Sunday, August 26, 2018

No sweat

I think I have a sweat gland directly over my left eyebrow.

Well, maybe not. I don't know for sure where the sweat glands in my head are located. All I know is that when I'm working out at the YMCA, or going for a walk with my wife on a humid summer evening, a rivulet of sweat inevitably appears over my left eyebrow and drips into my left eye.

Sweat beads up all over my forehead, but it only seems to flow into my eye. Without fail.

It's pretty annoying.

I mentioned this to Kim the other night while we were walking through town and I was wiping the sweat from my eye with the shoulder of my T-shirt.

"I'm getting tired of this," I said.

"Get a do-rag," she said, not missing a beat.

Hmmm. I hadn't considered that. I usually wear a baseball hat, thinking that should be enough to staunch the flow of sweat. But it doesn't. All I end up doing is staining the inside of my hats with my sweat. I usually have to put my hats in the dishwasher afterwards to get them clean again.

But a do-rag? Hmmm.

I briefly considered a sweat band, and then a bandana. I'd worn a sweat band in my younger days when I played tennis, but I was never happy with the sensation that I was wearing a vice on my head.

I wore a bandana once when I was in elementary school. Mom dressed me up as a scarecrow for Halloween. I wore the paisley bandana around my neck, not my forehead, thus totally missing my sweat gland. I probably looked incredibly cute back then, but I'm pretty certain I'm long past cute now. Function is what I'm looking for.

So a couple days go, I began my do-rag reconnaissance.

Maybe a do-rag isn't the answer...
 It wasn't as easy as you would think. A couple of the area big box stores didn't have any, nor did the smaller dollar stores. I was thinking I might have to go to a Harley-Davidson outlet, where I was sure I could get a pretty menacing looking do-rag, if menacing was what I was after.

We ended up at a mall in Winston-Salem, where I walked into a baseball hat store. The guy behind the counter told me he didn't have any do-rags, but I should go to a cosmetics store, like Sally's. They usually carry some there, he said. So it was back to Lexington, where I found a do-rag at Sally's for $2.99, including tax. (Who knew?) The cashier there dutifully asked me if I had my Sally's membership card with me. You know. For the discount.

Nope. Sorry. This was my first purchase at Sally's. Ever.

When I got home, I tried on my new do-rag (It's spelled "Du Rag" on the packaging). I was surprised by how lightweight it is, like I'm not wearing anything at all. That's good. No vice on my head.

I went to find Kim, who was working in the yard. I think she snickered when she first saw me, with my do-rag tails and ties all askew.

She fixed me up, and we took a picture. I tried my best to look menacing, thinking nobody's going to give me crap the next time I interview them for a story.

But I don't think it's working. The picture makes me look like a cute bald guy dealing with a bout of constipation.

I'm not sure what the answer is. Maybe I should get the bandana after all, and keep it in my hip pocket until I need it to wipe the sweat from my eyes.

Sunday, August 19, 2018


It was inevitable.

Sooner or later, I was going to have to come off my aspirin regimen and switch to a drug more target specific as a blood thinner to treat my atrial fibrillation (a-fib).

That change happened this past week. But not without a little adventure.

This all started seven years ago, when I was first diagnosed with a-fib. Apparently, one of the atrium's in my heart goes Boom-biddly-yop-de-whoop instead of a more rhythmic Boom, boom, boom. That's a-fib. Blood can clot in that chamber and then possibly move on the the brain, where it can cause a stroke.

When my cardiologist (yes, I can now say 'my cardiologist'), Dr. Katie Twomley, discovered this, she put me on 325 mg aspirin tablets as my blood thinner. Thin blood apparently lessens the risk of stroke.

But two years ago, when I turned 65, she told me it was time to consider something more precise than aspirin. We let that year pass because I was feeling pretty good. To this day, I don't feel any symptoms of a-fib, whatever they may be. If Twomley didn't let me know I had a-fib, I'd never know that I had a-fib.

Anyway, after last year's annual visit to 'my cardiologist', Twomley was more assertive, insisting that I switch to Eliquis, which I guess is pretty much the Cadillac of blood thinners for people with a-fib.

I was all for it until I found out that Eliquis retails for about $430 per month.


Up until now, my heart meds cost next to nothing. I could refill my metoprolol and lovastatin with a $10 bill and still have enough change to buy a refreshing vanilla-chocolate-strawberry cholesterol cone.

This was different. This was my first real brush with the cost of health care. There's no generic for Eliquis, which still has a year left on its patent before it can be considered for a cost reducing generic. Twomley kept me on aspirin for a little bit longer while we investigated pricing, and just what was going on with my health insurance anyway?

To make a long, boring story shorter (if not less boring), I called the customer service number on the back of my Plan D prescription card. My insurance did indeed knock the price down – to $212.44.

Yikes. There goes dinner.

I asked further questions. It took me two associates on the other end of the line, and 20 minutes into the conversation, before they told me that if/when I met my deductible of $256, my monthly cost for Eliquis would be $40 per month.

Well, geez, why didn't you tell me that 20 minutes ago?

I rushed to my pharmacy, where I gave my pharmacist a heads up about my impending Eliquis prescription, which Twomley had already called in. I'd pick it up tomorrow.

"Oh," he said, "do you have your free coupon?"


So I rushed back to my cardiologist, where an associate did indeed give me a coupon for a month's free trial of Eliquis. I called the activation number, and after about 15 minutes of dial-tone prompts, I was told that I now had a free month's supply.

All the while I'm wondering about the logic of a $430 drug being given away for free. How does that work again?

I'm also wondering about Medicare Plan F, where everything is free after the monthly premium. I think.

I also know my story is basically insignificant. There are other people who rely on life-saving medications that can cost upwards of four figures per month (if not more), making me wonder about the morality of a health care system that is based on for-profit capitalism and not humanity.

Meanwhile, the Eliquis is busy working, I guess, keeping my blood thin. We'll see how that goes. I have a dentist appointment next month, where they poke at my teeth with sharp metal instruments and make my gums bleed.

Could be another blog in there somewhere.

Monday, August 13, 2018

A tree grows in Blowing Rock

About a week before our annual three-day getaway to Blowing Rock, I heard this distressing news from one of my friends:

They cut down the trees in the town's Memorial Park.


That was the sound of the vacuum sucking the air out of my lungs.

Say it ain't so.

But, sadly, the news was real. When we pulled into Blowing Rock late Friday afternoon, there they weren't – a total of 12 fully mature red maples had been chopped down because of some kind of internal rot or blight (see here.)

In their place were young black gum trees, a species said to be resistant to the disease that felled the maples. It'll only take about 50 years to get the park to where it once was. If it works, the place will be beautiful, especially in the fall. Black gum trees usually become bright red when the leaves turn, so it should be something to see.

I can't wait. I'll be 125.

Black gum trees take the place of the felled red maples in Blowing Rock.
Still, it was a tough sight to absorb.

We talked with a local or two, who said when the diseased trees came down that some year-round residents had a difficult time with it.

I can only imagine, although after reading the stories about the trees, it appears the town is taking the reasonable and responsible path.

First off, I was surprised to learn the maples were less than 100 years old: most had been planted in the 1940s.

Secondly, the disease apparently had been discovered some 25 years ago, so town council had been aware of the problem for decades. Something had to be done. It would not be a good thing for dead tree limbs to fall on tourists licking their Kilwin's ice cream cones.

In many ways, Memorial Park is your prototypical small-town green space: there's a gazebo, tennis courts, basketball courts, strolling paths and a playground, not to mention crisp mountain air. You halfway expect Prof. Harold Hill to show up with up 76 trombones and a barber shop quartet for the town social.

There's also Art in the Park, which is why we were there to begin with. Kim and I usually do this in August to escape the heat of the Piedmont for temperatures that might be at least 10 degrees cooler.

This year, we seemed to get caught in a series of annoying pop-up rain showers. But that was OK, too. Because on Saturday evening, there was this:

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Air and Space

Whenever the five roommates go to Gettysburg (I did an approximate trip count in my mind's Texas Instruments calculator: This year's outing to the battlefield was somewhere close to my 40th visit in the past 35 years, and I have to tell you, the Yankees win every single time), we also try to make room for a side excursion.

This year, we took the time to spend several hours at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center – otherwise known as the companion site to the National Air and Space Museum – located next to Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va. It's just a little more than an hour away from Gettysburg.

The Enola Gay is a featured attraction.
One member of our group had never been to the museum before, so that made it a no-brainer to go there this year. For me, it was my third visit, and each time I've gone, it's been a wonderment.

The first thing that strikes you is just how humongous this place is. It has to be in order to display hundreds (maybe thousands) of rare aircraft, including some of the largest the world has ever seen. Some of those very big vehicles include the space shuttle Discovery, the Concorde and the Enola Gay. They are all resting comfortably in the same building, under the same roof.

That's a big wow.

There are, in fact, several featured aircraft: Everyone, it seems, wants to see the Enola Gay, which dropped the world's first atomic bomb that helped bring World War II to an end. The space shuttle is also a huge (literally) attraction. But the plane that fascinates me the most is the sleek SR-71 Blackbird strategic reconnaissance plane that practically sits in the museum's front door.

The SR-71 spy plane is looking for you...
This plane was designed to be the next step beyond the U-2. What amazes me is that development began by the Skunk Works in the 1960s – yes, the 1960s – and features technology that is still said to be classified to this day.

Like just how fast is it? A total of 32 of these things were built, and none were ever shot down because they could outrun the missiles fired at them. The plane was designed for Mach 3 speed – three times the speed of sound – which puts it somewhere in the 2,000 mph range. But there is speculation it could go even faster.

The Blackbirds were supposedly decommissioned in the 1990s, replaced by spy satellites that were much more fuel efficient and didn't put human lives at risk. But I've read where some folks think at least a few of these planes still are doing Skunk Work work for the deep state. Hmm.

The technology behind the space shuttle is also mind boggling, but the most compelling moment for me was seeing the scorched heat resistant tiles that decorated the vehicle.

You can see clearly the scorched tiles on the nose of the shuttle.
And seeing those tiles made me realize that we were/are capable of putting men in space. It left me wondering why we aren't doing more of this stuff. I mean, how are we going to become the Star Trek generation if exploration sits idle?

The history of flight unfolds in this building almost from the very beginning. I say almost, because the original Wright Flyer remains hanging in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum at the Mall in Washington DC. So is The Spirit of St. Louis. I find it interesting that two of the most iconic aircraft in history are not located with their cousins in Chantilly. I don't know the reason for that. I guess the museum on the Mall can't give away all of its good stuff.

I have a special fascination for World War II aircraft, and there's a bunch of familiar mixed in with the rare. There's a P-38 Lightning, a P-40 Flying Tiger, an F4U Corsair, and F6F Hellcat, a P-47 Thunderbolt, along with a Hawker Hurricane, a German FW-190 and several Japanese planes. Not on display are ME-109s, B-17s or B-24s. I'm guessing they're somewhere on site, in storage or restoration, waiting for their turn in the rotation. Or a bigger building.

There's never enough time to see all of the things you want to see in a place like this, and that's a dilemma for future side trips.

I was hoping we could go to the Tastykake Bakery next year.