Tuesday, July 29, 2014

One Icepick, Two Icepicks, Thr... GOTOHELL!

My last post referenced the icepick scale for  my knees. I thought I'd explain.

It's a scale of pain. One icepick can be thought of as how it feels to insert one icepick into the space under the kneecap. It's ever-present, but background noise as long as you don't do anything. Like, say. walk. Or cross your legs so pressure is on one knee.

Two icepicks is what the pain increases to when you've been doing a fair bit of walking, either in a long chunk or a lot of little chunks, even including a stint of standing. It takes a while after sitting down to fade back to a one, but as long as you haven't pushed to a three, it will fade by the next morning. Twinges during resting can be expected, even more so while driving when no weight is on the knees, but they can be tolerated with three ibuprofin on a regular schedule.

Three icepicks is where you push past the easy recovery point. There will be no comfortable position even while sitting after hitting a three, not for at least a couple days, and that only fleeting. With rest, reducing to the two icepick level can happen within about a week. As it's happening, involuntary tears threaten to fall, the lip trembles, and the world can just go straight to hell. In fact, at the slightest provocation, I would happily tell them that!

The Heroin-Bulimia Connection

I recognized the name on caller ID. I'd been waiting for this call.

"Hi, Rae."


"So are you home or are you in..." Temporarily unable to come up with the name, I let it hang. We both knew what I meant.

"I'm in. I've been in since yesterday. How're you doing?" No matter what's going on in her own life, Rae is one of those rare people who can ask that question and make you believe it's the most important thing in the world at that moment.

"I'm fine." Only a little lie. I'm way better than Rae at the moment, and the only negative in my life is the state of my knees, verging on a three on my icepick scale, highly overworked both that day and the previous one. I got right down to it. "So, after a full day, what's the worst thing so far?"

"Not throwing up."

"Just that simple and basic, huh?"

"Yeah. I just want to leave!"

"No you don't, Rae. You want to survive. You've got two beautiful kids, and a husband who, from everything I've heard from you, just adores you."

After thanking me for giving her back a little perspective, we spent some time on the real purpose of her call, the schedule of visiting hours. Rae is just starting treatment for bulimia through the Emily program, a process that could last up to 8 weeks, if she sticks it out. She'd asked me if I'd visit and give her support. Since the center is located in a St. Paul suburb, there should be days when it's convenient on my way home, and plenty of times on the weekends when I could make it down, I just needed to know when. The schedule is complicated, changing daily except for a window from 9 to 10 each night. We both agree that's a bit late.

If you've been following my blog, you've been introduced  to Rae. It's not her name. Not even close. I invented it for her by taking the R and A from "recovering addict" and added the E to make a name. Through the years of our friendship, she'd taken me places and introduced me to things that I am unfailingly grateful never to have experienced in person. She's the one who told me that at 14, after her first hit of heroin, she knew what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. I've been learning in bits and pieces what that path has cost her.

Is still costing her.

Rae has a big heart, generous with her time and affection. She tells me regularly she loves me, and we both know that means as a friend. I'm not sure exactly why, but I think it's because I listen. And I don't judge. She's recently given up on a long-time friend because she couldn't say anything to her without being chewed out. It's hard enough to open up when you're vulnerable without somebody landing on you with both feet telling you how badly you're running your life. I just don't figure it's my place to do that. She's not hurting me, and I've long since learned that there's enough shaming in the world to keep people emotionally closed down, unable to heal themselves. I don't need to add to it. It never helped me. I needed a safe place to get past it before I could look at my own issues. I assume Rae is the same way. And if I'm wrong, the 12-step program she's in is plenty confrontational and judgmental already.

She's got plenty on her plate to deal with. I'll happily listen. I'll worry, now that I know there's more to worry about, and hope she can find what she needs to open up and be honest enough to be successful in her latest struggle. She almost died last weekend.

She filled me in on the connection a few weeks ago when she first let me know she was fighting bulimia. Not that she was exactly fighting it at that point, just starting to think about it. Honesty was her first step. It was kind of a hesitation waltz, admit a bit, then admit a bit more.

Here's how she explained it. One of the fairly common side effects of shooting up is that it makes some people throw up, at the same time they're feeling the best part of their high. Think of Pavlov's dogs, salivating when the bell rings. Eventually throwing up without the heroin brings back the pleasure of the high. That's what she feels today. After explaining how it works, she opened up gradually, letting me know just how bad it has gotten. As she opened up to me, she also opened up more to the Emily Program intake people.

Last Friday she told them just how often she was throwing up, and admitted to feeling unwell, even to a minor chest pain that she all but dismissed. They took and EKG on site and rushed her to the hospital. I have since heard that it was almost a heart attack, then that it actually was one. Her potassium and magnesium levels were terribly out of whack. She was also diagnosed as pre-diabetic. A couple previous illness diagnoses were questioned, as they were made without the bulimia information and apparently without testing for its side effects. Once she's stabilized, those things can be reevaluated. At this point, Rae is comforting herself that maybe the pre-diabetes diagnosis is also wrong. It's a very teeny ray of hope.

At any rate, it's not her immediate battle. She says she's taking my suggestion to have the nurse on site keep an eye on her blood sugar, and discuss possible dietary changes with the dietician. I'll ask her about it when I go visit. I'm aware of another contributing factor from her past that I'll ask if she's ready to share in this setting. It may well be the toughest piece of Rae's puzzle. No, I know it's the toughest piece. It just may the most important.

I'll bring it up. I love her too.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Some Further Comments

It's happening: my over-simplification of the problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians has been variously taken as support for one side or another, or failure to properly condemn one side or another, or failure to understand the problem. I can probably plead guilty to not understanding the problem perfectly. Who does? Experts may claim to, but if so, why does each of them see something different in it?

I could have chosen to spend a week rehashing history, pointing out every (OK, not every) wrong and right, going back centuries. My point was never to do that, just to accept that there is a lot of painful history and by now both sides believe - whether you and I agree or not - they have been hopelessly wronged. It would be practically impossible for both sides to meet the other sides needs. That is why it would take something as impossible as what I proposed to even have a chance at a solution, and if  there were a solution, it would likely last as long as the rest of the world could be kept out.

As the title said, it was a fantasy. Perhaps its only real purpose was in being more of a feel-better fantasy than how I imagine the situation really turning out. That is a truly black fantasy.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Israeli-Palestinian Fantasy

I've come to believe the problem is intractable. Too many years, too many problems, too many people from all sides trying to stop any kind of peace. I'm not picking sides. I'm on both. And neither. When my son asked me years ago which side I was on, I answered him that by this time there were no angels on either side.

For an intractable problem you need an impossible solution. A miracle, if that's in your belief system. I'll settle for calling it a science-fiction fantasy. Impossible. Impractical. But what if...?

Start with a dome. Think of it kind of like the one on TV, inpenetrable from either side, physically, visually, electronically. Sunlight can penetrate for growing, air can exchange to stay fresh but no toxins can cross. Have it cover both areas as one. Remove all the weapons. ALL the weapons. Provide enough food and water for everybody. Anybody who tries to harm another dies. Period. Dead. Add whatever rules in how the dome works that are necessary to keep the rest inside alive, and keep the rest of the world out completely.

Then make everybody infertile for a couple years, just enough that everybody gets the idea. No more babies. Follow that with making the only coupling that ends in reproduction to be that between the two sides. A Jew is only fertile with a Palestinian. All new children are cross-breeds. Wait a couple generations to drop the dome, maybe three. Maybe, just maybe, then there would be a chance for peace.

Until, of curse, the rest of the world steps in and tells them there should be hatred and fighting because....

Monday, July 21, 2014

Retirement: Set!

It's finally scheduled. Not the original plan, where I worked until age 70 and got maximum SS benefits, but the old bod was working hard to get my attention, telling me that kind of wait just wasn't going to be working. No pun intended.

First, Minnesota changed their requirements to pass the DOT physical. The bouts of A-Fib were going to make passing my next one this fall problematic. Everybody was telling me to go to such-and-such clinic: they'd pass anybody. Not any more. The new laws went into effect this spring. I had warning, and a few months of grace to make plans.

I had my scheduled phone calls with the Social Security folks last week. I'd been going on the summer notices they have been sending out. If you are "of a certain age", you've seen them. They start out with "if your income continues at its current level until the year..." then fill in what they will pay you if you retire at each of several different ages. That's why I was planning on retiring at 70. I hadn't seen one of those notices for a while, and only had saved old notices to go on to estimate income.

My problem was that recent years' income had gone down. I'd heard that SS was weighted toward the last years, with a lower income just before retiring producing a lower income after retiring. I was dreading that phone call. My latest figures were from 2009. Retirement this year was already going to be tighter than wanted, and a decrease.... Uff!

I was given two choices. My marrieage to Paul Sr. meant that I could take half of his income until my reaching 70, then get my own full SS from then on. Half of his would mean a couple hundred less per month for 4 years. Pinch! I was surprised to hear that doing that would not actually take away from his income, and he would never know whether I picked that option or not. In other words, never worrying about him showing up at the door with a shotgun in revenge for "stealing" his income. Then I was quoted my own SS income. I was happily surprised to heat it was about $100 a month over what the 2009 figures had estimated, not less as I'd feared. Taking out Medicare first brought it back down to what I'd figured originally: tight but should be survivable.

Then there was the second part of my retirement plan: selling the Minnesota house. The Arizona house is paid for. No mortgage, no rental payments. Just a few major repairs/upgrades planned. The Minnesota house got paid for several years ago. The plan had always been to sell it and use that as supplementary income to SS. Just not yet. I'd wanted to give the housing market time to recover more from the economy. Oh well.

Two questions had to be asked. First, did Paul want to buy the house?  Yes, if he could. So the second: could he afford it? We agreed to hire a reputable appraiser in the area, calling a local realtor I knew for a reference, and go with whatever price came back.  Paul figured out what he could pull together for a down payment, and a website figured out what principal + interest would be over 30, 25, and 20 years for the remainder. The upshot is that we have an appointment with my attorney this week to draw it up legally.

I will hold the mortgage, thus getting income from the house for the next 20 years, plus larger chunks for the next 4 years as the CDs the down payments sit in come mature. Should I die before the house is paid off, from any cause other than his murdering me, he gets the rest of the house payments forgiven, a plus for him. I get principal plus interest, a plus for me. The down payments would still be paid, though to Steve were I to die, for repairs to the AZ house. I also don't have to repair anything in this house. Paul will buy it as is, and having lived in it for the last 23 years, he has a reasonable expectation of what that is. We had a long discussion of expenses, anticipated repairs, and whatever details of home ownership I could dredge out of memory.

It seems like the best possible solution all around. And I get to retire much sooner than anticipated. I checked in at works, and sent in my written notice for September 19th. Now every little annoyance, every package where the customer lies about the weight so 5 lbs. turns into 45, every stop where front desk turns into a demand to haul it to the dock or vice versa, every day of sitting in construction traffic, each of them contributes to  that day seeming better and better.

Now I just have to hold out that long. Last week I pulled something in my back, just getting out of the car. I took Friday off, planning to return this morning. It's not great yet but better enough, I think, for easy duty. Packing is getting planned. So is moving out of "my" bedroom and into the one Steve has had for his own, leaving Paul better access to his home while we still have a summer place to hang out up here.

We're still talking about rent.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Surfing the Corn

There is a cornfield on the south side of Hwy. 95. OK, there's a bazillion of them, I get it. You need better detail. This particular one is between mile markers 28 and 29, putting it a bit east of Princeton, MN. Its owners have a bit of whimsey.

Its corn is fairly tall for this miserable growing season. Nearby fields have large bald spots where heavy rains drowned rather than germinated the corn seeds. Stalks which actually survived in other fields are stunted, many yellowed. Even as relatively healthy as it is, the corn hasn't tasseled yet. But odds are good it is one of the very few this year that made the old standard of "knee high by the fourth of July." Many of its neighbors still haven't.

None of those things are what draws the eye to this field. Somebody drove a bunch of tall stakes into the ground in the middle of this field, and mounted on each in slightly differing positions and heights, black metal silhouettes of dolphins, backs arched, giving the illusion of a pod of them surfing their way playfully through the corn. It's almost tall enough now to hide the last of the stakes.

Check it out next time you pass.

The Climate Change Denier

It happened in a checkout line a few weeks back. The latest serious climate change warnings had just come out, emphasizing glacial melt affecting sea levels, and the right wing had already jumped in with its blind denials. Their bad analogy was an interesting one. The discussion was an agreement between the checkout lady and her 7-ish customer, and being next in line, I shamelessly eavesdropped.

He was spouting nonsense about ice cubes melting in a glass, claiming the water level wouldn't rise a bit once the ice melted, further citing that "fact" as proof that melting glaciers would have no effect on sea levels.

There were just two things wrong with his argument. First, the glaciers in question are currently mostly sitting high and dry above the sea, not floating on it. They will melt, move down, and add to the total liquid water in the oceans. The amount of total ocean water will change.

Second, he apparently has never actually watched ice melt in a glass. Try it. Add ice cubes to water so that they are just floating, not standing on the bottom. Make a mark on the glass for the water level. Notice that some amount of the ice sits above that water level. Let it melt and check out the water level again. Yep, it will be higher.

Those ice cubes represent the floating glaciers. Only 1/8 of them actually sits above the water level. Still, 1/8 of them does sit above water level, and when they melt, will raise that level too, same as the land glaciers will. The amount of water does not change, just the amount of liquid water.

Ain't a little bit of actual science grand?

Of course, the two deniers holding forth in front of me were not likely to be dissuaded by anything resembling facts or observations. I didn't figure it worth my time to step in and start that argument. I wanted to get through the line myself before my ice cream melted. Its frozen condition wasn't as long-lasting as any glacier, and I prefer the taste/texture in its original condition.