Friday, July 13, 2018

About luck

You wad up a piece of paper and throw it toward a wastepaper basket ten feet away. (You should have recycled it, but this is to make a point.)

You're not good at throwing things and in this case your throw is even farther off than usual. 
But.
The paper hits a wall, then a book on a shelf, then the leg of a table, then the rim of the basket where it stops for a fraction of a second as if deciding on whether or not to go in the basket or on the floor.
Then it falls in the basket.
You applaud yourself for this lucky shot and wish others had been there to see it.
But.
There was no luck involved. Everything about it was determined by physics. Biology too, considering that the signal your brain sent your throwing arm was misinterpreted, but biology at its tiniest level is physics. 
There is no such thing as luck. Why, then, do I believe that my luck is nothing but bad?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Still hurts

During my two-week followup with the surgeon who replaced my shattered right shoulder last month, he said I could use my crutches again. (I need crutches because my right leg was amputated at the hip four months ago.)
"It'll feel strange," he said, "but you can do it."
I was skeptical but like many, I believed my doctor, who presumably has more experience with this than I do. When I got home I got the crutches, stood up from my wheelchair and got ready to take a step. 
My right arm wouldn't move. 
Smart arm. It knew that if I tried to take a step I'd fall down and, with my luck, break my left shoulder. 

"What has he been smoking?" my physical therapist said. It seems my doctor was going by the structural ability of the replaced joint and steel rods, which had knitted with the bones. He wasn't paying attention to the atrophied muscles, the damaged nerves, the traumatized tendons and ligaments. Instead of listening to him, I listened to my PT and got on the crutches and put small, then larger, amounts of weight on them. 
Two weeks later, feeling stronger, I took a small step. Bad idea. I didn't fall and the step seemed successful, but that night when I lay down to sleep my shoulder felt like it was on fire. What's worse is that now, seven days after that one step, it still feels like that and getting any real sleep has been impossible. I've tried pillows, I've tried ice.
"It feels like I fell five minutes ago!" I say to my bedroom. The best I've been able to manage is two hours or so of sleep at a time sleeping on my left side. Despite having a good mattress, after two hours my left shoulder starts hurting and I wake up. I pull myself into a sitting position until the pain subsides, wait awhile and try again to get some sleep.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Heat, crackers

It's hot here in Philadelphia's suburbs. It's hotter in the city, of course. It may hit one-hundred degrees there tomorrow, they say. A near record for July 1. Humid, too, of course.
Not that I know this first hand. I've only been outside twice since having my shoulder joint replaced, and those trips were to doctors' appointments. 
crackers new yorker magazine
Crackers on a New Yorker Magazine page.

A good thing about knowing you'll probably be dead in two years is that you don't scrimp on the air conditioning. I've always felt wasteful cooling an entire house just for me. Not anymore.
When I'm not doing my rehab therapy I'm either sitting in the wheelchair or lying in bed. Everyone I know is busy during the week and away on weekends. I'm getting low on food. The grocery shopping services in my area either have minimums that are too high or don't go to stores I like. Time to look into Task Rabbit, I guess.
Sometimes I sit at my kitchen table and eat crackers that are only slightly less bad for you than potato chips, which are awful for you, and reading something I like. That is the highlight of my day. No, it's the highlight of my week.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Fallen

There are different types of falls and in my view the worst is the slip and fall. It comes out of nowhere and body slams you to the ground. That's the kind of fall I had two-and-a-half weeks ago and I broke my right shoulder doing it. I was on a stone terrace in the rain and my left crutch hit a patch of slime and that was it. A stupid, momentary dropping of my guard. The fall seemed accelerated somehow, as though I fell faster and harder than I would have if I'd jumped from a height as tall as I am. 
park trail valley forge park
If I hadn't fallen I could be crutching down this path right now.

A new socket, rods, arm in a sling for who knows how long and pain, lots of pain. As my right leg was amputated in February in an attempt to halt the spread of bone cancer, I have to use a wheelchair to get around, which I do by dragging myself with my left leg. If you live in an oldish structure (mine's sixty-five) you realize that entry ways are small when you're on crutches and tiny when you're in a wheelchair.
Almost the worst thing about this is that the cancer scan I had two weeks before the fall blew negative. That meant I had nothing to do but eat, drink and be merry until the next one, in three months, began to loom. That would have been nice. Now? Nothing but pain and rehab.
And you wonder why this blog is called what it is.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Moms

Me, in Nagoya, Japan, 1986. It's a warm spring afternoon, a Sunday, and I go to a park near the apartment building I live in. Japan is not noted for having much greenery in urban areas, and Nagoya, which is known for its manufacturing of cars, is not an exception. When I go to my office to pick up teaching supplies, I look out the ninth-floor window and am amazed that all I see, stretching to the horizon, is concrete and glass.
Back to the park. I'm enjoying sitting in the shade and I'm reading a book, looking up now and then to people watch. I look up and see a woman and her daughter. The daughter is around six or seven. They have a rubber ball with them and they begin to throw it back and forth, the trajectory the ball makes an invisible cord connecting the two. The girl is delighted with every catch and throw. The mother is as delighted. Both laugh with pure pleasure.
Nothing I ever saw made me want to be a parent more than this, but I never became a parent despite that, as much as I tried.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A rare day

For the first time in at least two years a medical test didn't find anything so wrong with me that I'll need major surgery, like the two leg operations I had a year ago and the amputation of my right leg at the hip eight weeks ago.
I went to the city to meet with my surgeon. The result: Get another scan at the beginning of August. It's early May now, so I'll have two months of being relatively devil-may-care and then a month of anxiety as the date of the test nears.
women in a starbucks
Two women converse in a Philadelphia Starbucks.

Oh wait. I'm forgetting. I also have prostate cancer and the doc advised using this window to take care of that. (No, the prostate cancer I have isn't the wait and see kind that everyone seems these days to think is the only kind there is. It's the you-better-get-that-prostate-cut-out-of-you-or-nuked-before-it-spreads-and-kills-you kind.)
But compared to having an entire leg cut off, having one vile little gland removed will seem like a crutch in the park.
My doctor is a busy one because he's good and therefore in demand. My appointment was for 11:45. The receptionist said he was running an hour late. I didn't actually see him until 1:45. 
For the hour I knew he'd be late I left the building and went to a nearby Starbucks. While there, I sat near two young women. It is nice, at my age—nearly sixty—to see young people. 
Here's what I wrote while watching them:
Nine feet in front of me a fetching woman who is twenty-five is talking to her friend almost nonstop. She's wearing a black and white striped dress, sandals, and her toenail polish is ruby red. A brunette, her hair is up, sunglasses perched atop. Dark brown eyes, emphatic gestures, olive skin. Like me, she's drinking iced coffee with cream (or milk). She's talking fast, in keeping with her gestures. The conversation the two are having is covering a wide range of topics, mostly about what they and their friends are doing. Unlike when I'm out with friends my age, neither has once asked the other to repeat herself, despite the background noise and music bouncing off the hard surfaces.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Exam week

May is the time most American colleges and universities have exams. (High schools usually have them in June.)
This May will be one of having tests and meetings with doctors for me and, starting tomorrow, when results of a scan I had last week come in, I may be in for news that's as bad as it can be. 
students taking exams

After a winter that was warmer than usual and then became severe in its last weeks, spring is finally, as the song says about June, busting out all over. But, as another song says, "Spring is here, why doesn't my heart go dancing?" 
I know the answer to that.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Sad notes and annoyances

May is a lovely month in my region, southeastern Pennsylvania. Perfect temperatures for days at a stretch. Blossoms everywhere. Birthdays of loved ones and my own.
This May, however, I have tests coming up that may indicate that having my leg amputated in February didn't nix the cancer and I'll be dead within a year or two.
Other things, most of them minor:
  • A life on crutches in barely tolerable. The little things add up after awhile. An example: When you're on crutches both hands are so occupied that if you want to do something like scratch your ear or blow your nose you have to stop walking to do it. If you happen to be with someone else you have to tell them that and make a minor apology. Not that any real friend would care about this, but having to explain such small actions to people is a new burden.
    Rebecca Chace
    Author Rebecca Chace.
  • I finished a novel I liked yesterday, Leaving Rock Harbor, by Rebecca Chace. I'd known the author when I was a teenager; a summer friend in New England. Usually, knowing an author puts a sort of veil over what I'm reading and I'm so busy judging the prose that I can't enjoy the book. In this case, though, it's been forty-five years, so that wasn't an issue. When reading the acknowledgements page I saw two names of mutual friends, both women, both of whom I carried a minor torch for. Not that I'd been on the cusp of romantic involvement with either of them, but after years passed I realized that both were my type and who knows what may have happened if we'd kept in touch? One had acted for awhile and then found that her real calling was teaching and she's now and Alexander Technique instructor. I watched one of her demonstration videos. She was still recognizable four-and-a-half decades later, and her laugh hadn't changed a bit, which was almost eerie but nice. The other had become a lawyer and worked on social justice causes. Then she became a pastor in her early fifties. Then, just two years ago, she died. Her obituary didn't list the cause. She'd married a guy I also knew back then, the early 1970s, and that surprised me. He was a little rough when I knew him. I guess he cleaned up. He died, too, but the obituary didn't say when.
  • Mirror therapy is supposed to do wonders for phantom limb pain. I've seen videos in which users have gotten real relief within a week. I'm set up for it, but it hasn't done much for me yet. I have to put in more hours, I guess. A problem in my case is that mirror therapy tricks the brain into believing that your missing limb is still there by showing it to you as a reflected image. In my case, however, the missing limb, my right leg, was seven inches shorter than the left. When my non-existent foot hurts, the location is where the foot was, not where it should have been. 
  • Yesterday I was replacing about two hundred gallons of the water in my six-hundred-gallon koi pond. As the new water was going in, the three koi I have got restless, thrashing around a little. This happens every year when I do it but usually that proportion of water replacement is one they tolerate well. Once the replacement is in, I immediately pour in a water treatment that makes the new water compatible. This time, toward the end of the replacement, one of koi jumped out completely! I was sitting outside during it, finishing the above-mentioned novel, and something rustling in the foliage next to the pond caught my eye. I had no idea what it was, having missed the actual jump. I crutched over in a hurry and, knowing that it would be very hard to pick up a vigorously writhing, foot-long, slippery fish, managed to guide him back to the pond. He'd never have gotten there otherwise and would have died an unpleasant death under an
    koi jumping
    A koi jumping out of water.
    unseasonably hot sun. (Of course I talked to him during the seconds he was out of the water, telling him how foolish he'd been. I doubt he listened.) The water's not clear enough to see the bottom of the pond and therefor the fish, so the rest of the day I crutched out every half hour or so to look at the area around the edge to see if everything was all right. So far, so good, and that includes this morning. I'll have to build up the section where he jumped somehow so it won't happen again. 
  • The older I get, the more mistakes I find in my writing. I go over what I write and I'm surprised by them. Dropped or incorrect word endings are the main category. Just moments ago, for example, I found I'd written "I finished a novel I like yesterday." Like instead of liked. I'm sure I'll find several others a few minutes from now when I go over this. If it weren't for the built-in spellcheck I use, you would have very little respect for me.
  • I bought a new shoe Monday. The brand is New Balance, which certainly applies to me. My left foot has always been unusually wide. I describe its footprint as almost a square, though that's an exaggeration. The sales clerk was knowledgeable and considerate, but I'm not sure the shoe's a perfect fit or if I have to just wait for it to get fully broken in. I'm going to check at my rehab session this afternoon and if they say it's not, I'm returning it. Life, especially mine, probably, is too short to wear an uncomfortable shoe.    

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

More good memories

Winter, 2014. My parents have been dead since fall of 2011 and I'm coping well with it. Not that I'm over it; that never happens. But I'm fine and doing a good job of managing the store I've worked in for a dozen years. I work Wednesday through Sunday, with Monday and Tuesday off. I like this. The store is busy on weekends so time goes fast and having Monday and Tuesday off means I can shop and do errands in uncrowded stores. 
beer growler
A Whole Foods beer growler.

I take the train back to my suburban home. Usually, my bicycle awaits me but on weekends I drive the short distance to and from the train station, knowing that parking is free and that there will be plenty of spaces. I have a beer growler in the car and I drive to a nearby Whole Foods. It's an expensive store, yes, but this is my weekly treat. I go to the little section where they can legally sell beer and wine—a recent development in Pennsylvania at the time—and look at the list of craft beers they've written up on a chalkboard. The first thing you notice is that the higher the percentage of alcohol the beer has, the more it cost. It's a little off-putting to see this. It makes you realized that you're buying a drug and you feel uneasy about that, as if addiction is in your near future. I get intoxicated easily so I try to discount this and buy something that sounds like it will taste interesting. Not too interesting. I don't want beer that taste like chocolate or blueberries. 
I tell the Whole Foods staffer which one I'd like. He opens the growler and sniffs it to make sure it's clean. If it's not, he or one of his coworkers told me once, he won't fill it as it could make me ill and I'd blame them. That's never happened, so the growler gets filled. He seals it with a sticky thing that goes over the top. He writes the name of what I've gotten on the round part of the sticker. Later, at home, I'll stick this part on the bottle and as weeks go by it gets crowded with them. It's like I'm a fighter pilot and these are the planes I've short down. 
I pay for it and some other small special thing to go with dinner and go home. The thermostat is programmed so the house is warm when I get back. I turn on the radio, cook my meal, eat it and drink some of the beer while reading the Sunday New York Times. 
I'm alone, of course, but I've reached a point in my life where I'm fine with that. If there's any pang over this solitary meal being my Sunday dinner, the beer washes it away.

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

Precepts

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.