Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A moving experience

"Your colon is about six feet long. I'm going to remove about a foot of it."

I nodded my head.

Huh? What?

"I don't think there's any cancer, but I'm going to treat it as if it's a cancer surgery. Just to be on the safe side."


That was pretty much my introduction to Dr. Steven Muscoreil a few weeks ago during our scheduled consultation at Davidson Surgical Associates. I'd just had a colonoscopy that showed a polyp, about the length of my thumb, that was lying flat and embedded in the colon wall on my right side.

In my simple layman's mind, I figured it would be done laprascopically, not really knowing what laparascopic surgery really was. I thought it would be an outpatient procedure.

"Normally, your hospital stay would be about five or six days," said Dr. Muscoreil, with the words "five or six days" bouncing around in my brain like an endless echo. "But we can have it done at Thomasville, where they offer the Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) protocol, which could get you out in about three days if all goes well."

"So," I said, choking on my words. "It's not outpatient?"

"Oh, no," said Dr. Muscoreil, standing next to a poster on the wall mapping the human gastrointestinal tract. "This is major surgery."

Every muscle in my body tightened, especially around my throat. And maybe my sphincter, too. The only other time in my life I'd been in a hospital was when I was born 68 years ago.

"Oh, OK," I gulped as he pointed to the poster and explained where and what the colon did. I didn't hear a word he said. All I could hear was "Major surgery."

Scott, Shelly and the impatient patient
To make a long story short (this blog will probably be long enough as it is anyway), I chose to have the surgery done at the Thomasville Medical Center, specifically for the ERAS protocol. Dr. Muscoreil performed the laparascopic surgery in about three hours Friday morning (which happened to be Friday the 13th). When I came to after the anesthesia wore off, sometime around noon, I reckon, I was greeted by my wife Kim, her brother, Greg and his wife, Pam, and my brother, Scott, and his wife, Shelly, both of whom are nurses and had driven in from Oklahoma for this. More on Scott and Shelly later.
•   •   •
There's not a lot I remember about Friday. But one thing I do recall came during the pre-op preparation. I heard voices from a nearby nurses' station listing that morning's operations, one of which was a hysterectomy. When my nurse, Christy, came into my room, I asked her to make sure I wasn't the one scheduled for a hysterectomy. She about burst a gut (maybe I should rephrase that) and said, "We'd make some history, wouldn't we? Thanks for the laugh."

Weak humor is how I compensate for just about everything.
•   •   •
On Saturday morning, after my liquid breakfast, Scott said it was time for me to walk. This was shortly after Dr. Muscoreil had made his rounds and told me he hoped I'd get out of bed as soon as possible. There's nothing that promotes healing faster than walking.

(Interjection: Decades earlier, when Scott was 4 and I was his babysitter [I'm 11 years older than he], my middle brother, David, and I played a sorry joke on Scott. We told him he was adopted and to prove it, I drew up a bogus birth certificate, complete with swirly looking trim on the edges and with the name "Stanley Lipschitz" on it. It made him cry. And now, all these years later, here he was as my caregiver. Uh-oh).

This is my life now
 Scott told me how to roll out of bed, because the belly pain was somewhat acute. He stood me up. He told me to take a step to the left with my left foot, then a step to my right with my right foot. We did that about 10 times.

Then he had me stand in place and march like a soldier. I did about 10 steps like that. It was all about gaining stability.

I needed it, because when we finally launched forward, I couldn't believe how wobbly I was. But we managed about a 100 baby-step yards. During the course of the day, we increased our laps and distance, and I became more stable. It was amazing.

We'd get back to the room and Shelly, who's gone through her own intestinal challenges, offered advice and suggestions. I couldn't wait to see them each day. I couldn't have been in better hands.
•   •   •
Speaking of being in better hands, I have to say the staff at Thomasville Medical, from the nurses to the CNA's to housekeeping, was phenomenal. They always had time for idle chit chat and small talk, for my weak humor and giving me explanations for whatever med was being administered. Remarkable. So I offer many thanks to Lena, Kellie, Lou, Jesse, Twanda, Whitney, Dominique, Christy and Meredith. And those are just the ones I can remember. Thanks to all. Your care was both professional and personal and I know you put the "enhanced" part in Enhanced Recovery After Surgery. Or maybe it was the "recovery" part, I don't know. But thank you. I have not one single complaint.
•   •   •
Scott and Shelly departed for Oklahoma on Sunday, meaning Kim would really have to be the rock she's been through this whole incredible ordeal. Although I've known Shelly for just a handful of days, I gave her a tearful kiss on the cheek and my love.

Then I turned to Scott, embraced him in a big man/bear hug, gave him a weepy kiss on the cheek and thanked him for his care and love and wished them both a safe drive home.

I miss them already.

I wonder when I should tell him his name is really Stanley Wallowitz?

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Animal instincts

I was watching TV the other day – probably a football or baseball game – when one of those Geico gecko commercials came on.

There's a ton of them, and some of them are actually humorous enough to bring a smile to my face. Especially if the game I'm watching isn't all that exciting and my attention span is drifting.

But, you know, never play down the power of a green lizard speaking to you with a Cockney accent about insurance, I always say. And I do. I always say that.

Despite the gecko's overabundant screen time and clever sales pitches, I've never been tempted to purchase any Geico insurance.

I kinda miss the days of Elsie...
 In fact, when I saw my first Geico lizard commercial, back in the days when I was a young man, I'd never heard of Geico. I thought they were a new outfit trying to make themselves famous with an impossibly hokey mascot that, really, sort of creeped me out.

But, no. Geico – which is actually an acronym for "Government Employees Insurance Company" – has been around since 1936, or before television. Or, perhaps interestingly enough, just in time for World War II and all those government employees wearing uniforms.

I just recently found out that the spokesman gecko has a name – "Martin," after the Martin Company ad agency that birthed him. I have it in the back of my head that I've actually heard him called "Martin" or "Marty" in one of those commercials, although I'm not positive about that. But, maybe. There's just so many of them.

Anyway, it suddenly seems like there's animated animal spokesmen, er, spokes people, er, spokes-imals all over the place.

I grew up with Elsie, the Borden cow, but now we have a blue cow promoting lactose-free milk. Blue cows. I'm not getting that. And she doesn't have a nickname, but I'm game. I'm thinking maybe "Flatulent Free Flossie," but something about that doesn't quite pass the sniff test there. Lactaid does have an effective motto, though: "The milk that doesn't mess with you." Yep.

I probably shouldn't admit that I kinda like these guys...
Speaking of cows, there's Chick-fil-A with its "Eat More Chikin" campaign, which is kind of brilliant, when you think about it. The cows, apparently, are illiterate, which automatically gives them subliminal mass appeal in this country.

I think my favorite animal commercial right now is for Serta mattresses. Serta has those goofy-but-adorable numbered sheep that you count while trying to get some shuteye. This most recent commercial has them cuddling up with you on the bed, stretching and yawning, smacking their lips just like you do when you fall asleep.

And, of course, in a stroke of marketing genius, you can order these fluffy stuffed sheep off the Internet and take them to bed with you, like you did with Teddy bears back when you were a kid.

Yep. I'm watching way too much television...

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Personal and indelicate

Testing. Testing. One, two three.

Just checking. I'd just come out of anesthesia and I wanted to make sure I'm the same person I was going into my colonoscopy as I was coming out. I guess I am, although the thought has occurred to me that while anesthetized, it would have been a really good time to insert a few more IQ points, perhaps intravenously. But I don't remember signing a waiver for something like that and Lord knows what that would have added to my final billing.

I need to take a few steps back right here to explain.

About a month ago, I did the Cologuard thing, where you send off a stool sample (Indelicate. I told you) for analysis and, based on your DNA, it can be determined whether your colon has any issues, like maybe cancer.

I chose to do Cologuard because it's a non-invasive procedure with something like a 93 percent (maybe higher) detection rate. You've probably seen the commercials on TV where an animated Cologuard box happily dances around the house to let you know this procedure is an option in your life. Hmmm, OK. My Cologuard box didn't dance. I simply wanted to avoid a colonoscopy. In fact, I did this procedure for the first time three years ago with no problem.

This time, I got a call from my doctor telling me my Cologuard analysis came back with a positive result, and the next step was a colonoscopy, the very thing I was trying to avoid in the first place.

What you need to know here is that, in my life, I've only been to the hospital twice: once, about nine years ago when I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AFib) and was kept overnight for observation; and the first time was 68 years ago when I was born.

So we scheduled a procedure. Now look, I know colonoscopies happen all the time, that it's a common outpatient procedure, and nearly everybody I know, including family members, has had it done. But I was a little apprehensive anyway.

The hospital even sent me an email with a three-part video primer attachment to prepare me for what was coming. I was OK until they got to the part about some risks (although rare) involved. "We don't want to scare you, but..." warned the video.

Well, that scared the poop out of me (indelicate). It could have served as part of the prep for the colonoscopy.

Further adding to my concern was my AFib. I take a blood thinner, Eliquis, to help prevent blood platelets from pooling in my heart and throwing a stroke. I had to come off the Eliquis for three days, just in case any internal bleeding occurred. Even after the procedure, I'm off the Eliquis until Monday. So, yep, I'm as calm as a summer breeze.

I could go on, but I'll cut to the chase.

I had the procedure done on Friday. When I came out of the anesthesia, Kim said one of the first things I said, apparently in a rather loud voice that could be heard in the hallway, was "I didn't feel a damn thing" and then, trying to be funny, "Let's do this again."

Careful what you wish for. Don't try to be funny when coming out of anesthesia.

Two polyps were found, one of which they snipped out and sent off for biopsy. The other polyp is larger, more than an inch in size, and lying flat on its side against the colon wall. I know, because I saw the pictures. In fact, I should have brought the pics home with me to help illustrate this blog. Sorry. I wasn't thinking.

Anyway, a second procedure is needed to remove the larger polyp. It could be anything from laparascopy (usually an outpatient event) to full-fledged surgery. All that still remains to be determined.

I'm not complaining. I know there are people out there dealing with issues that are far more serious than mine – perhaps even life threatening – that makes my little adventure look like a walk in the park. I know that.

It's just that this is my adventure and I have to negotiate it in my own way.

Maybe I'll sign that waiver about adding IQ points after all.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Woodstock: I wasn't there

I might be one of the few people left on the planet who will concede that he was not at Woodstock 50 years ago.

But I could have been.

I'd just graduated from high school, Class of 1969. I was 18 years old and had just gotten my first car, a 1965 Ford Falcon, as a graduation gift from my grandparents. I thought I was hot stuff. Freedom was in my car keys. I was going to need a car because I was about to become a commuter student at Kutztown State College, soon to be driving the 90-minute round trip every day for the next four years.

But trouble came quickly. My grandparents, Depression-era survivors always on the alert for a good deal, bought the car from someone whom I now assume to have been a disreputable auto dealer. There was sawdust in the automatic transmission.

Keep this in mind as I continue the tale.

One evening, as I was watching either Walter Cronkite or maybe Frank McGee on the evening news, they were telling us of a music festival that was happening just a couple of hours away from us in rural Bethel, New York.

We were living in Perkasie, PA, at the time, so it wouldn't have been a bad trip for me to make. I actually considered doing this.

My memory gets a little foggy at this point, which is what I think is happening to all those other people who tell you that they were, indeed, at Woodstock back in the day. Fog sets in.

What I do remember was that I was young, impetuous and bulletproof. I thought maybe I could go for a day, see what was going on at the festival, and then drive back home. I had no plans to stay overnight. I had no money, either.

What I also didn't have was a concept of 500,000 people milling around in a farmer's field (Max Yasgur's Farm is now an historic site in Sullivan County), with no immediate parking for sawdust filled Ford Falcons. Uh-oh.

The news coverage continued the next day on network TV, because something special was clearly happening. The half-million people were actually getting along rather well with each other. I'm not sure which day it rained, but kids were having fun with mud slides and walking around naked. I'm sure I would have lost my car keys and wallet with the $5 in it. Uh-oh. I also figured these must have been big city New York kids, because public nudity hadn't hit Perkasie yet. They certainly looked more worldly than me (I'm certain that I was grotesquely naive), although I'd started letting my hair grow to fit into the hippie culture that was being helped along by this festival.

So now I was torn. Time was running out. The concert was entering its fourth and final day, and I was missing it. But when I saw the news footage of kids parking their cars on the side of country roads and walking miles through the rain and humidity to the festival, I started to get discouraged. Hmm. Maybe not.

And, just to remember, only a week before Woodstock, Charles Manson and his Family had murdered Sharon Tate, which was a huge game changer for long-haired people on the road. Damn hippies. Manson dominated the news on one hand, with Woodstock on the other and Vietnam in the middle. A cultural Yin and Yang, of sorts, was going on here.

So I never went to Woodstock. I soon traded in my Falcon for a 1963 straight-drive VW Beetle, which turned out to be one of the best cars I ever owned. It got me through four years of college and a 10,000-mile, six-week cross-country camping trip in 1973. And it fit in with my casually cultivated hippie persona, although I still feel like I'm a love and peace guy 50 years later.

I never regretted not going to Woodstock, because I'm sure I would have been eaten alive. And I've really enjoyed telling you that I didn't go, even though I wonder if it's a better story than if I had, in fact, gone.

Love and peace, y'all.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Game time

This time, the weather forecast was for 10 percent chance of rain at game time.

And it found us.

Jim Buice, Neill Caldwell, Larry Lyon and Kevin Brafford.
Which was kind of interesting, because we were at BB&T Ballpark Friday night thanks to a rainout and subsequent power outage that postponed a game we had gathered to see back in May.

Jim, Neill, Larry and myself. Still smiling...
So somewhere around the third inning of the Dash's game with Potomac, a light, annoying rain began to fall. Not again. Apparently, we were being followed by a rain shadow.

But it didn't last long. So the five of us – Larry Lyon, Jim Buice, Kevin Brafford, Neill Caldwell and myself, all former sports writers for The Dispatch from back in the prehistoric days when you could actually hold a newspaper in your hands – reassembled ourselves to give this another try.

It worked. The rain lasted for about an inning (they never did bring out the tarp), and we did the stuff that you'd expect five former sports writers to do: talk about sports and journalism. One of us brought a copy of George Wills' baseball quiz and we spent some time guessing at the obscure answers.

At one point in the game, I took off on my own and walked the concourse around the stadium, taking in the different perspectives of the game. There's nothing like the view of a baseball field inside a stadium.

None of us did any heavy rooting, but we appreciated the talent on the field and wondered how long a 20-year-old minor leaguer stays in the game until he realizes that he has to get a real job some day, and probably sooner than later.

One of the Dash players, high draft choice Andrew Vaughn, signed a $7 million bonus, so I guess he'll be around for a while. Wonder how he gets along with potentially jealous teammates in the clubhouse?

But, to add perspective, everyone of those players was no doubt a star or standout on his high school or college team. The MLB winnowing process is an amazing thing.

There was one scary moment that none of us had ever seen in a baseball game before. While netting down both baselines protects the fans from sharply hit line drive foul balls, there is absolutely no protection for the players in the dugouts. And that's exactly what happened in this game.

A wild foul ball slammed into the Potomac dugout, and moments later, players were calling for the umpire to halt the game. Immediately, players gathered around the Nationals' bench, and play was halted for at least half a hour. An ambulance arrived and came on the field, and shortly, a gurney loaded a person into the van.

We stayed until the eighth inning was over and left, but not before Neill asked a police officer what he knew about the incident. Apparently, a bat boy was injured in the dugout and taken to the hospital. It was an unnerving moment and it begs the question why dugouts aren't more securely protected from foul balls. Players in a dugout are probably paying the least attention of anybody on the field.

Anyway, the rest of the night moved without incident. The Dash won 5-2 for their fourth straight victory.

But mostly, we all stole home after the game with the fires of longtime camaraderie still burning.

Maybe we can do this again next year,

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Blowing Rock getaway

The whole point of the weekend was to escape the heat wave.

Well, that and to recharge the batteries. I've been on a couple of Civil War jaunts this year, already having spent a three-day weekend in Chattanooga, followed by a three-day weekend in Gettysburg about a month later.

But while I was busy honing my knowledge index, Kim was busy working hard at the office. I think the time she has taken off this year can be counted in hours, not days. She needed some down time.

So we escaped to Blowing Rock. This is kind of an annual thing for us. We usually go late in the summer, when it's usually hottest, to take advantage of the higher elevation of the mountains to give us the illusion that we are cooler there than if we were still in Lexington.

We do some shopping, some fine dining, and perusing the crafts at Art in the Park. We usually reserve a room at the Boxwood Lodge, which is near the bottom of the hill on Main Street. We park the car when we arrive on Friday (after first reconnoitering the shops in Boone), and don't get in it again until we leave on Sunday. You can walk everywhere. It's a good time and we generally feel refreshed after those 72 hours.

But this trip was a little different. We couldn't quite escape the heat. Not this year.

When we approached Blowing Rock on Friday, we came by way of Lenoir. It was 91 degrees at noon that day. After driving up the mountain, the temperature had dropped to 83, but the humidity kept the heat index (or feel-like temperature) in the mid-90s. Ahh, yes. The mountains.

Blowing Rock is always changing, and usually, there are one or two new businesses that pop up and catch our attention each year. Development is nonstop.

The thing I noticed this year is that they changed the grade of the hills, and for some reason that's beyond me, they made them a little steeper. Sunset Drive is nearly impossible to walk now. I bet it's a 45 degree incline. Maybe even 60. And combined with the heat index, I found myself taking slower steps up the hill to get from our motel to Art in the Park.

I started thinking how nice it would be to get in the car and...

No. Not gonna do it. I didn't want to lose my parking space, because motel spaces are at a premium.

I'm guessing we climbed the hill – either from the Main Street slope or the Sunset Drive challenge – at least five times on Saturday alone.

But the weekend flew by fast. We left the heat index in Blowing Rock on Sunday and hardly even had to re-acclimate ourselves to the 93 degree heat of home.

But we had recharged the batteries. Isn't that why you go to the mountains in the summer?

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Words fail

I went to bed last night with a heavy heart following the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, and then woke up this morning to another mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio.

The two events are separated by 1,600 miles and 13 hours, leaving a total of 29 dead and God knows how many families shattered.

It's the 250th mass shooting in the last 215 days.

For what?

What the hell is going on?

Ponder this list: I just can't write anymore today.