Thursday, September 26, 2013

Premie Watch

Steve used to express disappointment about not being around to see his newest grandchild. He's going to be in Arizona when she's due in mid November. Now he's actually hoping that might be the case.

I blogged about her back on March 20, if you want to review. We'd just herd the news, but couldn't share and celebrate with the rest of the family because the parents-to-be hadn't let everybody know yet.  In intervening months, the sonogram revealed the baby to be a girl, and the parents picked out Serenity Ann for her name. As a fan of the "Firefly" saga, the name tickled me.

It's been a rough pregnancy. Krystal was constantly sick for the first several months. Now, that happened to me, but somehow I never managed to lose any weight. She, however, not in the least plump to start with, managed to lose 30 pounds. It was a major gain when, at her baby shower on the 14th, she'd gained 2 back. You had to know she was pregnant, or identify her by the corsage of lacy baby socks, because her belly was still smaller than mine was before I ever got pregnant. I just reminded myself the last two months are when the baby gains the most weight.

Monday the doctor informed Krystal the baby could arrive any time. The cervix is dilated and thinning. Tuesday night she went into labor. We consoled ourselves with the idea that her hospital of choice is United/Childrens, where the NICU is just down the hall. As I went to bed without having heard anything, I woke Steve the next morning to find out what happened. He got the call about 3:30 AM with good news. The hospital staff got Krystal calmed down and without medication the labor slowed and stopped. They sent her home.

So we're still waiting, and happy to be doing so. Every 24 hours is a victory. Each week is a triumph.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


My physical therapist asked Tuesday how my PT had been going. I told her. In case you haven't been following, it hasn't. The latest exercises involve standing on one leg for long enough to do about a minute's worth of motion and holds with the other. Then it comes back down and the weight shifts.

Grind. Grind. Grind. Literally.

I tried doing them on my bed.  I figured, though they hadn't said, that the point wasn't seeing how long you could stand on one leg, or strengthening the lower leg and bending the knee, but the thigh/hip area. I was right. She was interested, enough to have me lie down on a padded table (?) and show her how I did them. She had suggestions, like a different position for the hips (keep them forward) or switch to my back instead of side for this one because it pulled in different muscles.

So, now I can do them, without the exquisite experience of standing on one leg and seeing how much grinding I can stand for no purpose.

Of course, there's the bit about figuring out just when. In the morning first thing, there's the mad dash for the bathroom, and then taking pity on the dogs for similar reasons, and on and on through the routine. I return to the bedroom to dress after my shower, but if I get all sweaty again then....

At night, I usually hit bed about ten minutes after I'm ready to drop, those ten minutes being what it takes for that last letting the dogs out and getting them in again, using the bathroom, taking bedtime pills, getting into PJs. There's no energy then. I'm usually awake long enough to remember to turn on my "allergy filter fan", aka my white noise machine before the head hits the pillow.

But I'll work on it.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Not Fair!

Life isn't fair.

How many parents have told that to their kids? Siblings, particularly, are attuned to the fairness of their situation at any point in life compared to that of their brother or sister. Older children see the lack of responsibility demanded of younger, and younger concentrate on the privileges earned by the elder. Neither compares it to age but just to what is happening today. Eventually, maturity brings perspective.

Doesn't it?

Life still isn't fair.

Take a good friend of mine. She recently learned she has celiac disease. It takes a lot of adjustments, and the transition isn't perfect. As a result, many things wind up on the family table which she can't eat while the rest of the family can. Special foods for just Mommy are expensive. Many times she just goes without, there being no available substitute of the gluten-filled item.

This is an unfair situation in and of itself, but not the focus of this post.

She has been losing weight. Like most of us, she has had a few pounds to spare. But it's the how of the weight loss which is the point here. Most of us lose from the top down. The face thins, the boobs deflate and sag, and finally the belly and hips begin to shrink. Putting it back on, the procedure is the opposite. The body protects the lower fat stores.

Not so for my friend. Oh no. The scale says the weight is coming off. However, she's not following the pattern. In fact, she's actually increased a full cup size while shrinking the belly and hips! And they're not even sagging! Needless to say, her husband is delighted.

But I ask you: is that fair?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Extraordinary... Redux

Friday, just a few minutes after logging in, dispatch called, telling me there was a run out of Grand Marais going to... a certain town in the northwest quadrant of the state. Go north.

Deja vu? Think you've read this before?

Perhaps you think it's sounding familiar when dispatch calls back again and announces a modest change of plans. The pick up point is now going to be Duluth, a certain UPS Store with a very familiar address. This has got to be the very same package I left there last night, only now they want it dropped off to Dr. M in person faster than UPS can do it, despite the scanned/emailed copy.

I bet it would surprise you even less to know this wouldn't be the end of the glitches. Practice ought to make perfect, but...

I'm in the construction zone on the top of the hill, just about to get the view of the harbor on this much nicer day, when dispatch calls with one last change in plans: cancel! It seems that a family member has decided to pick up the package and run it over themselves. No mention why now, why not yesterday, heck: why not Wednesday night when this whole thing was supposed to have started.

But hey, I'm officially in Duluth, so get paid for my jaunt up there. Almost the equivalent of a whole day's work, and I'll be back in the metro in plenty of time for more work. End result: about 4 days' income for a package that still been in my hand for only about ten minutes. And a story to boot.

Some days I just love this job!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Extraordinary Thursday

Extraordinary importance. Extraordinary stupidity. Extraordinary wild goose chase. Extraordinary misinformation. Extraordinary behind-the-scenes staff involvement. Extraordinary rescue. Extraordinary cost. All for a run which I had in my hands for a grand total of ten minutes.

It didn't start out as anything but an ordinary day. Extraordinary would have been if the $400 million Powerball had been won in Minnesota and it was worth checking my ticket to find out I'd won. Nope. Same old, same old. Same routine, same uniform, same packed cooler of food.

The only thing unusual was also discouraging: PT. I’ve “graduated” to the point where my exercises involve standing on one leg while doing repetitive motions with the other, each involving a hold for 5 seconds or so. Unfortunately, each time I shift my weight between two legs and one leg and back, the knee joint grinds and shifts in and out of locked position. Extraordinarily painful. I didn’t manage to finish my allotted number before I gave up for the morning, and actually left the house in tears, wondering if this whole thing was going to work. This is following treatment #3, the one where most find significant relief from pain. Dang!

Five miles down the road, however, dispatch sends a message. There should be a run coming through picking up in Grand Marais. Head north.

Now this is the stuff of fantasies. When I ask dispatch where to head next, I might ask, for example, Edina? Eagan? Grand Marais? We both know the odds. We both know I'll chase.

It’s never Grand Marais. Never. But this time, out of the blue, it is, picking up at a residence in town, let’s just say at Mr. X’s house. I won’t name him, because that’s where the stupidity centers.  Further, it’s going from there to a medium sized town over in the NW quadrant of the state, to a hospital. I won’t mention which town, because If I did, you could figure out who the customer is, and that’s a no-no. Best of all, when we get sent out of town to pick something up going elsewhere out of town, we get paid starting from the metro, It’s not a long deadhead, except maybe coming back.

By the time I hit North Branch and the freeway, Mary Jo calls from HQ. She wants to impress upon me that I should call her should I run into any kind of problems whatsoever. I’ve already seen that this is medical-related, and she doubles down on that by quoting the customer: “a matter of life or death.” If at all possible it needs to be dropped by 7:30-8 that night.

So. I’ll be home around midnight then.

Her call spurs me to push it a little, hitting just a tad over the speed limit - under ticketable speed still - rather than my preferred just under the limit. I can take time later when I need a pit stop to look at a state map to pick out the best route to cross the state east to west. I’m not used to that kind of a route so I’ll have to think about it.

When I do hit my first rest stop, my phone stops me just outside the door. It’s Greg from HQ with a change in plans. It’s no longer going across the state. It’s heading to the bank in Grand Marais (Do I have cash on me? No that much? Hit an ATM on the way up.) where the papers will be scanned and emailed to Dr. M, then I’ll take the papers to Duluth to the UPS Store for physical shipping. A label will be there for mailing the originals to their destination. It’s better for me, Greg says, because with these changes it’s shorter and still charges the customer a fee I can hardly credit. No complaints, mind you, but wow!

Back on the road, and my first inkling comes that this might not be quite as smooth as silk. This time it’s nothing to do with stupid human tricks. It’s the weather. What was forecast as 80 degrees and sticky, possible t-showers, is turning into increasing levels of fog as I approach Duluth, while the radio is giving a running commentary on where the severe storms are popping up and tracking. A couple may hit home or skip on either side, and their threat is enough to kill Steve’s fishing plans. Another is hitting the Arrowhead and I wonder where it will be when I’m wherever I’ll be at the time.

By the time I hit the construction zone on the top of the hill just outside Duluth, visibility is down to a block, or two vehicles ahead of you at those slowed speeds. Fortunately, descending to the harbor area mostly clears it, or at least thins it so I can actually see the lake. It’s gray to match the sky and fog.

At Two Harbors I hit the Holiday for both a pit stop and ATM. While I wait my turn in the bathroom, the woman inside the stall that still works almost opens the door when her cell phone rings. Does she say,”I’ll call you back in two”? Does she leave the stall to continue her conversation? You know either of those would be too easy, don’t you? Five minutes later I knock on her stall door to remind her of the line outside. I really don’t need to hear all the details of their plans for what they are going to see that day. I really do need her stall, however. Mindful always of the uniform, I restrain the impulse to let her know what I think of her and merely offer a “Thanks” when she finally hangs up the call and leaves. However, the look I send her way is contemptuous.

At the ATM I withdraw twice what I was originally going to, because another call has come through on the drive up letting me know that the amount of cash needed to pay the bank for the scanning/emailing had gone up since the number of pages has now climbed to 70! Whatever. I have it, and I’ll get paid back as an add-on to the run.

But now I’m out of 4-lane highway. Nor is it straight enough to make passing safe, nor is it construction-free, nor is it too late in the season for RVs to chug their merry way along the Shore. Leisurely. I need to call Mary Jo and let her know the estimate of my ETA needs to be pushed back to something after noon. Oh yeah, not a cell-friendly area. I keep plugging until I can at least get a text through to dispatch to relay the message. I justify typing it safely while waiting behind a flag man at one of the one-lane construction spots, even though I can’t send it till a bit later.

The address is easy to find, being on a numbered street. Or was it an avenue? There were two buildings there, and I had a phone number to verify which one my package was in. Between my knees and the now-spitting weather, it seemed like a good idea.

A woman answered. I ask was this Mr. X’s phone number? Yes, but he wasn’t there. I explained my errand, and what I heard next floored me. The package was supposed to have been picked up the night before. (Not my problem,) Since nobody had picked it up, they had taken it down to UPS themselves this morning. But, I protested, I needed to get copies send directly to Dr. M. (Shouldn't they know this.? They knew the contents, surely?) In a tone of voice like she was talking to an idiot, she informed me that there were no copies to be made: the package was awaiting its 2:00 pick up. I couldn’t quite believe they had consigned urgent medical paperwork to good ol’ dependable but slow UPS!

Time to call Mary Jo. "Hey, you're never going to believe this!" After giving her all the particulars, including the full name and spelling of the woman I’d talked to, she promised to get more info and call me back. I was to wait. There might be something more for me to do here. So I waited. I ate lunch. Waited. Heard two thunderstorms roll through. Read my Kindle, finishing the book I was on and starting another. Rolled open windows between storms to help defog the car. And waited. A car came and went two times at the house. I still waited.

Over an hour later the call came. Supposedly the package got tracked down to a storefront in Duluth which packs and ships your whatever for you. I was to get it there and take it to the UPS store in Duluth who could then do the scanning and emailing before shipping the package off. They had the shipping label ready anyway, and could always have done the scanning/emailing part, but it would have been faster from Grand Marais. Dr. M could start whatever needed doing sooner.

Knowing now about the cell-free zone, I made two calls before I left. One was to Steve, my handy-dandy home based computer assisted GPS for those weird out of town addresses not on the map. He could call back and leave me directions to the first place on my voicemail and I’d get it before Two Harbors, plenty of time to mentally image my path.

The second was to the final destination, asking them for directions from the other place. The woman I talked to knew exactly which package I was going to be showing up with. "Are you that courier?" They’d already been talking to enough people to get their part straightened out.

I hit the road and made the next town down before I ran into more rain. This time it was enough to require wipers at top speed for about 45 miles. I was following a silver/white truck which did a perfect job of disappearing into the rain and spray, except for one spot of black on its top and red taillights. If I managed to keep it just in sight, I at least knew where the road was when the wipers weren’t quite cutting it.

Now this was  my first time ever heading up along the North Shore without being able to play tourist even a little bit. I thought it was going to be hard to do, but with everything in two shades of gray on the way up, and one shade of gray on the way down, and only rare glimpses of lake, it wasn’t hard at all. Only knowing what would have been there to be seen on another day made it feel at all wistful. But I was too busy.

Coming into Two Harbors, my voicemail alert chimed. One from Steve with directions, sounded easy. One from Mary Jo saying she was leaving for the day, but she estimated where I was and when I should hit Duluth. She’d call in an hour or so and see how it went. She was taking my phone number home with her. She by now had invested enough time and energy in this run that she wanted to see it through.

About 4:00 I was just hitting Duluth when I got a call from a Chrissy who was with... well, nevermind. I have no idea how that company got involved in all this, but there she was. She reiterated the importance of the package, citing the old “patient on the table” phrase, and mentioning how these papers were needed before surgery could take place.  (So, Dr. M is a surgeon, eh. Could I really believe any surgeon would be stupid enough to start surgery when whatever these papers were hadn’t been accounted for yet? I thought not.) I was to stop and not go to the place where the package was supposed to be. It wasn’t there. I’m not sure how it got tracked to that address, but maybe the label came out of there or something. That’s just my guess. She didn’t speculate.

Where the package really was was on a UPS truck enroute to Duluth. It had been in Grand Marais all the time. When Mr. X had brought it "down to UPS", the number tracked to that storefront but the package was in a UPS drop box in Grand Marais all the time! “Down” apparently meant “down the hill 3 blocks” and nobody clarified with Mr. X. Chrissy could not get anybody to tell her when or where exactly it was going to be dropped in Duluth, but when she got the info, she’d let me know. She also needed my full name (to authorize me to get it, I later found out), and gave me the tracking number and a promise of more info.

I was now fully stopped in Duluth, partly with nowhere to go, partly having a need to write down a whole lot of information. I also had a need to call Greg urgently, to catch him before he left for the day since he was the only one who really knew, much as anybody knew, what I was doing. It was after 4:00, and I didn’t know  his schedule. After filling him in and giving him Chrissy’s number, he promised to call me “right back.”

I should have known better, right? I later found out there was a major conference call going on. Just then I was waiting, pen poised over paper, ready to write down whatever new information was going my way. Eventually I got tired of that, took advantage of my location at a gas station to put enough gas in the tank to get me home to cheaper prices, and use the facilities.

I was just finishing up all that when Chrissy pocket dialed me. I guess I said hello loudly and often enough that she finally answered her own phone and gave me some more information. The package was going in to the UPS hub, way down on Port Terminal Drive, located just where you’d think it sounds like it is. Think sea port, not air. It might or might not be there in time to grab it and get it up the hill to the UPS Store before they lock up exactly at 7:00 sharp, no exceptions, no how.

And could she give my cell number to Dr. M? Sure, if I could have his, in case of needing to make decisions after 7:00, our pumpkin time too.

After getting that address, it was time to call dispatch to give them corrected information. It seems this run had become quite the conversation piece, especially as people in the know left for the day and had to pass info on.

Dr. M called, verifying what I was doing and knew/didn’t know by this time. I got his email address in case nobody at the drop had it - things happen - and verified with him a callback to let him know how it went. Then a call to the final stop confirmed that the two owners, who’d been working with our gaggle of people all day, had left for the day but, like us, had left instructions and my name with the night crew. Yes, they had the label.

Then Chrissy called again. She had verified (with whom?) that the truck driver was only 5 minutes away from the hub to drop the package. It was just after 5. This was going to work!

So I called Steve again, getting directions to the new hub address. While he was giving them to me, I got the incoming call beep and ignored it. At some point, guys, I actually had to get the work done! Checking voicemail, I  found   a message from Mary Jo, finally checking in. And Chrissy pocket-dialed me again. I called Mary Jo back quickly, it being a short drive to the hub.

You think it’s over, right?

Not only wasn’t the driver there, he might show up about 6:20. Chrissy’s info was about as accurate in this instance as her ability to use her phone. If he were on time, it’d be tight but still doable. Meanwhile I confirmed the tracking number and showed my driver’s license, clearing the way to pick it up when he did arrive. The crew in the hub had already been forewarned and were as helpful as possible under the circumstances.

I popped in about 6:14 just to check. Nope. Again at 6:20. New guy. Knew nothing. As I left, a truck pulling a trailer backed up to the nearest door. I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask if he had the Grand Marais pick up, and got lucky. Not only did he have it, he knew exactly where it was to grab. I signed it out, ran it up the hill, made sure it got scanned and emailed ( they needed the address, lucky I had it) and sent off.

Then I started down the list of callbacks to everybody who needed to know it was finally over. 11 1/2 hours of my time on the run, 10 minutes in my possession. Gotta be some kind of record. Pays worth three very good “normal” days. Plus a story to tell.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Sprung! And On The Road

That's actually yesterday's headline. It's not much of a headline, compared with Colorado flooding or the Jersey Boardwalk fire, but it's my headline. Nuff said?

Are you kidding? It's never enough said. You know me by now.

After a good night's sleep, I woke at my usual time and caught my favorite morning news/weather/traffic. I'd been promised "first thing" discharge, and called dispatch to let them know I'd be out but late. (Before 11, as it turned out.)

"My" nurse was just one of the many morning visitors. Of more import on wake-up was the one who agreed to move - not remove as I hoped - my leads for the cardiac monitor. They were itching, fiercely. It didn't take long for that pesky medical adhesive allergy to kick in. All over. Lots of tape had been sacrificed to aid in maintaining the location of needles or preventing my leaking once removed.

During the process I got to point out the red skin circles left from a couple hours wearing the first set in the ER. They didn't itch now but they were certainly decorative. In fact, once all were gone and I was in front of a mirror, I decided I looked like I'd gotten so lonely for Steve I'd been coupling with an octopus.

When "my" nurse finally poked her head in after shift change, I informed her of my impending departure, ASAP. She was explaining to me that while my file was on the top of the Doc's stack, it could well be 10:30 before he got around to issuing orders for me to leave. Just as she finished that sentence, a knock on the door brought in the Doc with his announcement that my discharge orders were written. Every thing had been normal all night on the new med.

Since she was still there, she pulled out the IV port. As soon as she left, I removed the monitor patches. I'd watched the process, so knew what detached where and what to throw away. Two hours was enough to leave new marks.

I called Steve and asked for his 9:00AM arrival. I was fed, dressed, packed, and sitting around waiting for the paperwork when he arrived. I was badly in need of a shower and shampoo but he gave me a huge hug anyway. Yes, they had finally offered me a shower, about 6:30 that morning, but I declined in favor of an imminent one at home, in preparation for work. All I can say about that event was ... "AAAHHHHHHHHHHH."

And that's - finally - nuff said.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


"First thing" in the morning. It took till 4:30PM for the doc to come by and give his verdict. Assuming I hold stable, that's when I'm getting sprung.

There will be some changes. The diuretic I've been taking, and which I make up for by also taking potassium and magnesium, will be stopped. It is the most likely what's caused the A-fib. It works by stripping stuff from the blood but leaving it in the tissues, thus letting water build up in tissues but deplete in the blood. Interesting. And hey, no more peeing all morning.

The other blood pressure drug, same thing Steve is taking, will continue. A new med will be added to keep the heartbeat slow. He's prescribing something like what I'm getting in the hospital, but a cheaper version.

I could like this guy.

On the other hand, I need to cut back on salt. More chicken, fewer brats. More fresh, less canned.

No blood thinner now, but when I cease to control blood sugar by diet alone it'll need to be added, preventing clots leading to strokes. So add the usual fewer calories, more exercise.

Meanwhile Steve got a lift from a friend to the dealership to get my car home. As soon as I get home, back to work. And tonight Steve could go fishing, lucky guy.

Sure, Go Get Some Sleep. Go Ahead and Try.

I begin to understand my parents’ complaint with hospitals.  It’s all about sleep. Well, that and bad coffee. But sleep is primary.

There was no real  major one thing causing me to not sleep. It was just a heaping pile of little things. Most aggravating was the IV needle right in the bend of the elbow. I sleep with my arms bent, on my sides alternately, managing covers, pillows, and keeping my shoulders as comfy as possible at any given time. I brought it up shortly before my usual bedtime, aka 11:00. The response was to plan on a half hour wait since shift change was just coming up. OK, half hour, no biggie.

So I left my light on, door opened slightly, waiting to be able to get comfortable.

And waiting.

At least I got those leg thingies which inflate around each leg alternately in order to prevent clots forming disconnected long enough to get to the bathroom.  Then  of course they got reconnected, preventing that part of me from ever getting comfortable. The pillow was the wrong pillow, small. flat, and so slippery I was sure it had better places to be. The bare ass gown had the lower tie knotted, and wasn’t in the least stretchy, so every time I turned over was preparation for a military campaign. The shoulders snap, giving access to the torso. The snaps unsnapped with movement, and the IV kept me from reaching around to refasten, so my shoulders got cold. The leads glued to my front connected to wires in a gadget in my front pocket - mostly - but turning over gave it leave to clunk elsewhere at the whim of gravity, never landing anywhere comfortable.

The three blankets on my bed weren’t tucked in, or even lying the same way over the bed. The leg thingies kept tangling up in each other via their velcro, and their air lines tangled in my feet. After a bit I realized one was too tight, or perhaps it was supposed to be like that and the other one just wasn’t doing its job and I might get a clot anyway. The nasal cannula for the O2 was a royal pain, poking and drying out my nose simultaneously in an admirable job of multitasking. I finally removed it, figuring if any harm was done, somebody’d notice and make me replace it. Until then, I’d take my victories as they came, however small. If you sense the beginning of an attitude here....

No. “”Beginning” is definitely the wrong word. By 2:00 AM it was thoroughly established.

If I lay on my back, the head of the bed and the knees needed to be up a bit. If I rolled over on a side, they needed to be flat. At one point I decided to turn the light off and try to snooze, but hit the wrong bed control in the dark while changing position and got the nurse call instead. The person responding was not, of course, qualified to move the IV.

Somebody had their TV on down the hall, and the guy who’d been next bed over in the ER was next room over now, needing a lot of attention, and coughing up half a lung with great frequency. It had me wondering when he was going to stop regenerating more lung bits to cough up. Eavesdropping  through ER curtains had informed me his next and final stop would be a nursing home presuming he got stabilized for some other issues. He’s only two years older than I am. He only quit smoking two years ago, though I don’t know if it was before or after his stroke. (So much for privacy, eh?)

And, of course, every time I moved a bit I also bent the elbow, reminding me why I was still waiting for somebody to come in. There had been about 6 people coming in and out, taking vitals, getting blood, pushing pills, and anything but moving the IV.

Finally! My RN appeared! Yee Haaa!

Yeah, like it’s that simple. The reason the IV wasn’t in the back of that hand is because the stabber in the ER found a vein that bled under my skin, all over a couple gauze pads, but not into the attached tube. My nurse looked that over and decided to work on the right arm. She tied the rubber tourniquet, slapped here and there, had me pump my fist, wiped alcohol here and there, opened packages, and poked. And poked. My veins knew she was coming, boy. Four tries later, she decided to call in the B team. She left the wastebasket in the corner half full with more paraphernalia scattered over the floor.

The B team was named Ann, someone with a bit more vintage to her years. She looked over the lack of progress so far and decided to go back to the left arm again. She’d raised one promising looking vein, and watched it disappear in reaction to the tearing of the paper from the needle. Literally.

Did she give up? ever fear. Time for a completely new approach: the back of the watchband area. Luckily it was sans watch, my having developed a rash in allergic reaction to my plastic watchband, now given up over a week since. The rash is still vivid red, but apparently no impediment to Nurse Ann.

Yee-ouch! That one smarted! I thought she found a very healthy nerve. She thought she’d missed the vein, but when she tested it, she’d struck red gold! I was not about to complain about the pain if it meant finally that we could get the elbow one out. She quickly taped everything in place before this vein could change its mind. removed the other, and actually requested that I bend that elbow over the gauze!


And a whole four hours sleep before morning wake up call. But don’t blame the staff. This time it was the bladder.

Here's How It Got Worse

It has not been a restful weekend. If you haven’t read the previous post, do it now and catch up. I’m not going to explain twice. Like I said, it’s been stressful.

Friday morning I took the car in. By Friday afternoon, “my” service guy - the one doing paperwork, not mechanical work - called me. They’d found some other things needing attention. Now, most of what happened immediately after that wouldn’t have were I not already stressed. “Couldda been worse” is not the same as “just fine, thank you.” It’s the kind of stress that ruins my sleep. It was about to get even more ruined.

The first thing was rocker arms. The rubber was wearing out and they should be replaced before Just a tad under $600.  Well, not so bad, brings it back to about what I had originally expected, not that that's a reason to pad the bill. But I wasn't thinking all that straight just that moment.

How was my timing belt? They looked at my odometer and reminded me it was recommended to change it every 65,000 miles.  Umm, yeah. My driving, belts tend to last a bit longer because age doesn't get a chance to deteriorate the rubber. I'm used to that being a fairly inexpensive repair, and agreed to having it done.  That's when he shot their price at me: $525. Holy cow! Platinum or just gold plated?

Once I hung up, I started regretting the conversation. Especially the part about paying for the extras. I checked with my regular mechanic on when the belt had last been replaced. It still had a good 20-30,000 miles on it. So I called the dealership back. Or tried to. The receptionist put me through to voicemail. It claimed that their work load was so busy that they had to call back, and promised they would as soon as they could.

Uh huh.

I left my message with "my" guy's name, explained I had found out the belt didn't need replacing, and requested him to call me back to verify receiving the message.

I called again the next morning - Saturday - and left another message. Late Saturday afternoon he finally called. First, my message had "gone to the wrong voicemail box." So he'd just then gotten it. And he was 90% sure the work had already been completed, as business was slow what with the State Fair and now first week of school. The mechanics grabbed work when they could. I expressed my strong displeasure with these events, and hung up.

And stewed. I had been looking at my financing, and these extra charges were going to be the straw that broke the budget's back. I could cover them, but there were also upcoming trip expenses, weeks of lower income from lost work, property taxes due, etc., etc., etc.

Even Thursday night, I'd been dealing with that impending disaster, pit of the gut kind of feeling. Suddenly it was twice as bad. I found myself staying up as late as I could so I'd be too exhausted to keep myself awake worrying. Once I woke, I'd head out to the living room to watch TV or read, anything to occupy the mind. That kept up.

Monday morning I called the dealership's service department head to explain my problem and ask why their communication problem should be my $500+ bill. He promised to look into it and call me back. Ten minutes later he contacted me with the information that no repairs had yet been done, and now, other than the tranny, none would, since I had a regular mechanic who is much cheaper.

Whew! I could start to get proper sleep again.

So: today. (Note: written 9/10) So much for proper sleep. The alarm was set for 4:15AM, so I could get up, showered and dressed in time to ride into the city with Paul, and take over his car for the day to get my knees done the second time. I'd done as much as possible ahead of time, setting out pills, sunglasses, a book, all the things I might need and usually organized/did at home before leaving. We had to be on the road at 5. Luckily I had thought to put the trial knee brace in the car Saturday when I'd determined it was not going to work for me. I grabbed a nap after he turned the car over to me, got coffee for pills, found a 24-hour restroom, and basically killed time until my appointment.

I got a new Doc for the shots this time, and she had a problem avoiding bones with the needle in the first knee. She finally decided to attack from the outside part of the knee rather than the inside, or the side facing the other knee. That finally worked. I just wasn't thrilled with the process this time. Since I'd had the PT before the injections this time, I simply headed home to relax until it was time to head back down to pick Paul up.

It didn't happen.

Oh, the relaxing was mostly fine. Steve and I watched TV, examined my new Kindle - my birthday present from him - ordered more free books from, and realized we'd have to wait till Paul got home to put in the proper code for WiFi to load the books for reading. I was feeling fine,  though I thought occasionally my pulse was a little fast. Just background noise, however. I did think to wonder if I was sure I'd gotten my blood pressure pills into the ziploc, and not skipped something. Maybe I was just stressed from all the needle poking, though nothing was hurting.

About 4:00PM we noticed the time and Steve whipped up bacon and eggs before I had to leave. When I stood up to clear plates before heading out, I had to sit down again.

Just a touch lightheaded.

I got up again, carried the plates to the kitchen, grabbed a few animal crackers in case I was having low blood sugar from low carb input, and got in the car.

About 6 miles down the road, I turned around, called Steve and told him he was driving, and returned to the house. My heart was racing and I was feeling short of breath. Definitely not safe to drive! By the time I made the house, I informed Steve he would be dropping me at the ER in St. Croix Falls and heading down to pick up Paul. After telling him the route and telling Paul's voicemail his ride would be late, I was ready to find out what the heck was going on.

I figured I just might be developing a new allergy: to chicken and eggs. I'd certainly had a high enough dosage of those today. I was visualizing life with epi-pens, needing to discontinue knee treatments, needing to read food labels even more carefully than now.

The triage nurse took my wrist pulse and suddenly I was whisked back to a bed surrounded by curtains where they proceeded to dress me in the latest bare-ass fashions, hook me up to O2 and monitors, draw blood and pop an IV port into the crook of my elbow. Left, of course, because all the rest of the world is right-handed. And nobody asked. All the displays were behind my head, so I had to try to figure out from stray comments what exactly was happening.

Finally a Doctor introduced himself, and introduced my to a new diagnosis: atrial fibrillation.

Cool birthday present, huh? At least it waited until I had insurance. You think I wasn't already dealing with lost work and unexpected bills? This one can be paid over time, at least.

Paul brought over my laptop and charger, and I've been killing time doing this. 

Verdict so far? At least one night stay. Meds lowered the heart rate, at least as long as I'm in bed. They're talking about making sure the rate stays down, and hoping it returns to normal sinus rhythm. No heart attack. Likely blood thinners. If I'm very lucky, home tomorrow - late enough it won't matter if my car is done on time.

Oh well.....  The food here is good anyway. WiFi is iffy. This will have to get posted after I get home.

Friday, September 6, 2013

So... I Guess It Could Have Been Worse

My first hint actually came last December, driving through the mountains. Unless, of course, that clunk into forward after backing out of the driveway every morning since I bought the car counts. That's been happening every morning for 280,000 miles, though; thus, easy to ignore. Less easy, in fact inspiring that hollow in the gut clenching, was the clunking into a lower gear while I was trying to maintain the speed limit on the long climb up a mountain.

But it went away, and after a couple months, the paranoia did too. Maybe I didn't really need a new transmission. A little over 297,000 miles, the car decided otherwise. In Northfield, about 70 miles from home, give or take. But, it could have been worse. I made it home.  It had cooled down a bit, nice since I had to turn the AC off and open a window since the drag on the engine made the tranny act up  more. And white knuckles are not actually a permanent condition, once the threat is over. At least for the moment.

My last tranny replacement, for the model of the same car one year older, cost just over $2600. So last night I needed to accomplish two things. I needed to figure out where that amount was coming from. And I needed to figure out who it was going to get paid to so I could get the car back fastest. I already had a lot of days scheduled off, including 5 Tuesdays for my knees, the recent holiday, and the upcoming 11 days of vacation to/from Arizona. Self-employed folks generally try to either avoid or do a better job of spreading around the lack-of-income days.

Payday is today, and the amount is adequate for the upcoming bills, including gas and groceries. I can knock off one bill from the list after deciding to not go ahead and buy the pair of knee braces. While the leg feels better during walking, and the straps don't rub with the sleeve under them, yesterday was the break-it day on my tolerance. The part which pushes my knee in pushes too hard and my body reacted, but weirdly. I developed a hive, not on the surface but deep, next to the bone. Not only is it sore, but if I rub it I can feel the itch. Not the best sign. So, add $300 back in to the budget. I'll just be bowlegged. Heck with vanity. Maybe PT can assist.

Looking at my CDs, I can manage the funds. I just don't want to that way. So it's time to call the credit union and ask for a loan for the amount. They seem to like me, likely due to my always paying off their loans ahead of time. Either way, it's doable, financially. That still doesn't mean I got to sleep well last night.  I never do with that feeling of impending disaster hanging over my head. On the other hand, I can snooze during the day, snugly at home.

I also spent time looking for alternative transportation. Surprisingly, there are a few used Hyundai accent hatchbacks out on the market now. That's pretty rare. I'm not thrilled with the prices, particularly if I can keep this baby going another 200,000 miles or so before replacing it.

I located three different places to get the work done. Of course, all were closed hours earlier. so I'd have to cool my jets until they opened in the morning. The closest opens at 9:00 AM, the slug-a-bed. The other two were 7:30 and 8:30, the latter being where I last had a tranny done. The latest opening was across the river, and it had occurred to me to wonder if the car would cooperate in climbing that long hill one last time in its condition.

In any case, it's Paul's day off, so I've got a ride home from wherever. While we discussed that, I also figured three days to get the job done, based on past experience, and negotiated using his car Tuesday to make my knee appointment. That also means getting up an hour and a half earlier to ride down with him so he can get to work.

That smarts just to think about.

The earliest to open was the nearest Hyundai dealership, in White Bear Lake. Paul goes there for his warranty work and those pesky repairs after each deer encounter. They know him well. There are a lot of deer on his route to work. Or should I say a lot fewer? Somehow though, they just keep getting replaced.

At any rate, the quote I was given was exactly what I expected, but the timing was only 5+ hours work. Immediately I entertained dreams of returning to work on Monday. Silly me. There was also the issue of actually locating the exact tranny for  my model car. Did I have the VIN? Sure, in the car, call ya back in 5 after I get dressed. Then there was the wait for him to find the part, and... hooray, there's one... in California. None closer. Be here next Thursday.

Dang! And if they can't locate something better, no little independent outfit will either. But....

How about a "gently used" one from a wreck? That required another search and callback. He sounded disappointed when he called, just like he had about how long it would take. There was one locally, has 5000 miles on it, can be delivered by Tuesday. Must still be sitting in the car, I figure, waiting for a customer to justify the effort. My guy thought the cost being asked was outrageous, being a mere $400 under the cost of new.

Hmm, save $400, add two days where I can earn, and with only 5000 miles? That's newer than the car when I first bought it. No brainer: accept! And no bothering with those other two phone calls.

So, the car's been dropped off. I wondered just how much of an adventure that was going to be, as the car clunked between each gear for the first 8 miles, another new symptom. However, it rode pretty smoothly the rest of the way, only a few slight jerks between gears, and one pop up into neutral for about 3 seconds where the RPM needle did a dance in order to show me it was just fooling about the good behavior.

It'd be just my luck if, on the test drive to verify the tranny was what's acting up, it decided to behave perfectly. Still, all in all, it could have been worse. Say, waiting to die somewhere in the middle of nowhere on the way to Arizona next month, no competent honest mechanic around, and another 6 days to wait for the only tranny available at a jacked up cost.

So I guess I'm lucky. Now if I could just take that luck and put it on a lottery ticket....

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Update: Bell's Vireo

Short and sweet: one is still visiting the back yard. Not sure what it's after, where it nests, any of that. It was just there yesterday when we went out to hold our Labor Day bonfire/picnic. So it's stayed the season. Now I can wonder if it'll be back next year.

First Treatment

It's a milestone: I now have Medicare. Another milestone: my first set of knee injections.

Not sure just what to expect, despite reassurances from the Doc on the initial evaluation, I was a bit leery of pain. The word he used was "sore." I suspected it's a bit like "uncomfortable". It still means pain, except the Doc is too wimpy to admit it to you just how bad it was going to be.Yes, there was some. It just wasn't anything like I expected. I'd brought Steve along as backup driver, just in case. Didn't need him, but bless him, he bought lunch afterwards.

After the initial sitting in the waiting room, you get called back to the very. back. office. Not the one close to where you sit, not even halfway down the hall. The very. last. one. They do know why I'm here, right?

Once there I got to sit right away, and stay put until everything's over, maybe 10 minutes. The assistant finds the space in the knee where you can insert a needle between all the bones. Verified with a fluoroscope (cool view, by the way), she marked it with a pen. Then a thorough wipe to sterilize, and a spray to freeze the area. That's actually the worst part of the procedure itself, all 3 seconds of it. The needle goes in, ink is injected to make sure it's flowing where the good stuff needs to go, and the syringe is swapped with one holding both the anesthetic and coating. Then remove the needle, wipe, and apply bandaid. Same for next knee, and don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Of course, out only means to the physical therapy area. You are immediately parked on a bicycle machine, with a seat so low to the floor I figured I'd need to be pried out. It'd be a comfy height for potty training. At least for the first treatment there's no drag on the machine. They just want you to move your knees for 5 minutes to make sure the coating gets spread around evenly within the knee. They don't even care if you pedal backwards, so long as you move. Since the up position of the knees was nearly kissing distance from my face, I found it much more comfy to pedal backwards, making the push out stretch starting in the lower position rather than in a lift. After all, I haven't done anything like this for over 22 years, since living in Lake Elmo. By the time my 5 (10 - they got busy) minutes were over, my legs were trembling. I sat for a full couple minutes before hauling myself up out of that seat.

You need to know, the anesthetic in the knees was working well. It was the rest of my legs that were complaining. They were wobbly during the balance exercises, stand on one leg as long as possible (not very), then the other, then one toe-to-heel with the next, and finally the little stair drop down. They give you a very wobbly pole to hold onto for balance, but since I was next to a counter, I used that. The other seemed unwise.

Finally, I could sit. Next were the sitting stretches, some just to strengthen and loosen the joints, some to evaluate my strength against the therapist. "Dont let me pull your leg this way" kind of thing. She's stronger than I am. Finally there was a combination of electric current and ice packs. Four patches on each knee, current turned up until you tell the therapist it's no longer comfortable. "Tingly" is what you're aiming for. Then ice packs top and bottom of each knee, held in place with velcroed elastic. That ten minutes is half as long as the bicycle's five. Since it has its own timer which shuts the current off at the end, I tend to trust it.

Finally I can leave. Except for one thing. I'm supposed to get a loaner brace. I've gotten bowlegged, thanks to the arthritis, and contributing further to the wear on the knees. Problem is, it's going to cost me $145 per brace, which I should have for both knees, and I need to be sure I can tolerate wearing them first. With dermatographic uticaria, anything that rubs, binds, or pinches raises itching welts, making it impossible to wear it. (Don't even bother to ask me what I think of bras!) We got one fitted for me, and it's mine to evaluate for a week. They put a knit sleeve underneath, making it comfortable except, two hours later, where the top is stretched a bit too much, rolls down, and gets caught under the brace in a lump. 

Counter productive.

I was only to wear it two hours today, make it 3-4 tomorrow, longer each day until I can go through a whole day. I think tomorrow I'll check it out without the sleeve. The straps are wide and soft. Enough? We'll see. The leg actually did feel better while I was wearing it, and it didn't interfere with getting in/out of the car.

The painkiller inside the knees did wear off, as expected. No problem, actually. I'm taking it easy, as directed. But sore? You betcha! Sore like you feel the first day after a lot of exercise, without waiting for a day to go buy. Hips to ankles, everything but the knee joints are sore. Where's a hot tub when you need one?

I just finished my evening regimen of PT exercises, with less strength and stamina than when I did them this morning after the bicycle. Hey, I figure a couple days and I can actually do them they way they want me to. I'll be ready for next week.

Except they think I should get myself a bicycle exerciser. Sure, that'll happen. Uh huh.