Wednesday, April 25, 2018

What the ... ?

I found a school textbook my brother, who is sixty-two, had in sixth grade. While leafing through it, this small piece of paper turned up. It's my work, and I would have done this when I was around fourteen or so, years after my brother, who is older than I, would have used this book. I know I'd never read the book, so how it ended up there is a mystery. A greater mystery, though, is what on earth I was trying to convey with these doodles. It was forty-five years ago and I have no recollection at all of doing them. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

The view from my table

This morning, while reading the paper and drinking coffee, I saw three vehicles in succession, about twenty seconds apart, go by. The first was a police car, the second an ambulance, the third another township car of some kind that probably had to do with medical examination. 
All three passed at an unhurried pace with no alarms. Clearly, they were going to remove a body, probably that of an elderly person who had died in his or her house under medical supervision.
chair and shadows

Now chances are good that the remaining person in the house, likely the spouse, will move. The house will be purchased by a developer and torn down. Its replacement will be much larger than the original structure, which is probably a two-story Colonial, but fairly in keeping with the neighborhood, unlike the grotesque stucco mansions common in the late 1990s. It is the way of how things are in this area. The house I live in—my late parents'—is also a "tear down." It was built in 1952. Although my parents made many tasteful improvements like skylights and a family room, it doesn't have a full bathroom for each bedroom and the high ceilings and ample floor space today's house buyers expect.
Today is also one of the two trash collection days here. Cans and bins are at the end of all driveways. Watching workers in large trucks remove refuse on the same day as a body is taken out of a house can lead one to draw an uncomfortable parallel.

Monday, April 16, 2018

How much it cost to cut off my leg

In case you're wondering how much things I had done in February of this year (2018) cost, I got a breakdown from my insurance company. My insurance is decent (thank you, Obamacare!) so I've owed only a few thousand dollars. I know you're saying "Only?!" but my parents left me some money when they died in 2011, so I can manage it. It's in ascending order and just the highest ones.
  • Operating Room Service (This means cutting off my right leg at the hip and stitching up what's left. My doctor's house has a swimming pool and a tennis court. Not kidding. I like the guy, though.): $40,866
  • Intensive Care (really, it was a sort of half-intensive care room for a few days until I got moved into a normal room): $17,964
  • Supplies (Oh, come on, this much? What am I, going to the moon?): $6,740
  • Pharmacy service (This is why you hear about $200 aspirins and things like that.): $5,479
  • Anesthesia service (You're going to cut off my what? No! No! So ... sleepy ... no ... don't. Dave ... stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave.): $5,130
  • Semi-private room (Actually, it was a private room, but I'm not going to call and tell them that.): $4,604
  • Recovery room (Is he dead? No? Slap his face and see if comes to so we can get him the hell out of here.): $3,913
  • Physical medicine (I have no idea what this means. They also billed me $614 for Occupational Therapy, so it can't be that, can it?): $1,688
  • Laboratory service (Looks like blood all right.): $1,319
Total: $87,703

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The amputree

I was crutching in Valley Forge National Park earlier today and came across this tree. I wondered if trees have phantom pains when limbs are removed like I've been having since my right was amputated at the end of February. It'd be awful for them if they did.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

2001 vs. Oliver!

There are those who may disagree with the choices the Academy of Motion Pictures makes for Best Picture every year, but their choice in 1968 was one no one could possibly disagree with: Oliver!
Mark Lester Oliver!
Mark Lester as Oliver Twist in Oliver!

Oh sure, you may say, 2001: A Space Odyssey is getting a lot of press now due to its prescience regarding artificial intelligence, general influence of technology on humans, the search for meaning in the cosmos and the technical proficiency and elegant pacing that was to have a huge effect on film for the next half century, but did it have songs like Where is Love? Did it have singing street urchins? 
Answer: Nope.
Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Those Academy folks sure knew what they were doing when not even nominating 2001. (The competition for Oliver! was Funny Girl, The Lion in Winter, Rachel, Rachel, and Romeo and Juliet.) They knew that Jack Wild's performance as the Artful Dodger and the song Oom-Pah-Pah were what people would be talking and writing about fifty years later. How could a musical based on an 1837 Charles Dickens novel not be far superior to a ground-breaking work of speculative fiction?
We all know the answer to that!

Saturday, March 31, 2018


We on the left of center hear all the time that we have to listen to the right more, to try to understand their concerns and beliefs. 
Telling someone to listen to others is seldom something you can argue against, but I say screw it. Of course I listen, but within a minute they say (or write) something that is a fundamental part of their argument that makes no sense to me. It's often based on a half-truth or a complete lie or is too mean-spirited for me to take as a legitimate point.
The bumper stickers in the photo above are a good example of this. I took the photo in the parking lot of a small shopping center in suburban Philadelphia, one well known for its highly educated populace and home to several good colleges and universities. 
What kind of a discussion could I have with the owner of this vehicle? The only thing I could agree with him (come on, we both know it's a him) is that supporting your local fire department is a good thing to do. Other than that, I get fatigued just thinking about talking to him.

Monday, March 26, 2018

A month ago

One month ago this morning I was at in hospital waiting to have my right leg amputated. I waited to be taken down to the operating room on a gurney on a floor two flights above the operating room. Lying down was an option. The space was small and curtained off. But instead of lying down I stood up, wearing my gown and those socks with grippers they give you, and paced back and forth. The only reason I did this was because I knew it would be the last time I'd walk anywhere. I massaged the leg, wiggled its toes, and stared at it.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Phantom pain

I wouldn't have guessed that phantom pain would have been as bad as it's been for me since my right leg was amputated nearly a month ago, but it is. We who have it aren't accorded the same status as those who have real pain, and I can see why; no one ever died from phantom pain. 
Or have they? It causes the same kind of stress as "real" pain, and wears on you in ways that weaken you. And although I haven't researched it, I'd bet there are numerous instances of those with it ending their lives.
An obvious question about phantom pain is this: Why is it pain? There have been a few times when mine has manifested itself as a convincing itch, but why isn't that always the case? In fact, why isn't the feeling one of having the missing limb massaged by an expert, gentle masseur? Ahhh ...
The obvious answer to this is probably that it's because the limb has been cut off. We're not evolved to see that as the "good" (in my case prophylactic) thing to do, so the primary readings the nerves are going to transmit are ones of pain. Pain serves to tell us that something is wrong with our body, or a part of our body. I shout at my leg, "I know! I know!" sometimes, but it does no good.
Soon, I will look into therapy. I've heard there are things that help lessen it.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Creepy as can be

When I was a boy, in the 1960s, a hypothetical question came up during a family chat. The question was, if you had cancer (which, at that time, nearly always meant you were going to die) would you want to know? The question sounds crazy now but it wasn't that long ago that patients weren't always informed fully of their conditions. My mother said she wouldn't. My brothers and I said we would, as did, I think, my father. 
Saturn devouring his son
Goya's "Saturn Devouring His Son."

These days we all have access to our medical records, of course, and it's for the best. Doctors make mistakes patients catch, or sometimes they don't think of something a patient might. I recently looked at a report based on the amputation of my right leg last month. It's like reading an autopsy report about yourself and in this case it is, indeed, about a chunk of myself. It's pasted below, but I don't plan to read it again.
B (2). Right leg, disarticulation: Received fresh in a specimen bag containing patient name and "right leg" is a right above-the-knee leg amputation measuring 81 x 17.5 x 16.5 cm consisting of femoral head and entire right leg extending down to the foot. The leg consists of an intact femoral head with a soft tissue resection margin that is red-pink and consisting of muscle, fat with overlying tan-yellow skin. The soft tissue overlying the thigh is serially sectioned to reveal a tan-yellow encapsulated lesion that is calcified measuring approximately 12 x 5.5 x 1.5 cm lying on the anterior surface of the leg. The mass grossly abuts the underlying metal rod implant and is 3.5 cm from closest overlying skin. The mass is 10 cm from the medial resection margin, 14 cm from the anterior resection margin, 11.5 cm from the lateral resection margin, and 16 cm from the posterior resection margin. The resection margins are inked black and the specimen is representatively submitted as follows:
B1. Anterior resection margin, representative
B2. Medial resection margin, en face, representative
B3. Lateral resection margin, en face, representative
B4. Posterior resection margin, representative
B5-B19. Tumor, representative, after brief decalcification
Gross done by Aidan P Kerr at 2/26/2018 3:39 PM.

Sunday, March 18, 2018


philadelphia inquirer photo
I know close to nothing about teenagers and, being a cranky, never-married man of around sixty who never had children, I usually assume the worst. You know: Their clothes are awful, they have no values, they eat nothing but junk and their music? It's just noise.
But some recent events have proved heartening to me. The picture above is of the front page of my home city's main newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer. It was published March 15, 2018, and is of school kids demonstrating in favor of gun control following the Stockton, Florida, school shooting.
After looking at it for several seconds, what struck me most was this: None of these kids is staring at his or her smart phone screen. You do see one kid in the back using some kind of device, but it looks like it might be what I call a legitimate camera. One out of that many is a low number.
Whatever you may think about the issue that drew them there, you have to take heart in that they were fully engaged in it and were there to try to make a difference. Yes, I'm sure a few of them were out for getting social media approval, but from what I've seen and heard of high schoolers since the Florida school shooting, many of today's teenagers are articulate and thoughtful.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Amputee videos

Josh Lundquist
Josh Sundquist.
As you'd imagine, there are many YouTube channels featuring people who, like I, have lost a limb. They have great advice. 
The best one for me is Josh Sundquist, who, like me, has lost a leg. Most of his videos were done about nine years ago but they're still useful. Another is Megan Absten. She lost an arm in an accident when she was fourteen and now seems to be around twenty. Her methods of physically coping are ingenious, but what I watch her for mostly is her attitude and how she's mentally coped with her disability.
The problem with both of these is that they're young. Josh is a can-do, bright, optimistic man now in his early thirties. He can go up a flight of stairs faster using his forearm crutches than anyone using only legs could. If not for his loss, he'd be a competitive skateboarder or something, and for all I know he's that too already. 
I, who will turn sixty in a few months, watch him and wish I had his ability.
megan absten
Megan Absten.
Then I realized how misplaced my envy was. Misplaced to the point of being stupid, actually. Josh, who lost his leg to a cancer similar to mine, would surely envy me for having had two legs decades longer than he had. Granted, my right leg wasn't much of a leg—it was seven inches shorter than the left—but I walked, climbed and bicycled many miles with it and did lots of things I doubt I'd have done without it, like backpacked in countries where there were few amenities for the handicapped. 
I feel like I owe Josh and Megan an apology but of course, for bad thoughts you can apologize only to yourself.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


While getting my right leg amputated and spending five days in a hospital afterward earlier this month, my two sisters-in-law cleaned and organized my living space. A lovely idea fueled by good intentions, but what they did says much about how I'm regarded in my family. 
A few of their actions:
  • They threw things out that I used daily. A favorite juice glass, for example. That I used these things was obvious by where they were; the dish rack next to the kitchen sink. They replaced the dish rack with a new one that's oriented a different way and makes cleaning up after meals a little more difficult. 
  • They didn't read the email I'd sent them and my two brothers about clothes I'd left for them to go through and decide whether or not to donate (I'd said, simply, the clothes "on the sofa") and got rid of all the clothes in the room, which included my winter coat (just a few years old, a gift from friends), two other coats, and two neckties that were special to me. 
  • They took up non-slip rugs I'd had in the bathroom and tucked them far away in a closet. Do you know what a tile floor feels like to a bare foot in a chilly house? Like a block of ice.
  • They got rid of many kitchen utensils I use and put out ones I never have and never will on counters in containers they look nice in.
They did all this without asking me, as though I'd be incapable of making a rational decision about it. I admit that there were spaces that needed clearing off and, having lived alone my entire life, that I'm not as good at doing that as I'd like to be. But I'm far from a hoarder. The trash and recycling go out every week, and I'd delivered many bags of clothes and books to my local Goodwill branch and my library's used book store in the weeks leading up to my operation. They made the house look like they thought it should look. 
The question is, how would they feel if someone had done that with their living spaces? Probably demeaned, at least a little, I'd guess.
fallen stop sign
A fallen stop sign.

Ask any adult who never married or had children how he or she is regarded by others in the family and the answer will be that they're not thought of as fully adult no matter how mature they may be.
But hey—this isn't something I plan to make a stink about. My disease will likely kill me in a year or two anyway and they'll be stuck with clearing out the house, so what they did so far can be seen as simply getting a head start on that, right?

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The surgical site

Friends and family are being very kind since I returned home last week after the amputation of my right leg five days before that. They want to take me out to dinner or bring meals to me. 
A Philadelphia view from a swanky 15th floor doctor's office.

Unfortunately, I'm not as I appear. The surgical site (for some reason I balk at calling it my "stump" but I guess I won't after some time) is a bundle of raw nerves, a drain, and many black stitches pulling on red skin. It's hard for me to sit still for longer than a few minutes before either the site hurts or phantom pain or sensation does. I may look like someone who would rather do nothing other than sit and eat and watch TV, but when I'm not lying down trying, futilely, to get some sleep, I'm up and about, sweeping floors, vacuuming, things like that. 
I'm eating well enough, but I wouldn't say I'm enjoying meals, and eating with people I like wouldn't change that much. I've never been good at declining invitations gracefully (at my best, my degree of sociability has always been well below average) but I'm working extra hard on doing so now. I don't want to get pigeonholed as a grouchy amputee, best avoided.   

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Home again

For those of you who may be curious, and I'd be one of you, the removal of my right leg six days ago resulted in a weight loss of a little over twenty pounds. That's not what it would be for most men my height and (previous) weight of 5' 9", 180, because the leg was seven inches shorter than the left, the difference being in the femur, and the calf muscles were fit but not nearly as developed as those of the left leg.
A night view from a hospital corridor.

 A furious nor'easter tore through the region and made it impossible for either of my brothers to pick me up the day of my release from the hospital, so I spent an extra day and night there using it as a sort of hotel, but one where they come by and give you medicine and take your vital signs now and then. Late at night, I put on my regular clothes and crutched through some of the halls to get out of the room and get some exercise. Nurses and others glanced up at me from their work stations, but none took action. I could see by their faces they were thinking, "Not my problem, this guy," which was fine with me.
Now I'm back in the house. Kind sisters-in-law did much cleaning and reorganizing. Most of it is for the good, but some little things I was sentimental about got tossed. A favorite juice glass, a liquor my late mother liked that I'd have a few sips of once or twice a year. But I am grateful, overall.
It takes longer to heal when you get old. Nylon stitches irritate. Making breakfast and taking a shower—sitting down—are productions. All this I've been through before, so I know it will improve in time and become normal. But still.
Mustn't whine, though. Got to soldier on.


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

It's done

My right leg, all of it, has been cut from my body and I don't even know where it is. I still feel it, if course. An itch here, the kind of ache that tells you your foot hasn't changed its position for too long there.
Just a glimpse of future weirdness to come I think.