hit 60.  
Ergo, I never drove above 60.  

So for the sake of comparison let's say, I can walk into any gun shop  in 'Murica and be cleared instantly to purchase a gun.  Any gun.  Any gun at all.  But even if I am not cleared instantly and the FBI has to perform the background check, the results take only 72 hours.  That means I can be approved to buy a gun 21 times faster than it takes - so far - to be processed for TSA pre-check.  Here's another comparison:  it took me exactly 10 days to obtain my U.S. Passport, the Federal document that proves I am a U.S. citizen.

The representative said he would resend my application over and, again, flag it for expedited service, which I honestly have no idea what that means.  Our original plan was that both Kevin and I would have clearance and try it out for a wedding we flew to Virginia for over Memorial Day weekend.  At this point, we hope that I will have clearance by the time we fly to Virginia for July 4th Weekend.  But by all means, we REALLY want me to have clearance by the time of our next international flight the end of August.

But it's not looking good.  "WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?', indeed.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Alzheimer's Everywhere

Today, an employee came to my office to talk. I closed the door, she sat down, and told me her husband has Alzheimer's.  She's 70; he's 82.  He still lives at home with her and she is his primary caregiver.  She has someone come to the house to sit with him so she can work a few days a week "just for the break", as she put it.  But it is getting to a point where she feels she will need to take the inevitable next step because he's becoming more than she can handle.  Her guilt, she said, is mostly what is preventing her from doing what she said she knows she has to do.  And yet she has no idea why she feels guilty.

She caught him the other night, standing on a chair in the kitchen trying to turn off the ceiling fan while the blade was spinning.  She yelled at him to get down.  He yelled back at her to leave him alone because he needed to fix it.  She said there was nothing broken and for him to get down before he fell down.  They struggled with the chair.  He hit her.  She cried.  And she knew this was no longer her husband.

Mom and Dad, May 2016
Initially she came to me to ask about potential leave options for when she would need to make the dreaded next step.  After we worked all that out, I decided to share with her my parents' story.

I told her about Dad who developed this same disease 5 or so years ago and how my mother had to eventually make those same dreaded decisions.  I told her about Mom's commitment to Dad, and I told her what I have said to Mom many times:
The vows you took were to 'love, honor and cherish' your husband 'in sickness and in health'.  You did not vow to take care of him; you vowed to stick by him, be his advocate, see him through the ordeal, support him, but certainly not to do it all yourself.  There will come a time when you will realize that someone must be able to do a better job than you.  Accept that it's not your failure.  It's being realistic, fair, brave, and devoted to his care.
I told her that she needed to take care of herself first.  And that for selfish reasons, it's not fair to her kids for both she and her husband to be in failing health.  As I spoke to her, she would smile and nod.  She cried a few times and said that everything I was saying to her was exactly what her daughter has been saying to her as well.  And I could only understand how conflicted and troubled she felt because I see Mom continue to go through it.  Realizing that something is beyond your control, regardless of what that something is, takes incredible self-realization, confidence, and acceptance.

Talking with her made me miss being with my parents - both of whom have birthdays this month.  So when our meeting ended and the woman asked me if it was okay to hug me before she left my office, I was grateful for the opportunity.

When she left, I closed my door and cried for a few minutes.



Tuesday, June 14, 2016

We Will Always Rise

I was driving home from work today, listening to All Things Considered on NPR - you know, like I do - and I was listening to Ari Shapiro interviewing Eddie Meltzer in Orlando.  Eddie had been in PULSE that night, but left early to get some food, then went home.  He awoke to the news.

Eddie had spent the last few days acting as an ad hoc translator for families who had lost a child, but did not speak English.  The majority of the victims were Puerto Rican: children born in the U.S. to Spanish-speaking parents.  The stories Eddie told about the grieving families, the disbelief, the shock, were heart-wrenching.

But it was what Eddie said at the end of the interview.  He talked about calling up a friend who had also been at PULSE and asking him when they would go out for martinis again.  Ari jokingly questioned his sanity, and Eddie responded with this, which I think is the best and most eloquent encapsulation of who we are as gay men, and how despite the world's efforts to take us down time and time and time again, we will always rise:
“I’m just not going to subscribe to fear.  We are a strong community.  (You know) we’re gay men; we live in a world where we get a lot of hate, we take a lot of hate. And we know how the world feels about us.  And we’re strong people because we live in a world that was not made for us. And if tomorrow somebody took over this country and said, ‘we’re going to kill all the gays’, I will be the first one in that square saying, ‘shoot me’ with my big flag all over the place.  I would rather die for what I stand for.  You can’t kill me; I’m an idea.  I’m timeless.” 
We will always rise.  



Monday, June 13, 2016

My Lovely Sinus Infection

For the past 8 or 9 years, I've been developing sinus infections from air travel. With literally billions of people traveling by air every year now, researchers are finally starting to gather and publish more data about the health risks associated with airplane travel. In terms of the common cold, it is now well-accepted that acute respiratory infections are frequently experienced after air travel. Studies have found a high prevalence and wide array of respiratory viruses in people who have recently traveled. 

My sinus problems have ranged from slight dripping in the back of my throat to clogged ears to perforated eardrums.  Trust me, it's no fun when your ear drums burst while your plane is descending.  Sometimes these infections and problems have healed on their own, but most often times I've needed to see my doctor for an antibiotic.  For awhile, I used a nasal rinse to help me avoid sinus problems and it seemed to work.  But then I got lazy and stopped using it.

I recently caught what is undoubtedly the worst sinus infection of my life.  On May 26th, we had flown from Chicago to DC to attend a friend's wedding.  Flew on Thursday night, and by Sunday morning, I was starting to feel the familiar problems:  sniffles, sore throat, dripping sinuses.  Knowing we were flying back to Chicago the following day, I stopped into CVS to get a decongestant to hopefully ward off the congestion.  No such luck.  By the time our plan landed in Chicago on Monday night, both of my ears were completely clogged.  But I decided to tough it out.

I kept taking the decongestant and added a nasal spray to the mix.  By the end of the week, my face was swollen from the sinus infection, my nose was clogged and only one ear had "popped" since landing 5 days prior.  I now needed professional intervention.  

I visited a doctor in my usual physician's practice who prescribed me Azithromycin, or Zpak.  I was given a 5-day Rx, but after Day 3, there were no changes plus my face was in great pain.  I couldn't even touch the skin, it was too sensitive.  So I emailed my doctor who then prescribed a steroid for the pain.  So for about a week or so, I was on Zpak, a Prednisone, an OTC decongestant, Flonase, a nasal rinse, and sat over top of a steaming pot of water with my head covered in a towel every night.  

But this wasn't the worst of it.

The absolute worst part of this whole thing was the fact that I could smell the infection inside my body.  Perhaps because it's in my sinuses, I could actually smell inside myself.  And the smell ain't good - I could only equate the smell to sewer gas.  The smell was constant, but when I sniffled, the smell intensified.  It was unbelievable to me that others could not smell it or that it was not coming out through my breath, but I'd been assured that the odor was completely contained inside my head.

THIS IS THE MOST GROSSEST THING EVER!

I can handle the drippy nose and the clogged ears.  I can deal with the sore throat and headache.  I'll live with the feeling of nausea from the dripping and the acid reflux from swallowing bile.  I'll work around the sensitive skin and general overall malaise.  And I'll figure out how to handle the chronic constipation caused by taking a combination of antibiotics and steroids.  But constantly smelling the equivalent of an open sewer line is simply unacceptable.  And there's no escaping it.  It's always there - at least until the infection is gone.  Out of the many, many sinus infections I have ever had, this is the first time I can smell it.  And it's way stank.

So today is Day 16 of this endeavor and I am no longer on any medications.  Perhaps the sinus infection is still in there, perhaps it's gone and I now just have allergies, perhaps I'm losing my mind.  Whatever the case, papa ain't happy and I am no fun to live with.  Kevin has been his usual supportive, loving, wonderful self.  And I admit I am not the world's best patient.  So hopefully something clears up before we fly again over the July 4th holiday.

Click here for the continuing story ...


Monday, June 06, 2016

Grandmothers

When I was young, I spent most Friday nights (and many Saturday nights) at my Granny's house.  I loved going to her house.  Mostly just the two of us, our nights would be spent with me watching TV while she read or crocheted in her huge rocking chair.  Friday night TV in the late 70s/early 80s consisted of Donny and Marie, The Incredible Hulk, The Rockford Files, The Dukes of Hazzard, and later, the original Dallas and Falcon Crest.  A real treat would be when Granny would send me to the local store to get a large vanilla ice cream cone for her and a small plain pizza for me.  Together, they would cost a little less than $5.  We mostly would do this just in the summer, though.  But without fail, she always drank a Diet 7UP and I got to drink a whole bottle of Pepsi by myself. It was, in short, my nirvana.

This was our typical Friday night unless my Aunt Linda and Aunt Mary Lou would pop in to visit.  When that happened, the 4 of us would play either Chinese Checkers, which Aunt Mary Lou nicknamed Ping-Ping, or Aggravation, which Aunt Mary Lou nicknamed Peck-Peck.  When it came to choose which to play, Aunt Linda would ask me if I wanted to play with my Pinger or my Pecker.  They also taught me how to play craps with dice.  I credit my aunts with teaching me the art of the double entendre, as well helping to cultivate my dirty mind.

On Friday nights, I would fall asleep on the couch, usually before "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" ended (Granny never missed an episode).  I'd wake up early Saturday morning and turn on the TV to Channel 9 to watch the Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show, then flip to Channel 7 to watch the Krofft Supershow.  Granny would eventually roll out of bed and we would eat breakfast together.
We'd talk a lot about her childhood; she'd told me the same story about her dog Beans riding on the footboard of the car and popping up in church about a million times.  We enjoyed each other's company.  She liked having someone around and I liked being anywhere but home, where I got lost among my brothers and sister.  At Granny's, I mostly just watched TV or colored.  I'd walk to the post office for her or pick up stuff from the local store.  I'd also water her plants, and dust and vacuum her living room.  Every Saturday.  But mostly, I was just company for her.

In those days, Granny was in her late 60's to early 70's, about the same age as my Mom is today.  Granny was an old woman in my eyes back then, and I wonder if my nieces and nephews view my Mom like that today.  The relationship they have with my Mom - whom they called Meemaw when they were younger but have since shortened it to just "Meems" now that they are in their late teens and early 20s - is very different than my relationship with Granny.  They tease and cajole with Mom, which I never would have done with Granny.  They treat Mom's house as if it's theirs, getting into the fridge or opening up snacks; whereas I felt like I needed to ask for permission or wait to be invited before I could do anything like that. Their relationship with Mom is much more casual - and I'm sure she prefers it that way.

The three youngest of our nieces and nephews stop in to see "Meems" almost regularly.  The kids mostly sit at the dining room table and talk with Mom and each other, or make themselves something to eat, or go down in the living room and hang out, play video games or watch TV.  Mom  - like Granny - likes the company, and she likes the fact that the kids have someplace they feel they can go to just hangout.  She always has food and snacks and sodas at the house for them.

My hope is that they cherish this time with my Mom.  I knew back then that the time I was spending with Granny was special, so I hope the kids today understand what it means to spend time with their grandmother.  They clearly get a kick out of her.  And she provides a safe place for them where they also bring friends and dates to hang out.  It was no secret that I was Granny's "favorite", but I think it's only because I voluntarily spent time with her.  Of her 15 grandchildren, I was the only one who would stay at her house over night, and I always insisted that she be included in as much as possible when we did things as a family.  The one thing I hate is that I drifted away from her a bit once I graduated high school and developed a social life.  But gladly, that has not seemed to happen with my nieces and nephews - in fact, quite the opposite.  I love that they have not outgrown my Mom, that it's cool for them to hang with her and stay at her house, even though some of them have graduated high school and college by now.

Mom and Granny are very different grandmothers, and I think it's their grandchildren who helped shape them into their eventual roles.