Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Ten Minute Scare

Quick background: Steve is in the hospital. After feeling various kinds of sick for 4 days, he showed what appeared to be blood in the urine. After 4 hours in the ER, it was determined to be bile. He was admitted Sunday night for tests and observation, then transferred to a surgical wing in anticipation of a possible diagnosis of stone(s) in the bile duct, requiring surgical intervention.

This morning he had some special kind of MRI but with a 4-letter acronym which I can't remember. Being kept on clear liquids was just one of many reasons for anxiously awaiting a proper diagnosis.

A little while ago he called me, my having been home at the time. He'd just been told he had Hepatitis A. While the mildest form of the disease, it can easily be transmitted by "close contact". Any way you want to interpret that, he and I qualify.

Our call was interrupted by another medical person entering the room to consult with him, so I did two things. I looked it up on the internet, then left voicemail with my own doctor to see if/what I needed to do for my own health.

Almost as soon as I hung up, Steve called back. There was new, differing information. It wasn't hepatitis A after all. BUT... we still don't know what exactly is going on with him. It's gonna be at least another day of wait and watch on their part, worry and head-scratch on ours.

Oh yeah, and I need to call back my doc's office with a "nevermind".

Sunday, November 12, 2017

To Sleep, PerchanceTo Dream

Those who study dreams have all kinds of theories about what their purpose might be, and those who don't study them have other ideas. Maybe we collate all the data from the day, sort it out, and store it in the brain for further reference. Freud had a bunch of ideas about what they "really mean" that seem pretty weird - or at least make us all seem pretty weird, and others interpret dreams in other ways, perhaps as a clue to predicting the future. Some folks claim they never dream, others claim they only dream in black and white.

I have some ideas of  my own. I buy into the idea that we remember dreams, at least for a little while, if we wake up during them, since I have no memories of dreams from early in the night when I sleep my soundest, and experience dreams that continue with a story line in ongoing pieces during those mornings where I have the luxury of sleeping in, but lightly. A problem I'm first aware of in the first of a series where I sleep lightly, wake briefly, and return to dreaming, continues to be processed  and reprocessed in further stages with each consecutive dream. Sometimes the problem actually gets solved, at least in dream logic. Sometimes I finally wake, relieved to realize it was all just a dream and I can quit trying to fix whatever it was.

Oh, and yes, I dream in color. The first I ever was aware that others might not was when I read that it was a controversy as to whether anybody actually dreamed in color. I'm not going to venture an opinion as to how accurate your memory of color vs. no color in your dreams is, or what the explanation for the difference may be. However, since everyone has REM sleep periods, I do believe everybody does dream, remember it or not.

For years I have revisited landscapes that only exist in my dreaming brain, recognizing them as they appear in each new dream. My dreams place secret mountains just west of the Twin Cities, not found on any map, but leading along a route which travels downhill through a non-existant town and across a few miles of valley to end up here. This landscape resides in the same logical system that places a tall blue glass tower on the very western edge of the metropolitan area, offering a clear view over fields and trees to a cloud cover sending five tornadoes straight toward the tower.  (Yeah, that one always wakes me up, though repetitions lose scare value since I know they're coming.)

My dreams have changed since I retired. I suspect, since they are about 90% work dreams, and there are always problems with getting the job done, that not only does my brain have some adjustments to make with that huge part of my life ending fairly suddenly, but that perhaps the job was more stressful than I let myself consciously register while I needed to continue performing it.

Maybe your stress dreams are different than mine. I've never had the standing in front of an audience in no clothes dream, or having to take a test I've not studied for. But then, speaking to a crowd or taking a test were never stressful for me. I have had the falling off a cliff kind, or suddenly facing a snarling wolf kind. While I was working, I'd often dream that my foot was on the brake but the car would fail to slow down. Sometimes it would be going forwards, sometimes in reverse. Those would wake me in an adrenaline rush, otherwise known as a nightmare.

These days the dreams I remember have me still working...  or trying to. Stuff goes wrong. First, I can't read while I dream. When I have to try to find an address, or figure which part of the world I'm supposed to head to, the writing on the page or screen is too blurred or missing completely. If my dream actually gives me that kind of information, it'll be some place I've never heard of, and I can't call in and ask dispatch because they'd fire me for being so stupid.

Other times I can't remember where the car is. Not only is it now the wrong color, likely blue or red, it's blocks or miles away from the building I'm coming out of and I have to walk for ages, some times even then finding it's not there after all. In the back of my mind during these dreams is the awareness that I can't actually walk that far because of my knees, but find myself doing it anyway. If I do find it, I don't do the smart thing and move it next to the building I'm delivering to, but take the package out and hike off again to the next stop.

Last night was a new twist. I was aware of having been working for months, all those dreams accumulating "real time" on the job, and was thinking to myself how nice it was going to be to have that income to add to my Social Security. But then I looked at my bank account and realized that there had been no money coming in from all that time on the job. I decided to head in to the office and ask why I wasn't getting paid.

I was told that all that work was only in my dreams!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Good News / Weird News

Let's hearken back to my missing the eclipse due to breathing issues. There was an undefined something on my lung on a CAT scan at the time, which didn't look like cancer, or an embolism, but maybe something viral or bacteriological. I got sent home with lots of follow-up ordered.

We know it's not Valley Fever, not pneumonia (at least in one of its usual forms), but antibiotics were prescribed anyway. Cardiac tests found nothing, a follow-up CAT scan was ordered, and I returned to my pulmonologist today  for the latest conclusions.

In all this time, the breathing has gotten only minimally better, and really acts up just after even a small meal, with enough exercise following to, say, complete a shower. On the plus side, I no longer feel like I'm preparing to pass out behind the wheel, at least so long as I'm not talking too, and driving has resumed back to normal.

Today, I heard that whatever the shadow on my 1st CAT scan was, it isn't around any more. Likely it was some infection that has since cleared up. But GONE is the good news.

It doesn't cure the issue, however. Even today, just before heading to his office, I had a light lunch followed by a shower, accompanied by ... you guessed it ... puffing, panting, and exhaustion. So our discussion went on to the weird news. I have a herniation in the diaphragm with my liver pushing up into the lung area.

No, I can't recall any injury that may have caused it. I listed previous abdominal surgeries but he wasn't thinking they were likely culprits, probably because this is recent and they weren't. This isn't something they are likely to fix surgically, though that can be done, since it doesn't seem to be a "major problem".

Going through the rest of my records, he noticed nobody had thought to order an actual breathing test, something doubly important, and on an annual basis, since I've been on amiodarone for over two years. That test is now set up for just before Thanksgiving.

That means the saga will continue.

How weird will it get?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Halloween Memories

I don't recall much in the way of trick or treating from when I was little. Perhaps that was because we lived out in the country and neighbors didn't live within walking distance. By 3rd grade, however, we moved into a small town and I do recall going door to door. This, of course, was northern Minnesota, so not only was it very dark (still standard time before they extended it into November), but also very cold on Halloween. The typical "costume" had to fit over a winter coat, sometimes snowpants too, so an old worn-out white sheet was cut up, enough to see and extend arms, and that was it. That, or your costume went under your coat where nobody could see it, so what was the point?

Being the fifties, nobody worried about real predators or freaks who might be malicious with what they handed out. A couple years we also took out little boxes to collect pennies for UNICEF. Mom gave us each a small container for our treats. A pillowcase was considered scandalously greedy. As it was, when we got home, our parents went through the candy. It was not to protect us, other than from too much sugar over the next month. That was about how long the candy was expected to last. Or popcorn balls. Even a caramel apple or two. We didn't meet anybody rich enough to hand out whole candy bars, but you might get a little Tootsie Roll. Or Tootsie Pop.

I grew up not knowing there were people who TP'd houses or threw eggs or tomatoes at them, though I did hear stories about somebody (never somebody I actually knew) getting an outhouse tipped over. Since those had all but disappeared by then, those stories usually were told by older kids about even older perpetrators. The "worst" story I ever heard, from somebody who swore they had a hand in it, was taking fertilizer to an unpopular teacher's house and spreading it in the pattern of THE naughty word. Come spring, and for several years later, that stood out as the greenest part of the whole yard!

It's really hard to spread more fertilizer carefully enough to fill in around the letters and hide them from view in equally green grass. It's still pretty funny. For the record, I am in no way encouraging anybody to repeat that kind of mischief.


No, I mean it. Stay away from that high nitrogen lawn greening stuff!

Occasionally I was aware that some older kids went to parties to keep them entertained and out of trouble, and most likely to attempt to make up for the lack of a candy bonanza. As a kid, however, I never attended one.

After I got old enough to be prohibited from the great candy handouts, I stayed home and helped answer the door, the other side of the equation. Mom shopped as cheaply as she could for goodies, and other than home-made popcorn balls, there was little incentive to sneak a little bite of something for myself. Not that it stopped me.

I didn't return to trick or treating until it was time to escort my own kids around the neighborhood. They balked at the tried and true sheet ghost costume, but some years that was all that was affordable. Buy one at the store? Never! One year, however, there were inflatable plastic "alien heads" that you wore like a hat, with color-matching makeup for your face so you could pretend to be about 18" taller and spooky. The kids complained they weren't "real" costumes, but by then the child support payments had stopped and it was those or nothing, and nothing included staying home. They wore them.


Next year they were mysteriously unable to reinflate.

My favorite my-kid's Halloween memory came from one of the 3 years we lived in Georgia. It was a fairly close-knit neighborhood, lots of kids, some even friendly to us newcomers. We didn't go too far, staying where we knew people, and most likely my youngest got toted around in a wagon. From our house at the bottom of the hill to the top and back again was our route. The father of the family at the top of the hill came from the same small Minnesota town that I did. In fact, his family owned and ran a lumberjack-style restaurant outside of town which was one of the very few my parents ever took us to. Down in Georgia now, with milder weather, and Halloween becoming more of a holiday, this family really did it up good! Besides spooky decorations, Mama opened the door dressed as a witch to greet kids. We thought perhaps Daddy was escorting his own kids around the neighborhood, but apparently he found another parent to take their kids. As we left, he stalked each group back to the street, wearing a hairy gorilla suit, and shuffling and making grunting noises which passed enough for real that the kids were either entertained or scared. I heard from the neighbors that he did that every year.

Eventually trick or treating ended for another generation, other than the handing out candies part. By then we had to be careful and buy prepackaged goodies. A lot of publicity that may have been real or urban myth had parents searching every candy piece for poisons and razor blades before kids were allowed even a bite. Officially, anyway. Lots of pieces were scarfed up before returning home with the goodies despite all promises to the contrary. But no more popcorn balls, caramel apples, repackaged candy corn with other miscellaneous tiny goodies. More yard decorating was going on besides carved jack-o-lanterns with candles inside and gooey messes scraped off the table and into the garbage. Halloween was now officially expensive!

As an adult with older children, I finally had occasions to go to Halloween parties. They were held on Saturdays, regardless of the actual date, so you could still man the door at home and enforce a curfew. These were costume events, and I was into making my own. The first year, no money to spend, I wore my work uniform for my costume. I wasn't the only one to do that. The next year I bought red and black felt and glue, making a tube and pointy hat, going as a red crayon. I may have done a copyright infringement, since I copied it down to the wavy black line on a real crayon. That wasn't the part I was bothered by, however. Not only did I forget pockets, that thing was hell to get in and out of for a bathroom break!

Other memorable costumes included my belly dancing costume, made for real performances at a very amateur level, and a "blind date". These too had drawbacks. While modest, the dancing outfit gave a couple of well-lubricated party-goers the idea that touching was encouraged. Since they were complete strangers rather than friends like most of the others at the party were, it wasn't.

The blind date was something I worked hard on. I made a shiny brown long tube, gathered top and bottom and supported to hold its form by a large domed hat inside. Then I added sunglasses, lenses made from a black netting so I could see out, and a white cane, the latter borrowed from a friend who had known someone who actually used one. Unfortunately, proud as I was of it, there was a very well-known TV commercial featuring singing raisins at the time, and nobody got the pun.

These days Halloween is still fun. No decorations, other than that one house a few blocks over that packs their yard with all the lighted ones they can cram onto it, just like they over-do it for X-mas. We carve no pumpkins and roast no seeds, have no kids visiting our seniors-only community, no pranks, no parties. But we can hit the stores for bagfuls of our favorite candies just for ourselves, and make them last just as long - or not - as we want to!

For a bonus, we can watch any TV program or read any book without interruptions all night long. Or whatever.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Pain Management? Seriously?

Warning: The greater Phoenix area has two seasons: Sizzling, and Snow Birds. The latter is characterized by a wild increase in population, attended by all the microbes they bring along with them. Some of you think of it as Flu Season. Don't ever have to go to the hospital during Snowbird Season.

Why? There is no room!

Steve got booted out early this morning. He wasn't busy dying, and never mind his problems, somebody else wanted his bed.

Pain management? Are you shitting me? He got a seat cushion along with good wishes for his ability to figure out a comfy way to use it by finding a spot that didn't push too badly against his broken tailbone, and a prescription for painkillers that don't even match in strength what he's already got. And don't let the door slam you in the ass on your way out!

Especially not there!

But scram!

Lest you think of this as a one-off, this shove out the door, it's a well known phenomenon down here. Back when Steve was wintering here and I was still working back north, he had some now-forgotten reason to call our local paramedics. They stayed here in the house with him for a while, finally managing his problem without transport. They bluntly told him they weren't going to even bother taking him in unless he was dying, as the hospital had no beds available. And (Spoiler Alert!) he wasn't dying.

At least this time he got a few hours of good pain relief. He managed to actually sit in the car for his trip home, with a stop at his local pharmacy where he was informed they could have his meds ready in around 90 minutes, should he care to sit and wait. Unsurprisingly, he didn't care to.

Sit. Or wait. Not to mention both together.

Both of us being short on sleep, on arriving home we both went to remedy our situations. I'm now waiting on him to wake up for his (our) return to his pharmacy. Late as it is now, tomorrow I'm going to nag him to call his spine doctor with the request for the doctor to contact the medical records department for a copy and findings from his CAT scan, and get back to us with the info on whether they are sufficient for Steve's next month appointment or whether he needs to schedule more or different ones taken before then. I asked at the hospital if there wasn't paperwork Steve could sign before leaving the hospital to authorize them sending the results on. But nope, according to them, his doctor had to do the requesting, exactly opposite of how my records were handled after my Utah hospitalization last summer.

Color me cynical, but I can't help but wonder if nobody wanted to be bothered with one more piece of paperwork.

Ass In A Sling!

Oh, if only it were  that simple a fix! I mean, that expression had to come from somewhere, didn't it?

Yes, Steve is in the hospital, we don't know for how long. They're talking physical and occupational therapy, perhaps in some rehab center where he'd stay until they feel he can function for himself around the house again.

It began 4 days ago. There was a rather prolonged session sitting on the throne, something about a good book being involved in his ignoring the passage of time, and his legs going to sleep. He stood up anyway. Or tried.

I heard the thunk from the living room. He'd landed on his seat on a concrete floor, and, incidentally scraped his leg. So there was a bit of time spent in tracking down a pair of sturdy pillows  that would actually provide cushioning for his knees as we worked together to shift him into a position he could help himself stand from. Then bandaids, of course.

But he hurt to sit, to stand, to walk, to lie down at every angle, and to move from any one of those positions into the next. For the first day he feared he'd broken his tailbone. On the second, it seemed better, so maybe it was just bruised. Could I see a bruise there? Nope. How about the next day? Still nope.

By Sunday, he couldn't find any position comfortable, but especially not sitting. We rearranged the couch with pillows in the living room so he could watch TV, but he still couldn't tolerate more than an hour or two, even after taking fairly strong meds, which he has on hand for that day or two a month, usually, where he twists his knee or something. His doctor prescribes him a bottle and it usually lasts about a year.

By about 7:00 PM his pain was so severe he asked me to call 911 for a stretcher ride to the hospital. Now, I could have driven him, but he would have had to sit up, stand, walk to the car, maneuver into a sitting position, bounce on his tailbone for a bit over 2 miles, twist, stand, walk into the ER, be sent to sit in a chair for however along it took them to take him seriously and get him in to be seen, stand up, walk, get on a gurney, and still wait for pain relief until they had decided what was wrong and where they could fit him into their busy schedule with most of the rooms full and a waiting room of more customers looking for their service too.

I think there's a violation of the Geneva Convention in there.

Now the ride in the ambulance would have several advantages. He didn't have to move himself, the paramedics would transfer him onto a nice flat stretcher from the nice flat couch, on which he'd stay until being transferred onto a nice flat gurney. No sitting, standing, walking, sitting, etc. And one there, arriving via ambulance is the best way of getting prompt attention from the medical staff.

He still screamed when four strong men shifted him from the couch to the stretcher. I couldn't imagine having to hear that, or his attempts to muffle that, for however long it took me to drive him there. I followed the ambulance in the car.

By the way, our paramedics are really great here. After calling 911 and getting transferred to them, part of the process was giving them my phone number. I actually blanked after the 3 digit area code. So they told me what my number was, just asking for confirmation! This on top of being fast, thorough, helpful, friendly and just plain good at what they do!

He got a fairly prompt CAT scan at the hospital, which revealed a broken tailbone. At least it hadn't shifted relative to its original position. As soon as they had that information, in came the dilaudid, and something for nausea. That's the gooooood stuff!. I know. It's what I had, in a self-demand IV, after fairly extensive abdominal surgery. Nothing hurt for a week, even as I was cutting down and spreading out the dosages. Within about ten minutes, he was comfortable enough to actually fall asleep, something he hadn't been able to do much of for the last four days. About 20 minutes later, he even got another dose, and was willing to try changing his position in the bed.

In additional to the physical relief, there was the psychological relief of somebody telling him they found a real reason for what he was going through. Vindication!

They also decided to admit him for a couple days for pain control and evaluation of how he could function around the house on his own. Or whether he can even go straight home, what kind(s) of therapy he may need.

Hearing he was going to be admitted rather than sprung, he sent me home with orders to get a good night's sleep and a list of stuff to bring. Basics like his cell phone, laptop, the next book in the series he's been reading. I guess he feels like he'll be both pain free and alert for the next several days. I always figured it was an either/or kind of thing, but who knows?

Anyway, those of you who wish to contact him on his cell or Facebook should be able to do so by tomorrow afternoon. He wants me to sleep in.

That sounds good.

Friday, October 20, 2017

At Last! Back To Lapidary

I haven't been to the Club for more than a few minutes since last April. There were medical reasons, seasonal condensation of hours to times that didn't work well for me, and the emotional drag of having what was supposed to be a major project wind up showing me graphically where the gaps in my skills lay.

This month, I had required attendance as secretary for a couple of meetings, but nothing much else changed. Perhaps it can be considered on the plus side that I was no longer spinning the wheels in my brain, keeping me alert and awake, trying to figure out the next design, the best (perhaps) technique, the special project, instead of falling asleep when I wanted to rather than an hour or two later. But required attendance and winter longer hours got me started up again.

It's starting to feel good. I spent parts of two days with the grinding wheels on various rocks. Unfortunately, every one I chose to work on was either agate or jasper, both very hard, thus a slow slog. Nothing got much closer to completion.

But I was working again. And there was incentive to keep on working with receipt of a check for my share of three items that sold over the summer.

I managed to pop in for the last half of a workshop on a new way to use copper to make a bail which was also big enough to glue on the back of a stone. No more wrecked wire wrapping! In many ways the technique is similar to making bolos, which is where I started out, but hanging from a chain necklace rather than on a braided leather cord.

The slowness of bolo sales meant that I spent most of two years worth of energy in making stones without anything good looking to mount them on to wear. There are a whole pile of polished cabs sitting in a drawer waiting to go.

So today wound up being a long day in the club. I bought a sheet of copper, consulted on a few techniques along the way (one of the best reasons for going to the club, besides all the equipment), cut half the sheet into strips in a couple lengths, and sanded all the sharp edges and corners.

In case you wondered, it's not by using sandpaper, which sounds like an impossible task. Instead, the club saves old grinding wheels which have worn out on the outer circle, but if you lay them flat on the table, you have a big round flat block of surface area to move your metal across. There are a combination of techniques how to best move across that surface to make all the edges and corners smooth without ruining the flat of the copper strip.

Next comes the shaping/punching/fastening the loop part, where the final product becomes an actual bail ready to attach to your stone. Or so I thought. But somebody asked had I thought about decorating the strips, rather than having a plain flat strip which you have to polish smudges, stains and fingerprints off of.

Hmmm, work and work for something plain and flat and showing all its flaws despite your best efforts? Or, the technique I picked from many possible, hammer a design into the copper leaving it already textured and no longer so shiny, so imperfections become merely part of the finished product?

Silly question!

I saw a variety of hammered designs on sample bails and one jumped right out at me. Unfortunately, the person who'd done it, having done a variety of samples, didn't remember just which tools she'd used to produce that particular effect. She did know the technique involved a flat steel hammering surface to lay your metal on, and the technique of how to use the hammer to mark whichever design you wanted,  though not which surface of which tool was the one for this design.

The club only has about 30 hammers and uncounted punches and similar kinds of metal marking equipment. It's good that we have them all. It's just a pain figuring out which to use and how. Take a simple carpentry hammer: you can strike with about 5 or 6 different parts of the head and each will make a different dent. The next hammer offers as many options, slightly different results. And some heads are larger or smaller, some flat, some curved, some have corners, some sides have points or are flat....  There are a variety of wooden ones too, just not for this use.

It can take a while to figure which and how for your desired result. I took a couple small flat copper scrap pieces and tried different things. Not wanting to waste too many, they wound up with several layers of strike-overs. Eventually I figured it out.

Then I had to practice so the strike would both land where I wanted it - fortunately I picked random distribution instead of uniform - and work on holding the hammer head aimed vertically a little further away from me than felt natural, so I could get the right shape in the pattern, shallow oval rather than deep circular.

In addition, there was always the issue of landing on the copper instead of a finger! There is incentive to master that one quickly.

Liking what I'd done with the first strip, I decided to make all of them that way. It was so engrossing that I was still pounding away well after official club closing time. Lucky for me, several others were also there, so I wasn't kicked out, and finished all my strips. I have a zipper bag full of copper strips ready for shaping, punching, fastening both together and to a stone.

Next visit.

I'm back in the groove!