Saturday, February 25, 2012
Because if you DON'T have a glass of milk, a bowl of cheese puffs, some S'mores crackers, a little Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and a birdhouse, you're doing it wrong.
Friday, February 24, 2012
Thursday, February 23, 2012
A new addition…
Welcome to the Middle family Miss Alliyah Nala!
It was a lovely Tuesday afternoon when I decided that a feline friend would complete my family so I got up from my nap and decided to go to the Humane Society.
I had the hopes that I would find a black or a white cat because I have always wanted one. I went to the adoption center and I saw three potential kitties. I waited for a volunteer to come and let me into the caged area. I watched the black cats interact with one another and then I saw a volunteer coming to me out of the corner of my eye and as soon as she asked me what cat I would like to take a look at I changed my mind and said that one. And I pointed at Miss Alliyah.
The reason why I changed my mind at the last minute was because as I was scanning the other cages to choose from one of the black cats I saw her. She was cowering in the corner of her cage crying with HUGE bug eyes. So I said “I would like to see her please.”
As soon as the cage was opened she was out and on my lap cuddling. I immediately looked at the woman that was helping me and I said “I would like to adopt her please.” And the rest was history…well not really.
I picked her up this morning before I had to go to work and I filled out all of the necessary paper work and brought her home.
When I got home it was a tough checklist that I had to go through. Number One: Get kitty out of cat carrier. Number Two: Get kitty out of the bathtub. Number Three: Get kitty out of the closet. Then I ran out of time and I had to go to work. So I showed her where her litter and food was and went to work.
All day I was worried that she might be lonely and I wanted to come home and check on her but I knew that what Miss Alliyah Nala needed was time to get a lay of the land and time for her to get use to living in a new environment.
I got home from work and she hadn’t moved from my closet. I know that because the food hadn’t been touched and she hadn’t used her litter box. I said hello and went about my usual routine and then she finally came out of my room and is now snuggled up against me and has been for the last hour.
I think that she and I will become great friends!
The Best Pizza Topping:
Yesterday, I had a lot of time to think. And this topic is one of the things I thought about. Specifically, here's what happened: I was driving home from Milwaukee, about a 1 1/2 hour drive, and I put on the song "This Guy's In Love With You" performed by Herb Alpert & His Tijuana Brass. You know the song, right?
And as I listened to that song, this thought suddenly occurred to me:
When does a thing stop being that thing and start being something else?
Which doesn't immediately, I know, make sense, but it will, if you bear with me as I do a little thought experiment.
Picture a ray. You remember "rays" from math class in high school, right? A line extending from a point in space off into infinity, represented by an arrow with a dot at one end.
Yeah, the middle one. Picture that ray, and assume that point "C" represents "pizza" the way "pizza" originally was intended to be represented, like, say, this:And maybe that's not your idea of a pizza. Maybe your idea of a pizza is something thinner crusted or square or with anchovies or whatever, but that's not the point. Or it is the point but I'm not yet at the point where I'm ready to make my point, so whatever your idea of a pizza is, of the quintessential pizza, get that picture in your mind, and picture your own Quintessential Pizza as the point at which the ray begins.
Got that? Now, picture, in your mind, making more and more changes to the Quintessential Pizza, each change moving you a little further along that ray, each change not a big deal, in and of itself, not so far removed from what came before, but each a change nonetheless. As that happens, as you keep making little changes here and there to your Q.P., this mathematically- and scientifically-accurate diagram gives an idea what happens:
As you can see from that Scientific chart, at some point, you, the Q.P. creator, have moved so far away from your starting point that we, as human beings/scientific observers, have to ask, in the interest of philosophical, intellectual inquiry, this question:
Is what you've got really a pizza anymore?
Which begs this question:
What is the essence of a pizza?
Which begs this question:
What is the essence of ANYTHING?
Which is how you can get from Herb Alpert to questioning the very foundations of human existence via pepperoni.
But this is a serious question, albeit a serious question I am choosing to answer via the method of "pizza-as-demonstrative-example." (I was about to say "Pizza-as-allegory," because that sounded good, but the pizza isn't really allegorical in this article, it's demonstrative.)
Which begs this question:
Which sounds better, "Quintessential Pizza" or "Allegorical Pizza?"
I think the answer is "Allegorical Pizza." But anyway, the pizza in this article is not allegorical, it is demonstrative of the question of when a thing stops being that thing, a question that actually was on my mind because I read the "novella" Disquiet on Saturday. Disquiet, by Julia Leigh, is a very, very good story. After I read it, though, I questioned whether it is a novel or novella or a long short story, and then I wondered whether that matters.
I decided that it is a very long short story, and that yes, it does matter.
Here's how I decided it's a very long short story: the transformations that the characters go through are ambiguous and not clearly explained, and much of the plot occurs offscreen or is left untold. That's the criteria I apply to a short story, as opposed to a novel. A novel is not only longer, but has more development, more wrap-up, more explanation.
In a short story, a character might (as one of mine did, once) get in her car and try to drive away from her house with her young daughter, only to rethink her actions as a thunderstorm starts to set in, and go back. And the reader might (as my readers were) be left to wonder or fill in the blanks as to why the woman is leaving, why the thunderstorm makes her change her mind. The short story shows an episode in the woman's life with some explanation but with little change in her and with little beyond that episode explicated.
If that story were a novel, though, we would expect more detail, more plot, more description, more backstory, more of everything. The short story is a snapshot; the novel is a photo album.
That's not to say one is better than the other; it's to say that each label carries with it a set of expectations and rules that guide the writer, and the reader, and determine how they should interact with each other through the medium being used. A short story cannot be said to be better or worse than a novel any more than a sculpture could be said to be better or worse than a painting.
The problem, if there is one, arises when we use the wrong terminology to describe something. If I told you to come to my house to see a sculpture, and showed you "Red Yellow Blue,"
you might be mystified. That's a painting, you might say, and while you might like "Red Yellow Blue," you may find yourself befuddled because you were expecting a three dimensional sculpture only to be presented with a two dimensional painting.
Or maybe you think you did see a sculpture, because "Red Yellow Blue" is three canvases separated from each other so that it is more than a two-dimensional splattering of paint on a canvas, it takes into account the space between the canvases and can be rearranged and in that way fully inhabits or more fully inhabits a three-dimensional world than a "painting," but is it a sculpture? When I say sculpture, do you think of "Red, Yellow, Blue," or do you think of this:
And if you do think of that, why didn't you think of this
when I said "sculpture?" Aren't they both sculptures? Of course they are: but one is more sculpture-y than the other. One is more a quintessential sculpture.
Which is my point again, here. At some point, a sculpture stops being a sculpture. As it gets bigger, and more made of metal, and more standing-in-a-harbor-in-New York, it stops being a "sculpture" and starts being a "statue" or "monument." And as it gets flatter and more primary-color-ish and on canvas, it stops being a "sculpture" and starts being a painting.
And as Disquiet failed to tie up all of its storylines, it stopped being a novel and became more of a short story. Which in Disquiet's case was not actually a bad thing. It wasn't what I expected, because I was told it's a novel, and so I expected more wrap up, but given the nature of the story and the general feel of the story, being left hanging somewhat at the end despite expecting more resolution wasn't a bad thing itself, either -- it made the story more of a meta-story, instilling in me one last time the exact feeling (of disquiet) that the author was going for.
So maybe messing with one's expectations can work, in some instances. But in pizza? That's where we began, after all, to consider whether a thing can ever stop being a thing, and as this discussion is important, it will help to keep it rooted in the things of reality: Herb Alpert and pizza.
So when is a pizza no longer a pizza? Is a breakfast pizza a pizza? I had a sample of breakfast pizza at the store two weeks ago -- miraculously, given that pizza samples are amazingly rare in the real world, and I had to wonder is this pizza? It was round -- like a pizza, except that sometimes when I make pizza at home I run out of pans and have to resort to making some of them square or rectangle. It had a pizza crust on it, which is like a pizza. But it had eggs and cheese, and while pizzas have cheese they don't have breakfast-y kind of cheese on them, they have pizza-y kinds of cheese on them: mozzarella, which I think is chosen for the way it can hold everything on the pizza while not having much actual flavor, which is why I usually substitute in some other kind of cheese on my homemade pizzas, because I like the stronger flavor, and because I also had a goat cheese pizza and liked that, too.
The breakfast pizza was toasted in a toaster oven, but aren't pizzas supposed to be cooked in pizza ovens? I sometimes grill mine, too, making them using the broiler setting.
All of which leads to much confusion: was this a pizza at all? And if it was a pizza, why is it a pizza?
What about the "mashed potato pizza" that I sometimes make using an idea I stole from a pizzeria -- making a pizza crust and then putting mashed potatoes into it and then topping it with pizza toppings and baking it? Is that a pizza?
And if it is, what about the "fruit pizza" my mother-in-law makes -- that's a sugar cookie with fruit and frosting on it. Is that a pizza?
And if that's a pizza, then isn't everything a pizza? If all that's required of a pizza is that it be round, more or less, and be called a pizza, then isn't this:
A pizza if I call it a pizza?
I come down on both sides of that issue. I understand the allure of saying that things have to be what we call them, that everything has to have a category, that a pizza must have some definable quality or qualities that makes it a pizza and that if something doesn't have all or most or enough of those qualities, then it's not a pizza, because then everything makes more sense and expectations are not dashed and we all know what we mean when we invite each other over for pizza -- nobody will be invited over for pizza and be served eggs on a crust, or fruit on a cookie.
But on the other hand, I see, too, the side that says anything can be a pizza if we want it to be, for two reasons.
First, the practical: I want to be aligned with the anything can be a pizza crowd because my pick for The Best Pizza Topping is mashed potatoes. Ever since coming across the potato pizza as an appetizer in that restaurant, I've loved the potato pizza. Done right, it is (as the pigeon might say of the hot dog) a taste sensation. It combines the mushy-but-crisp-edged creaminess of a twice-baked potato with the gluey cheese and savory tomato sauce and spicy sausage and fruity pineapple and zing of the onions that I like on my non-potato-pizzas, and does so in a way that creates a new feeling, a new thing that is both pizza and not pizza at the same time.
And that is the impractical, esoteric reason why I see the appeal of the anything can be a pizza argument: Because if we rigidly define life's categories, if we say a statue is a statue, and a pizza is a pizza, and things that aren't quite statues or pizzas aren't statues or pizzas at all, then we are limiting ourselves and our thoughts. We'll be saying to our imaginations: no, you can't put that on a pizza, or no, you can't sculpt that or no, Herb Alpert, you can't have the Tijuana Brass play with you (it'd been a while since I'd mentioned Herb) and we'll say that because pizzas don't have that, whatever that is, on them -- so pizzas will never have that on them, and limiting ourselves like that raises the prospect that we'll stop innovating at all.
After all, it's easier to take tiny steps than giant leaps. It's easier to decide to move a city away than a continent away. It's easier to move from painting to sculpting if a painting can kind of be a sculpture. And it's easier to try to mix something into your pizza than to create an entirely new dish... but doing all those little steps leads you into a direction that you might not have tried, had you had to do it whole hog right off the bat. How tough was it, do you suppose, for Columbus to get on his ship and sail towards the edge of the world? Pretty tough, I imagine. What if, instead, Columbus had known of five, six, seven island chains all stringing off into the west, and had decided he was just going to follow them and see if there was an eighth and instead of finding the Eighth Islands, he found America?
What if the space program, instead of trying first to get to the moon, had set off for the nearest star outside our solar system, Proxima Centauri? That's only 4.2 light years away. Voyager, our fastest spaceship, moves at 17.4 km/second. At that rate, it would have reached Proxima Centauri in 7 million years. Why would we have even tried to go into space if we wouldn't see results for 7 million years?
Tiny steps, incremental changes, minor modifications, shifting standards, can lead to big things. And not pigeonholing things into one category lets people experiment with tiny steps and incremental changes. And, not pigeonholing things into one category allows the mind to wander. It allows people to expand their mental horizons, to picture more than one thing when just one word is used, to play with the shifting sands of our imagination and in doing so, create something new, something wondrous, something that challenges our expectations and makes us think, at the end of our novel, or as we bite into a pizza, or look at a painting: "Hmm. Well, that was interesting. That wasn't what I expected at all."
In the end, that's one of the best things about Mashed Potatoes being The Best Pizza Topping: allowing mashed potatoes to be pizza opens the door for a world where one can move from pondering Herb Alpert to questioning the very basis of reality -- and that kind of world is the kind of world I want to live in, the kind of a world where a thing never stops being that thing but can be that thing and something else, entirely, all at once.
Here's a little more Herb to play you out:
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Saoirse's life didn't really begin until it ended: When a plane crashes, Saoirse wakes up in 'the After,' a place where everything is exactly what you want, unless what you want is to not be there.
Confused at first, Saoirse's new... life?... takes a turn for the (more) unexpected when William Howard Taft knocks on her door and says he knows a way out. From there, Saoirse travels through scenarios that are fantastical and mundane at the same time, trying to discover not just a way to end this new existence, but also whether she wants to do that in the first place.
'the After' is a heartbreakingly sad and funny mystical journey through one version of what happens after we die, told through the eyes of a woman clinging to the memory of a life she didn't know she cared about. Thoughtful but action-packed, 'the After' presents an entirely new and not always comforting view of what comes next for us all.
Click here to buy it on Kindle, or here to buy the paperback from Amazon.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Monday, February 20, 2012
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Remember how I mentioned clipix a while back? Well, I’ve already started using it to improve my marriage. Listen up, guys, here’s how you do it.
In case you don’t know what Clipix is, a refresher course:
Clipix is a site that helps you remember and shar what you see on the web. You login to create an account (I used my Twitter account) and then drag the Clipix button to your browser bar, and then…
…surf the web.
That’s it. Just go about your web business, until you see something you like and then BAM! You Click the Clipix button (it doesn’t actually make a BAM! Sound) and you’ll be able to add the thing you found to a “board,”, like a clipboard to hold all your ‘net finds.
And, more importantly, you can SHARE them. Which is where Sweetie comes in. I told Sweetie, who likes to shop and likes me to buy her stuff, about Clipix, and installed a Clipix board on our home laptop. Then, I told Sweetie when she saw something she wanted, to Clipix it into a board for gift ideas – and now, when I have to get an anniversary present or a Valentine’s present or an “Oh, I told you I’d be home at 5? Sorry, I meant 9” present, I’ve got a list of suggestions right there – by website, size, color, everything.
Clipix is AWESOME that way. It makes it easier for me to be a decent husband – but you could use it to be a better writer (clip and save articles) or a better friend (sync your boards to share news about teams you like with your buddies) or a better employee (but who would want to use the Internet for work)(In case you want to, you could clip and share articles about your area of expertise).
Marriage saver, job saver, movie reminder… is there anything Clipix can’t do? If I missed something, let me know in the comments – but first go join Clipix!
I spent a week in the hospital. Here's the first part of the story.
So I woke up last Monday morning exhausted and aching and having sharp pains in my chest and trouble breathing and having spent the night sleeping sitting up in a chair and watching CNN Headline News and Portlandia off and on while I tried to doze, and I did what anyone would do under those circumstances: I got up at 6:30 and did some blogging, and then started getting ready for work.
Lots of people might have been alarmed enough at what was going on that morning to think something along the lines of "Hey, perhaps all those problems required that you take it a little easier, or maybe go see a doctor," or, alternatively, "Really? Portlandia? I'd think that you'd watch something a little less funny so that you're not waking yourself up laughing, too," but those people are not me. (Some of those people are, though, Sweetie, who on Saturday had made me promise that if I had another coughing fit that night, I would definitely go to the doctor Sunday, but I showed her: I was fine Saturday night, and so off the hook, doctorwise, when Monday morning rolled around.)
I wasn't just trying to Spearfish Falls this, though: I had been dealing with more or less this exact thing since the previous February and March, things getting progressively worse until I'd gone back to my cardiologist in March, thinking I'd had another heart attack, and been checked into the hospital twice to have them shoot tiny wires with cameras on them up through my veins and into my heart, and had gone from there to having my lungs checked for all kinds of problems to having a CT scan of the chest to even having them put contrast dye in me and lay me under some sort of machine because they thought I had fat intestines.
That's not what they said, of course: They thought perhaps one of the various scans and tests and machines they put me under showed that my intestines were thickening, but all I heard was fat intestines.
That time had led, too, to a second trip to Urgent Care one day when I'd left work early because I couldn't catch my breath and had gone to Urgent Care only to have them ship me to the hospital ER where they checked my heart despite my repeated assurances that I was 100% certain it wasn't my heart because I knew what a heart attack felt like and this wasn't it, assurances they followed up with by saying things like "We'll just make sure."
Which needs to be interpreted more accurately as "You're a lawyer, and we know what lawyers do."
The thing is, in the medical industry, nails never look more like nails, by which I mean: when you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and doctors are particularly specialized hammers and like things to fall into neat categories. So if, for example, you showed up a year earlier with a weird blot clot in your heart that was never explained but was there, and the doctors got it out but were (rightfully) mystified as to how it got in (Chinese scientists? Aliens? A weird game of truth-or-dare?), and noted at the time that you had "no arterial blockage," then, anyway, you'll find yourself in the ER a year or so later with a doctor looking at a computer and you'll have this conversation:
Doctor: So you had a heart attack last July?
Doctor: Says here they found some placque buildup?
Me: No. Nope. Nothing like that.
Doctor: And they put a stent in?
Me: No. Nope. They didn't do that.
Doctor: We'll just leave it.
That last time in the ER, they'd done a couple checks of my heart and took a chest x-ray and then, when I told them my vision was clouding up and I had tunnel vision, they had me stand up and take an eye test, after which they sent me home and I vowed not to go back to the doctor for this ever again ever. I told Sweetie that by now, if I walked into the hospital with a broken leg riddled with gunshot wounds, they'd hook me up to an EKG and just "check me out" for a heart problem and that since every test conceived of by medical science had failed to do anything other than result in my finding out that I have 20/15 vision in my left eye and 20/400 in my right eye, I was done with doctors.
So throughout the fall and winter, what I'd do is work out as much as I could and do the things I felt like I could do and when things got to painful I'd make jokes about it ("I have a liver condition," I liked to tell people, in a clever reference to Catch-22 that nobody ever rewarded with a knowing smile) and take a few days off from doing whatever it was that I'd been doing, and hope for the best, and take things like Tylenol PM to get to sleep at night and some nights never sleep much at all and feel worse and worse, until January --
-- it was January 11, the last time I worked out, which I know because I've written down every single time I've exercised since my heart attack on a series of sheets of paper I keep hanging in my kitchen to motivate me --
-- when I went and tried to run and the same thing happened: I just didn't run.
I tried to. I had my Walkman again, and a treadmill this time, and some TVs on, and some runners around me, and I started up the treadmill and I began jogging and I felt all the usual pains in my chest and got short of breath and tried to take a few steps and couldn't and so I stopped.
With people around me, I decided to fake it and so I re-tied my shoes, and then re-tied them again because they'd been perfect before but then when I redid them I'd gotten them slightly unevenly tightened and if there's one thing that'll drive me nuts (there's not, there are roughly 1,173,568,456 things) if there's one thing that'll drive me nuts it's unevenly-tightened shoes. Makes my whole world feel lopsided plus I'm always worried that the one that's tighter is cutting off circulation and I'm going to lose the foot.
Having gotten that done, I tried again. Started running, stopped. Started running, stopped.
I figured people were staring at me
(I always figure people are staring at me)
and so I went and got a drink of water from the bubbler and came back and stretched a little and then acted like "No big deal, that's all I was going to do today," and I went over to the stationary bikes and was going to ride them but I had no energy and so I just went and walked around the track once or twice before sitting down and reading my phone for a while, time-killing maneuvers I did only because Mr F and Mr Bunches were in the playroom at the club and they like the playroom a lot, and so I didn't want to pull them out of it too early.
Things went downhill from there: I didn't work out since then, and I started not being able to do as much at home. Mr Bunches took the brunt of that: he likes to play chase. Everything is a chase: we do pajama chase and medicine chase and tickle chase and catch me chase and spider chase where we pretend we caught a spider and chase each other around and when the spider-holder catches the runner the spider crawls all over the person he caught, a chase that really creeps me out and frankly I should get father of the year for even considering playing it because if there's anything worse than pretending I'm holding a big giant hairy spider in my hands and chasing my son around with it (and don't ask me why I picture it as a big giant hairy spider because all spiders are bigger, gianter, and hairier than they have any need or right to be), then it is being chased by my son with that same (albeit imaginary which makes no difference) spider.
But as January wore on, I couldn't do chases as much: we used to go four, five, ten times around the house and now I could maybe do two before needing a "little break" and breaking into a sweat.
And then sledding! We took the boys sledding because even if you hate the snow and the cold, as I do, you have to allow your kids to make up their own minds about it, so you bundle them and you up and take them to a hill to walk up it and then slide down it and do that 10 or 20 more times even though it's pretty much the same thing each time, so after 1 or 2, you know what you're in for, so what's the point?
I took the boys sledding and nearly died, I figure: I had to mostly haul Mr F up the hill, which is not really that big a deal, for a guy who used to go jogging pushing them in a big giant stroller ahead of him, and who two years ago walked a half-mile uphill carrying both of the boys in his arms because they were tired after their walk and wanted to be carried. Dragging a 50-pound Mr F up a hill a few times should have not made me (I think) dizzy and faint and seeing spots and get numbness in my face and the like.
But who am I to say? I'm no medical professional, and I was not under any circumstances going to go back to a doctor because I knew they'd just check me for a heart attack and send me home.
By this Monday, things had changed. I'd been going for walks every day at work, 20-30 minute walks that increasingly saw me get sweatier and dizzier and have more problems, and I couldn't concentrate at work and more and more had trouble with the left side of my face and my left eye and was starting to think maybe I'd pushed this far enough, and I had because on Monday morning I had to walk up five stairs to go make a phone call, and I couldn't catch my breath the entire time I made that call: I sounded like I was running on a treadmill the whole time.
So I went back downstairs and told Sweetie I was going to the doctor, and I'd call her and let her know what was going on. I also told her that I was considering not giving them my name just so I wouldn't be checked out for a heart attack and sent home. She told me not to be ridiculous, and off I went.
I went over to the Urgent Care and went in and gave them my name and they asked why I was there and I told them:
"Shortness of breath and chest pains," I said. "Plus dizziness and some numbness in my face."
They'd already told me to go back and the first guy I talked to started taking a bit of information from me as he looked up my records. I was telling him about the numbness in my face and the troubles breathing and he said:
"Ah, found you here," looking at his computer screen, and then said "We're moving you to another room," which they did, and hooked me up to an EKG, while various nurses and doctors asked me questions about my heart attack and reassured me that they were just taking precautions...
...precautions that led me to the ER, by ambulance because even if you drive yourself to the Urgent Care they're not about to let you get up and drive yourself to the ER, so you get to ride in the ambulance with an Emergency Medical Technician who will move directly from giving you an under-the-tongue spray of nitroglycerin, which I hate because, (a), again, not a heart attack and (b) have you ever had nitroglycerin? It's like an instant headache machine. It's supposed to open up your veins to make it easier for the heart to pump or something, but what it does is essentially hit you in the head with a Wile E. Coyote ACME-sized sledgehammer. I think the point of it is to make your head hurt so bad that they could get that guy from Temple of Doom to rip your heart out of your chest barehanded and you wouldn't notice...
... and immediately after doing that because the EMT won't take your word for it that you're not having a heart attack, he's the professional after all, the EMT will ask you for some legal advice.
Can I take a moment to point out that I have gotten at least one client every single time I have been hospitalized? It always goes like this:
I tell them I'm a lawyer.
They ask what kind of lawyer I am.
They say, "oh," and then ask me something about how I'm doing, blood-wise or something.
I say "Okay" or not, depending.
There's a silence.
They say something like "You know, I went through a foreclosure" and then I'm giving legal advice through a haze of morphine and nitroglycerin-induced headaches.
I'm 100% serious. I am recognized at my firm for bringing in clients at a high rate, and a significant portion of them are clients I obtained by telling medical professionals what I do as they worked on me.
Even this last time, I got two referrals, including the respiratory tech who tracked me down after her tests while I was on the way to other ones to ask me for my office number "just in case" because we'd had a really good long talk about debtor-creditor law.
So at the very least, my liver condition is good for business and my partners don't seem to mind if I take a few days to lie in bed watching The Big Bang Theory reruns woozily so long as I keep making it rain clients.
I ended up at the ER, having given the EMT my office information and suggested he call a lawyer, and they immediately began hooking up the EKG and I went through the same exact series of events that I always have, with the exception of the nurse this time not turning on the TV because she thought "I'd better let you rest," so I was stuck lying in the ER with a headache and nothing to do but look at my phone, which I no longer let out of my sight in a hospital.
That always poses something of a problem for me, lying in the ER. Here's why: I was well enough, remember, to get up, do some blogging, eat breakfast, make a phone call, and drive myself to the doctor. I was not well enough to breathe while doing that, and all of that made my chest feel as though it was being clawed at from inside, and I couldn't feel the left side of my face, and my vision was a little blurry, but, still: I was well enough to, say, read the news on my phone.
But should I?
That's what I always wonder: I don't know how to act sick, and I never fake it, but I suspect that if I sit in the Emergency Room Tweeting jokes about Rick Santorum and reading Dinosaur Comics and playing Plants vs. Zombies, then they're going to say something along the lines of what my mom would have said back in the sixth grade: if you're well enough to play Star Wars figures, you're well enough to go to school.
So you, I, can't just sit in the ER and act like we did at home -- i.e., I'm not feeling well but let's be honest, I'm not in a coma or anything, I've been doing this for a month and going to work and all so while there's something pretty seriously wrong with me, it's not like I can't have something pretty wrong and also watch TV. I have to sit in the ER and act like a guy that deserves to be there, or at least needs to be there.
In many ways, it was much easier when I had the heart attack. Once they confirmed that I was having a heart attack and I was getting prepped for surgery and there was no need to worry that they'd think I was faking it, I was free to no longer act like I was really super sick and instead could just be having a heart attack, which meant I could joke with the doctors and things like that -- you know, be the cool patient.
But Monday, in the ER, I had to make them understand that I wasn't just trying to get a day off of work (for a variety of reasons, it's actually harder for me to skip a day of work than to just go in, not least of which is that skipping a day simply means I do that day's work some other day), but that I had serious problems which were not a heart attack, and so I spent most of the day napping, which wasn't all that much of a problem in that I was, really, very tired.
I would occasionally text Sweetie to let her know what was going on, but I tried to do so in a very sickly way, the way that a person who's not having a heart attack but who is seriously ill might text his wife.
Eventually, they ran out of heart tests to do on me in the ER and suggested that I be checked into the hospital so that they could do more tests on me later that day and the next day, beginning, they thought, with heart surgery.
"What?" I asked.
"Just a precaution," they said, "To check out and make sure nothing's going wrong there."
"It's not a heart attack," I said, again, but they checked me in and I figured I'd stay overnight and they'd run that camera into my arteries again and send me home, but they had more in store for me.
Sweetie and the twins came and visited Monday night, when I was mostly just tired and trying to eat and hadn't had any of the new tests yet, and then Tuesday came and they really tested me.
I began with a stress test -- jogging on a treadmill to get my heart rate up to 180, which took 11 minutes and almost a full sprint to do because (as the nurse said) "You're really in good shape!"
(The only time a 43-year-old guy who's overweight and had a heart attack will be told he's "young" or in "really good shape" is on the cardiac ward, when he's being compared to 90-year-olds who weigh 300 pounds).
From there, still a little sweaty, I was sent over to the respiratory unit, where they put you in a glass case of emotion-- literally, a glass box -- that you sit in and breathe into a tube in a variety of ways to check your lungs' capacities to breathe in a variety of different ways, and that took a couple of hours, and as soon as that ended I was wheeled up to ultrasounds and CT scans where I was given various dyes and had large machines circle around me and take pictures and all of that took a couple of hours during which I got more and more worn out even though I was in a wheelchair and not doing much more than sitting or lying, and finally I was back at my room and it was four p.m. and Sweetie had to get going to take care of the boys and we still didn't know anything more.
Tuesday night, I slept about a half-hour at a time, waking up in pain and gasping for breath and watching CNN most of the night -- I know more about Whitney Houston than I ever cared to know -- and trying to sleep and trying not to think, too, how every test they had given me that day had simply repeated tests I'd had in the past year, the same tests that they always did that never showed anything.
From time to time, too, they came in and took more vital signs and gave me shots of things and pills of things and asked me how I was doing.
When you're asked how you're doing and nobody knows, really, why you're there because they want it to be a heart attack because that's what they know how to deal with, and it's not that at all, your options for answers are limited. I settled mostly on "About the same."
And they'd ask "How's the pain?", and "How's the breathing?," asking me to give registers on a scale of 1-10, and they'd jot it all down, and then they'd give me inexplicable choices, like the one I got at about midnight from the nurse who managed to, in the course of treating me, mention that she was competing in a pool tournament coming up soon at the Wisconsin Dells (just because it's midnight and your patient is in a lot of pain with some mysterious notheartattack is no reason he shouldn't know that you were always an excellent pool player who then stopped to raise a family and then went back to school to become a nurse but recently took up pool again and qualified for the State Championships, after all)
The Pool Champion Nurse, at midnight when I was unable to take a deep breath on Tuesday, said she could give me something for pain, and said:
"I can give you tylenol, morphine, or dilaudid. Which would you like?"
Not being a medical professional of any kind, I tried to remember whether any of those particular medicines had ever been discussed in my only source of medical information... Scrubs.
But all I could think of was that one episode where JD kept having his "man cards" taken away, and then I wondered if the show was still on the air and whatever happened to Elliott, who was kind of hot, and with that, I realized I'd sort of lost the thread of the conversation.
"Um," I said, trying to convey in that syllable that there were two people in the room and one of them had a very good idea of which of those three options might be best while the other had a lot of opinions on which mid-90s band was highly overrated, and that it seemed obvious to at least one of the room occupants which should make that call.
There was a long silence, and I finally said: "Dilaudid," doing so I hoped in the manner of someone who was completely unfamiliar with this kind of thing so that the nurse wouldn't think this had all been a big trick to give me access to prescription painkillers.
That's another fear I have -- that if I ask for painkillers, I'll instantly be labeled an addict and under suspicion and the doctors will all think "Well, he says he's not having a heart attack and he wants dilaudid, plus he knew what it was called and so it's clear that this guy is some kind of junkie trainspotter here to bilk the system out of some free drugs."
I do worry about that, and I've never even seen "Trainspotting."
To cover up for my nondrugaddictiveness, I try to play dumb. "Morphine?" I'll sometimes ask. "What does that do?" which probably only makes the doctors more suspicious. Or I'll say the word hesitantly, so that I don't look like I know what I'm talking about because even though I just heard the nurse say dilaudid and even though I honestly don't know what that is or what it's supposed to do, I figure if I parrot the word back she'll assume I heard it from the network of drug kingpins that sent me in here to smuggle painkillers out in my veins, so I say "Dilaudid?" as though I'm not sure whether that's how it's pronounced.
The nurse then said: "Okay, I can give you" and spouted off something about parsecs or milligrams or other dosages that I was allowed to have and asked what I wanted, to which I could only think of what Jerry Seinfeld said:
"Give me the maximum. Figure out what level it is that will kill me and then back it off just a little bit,"
but I was baffled at the dosages and so I just said "Whatever you think it best," and she gave me some and I fell asleep almost instantly, pain free, and that lasted pretty much the whole night: I woke up a lot unable to breathe well, but I had almost no pain and so it was one of the better nights I'd had in a month, and certainly the best night in the hospital, so it wasn't really surprising to me when, the next day, when I asked for something for pain and the day nurse said "Would you like morphine or dilaudid," and I said dilaudid would be fine, the day nurse said "Oh, they've discontinued that for you. I can give you morphine," which, frankly, didn't really work at all but that's what I get, I suppose, for having expressed an opinion.
I mean: tell them I'm not having a heart attack, get hooked up to an EKG and scheduled for heart surgery. Guess right on The Monty Hall Question of Painkillers, and they don't give you access to the good stuff. I figured my initial instincts were right on, and I should have checked in under a fake name:
"Kobe Bryant, here to check into the hospital. I'm having a heart attack but definitely breathing okay and having no problems with my face or vision. By the way, I'm allergic to dilaudid."
Wednesday, they doubled down on me. There is no medical test you can have anymore that does not require you to go without eating or drinking for at least twelve hours beforehand, including that foot thing they use at Walmart to sell you odor-reducing insoles, and that's hard enough to do under regular circumstances. I once had to cancel a test because I without thinking about it had been unable to get to sleep the night before and so had gone downstairs and made myself a peanut-butter sandwich and glass of milk, something that sometimes helps my insomnia as well as being delicious, and I was halfway through it before I realized that I was within my 12-hour-no-eating window. I 'fessed up to the doctors in the morning because I wasn't sure if having peanut butter in my system would prove fatal during whatever pointlessly expensive test they were having me go through to rule out a heart attack that day.
What makes it worse is if you've been in the hospital getting lots of tests already, and also in a situation where you couldn't really eat much because eating was painful for you -- so painful that the night before you went to the hospital, your wife had made pizza for you and you could only eat one slice, instead of your usual "pizza with a side of pizza" that you would have, and if that alone doesn't prove that there was something wrong with me, eating one slice of pizza for dinner, than nothing will convince you.
I'm the guy, after all, who invented Twenty Four Hours Of Pizza, so that was a big sacrifice, eating just the one slice. But it was all I could manage, despite my heroic efforts to want a second slice.
So by Wednesday, I'd eaten two pieces of toast and a bowl of cereal, a sandwich and some potato chips, and a diet Coke.
Since Monday morning.
Wednesday all day was tests that required me to not eat or drink more, and in between I was given morphine and shipped around the hospital and put under anesthesia to allow them to shove tubes down my throat and take pictures of my stomach (pictures that were alarmingly pink; my stomach is a brilliant shade of pink that would look great on a flower. It's not so great from the outside but from the inside my stomach is beautiful.). By the time I ended up back in the hospital room, I hadn't eaten in more than 24 hours and had been drugged several times, so when I tried to eat my dinner I couldn't swallow it and even a little bit of food in me made my pain worse.
The nurse gave me a pill that kept from throwing up on the doctor, and suggested a popsicle, and eventually, over the course of the next three hours I had two popsicles, more morphine, and fell asleep.
I woke up at 11:15 p.m. hungry and nauseous and in pain, and I buzzed for the nurse.
At 11:30, I buzzed again, reminding the buzzer-person that I needed something because I was going to throw up.
At midnight, the night nurse, Brett, came in. He asked how I was doing and, trying not to throw up, I said "I'm going to throw up and I'm in a lot of pain."
"What would you like?" he asked.
I tried not to throw up some more and said, through gritted teeth, "They gave me something to keep me from throwing up, earlier," and Brett said okay and then asked if I wanted morphine, too, and I managed to nod but add that the anti-throwing up thing would be better.
I could see him getting the morphine ready, and not getting a pill ready, and as he brought the morphine over I just gave up and threw up all over him, twice.
"Sorry about that," I said, while privately thinking that if you have to throw up, it's way better to have eaten only popsicles because the only real difference between them going in or coming out is their temperature.
Brett got me cleaned up and gave me the pill and some morphine and I tried to sleep that night but didn't and on Thursday went for more esoteric tests and finally, Thursday night, the doctors came in with their findings:
"We've ruled out heart conditions," the doctor told me and if I had had any strength left I would have punched him because I'd actually ruled those out several days earlier only nobody was listening.
He went on to explain that they'd ruled out anything they figured would kill me -- I didn't have any kind of heart condition or lung condition or anything they could figure out, it was just that I couldn't breathe and couldn't stop having chest pains and couldn't feel my face and, well, darned if they knew why, but they were 100% sure it was not the heart.
I couldn't help it. It wouldn't have been right to punch him even if he was a cardiologist. So instead, I broke down and started crying, which seemed to unnerve him, which served him right.
When I settled down after a minute, he asked what was the matter and I tried my hardest not to say "I cannot breathe and have chest pains and can't feel my face and am dizzy and I've been here four days and you're asking me what's the matter?" and instead said that after all this, they were sending me home with no answers and things were not going to get better and that while I appreciated what they had done, I didn't feel like it was worth it and didn't feel very good about the fact that every day I got a little worse and their answer was to keep checking my heart and send me home, secure in the knowledge that I was not having a heart attack.
After a while, the doctor said they'd consult with some other people, and they pulled in the pulmonologist and a "hospitalist" and others who asked me questions and they took more blood and they finally hit on what can only be described as the highly technical solution of "Let's give him some stuff and get him the #*#$&$ out of here before he cries or throws up on someone again."
And that is how I was set up to be released on Friday: still feeling chest pain, still feeling numb, still having to catch my breath after saying more than two or three sentences in a row, but newly armed with a couple of prescriptions for steroids and sleep medicines and inhalers and other inhalers and, just for good measure, a shot of insulin.
Because, you know, why not?
By that time, Friday morning, I'd given up trying to convince them there was anything wrong with me. I didn't care what they thought, since what they thought was exclusively "He's not having a heart attack, and we don't know what he's having, so f*** him, let's get him off our floor," and so I'd gone back to just deciding to live my life as best I could, and to that end, I'd ordered for breakfast a cup of coffee with the rest of it, only the coffee was terrible, so to get some caffeine, I'd ordered two regular Cokes and drunk them both in about 10 minutes, which made me feel way better than the morphine ever did.
I'd finished those and was awaiting the weeks-long process of checking out of the hospital -- it always takes so long, and I'm always tempted to just get up and walk out. I don't need to meet with a nutrionist, all the previous doctors, two nurses, and a chaplain, and review all the paperwork, let alone wait from nine a.m. (when they said they were checking me out) until 3:30 p.m. (when I left my room) to go home.
But during that time, they came in and said that they had to check my blood-sugar levels, and when I asked why, they said "because we're worried they might be high," which was weird because that was the first time they'd done that, but they checked them and the nurse came back and said "they're slightly elevated," to which I responded:
"Probably because I just drank two Cokes in about 10 minutes and then you took my blood," but the nurse said "The doctors have ordered me to give you some insulin, just in case," which I figured was nothing more than "let's keep this guy from having a breakdown on our floor," so I let them shoot me up with insulin, and the nurse appeared not to like it when I said, as she did so:
"Honestly, it's just hospital policy that you have to shoot something into people at least once per hour, right?"
That same nurse did not appreciate it, a little later, when I asked what the delay in checking me out was, and we had this exchange:
Nurse: They're waiting for some new bloodwork to come back, in case they want to do more tests on you.
Me: What tests are there even left to run? I thought they'd done every test.
Nurse: Well, they could still do an MRI, or other things.
Me: I bet they're going to hook me up to the hospital blender, see what happens there.
She just shrugged and went about entering stuff in her chart.
I was deliberately trying to be flippant. The night before, I had broken down, and cried, and, temporarily, hit rock bottom. I'd stared into, suddenly, this black hole of the future, a future in which I would always have this unbearable pain, in which I would always be short of breath, in which I'd never jog again and never be able to play with the boys and would wheeze around and not sleep right and be up coughing and be miserable for the rest of my life -- everything I did would be harder and painful and limited and there was not even a reason for it, and although I don't like to admit it, that made me cry.
It was hard to look at that, going forward, and for a little while, I didn't want to.
But that happens a lot in life. Things happen all the time that can be hard to look at, things that you realize shape your life irrevocably and which you will have to incorporate somehow into your new world. Sometimes you get told that there's no reason why your chest hurts but they'll give you something to help you sleep and would you please get out of their hair. Sometimes you get the word that your sons have autism. Sometimes your mom calls you up and says her lung cancer came back and you're going to spend a night sitting next to her and putting drops of morphine on her tongue to help her breathe just a little bit longer before she dies the next day.
And you won't want to look at those things, anymore than as a younger boy, you wanted to stand in the icy waters of Spearfish Falls long enough for your mom to get one good picture.
But what can you do?
Not be in the picture?
That's not an option for me.
So I swallowed and I sat up straight and I apologized to the nurse for having been rude and I thanked the doctor for trying and I went home with my prescriptions which I've been dutifully taking, and I'm sitting here on Sunday morning, feeling more or less exactly as I did nearly a week ago before it all began, typing this.
It's taken me about 2 hours to type this, because in between, I played Hot Wheels with Mr Bunches, and helped Mr F swing, and talked with Sweetie about the movie we watched last night (What's My Number?) and ate a small breakfast and looked at my new Star Wars book, and also because I got up to take some Tylenol because my chest hurt, and to walk slowly around to try to take deep breaths because I was lightheaded.
But I'm not focusing on the Tylenol. Or the numbness I'm feeling even as I write this, the way I can't feel the left side of my face. I could look at those, sure, or I could go find Mr Bunches and set up our Hot Wheels track again and go for the record with him, or work on teaching Mr F to say Tickle, which he's getting pretty good at.
Later today, I'm going to go try to work out. I may even jog again, today, because what have I got to lose?
If nothing's going to get better, then it's also true that nothing's going to get worse, and if you have to have sadness in your life, you'd better learn to balance it out is what I figure.
I'll get out of that cold water eventually. Until then, I try to focus on the fact that I'm creating some memories that make it all worthwhile.