Category Archives: 2010

Table of Contents Intact

As we said our goodbyes two weeks ago, after a very nice visit with our brand-new granddaughter, I had a heavy heart.  Actually, the pain was a bit lower.  I had a really sore belly.

The drive from Kansas City seemed longer than usual.  I unbuckled my pants, loosened my belt, and tried to get comfortable, but never really did.  I often have discomfort in that region of my belly, which I attribute to refusing to up-size my pants to match the reality that is my larger body.

I remember getting home that night.  I remember that I didn’t go to work the next day, but pretty much stayed in the fetal position on the couch – and this time, not because of the geopolitical situation.

I put on a heat pad that night, and the next day I felt a little better.  But, I consulted by phone with my favorite soon-to-be doctor, who advised a trip to urgent care.

The urgent care doctor was very good.  He pressed a certain spot on my abdomen, and asked if it hurt.  I said it did, and he suggested that I lay down again, since I was apparently clinging to the ceiling.

Then he did another test.  I think this is something they teach in medical school the same day as hitting you under the knee with the little hammer.  I think doctors never get tired of this, because they can’t believe how predictable it is in making a diagnosis.

Here’s what he did: he pressed his finger into my belly at a specific place very slowly.  It didn’t hurt a bit.  Then, once his finger was pushed in about an inch, he pulled it out quickly, and I thought he had stabbed me.  Once again he talked me down from the ceiling, and sent me over to the ER. 

Once there, I was quickly tended to, and the doctor there did the exact same poking tests with the same results.  Then they took blood, and I offered a meager amount of urine, and an hour later an energetic resident bounded up to say that my lab results had bought me the chance to have a CT scan.  Once those results were looked at, he bounded up again and said my CT scan had bought me the chance to have an appendectomy.  I felt as if I had won.

By that time it was mid-evening, and surprisingly, the operating room was hopping.  So, we hung around for a few hours as more life-threatening cases were slotted in in front of me.  One doctor was concerned that I wasn’t in more pain.  If I didn’t move, I was a “4,” which, on the pain chart, is the man’s face looking pretty annoyed.  The doctor thought I ought to feel much worse.  I thanked him.

After a trip down the corridor which was called off due to a late entry into the surgical sweepstakes, I finally made it down to pre-op around midnight or so.  After a while they wheeled me in to the operating room, where my only memory is two people looking to make sure they had enough of the “red ones.”  Twist ties?

I eventually woke up in the recovery area.  They said my appendix was ugly, and came out in pieces.  Nice.  It was surely infected.  They had me on an antibiotic that would kill anything.  That’s disconcerting.

Apparently there were several other appendectomy’s done that night, so it’s not something unique or exciting, unless it’s happening to you. 

The thing I’m proudest about is that with so many opportunities, I never once said to a medical professional that they could take my appendix, but not my table of contents.  It’s such a good joke, but given the circumstances, it was just too easy.

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New Year of Courage

 How would you react?  That’s the question I ask myself when I read or hear about acts of heroism by regular people.  I don’t think of myself as being particularly brave, but many people who display tremendous courage say, after the fact, that they’re surprised at how they acted.  They didn’t think of themselves as courageous individuals.

A few weeks ago, when the man walked into the Panama City, Florida school board meeting and waved a gun around, the superintendent of schools asked him to let the others go, saying that the guy’s beef was with him.  In other words, he was willing to risk his life in exchange for safety for his colleagues.  The shooter didn’t relent, but fortunately he wasn’t a very good shot, and ended up killing himself after a security officer shot him. 

But just think about the selflessness he demonstrated.  Can you see yourself reacting in the same way?

Most of us aren’t faced with situations like that in our lives, fortunately.  For most people, our courage is shown in less spectacular ways.  Telling the truth when it is difficult, taking responsibility for a error, or making an apology to a loved one can all require a surprising amount of courage.  It’s so much easier to tell a lie, blame someone else, or avoid the person you’ve wronged rather than apologize.

Sometimes it’s especially difficult to have the courage to be honest with ourselves.  If things aren’t going well, it’s much more comfortable to find a thousand reasons that free us from taking personal responsibility.  And, there are often lots of good reasons things aren’t going well, but the only variable we can control is ourselves.

Are we in debt because of credit card companies, or because we bought too much on credit?  Are we overweight because of McDonald’s advertising, or because we go there too often?  Was the test unfair, or didn’t we prepare well enough?

Stages of life bring with them different challenges to our courage.  Students, new parents, and the elderly all need bravery as they face what life throws at them.  Facing cancer must be as frightening as facing an armed gunman, in some ways.  Losing a loved one requires the courage to go on with our lives, and I’m sure that’s not always courage that’s easy to come by.

This new year that’s ahead will provide each of us with many opportunities to display courage.  Most of them will happen when nobody is watching.  Those are the tough ones. 

My New Year’s wish to you is that you face what life hands out with courage, and that doing so will make you happy and successful in all that you do, and proud to have been the one to stand up and do the right thing when it would have been easier not to.

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Twenty Years Ago

Twenty years and two weeks ago, December 15th, my father died.  No matter how many times I look at that sentence, it still doesn’t seem possible.  I wouldn’t say it seems like just yesterday, but it’s hard to believe it has been 20 years.  I don’t feel 20 years older.

On December 11th he was in good health, but by the 15th he was gone.  It didn’t seem real then, and I guess it still doesn’t. 

I have been thinking, since that anniversary, about how much I learned from my dad when he was around, but even more, what I’ve learned since his passing.

Back then, I was the father of two little kids.  Now my kids are grown, and I can appreciate how much he enjoyed visits from his grown-up children, and to see how the empty vessels they once were had grown into good, interesting people.  I also now have an understanding of how gratifying it was for him to see his children’s children growing into their own personalities. 

I hadn’t really thought of him as a role model back 20 years ago, but as I have aged, and as my place in life has evolved, I realize what a strong, solid person he was.  When someone compliments me on stepping up to do what’s needed, they are really complimenting him, since he made doing so the only option.  He never talked about it, but he lived it.

My dad always had lots of pursuits outside of his “day job.”  One of them was a quarterly newsletter he put out called, not coincidentally, “Pursuit.”  In the days before personal computers and the Internet, he used a mimeograph machine to print out hundreds of copies, and mailed them to subscribers around the country.  Now, here I am with a weekly newspaper column and a blog.  I never even made the connection between his Pursuit and my pursuits until a year ago.

Perhaps the biggest influence he had on me – another one that I didn’t really attribute to him until fairly recently – was the absolute respect he showed my mother.  I am hopeful that the role modeling he did for me will continue on, and that my daughters demand that same level of respect and loyalty. 

Twenty years is a long time.  The pain of losing my dad has subsided, and it has been replaced by a wistfulness, for the lack of a better word.  I wonder what he would have thought of me as I matured, and I feel bad that he didn’t get to know our children as adults.  I think – no – I know he would be very proud, and very impressed.

With both parents gone now, I do feel a sense of emptiness, and a sense of regret for not having called as often as I should, or being as understanding and accepting of my parents’ foibles as I should have.  But, that’s another lesson they gifted me with, I guess.

Christmas is always a time for memories of those who aren’t with us anymore.  My wish for you is that you join me in appreciating the things in us that came from those loved ones.  They are still here.  They are in us, just as, years from now, we will be present in the people we have influenced.

A person could make the connection between the Christmas story, and the Easter story, and how we live on through others.  But, I’m no theologian, so I’ll just leave it at this: Thanks Dad.

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Christmas Shorts

No, this isn’t about boxers with elves and reindeer on them.  Sorry.  Instead, I’d like to share a few stories and thoughts related to this season.

What do we call it?

After years of businesses telling their employees to wish customers “Happy Holidays” in an effort to avoid offending any non-Christians, it seems that the pendulum is swinging in the other direction this year, according to a radio news story I heard last week.

I have to say that I’m comfortable with either “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.”  There are so many more important things to get worked up about.  It is ironic, though, that Christmas in America is largely a non-religious event, while the word “Holiday” has as its root, the word Holy.   I’m just saying…

Best and Worst Day

On Monday I had to drive to Janesville to get a new headlight bulb for our two year old car.  NAPA didn’t have it on their computer, and since the service department where we bought the car isn’t open on Saturday, I had to take the time on Monday.  Turns out, the bulb was $26, with about that much labor to have it put in.  I was not happy.

But, to counter that, my trip into Madison on Monday to renew my driver’s license was like a wonderful dream come true.  In and out in ten minutes.  I brought a book that I never had the chance to open.  I almost cried tears of joy.

That night, I started to feel a little iffy in the stomach region, but didn’t want to make a big deal of it.  As luck would have it, Monday was a night with an actual meal – not that common at our house – and I was presented with a huge plate of pasta, which looked delicious, but not in my marginal condition.  I had two noodles.  Maybe three.  Then I sat in the recliner until bed time, waiting for my body to settle down.  But, it was Monday, after all.

Helping Hooves

We got a catalog in the mail last week from an organization called Heifer International (www.heifer.org).  It’s a non-profit that helps people in impoverished regions of the world by giving them a sheep, a cow, a goat, a water buffalo, or even tree seedlings, along with training on how to take care of them, and use them for their own subsistence, and to sell the excess to help them escape from poverty.  The catalog is their way of offering people the chance to give a gift of an animal and training to someone in need in lieu of presents under the tree for people who have everything they want already.  I liked what I read, and maybe you will too.

Those are my Christmas shorts.  I hope yours don’t get in a bundle as you make your holiday preparations.

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They’re Back!

I believe it was the movie “The Poltergeist,” where a little kid looked at the TV set and announced to her family, “They’re back!”  She is referencing some ghosts who have taken over the family home.  I’ve never seen the movie.  Real life scares me plenty without having to add scary movies to the mix.

Now that the holiday shopping season is here, I find myself looking at our television set and saying the same thing.  “They’re back!”  But, I’m not referring to ghosts – of Christmas past or any other variety.  I’m talking about the TV ads that appear each Christmas season, and then disappear for ten months before reappearing again.

For example, have you ever seen an advertisement for a Norelco shaver at any time other than the pre-Christmas season?  I don’t think so.  Jewelers are another group that really work hard to get our money this time of year.  The message on those ads isn’t very subtle.  There is a definite correlation between giving diamonds and getting, well, (how should I say this in a family-oriented column?) attention of a romantic and physical nature.  Meaning, if a man wants the holidays to be “happy,” he’ll buy the old gal something shiny and expensive.

Speaking of shiny and expensive, do people really give other people cars for Christmas?  If that’s the case, I’ll put a Mercedes on my list.  I guess some people must give and receive new cars, or why else would the car companies make a big deal with ads showing vehicles with giant bows on them every year at this time?  I think $45,000 is a bit much for a Christmas gift. 

Some people are very concerned about the commercialization of Christmas, but it doesn’t really bother me.  I think it’s possible to celebrate the Christian origins of Christmas genuinely and still enjoy buying presents for people – and getting them!  And, I think it’s fine for people who don’t buy the religious underpinnings of the season to get just as carried away with gifts, good will, and warm feelings. 

That being said, I’m glad to be in a family where being together trumps the material gifts we give each other.  I don’t think there will be any diamonds under the tree this year, and I’d feel silly driving a car with a bow on it.  Last year, though, we needed a new TV, so that was my gift for Christmas, my birthday, and our anniversary – all of which fall within a week of each other.  It’s a gift I’ve appreciated all year.

I think advertising plays an important role in our society, showing us products that might be useful for us to have, and helping us compare one product with another in order to make good purchasing decisions. 

But, I do feel a little peeved when Christmas ads set up a paradigm where husbands who don’t buy diamonds, or wives who don’t buy cars, just aren’t up to snuff.  Maybe I’m just cheap.  Come to think of it, that’s a real possibility.

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Our Boy Brent

Remember two years ago when some young entrepreneurs started selling t-shirts that said, “We’ll miss you, Brent.”  They were, of course, referring sarcastically to the then just-departed (from the Green Bay Packers, not the planet) Brett Favre.  Since then, Brett has played one season for the New York Jets, and is in his second season with the Minnesota Vikings.

His departure from the Packers was unpleasant.  He retired, decided to come back, then decided not to come back, and eventually was not invited to come back.  Accusations and hard feelings ensued, and perhaps the most popular guy in Wisconsin history became seen by some as a whining ingrate.

Then he retired again, only to irk even more Wisconsinites by signing with the Vikings the next season.  And, he had a great season last year, throwing fewer interceptions than his long-time fans were used to seeing.  Then he didn’t retire, but thought he might. 

As this season has gone for him and the Vikings, he may be wishing he had retired.  Last year’s magic hasn’t been there, and while they aren’t a horrible team, they won’t likely make the playoffs. 

Not only that, but he has admitted writing some sexually oriented text messages to a female staffer when he was with the Jets.  It has been suggested that he also sent her photos of certain parts of his body, but he has denied that.

A lot of Wisconsin fans still support Favre.  Some have sympathy for him.  He looks pretty dejected most of the time, and not like the fun-loving character we came to know and love.  America’s hero has lost some of his sparkle due to the texting accusations, and for arguing with his coaches on the sidelines. 

My take on old Brett is mixed.  I admire the fact that he really likes to compete at the game of football, despite the fact that he has more money than he could ever possibly spend.  But, I also wonder if even he realizes that he would have been much better off staying retired, and earning millions more as a TV analyst.

Michael Jordan went back to basketball after retiring, and trying baseball.  He wasn’t the same player in his last years, and his second retirement was pretty anti-climactic.  I think maybe Favre missed learning a lesson from Jordan’s experience.

Again this year we all think it’s going to be Brett’s last.  Even he seems to know that people are tired of the drama that each training camp brings.  I don’t really care what he does, but I do, in this post-Thanksgiving season, want to remember with appreciation the many years of exciting football he gave us Packer fans while he was in Green Bay.  Short of committing a murder, nothing can take away those fond memories.

Happy Holidays, Brent.

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Litter Bugs Me

Sometimes I feel like a significant portion of my life is spent buying and preparing food to go into our three cats, and then dealing with the results of having fed them, if you know what I mean.

All three cats are inside cats, since we live close to a road with cars that go faster than a cat can react.  We know that from the sad experience of having buried two cats over the years. 

So, unlike indoor/outdoor cats, ours are limited in their bathroom choices to using a litter box.  And use it they do.  It might be my imagination, but I get the feeling that they are having an on-going (no pun intended) competition to see who among them can produce the most.

Our old cat is older than 15.  We’re not sure how much older.  He’s afraid of being ambushed by the two younger cats, and sometimes he is afraid to go through the cat-door to the basement where the cat boxes are.  We try to be very attentive and proactive to avoid accidents.  But, even when he makes it down to the cat boxes he sometimes lacks the intelligence to properly aim.  “Thinking outside the box” is sometimes a good thing, but not if you’re a cat.

You may note that I said “cat boxes.”  Plural.  We actually have two big ones and two normal sized ones.  And yet, they always seem to need to be cleaned. 

The input portion of the cycle is less odious, but not that much.  After having some issues with dehydration, we were encouraged to provide some “wet” food with the dry food we had been feeding.  You haven’t lived until you’ve opened a can of cat food.  You can put the fanciest name in the world on a can of cat food, but it still smells like a cross between old fish and sweat socks.

Of course the old cat needs a different kind of food than the new cats, so we have to separate them.  And, not surprisingly, each wants what the other gets.  The grass is greener, as they say. 

Since we live in an old house in the country, the cats also catch a mouse now and then.  They don’t usually eat it.  They just play with it until it wears out.  When we can, we intervene and catch the mouse and take it away from the house and give it another chance at life, though I think most don’t survive long. 

When they do actually eat a mouse, they seem to be inclined to leave a little bit uneaten.  There’s nothing like waking up in the morning to some unknown bit of mouse on the kitchen floor.  We buy paper towels and disinfectant spray by the pallet load. 

So, when I’m not earning a living or trying to keep up the yard, I’m working for our cats.  As someone once said, dogs have masters; cats have “staff.”

But, even though I know that all cats are mostly very self-interested, it is nice, now that the colder days are here, to have a purring cat share a recliner with you while you’re, say, writing a newspaper column or a blog post.

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