Friday, July 20, 2012

Part 121 Conspiracy/I see you

The room is dark. I see people lying in beds. Some are moaning. The air is filled with misery.

I cannot speak. There is a tube in my throat.

People in white coats come and go. None stay very long.

Two primary nurses are in this room, although I see others that also pass through and assist. One is a blonde with hair just below her shoulders who must be in her forties but flirts with some of the patients in a youthful manner. I imagine her growing up in Dallas and probably being someone’s sorority sweetheart in college. The other nurse is a shorter-haired brunette of about the same age that acts as if she is in charge. She gives directives, and smiles, but in a sarcastic way, and there is a sternness to her that unsettles me. My instant impression is that she is my nurse Rached come to life from Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.

Becah is here. She asks nurse Rached a question. The nurse smiles and says something politely in response. When Becah turns her back, the nurse makes a scowling face and whispers something to the blonde.

Becah is gone.

A very old man with white hair and moustache is wheeled into the room. His relatives sit near his bedside. They mention that they have driven all night from somewhere in the panhandle to get here, and are exhausted. They fear the old man has very little time left.

A young college student appears. He has been injured, and seems to be barely awake. His mother, wearing an LSU jersey, sits nervously by his side, as another lady whispers comforting words to her.

Another man is in a bed. By his side is his estranged wife.

Back in a corner I see a man of apparent Arabic descent. He looks as if he is in his thirties. Nurse Rached seems very irritated with him, snapping negative remarks about him to the blonde and to anyone else who will listen. He apparently has refused to sign papers of consent for treatment. Nurse Rached cannot fathom how he was allowed in here without signing, and she becomes more livid as she complains to the other nurses. A physician comes by, and she approaches him indignantly. The doctor agrees that this is unacceptable. He will not stand for this. The Arab is drowsy, and he seems to drift in and out of awareness as the doctor and nurse Rached hold papers in front of his face and request his signature. Lying on his back, he stares at them, then closes his eyes and says nothing. They walk away, the papers unsigned.

I am having trouble breathing.

Visiting hours are over, the loudspeaker proclaims. The LSU mom stays anyway, talking desperately to her friend as her eyes never leave her son.

The white haired moustached man groans, then sleeps again. A relative holds his hand, lingering despite the directives that guests must leave. After all, they have driven hundreds of miles.

I drift off to sleep, but in this place, it will not be for long. I have trouble swallowing. Suction me.

Becah is here, and whispers something in my ear. I discover that I have a pen and note pad beside me to communicate with.

The Arab has a guest. Crouched beside his bed, with her face covered in a veil, is his wife. Her eyes dart, she is inquisitive, rapidly whispering to him as he lies semi-propped up in his bed and stares. I look again and she is gone. But more guests arrive, including a trio of large, stocky African American men bearing presents. The nurses take them and place them on a table nearby. One gift is a computer monitor. I think I see some wires coming from another portable electronic device.

The white haired man groans.

An older male patient has apparently been in the room for some time, lying behind a partition. The blonde nurse is trying to coax him to have a bowel movement so he can be discharged. She acts flirtatiously with him (why not with me?).

The nurses try again to get the Arab to sign consent. I am becoming more worried about this dilemma, and about him in general. Two tall, husky male nurses approach him with the papers to sign, and he sits up. But he quickly dismisses them with a wave of his hand and mumbles something rapidly to them as they walk away.

I sleep again. I wake. I cannot speak. There is a tube jutting out from my neck. I jot something on my notepad. A request for more meds? I need to pee. My mouth is dry.

A group of attractive female staff, one member holding papers, approaches the Arab. If strength and intimidation doesn’t work, maybe seduction will. But he doesn’t fall for this either.

Nurse Rached rolls her eyes, scowls, and fires off another directive.

Let me out of here.

Shifts change. Some new faces appear. Specialists carrying folders stroll through, looking important. But nurse Rached is still here.

I jot requests on my notepad and motion for a nurse to come look. Someone takes the pad and reads, but she cannot decipher one of the words and asks me what it is. I grab the pad and carefully re-write the word and hand it back. She still cannot understand what I want.

I want to be repositioned in bed. I want to pee. Mainly I just want out of here.

I ask Becah if there is a catheter in me. She responds once again “yes”. I still worry about peeing in bed, so I don’t pee.

Visiting hours are over. Suddenly the Arab’s wife is back, crouching beside his bed, with darting eyes and whispers. Is anyone in here bothered by this, or is it just me? A physician accompanies nurse Rached again to his bedside to see if his wife’s presence will encourage him to sign the papers. Still no luck.

Becah is here. Becah is gone.

More visitors greet the Arab, and more gifts amass on the table. Another computer monitor materializes. This is becoming too bizarre for me. They look like a group of radical extremists. What are all these electronic devices? Why are his visitors treating this patient like royalty? What does his wife whisper in his ear? Why does he feel as if he is above having to sign letters of consent? And, equally puzzling, why does the hospital allow him to stay? What are they afraid of?

I write more notes, quickly now, and they are colored in frustration and desperation.

Nurse Rached walks briskly by, holding up an IV bag filled with fluids. Someone has detected what looks like a map and some red letters drawn on the bag. It could be some strange code. She takes the bag around the corner and hangs it on a stand in front of a wall with lights turned on behind it to better illuminate the writings. Doctors, assistants, and staff suddenly gather and stare at the wall, trying to discern the meaning.

I can see them staring, but the bag is out of my line of vision.

Rached and the blonde approach the Arab again with the papers. Their backs are to me as they talk. Suddenly both ladies swirl around. The blonde abruptly draws her hand to her mouth in astonishment and suppresses a giggle, while an outraged Rached raises her eyes and storms away disgustedly. The Arab is lying on his side with his bed covers partially off, exposing his semi-erect member that hangs over his leg.

The white haired man is still. Someone comes and pulls a sheet over his head.

Visiting hours are over. I write more notes. I sleep again.

What is all the Elvis paraphernalia doing on the table in the center of the room? I see photos, what looks like CDs, and other items. I determine that today must be the anniversary of his death. I pick up my pad to ask about this, then look again, now seeing only the stack of computer monitors and other electronic items on the table.

A female physician also of Arabic nationality approaches the Arab. I thought she was his wife – the same lady as the veiled one that has been crouching at his bedside. But apparently I am wrong.

I close my eyes and drift off.

When I awake I see that the Arab is gone. The nurses finally succeed in having him removed for noncompliance. I worry that he and his band of outlaws will seek revenge for this. At least when he was in the room I knew he wouldn’t detonate the bomb, if that was his plan. Now he is discharged. Maybe he is walking the streets, planning some attack from outside the hospital using devices that his friends have already brought in. Sitting right under our noses.

Someone please get me out of here.

I hear voices outside the room. People are shouting. I am worried that a group is plotting hostile acts. I write on my pad, asking someone to check it out. I am informed that no one is outside our room.

I sleep. Becah is back. I sleep. Becah is gone. The Arab is back.

I see a male technician talking with Rached. He seems passionate about something. I write notes and motion him to come over. I ask him about the IV bag incident and ask if he knows what was discovered. I implore him to convince the hospital to monitor the patient more closely and have his gifts screened for any threats they may contain. He talks earnestly to me. I think he believes me and understands the gravity of all this.

The blonde nurse walks behind the partition and quickly exits, wincing her nose. The constipated patient apparently relieved his bowels and is ready to leave.

To be continued……

[“Envying Job” will resume on August 5]

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Part 119 Ladies and gentlemen, the main event! this corner, wearing the pale blue gown, weighing in at 165 pounds, the challenger…and in this corner, wearing white coats and scrubs, weighing an indeterminable number of pounds, the reigning heavyweight champion, the entire medical establishment!..shake hands and come out swinging!

Part 120 Free fall

I’m in pain Air Please get the nurse Reposition me I can’t breathe Suction Do you have something for nausea Can you keep me in lots of air 100% Raise my bed please
Where is my pain pump I want all of my team and Bl-s not everybody else No Demerol Why can’t I see my wife I’m still feeling nauseous There was something cool coming in Are these supposed to be off The guy on the end even when several people tried to get him up they couldn’t do it A nurse went up to him and talked to him sarcastically I love you Becah and the kids with all my heart Can we go to the other room I can’t stand it here What is all the beeping The guy here is crazy he is insulting everyone ask another nurse if what I am saying isn’t true Where is Dr. Bl- Suction People outside in their cars I’m getting gripping chest pains The nurse started but didn’t finishe? finnish? When will my voice return Please be careful I’m seeing things Suction Thank you for everything you’ve done Cool rag I’m really tired Becah will talk to you You are my star Something to relax me I heard someone say they were armed Emma don’t hurt me What is oxygen level I’m having chest pains from my surgery and it’s causing hardness of breathing HOT Can I get the lights dimmed I still hear gurgling It was making a noise “bad” “bad” “bad” Is that music driving you mad or is it my Where am I What are you going to do about those people outside A nurse came over and turned something on How long With a teen Don’t rush off I’m pretty week Pain button 7 days Tahiti British Virgin Is. Canada Go up in bed My wife was here and bathed me and repositioned me already Oxygen Coke ASAP Not yet It’s terrible here18 going to college That’s right I forgot I don’t want pillow behind me His newphew has a pool That guy is hallucinating too Get out and write songs don’t be reclusive Craig came yesterday Can you bathe me flat I’m buzzing Does this mean no root beer float tonight?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Part 118 Special moments

My children accompany me to work at the start of the next week, laughing as I push them across the empty cafeteria floor on a cart used for transporting textbooks. Who needs amusement parks when you have such cool free entertainment? The dry and hot wave lingers for the next days. Brian and I do trainings at an elementary campus. Becah comes one day too, working with some of the teachers on a project. She brings Bree and Brooke, who arrived in hot pink shirts. I look at them all standing there and I am suddenly overcome with happiness that this is really my family. Becah later informs me that this day, June 16, is the anniversary of my stroke/TIA/accident. Ironically, it is also my friend Mike’s birthday. I must call him and do my part in keeping him from becoming a recluse.

Bree places fourth in freestyle, second in backstroke, and her relay team wins first in Saturday’s swim meet. Sunday is Father’s Day. After church we go out for yoghurt, which is special because I can actually eat it. We spend the afternoon at the pool. Brooke and I watch “Rings” on the couch. Our downstairs air conditioning unit starts acting up, so Becah and I join the kids sleeping upstairs at night.

A few days later I drive to the medical center, listening to music by Ivy, the Byrds, and Woody Carr, on the way to a meeting with Allison to discuss the surgery that is now just days away. She reviews the plan and answers any questions I have (which at this point, are actually very few). In reality I am probably just not wanting to think too much about it. Just give me the anesthesia and wake me when it’s over.

Real rain falls for the first time in a long while the following day. I spend the morning writing a report, then accompanying Becah on a few errands. She has a wrap for lunch at Jason’s Deli and I eat the soft serve ice cream. We find that Breanna has been invited to a special swim meet in July as a result of her impressive performance in previous meets. It is a big honor for her, and she is suitably pleased. I listen at home to excerpts on iTunes from the new Yes “Fly From Here” CD, and they sound great. It is the first album of new material in a long time. What a treat!

Saturday June 25 we watch Bree swim in the divisional races in Tomball at the high school. It has been many years since I have been here, and I have some trouble finding the spot. Everything looks different since I worked in this district. Bree finishes second in relay (the fastest heat) and second in her group (eighth out of 49 in all) for freestyle. I am proud of her. As a child, I played many sports, but never felt like I excelled in them as my daughter does.

I attend church the next day, the morning before the big event. Afterward, in the sanctuary, the children sing in a program.

In the afternoon, I reflect on all that I have endured for the past year and a half. I have one more step to go. It will be a major one. I am not particularly scared, but have some apprehension when I consider the seriousness of what tomorrow’s surgery represents. I go into this knowing, though, that I really have no other choice. I could conceivably live the rest of my days getting nutrition from a tube in my stomach, occasionally tasting real food orally if I can squeeze it through my esophagus. But I want a more normal life. I want to share meals with my family, like all the other life events. I am aware of the risks. I am not a gambler, and I feel that what I am doing is sensible.

It is late now and time to go to sleep. Soon this will be over.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Part 116 Summertime blues, or “surf’s down”

The last day of school for the kids arrives on June 2. Another summer approaches. Unfortunately, this one is starting to look a lot like the last one. Instead of being the gateway to fun in the sun, it is appearing to be one of sifting through the clouds, searching for faint rays of hope.

Bree and her friends perform “Hoedown Throwdown” pretty well onstage, and are rewarded by cheers from the crowd. I sit outside in the sun after, actually eating two popsicles. Again I make the mistake of going to the mailbox. This time the bill is from the IRS, asking for another $1600 that they discover we still owe in taxes.

The weather continues to be hot and dry. Brooke holds on to her LOTR fixation (I thought the newest “Pirates” movie might at least trigger a return to that series, but it doesn’t). Tonight I ask her if she would rather live with daddy or Aragorn. She remarks, “well, you’re tall but he’s cuter and has long hair”. I accompany Bree to her swim practice and am impressed with her fine backstroke. I cannot shake my medical and financial woes, though, and wish I were a college kid surfing in California, with no cares but how big the next wave would be. But this year the surf’s not up, it’s down

Part 117 The big sleazy

Becah’s sister Lacey has changed her mind again on the site of her upcoming wedding, so Becah and I head off on a bright Friday morning for New Orleans. Bree and Brooke will sit this one out, supervised at our home by CC and GG. A CD by Fleet Foxes takes us part of the way to Beaumont, and by noon we are pulling into the French Quarter. It has been years since I’ve been here, and the town seems only vaguely familiar. We check into a very nice room on the eighth floor of the Iberville Suites. Just a little over a block away is the infamous Bourbon Street.

At night this is an intriguing carnival-of-a-thoroughfare filled with magic and, of course also with the obligatory shady characters and slinky places. Viewed in the light of day, my impression is that I have arrived at The Big Sleazy. One strip joint after another (including the eye-grabbing “Barely Legal”, which features some illegal-looking females lounging in the entryway). We stop in an open bar called the Green Turtle. Becah’s dad Billy, her stepmom Linda, her sister Lacey and husband-to-be Jared, along with several others from the wedding party, greet us. They have been partying heartily, and I am not ready for any of this. Billy and Jared quickly corner me and insist I accompany them to a topless club. I politely refuse, only to be encouraged by my wife to be a good sport! Billy offers to gamble double or nothing with the lady in the admission booth for one free admission before handing out a few twenties to pay for everyone to enter, and I am walking in. Some women are standing next to a pool, each wearing a little less than the other. An attractive, topless, light brown-skinned lady with G-string and pierced navel is suddenly inches from me, saying “I guess we’re going to be together”, to which I reply, “I don’t think so”. (Since Becah insisted I be a good sport, I could say, “okay”, but I decide not to put it to a test). Billy is soon bored, and I make an excuse and slip out. Back at the Turtle, I am seated with Billy as he begins a stream of consciousness dialogue about everything from Becah’s mom’s history to World War II (where he honors my father for his service there) to his profession and passion, cars.

Becah and I head for an old-time favorite restaurant of my parents: Felix’s. I was here years ago but it isn’t familiar. Becah has a poboy and red beans and rice. I conclude that this is true masochism – my being in New Orleans, unable to eat or drink. The wedding should have been in Waco.

Becah and I return to the hotel to freshen up and, to join the spirit of the occasion, I pour three glasses of wine into my stomach tube. We leave in the evening, drifting down Bourbon Street with all the rest of the crowd.

Some of the street activities are entertaining. I particularly like the people sprayed with paint and standing motionless, like statues. Later some street break dancers captivate the crowds, soliciting money as they wisecrack that donating to their cause now will be insurance that they don’t come rob their homes later. We sit for a while at Pat O’Brian’s club, then walk on, stopping into a corner club called the Opera House and listening to a band doing songs by the Cars and Cheap Trick.

Becah and I later stop into the Red Fish Grill, a spacious restaurant with huge oyster shell replicas hanging over the bar that claims to have repeatedly won awards for being one of New Orleans’ best. Becah decides the shrimp bisque and salad are very good. I make a note that one day soon I will return to these restaurants when I too can participate.

We wake up early the next morning, since the wedding is set for 10:00. We walk over to the Sheraton Canal, where many are staying, so Becah can fix her sister’s hair. Waiting in the lobby, I am accosted by one of the wedding guests who is desperately trying to find an open bar. It is 9:30, and even in New Orleans apparently some clubs find this a little premature to be drinking. He has been up all night, though, and seems to be still going strong. He tugs at me to go exploring for an open bar. I walk with him a few steps, then exit back to the lobby after he is told that he must wait until 10:00 for the bars to open.

We take a shuttle to Jackson Square, which actually just serves as a backdrop. The actual wedding is on a platform in front of the square, near a monument of a cannon. Sweat is already dripping off everyone, and people keep showing up at the last moment. The minister wears a suit and has a big droopy moustache. Everyone else (except the bride, who wore a gown) was dressed casually, with me wearing shorts and flip-flops. After a nice service and vows spoken in the beautiful sunshine, everyone heads for the nearest source of air conditioning.

I meet up with Becah in the afternoon, and we stroll to the French Market to get gifts for the kids. A Navy band is punching out Michael Jackson’s song “Human Nature”, all jazzed up and danceable. We walk back and detour down Royal Street (yes, New Orleans has more than one street), stumbling upon some interesting art galleries, including the Rodrigue gallery that houses blue dog paintings. Walking on, we see a guy sitting on a corner, playing the theme from the western “High Noon” on the harmonica. We reach the hotel eventually and rest, before taking a cab to a restaurant to meet the bride and groom. Becah’s dad is absent, swearing off any drinking that day in response to the previous day’s adventures. Becah has a plate of shrimp and pasta, incomprehensible to me and my feeding tube (but maybe next time). We make the long trek back on foot, arriving exhausted from all the exercise of the day. While Becah reads, I watch the proceedings for the Casey Anthony trial on TV.

We sleep soundly, and following Becah’s breakfast in the hotel, we drive around St. Charles Street, looking at the houses, before heading back to Houston. I realize again how much charm the city has, and I long to return when I can enjoy it more. Okay, so it really isn’t just The Big Sleazy after all.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Part 115 Un-rolling stones

The word from my urologist is that I have kidney stones, one of which may be large and which I can prepare to have an “exciting” time trying to pass. Due to their location, they would require a probe into my urethra to break them up (normally, lithotripsy would be used to shatter the stones, a much easier procedure). He is unconcerned for now, however, believing that I have more pressing health demands. If I were piloting an airplane filled with people and traveling overseas, it may be a different story. Instead, he suggests I return in six months, unless something dramatic happens.

At home I open the front door, responding to a tentative knock. Brooke has been next door and has come back. Her big brown eyes stare at me as she requests to watch LOTR (“where Aragorn falls off the cliff”). Then she hands over a leaf that she has picked especially for me.

I am having fairly active days at work. At home one afternoon I snack on a few pieces of popcorn and a couple of chips. Later I eat some high fiber soup, which abruptly gets caught in my throat and I vomit it up. I am seriously bummed at this point. Becah and I discuss getting another dilation before the planned Florida trip in July, or the possibility of instead getting it prior to Thanksgiving where I could use those holidays and the Christmas ones to recover. I have enough combined holidays and personal leave days then to get me through the end of the year. But I am worried that I won’t be able to eat decently and will have to wait so long before doing anything about it. This is the first day since the stent has been removed that I am seriously troubled about my prospects. I consider a future of eating only creamy soups, hoping even that will work.

In the following days my eating difficulties persist. Becah and I are discussing the possibility of postponing our Florida trip yet again, and possibly proceeding with the full surgery. I dread the thought of these options, but am realizing I may have no choice. The Band-Aids we are sticking on my throat aren’t holding. We watch another episode of “Friday Night Lights” before bed, no conclusions made.

I bring the kids to choir practice with me on Sunday, and everyone comments about how cute they are. We all go swimming later, having the pool almost to ourselves. My friend Mike comes over later, informing me that he fears he is turning into a recluse. I chide him that he cannot do that. In the evening Brookie wants more of her show. She has now taken to calling me “Boppy”, a variation of the Spanish “Papi” that she learned from watching the TV show “Dora the Explorer”.

On Memorial Day the kids and I go see “Pirates of the Caribbean IV”, in 3D (or is it “Pirates III”, in 4D?). We have great seats and a lot of fun (everyone must be out of town). After swimming in the afternoon Bree and her friends perform a Hannah Montana dance number they have been practicing for a school talent show. Bree craves applause, so we heap it on her, guaranteeing her future diva status.

After failing to get even the creamy chocolate ice cream down, I give up, and decide have the surgery on my esophagus. More dilations are pointless. Once again, there will be no Florida vacation. Becah and I sit the kids down and tell them. Surprisingly, they take the news much better than I do.

Brooke (who is now out of school) comes by my office with Becah the next morning. She is entertained by a co-worker’s book collection and his foot massager. Brooke and I play chase in the hall for a few minutes. I meet later in the day with Allison at Dr. Bl-s’ office. She suggests that I could go to Florida, having a dilation before the trip. But she also notes that, because my esophagus has shrunk so badly, I would need an additional dilation to prep it sufficiently for the procedure prior to the trip. This is getting more ridiculous by the minute, so I raise my hands and end this crazy speculation. She will set the surgery date for June 27.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Part 114 Journey to the old country

We head for my home town Shreveport over the weekend to attend my old friend Larry’s daughter’s wedding. I have driven the Houston to Shreveport trail more times than I could ever begin to count. It is usually fast and pleasant. This morning, though, my groin pain kicks in (out of nowhere as always) and I must down a few aspirin to try to reduce it. The dull ache lingers for miles, and the 80s CD does little to distract me. We stop for lunch at Chili’s in Nacogdoches, my old college town. The corn soup I order is tasty and goes down well. Of course, it is creamy soup after all – it should go down. The only discomfort was the $40 tab for which was supposed to be simply lunch.

We arrive at Shreveport at 2:00 in the afternoon and check into the hotel, after which a downpour (including hail ) unloads on the drought-stricken area. After a short time the skies clear. The wedding takes place at 6:00, coincidentally the same time that – according to the buzz on Facebook – a series of earthquakes are to begin that signify end times. Fortunately no moving of the earth takes place, at least not in Shreveport, or at least not until the honeymoon after the wedding.

My friend Larry is a deacon in the Catholic church, and he has decided to both conduct the service and to give his daughter away. He suppresses an urge to choke up very early on, then rebounds and does a terrific job speaking, managing to be poignant, concise, humorous, professional, and occasionally even folksy. It was simply perfect. I realize that in all these years I have never heard him speak before a crowd before. I look around and see few faces that I recognize, but there is his mother. She distracts me into reminiscing about many years ago, when she was like a second mom to me and Larry and I were teenagers with dreams ready to be lived out.

When we were teens, and in college days, I ate many lunches at his house, requesting always that his mother make sloppy Joes, which I called simply “things”. Every time an argument would start up, fueled by Larry and his older brother, with his mom equally ready to jump in, everyone grinning even as voices were raised because they were all having fun doing this (only his mild mannered dad would abstain, simply sitting in his seat wordlessly and smiling). Larry was one of the first high school kids to grow his dark hair out long, sometimes adding a moustache if he could get away with it. He smoked, played guitar, and enjoyed music by alternative, San Francisco bands (not like me, who preferred more British pop bands and r & b). Eventually I got Larry to teach me how to play songs on the guitar, even complex ones (I was bored with simply learning isolated chords). Larry is one year younger, and we got out of synch with going to college and colleges attended. We stayed in touch, though, and managed to take a memorable trip to Estes Park Colorado one summer, pulling along his parents’ pop-up trailer, and persevering despite altitude sickness, low funds, a wreck, and an overheated radiator. Larry left college at Louisiana Tech to attend LSU in Baton Rouge, majoring for a time in parapsychology and covering news stories as a reporter, until too many investigative stories about crooked politicians jaded him. That plus a lucrative offer to run his father’s clutch and drive shaft business (of which Larry knew nothing and which was contradictory to his lifestyle) led him back to Shreveport. He met Lynn, married her, and soon moved to Bryan Texas to run a branch office there. They had children and Larry ran the business. Other business opportunities and a prominent position with his church brought him back to Shreveport, and after many years he evolved from this counterculture figure to the choir-directing, prison-ministering, politically conservative, responsible citizen that he is today.

And now he is here, directing this show. It is all more than I can believe.

After the wedding, we walk next door to the Petroleum Club, riding the elevator to the 15th floor, where I feel a faint familiarity with this place that I haven’t entered in decades. The kids dash to the candy bar (literally a bar with rows of candies of all types). We enjoy a glass of wine before walking into the adjoining room for dinner. I eat a little spinach salad, then am struck by pain again in my groin. I have never had this attack twice in one day, and I am distraught. We attempt to crush up two aspirin (how could I possibly have forgot the pain pills?) which I tip back with some milk, but they get caught in my not-so-wide-after-all throat. I run to the bathroom and attempt to discretely throw up. I am now devastated that this has to occur on such a special event. I return to the table, but attempt no more food. The bride and groom step on the floor for “Tiny Dancer”, then Larry and his daughter dance to another number. Everyone crowds the floor for the inevitable “Macarena”, and at 10:00 we return to the hotel. A memorable evening, both beautiful and terrible.

We wake up early and after breakfast (where I tentatively eat some yoghurt but little else) we drive over to the assisted care facility to visit Uncle James, my dad’s twin brother. He breaks out in a big grin and is genuinely glad to see us. He is gets about on a motorized wheelchair, but mentally is sharp as can be and reminds me of how my dad was, almost a decade ago. He talks about how hard it is to find good food at these facilities and how unsafe this place is with only one elevator from which to exit. These factors notwithstanding, his spirits are good. We leave in about an hour and head home in the sunshine.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Part 113 Aragorn falls off the cliff

Sunday morning is equally as beautiful as the day before. We sing an excerpt from Haydn’s “Creation” (“Awake the Harps”), which I struggle through as a result of all my missed practices this spring (I will be sitting out the upcoming seasonal concert for that reason). Our family enjoys an afternoon out at the pool. It feels strange trying to swim with my left hand fingers splayed out from the accident; I still am happier than I was this time last year, when I was barely edging into the pool. I fix manicotti with cream sauce later at home. It tastes good, and I am able to eat a nice bit.

I relax after the first work day of the new week with a glass of port. Liquor still tastes strange to me, although this is working alright. I am listening to 80s rock on TV. Apparently I am drifting into a possible 80s kick. A sour note today – my urologist’s nurse called today to inform me that I do have kidney stone(s). It (they?) is probably lodged, and the nurse feels that if it were of great concern the doctor would have me come in today. Since I am no novice to kidney stones and have ridden them out in their fury (or given up and gone to the hospital for blasting), I decide I have bigger life concerns at present, so the stone can wait.

I cruise to work the following morning listening to the Psychedelic Furs, proof that the new musical kick is settling in. I’m not there too long before the entire student body is inconvenienced by another prank bomb threat – this time, like others, someone has written on the bathroom window. (one clue, the person is not very smart, spelling the word “bom”). Of course, better a prank by a bad speller than a reality. The announcements later on remind the students that there are sizable rewards for tips to locate the guilty parties, and a trip up the river for those caught.

Okay. It’s not amusing anymore. The second successive day bomb threat is wearing thin. You know it’s a problem when even the students are grumbling about how they would rather be in class than walking in a herd to go sit in the bleachers of the football stadium. At lunch I discover that for the first time since the stent was removed I have some difficulty swallowing my food. To me the enchilada seems to have the density of a burrito. I leave work early that day to sit at home with Brookie, who is sick again. But I know what she wants that will make her feel better. Another viewing of “Lord of the Rings”. She opts for “The TwoTowers”, specifically the segment where the character Legolas greets the hero, Aragorn, after the latter has crawled back from a tumble off a cliff. Legolas wisecracks, “you look terrible”, a remark that makes Brooke giggle. (She will ask in future days for me to start the disc precisely at this place “where Aragorn falls off the cliff”, just to laugh again).

Friday, July 13, 2012

Part 111 Closure

Sunday May 1 joins the list of “do you remember where you were when…” days. I stay home from church today, learning later that it was accidentally (for me) “youth Sunday” and our choir was not singing anyway. I watch Joel Osteen on TV as he preaches about the importance of laughter in life. Of course, I’d laugh with joy too if I had his handsome looks while my beautiful wife stands at my side! Seriously, he is an inspiring speaker who never ceases to make me feel better by his sermons and books.

I go to sleep early, but Becah awakens me. The TV is on. I must be dreaming. They are announcing that Osama Bin Laden has been killed. Shot by Navy Seals who infiltrated his secret lair in Pakistan. And apparently not existing in hardship conditions either, but rather living it up with wine and beautiful women on hand. The raid was stunningly brave and effective, surprising to those in command who expected someone probably of lesser profile but secretly wishing for the big prize.

The moment brings closure after years of collective waiting, wondering in our country. Those craving justice for lost loved ones or for such an outrageous affront to our security would be comforted. He would join with the Hitlers and other criminals who did so much harm to so many, whose actions would leave an indelible stain on the world. Some, like me, for a time felt he was dead already and the “sightings” and “announcements” he periodically gave were simply the conjurings of some officials in his camp to perpetuate his fear mongering policies.

The strange thing after all these years for me was the act of celebrating someone’s death, no matter who they were and what they have done, especially on a holy day – Sunday. I wonder what the protocol for this should be. WWJD? Of course, this, like any killing of any human, depends on from which lens we choose to view it. The popular, nationalistic response would be to cheer that justice prevailed. The religious response would have been to regret the taking of anyone’s life. Such conflicting responses we are taught from our culture. Like so much in life, hard choices and unclear answers fill our times on this earth.

Part 112 Wrap-ups

The following days are very brisk for May (the temperature one morning drops to the low forties). The clouds fill the sky, then clear by middays. On Friday we drive across town to Baseball USA, a huge sports facility, to play this week’s game. If we made the major leagues with our regular park, we are in the World Series with this one. The girls stare at the size of the place, with so many fields to play on that we wonder if we will find ours. Bree has her best softball game to date, hitting every time up (four), scoring three runs, and batting in two, as the team wins (16-9) with its highest number of total runs scored thus far. After the game, on our side there are nothing but bright faces.

My brother celebrates his birthday, along with Mother’s Day, on May 8. His teenaged son Scott attends, looking pumped from working out. His daughter Stefanie is buoyant due to her upcoming marriage. Such a pleasant day preps me nicely for the next one, where I again go to the hospital, this time for the procedure to have the stent removed. I arrive at 11:00 a.m. and wait until four to start. Much rides on this outcome. I need desperately for this dilation to finally work, for I know what must be done if it doesn’t.

At home on the following days my lethargy continues, perhaps from all the days laboring under the stent and popping pain pills. I have CAT scan at the request of my urologist to see if a kidney stone lurks inside me (he is suspicious due to my incident with the blood in the urine). Back home, the kids hold on to their LOTR addiction, re-watching it in installments. I continue my own kick of listening to Yes wherever I drive. I eat more solid foods now, and they drop fairly well into my stomach, but it requires my eating very slowly and consuming much milk in the process. At least I can eat, though, and for that I am grateful.

Breanna has been tearful the past few days, saying that she misses her mom when she is at school. We think it could be manipulation (Bree being no stranger to this technique). But with everything that has gone on, genuine insecurity and worry can hardly be ruled out. I listen to Rick Wakeman’s “Return to the Center of the Earth” CD on the way to my south campus at work. Becah surprises me today by bringing me an enchilada and guacamole from Taco Cabana for lunch. I realize this is partly a bribe to get me to wade through our calendars together to schedule activities for the next two months. Although planning out my life in great detail is one of my least favorite things to do, the same act brings great peace and joy to Becah. Plus at least it gives me some time alone with her.

Our first rain in a while arrives this afternoon, cancelling softball practice. But it does give us a great opportunity to finish watching (again) “The Return of the King”, wrapping up the trilogy for a second time.

We evacuate the high school on Friday during lunch time after a bomb threat is received. With final exams looming and the encouragement for everyone to start getting serious, as well as due to all the sheer restlessness that accompanies the closing of the school year, it is likely a prank from some fearless student.

Bree completes her swim trials tonight prior to beginning her competitive swimming season. She is first in her group in freestyle and backstroke. Impressive. We haven’t quite wrapped up softball, though, so the overlapping sports seasons are crowding me in right now.

Softball comes to a close on a bright and shiny and surprisingly cool next morning. Bree and I practice a little before her last game begins at 10:30. During the course of the Sea Monkey’s biggest victory yet (20-6), Bree slaps four hits scores three times, and bats in two runners. The team caps off their winning season with a pizza party at DoubleDaves. I eat one slice of cheese pizza, one of spinach/tomato, and one (dessert) slice of chocolate chip. Far below my usual amount for buffet pizza, but today, I am well satisfied with my progress.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Part 110 Addictions

That evening I manage to break the kids’ “Pirates of the Caribbean” addiction by introducing them to a new set of movies that will instantly become Brooke’s new addiction: the fantastic “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. I am a little hesitant to let them view this, for fear that the orc creatures will scare Brooke in particular. Both she and her sister are enthralled, though, and just want more.

Easter morning comes with all its glory. I try to contribute by singing in the choir. Bree walks across the room and hugs me as the congregation passes the peace. That afternoon my parents, my niece, and her daughter and husband come over for lunch. We have gumbo and brownies, and I am able to tentatively eat a little. Everyone is in a great mood, elevated by the moment. That evening the kids and I continue the “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings” film.

The next morning I am greeted at the mailbox by more medical bills. I am starting to dread even checking the mail at all these days. Brooke and I watch “Rings: The Two Towers”. She is riveted to the screen, turning away only when the pathetic creature Gollum is onscreen. (She has her limits, it seems). We finish that movie the following day, and she retains her excitement.

A few days later things get bizarre on me. I wake up and immediately run to the bathroom to vomit. At work, I briefly pee a stream of blood before it clears to normal. I am tired all day, either from the stent or the pain medicine (or both). I still go to softball practice and pitch, determined to participate in my child’s life and not be dragged down by all of this. We watch part of LOTR “Return of the King” at night.

To get myself checked out, I visit my urologist, who performs a urine test and my annual prostate check (he will later inform me that those results look fine). We watch most of “Return of the King” in the evening.

Saturday morning Bree throws a huge fit over something minor. At the onset of her softball game, a team mate criticizes her fielding on a play, sending her again into tears. Breanna later is called back to the plate after running down the baseline (the ball was called foul), started crying again, and walked to the dugout, refusing to continue her at bat. I am livid, being both the team pitcher and her dad. Somehow I coax/threaten her back to bat, and she manages to get a hit and score a run that inning. She follows later with another hit and run scored. But she grounds out her last at bat and sobs again. The game is soon over and our team loses a third time, 20-13, to our apparent nemesis, the Angels. Again, the team has a strong offensive showing, but we are outgunned. Bree cries once more and refuses to join the congratulatory line to high five the opponents. Some days just go this way – my daughter is learning this life lesson.

A bright spot, though. Everyone is tired but thrilled when we conclude watching “The Lord of the Rings”. Before we can let out a sigh, though, Brooke wants to start the whole saga again!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Part 109 Clipped bridals and cheap bribes

A trip back to the medical center is required for the probe in my nose to be taken out (the probe is a device inserted to photograph images in my esophagus). We return to the center yet again the following day for another physician appointment, me dragging from a rough night’s sleep and feeling nauseous. Just as we turn on to Fannin Street, minutes before our arrival, I abruptly throw up. The grocery bag on the floor board that I brought for an emergency doesn’t get used in time. After a clean up, we meet with Allison, who believes the pain medicine I am taking contributes to the nausea. I am directed to another room, where I lie down to have an x-ray of the stent. As I close my eyes, I experience a mild hallucination, which quickly leaves. The image taken reveals a successful stent placement. Next, in Dr. Bl-s’ office, the bridal under my nose is clipped. However, when Dr. Bl- pulls at the wire to remove it, I panic. The intent is for this long wire wrapped inside my nose to just come out when it is yanked. This is very painful, though, and it doesn’t budge, so I take option two, which is for the doctor to snip it and have the wire drop compliments of gravity down into my stomach. I cough and panic again as it appears that the wire is stuck (it finally falls).

I am still shaky at home. Saturday morning I awake much more rested, although the soreness inside continues, enough for me to take another pill to lessen its jab. Bree is coming off of strep throat but decides she is able to play in her softball game anyway. I am not sure if I can pitch the entire game, but I’ll give it a try. Breanna strikes out her first at bat. In the dugout later I shamelessly offer her five dollars if she gets a hit the next time up. She does, then smacks another one her third time up. She even scores two runs as her team strides to a 14-7 victory. We both finish the entire game, feeling satisfied. Proving as we all know that money can buy wins in sports.

The next few days are highlighted with fatigue at work and poor sleep at night as a result of the discomfort from the stent and drowsiness from the medications. Yes’ “Big Generator” and “Ladder” CDs are rousing and inspiring, but not enough to jolt me out of this condition.

At lunch one day at my “away” campus, I discover my extension tube that I need for pouring liquid into my g-tube is missing. I speed back home on highway 249 and suddenly see flashing lights in my rearview mirror. I ask the policeman to sympathize with my feeding tube situation (okay, maybe I embellish by saying I am in extreme pain), to no avail. He tickets me for doing 65 in a 55 zone, generous since I was easily going 75. Arriving at home, I find a substitute tube and drive back, only to discover it doesn’t fit. I grind up a pain pill, add water, and drink it, along with the Ensure. I realize this is the first time I have ever tasted the drink; I have always just poured it in a tube. It really isn’t bad, although I’ve spilled so much of this stuff on me that I can’t really get excited about drinking it at all. I spin around in the chair and see the missing extension tube on the floor.

Next Saturday I practice hitting some balls with Bree before the game. Her Sea Monkeys win easily 13-6, piling up more runs each game. Her team was actually ahead 13-1 going into the last inning, and since each team gets a five run limit per inning, the Sea Monkeys didn’t even need their last at bat to win. Breanna is three for three at bat, also scoring three runs and batting in two. She is totally on a roll and doesn’t even need my bribes to hit well.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Part 108 Bills, budgets, bridals, and Bl-

The buzz for the past few weeks at work has revolved around the monumental state budget deficit. Bills and proposals are flying all around Austin, with propositions crying for pay reductions, work time reductions, stuffing more children into already overflowing classrooms, and outright teacher layoffs. Only the bureaucratic morass is keeping some of them from being passed.

It smells fresh outside at lunchtime. Flowers are blooming everywhere. Nothing Austin can or cannot do will change this. It is a day that calls out for me to throw softballs to Bree in the park. She hits them more confidently each time we go out. The beauty of the day makes me want to do whatever I can to make it stay. This would be an ideal time, then, to install the water sprinkling system in the backyard, which withered in past summers due to lack of rain

On April 13 I rise at four a.m. to make a six o’clock appointment with my physician to once again have a stent placed inside my body, something I said that I would not do again. Dr. Bl- has made a few alterations, though, which have contributed to my choice. (Of course, the main reason I have chosen the dilatation is to avoid having a six hour plus surgery and all of its accompanying potential complications). She will strengthen the esophagus by injecting it with steroids. The stent will have less opportunity to migrate south because it will be held in place by thin wires that will be attached to the base of the esophagus and will lead up to a bridle (like on the saddle of a horse) fixed under the base of my nose. This will irritate my nose and make breathing awkward for two days until the wires are cut (not to mention that I won’t look too pretty either). I meet two male nurses, both named Brett (I take this as a good sign, as this is my dog’s name). After the briefer wait this morning due to the quite early start time, preparation, and procedure, I awake, feeling uncomfortable. My throat is sore from having a breathing tube inserted in me during the procedure. Apparently all went well, though.

When we arrive home Enrique and his crew are finishing the installing of our sprinkler system that should correct some of our dry ground problem. Bree got into serious trouble when we were gone for crying, screaming, and door slamming. Apparently Brooke is not the only child having trouble coping with all this.

It is a rough night sleeping with this contraption in my nose, and the anesthesia always colors the mix in weird ways. I awake about every 10 minutes with breathing difficulties and sore throat. I’m compelled to drink water constantly, with subsequent bathroom runs as a result.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Part 106 Options: or, heads you lose, tails you lose

Two days later, on a bright and clear Thursday, I return to the medical center, this time with an ice bag in my lap compliments of the school nurse. My groin is aching from the aggravated hernia, the timing being, on this occasion, especially poor. Yes’ “Magnification” CD again fills my ears. The groin swelling fortunately recedes as I reach the physicians’ offices. Dr. Ly-, after first examining me and observing that I look “wonderful”, expresses his concern about my considering what he describes, in his typical low key manner, as being a “pretty big surgery”. He suggests attempting another dilation first (doesn’t he know how many of these have flopped unimpressively in the past?). We talk about our home state of Louisiana, and he speaks positively about C.E. Byrd, my high school, and Louisiana Tech, my first college attended. After meeting with him, I am feeling much better (when someone is impressed with your present appearance and your background too, who wouldn’t feel better?). I drop by and talk with Dr. Bl’-s assistant Allison about the dilation or surgical options. I feel less secure now that I talk to her – it will be, after all, her cohort who will soon want me to decide my fate.

My friend Brian and I lead another successful April Fool’s Day inservice at work. The beautiful weather persists. At dinner, though, I get another all too familiar result when I can’t finish the veggie burger (no bread), rice, and broccoli. Also, we have concerns that my eating inconsistencies, pending medical procedures, and reports of church members’ recent deaths have taken their toll on Brooke, my youngest. She has asked many questions lately related to health and mortality, and seems to be worrying more these days. She usually changes the subject quickly though, preferring to discuss her continued obsession of “Pirates of the Caribbean”.

Part 107 Baseball, birthdays, and broccoletti

Saturday smiles pleasantly. Bree’s Sea Monkeys defeat their opponents with a solid 12-7 victory, with Breanna again aiding her team at the plate with two hits. At home, we look over Bree’s current report card, finding it overflowing with As and excellent conduct marks. We have already decided that today will be perfect for celebrating Becah’s birthday (officially tomorrow), so I make my specialty dish – broccoletti. I found this recipe in the newspaper, years ago. If you mix steamed broccoli, cooked spaghetti, sautéed onions and mushrooms, garlic, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, pepper, parmesan cheese, and douse it with white wine, you have a crowd pleaser! Follow that with chocolate brownies and you can’t lose. My niece and her husband, my parents, and Becah’s mom and grandmother come for the celebration. I do fairly well until the second glass of wine, which triggers some swallowing problems. After dinner, in the den Brooke requests more “Pirates”…

Sunday afternoon I walk to the school park with Bree, where we practice her softball batting. I have her position her left foot more forwardly and swing more aggressively. The result is a remarkable improvement in her batting skills. Now, if she can just transfer this to the games…

Becah and I meet Monday with Brooke’s preschool teacher. She describes Brooke as being tentative and shy at school and quite concerned – to the point of worrying – about life events. We discuss my medical issues as contributing factors, as well as Brooke’s former teacher who left at mid year due to her husband’s illness. We are surprised, fearing that the teacher was going to tell us that our usually never-at-a-loss-for-words daughter was being too verbal and even sassy at school.

Another afternoon of pitching to Bree at the park produces the same results. Her stance, her swing, everything is in synch. She rips the balls past me, one after another.

A few days later Becah accompanies Bree to her scouts trip out of town in nearby Livingston. Brooke and I go on a movie watching marathon well in to the night: “Tangled”, two episodes of the teen show “Victorious”, and (of course) “Pirates” (this time number three). When she falls asleep, I resume reading Richard Adams’ novel “The Plague Dogs”, a touching fantasy about animal abuse, a favorite of mine that I am going back to after many years.

Bree returns too late to make her next softball game, and her team loses 18-10 to the undefeated Diamonds. I pitch anyway – my public requires it! One of the coaches says I am throwing high. I don’t think so, but the pitching bag had been moved up two feet, so that might have influenced my aim (maybe he’s right after all, but I’m the star here; let him do a better job). Our defense was erratic, but that is no surprise. Batting has only two steps: make contact, then run as fast as you can. With fielding a batter out (assuming a ball hit on the ground), a defensive player must catch the ball and throw accurately to a receiver. The receiver must catch it, and then have the wherewithal to tag the runner out in time. A four step process, therefore twice as difficult to master.

After the game I take Brooke to her best friend’s birthday party. That evening she actually watches “Pirates” two times in succession.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Part 105 Clean scopes, ducks and sea monkeys

After a surgery, there is a tendency to be lazy the following day, so I indulge in that tendency by laying off work and finishing the book “1969”, a reflection of what the author considers to be a pivotal and exciting year in U.S. history. Becah spends the next day in a downtown Houston hotel complex for a getaway with lady friends. While there she receives calls from Drs. Ly- and Bl-s’ offices with good news about scans and biopsies – everything looks clean. The kids and I celebrate with yoghurt out followed by watching “Suite Life of Zack and Cody: the Movie” on TV.

On Saturday I wake up on the couch at 2:30 a.m. Brett had awakened me with his growling earlier and I had finally got back to sleep, only to be awakened now. I get up to go sleep in my bed. The kids are sleeping there and it is too crowded for me, so eventually I return to the couch. Sometimes you just accept this is what must be done.

This morning Bree’s softball team plays the Ducks. One of the girl’s dads wants to try his hand pitching the first inning. After having little luck eliciting hits, he asks me to throw in the second. I encourage him to try again, but before he can, another dad steps in to try. The results are similarly uninspiring. The head coach asked me to pitch the third inning. Trailing 3-0, we get three runs to tie. Before the fourth inning, one of Bree’s teammates comes up to me and pleads for me to pitch. We get four more runs, and even after the Ducks’ late rally, the final score is 7-6, Sea Monkeys. The victory insures my status as the pitcher of every game and each inning of those games thereafter. I am excited too because Bree hit safely two times and drove in two runs; she also caught the ball twice (a major feat in this league).

Now Dr. Co- calls her scope of my throat as being “perfect”. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, but the whole system is functioning better since my visit with Dr. Bl-, who widened my esophagus as a bonus when she did the biopsy. With the assistance of a few glasses of chocolate milk, my dinner tonight of scrambled eggs, spinach, corn, and veggie sausage slides down easily.

The next day I drive to the medical center to discuss my next step of surgical options with Dr. Bl-. The front runner plan is to cut out the withered portion of my esophagus (saving the remainder), lifting up a section of my stomach, and attaching it to the good part of the esophagus. Dr. Bl- refers to herself as being a “mad scientist”, willing to experiment and take risks when needed. I don’t know if I should admire her bravery or wince at the prospect of reckless behavior going on in my insides. I think about this over a Mexican dinner at Ninfa’s where I fail at enjoying the margarita but succeed in downing a cheese enchilada, rice, and beans (it takes two large glasses of milk, however, for me to accomplish this).

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Part 100 Trains and metaphors

Bree’s first softball game is rained out (a disappointment as great for me as it is for her) on Saturday. The Sea Monkeys will have to wait a week until they can show what they have learned. I have finished a book called “The Traveler’s Gift” and start “Wherever You Go, There You Are”, back on my nonfiction, philosophy readings.

Becah struggles the next morning with bad allergies, a factor that probably contributes to another of our verbal uproars. A beautiful day evolves outside, though, one so glorious that it will quell even our bad behavior. After watching everyone eat lunch at a restaurant and a quick stop at the bookstore, we go to enjoy some moments at nearby Cypress Creek park. Leaving, we stop at a railroad crossing as a train whizzes by. This is a first for the kids. Bree is excited, but Brooke is fearful. A rolling metaphor for how one can react to the uncontrollable forces in life. After a long wait, we continue to the store and buy some softballs, which we throw and hit at the school park after we get home.

I come home from work next day for lunch, but am unsuccessful with the yoghurt. My food selection choices are now whittled down to milk and smooth ice cream. I try to cope with this. In the evening I nonetheless have a mellow feeling as I turn to a book for distraction (probably the pain pill I took for my hernia, again acting up, doesn’t hurt either). I am reading Thoreau’s “Walden”, which everyone in college read but I have never opened. Worthwhile sentiments but rather dry reading. I am still listening to Yes music and related bands, like Chris Squire’s “Conspiracy” CD. I have discovered the joys of downloading iTunes when Amazon occasionally lets me down.

The following evening I am reading to Bree before bedtime. She introduces me to a library book about Harriet Tubman, a female slave from Civil War times who escaped and rescued many people via the Underground Railroad. She made a new home in Philadelphia but returned multiple times, risking her life on each occasion, to the dangerous South to free others who were enslaved. After finishing the book a later night I conclude that she was a true hero that should probably have her own holiday. Undoubtedly fearful, she jumped on the train anyway.

Another train metaphor and another life lesson.

Part 101 Lost gems and tsunamis

One morning for the first time I cannot get hot chocolate down. I regret instantly the mornings I took for granted that it would always be on hand, tasty and helping warm me from the early chill. It is a gorgeous day, bracing initially, warming by noon. I drive to the south end school to work. Coming back I enjoy listening to Eric Clapton’s “Layla” CD, and realize that I have never really listened to the entire album. I have been an avid fan of music all my life and find that it is easy to put aside one album as you listen to another that has just been released. If the progression of tunes is rapid enough, over time some pieces get overlooked or forgotten.

For that matter, this is true of other life events. Gems abound, present but not attended to. Life is too abundant to capture and hold it all.

On the eleventh of March a huge tsunami - 8.9 on the scale – strikes Japan. Thirty feet tall waves blast the shoreline, which will gradually taper to six feet high off the beaches in California, upon which surfers will ride. An abundance of destruction, the devastation is hard to comprehend, even with the photos spread across TV screens.

Here in Houston it is another cool morning followed by warm afternoon. I am able to drink the hot chocolate today and eat ice cream tonight. I am trying to hold on to these simple pleasures and not let them escape.

Part 102 Peace is every step

March 12, Saturday begins the first day of spring break holidays, and the weather has the pleasant variety of temperatures as have most of the days this month. Bree’s first softball outing results in an 11-7 loss, but they play well and everyone has fun. I pitch the entire game. Bree hit the ball twice when at bat, getting tagged out once and being safe at first another time. Our games are at the high school girls’ softball field, but after our practices on the bumpy elementary grounds, we might as well be at a manicured major league stadium.

After the game, Becah drives everyone but me for a few days in Nederland to visit the relatives. I watch the “Yes: Live at the House of Blues” DVD, as usual overwhelmed at their greatness. After this, I wash the pollen off my car that builds in layers daily. I manage to eat with no problems several Hershey kisses and two bowls of cream of mushroom soup. I am amazed, and celebrate with my dog Brett as we go on a walk to the school.

Monday I go for another periodic PET scan, driving through this morning’s drizzle. In the afternoon I must drive to the medical center to meet with Dr. Bl-’s staff to sign consent for the scope and biopsy that she requires before any surgery is done. Her office is in a hospital, but across the way from the hospital where I have been previously treated. I meet with Allison, the physician’s assistant, after sitting longer than I care to in the waiting room, then get annoyed at having to go to another floor and meet with a nurse to review anesthesiology requirements, have yet again more vital signs taken, and mostly just fill out forms. I wait an additional hour for the honor of doing this. I decide to practice the words of “Thich” (taken from his book that I hold in my hands, “Peace Is Every Step”) and not be upset at any of life’s moments. The nurse who finally arrives is a pleasant Oriental lady who discusses yoga with me, and assures me that she is very qualified and the hospital is an excellent facility.

After I am finished, I drive home at 5:20, usually a guaranteed recipe for a grueling time in a downtown Houston traffic jam. But on this day, where the weather has changed, cooler now and with blue skies overhead, there is no traffic jam. My positive attitude and peaceful demeanor must have worked!

I weigh myself at home, and I am up to 162. This is light for my typical weight, but I am satisfied, especially in light of my eating struggles. I try some cream of mushroom soup again (even with some chunks in it). Everything goes well until I reach the end of the bowl, when I start coughing it back up.

Part 103 Taxes, dentists and more pirates

We must finally complete the annual taxes that loom over our heads, and we drop the papers with good riddance to the CPA’s office. Mind you, if I were expecting a refund they would have been cheerfully handed off as soon as I could dash through the forms.

We take a family drive to the dentist for spring teeth cleaning. Bree has been a motor mouth all the way, enough to prompt Becah to offer her five dollars if Bree can remain quiet for the remainder of the drive. She struggles admirably but is unable to collect the money. After the dentist, I am inundated with questions and comments from the kids related to “Pirates of the Caribbean” (like, “who is Johnny Depp’s real father? Is it Keith Richards?”). Brooke remarks that she would like to meet Jack Sparrow if he were a real person.

Bree and I return to the lumpy practice field for softball the following day. She is not batting as well today, probably fatigued from going swimming earlier in the day. We watch “Pirates” (number three) that night until late in the evening.

Brooke awakes the next morning instantly asking to watch “Pirates” again. I indulge her for a while before we head to the movie theater for “Mars Needs Moms”, a mediocre movie and one of the few we have gone to lately that was less than exciting. After the movie we head to the school park before returning home to watch the only movie anyone seems interested in these days. I sip on chocolate milk while watching, with some success, and raise my cup. “Aye, matey!”

Part 104 Meet the new hospital, and “here’s a cocktail on us”

March 23 begins with a mass of cars crawling on the Beltway as Becah and I try to reach the medical center for my esophageal scope and biopsy. We arrive at the hospital (my first procedure at this facility) at 9:15 as directed. I am quickly admitted, in my gown, seated on the bed, and pricked for a blood specimen. Then we wait. And wait. And wait. A television program is highlighting the life of Elizabeth Taylor, who died this morning. The surgery was set for 11:00, but they are running late. Friends Francis and Izzy drop in – Izzy has been battling medical demons for a few years now and is a regular at hospitals. A lady from church also comes by to offer a prayer.

Between three and four in the afternoon they wheel me into the operating room, where I wait some more in a row of beds with men and women also anticipating operations. A man nearby is given a “margarita cocktail” to relax and prepare him. I ask his doctor for one also as he passes by my bed. He pauses, scribbles in my chart, and walks on. A nurse comes by and injects a little Versed in my tube. I feel a slight buzz. A bit later they flush my tube and inject some more of the drug. By 6:00, when the procedure finally takes place, I am already out.

We come home around 9:00. The kids are entertaining the sitters (CC and GG) with stories and songs. Bree received a gold sticker from school that day for her excellent behavior. This doesn’t surprise me, since she shines in conduct at school while she would have extreme difficulty receiving stickers for home behavior.

Despite the ridiculous wait time at the hospital, I am pleased. The procedure went well, and every staff member, from the first aide Lynn, who wheeled me in, to the last man Mike, who personally guided me to my car, was great.

Part 98 Winter eases its bite

Bree has started playing softball. I played a lot of sports as a kid, so I am delighted that she is interested. The league is dads’ pitch, so I volunteer. The only problem is that I have discovered another physical limitation – I am unable to get my glove over my left hand. We I finally succeed, I cannot close the glove to catch a thrown ball. So I must pitch and then catch the returned ball right handed. Fortunately, the kids don’t throw hard at this age, and the dads backing up the catcher observe my predicament and learn not to fire it back to me. The girls hit fairly well in general (I have practiced with Bree in our front yard), they can throw nicely at times (with varying accuracy), and occasionally they will catch the balls hit or thrown to them (although frequently the balls go through their legs or sail over their heads). No one else challenges me for the pitching position, so I continue.

I am on a musical biography kick, so I read Pattie Boyd’s entertaining book about George Harrison and Eric Clapton “Wonderful Tonight”, followed by “You Never Give Me Your Money”, a tale about the Beatles. I also watch a French film called “Girl on the Bridge”, about a suicidal woman who becomes a knife thrower’s assistant, which I find to be well made and interesting, if a bit warped.

Winter is drawing to a close, as it should be if we are starting baseball season. The days have been brisk and cold, although it may just be my continued perception of them as such since I have still not regained all my weight and strength. This winter has at least not been as oppressive as last year’s was, when I was battered by disease and treatments.
I still turn my collar up against the chill, but with a little less desperation these days.

Part 99 Redbuds

If not officially Spring, March 1 certainly is doing a remarkable impersonation. The day is cool and beautiful. Trees are filled with color, typified by the red buds in our back yard. I work a half day, then drive to the medical center for blood work, a CAT scan, and a meeting with the plastic surgeon who will work side by side with Dr. Bl- should I opt for surgery. He is congenial and talks for an hour about a surgical technique that he will use which I find fascinating if only it would be attempted on someone else. Despite the intensity of the procedure, I leave feeling more comfortable.

At choir practice we practice Haydn’s “Creation”, made more difficult since I’ve misplaced my glasses. Driving home, I shift to different musical pieces (Paul McCartney’s “Red Rose Speedway”) to relax. Reading classical music is a mental trip to the gym, and I need a break after the workout.

The following morning I reluctantly drive several miles to a school in the far south end of our district. I have been asked to fill in one day a week due to staff turnover which I am guessing has been in part a result of conflicts with the building principal. I and others have previously met with the principal to discuss services needed and have seen her in action. Her reputation was accurate. The day here is uneventful, though, and I have no subsequent problems with the lady. I practice softball later with Bree’s team, enjoying being active outside in the cool air. At home, I find that Brooke is in trouble for talking rudely to CC and GG. We are suspicious that the sassy dialogue comes straight from the mouths of certain characters from Disney and Nickelodeon teen shows that both kids have been drawn to lately.

I have another training Friday morning, presenting with my friends Brian and Jason. Brian and I have been doing this for a few years now, training teachers and other school staff on how to effectively interact with and, as a last result and when they are a danger to self or others, how to physically restrain out-of-control youths, and we are the proverbial well-oiled machine as co-presenters. Brian is from a small East Texas town, the youngest of 11 children. He drawls his words, has been observed more than once pinching dip under his tongue, and at first glance has redneck written all over. But he is sharp as can be and is a terrific speaker. He is surprisingly sensitive, and once drew tears from everyone seated in the pin-drop silent and largely female audience when he related his tale of how he was once a bad boy before he was redirected down the path of salvation by a teacher who refused to give up on him (at its closing, I rolled my eyes and characterized it as truly an “Oprah moment”). We have been described as being the “Blue Collar” team, a name derived from the former TV Show featuring the more sophisticated (now there’s an oxymoron) Jeff Foxworthy and the card-carrying redneck Larry the Cable Guy (Brian asked me once which one he was, my response being to simply stare at him).

Jason is a much younger, fresh-out-of-college looking blonde haired, stocky person that Brian describes as being a “man mountain”. He is a P.E. coach and former football player who would be intimidating if not for his perpetual grin and good-natured personality. He has recently been added to our small group of trainers, and it is always nice when he is around. In a profession lopsided with females it is a pleasure to be able to hang out with guys and talk sports and other manly things, which we do in asides or during breaks in the presentations.

I drive home listening to a favorite eighties band, Duran Duran and rest a little before my occupational therapy session. I am still attending these, but feel as if I am on a plateau in my left hand fine motor development, and the sessions are feeling more perfunctory. Brookie greets me when I arrive back home with a big hug. Spontaneous hugs from my children continue to be some of the great joys in my life. Becah pulls me aside later and tells me she talked to her teacher earlier today about Brooke’s acting out behavior at home lately. Her teacher described Brooke as being very smart. She has also observed some “drama” going on among some of her preschool class girls, including Brooke. She has no real concerns about her behavior, though.

I eat cheddar soup for dinner, excluding the usual broccoli, since the basil in last night’s tomato soup got stuck. The no-filler smooth soup goes down, but I experience my first ice cream failure later when the rocky road doesn’t work.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Part 96 Responsibilities, write-offs, and Captain Jack Sparrow

I am reflecting on my meeting with Dr. Bl-. I also think about the barium swallow test that I took at the center after I met with her. The physician present at that study observed that the barium solution was going down poorly (despite that fact, the yoghurt and chocolate milk for lunch slid down fine). I also reflect on the separate test required to assess the strength of my neck arteries and to determine if they would withstand the stress of surgery. I think of these as I review some of the medical costs I have accrued. The occupational therapy charges alone run over an appalling $600 per session. I know that I will be responsible for only a portion of these, and that a good bit will be written off by the hospital, but still…

This time of year is unsettling to me because I am now financially responsible for more of these medical bills that will be arriving in my mailbox. At the end of the previous year, I could at least be assured that no matter how many doctor meetings and tests and procedures I incurred, I had maxed out of my out-of-pocket costs. But, as they say, that was then, and this is now.

Brookie, my movie watching pal, sits on the couch with me as we again watch “Pirates of the Caribbean” (we alternate between the first and third installments). She is fascinated with the Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner characters, but is totally enthralled by Captain Jack Sparrow. Johnny Depp is her new hero. The next day, while playing upstairs in the game room (probably “pirates”) she falls and hurts her wrist. She is tearful, but there does not appear to be any swelling, and she rebounds. Only after three days do we realize that she has continued to feel periodic discomfort, and a doctor visit confirms that it is broken.

So we spend less time playing recklessly, and more time being responsible, watching Captain Jack Sparrow.

Part 97 Leftovers

I occasionally these days walk over and pick up my guitar from its stand, hoping this time the fingers on my left hand will magically bend in place to form the chords and I can again play the instrument. I recently had a dream in which I could, just like before. But this time, as always now, I can’t make them bend right.

I play around on and compose on the keyboard too. I am able to very deliberately form some simple chords, but transitioning from chord to chord is laborious, and I am frustrated in this endeavor also.

My rhythmic abilities using the left hand have also been compromised. I played drums before any other instrument. I have a habit of continuing to play them, on podiums when I am speaking, on kitchen tables, and (my favorite) on steering wheels (I have joked that I buy a car based on the tone of its steering wheel). The latter is a particularly disturbing habit if you are a passenger in my car or a driver on the road when I am “performing”!

Other limitations face me as a result of the anesthesia mishap. Despite the occupational therapy sessions and the renewed arm and hand strength on my left side, I find my dexterity in that hand to be quite lacking. I am unable to tie a necktie (some would call this a blessing). I have made adjustments with my work attire, and there appear to be no problems with that. Of more concern, though, is my ability to use only my right hand to type on the computer. The high school typing class that I took has paid off enormously over the years – I have always been fast and accurate on the computer. But now I plod along, reaching my right hand fingers far across the board as I hit the shift key to capitalize letters. I can assist on some operations with my left hand, but try as I may I cannot make the left hand fingers line up with the correct keys.

Opening jars can be problematic. As well as other cooking requirements, like scraping carrots or pealing other vegetables. I like to cook, so these tasks are necessary to complete if I am to feed the family. I find that I call to Becah for assistance in doing these simple things, much to my dismay. Or I attempt them myself, with resulting drops and spills and inappropriate language.

Sometimes I try hard to rise above these limitations. Other times I simply give up.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Part 95 The young specialist and the desperate man

Valentine’s Day has a special poignancy this year due to all we have been through, and continue to experience. I give Becah sleep shirts and lotions from Victoria’s Secret and we have lunch out. The family enjoys the afternoon down the street at the park. These idyllic moments precede a big meeting tomorrow with Dr. Bl-, the esophageal specialist who will discuss surgical options with me. She comes with a glowing endorsement from Dr. Ra-, who it seems has come to the end of the line in his efforts to pull my esophagus wider. What I will require is something more dramatic.

She is surprisingly young looking, and attractive, with shoulder length auburn hair and pearls around her neck. Dr. Bl- enters the room well after her assistant, Allison, an even younger looking lady, has met with us an obtained the usual facts of the case. Where are all the old, crusty-looking, chiseled veterans when you need them! How can I take these people seriously? Dr. Bl- quickly dispenses with such thoughts with her sharp, witty, and egghead-like banter. She professionally cuts to the chase, spinning my head with unsettling descriptions of esophageal reconstruction possibilities. Unfortunately for me, none of them are pleasant. They require some form of carving on at least the now shriveled up section of my esophagus. One involves pulling up part of my intestine high up into my chest to form a new place through which food can flow. Dr. Bl- meets my borderline pessimistic and sarcastic observations and unreasonable requests with smiles, ignoring some of what I say and raising me with some of her own wry comments. (“Can’t we wait until the stricture just heals?”. “Yes, if you don’t want to eat again.”).
One option sounds pretty experimental to me, involving strange foldings of skin and organs in ways that I’m fairly sure were never intended to be. The procedure would be done using laser equipment monitored on a video screen. The most frightening aspect of all is the requirement that one of my lungs be deflated to make room for the probing inside me. Regardless of what she says after this, it never quite registers. Collapsed lung?! It all sounds desperate. It is. She assures me that she has experience in all of the proposed methods, and is confident we will be successful. A surgery could take six to seven hours to complete, with numerous risks. I am already uneasy about the prospect of being under anesthesia for that long. But possible pneumonia? I blank out from hearing about the many other possible malfunctions. Fortunately Becah is with me to take notes and ask about the particulars. Brooke has also come along, squirming in her seat. But she is calmed and entertained when Dr. Bl- suddenly whips out a pen and paper and sketches, then hands to her a picture of the cartoon character Garfield. After this interlude, the discussion continues. After about 30 minutes we walk out of the office, and I find I am in no hurry to make any decisions or pick any one of these undesirable paths to walk.

This isn’t fair. This isn’t right. Why am I being punished so long? What did I do? Have I been such a bad person in this life? Or are the reincarnationists right, and I have committed crimes in a previous life. Will this ever end? Where is my relief? And so forth…

I do a background check on Dr. Bl- , to whom Becah has taken an instant liking. She graduated from prestigious universities, has trained extensively, and has practiced for years. She specializes in thoracic surgery, has taught, and does research, participating in experimental treatment trials. Dr. Bl- has even received a “Compassionate Doctor Award” from high ratings received in all areas related to her practice (from physician skills to bedside manner). I would certainly recommend her to anyone else but me.

I am still holding out for an alternative to going under the knife. .

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Part 94 Wonderland

My entire world can’t be built around food. I will read more books. I finish “King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table” and learn about bravery in the face of dragons and other dangers. I read a book that I vaguely remember from college – “Winesburg Ohio”, a fascinating study of alienation in a small town. This reminds me of how alienated I currently am from everyone else. Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Miracle of Mindfulness” calls me to focus on the present moment and not live in the past or ruminate about the future.

I also listen to music. Driving in my car through the icy days I listen to Yes’ “Magnification” CD, a great record that I somehow overlooked when it came out several years ago. I reach back further with a solo album by Yes bassist Chris Squire, and find that, along with most music in Yes’ repertoire, I am emotionally and spiritually elevated.

On a Friday night I accompany my oldest daughter Breanna to a father-daughter dance at a suburban country club. The theme is “Alice and Wonderland”, and we watch a parade of characters stroll by, including, of course, Alice, along with the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen, and a very tall flower (a man walking on stilts). I go to the party with mixed feelings. After all, a building filled with screaming little girls, lots of food I cannot eat, and no beer to drink to ease the situation…But it is an opportunity to get closer to my daughter and be a “present” dad. Besides, the theme represents my absolute favorite book. And to top it off, there is not a DJ but a live band! And they are good! Most of the time Bree is off running around, or on the dance floor with a group of friends. But I actually get her to almost dance with me on a special father-daughter number. Suddenly we realize she has lost her pearl necklace. (Every Christmas my mother gives each of my daughters pearls to add to a chain, so this necklace is special to Bree). She panics and sobs serious tears. We run around, checking the dance floor, the front desk, everywhere. We get the lead singer of the band to make an announcement. We try to make the best of this, while I worry that someone will go home with a special prize tonight. But the Mad Hatter announces that he found the necklace, and Alice herself clasps it around Breanna’s neck. I wonder if there is some symbolism to all this, but am unable to decipher it if there is.

Bree informs me the following evening that the night is her favorite time because it allows you to dream. I am reminded that as a child I often found solace in the evening for exactly the same reason, and that I was able to temporarily escape many an uncomfortable feeling, if only briefly, through dreams and the generosity of the night.