Part I: Fourth of July


Part I of an ongoing series of blog posts

According to the 2016 census, Long Beach has a population of over 470,000. That’s by no means a small city by any stretch of the imagination, but there are times when that number can be simply a number.

One of those times is on the Fourth of July when residents gather a block away to celebrate our nation’s independence and partake in the neighborhood’s annual Fourth of July Parade. And it’s a grand celebration – decorations, noisemakers, Souza marches, and an overall small-town sense of pride. We’ve participated since Anthony was old enough to do it and even when he wasn’t, I wheeled him around the parade route in a wagon replete with patriotic bunting.

As part of the good times and like mostly everyone, we have a BBQ at our house with both families. It’s not a lot of people but it’s just enough to keep the hosts – Ann and me – on our toes for at least a few hours.

And with that BBQ comes indulgence. There’s usually a slew of side dishes strewn upon the built-in lazy Susan of the glass patio table along with a plate of various meats, usually cooked to burnt perfection.

The post-BBQ activities usually include a nice nap once the guests have left then watching fireworks being lit all around us. Illegal in Long Beach, residents still manage to make them a part of the festivities.

It was in the evening while watching the night being lit up by pyrotechnics when Ann told me she had been experiencing pain in her abdomen. Naturally, since eating was as much a part of the day as the parade and fireworks, I said that she probably just had a little too much to eat. She agreed and took some Tums in the hopes of getting some relief from the pain.

That wouldn’t be the case.

On July 7, she complained that despite taking Tums and other OTC medications for a few days, the pain had not subsided and may actually be getting worse. Rather than running to the emergency room to sit and wait, as Long Beach Memorial is notorious for, she agreed to have me take her to the local urgent care facility where they have come to know Anthony on a first-name basis. Dislocated finger? Broken ankle? Yep. They’ve seen both of them on this kid.

I rushed her over and checked her in, and were seen in a time that would have never happened at the ER. But with that comes limitations.

Urgent care facilities are great for, well, urgent care for symptoms that can be easily diagnosed (like, you know, a dislocated finger). After a routine examination and reading her vitals, the doctor told us that Ann’s condition was a little more difficult to pinpoint since they lacked the proper equipment to facilitate in finding the cause.

By now, of course, the pain wasn’t constant even with the doctor applying pressure to the area in question. It was still there but just not chronic or as intense as before. Later in the day, it had all but disappeared.

The doctor gave us a few ideas of what might be causing the pain but didn’t have any concrete answers based on her exam and vitals, so she recommended Ann get some blood work and an ultrasound done in order to zero in on the source.

They were scheduled two weeks down the road on July 28.

On July 12, Ann woke up in tears telling me she couldn’t take it anymore.

I jumped out of bed, threw on some fresh clothes in no time flat, then grabbed my phone to send an email to my boss and department letting them know I would be out that day but would send updates as I got them.

When we arrived at the ER, it was surprisingly empty. Ann was seen promptly and explained her condition to the nurse as she prepped a spot for her. She told the nurse that she was scheduled to get ultrasounds and blood work done in a few weeks. Immediately, the nurse scheduled both of those to happen that day after Ann’s initial examination.

“I’m going to go get you a gown and a bag for your personal belongings,” the nurse said as she started waking toward a door. Ann nervously looked over at me then the nurse.

“Am I going to stay?”

“First, we’ll get the blood work and ultrasound going. Then it all depends on the results and if the doctor thinks it’s necessary to keep you here for observation.”

Ann began to cry a little. I held her hand. This wasn’t what any of us had expected – and it was only the beginning.

Prelude


“Every writer is a frustrated actor who practices his lines in the hidden auditorium of his skull.” — Ben Hecht

Writers draw from their life experiences to craft stories. It’s not that writers lead more exciting or interesting lives than everyone else, it’s just that they see them as chapters unfolding right before their eyes.

Everything has the potential to become a story. Except lunch – nobody cares what I had for lunch. Honestly.

Well, I’m about to start a story that’s been taking shape and still in the process of being written. And as it continues, I will pass it along here.

The topic is a health issue – read the tags and you’ll figure it out – that the family has been dealing with since early July, when Ann first complained of stomach pain. Since then, our lives have been riddled with disappointment, shock, anger, and even some happiness and good times.

I’m doing this, with Ann’s blessing, for a few reasons.

As therapy. It’s a way to get things off of my chest because frankly, I was and probably still am taking this much harder than the family (remember: empath). You’ll get a better idea when the time comes and you mustn’t be easily offended by blasphemy. It will be raw, real, and emotional. Understand this.

To inform. Hopefully, anyone with the same diagnosis who might read this will do so and feel better about their own situation. It will also draw on the importance of overall health screenings and physicals since this would have never been discovered had Ann not been suffering from stomach pain. And that alone is pretty scary.

It may take a few days between posts because I now have to sit and scribble down, from memory, notes about everything that’s taken place since July 4th. That’s almost two months of pulling stuff from my brain and remembering details but I’m pretty sure it can be done.

If you’re used to the silliness my blog usually entails, this will be a far cry from my typical content but it’s something that needs to be done.

And it will all begin with the next post.

Thanks for reading.

The Weekend, Plus A Late Friday Five: Rockit


First off, it seems blogging is becoming more difficult as my computer is taking much too long to respond to just about anything. But the stupid thing is pretty old and considering we didn’t pay a dime for it, I guess I can’t complain.

No. Wrong. I can complain. It sucks. Come on, it’s a Gateway. Remember those big boxes with cow print on them? Yeah, it’s that old.

Second, I went for a run yesterday for the first time on a long time, taking a break from my usual Saturday morning walk. It happened for two reasons: 1) we had things to do that day so I needed to get home sooner and 2) I needed to kick things up a notch. My time wasn’t impressive but overall it was a great run. Oh, and getting a little runner’s high near the end of Mile 4 was pretty awesome. Yes, it was only five miles total but that endorphin release felt good and helped carry me home.

Then today I rode 20 miles to the beach and back. I see weird things sometimes and have to document them, because that’s just how I am.

Photo Feb 11, 7 53 50 AM

And I also played some baseball with the kid in the afternoon. I know one thing: tomorrow at work, my legs are going to be ridiculously sore but it will be ridiculously worth it.

So with my weekend out of the way, let’s jump into the Friday Five: Rockit

What’s your favorite instrumental hit song?

Let’s start with this. Are you old enough to remember when instrumentals were a thing? Songs like Chariots of Fire, Love’s Theme, Music Box Dancer, Rainforest, Nadia’s Theme and Joy? Older folk like me lived in great times when instrumentals were indeed a thing as were “disco versions” of popular movie themes (Star Wars and CE3K) which were, for all intents and purposes, pretty horrible. That’s not to mention all those TV themes by Mike Post that got radio play. Those days are definitely gone.

Anyway, to answer the question, mine is really a tie between two songs:

“Chase” by Giorgio Moroder and Harold Faltermyer (from the movie Midnight Express)

“Crockett’s Theme” by Jan Hammer

Both are quintessential synthesizer songs. Both way too cool for me to handle. And in a secret life, I’m surrounded by keyboards like Tony Banks can play them perfectly.

Tony-Banks-Genesis-Keyboards-Birthday-March-27

What’s a good movie with rockets in in it?

Oh, a movie question. Dang it. I don’t watch many, let alone any featuring rockets. But for the sake of answering the question let’s go with The Rocketeer. The ‘30s setting is fantastic, I like the plot, and you gotta love how the Griffith Observatory looks exactly the same to this day (with the exception of their recent – we’re talking years ago – expansion).

In 1977, Voyager I took off on its very long journey, loaded with two golden records containing sounds meant “to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, and are intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form, or for future humans, who may find them,” according to Wikipedia.  The contents were chosen by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan, but if Dr. Sagan called you today (you know, from beyond) and said there was room for ten more minutes of music and he was letting you choose it, what would you fill the ten minutes with?

I would ask him for an extra 41 second to accommodate Genesis’ “Duke’s Travels/Duke’s End” from their Duke album, one of my all-time favorites. It’s just brilliant.

What’s something you know about constellations?

I know that if you have never seen Saturn (746 million miles from earth) or Jupiter (356-601 million miles from earth) through a telescope with your own eyes, you are missing out on something special. It’s a very humbling experience. Also, if you sit and stare up at the night sky, letting your eyes adjust to the darkness, you will see a lot of things floating around up there which can be anything from space junk to small meteors.

When did you last spend time in a rocking chair?

Our house has no rocking chairs and for the sake of staying young, it probably never will. But I did sit in one a few weekends ago at the in-laws’ house, which has one in every room if I’m not mistaken.

Well, that’s it. I have a ton of pictures to transfer from my phone but I don’t feel doing it tonight, especially with the way the computer has been acting.

And by the way, no, “Chariots of Fire” is not on any of my Spotify playlists for when I go running. Just had to point that out.

“Eye of the Tiger” on the other hand…

Fifty Shades of Dave


Photo Jan 29, 3 06 29 PMI don’t know what things are like in your state but in California, a trip to the DMV – Department of Motor Vehicles – is always an adventure.

And after taking my motorcycle exam a few times over the last few years, I thought I was through with my DMV visits. How wrong I was.

Here’s what happened. Ann’s birthday is in March and she got her driver’s license renewal letter in the mail well in advance. With my birthday only weeks away, I had yet to receive anything and time was running out so a call to the DMV was in order. And if you’ve ever tried calling the California DMV you know it’s a real pain to get anywhere. So what did I do?

Got on the Tweeter and asked @CA_DMV my question, naturally. I had an answer and phone number in a matter of hours. Ain’t technology grand?

I called and got through right away – this was their main office in Sacramento, I believe. I told the clerk my situation and she asked for my information so she could see what was going on.

It turns out that there was a hold on my regular Class C license after I failed to convert my motorcycle permit into a full-blown endorsement, meaning I didn’t renew or take the skills exam. And because of that hold, the renewal forms weren’t sent to me.

I told the clerk I wasn’t riding anymore and I wasn’t interested in the endorsement. She then cancelled the hold so that I could go to the DMV and fill out the forms to renew my license.

The problem there: getting an appointment. Ann tried for days to get one at our local office in Long Beach and couldn’t. She’s going to one in Orange County later in the month. She has time still. Me? Not so much.

After the call, I headed back to my work desk and immediately went to the DMV website in the hopes of snagging an appointment before my birthday/expiration date. No chance, I figured.

I ended up getting one a few days later – in Long Beach, no less. I had to text Ann and gloat about it. She replied with nasty Bitmojis.

Monday comes around and I leave work for a bit to take care of this business. I managed to find a parking spot no problem and since I had an appointment, didn’t have to wait with the garlic-eating masses outside who didn’t have an appointment.

When I was called I told the clerk the nature of my business. She gave me the form and I filled it out with only one notable change: my weight. I added a few pounds to it. Hell, I’m honest.

I went back and she double-checked it, then issued me a number to see another clerk. I waited maybe 10 minutes before I was called to another booth.

The clerk who helped me was a younger guy and rather affable, more than most others at the DMV. We chit-chatted as he went over my renewal form. All was going well until he spoke up about one detail.

“Hmm. On the computer, it has your hair listed as gray,” he said, pointing at his monitor with a black Paper Mate pen.

Strange. My current license has my hair as black. Then again when I renewed it I still had black hair. Then it occurred to me that when I went for my motorcycle permit, I must have written in “gray” for my hair color. He continued.

“So which one do you want me to use?” I was writing out a check for the renewal fee at the time. I put the pen down.

“Well, being I plan on letting nature take its course, let’s go with gray. I’m not bald and I’ve no plans to dye it. In fact I just had an inch-and-a-half trimmed off. Shit was past my shoulders.”

He was cool. Casual profanity didn’t phase him.

“Really? No way!”

We then chatted a bit more, mostly about aging, as he continued to process my information. He had to be in his early 30s and I gave him a little advice (as if my being nearly 49 qualifies me to be an expert on growing old).

“Man, just enjoy yourself. Stay young at heart. That alone will keep you going. And when your hair starts turning gray, embrace it and be glad you have it.”

And with that, he thanked me and sent me to the photo booth for my picture. Oh, and I had to take the written exam – again – and then wait about 10 days for my new license.

It arrived a few days ago. And although I’m thinner than I was in my previous license photo, the adjusted weight is definitely closer to reality.

And the hair? Proudly abbreviated as GRY.

Because this head will never see a drop of Just For Men.

All In Vein


American-Red-Cross-Logo-VerticalA few posts ago I had mentioned how humble bragging is a pet peeve of mine. But for the sake of writing a blog post and telling a story, there’s really no other way to talk about it without saying what I’ve been doing so let’s get to it.

Since last year, I’ve been making regular blood donations to my local chapter of the American Red Cross. It started at a time of need and but decided to make it a regular part of my life shortly afterward. Plus, you get unlimited chocolate chip cookies and orange juice – the only time it’s acceptable to consume such a combination – when you’re done.

The process is relatively simple and expedited if you fill out the questionnaire online prior to your visit, otherwise you’ll be sitting at a computer in an exam room doing it. The questions range from recent places traveled to medications taken to sexual activity – mostly revolving around prostitution and homosexual experiences, an immediate disqualification if any answers are “yes.” The latter has been a controversial practice for some time.

In the exam room, you’re verbally asked even more questions – name, address, etc. – to ensure that you’re in the right state of mind. They also check blood pressure, heart rate, and poke your finger for a sample to test for iron content. Once that’s done, you sign the form and off you go to the chair where they ask you one last time your name and address.

And that’s when my problems started.

Before they begin, naturally the nurses have to find a vein. I usually stick with my right arm since it’s my dominant and can squeeze the heck out of that little foam-rubber propane can they make you squeeze every 10 seconds after the needle is in your arm.

But there was a problem last night.

When the nurse started to check for a vein, they couldn’t quite pinpoint its location. Veins will move and it seemed my was dancing like The O’Jays during this exam. It was that difficult to locate. But after a few more tries the vein was found, site marked with a pen, area prepped with iodine, sphygmomanometer tightened, propane can squeezed three times, and needle inserted.

I’ve never looked at the needle. I don’t want to see it.

There’s a little discomfort when it’s inserted but it goes away once it’s in the right place. They’ll know this because the blood will immediately start flowing down the tube and into the bag. But there was no blood last night.

The nurse asked if they could move the needle around a little bit and see what was going on. I agreed since they had a little difficulty finding it last time. After a few minutes of trying, a second nurse noticed and asked the first one if she could help. He agreed and asked if she could try, to which I said yes.

She couldn’t find it either, and my arm was getting a little tender with all the poking and prodding.

Enter the third nurse. She came by and asked if she could try. By now with all the previous insertions and relocating of the needle, things were becoming much more uncomfortable. Then she moved the needle a little too deep there was so much pain.

I winced and said that it hurt – there’s only so many ways I can pretend to hide my discomfort and I had had enough.

“Do you want me to keep trying or pull it,” she asked. I answered without hesitation.

“Pull it.” It was then that, for the first time, I saw the needle and it’s a pretty good size. I’m not sure why I looked, maybe just because I getting a little anxious and wanted this to be over.

And so it was. The needle was pulled and all the nurses who tried to get blood from me apologized for not being able to get the job done. The site was cleaned, bandaged, and I was on my way.

I was truly disappointed. According to Red Cross literature, one donation can help save up to three lives and last night I wasn’t able to do that.

I’ll be back to try again but much like my dental appointments, of which I still have a few left to fulfill, I need a break for the time being.

Hopefully then we will have success and my efforts will not have been in vein.

Yeah. I went there.

 


 

Just because it didn’t work for me doesn’t mean it won’t for you. Disaster or not, the American Red Cross is always in need of donors and blood of every type. If you’re a regular donor, thank you. If it’s been a while since your last donation, schedule an appointment online or through their app. And if you’ve never done it before, see if you meet the criteria and if you do, schedule an appointment to get the ball rolling. Thanks.